it’s almost done. based on jim’s advice, i’m doing the most vital areas first, and seeing how far i can slide toward home base. that means finishing the kid, most importantly. so i spent most of my time doing that today. in between, i ran some blue over the very background, and again over the shadowed vines on the fence behind the kid. i also finished the pondlet in front, putting the gungy bits into the water and softening random edges of the gunge.
at the very end of my workday, i finished by getting out the squirrel mop and running a glaze of burnt umber and a little indigo blue (ultramarine is too chalky looking as a top glaze) over the darks in the water of the farther pondlet, trying to see if that’ll be dark enough. these are all subtle touches that won’t be visible to anyone but me. and if i keep shooting fuzzy pictures of the painting, it’ll stay invisible.
this is what i did to the kid today. first i finished the headpiece and started to darken the shadows on the kid’s head. i’ve been having a whole lot of trouble with the kid’s face, and so for most of this painting you’ve seen it blank, or sketched in with pencil. you can’t really see the process very well, but i’m sneaking up on the face, the way i always do when i’m trying to make a portrait. which i never do on commission, before you ask.
when i’m sneaking up on details in a watercolor, i use very thin dilutions of paint, put them on hesitantly, and then go in with copious clear water and soften both edges until the line is barely visible. then i let it dry, and do it again. that way i build up gradually darker indications on the paper without committing myself to marks i can’t correct. this is a strict following of the ‘paint from light to dark’ rule, and i’m following it out of fear.
sneaking up on something consists of putting in all the shadows first, building the planes of the face before putting in the details of the features. if you’ve got the plane of the cheek meeting the plane of the chin correctly, the placement of the mouth and nose will dictate themselves. so that’s how i did the face. i put in the slight shadowing over the ridge above the eyebrows first. you can’t even see that here. then i put in the indent where the jaw meets the cheek around the sides of the mouth. i put dots at the corners of the eyes way before i built out the eyebrows and outline of the eyes, because it is these dots you see most clearly when looking at the face indistinctly (thru squinty eyes).
i can see in this photo where i’ve done a few things wrong – the right hand side of the cheek, and details on the trunk and legs, and could i have been more awkward with the arms i don’t know – but i can perhaps fix that tomorrow. the kid’s still not exactly right, but the moment he is i’ve got to back away and make sure he’s done enough for the rest of the picture, and then see what i have to do to the rest of the picture to make it be enough for the boy. like – how to finish the foliage on the left? whether to scrub some lights into the lilies? how much more to do to the rocks lining the left side of the farther pondlet? and how to make the shadows under the broom (on the right behind the boy) read better – the area’s too cold and gray, and doesn’t have the warmth and vibrancy i want my shadows to have, and the colors in the shadows aren’t convincing. so, insurmountable problems at every hand, and it’s all in a day’s work.
but then it’ll be finished.
the painting part. then i have to frame it. and break more rules doing that. the ‘you can’t varnish a watercolor’ rule.
can we count how many rules i have broken in this painting? sorry, i can’t bring them to mind. the main rule i always break is this one – in watercolor, you paint from light to dark. you’re supposed to build the plane of the paint surface according to tonal value. which, when i’m not running scared, i think is silly, because i see the world in colors and want to paint that first and go over it with glazes to tone it into shadows afterwards.
and about the rules i have kept? reserve the whites and the lights (instead of using a mask, say). but then i broke this one all the time, whenever i’d whip out the toothbrush for a little spot scrubbing. this is a variation of rule number one.
rules. by various rules, none of what i’m doing is ‘real’ watercolor. just like i don’t do ‘real’ oil painting or ‘real’ encaustic, and probably don’t dye fabrics the right way, either. well, fuck that. sorry, but people who get all exclusive about the right way to do things are pushing another agenda, and i’m not playing.
their way is not better than mine, their way is traditional. their way is us-versus-them. their rules mask fear.