In response to the posts I published last week about my explorations in watercolour painting, which you can find here and here, a friend sent me the following photo and asked, ‘Is this too hard to paint?’
My response was ‘I’ll give it a go’. Below you can see my various attempts, and after each image I’ll say what I think of it. Feel free to do the same in the comments section, below.
That’s definitely not as vibrant as the original that I have here. My first thought was to try and draw the outline of the main flower (in the lower left) free hand, but then I decided to upload the image to Photoshop and put a grid over it, and draw it by the grid method.
Then I thought, ‘It’d be annoying to do a poor drawing. Why don’t I trace over the outlines and then transfer the tracing onto the paper I want to paint on?’ I quickly realised I’d end up with a reversed image if I did that, which would probably have been manageable, but I didn’t want the added complexity of looking at the reference image and having to reverse it in my mind. So I ended up using a 6B (i.e. very soft) graphite pencil and scribbling all over the back of my tracing, then laying this pseudo-carbon sheet down on my paper, and once again going over the traced lines. Success! I finally had an image to start with.
Given that yellow was going to be fairly prominent in this piece, I wanted to reduce the weight of the graphite lines so the yellow wouldn’t look murky, so I used a kneaded eraser (thankfully I’d see on YouTube just a day earlier how to use one) to lighten all the lines, and then I went over them with watercolour pencils. All this took a couple of hours – much longer than it needed to, but I’m learning, so it’s o.k.
A rookie mistake I made with this piece was trying to replicate the composition of the photo. The flowers in the background took ages, and I’m not even that pleased with them. I think they also detract from the main flower. I also set out to fill the top part of the background with flowers and leaves – you can see the ghost of a flower up there in the ‘sky’. Ah well.
What I am pleased with in this one is the overall effect of all the colours. I like how the blue of the sky fades down into the blue-green background of the lower part. I think it’s quite a pretty piece.
However, my ‘client’ (and I should stress, there’s no money changing hands here!) wasn’t so keen on this composition. So I decided to see how I’d do at just knocking out a quick freehand version, with no sketch and no fussy background. That’s this next piece, which took me about 20 minutes.
For some reason, I completely forgot about the ‘double-loading’ technique, which I’d learned the week before from a book (see my post More Rookie Art). This would have been the ideal time to use it.
Although this piece came together quickly, I don’t really like it. But my client does! She likes the sharp lines I’ve used in this one. I felt it needed a background, but given that my friend had already said she liked it, I didn’t want to tamper with it.
So I did a third version…
That looks really washed out, so here’s one in which I’ve reduced the brightness so you can see that there are splatters of pale green paint and a few more leaves than are visible in the above. These images were scanned, not photographed. Seems like the scanner must wash the colour out. Must do some reading about that. I thought scanning might be the best way to get a nice, clean, well-lit shot. Anyway, here’s the Photoshopped one…
Hmm…Well, the original is much nicer, but you get the idea. I used the double-loading technique on the petals and managed to get some nice blending between the red and the yellow. Then I put the stem and the darkest leaves on, but it looked incomplete. So I went in with a more dilute version of the same green and did the paler leaves. Finally, I used almost clean water – just the merest hint of green pigment in there, and did a third layer of leaves. Then I thought the top of the composition looked a bit bare, so I loaded up a stiff brush with the leftover palest-green wash and splattered it around a bit.
I’m actually really pleased with this one. Of the three attempts, it’s my favourite. My client wasn’t so sure, so I’ve sent her attempts 2 and 3 and she can choose which one she likes best. I think when she sees 3, it’ll be that one. I’ll be interested to hear.
Same time next year
While I was busy with this piece, I was also exploring art videos and related websites, and sharing some of them with my niece. She suggested that I choose a design and paint it now, and then paint the same design again in a year’s time, to see how much I’ve progressed. ‘What a great idea’, I thought, ‘And I know just the design’.
So I’ll have another go at the flame lily this time next year.
Just before I go, here’s a link to an amazing artist called Tiffanie Turner. This is botanical art gone 3D. Amazing stuff.
Thanks for reading.