African Watercolor, Part 1
Interview with Marley Mcleay
News for November
Having a Hobby
African Watercolor, Part 1Behind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Time for another painting!
This one is going to be another watercolor piece, and I'm going to show you every step from start to finish
This is going to be one of those pieces that I decided I needed some reference for (pesky horse legs can be difficult from certain perspectives). So I went combing through my collection until I found a suitable photo to work with.
The photo I picked in this case does not have very attractive lighting; it's very overcast, for one. But at least it is not very over or under-exposed, so all the detail I need is visible.
Now I need to get to know the proportions and form of the creature before I start painting. Thankfully, zebras have all of these helpful stripes running all around them, and it makes it much easier to decipher the form that might otherwise be distorted in the photo.
I spend a lot of time on the legs, in particular. They are without a doubt the trickiest part. Notice that even though there's almost no detail and no shadows, the contour lines still make the creature look very solid and real.
I have a pretty good idea how to draw the creature now. But I'm still not ready to paint. First, I need to figure out what kind of composition I want to do. And computer software makes that absurdly easy.
All I did was make various different canvas sizes, and moved the rough drawing I made around into different locations within the frame. Then I (very roughly) sketched in 'ground' lines.
Even though the thumbnails are very small, they give me a fairly good impression of whether the design works the way I want it to. Detail is not your friend in a situation like this.
While I'm playing around with the scanned image, I also take the time to make a value study. I keep the values very simple -- there's only three or four different levels of grey -- because, again, that's all I need to tell if it's going to work or not. This is another example of 'simple is better'!
Now it's finally time to get to work! Like most of my watercolor work, this piece is being done on 140lb cold-press ARCHES watercolor paper. Drawing the creature on the paper is the next step. I use a mechanical pencil and keep my lines light; if you press too hard on the paper, you may indent it or even tear it, and that may affect the final look of the painting. Also try not to erase more than you have to, as that may also damage the paper if done excessively.
I really amped up the contrast on the scanned image so that you can see the pencil lines more clearly, as I usually draw very faint lines for my watercolors. Usually, I would paint in the pattern on the animal as I paint, but in this case I plan to be very precise, so most of the stripe pattern has been drawn in.
Once I'm satisfied with the drawing, I go over it (very lightly) with a kneaded eraser to lighten the lines as much as possible; once you stretch paper, the graphite pencil lines will be there forever.
Then I assemble the materials I use to stretch watercolor paper. I use ¼ inch-thick masonite board, but you can use Gatorboard as well. Gatorboard has the advantage of being very light. I also have a container filled with water, a spray bottle, paper towels, a piece of plexiglass, and my biggest watercolor brush. The last thing I use is tape. I generally use two inch-wide green painter's tape, but you can also use a special craft tape that is made for the purpose. I usually don't use it, because removing it is a hassle, and I end up cutting it off most of the time.
This method of stretching works well for smaller pieces (14 by 17 inches or less) that are on 90lb or 140lb watercolor paper (even though I firmly believe 90lb watercolor paper is worse than useless). It does not work well for very large paintings, or 300lb watercolor paper.
Now you have to move very quickly. Measure and cut four strips of tape, one for each side, and have them ready to go. Then turn the painting over, and use the spray bottle to quickly wet the whole surface. I use the brush to even the water out. Then turn the paper over and repeat the whole thing over again -- spray with the bottle and use the brush to even out the water. Use the paper towel to dry off the edges, and get that tape on there as fast as you can. You should end up with something that looks like this.
You may notice that the paper is rippled; that is normal. The next step just involves laying the (clean!) plexiglass over the painting; this will keep the water from the paper from soaking into the weights you are going to use later. If you don't have plexiglass, you can use another piece of masonite, or even a clean towel.
Weigh that sucker down. Use whatever you have on hand -- I prefer heavy books. In this case I also used old printed drafts of the book I wrote last year. Load it up. Now, leave it alone for at least twenty-four hours.
If you followed all these steps, you should now have a perfectly stretched and flat piece of watercolor paper, and you're ready to paint! And next month, that's exactly what we're going to do!
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