Coastal Shiner in Goauche

 

This week I tried for a more realistic painting style with this beautiful fish called a Coastal Shiner (Notropis petersoni).  We don’t have them in the UK.  They live on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.  Looking at a few detailed photos I could see so much detail with so much light scatter and so many colour changes that painting this realistically was quite daunting at first. 

When something is difficult I have always taught the children at school to break it down into something simpler until you find something you can do.  So I used this method to try to get a hold on the picture I wanted to paint.  First I made a sketch…

 

I got the mouth completely wrong on this drawing – it looks more like a sprat with that upturned mouth.  But rather than erase the error I decided to correct it with the paint as erasing causes changes to the way the paper performs.

Next I really studied the fish,  looking at 5 different reference images.  Then I selected an image with a good range of colour and made a quick colour map like this…

 

(This image was scanned and suffers from my scanner’s inability to see subtle colour.)

Once I’d seen the colour palette of the actual fish I decided on a background which would complement some of the colour and also pull out some of the more subtle shades.  I went with a white background with flecks of purple and yellow in it. I blended the flecks to make a kind of moving water type background with lots of lateral stokes.  Here’s the first layer of the background as it was drying…

 

Next I painted the main darker background colours of the fish and blended them to give a good basic ground to the animal.  I got really involved in the painting at this point and so didn’t get a photo.  At this point I wasn’t thinking anymore, I was just painting.  I find this state very calming and beautiful.  It’s one of the main reasons I keep painting week after week.  I get the same feeling when I’m playing the piano, especially with Jazz.

At the age of 14 I was asked to play trumpet in a 7 piece trad jazz band.  I did and learned an enormous amount from the experience which lasted for about 4 years and took us all over the county and then to places further afield.  I also got hooked on Trad Jazz.  It’s something that has never left me.  Now I play piano, rather than the awful trumpet (the most exposing and tricky instrument in an orchestra in my opinion, because you have to count 158 bars perfectly and then come in on a top G with a cold instrument!)  The stress used to nearly kill me!  Maybe that’s why I prefer Jazz – the trumpet plays a lot more in that set up and the whole thing is more relaxed!  Anyway, I get that same feeling of “just being there” when I play jazz on the piano nowadays.  It’s like I’m taking part but the piece is playing itself.

Once I’d got a basic darker background I began adding bigger, lighter details – not the really tiny stuff yet, or the white reflections of light, but things like the Operculum and head area.  Then finally I dived into the detail.  I found it really hard at first because I couldn’t get it eactly like the reference images I was using but then I remembered last week when I’d painted the forest glade and just used shapes, so I did the same on a smaller, more precise scale.

For me, the jury s still out on this painting.  I’ll have to see how I feel about it in a few days time to see if I like it or not.

Here’s the final image…

 

Post Script:  Once all of this was done I then had another small adventure.  I am really enjoying watercolour and gouache and I think I’m going to stick with these mediums for the time being.  However I want to work out how to best protect gouache paintings particularly.  The reading I’ve done suggests that there are two options.  Most people like to protect these paintings by framing them under glass.  This is pretty effective.  But the other option is to use an archival varnish on them and make them glossy!  Now this sounds lovely to me.  I love shiny things!  So I thought I’d have a go at this with this painting and the previous one I made of the Forest Glade.

Here are the results…

This is the Forest Glade painting after varnishing with 3 coats of Golden’s Gloss Archival Varnish (which has UV Light protection).  The difference is very very slight but I really like it.  To give you an idea of the shine here’s is a picture angled towards the window to show the maximum shine…

 

I love it that the shine accents where the paint has built up to a slightly impasto level!

And here is the Coastal Shiner with the varnish…

 

Again the difference is subtle but I like it!  (The difference is bigger on this picture as it needs a day or so to fully dry – it get’s clearer and lighter when it is completely dry.)

And here’s the shine!

 

 

 

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Woodland Glade – Using Oil Painting Techniques with Gouache

This week I wanted to create a painting in Gouache but using some basic oil painting techniques. The main technique I focussed on was Blocking In. This is a way of painting which I’ve not really tried very seriously before. Basically you paint the overall big shapes and basic colours, then you refine them with more complex shapes until your picture appears. Stopping the refinement before it gets realistic leaves you with a painterly styled picture, which is what I wanted to achhieve.

Because Gouache can be overpainted in the same way as oils and blended in a similar way to oils (but less easily) it seems like a good candidate to create an oil styled picture without the bother of waiting weeks between layers for the oils to dry and going through the messy clean up process after each painting session. (You can use Liquin as an oil medium to speed up the drying process but it still takes quite some time for some colours and hues to dry.) With gouache and a hairdryer I can get things dry in a couple of minutes and my brushes and palette can be cleaned under the tap very quickly.

So I first chose a subject. I had a loose ink sketch of a forest glade lying about which I thought might lend itself to this kind of painting approach. Here’s the sketch…

I made an outline drawing of this sketch at the right size for my gouache experiment…

Then I began to have some fun with the blocking in. First I chose basic colours for each part of the painting…

It was great because I didn’t have to be too careful with my painting strokes or get anything right first time. This gave me the freedom to make different shadow colour choices than I normally would. I went with violets in the main but pushed one rock in the far foreground towards a pinkish colour to bring some heat into the picture at that point. Then I began to refine my shapes by adding more shadows…

This was lovely to do as I could see my brush defining each shape. I had loads of fun with this.

My next job was to start tidying it all up. This was enjoyable in a different, more meditative way, as I tried to get lovely flat blocks of colour. I began at the back of the painting and worked forward. I refined my edges as I did this. I also had to work out a way to show the water in the pond for what it is. I had a go at this by painting a very basic interpretation of the sky and trees merging into a darker colour near the front as the viewer begins to see more of the colour of the water and not the reflections. Then I painted in my reflection colours of the rocks. This was the most difficult part of the painting. They had to be the same basic colours but darker and less saturated. Once I’d got everything clean and toned to the colours I wanted I was finished. Here is my finished painting…

I am quite pleased with the painterly effects and the colour choices, although I think I would like to make the colours more subtle next time. I could use the same basic colour interpretation of the scene but with each colour pushed towards grey a little more. This is a bit of battle for me as I seem to get totally enchanted with the effect of strong, saturated colours whenever I sit down to paint.

I also quite like the way there is very little blending in the painting except in the water. I found it quite hard to render the water. Although the contrast between the blended water area and the rest does give the painting an interesting effect, I think the surface looks more akin to kitchen foil than a pond.

The other main thing I would change is my set up for photographing paintings as I often lose details when the differences between colours are smaller. For instance, in the back of this painting there is the indication of foliage shapes behind the main scene which adds to the feeling of a small clearing in the middle of a wood. They are obvious when I look at the actual picture with my eyes but the camera doesn’t pick them up. I’m avoiding scanned images too because my scanner can’t see blue very well at all, especially as it goes towards cyan.

At university when I was doing my PGCE (standard UK teaching qualification), they showed us the proper way to photograph media. It was a flat table with a flash light at each corner and a camera suspended over the top. Now I paint at my living room table so this kind of thing is not going to be possible but I could set up a proper Digital SLR with a couple of flashes somewhere in my home. My Dad is a really good photographer and has his Licentiateship from the Royal Photographic Society so I expect he will know how to get better results. It’s something I’m going to work on.

Animation Style Fun with Gouache

 

This week I played around with some animation style art using pure gouache in my sketchbook.

I work pretty hard at school each day so when I come home I have a nice routine to follow to sort myself, and my son, out for the evening.  Although I can break this routine, being on the Spectrum, I am much more comfortable if I follow it.  First I get a cup of tea and drink it while I go through the post for the day and sort out any issues that arise from that post, along with any other things I need to do in terms of general housekeeping.  Then I check and water my plants.  I grow a lot of plants from seed and have a hydroponic spinach set up in the kitchen which produces about two harvests for two people each week.  Then, I either meditate or read.  At five o’clock I start cooking tea for me and my son.  I usually serve it between 17:45 and 18:15.  Once that’s done and we’ve had pudding I get ready for bed and feed and check the fish.  By this stage my pain is quite bad so bed is the best place for me to relax during the evening.  While in bed I usually read or watch DVD’s and I sometimes paint.

So this particular artistic adventure began when I watched the last episode of the long running animation series Avatar the Last Airbender on DVD.  One of the best things about being a teacher is that I have a perfect excuse for watching what is essentially kids TV.  “Oh yes, it keeps me in touch with the children,”  – and has nothing to do with the fact that I really enjoy animation for it’s own sake!  My favourite character from this series is Appa, an Air Bison who can fly.  I was thinking about the series and wishing the live action film had been better when I began to sketch Appa.  Like all animated characters he’s dead easy to draw because his shape is very basic.  Then I decided to get my gouache paints out and give my sketch a little paint job.

Here’s the finished painting…

 

The next evening I embarked on watching a complete run through of the Star Wars The Clone Wars animated series which lasts for six seasons!  After a few episodes I stopped for the evening (if I watch too much Clone Wars I can’t sleep.)  Then I mooched about on the internet looking at Star Wars stuff for a while.  Somewhere I saw a picture of a Dark Lord of the Sith wandering about on what I guess might have been the ancient planet of Korriban (not Morriban – what an awful retcon that really is!)  Although I went on with my wanderings this picture stuck in my mind and the next day I tried to find it again but couldn’t.  So I had a go at sketching it…

 

Then, as with Appa, I grabbed my gouache paints and made it into a little painting in my sketchbook…

 

While no-one could call this high-art it was, for me, very enjoyable art!    🙂

 

 

 

 

Magpie Iridescence – Step by Step

I’ve always liked magpies. They have such a fierce reputation. But what I like most is the way their plummage is iridescent. Painting this, however was quite challenging.

I began with a drawing and masked off the white bits…

Then I painted the background and the branch my magpie is sitting on…

I used some large brushes for the background and Winsor and Newton Watercolour paint. Then I added gouache over the top for the branch…

Next I had to have a bit of a think to work out how I would paint the iridescence. I decided to try using an underpainting and then layer blacks, blues and greys on top so that the colours would come mainly from underneath. Then I could touch them up with gouache on top and they would really sing. I had a go trying this out on copy paper to see if it would work…

I seemed like I had a chance with this method. So I completed the underpainting…

This was such a joy to do with all the bright colours and small sections of colour. I had so much fun. Then I had to start going over this with blacks, greys and blues to push the colour down to a magpie’s actual colours. It was hard to do this because it felt like I was obliterating the underpainting.

Once I had made shades and shapes of the darker feathers I used a 5 x 0 rigger to add some colour above where the underpainting colour was already showing through a bit. I was pleased with how this worked. Here’s a close up of the iridescence in detail…

I finished the painting by removing the mask and adding some greys to bring out the softness of the magpie’s feathers in the white sections. Here’s the final painting…

Sculpting with Paint – Tiny Gouache Portraits

 

This week I did some solid painting practice.  I wanted to improve my ability to paint directly with no drawing and to render 3D shapes using the paint.  Since faces are such an odd and challenging shape I thought some portrait practice might be good.  I split up a piece of A4 watercolour paper (Hot Pressed) into 4 and taped each piece down…

 

Then I gave myself half an hour for each one.

I began by painting the mid tone and then the dark.  Then I added the light tone.  I made three tones for each colour and mixed and blended them on the paper.  I wanted a rougher look so I stuck to my restricted time which forced me to accept a lot of imperfections.  I tried to be very varied in my colour choices.

For the first sketch I used complemetary colours, orange and blue (my favourite combination)…

 

My second picture was more purple and yellow…

 

(I had the lady’s coat in purple too originally, but I found that it dissapeared into the background leaving me with a floating head(!) so I changed it to red.)  I find painting very smiley faces quite difficult but this lady looked so lovely and cheery that I couldn’t resist.

In my next picture I used analogous warm colours to give more restful effect as the lady in my reference photo looked like she was meditating…

 

For my last sketch I allowed myself to paint a Jedi!!!  I went with a more monochrome feel but in blue so the whole thing was quite cool…

 

I learned quite a bit from this exercise but it’s difficult to put what I learned into words.  It’s the kind of learning that stays in your hands and eyes and doesn’t really need language except if you try to write about it!