watercolor portrait – second paint

okay, in this case it’s the second and third painting sessions.  yesterday i put on the highlight local color, the lightest of the lights.  and today i put in more intense local color.

if you want to skip down to the test piece for a moment, look at the large purple blotch in the middle of the test piece.  there are two oranges stroked on to that, and a line run thru them, trailing off toward the bottom.  these two oranges looked similar on my palette, but are very different once they’re down on paper.  so i chose the lighter one for the lower of the feetie pajamas the kids are wearing.  you can see by the line thru it that neither of these are staining pigments (i have no idea what pigments these are, because i’ve tossed the tubes.  i’d know if i’d mixed them myself (the subject of another blog post)).  the line thru them means they come up, you can scrub them, the paint lifts when wet.  which is good, usually, because it means you can go ahead and make mistakes without absolutely despairing of fixing it.

i was very careful (dilute paint) at first, while i worked up my courage.  which is a big problem for me, because the longer i paint in any given session, the more heavy handed and expressive my painting gets, so i have to mix up where i’m painting when, so that, say, the girl on top doesn’t get garish while the girl on the bottom is vague and washed out.  you can see this at work on yesterday’s (post) test piece.

starting with the girl on the lowest step, i used my number 5 brush, putting wet color down on the dry paper.  i tried to keep it wet so that i could go back in with other colors, frinstance in the middle part of the largest swath from right shoulder to left hip, there’s a little bit of the darker orange.

another great thing about non-staining pigments is that even after the paint dries, you can turn those jarring sharp edges into soft ones just by running a line of clear water over the edge.  which i’ve tried to do whenever possible, because at this point i don’t want hard edges.  i want subtlety.


next i went after the second girl’s suit.  i used the darker red here, and lots of water at the edges.  in fact, i started at that dark patch halfway up on the left, where the edges were going to stay hard (because they’re in front of the curve of her hip), the same with under the arm on the right.  i put in the darker orange on the left, then came and put the stripes on the right shoulder, and then washed the edges with water as it dried.  then i did under the right arm, and started working down the right side to the left foot.  the color here is the reddest of the quinacridones (i think, or else scarlet), and i might as well have put it in wet on wet, because i came in immediately with clear water and washed all the way out to the middle.  and kept washing it so that the color didn’t migrate to the right.

for the girl at the top, i used quinacridone magenta, i think, with touches of some sort of purple, maybe dioxazine.  same thing, every little touch with paint, i came along afterwards with clear water to keep the edges soft.  they don’t look particularly soft in this picture, but the untouched lines would look far harsher.


what you’re looking at above is yesterday’s test card today.  first, there’s that experiment i did with the two orange pigments, center top.  then, along the bottom, there’s a blob from each of the brown colors on my palette, in their order, followed by the two blacks (with mystery blacks above them), then my blues and purples to the edge of the paper.  so brown 1 is the one all the way to the left, and blue whatever is all the way to the right.

then, on the top left of the test piece, you’ll see a wide swath of the orange i used on the bottom suit in the painting.  i let it dry, and then put down on top of it (from left to right), brown 2, 3, 4, then sticking up brown 1, then black 1, black 2, and brown 1 again only thicker at the right end of the swath.  this way i could play with the colors i wanted to use on the next color pass, looking for transparency and darkness as well as color mix.  the colors i’m sure of are the brown 1, which i know to be quinacridone gold, and black 1, which is called moonglow, a mixed (might as well be called phthalo/alizarin) black, and very staining.  i’m not really sure what the other colors are, but never mind.

at this point i’d been painting for awhile, and the sun was in my eyes, so i set the card aside to dry, and went to walk the dogs and eat lunch and build a frame.  i came back as the light was going and decided i wanted to do some more.  and by the time i took the picture below, it was sunset, so that bit of black you see is the middle of my street.

in this painting, i’m trying not to use the old standby dark (blue).  i’m trying to use a range of reds to express form and shadows.  after all, i have so many pigments.  why not use them all?  (otoh the virtues of a limited palette.)  and that’s why i laid all the colors out on the test strip and layered them on the orange, so i could try to see the real colors (filtered by a cellphone camera, filtered by my computer, filtered by my printer, filtered by my aging eyes in the changing light).


looking at the photo of the girl on the lowest step, the shadows of her suit are very warm.  if i used blue, they would be cold.  the suit in the middle has some cold reds on it (under the arms mainly), and the one on top is almost all cold.  this is a function of distance as well as lighting.

so i used brown 2 over the orange suit, waited a minute to let the water evaporate some, and came back in with brown 3 in the darkest spots.  always wetting the edges.  then i came in with that scarlet red in the right hip and under the left arm, and along the right side of the back.  because looking at the shadows in these places, they are glowing with red.  it’s supersaturated, and i like that.

not sure how it’s going to look against the graphic background, not sure how i’ll make the transition to pen and ink drawing after putting in day-glo colored girls.  do i color the carpet, do i fade to gray at the edges, do i just do the rolly critters in pen and ink?  we’ll see.  how close do i want to get to the deadline and still be messing with this?

i wanted to say a few words about my inner experience when painting this afternoon.  again i was reluctant, again the voices clamoring, not so that i could hear them, but enough to make me nervous and repelled.  but fuck that, and the voices died down as soon as i got in to what i was doing.  watercolor is such a delicate medium.  not that you have to make delicate pictures, that’s not what i’m saying.  i’m saying that my process of painting in watercolor is delicate, even wetting the brush and swishing it in the paint, tipping it and dipping it again until it’s got just the right amount of paint on it, diluted to just the right consistency and tint.  and this all comes from experience, knowing what ‘just the right’ is, but the ritual of dipping and swirling, tipping and draining can be practised from the very first moment you start to paint.  like a tea ceremony.

the same thing with the act of painting itself.  the words shut off, i start to really see, i judge where to put the brush on the fly, according to what my eyes and instincts tell me (often totally ignoring my pencil lines or previous painted indications), then i reach for more pigment or water, or another color, or the blotting paper, almost automatically, without thinking, just going on the emotion i’m feeling.

and then i look up with a feeling of real accomplishment, having filled in one whole connected mass of paint.  and see a wonderfully done passage.

except for that spot.  so down goes my head, and i reach for the brush, dip into the water, dip into the paint, tip off the excess paint, and go back in before the paint dries.

and always watching the edges.  always coming back to the overall area and seeing that it works with the rest.

and then i see another spot.

tomorrow i will go in with the darks.  oh never mind.  tomorrow i’ll continue the same process with the other two, and then i’ll go in with the darks.  i may come back over the lights on the girl on the bottom step with quinacridone gold, but we’ll see what’s needed.  we’ll see how drastic i get splashing paint around before i decide i’ve had enough.


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