Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Underpainting as a "road map"

I love to travel and I love maps. They tell me where I am and show me how to get where I want to go, and they give me the secure feeling that I won't get lost and lose my way. When I first started painting animal portraits, I really did feel lost, especially in painting the face. It's not like painting a flower, where you often have discrete flower petals to paint one at a time--a face and body of a critter usually has subtle variations in shading. How was I to find my way to ensure the highlights and shadows appeared in the right place?

The answer to my dilemma was shown to me when I ran across Judy Treman's book Building Brilliant Watercolors in the library. I discovered the magic of what she calls "disappearing purple", or as others call it, underpainting. I also ran across this purple underpainting technique in Lori Andrews blog in her painting of a barrel cactus. Using purple, mixed from a blue and a rose, you first paint the darks in your subject. This then provides a roadmap for where the darker-valued local colors come in later. For a portrait of Casey, a 4-month-old laborador retriever, I fi
rst did the purple underpainting:

With that underpainting, I then have a values roadmap for when I add in my local color:

Casey is of course an exceptionally cute puppy. I have a big weakness for puppies, especially large breed puppies! When I initially tried photographing him, he was super active and in the low light of the owner's kitchen I could not get an image that was not blurred given the limitations of my Canon G9 camera. But after a time, he pooped out, and saying to myself "There we go", I set the camera on the floor and photographed his cute sleepy face.

I like to paint with a limited palette, using 3-5 colors only, and for this painting I used WN Phthalo Blue RS, WN Permanent Rose, and DS Hansa Yellow. The size of the painting is 5x7" and it's on Arches cold press paper.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My watercolor journey

I think it was my sister-in-law's beautiful watercolor paintings that inspired me to try it myself back in 2003. I loved the vibrant but subtle color that could only be from watercolor paint. I took my first watercolor class in 2003 at Pima Community College, somewhat hesitantly because I know myself--I tend to really get into a hobby, do it for awhile, then drop it for something else. I was hoping I wouldn't have to commit too much money to this hobby. It was fun, and the spark of my passions ignited. Here is one of my first paintings in that class:

I took 3 semesters of watercolor class from Pima, then decided to go on my own, learning from books, the Internet, and experience. I starting buying quality materials like Daniel Smith paints, Arches watercolor paper, and other good supplies. It was fun! In that period, one of my favorite paintings was one of our beloved Great Dane Flash:

Then something happened. I needed more reference photos, and I needed (wanted) a better camera to take them myself. By then it was 2005 and digital SLR's were creating images nearly comparable to their film SLR counterparts, and I bought a Canon 20D. I became very hooked on photography, and watercolor painting fell to the wayside (as often happens with me). I tried to occasionally paint, but I just wasn't feeling the passion. Not until my passion for photography began to wane, in 2010. I dusted off my palettes and poured through five years worth of new reference material as fodder for new watercolor paintings, and I discovered a passion for pet portrait painting! What a pleasure it is to paint the face of my friend's beloved pet and give it to them! What a pleasure to see a face come alive under my brush! I've rediscovered my passion and I thought I'd start this blog to give it a voice.