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Day Three : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Drive By Painting

June 3, 2018

What went wrong?

Rushed out in the morning for a sketch – choose another view (not this one) based on shelter from the rain. I thought I had something workable, but two terrible attempts on location and I was out of time.

So – took a snapshot from the car, and used that for a sketch in the studio.

I’m developing a theory of painting from reference which is: Bad Photos make Good Paintings.

This is obviously me being Mary-Mary-Quite-Contrary. But my point is, a great photo has too much information. You end up being dominated by the image, slavishly painting what the photographer gave you.

A terrible photo doesn’t own you like that.

Incidentally, even back home in the studio, it’s not always easier. Here are two examples of a false start.

If I don’t come out of the blocks right, I might as well give up. I feel like the sooner you can sense the need to bail-out, the better. Save your energy for the re-do! If there’s a fundamental flaw – like too much chroma in the base color – the painting is doomed. (At least in watercolor).  As well, there’s no saving bad proportions or improper placement on the page.

This is something I see far too often with students or beginners. Trying to beat a dead horse, instead of giving up and just starting again.

If the placement on the page is poor – spending time finishing that is not going to help! You’re just going to feel worse having used your whole time on that painting! Once you produce that dud, it’s as if we don’t have the energy to do it again. Or – more likely – we’re feeling a (false) sense of failure.

Think of every re-do as a victory over a bad painting! Not a failure – a necessary sacrifice.

So – what went right? 

I’m remembering how to draw with the brush. What precision feels like. And remembering to pre-visualize the shape I want to draw – then draw it completely. All in one go. One shape at a time, not jumping around.

Keep edges sharp, and avoid holes in the silhouette, or any false hard-edges inside what should be a clean, simplified shape.

Also, I’m getting a good base value finally.

When a value is perfect the moment you place it – it will dry TOO LIGHT.

It has to look too dark initially so it will dry upwards to a proper value.

Watercolor generally shifts up in value – the wetter the wash, the more the shift as it dries.

Also, I feel like on day three, I’m judging paint consistency more accurately. It’s Tea in the stone walls, but Milk in the clouds, and juicy Honey in the dark trees.

Ok, that’s day three! See you tomorrow!


13 Comments leave one →
  1. Judy Sopher permalink
    June 3, 2018 9:57 AM

    I don’t see why you feel the above are two bad starts. But we all judge ourselves harshly.What is interesting are the “rules” you list. I assume these are your rules as I could not possibly do what you can. Especially to completely paint the shape at one go. But from your book, I understand where you are going.

    Most important help you gave me is how to approach the photograph. Really good advice. Thanks.

    • tallboyone permalink
      June 3, 2018 11:07 AM

      He said it in the article, too high chroma out of the gate. I think his final version is stellar though, In this series (not always of course…) I love seeing your failures more than your finished paintings. It helps me feel better when i throw a sheet over my shoulder

  2. June 3, 2018 9:59 AM

    Marc, some good advice here. And I liked that you shared the failures with successes. Many newbies (and non artists) don’t realize the work that is involved to become a great artist. Recently, I counted a bunch the plein air paintings I did and out of over 350, about 50 were keepers. The rest are in a stack and instead of throwing out good surface panels, I am going to reuse them to paint 300 more😂.

    • Judy Sopher permalink
      June 3, 2018 10:04 AM

      Gina, you are brave. Many of mine do not deserve to survive. Even to use the back.

  3. Max permalink
    June 3, 2018 10:20 AM

    If all that’s wrong with a “false start” is placement, why not just physically crop the paper when you’re finished?

    • June 3, 2018 10:30 PM

      That’s not a bad idea Max – and of course I can crop whatever I want for the blog. (Even stretch in photoshop if say, the building it too tall). But I guess it’s a niggling feeling that I know it’s a skill I can manage. And – selling prints or putting images in a show – it helps if they’re all 1/4, 1/5 or Full sheets. (Well, I like the standardization).

  4. Marci Mills permalink
    June 3, 2018 10:21 AM

    It’s really helpful to me when you give examples of “what went wrong” and explain your reasoning and how and when to correct or not. It’s also helpful to be reminded that even excellent artists produce lots of paintings that are kept in the back room!

  5. Carmela Sunnyvale permalink
    June 3, 2018 10:48 AM

    Hi Marc—-what I took away from your posting today is that the watercolor medium takes time and many false starts before we internalize a good (for us) watercolor value to place down, creating shapes with that paint, how long to let it dry before placing details with drier brush, etc. Practice and patience with the paint and ourselves is important. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. cmcnamara1220 permalink
    June 3, 2018 10:49 AM

    Thank you for this! I won’t feel so guilty for turning the page when I’ve only got a couple of marks on the paper that just aren’t right.

  7. June 3, 2018 5:05 PM

    i am really enjoying your tour of montreal. I guessed wrong today I thought it was city hall from the back. But then I saw your photograph and of course I knew where it was. I know I have driven up Cote des Neiges a billion times but your paintings make me feel that i never really look. (Especially since I have been stuck at that corner in traffic a lot when it was under construction.) So wonderful.

  8. June 3, 2018 5:51 PM

    Very exciting! I’m watching how you identify the black areas. Thanks for the series of pictures.

  9. miatagrrl permalink
    June 4, 2018 12:49 AM

    I really appreciate your “what went wrongs”. . .very informative and useful. I hate it when artists say, “It took me 3 tries to get this right,” but we only get to see the one that worked. Where’s the education in that? Anyway, thank you — there’s probably going to be a whole ‘nother book of learnings by the end of the month!

    – Tina

  10. Karen V permalink
    June 5, 2018 10:11 AM

    I follow a pastel artist, Karen Margulis, who has the same “Bad Photo = Good Painting” philosophy. She uses the bad photo as a jumping off point and a mental jog to the emotion of what she felt at the location where she took the photo.

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