Friday, December 7, 2012

And now the "rest of the story"

With apologies to the late Paul Harvey for my post title -- here's what happened between versions of Mumbles and Squeaks.

The problems with the first painting: Shadowed areas that got too dark too fast, and keeping those shadows even, yet interesting.

When I got too dark, I panicked, and tried to scrub things out. That ruined the surface of the paper, and then it would not hold paint without bleeding all over the place (ah the benefits of sizing!).

But the larger issue was the diagonal shadow cast from the little roof above the second-story door. That shape drew me to the scene to begin with, and it was so complicated, I could not paint it quickly enough to keep the wash even. Even trying to pre-wet the area with clear water didn't help me. I started getting splotches where wet areas would meet nearly dry was a mess. And I was so busy trying to just get the wash down, I was not making it look interesting -- it was just an ugly, splotchy shape.

So I walked away for several months and thought about those problems. I transferred a fresh drawing to a new piece of watercolor paper, but I decided that I would not put brush to that piece of paper again until I had developed a more thorough plan of attack.

My solution developed after watching a snippet of a John Salminen painting video. As you know, I'm a big fan of his work (see why at

This video snippet was part of an advertisement for one of his painting DVDs, and it showed him using strips of cheap masking tape to mask out an area of a painting. He layered multiple layers of tape over an area, and then used a very sharp knife to cut through the tape and expose an area of paper, which he then painted with a wash.

Watching this, I questioned how it was possible to cut the tape and not cut the paper -- but I thought it was worth further exploration.

It turns out, if your knife is sharp enough, then you can feel your way along the surface of the paper without damaging it. So after several practice attempts, I decided to use that technique to mask around the primary diagonal shadow shape.

Since I had the freedom to lay paint on quickly with the shape's edges protected, I started playing with brighter colors in areas that I thought would have reflected light. Since the entire painting is painted with four colors -- essentially a yellow, red, blue and green, it was easy to brighten areas but keep the overall color palette in harmony.

Once I had that essential shadow shape down, I pulled off the tape and began to work on the rest of the painting. As the layers went down, I went back into the cast shadow several times to darken some areas and highlight others. With the primary shape defined, I found it easier to paint in that area and keep layers even.

So, I can't imagine doing an entire painting with that kind of layered masking approach, but I did find it helpful in getting a complex shape down on the paper. And it helped me get a painting finished!

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