2016 DEAR ERIC COLUMN
Do you have a question about painting in watercolor, types of supplies, techniques or how to protect a watercolor or acrylic painting, what style of frame, type of glass for your painting? Each month Eric will answer questions you may have about any of these topics and many more. If you have a question you wish answered, contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for your answer in our monthly “Questions of the Month” series. If you wish to sign up for this series and for Collectors’ Corner, click here Join our E-List and you can specify if you wish to be on the Workshop News list or Collector News list or both.
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2016 DEAR ERIC COLUMN
January DEAR ERIC COLUMN
1-1-2016 Jan DEAR (PDF)
CAPTURING THE FEELING FROM PHOTOS
I took your plein air workshop and agree with you about the value of working on site to capture the colors and feelings of that scene, but when the weather, etc. do not permit painting outdoors, how do you approach working with the photographs you took? I have to work from my many photos since it is not convenient to always be ready to paint what you think is a great idea. So you have to save it by taking a photograph.
How do you approach this? Eileen
This is a very good question that I have asked myself many times. I think the key here is familiarity. In order for me to have a credible painting, one that is imbued with emotion, I need to be intimately familiar with my subject. (That is why I never use another’s’ photo reference. It has no emotional meaning for me, and that emotional detachment will manifest itself in the painting.)
Of course, the truest way of realistic painting is to paint from life. But as you stated, this is not always practical. However, just by living life, our senses pick up that which will affect our paintings deeply. Careful observation while walking around a motif, absorbing not only the visual, but also the sounds and smells, are all integral to successful painting interpretation. Many of the Masters’ paintings are not a literal interpretation. A painting does not have to be literal to be effective, but it must be carefully considered.
A photo reminder can be very helpful, but I would not rely too heavily on the value shifts and color interpretation. Augmenting your photo references with jotted notes would be helpful. It is better to trust your own instincts.
If your desire is to capture reality as faithfully as you can, then the Monet way is the only way I know: dodge the raindrops and get out and paint from life.
February DEAR ERIC COLUMN
2-1-16 Feb DEAR (PDF)
I don’t know if you remember me or not but we have purchased a few of your paintings and I too am a watercolorist and CLAIM you inspired my style from way back, I have painted several paintings on Masa and love the diversity of it and am curious if you would share with us your procedure and process. Thank you and God Bless! Denise
It is interesting that you ask this, as I am currently exploring the uniqueness of Masa paper at a greater depth than I have in the past. I am fascinated with the depth of texture it offers. A detailed discussion is not possible here, and I am mulling the idea of a workshop designed specifically for Masa paper. Stay tuned for the future!
Briefly, I will wet the paper and crumple it with my fingers in order to break a lot of the sizing down. I allow it to rest for a few minutes so that the water will be absorbed. Depending on the effect I wish, I may start painting on the crumpled paper while it is damp, or I may wait until it dries to get a more textured look.
When satisfied with what may be a blocked in image, or a more complete one, I will then mount it on watercolor paper or mat board. To mount, I dampen the paper on the back side and maybe slightly on the front and allow the paper to relax. With a brayer or wide hake brush, I mount it by pressing from the center out, being careful to minimize the drifting of the paint. I use a PVA glue, as it will not shrink and is archival. This is more easily shown than described. On the smoothed paper I do the final touches and any correction of drifted pigment, if needed.
March DEAR ERIC COLUMN
3-1-16 Mar DEAR (PDF)
I struggle with maintaining a focal point when it contains a busy subject matter, such as a tropical fish painting. Stacey
We only have a few tools to create an Area of Dominance, but like an octave of keys on the keyboard, the possibilities are endless. In my style of painting, which is generally loaded with soft edges, a few hard edges can be very eye catching. An artist friend of mine who is an excellent portrait artist, reserves the hardest edge for the bridge of the nose.
Similarly, more intense colors normally are reserved for the Area of Dominance; whereas, outside of it the colors will be grayed.
Any shape placed near the center of the picture plane carries more visual weight than those in the periphery.
More detail is eye catching, and unfortunately, many artists do not back off on this outside the Area of Dominance. There are some other tools as outlined in my video titled “Creating an Area of Dominance”, but these are the main ones I employ.
Remember, a stroke will have little impact in the painting unless it is contrasted to its opposite: soft edges played against hard ones, grey colors against intense ones, and brevity against details.
April DEAR ERIC COLUMN
4-1-16 Apr DEAR (PDF)
Do you paint everyday? Carol, from Dallas
This is an interesting question, as I have found my students experiencing some guilt if they are not committed to art every day.
I think a better question is: Am I committed to my profession of painting? Of course the answer is yes, or I would not be doing it now. But it doesn’t mean that I do it every day. Every artist is different on this, but I find I need frequent breaks from the demands of painting. Even just a few hours at the easel can leave me spent. Time has to be invested in emptying the brain and then filling it back up with inspiration, otherwise the spirit can be bruised. Unfortunately, the painting experience can become unpleasant and the paintings unsatisfactory under a self imposed pressure.
I have found it necessary to enjoy other hobbies and relationships in order to keep my mind fresh, even if that means stepping away from painting for a few days, or in some instances, weeks. Then when I get back to the easel I am likely to experience a new vigor in painting accompanied by fresh ideas. A time of reflection and stepping back for evaluation is necessary for growth.
So if you don’t feel like painting occasionally, don’t sweat it. We artists will soak up creative ideas in our daily lives that will enrich our paintings, even at the times when we are far from the easel.
May DEAR ERIC COLUMN
5-1-16 May DEAR (PDF)
Why are you doing acrylics? Linda
After a number of years focusing on the particular discipline of watercolor, there comes a time when I feel I have taken the medium as far as I am able. At that time, I feel it is good to mix things up a bit, try a new medium and get new brain channels of creativity exercised.
After a bit of renewed excitement, I find I am ready to get back to my beloved watercolors with the anticipation of avenues of exploration that I wasn’t aware of before. Simply by mixing things up a bit occasionally we can keep ourselves fresh and more responsive.
June DEAR ERIC COLUMN
6-1-16 June DEAR (PDF)
Do you use soap to clean your brushes? Cindy in Atlanta
My watercolor instructor, Irving Shapiro, at the American Academy of Art suggested that we rinse the brush thoroughly in clean water (I am careful not to force the pointed tip of my new Kolinsky into the base of the container, but gently tap it on the container’s side) shape the brush on the sponge, and then lie it flat on a table. I don’t put the brush in a container with the point up, because water in the bristles will run down into the ferrule, weakening it over time.
I have found my brushes hold up well with this simple procedure.
July DEAR ERIC COLUMN
7-1-16 JULY DEAR (PDF)
What is the best way to further my development as an artist? Larry from New York
At first, it seems that a good way would be to educate oneself with the many excellent art instruction books available on the market today. But after further thought, I think one could become overwhelmed with all the information available, and much of it is non-essential. I think it could become quite discouraging
I think a more efficient way would be to find an artist whose paintings you admire, and learn from her or him. Hopefully he or she would be able to articulate well their thought processes and demonstrate effectively. With a critique of your own progress, I think you would be well served.
August DEAR ERIC COLUMN
8-1-16 AUGUST (PDF)
I was reading your note about the value of value studies. Can you tell me what a “thumbnail sketch” is? I heard you talk about it at Madeline, but may not have paid enough attention. Thanks. Dale
As you know, I stressed the importance of doing a value study before starting the painting. The primary purpose is to organize the value pattern, but it also helps in getting the creative juices flowing and to determine potential problems, especially in drawing, that may surface later on in the painting. However, if you are doing your value study on a 9×12 sheet of paper and are somewhat meticulous in approach, there may be some fear in spending a lot of time on it only to find out it is not what you want.
This is where a few thumbnails, or rough non committal 3×5 sketches of various value patterns can be extremely helpful. In just a few seconds or minutes you can determine some essential basics of design: placement of the horizon line, how dark the sky will be, what the Area of Dominance will be, etc. I find that after I have done three or four of these, one usually catches my attention and then I proceed to the larger value sketch with more confidence.
Remember, both the large value study and especially the thumbnails can be very broad and loose in interpretation, even to the point that only you know what the subject is. This is not the time for refined work, unless you want it to be.
September DEAR ERIC COLUMN
9-1-16 September (PDF)
My question request for you to comment on is: What are the signs in one’s painting that point to its being finished? When do we know the painting is finished, so we don’t go too far? Carolyn from Scottsdale
This is a question that I have asked myself many times as I have struggled completing a painting. I have pushed many paintings way too far to where they suffer, and I the same!
My conclusion is that a painting is as far as I can take it when one of these three things happens:
I am bored with the painting, even though it may be visually incomplete.
I don’t know what else to say, even though it also may be is visually incomplete.
Or, I have said all I can say, and it looks complete.
I have found that slightly, or in some cases mostly, incomplete paintings can still be of value, both artistically and economically. But once a painting crosses the line into being overworked, it loses its value on both counts. Remember, we all can only paint to the edge of our abilities, and not beyond. So to force a painting beyond our capabilities is frustrating and counter-productive.
October DEAR ERIC COLUMN
10-1-16 October (PDF)
What is your preferred method for removing dried paint from your palette? Thank you, Timm
As the paint in the wells tends to get sticky and hard, it is important for me to occasionally remove it; otherwise, it can get in the way of the freshly squeezed paint. An old table knife seems to work quite well, but I have been known to use anything handy, including a convenient stick!
November DEAR ERIC COLUMN
11-1-16 November (PDF)
What adhesive is used for mounting your painting done on the rice paper? Eileen
There are a number of adhesives that can be used, from wheat paste to Elmer’s glue (yes, it is archival).
My preference is to use a permanent PVA adhesive. It is archival and doesn’t pull on the image when it dries. The one I use is made by Lineco.
I like to mount my painting on 1/4 inch gator board, but watercolor paper and rag mat board work as well.
December DEAR ERIC COLUMN
12-1-16 December (PDF)
Why is it so hard to finish a painting? I seem to have an easy time of starting, but the finishing part gives me the “shakes”.
Carol from Texas
Finishing a painting can be difficult for several reasons. Fatigue can be one. An overriding fascination with detail can be another. But I think one of the major reasons is the tendency to neglect what the painting calls for.
The construction of a painting is not unlike the building of a pyramid. The block-in stage is the easiest and most fun because it offers tremendous latitude of expression, but it also sets the style of painting to follow. As you build up the pyramid, the underlying foundation increasingly determines the subsequent stroke character. By the time you are at the finish, the baton has been passed over to the painting- it determines the last strokes. The top of the pyramid has to fit the style of painting it caps, otherwise it won’t work.
This releasing of control to the painting takes discipline, but it is necessary; otherwise you will end up with some finished paintings like I have experienced: a great finish, but it doesn’t fit the rest of the painting.