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There Are No Shortcuts

Permanent Linkby RichardDevine on Mon Mar 10, 2014 9:32 am

There are no shortcuts to producing good artwork – or anything of real value, for that matter. It takes time, patience, practice and planning.
I had an idea for a new painting. It was to be a watercolor painting of a historical house in a nearby city. I had already taken some photos of the house from different angles months ago, so I used them as the basis for a pencil sketch. Each time I plan out a new painting I go back through my books on composition to refresh myself and try to use the principles discussed in the books to come up with a good sketch. The idea is that if I repeatedly go over these principles and apply them to best of my ability, eventually they will become second nature.
After I come up with a sketch I’m happy with I start thinking about values and how they can be used to draw attention to the main subject – the house. Again, because I’m still learning (and I guess I’ll always be learning), I go to the books once more, to the discussions on value, and refresh myself on the principles. Then, with this fresh in my mind, I work out the values of the painting. There should be a variety of values but for the sake of planning I work out the layout in no more than five values with just shapes or patterns to see how they balance each other pleasingly. And I want to have the strongest contrast around my center of interest. These value patterns can be worked out in small thumbnails.
Next comes color. What colors do I use on this piece? They, of course, have to match the values I decided on in the last step. They must be compatible. They must also be in keeping with the colors of the House. Do I want a warm or cool feel to the painting? So, I work out the colors in thumbnails until I have one that just feels right.
One thing I try to keep in mind throughout this process is to use the values and color to help put focus on my subject – the house. I want to maintain variety in the painting but not so much that it becomes chaotic. Different sizes, shapes, values, color but arrange them so they lead the eye to the house.
So, now that I’ve worked out the composition I’m ready to paint. I’m doing this one in watercolor, so I have to think about the order in which I paint the different parts, background to foreground, dark to light, leaving whites, etc. The sky should go in first. I’m anxious to start but I wonder about how to best paint the sky in so it’s uniform and graded from top down toward the horizon. The best way for me is to mask out all the foreground foliage and branches. Then, when I paint the sky I don’t have to worry about painting around anything and I can just do a nice graded wash – sweeping from side to side. Easier and better. More time in preparation but better results. Another thing: I do multiple washes of a lighter color so I can gradually sneak up on the intensity I want – and if a glaze is not completely uniform, it can be corrected by future glazes. This takes time also but pays off in less tension. If dampening an area allows for easier application, I’ll do that too.
And this is how I continue through the rest of the painting. Planning out my steps, using multiple layers of wash, masking off areas if it will prove beneficial, stopping to analyze after each step and decide what the next one will be. It makes me more relaxed and I enjoy it more. It may take me longer to finish a painting but I feel better through the whole process. After many years and many, many paintings, some things will become second nature, I’ll discover alternate and better paths to an end but that journey also takes time and patience and practice. There are not short cuts.

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