Friday, December 14, 2012

Artist Tip #8 - Heaven and Earth First

I'd like to talk about one way to make painting - and especially watercolor painting - easier and more enjoyable.  Paint all of the sky and the ground or water first whenever possible!  Then tackle the remaining content of the painting.  This is very simple to do in opaque media like oil, acrylic, and pastel, but it's also possible in transparent watercolor most of the time.  I've been doing this for a long time, and recently I've heard Joseph Zbukvic call this "painting heaven and earth first", and I really like his phraseology.

Since watercolor is transparent, it's impossible to paint a light passage on top of a dark one - the dark color just shows through.  Therefore watercolor painters get a lot of practice painting around shapes that will have a light value (called "saving the whites").  Saving the whites can also be done with masking fluid or masking film as an extra, preliminary step.  But the easiest thing to do is to plan your painting to minimize the need to paint around shapes, or to make these white shapes as few and simple as possible. I'll show what I mean with a few step-by-step examples.

The absolutely simplest situation is where everything that is layered "on top of" the sky and water or ground will be a significantly darker value.  In this situation, the entire paper can be first covered with sky and earth, and then the rest of the painting just painted on top of it.  Storm Approaching is an example of this sort of painting:

The sky and water were first painted over the entire sheet.  Then all of the other shapes were added on top, and are dark enough that the sky and water do not show through.

The next example, Off Prince Edward Island, is similar, except that there is a single small white shape saved for the boat hull and white water near the hull.  After the sky and water are painted, everything else is dark enough to be painted on top of the background.  First the large sail and land shapes are painted, and then the small details:

My final example is a painting of an old barn, titled Abandoned.  In this painting, the sky and ground are first painted, without worrying about the foliage, which will easily cover the sky.  However, the barn itself is "painted around", leaving white paper there.  Next, the foliage is added.  Finally, the barn and other details are painted:

The bottom line of this post is that when possible, paint "heaven and earth" first, only saving whites where a lighter value will need to be used.  Then proceed to smaller and smaller details.  Particularly in a transparent medium like watercolor, it is critical to plan the steps of your painting, so you can work from light to dark and thus minimize the negative painting required.  In opaque mediums, this is not as important, but it's still a good idea to approach paintings in some sort of "regular" way, working from large shapes to small - and in a landscape, "heaven and earth" are usually the largest shapes.

1 comment:

Archie said...

I think your gonna need a bigger boat!