Monday, June 11, 2018

Using Grays to Paint Clouds


Following are a few ways you can create cloud effects in your paintings. #1 will be if you have a lot of clouds, but also a lot of blue sky, and need to mask off the clouds.(USING NO MASKING FLUID) #2 will show what to do if you have a lot of sky and only a few clouds. And #3 will show mostly clouds with a few peeks of blue sky.

#1 Lots of sky/lots of big cloud formations.

If you want to mask off clouds so that you have some freedom to wash in lots of sky, here is one way. First, tear some tracing paper in the general size and shape of your cloud. Rip strips of masking tape and tape the tracing paper to the painting ripped side out. (This is to reduce the hard-edged look that masking things off often gets.) Leslie Macracken (who is BTW a man) suggests using a knife to cut the edges of the tape to the cloud shapes. I didn't care about the specific shapes enough to try that.

After I finishe taping, I still wanted to ensure soft edges, so I applied gum arabic (slightly thinned with water) to the edges of the tape and let it all dry.

I used a wash of cerulean and French ultramarine over the sky, painting dark at the top and getting lighter toward the horizon. There is a tiny bit of pink in the horizon too. I chose these colors for two reason. One is that they both lift nicely. Another is that I planned to use cerulean as part of my gray mixture. 
While the sky is still wet, I BLOTTED around the cloud edges. (I'm still trying to prevent any hard eddges that I might have to soften later.)

While everything was drying I washed in a warm wash for the ground, using quin gold and cerulean.

I removed all the tape. And I'm pretty happy with how soft-edged the clouds are.

Then I begin to shade or gray the clouds. Rules of perspective are for skies too. As clouds recede in the distance, they become smaller, less distinct, less detail. Often the tops of the clouds will be more white as the sun hits them, and the bottoms will have the shadow colors. For my base shadow color is mixed cerulean and quin burnt orange. When I wanted to cool it a bit, I added French; to warm it I adde alizarin crimson. 

The painting is about 3/4 complete. I've added detail to the clouds and warmed some in the foreground, and cooled some in the background. I added some trees to the horizon line using quin gold, french ultramarine, and alizarin. The pink in the sky is alizarin. I warmed large cloud at the top of the page with a little gold to tone down the white. 


The top of this small sample shows a nice easy way to show little peeks of blue poking through the clouds. Wet the area you want with water. With a little GUM ARABIC in your water, pick up some blue paint and paint into the area you have wet...BUT NOT TO THE EDGE where it is dry. Paint up to the last 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the edge, and let the water and gum arabic carry the paint to the edge of the cloud. It will create a soft edge such as the top two sky areas.

At the bottom is the gray I used with a little gum arabic in the paint. You can see how the gum arabic makes it disperse differently especially on the right.

The top of this picture I put a horizontal line of gum arabic from the jar. Below that I painted some blue and let it wash into the gum arabic area.
On  the very bottom of the picture I just painted blue, and while wet, lifted the small cloud with paper towel and thirsty brush. You can also drip water and create a backrun for small, wispy clouds. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

More than 50 Shades of Gray


This is a really bad photo.

I found an article in Watercolor Artist magazine, April 2011, by Lauren McCracken about using grays. I don't find myself using many grays, but there are times when you want a lot of gray tones, and a variety of them: painting silver, large billowing storm clouds, chrome, ocean foam, glass and crystal, white flowers, ocean waves. Lauren gave some great suggestions on developing grays that you like.

So make a chart of grays you can make yourself. Divide a piece of watercolor paper into squares and separate them either with tape, miskit, or some other way. Mark the top of every other column with cool colors you want to try. I used cerulean, cobalt, veridian, and French ultramarine.

One the side mark it with reds/oranges that would be close complements of those colors. I used (from the top) Quin burnt Orange, Quin burnt scarlet, Burnt umber, Alizarin Crimson, and Burnt sienna. Use what you have! Try Prussian blue, Winsor Blue, or Indigo or indanthrone if you have them. Use coral or other reddish colors with greens. You can try purples with yellows too. Find the colors you like as grays. (Some will NOT be attractive grays).

In the left square put a dark mixture of the gray; in the one to the right put a very light,watered down version of that color. My chart is obviously not completed. It will probably extend to another piece of paper, because I have several combinations I'm eager to try.

Notice which grays are granular. You might not want that on a silky smooth flower, but you might love it on rocks or wood.

Lauren McCracken goes a step further and creates a separate palette of six favorite grays by mixing quantities of favorite combinations. (for example four parts of cerulean with one part Winsor Newton light red, with just enough water to allow it to mix thoroughly). That way she can start with the exact shade, then cool it with a blue or warm it with a red.


Here are a few more student paintings finished today:


The next step for finishing this yupo painting is to do a value study of your intended sketch. You want to bring it down to three values, lights and whites, medium tones, and darks. You can do a lot of this on your computer, but some you will have to adjust by hand to get the values where you want them to be. Here is the fig tree photo after adjusting the contrast in Elements. I like to have it in or near black and white. Then you can just conentrate on the values instead of trying to copy color.

Sketch your picture onto the dried fluid acrylic pour. You may need colored saral (graphite paper) or colored watercolor pencil in order for it to show up. On the tree roots I used white; on the Buddha I used blue.

Now get ready to remove your whites and light values with alcohol. You can use several tools for removing the fluid acrylic: cotton swabs, stiff brushes, bamboo stick for thin lines, toothpick, etc. Here is the fig tree picture with whites and lights removed.

Begin to fill in the darkest darks with watercolor. The paper will be slick and resist, so you have to use more saturated paints. If you can't get the effect you want, you can use fluid acrylic or watercolor pencils. You just won't be able to remove the acrylic as easily if you don't like it. Here you can see that I've begun to darken the roots on the left.

When you have all the darks in, you can go back over some of the mid tones, change colors, or soften some edges or add textures.



Buddha, before and after (I took this photo at Marie Selby orchid gardens in Sarasota)

Some pics with just whites removed:

(Butterfly pic taken by Glenn at Oxbow)

Whites removed and beginning to paint in darks:

   (plumeria photo taken in St. Augustine)

Finished paintings:

(pic taken by student )
Student used watercolor pencil to sharpen some areas.

(Photo ref. taken by student)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Yupo Part I


Yupo is a compelling and unique alternative to traditional art papers. It's a syntheticpaper, machine-made in the USA of 100% polypropylene. It is waterproof, stain-resistant, and extremely strong and durable.

There are a number of plusses in working with yupo. The paint stays on the surface of the plastic, so it doesn't lose it's richness because it is not soaking into the fibers. If you don't like what you painted, you can remove it with water or alcohol. (Even though some colors will leave a "ghost" because they are more staining.) You can easily make changes to part or all of your painting.

The downside is that it picks up oils and dust from your fingers and the air. So before you paint with watercolor, you need to clean it with soap and water or alcohol to remove oils spots. 

Here is what you will need for painting with FLUID ACRYLIC and watercolor:

fluid acrylics
brushes (don't use your watercolor brushes)
spray bottle
cottons swabs
stiff small brushes to remove paint
sharp wooden tool (bamboo stick, toothpick, etc.) to remove small edges.

Pictured here are the yupo paper, two bottles of fluid acrylic, and a doggie training pad, used to absorb the paint and protect your table.

In this picture, I lightly sprayed the yupo paper before putting on any paint, only because I was working in the heat with a fan over me. I used manganese blue, magenta, quin burnt orange, and yellow in the mix. You are striving for an overall medium tone. You want texture and smooth blends of color, without too many hard edges. 

Let it dry completely overnight before going to the next step. 

In class I handed out a very small piece of yupo that had already been painted with fluid acrylic. We used a turtle pattern to practice the next steps. We 

STEP ONE: Remove everything that will be white or a light value with alcohol on a stiff brush, cotton swab, or other tool. 

STEP TWO: Paint in the darkest darks with watercolors. You can also use watercolor pencils or fluid acrylic if the area stubbornly resists the watercolor paint. 

STEP THREE: Refine colors and shapes to make the design you are after.

More on this next time.

Sunday, April 29, 2018




There are as many ways to create skin tones as there are people, I think. Every artist has his own methods of doing things. I'm just going to show a few ways that have worked for me. I did not invent any of these, and where I remember names, I will give credit to the artist or book that I have found useful. 

One of the simplest ways to achieve a skin tone is through glazing. (Glazing is merely applying color, letting it dry, and then applying more color over it, in thin layers.) Let the following picture illustrate,
using just three colors: new gamboge, permanent rose, and cobalt.

First I glazed over all the face with yellow, keeping it more watered down on lighter areas, darker in areas of shadow.  After that dried, I glazed over the RIGHT HALF with permanent rose. (I left the other half so you could see the first step.) After the permanent rose dried, I used cobalt in some of the shadow areas. You can glaze these colors over and over again without getting muddy. 

I don't usually do it this way, but I do glaze toward the end of the process. 

Here is what Chris Stubbs recommends for creating skin tones. On a quarter sheet of paper or larger, make a dozen squares. Choose the colors you want to try together and write them underneath. Then blend the two or three on the left together in different strengths, and on the right of the square add a blue/violet/or other neutralizing color to see how it shades the skin tone. 

Here is one way I experiment with color. I divide an oval in half and put four squares on the outside. I label one top square one of the red colors, one a yellow color. Underneath I put one color I can use to "warm up" the skin tone, and one I can use to neutralize, like a purple, blue, paynes gray, etc. 

NOTE: I did these samples WET ON WET on the paper, instead of blending the color on the palette.
That means wetting the paper with water before adding the paint. 

Skin tones for light skinned people fall into three categories: fair (with bluer tones), yellow toned, or olive. 

In the top left (dark tones) I used Quin burnt scarlet and raw sienna as the base. I used Cobalt violet and paynes gray to darken and cool down shadow areas. The top right is burnt umber and burnt sienna with carbazole and turquoise for cooling down and darkening the tones.

Bottom left base mix isrose madder and hansa yellow, with quin burnt orange to heat it up, and cobalt violet to cool it and shade. The bottom right is a base of quin coral and new gamboge with quin burnt scarlet and rose of ultramarine. 

These are only a few combinations to try. I want students to see what they can make using what they have, not to go out and buy the "perfect" color. Use a red and yellow for the base; experiment with blues, violets, and even greens for shadow.


Using a photograph is usually going to distort actual color, but it is helpful in determining whether an area of skin is coolor or lighter, and also how much the value might change. To make one, just get a very white sheet of paper, poke a hole or two, and hold it over an area to determine actual color. You might be surprised at how blue or how green some can appear to be. The white isolates the color so you can see it clearly.

My husband came up with the idea of using a viewer made of your watercolor paper, then painting right onto it to try to imitate the skin color.

But this also illustrates a point. Color is relative to what you see next to it. In the portrait below, I accidentally made the child's forearm far too dark a red, especially compared to the pale of the rest of her skin. Instead of trying to lighten it up, I made the webbing of the chair next to her arm a very dark, bluish red. That created a strong enough difference that the arm looks natural. Had I used a green color in the chair, the skin would have looked disasterous. 

So in most cases, your skin tones do not have to be perfect.They are going to change anyway due to light changes, reflections of clothing, and other influences.  They just have to be believable. 


Steve Mitchell on Mind of Watercolor youtube did a great tutorial on blending colors. He uses different colors than I do, which is fine. Use what you have and see what you can create. 

The Watercolor Bible has a really nice suggestion for blending colors. They use a base of a red and yellow in a central oval; then that blend is combined with lemon yellow in one area, cad yellow in another, and cad red. On the bottom it combines the base with cobalt blue, paynes gray and viridian. (green)
I don't want to post a picture of it because it is copyrighted.

Jan Kunz has a great book called Painting Watercolor Portraits that Glow. She gives great information on color.


naples yellow or yellow ochre with cad red deep  (or another cool red, like alizarin)

sepia or raw umber with burnt umber and dioxozine violet

burnt umber and nickel azo yellow

permanent rose and hansa yellow (or lemon yellow)

Vandyke brown , quin gold

quin magenta and yellow oxide


Some colors are very dull by themselves, and should have a brighter color added to them. Burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre, paynes gray, indigo are some of these. Also be careful of using sedimentary colors in a face, especially in women and children. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Painting over the Miskit Background


The first is to SELECT A PATTERN with good negative shapes that will go with your design. Don't get too hung up on whether or not the white streaks match up with your design. DRAW THE DESIGN on tracing paper. This allows you to see the colors beneath the drawing and move the design around on the paper for the best composition. It allows you to see if you want to make changes in your design. Using tracing paper isn't necessary, but it is helpful.

When you are happy with your design DRAW or trace it with graphite paper onto the background. I often use a light box, but sometimes the background design keeps me from seeing it clearly. (You can barely see it on this picture below. I've changed my pattern to add pears instead of apples on the top of the basket, and I've removed small details from the reference.

STEP TWO: Paint in negative shapes. They don't have to be super dark right away, but dark enough to find your way through the picture. Painting in these negative shapes will help you "see" the picture better. In this student work she painted in the areas behind and between the grapes, and behind the right side of the basket. (I love those grapes...they look good enough to eat!)

STEP THREE: Painting the positive shapes. Now you can start to paint in the positives: giving the grapes color, along with the other fruits. I had a dark spot inside the pears that I lightened with water and a sponge before painting so that some of the yellow would show up. 
Don't get rid of all your lovely whites!

(picture isn't finished, but shows negative shapes done, and most of the positive forms ...fruit, basket, etc.....begun. 

None of these are finished, but I'm so pleased with some of the student work, I wanted to show it.And I love the diversity of the subject matter.