Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Painting invasive plants

I recently attended a workshop by Newfoundland wildflower artist Margaret Walsh Best at the Georgia State Botanical Garden.  The beautiful paintings of Margaret's "Balancing Act: Invasive Alien Plants" exhibition are on display at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia until April 28, 2013.

During the one day workshop Margaret led us through the process of watercolor painting from composition to completion.  She discussed the paintings in her exhibit and what went into the creation of each.  Margaret provided inspiring demonstrations as well as tips for painting and shading berries, leaves and stems.  She  shared color recipes she likes and uses in her own paintings, as well as, techniques for adding a landscaped background to the painting.  

For our workshop paintings we used branches of Nandina domestica, an invasive plant in Georgia which is native to China and Japan.  Nandina is planted for its attractive foliage and fruit, however it soon becomes a nuisance as it quickly grows into a tall ever-widening dense thicket. 

Nandina have alternate tri-pinnately compound leaves. Individual ovate leaflets are 1 to 2 inches long.  The entire leaf is 10 to 20 inches long.  New leaves are reddish bronze, turning green as they mature, and then reddish again in the fall. Panicles of small white flowers at the end of the stem appear in early summer, followed by red fruit that persists through the winter.  The fruit are consumed by birds and other wildlife.  

Our palette included transparent and non-staining pigments: Cobalt Blue, Aureolin Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Rose Madder, Alizarin Crimson.

We started by painting vibrant larger then life foreground berries.  Painting yellow around an expanded white space for the highlight, adding mid orange red, then finally darker red at edges.  The wet yellows and reds subtly mixed across the berries.  Next we painted the stems, leaving white where the berries attach.  Finally we worked on the leaves.  Nandina leaves have a wonderful mix of green, yellow and red.  Each leaf could be a painting all by itself.  

The workshop wasn't long enough to finish the paintings, but everyone had a great time and were well on their way to developing their paintings.  Just before the workshop ended we did a review and critique of the class paintings.

I finished my painting at home over the next few days.  Adding additional layers to the wet-on-wet background.  The layers of colors mixed on the paper but still give the impression of a landscape.  Glazing add additional color and depth to the painting.  Adding the darkest shadows and final sharper details help the berries stand out.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pouring watercolor paint and not making a mess of it all

December and January are very busy months for me.  Between long hours at work and much to do at home, I was left with little time to do any painting.  To kick start me back into weekly painting, I took a two day workshop at the Georgia State Botanical Gardens by Kie Johnson.

Kie demonstrated her watercolor technique which uses multiple watercolor pours and maskings.  Class participants were given the opportunity to try the technique on their own paintings with Kie's guidance.

Kie's multi-step process requires considerable planning before starting.  The subject needs to have well defined values that as a whole will work to form an interesting painting.  The choice of pigments is also important, as the pigments will be mixing together on the wet paper. Two or three containers of wet pigments were used in each pouring, and up to five pours were used to complete each painting.

Masking parts of the painting between pours protects them from exposure to subsequent paint pours, providing well defined value differences in the final painting.  While pouring is a wet-on-wet painting technique, because the painting is dried between each step (pouring, masking, pouring, masking...) the additional layers of pigment act almost as glazes.  This is why the choice of transparent pigments which react well together is so important.

After a light pencil sketch is made, the paper is firmly attached to a board using tape, then it is throughly wet before the mixed pigments are poured across it.  The board and paper are then manipulated so the wet pigments run around the paper and mix.  Excess pigment runs off the edges of the paper and board (towels and plastic sheets are useful for this part of the process).

You can see the pouring station in the background, past my work space.  The floor and table were covered in plastic.  In addition, a large bath towel was used to help sop up paint that dribbled off the paintings as they twisted and turned to mix the wet paint.

I started with a mostly yellow pour.  After the paint dried, masking was applied to the areas with the lightest value (most of the flower petals).  Once the masking dried, the paper was completely wet again and the next layer of paint was poured and manipulated across the paper.

The second layer was dried, and masking was applied to areas with the next value (the remaining flower petals and half of the leaves).  When the masking dried, the paper was wet again and the third layer of paint was poured.

The third layer was dried, and masking was applied to the areas with the next value (the remaining leaves).  When this masking dried, the paper was wet again and the fourth layer of paint was poured.

Once the fourth layer was thoroughly dried, all the masking was carefully pealed off the paper revealing the photo above.

Additional shading and highlights were added to the now exposed parts of the painting.   I used the same three pigments for the pouring and the final painting:  Cobalt Blue, Rose Madder and Aureolin Yellow.  This method took quite a lot of paint for the pourings

The mess of pouring reminded me of kindergarden, but the multilayered results have amazing depth and create beautiful vibrant paintings.