Friday, January 30, 2015

My Alvaro Castagnet Workshop Review, pt. 5- The Co-Conspirators!

This post is part of a series I did last year, but I've recently got back in touch with a number of people that I took this workshop with last Spring, and I wanted to share some of their info with others.  Many of them have participated in the recent 3/5 watercolor challenge on Facebook, so there's lots of beautiful work floating around that's worth exploring.

Here are links to the older posts in the series--
My Alvaro Castagnet Workshop Review, pt. 1
My Alvaro Castagnet Workshop Review, pt. 2
My Alvaro Castagnet Workshop Review, pt. 3
My Alvaro Castagnet Workshop Review, pt. 4

There was a lot of pleasure in meeting so many other great artists at the workshop!!  Alvaro attracts a great crowd.  Painting can often be such a private affair that one forgets the pleasure of actually sharing that creative experience.  We all learned from each other's critiques, which was helpful for everyone of course, but even beyond that it was invigorating to meet so many other artists, with different backgrounds and experiences, all of whom took the practice seriously enough to come to the workshop.

There were locals (from San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Rafael), but people also came from really very far away- Tokyo, Bermuda, North Carolina, etc. It was a privilege to paint with so many other experienced painters!  It was very invigorating.  We are all there because we loved to paint, and were willing to spend the time and money to try and improve ourselves.  That's an interesting community to be part of!

So, without further ado, I just wanted to share some links to the sites of those whom I met (and knew well enough to get their website info).  My apologies for anyone I missed!  There were over 30 people in the two sessions, combined, and I just didn't really get a chance to meet everyone.  If you read this post, went to the workshop, and want to have your info included, please contact me or make a comment.

Uma Kelkar
Uma Kelkar-
Uma is really a very good artist in her own right, and was easily one of the more advanced students in the first workshop.  Lives in San Jose.  She really took to Alvaro's instruction, and was producing wonderful work by the end of the workshop.  I really wish she had stayed for the full 6 days!  :(  Her website shows her ink work as well as her watercolors. 

Keene Wilson
Keene Wilson-
Keene was a real pleasure to meet as well.  Lives down in Southern California.  He clearly has a lot of experience with multiple mediums.  He also has a wonderful resource page on his website called For Artists, where he has links to many posts about workshops he's taken, books he's read, insights on different famous artists, etc.  I've read over a number of them, and it really is a wonderful resource.

Orin Carpenter
Orin Carpenter-
I met Orin during the second workshop, and we hit it off immediately.  I wonderful guy, and from browsing his website, clearly quite skilled in a variety of media as well.  He teaches art to highschoolers up in Marin.  A local!  Now if I can only get him to go out plein air painting with me.

painting en plaineir in Brandenburg
Lynne Haines-
Lynne lives up in Washington, and came down with her husband.  What a pleasure to paint visit with her!  Or squeeze into a taxi with with too many other adults!  LOL.  I was unaware of the extent of her watercolor experience though, until I visited her website. So she's obviously quite humble as well.  ;)

Efrain Ibarra Corral
Efrain Ibarra-
Efrain not only paints, but he also builds these fantastic little plein air palettes.  Very much like a Craig Young palette, but you can actually get one of these made for you and not wait years and years!  :)  Alvaro even posted about it on his Facebook page, I believe.

Bert Sult
Bert Sult-
From the Raleigh area of North Carolina, I believe. Bert has taken a number of other workshops with Alvaro, and it shows.  He's done some shows, and sold his work. 

Charles Knights-
I couldn't find a blog or website for this artist from Bermuda, but Charles was such a gentleman.  Quite an excellent painter too!!  Here's a link to an article about him, which shows some of his paintings.  Charles, why aren't you even on Facebook?  I really dug your work, and now you deprive us?  Phewy!

Anthony was soft spoken, but carried a blow torch!!  :)  Literally.  I laughed and laughed when I saw him whip that thing out, but it was incredibly effective.  We often didn't have a blow drier or outlet available for Alvaro, during the plein air demonstrations.  Thank goodness for Anthony's preparedness!  Of course, he also loves to paint, and runs the Taos Paintbox company, which produces beautiful handmade watercolor boxes, in the Craig Young style as well.

And that's it for now, folks.  Check 'em all out if you get the change.  A fine bunch of painters. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cliff Notes for Zbukvic's "Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor", pt. 3

This is the third post in a series of three posts on Zbukvic's (sadly) out of print book.  First things first, how about some more samples of Zbukvic's work?  :)

Elements of creating Mood and Atmosphere-

3 major moods- 
1)      Soft and Hazy- low value contrast, soft edges, muted, analogous colors
2)      Medium Mellow- mid range for the set
3)      Sharp Staccato- high value contrast, hard edges, high chroma, complimentary colors

Tonal Value-
-all about relative values… How much darker is THIS than THAT?
-bold value contrast= bright light (building in direct sun, beaches, scenes at mid day, etc)
-bold value contrasts attract the eye
-bright light only occurs because of tonal contrast in the painting (a darker than usual background, darker shadows, etc)—if these are removed or blocked, the experience of bright light will diminish.  The experience of light occurs because of tonal contrast—it’s a relative experience. 
-mellow value range= low light (scenes at beginning or end of day, shaded areas, etc) 

*TIP- the sky is often paler and of lesser value than you think, even if you have clouds in it… otherwise the ground won’t read as ground.  If the sky or the clouds ARE the actual focus of the composition, then that changes things some. 

Edges- 4 types- 
a variety of edges help create depth just as much tone and color

*TIP- turn the paper upside down and do a gentle wash over the sky line after you’ve painted it and let it dry, to soften the distance and blur the edges

vary your edges, don’t have them be all the same
-the type of edge you get is dictated __directly__ by the relationship of pigment and water  on your brush compared to the amount of water on the paper this is where the watercolor clock is really really important   
1)      Hard Edge- Can only be done on DRY paper.  Can help create a harsh, bright light.
2)      Lost and Found Edge- Can only be done on nearly DRY or DAMP paper.  Good for creating varied mass within a single wash or shape.  Difficult to control.  Requiresthat you have an equal or lesser amount of water on your brush compared to the paper, or you’ll get blossoming as the water from your brush expands on the canvas.
3)      Soft controlled Edge- Done when the paper is MOIST.  Good for interlocking shapes.  Good for connecting the sky to the horizon, instead of using a harsh, hard line.
 4)      Soft Uncontrolled Edge- Done when the paper is WET.  Easy to accomplish, but hard to get it to “read” as anything specific.  Beautiful but sometimes overused.  Works wonderfully when combined with sharp hard edges.

Color- the “Mother Color”-
He always tries to tie an image together with a Mother Color, so things don’t get too disparate.  Rarely it’s a set of twins, but never more.  The goal is to create harmony through color.
He either swings cool or warm, in a general gist, on the color of the painting.  As a way to guide the color choices and composition.  Then he brings in the complementary temperature as an accent.

In this video of Alvaro Castagnet painting (also from an episode of Color In Your Life) you can see him put into effect a number of things that Zbukvic is talking about-- comparative values, varied kinds of edges, picking a mother color of sorts (for Alvaro, but of course, a red!).  What's interesting to me is how two painters who are really pretty different all in all, are still using some of the same basic elements of composition and technique.

The Jewlery-
-can determine the setting of a scene- is it a late afternoon festival with flags, a busy morning commute, or a deserted weekend morning?  The scenes can be painted with similar light.   
-These can be easily overdone.  If you’re looking for a place to put a piece of jewelry and aren’t quite sure where it should go, you’re probably done.  You should only include what’s necessary to tell the story you want to tell—not more.  Fewer brush strokes = greater elegance of expression.

*TIP- if the painting is too dark, add gouache highlights; if its too pale, add good, bold darks

Here are links to the other two "Cliff Notes" posts-
Cliff Notes, pt. 1
Cliff Notes, pt. 2

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cliff Notes for Zbukvic's "Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor", pt. 2

This is the 2nd in my series of 3 posts on this wonderful (out of print and very expensive) book.  This section is all about Zbukvic's approach to Composition.  To start us off, some tasty samples!


Zbukvic says, “Before you begin any painting, always ask yourself the simple question, ‘What is it I am painting?’  The answer should be Mood and Atmosphere.  The location should be totally secondary and only provide the means to tell the story.”  This is pretty much, according to the book, Zbukvic’s outlook as an image maker.  Essentially, it’s the painters job to subordinate other things to the clarity of the story—and the story is one of light and mood.  Pick what you want to say (about the light, the subject, the mood) and stick to making it the focus.  Everything else falls into line with this goal in mind- composition, edges, value, and color.  Just like Alvaro Castagnet said- “You begin painting the moment you look at the subject, not with the first brushstroke!”

In the book, atleast, Zbukvic tends to abide by this order of importance (with all of them being important, of course).  He's clearly a "tonalist", or so it seems to me.
      1)      tone
      2)      the drawing itself
      3)      edges
      4)      color

      the goal is to tell a story, once that’s accomplished the rest is unneeded
      too much information can obscure the story you are trying to tell, less is more

                            you need to simplify the subject to be true to it

      think in shapes, not objects, also very similar to Alvaro’s lessons
      combine objects of similar value together to make larger shapes
      don’t forget, the sky is a shape too
      once you have the bigger shapes in place, sub-divide into smaller shapes, then essential
              details after that
*TIP- When you paint, combine the shapes in a single wash with varied values and hues,
              don’t do washes in giant, monochromatic, untextured blocks
*TIP- He varies the tone and color of his washes in different areas, to get a single wash
              to do the work of a few washes.  He’s not necessarily separating washes by shapes.
*TIP- Shaded shapes and their shadows can be painted in a single Milk or Cream
              application, so there’s no division between the object and its cast shadow (ex., 
              with rocks or walls of houses, or trees).  You vary the thickness of your pigment to 
              create multiple shapes within a single wash.
 *TIP- Leave those little accidental white “sparkles” in the painting, to relieve 
              the monotony.  He also uses them later for highlights on random objects too.

Recently, as I was working on the post about going to view the 2nd Biennial International Watercolor Show, I watched some videos by Muriel Chartrain.  Fun!  Her "simple" watercolor sketches instantly came to mind when I re-read Zbukvic's section on shapes.  Here's the one I was thinking of--

Muriel paints these in a single go, pre-wetting the paper and dropping pigment in (clearly something like Coffee on Wet).  What's particularly interesting to see is that, as the paper dries, she begins to carve gentle compositional shapes out of the almost amorphous earlier wash.  She seems to do this by either a) varying the thickness of the paint she's applying (so it disperses more or less), or b) she uses the fact that the canvas is slowly drying to help the paint disperse in different ways.  There is no layering, no waiting for it to dry and cutting a new edge.  Nope. She does it all in one go, and while the edges are soft, there are clear shapes there.  Super fun to watch. Plus, I dug the music!  ;)

-don’t overwork it, a common mistake 
-the purpose of it is to lead you into the painting; too much detail will stop the eye from arriving at the point of true interest farther in the painting

Middle ground-
 -this is where you put “the actors on the stage”
 -The point is to draw the viewers eye to the actors on the stage, not the stage itself, nor the back drop, nor the back of the heads of other audience members.  A painter should always be thinking about what the real “actors” in the painting are, to keep themselves from getting distracted by extraneous details.  The actors are typically in the mid-ground.

-Gives the painting depth
-Is usually overworked and too dark, because its painted first

-The drawing is the bones of the painting.  No amount of paint can disguise a terrible drawing.
In his opinion, its ok to get carried away with the drawing, even if it gets erased or covered by the painting because it helps acquaint you with the subject more. 
*TIP- make the drawing light, even if it is detailed, so that it doesn’t dictate your future painting decisions, which should develop and evolve as the painting progresses
*TIP- will sometimes sketch in small, very dark windows or openings on buildings and leave them here on purpose in the final painting, instead of repainting them

Practical tips- 
- You need consistent, mellow light on your palette and canvas, whether you’re inside or outside.  Don’t paint in full sun, as it’ll change the way the paint looks.

- Arrange your materials ergonomically- put your water and palette on the same side of the canvas as your dominant brush-hand.
- Not against using white gouache or Chinese/ Titanium white to reclaim highlights.
-use small brushes for small shapes and big brushes for big shapes
-hold your brush farther back on the handle
-paint with your canvas at an angle, about 35 degrees

Here are links to the other two parts of the "Cliff Notes"-
Cliff Notes, pt. 1
Cliff Notes, pt. 3

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cliff Notes for Zbukvic's "Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor", pt. 1

First, in case you don't know Joseph Zbukvic well as an artist, here are some samples of his work.  Lovely!

Last Spring I had the opportunity to read Zbukvic's out of print "Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor", thanks to the magic of the interlibrary loan process (Yay public library system!!).  I even made a little review of it in an earlier post "Summer Reading for Watercolorists".  In the hopes that my notes and thoughts might be helpful to others, I'll be doing three posts, as I break down the book- one on the Watercolor Clock, one on Composition as the book presents it, and one on Mood and Atmosphere.

Also, for those who don't have 500$ to buy a used copy of the book on Amazon, I would like to share a link to a pdf copy of the book that is available online.  The book is out of print, but should really be read far more than it is.  I contacted Joseph Zbukvic re: this, and he gave the go ahead. So, here's the link. Sorry folks, the link was taken down.  My apologies.  I hope the blog posts are still of use (or even more use?).  If you hunt, you can sometimes find copies in public libraries-- that's how I got mine.

Now, with all that in place, without further ado-

Zbukvic’s Watercolor Clock-

This is the really the nuts and bolts of the book-  Zbukvic’s thesis on how to get pigment and water to do what you want it to do.  It doesn’t have anything to do with how to compose an interesting image, or what techniques you should use to what affect.  It’s really just about understanding the mechanics of watercolors.  He uses this set up throughout the book to let you know how he’s applying pigment and water in the painting examples.

In a gist, you need to know how wet your canvas is and how wet/ full of pigment your brush is.  When the two interact, different things happen, depending on the ratio.   He has 5 versions of paintbrush wetness and 4 version of paper wetness.  Each combo of hands (one being how wet the pigment/brush is and one and being how wet the paper is) creates a different effect, depending on what "time" it is on the clock.  Joseph has a beautifully illustrated version of the clock in the book, but in a rudimentary fashion, it looks like this-

Pigment Consistencies (on the Brush)-

Tea= very thin and watery, not much pigment; moves freely on canvas if tilted; good for skies and clouds

Coffee= stronger mix; moves freely when canvas is tilted, but leaves behind a wash of color; good for distant mountains, clouds, and gentle shadows

Milk= thick enough to dry reasonably close to the color in the palette; good for mid and foreground, dry brush techniques; can get muddy if over-brushed, but will create granulation of a large area

Cream= sludgy, fluid consistency; moves on palette when mixed, and slowly on paper when tilted; this won’t create a bead, so used more like gouache; good for darker things- shadows, rocks, dark trees, etc.; creates broken edges; good to drop into wet and milky washes to create undulations and varied values

Butter= basically straight from the tube; won’t move even if held upside down; don’t over do it- basically used for creating rich contrast with gentler washes and muted colors; done only at the end of the painting

Paper Wetness-

Dry= well, dry; creates sharp edged contrasts and uses the paper texture a lot

Damp= almost dry, probably cool to the touch; easy to screw up if you have too much water on your brush, which will create back-bleeds into the painting; best to paint on with a thick application of pigment (like cream or butter) as that will control the soft edges of the brush marks; good for scratching, lifting pigment, and splattering water drops or salt where you want to create a mottled texture

Moist= not sopping wet, but still has a sheen- a short lived stage; good for soft edges on shapes you’d like to keep atleast semi-controlled, good for dropping one color into another so they’ll gently mix

Wet= very wet and glossy, you can tilt the water in any direction you want; good for alla prima applications of color, graduated washes with granulation, and tea and coffee applications; creates soft, diaphanous edges

Let's see some of that in action-

Here's a video of Zbukvic painting from YouTube (part of the Australian show "Colour in Your Life").  Let's go through what we can see, and I'll try and associate it with the clock-

11:00     Tea on Dry.  
He starts a pale wash.  All edges that he cuts are sharp, but the value of the pigment he applies is light.
13:00     Coffee on Damp. 
He starts a new, darker wash on the still damp paper, varying the values, getting darker here and there, but some of his edges are a bit softer than before.
14:00     Coffee on Dry.  
 He lays a darker section in, to the right of the image.  He blends it into with the previous wash on the left side (which is still a bit damp), but you can see that the edges are generally dry on the right and that he can do dry brush work (at the bottom of the shape, by the street), because the pigment is a bit thicker.
15:00     Milk on Damp.  
You can see him do the simple strokes into the wash he finished, on the right, for windows.  The pigment is thick enough to be darker than the wash.  The edges are all soft, but the pigment doesn't disperse, thus Damp.
16:00    Cream on Dry.  
This is where he sets in to do the cars.  You can see from the close up that the paint is a bit thick on his brush.  Perhaps Cream.  Also, the paint doesn't create a bead when he uses it on the cars.
17:00     Cream on Moist.  
This is for the red tail lights. You can see how the very rich color disperses and runs down into the darker value of the car.  He daubs it in, and the water does the work.
17:50     Butter on Moist.  
He takes the white straight out of the tube and applies it to a slightly damp surface.  The goal, as he says, is for the white to "melt" into it.  Compared to the red tail lights, it disperses less, because the pigment is thicker/drier than before.  So it's not just the wetness of the canvas that's important, but the brush too.
18:00     Milk on Dry/Damp.  
This is where he starts painting the tree in the foreground on the left. The value is noticeably darker than the older washes, and he removes some of the paint from the brush, so it's not so loaded/wet.  This lets him paint with more texture.
19:00     Cream on Dry?   
This is when he does the leaves and the light posts, etc..  As he says, "The paint is lovely and thick."  That's how he's getting that dark, saturated value as well as all the texture.
21:00     Milk on Wet
This is the final stage, where he wants the pigment to really run.  He pre-wets everything and drops rich paint in.  And boy does it run.  This is much different than earlier stages, where the brush was very wet but the paper was drier (either totally dry or damp).  Now, the paper is very wet and brush is comparatively dry.  This is making all the difference in the world.  If the pigment on the brush was wetter, it would run faster.  You can see how it slowly drifts down the page though, and is able to keep its value despite the page being re-wet.  If he wanted it to run only a very little bit, he might have put Cream on Wet instead, for example, which produces a different effect, as the paint is comparatively "drier."

My thoughts-
After much experimentation, my take on all of this was that the wetter your paper is before you put paint down (such as Moist or Wet), the better wet washes play, mostly because you can’t control much anyways—it’s all about washes or granulation at that point.  The drier the paper gets (such as Damp) while still being wet, the better it is to use drier and thicker applications of pigment (which will soften with the damp surface, but not bleed so much).  Once the paper is dry, you can use any application of paint, with the purpose of the stroke dictating the thickness of the applied pigment (a pale valued wash of shadow being Tea or Milk, versus a super chromatic glob for a headlight being Butter, for example).  

The trick is to figure out when a paper is Damp or Moist, etc. as well as when the pigment is a Milk or Cream consistency, for example.   That basically takes pure experimentation and doodling, to just see how different combos of wetness and dryness interact.  Playing with pigment and water on the canvas this way was fun, and well worth doing!  Quiet educational, in the best way.

Here are links to the other two parts of the the "Cliff Notes"-
Cliff Notes pt. 2
Cliff Notes pt. 3

Friday, January 2, 2015

Exploring atists and techniques from the 2nd Biennial International Watercolor Show, pt. 3- Alvaro Castagnet

Alvaro Castagnet-

Of course, Alvaro was on the actual flyer for the show, so getting to see some of his work up close again was of great interest to me.  I thought I would start with the painting on the front of the flyer.  It’s gorgeous, and very typical Alvaro!  It’s also very big (bigger than a full sheet?), at 4’ wide x 3’ tall or so, so it allows for a lot of very loose brush work (both wet and dry), and yet it’s still very legible when you back up.  A wonderful combo.

Here’s a closeup of the people walking, in the bottom right of the image. I love how its almost pure gobbledy-gook when you get up close!  You can clearly see lots of dry brushwork, and then a warmer opaque watercolor being applied for highlights.  I saw him do something similar in the class this past April, and he was combining Chinese White with Yellow Ochre for this kind of affect.

Here’s the cars upclose.  I was wondering if he actually splotched some water in there after he'd done the wash, to get those lovely washy bits, or if he did the opposite and actually had a very wet, rather pale wash in there, and then dribbled the thicker, darker pigment into it and let it disperse.  The affect isn't what's so surprising to me, as I've actually gotten similar affects myself at times, but rather the control- where's all the water and pigment going when he paints this way? It isn't like it's running off the bottom of the page, since the shadow is trapped.  That's sort of confounding to me.  Also, you've got to have some tilt in there to get things to run, but it can't be much or it would get trapped at the bottom of the shadow.  Perhaps he tilts it at first, then lets it dry flat, after he gets the affect he wants?

I was also intrigued by the very rough, dry brush work.  You can see it on the pale valued shadows for the windows, but also down below, in a darker value, where the dry brush work is sort of scrubbed very loosely into the shadows above the taxi.  That's quite interesting to me in particular, because the dry brush work isn't actually defining a form there, the way it is on the windows, but rather a darker value... which is something I might often do with a wash instead.

In this second pic below, what I was drawn to most were the shadows and headlight reflections.

When I pulled in close, I was surprised to find out that the reflections of the car lights on the wet road are all dry brush strokes.  What a fun juxtaposition!

Again, as in the first image, you can see how loose he is with his people.  Lots of dry brush work and opaque, light valued watercolor pigments.  As I've seen him do before, the color/ value of the umbrellas and the base work for the figures is laid during the first wash, and then preserved and cut around.  The thicker, higher chroma pigments for the faces and what not were done later, atleast when I saw him do them.  Again, as with the headlights, the legs and and their reflections in the water are all done dry on dry.


This is the 3rd and final Alvaro image that I have pics of from the show.  This one, like the first two, was a full sheet (or bigger?), so each little section I'm taking a pic of is probably a quarter sheet or so in scale.  Big stuff!  In this one, I was struck by two primary things- the cab lights and the window reflections. 

First, look how thick the pigment was on the cab lights.  That stuff is gooped on like impasto! It’s also applied dry, as you can see the texture of the paper with ease.  Here’s the closeup.

My favorite part though is this thing he does with the windows. As before, this section of the painting, in and of itself, is probably atleast a quarter sheet.  So, he's playing rough and loose with his brushwork.

The glare that is captured there is wonderful.  What’s neat is that he does almost all the shadow work there with very dry brushstrokes.  You can see paper texture really show through with the brushwork.  I also have to assume he’s pulling some of the red-brown pigment off the paper after the fact in that particularly “bright” area, though who knows?  Still, I saw him  scrub stuff out with a tissue, to bring back highlights for lamp posts, so perhaps he did the same thing here.  Perhaps he just has some impressive brush control and lifts the brush in the right locations of each of the windows??  Either way, it's also subtly enhanced by the paler yellow wash in the center of the glare on the window, with the yellow "shadows" around them.  Each element of the affect supports the other. I also enjoyed that strong linear shadow crossing the windows from left to right.

And that's it folks.  If you've gone through the 3 posts, I hope you've found some artists or techniques you might want to explore more.  Not having been to a watercolor exhibition before, and of such high quality, I can definitely recommend the experience.  Getting to see stuff so upclose was wonderful and very instructive.  I hope I've been able to replicate some of the experience for you here.