I haven’t been able to paint outside in a while, and the fog was looking great this morning, so I decided to go do something small and quick. I hit Fort Mason and took some photos:
I was doing more watercolor practice copying paintings out of books and I burned this one:
Burned it?! That’s right. Rather than use a hair dryer to dry watercolor I use a creme brulee torch. Since the paper is wet you can run a torch over it rapidly and it’ll dry really quick. But, obviously if you don’t pay attention or do it for too long or get too close, well, you burn the paper.
Here’s one I didn’t burn, but it had too much sizing so the color wouldn’t stick:
I really like sketching with watercolor but damn is it hard. Watercolor is the inverse of other paints because it’s transparent so you build paintings from light to dark, using the paper as your white “pigment”. In other paint it’s easier to go from dark to light because the pigment is opaque. The other thing making watercolor difficult is you have to controp the amount of water on thr paper vs. in your brush. If you don’t it will run and bleed around.
The easiest way to get used to this is to paint with just ink and water or any transparent black paint. To get back into it I did a copy of a painting from a watercolor book:
The way to think about these paintings is like this:
- Identify every shape that’s whitest white. Paint everything else with a very wash of light gray.
- Identify the shapes that stay lighy gray, paint everything else mid gray. Now you have your whites, light gray, mid-gray. It might be done here.
- Now identify all the dark shapes, paint those in. You should be done at this point.
The advantage of watercolor is you can control the edges on these shapes if you dry the paper or not between each layer of paint. If you have more water then the edges will be soft and out of focus. If you dry it then the edges will be hard and in focus.
Do these kind of monochrome paintings for a while and you’ll get the hang of water as an edge control and using layers of watercolor to build the painting.
Next I tried a few with color, using mostly the same process. But, one thing I always never really figured out how work pen and ink into my watercolors so I tried that too. First try:
I really like ink for drawing and a brush pen to do monochrome paintings, but still not sure about it in watercolors.
Painting along with Bob Ross again I did this:
When you see the progress shots you’ll notice I added that one tree right over the top of the best part. I knew I should have stopped but like Bob I love doing the trees. I started off with a silhouette of sky and mountains.
This time I used water soluble oil paints. These work mostly like oil paint but you clean up using water instead of solvents. The reason I used them is I wanted to speed up my painting the way he does with big buckets to clean the brush and then banging it on another bucket to dry it. If you watch Bob’s painting, he does this many times, laughing about coating the studio with paint thinner and wiping it on his pants.
During his life he probably washed brushes like this hundreds of thousands of times. No gloves, solvent everywhere, soaking his skin, clothes, and studio with dangerous chemicals. People scoff at this, but he was using massive amounts of solvent and spraying it everywhere. This is different from a painter with a tiny jar and drying a small brush with a paper towel.
I believe Bob Ross died of lymphoma at 52 because of repeated and prolonged exposure to large amounts of solvents. Others will point at painters who don’t get cancer and say it’s not possible, but again Bob was exposed to crazy amounts of it, and early solvents that were not very refined.
When I try his methods even with just water it’s a mess. I’m trying to be careful too so I don’t have to clean paint off my floor. I have two buckets with water and another plastic can for banging. The water still gets on my gloves, floor, and legs in small quantities. Just based on my experience painting like him with water and being careful I can see he was soaked in it.
It’s too bad that painters are told these solvents are as harmless as water. They are definitely not, and there’s nothing macho or painterly about soaking your skin with toxic chemicals. Numerous painters eventually have to stop because constant exposure gives them rashes, allergic reactions, and breathing problems. The few who say they’re fine after 30 years are just falling for survivor bias.
I try to always wear gloves. It makes cleanup easier and protects my skin. Other painters make fun of me, but then I just grab my paper towels, invert my gloves over the garbage like bags, and walk away all cleaned up while they’re washing their hands and dealing with irritated skin or worse. It’s even more important with pastels as the binder and pigments are an irritant too.
Sometimes painters will claim gloves ruin their sensitivity but I just point out how doctors all wear gloves and operate on delicate organs. I’m pretty sure if a doctor can operate on an eye or a heart while wearing gloves you can fling your shoulder around a shitty oil landscape.
I love following along with Bob Ross so tonight I spent a few hours doing Camper’s Haven and here’s the results. Keep in mind I’m in the heat of battle and just used my phone real quick for all but the final shot. That shot uses my nice camera so looks correct. Here it is:
Starting with my wash from yesterday:
I went in and tried to get basic big flat shapes in the background:
I now let this dry and I’ll do another layer adding what details I can and spend most of the time on the face.
While doing this I finally noticed that one eyebrow was raised.