Sunday, September 7, 2014

Evolution of an Image- Cambrils series

While we were in Spain this last summer, we spent a number of days in Cambrils soaking in the sun, visiting with friends, and playing on the beach.  Good times!  I started trying to paint a sunset we experienced there, and it was just... very very frustrating.  I'd just taken the Bjorn Bernstrom workshop a week earlier, and I just, honestly, had no control.  In an effort to be an honest artist, I thought I'd share some of the (really) terrible paintings I did at first, as well as where the image went, as I began to get a handle on Bjorn's methods.

This is the first batch of very rough sketches.  All done on a quarter sheet (15" x 11").  I played with different formats and approaches, and learned to figure out the order and timeliness I was going to need to use, if I was going to get have any sort of control.  One of Bjorn's pieces of advice, that "Patience is one of the most important things for a watercolor artist to control" was very true.

I left it like that for about a month, and only came back to it in the States.  I decided to shrink the format to an 1/8th sheet (7.5" 11").  A good choice, as I burned through a lot of iterations, learning the techniques, and thinking about composition and color schemes.

I began to recognize that I really wanted to show that long stretch of horizon more, so I changed the format to little skinny 1/8 sheets (5.5" x 15"), and began to explore different approaches- more chromatic, less chromatic, darker values, more land being show, less land being show, white boat masts, etc.

It was only when I got to this one though, where I removed the clouds and had the darker masts, that I felt like I was approaching what I was looking for.  I also began to model the mountains, which provided a greater sense of light and directionality.

I'd like to do more iterations with the clouds again later,  but I think I need a taller format, to better balance the composition.  For this dimension, I want to focus on the horizon and the waves.  So, I took that last one and blew it up to a full half sheet (11" x 30") and got the final image-


  1. I love the final image (and some of the earlier attempts too) and it's really great to see all the iterations and hard work that went into that final image. It's encouraging to know that great works are not just conjured up on the first attempt but are the end result of a long process. I'll try not to give up so easily in future when things are not going my way!

  2. Thanks for commenting. I'm glad my sharing the long string of hits and misses is of value. Of course, I'm learning a new technique, which obviously makes some of the earlier attempts particularly sad affairs, but I'm also learning that figuring __how__ I'm going to paint an image ahead of time, in what order, in what sequence, with such-and-such as my focal point is also of great value. It's really hard to control the medium when I'm going at things higgledy piggledy (which is more often the case in earlier images in a sequence).

    So, earlier attempts almost always suffer from two issues- the easily discernible lack of technique (as I try out something new), but also a lack of awareness and confidence about the subject and the composition. Only after I've painted it a time or two can I readily anticipate what I'm going to be doing next, and thus have my timing/ comparative values/ overall composition right.

    I suppose this would be something that's easy to do right from the get-go if I'd been painting for 20 years and had approached subjects like these before, but for now, those smaller, exploratory 1/16th sheet paintings at the beginning of the process have been critical. For now, I've just stopped doing anything bigger as a first go, because I've learned the percentage of failures and "learning opportunities" (Hahaha) is so high, I might as well start small while I learn the subject. It's also faster/ cheaper/ easier to handle the tools at a smaller size, so iterating the subject moves along at a better clip.

    Painting bigger, I'm learning, has it's own logistical/ technical issues that have nothing to do with image composition and everything to do with trying to corral and guide that much paint and water. For now, that's why I focus on the composition first in the smaller paintings.