How’s it happen?

The painting process is a private one for me.  While painting my mind occupies a space that is ineffable, but might be similar to daydreaming; a spaciness that is both hyper aware and particularly ungrounded.  Another way to describe it is something like ocular aphasia – that’s when you stare into space at an object without actually seeing it (and don’t you get just a little pissed off when you have to shift your eyes?). It’s a rather deep state of being and enormously satisfying.

But it might be interesting to understand how a painting evolves. On this page I’ve described the evolution of a particular watercolor painting and included photos of 5 phases to completion.

The subject
The subject dictates the over all composition of the painting. I work from my own photographs and rely on them as my rough sketches and color key. Invariably I am interested the micro view so most of my compositions are very cropped. I like the feel of looking at something intimately and also having awareness that there’s more to the subject than is being portrayed. The composition usually bleeds off the edges. And I usually like the painting to be rather large (well, for a watercolor). So a subject that is one square inch might be enlarged 25 times its actual size. These mushrooms were about the size of a quarter, in the final drawing they are about fist size.

Starting off
No matter whether I work from life or from one of my shots the drawing & re-drawing process is the same for a watercolor. I create a small pencil drawing, scan it, clean it up if  necessary and eventually enlarge the drawing to the size of the watercolor paper I’ll be using. I place tracing paper over the enlarged scan and re-draw in ink, modifying where I need to. The tracing paper then gets flipped over and the drawing is re-drawn in reverse with heavy leaded pencil.  Once the pencil drawing is finished it gets flipped again onto the stretched watercolor paper. It’s re-drawn again to transfer the lead on the reverse side lightly onto the watercolor paper. Whew, seems like a lot to go through, but there is method to this madness. It’s fairly critical that the watercolor paper sustains no erasures. Erasure marks on soft watercolor paper is like the equivalent of using sandpaper on your face, it destroys the pristine surface of the paper. Color washes over an erasure mark would show up as a huge blemish, there’s no way to fix it and rarely is there a way to disguise it. The entire design, composition and drawing process generally takes 3-5 days.

PHASE 1 Drawing, intial washes & masking

Drawing, initial washes & masking

In phase 1 the painting is in its initial stages of it’s development. The transfer of the drawing is complete (you can see pencil lines on the left), the first wash, initial masking, and some deeper saturations have been laid down.

PHASE 2 Several saturation phases at one time

Several saturation phases at one time

In phase 2 you can see that there are various degrees of saturation being laid down everywhere. While one area of the painting is drying another is being worked on. It can be important to have many phases occurring simultaneously to insure that the depth & hue of color is consistent over the entire painting.

PHASE 3 Deeper saturations, masking pronounced

Deeper saturations, masking pronounced

Phase 3shows deeper saturations and also points up where the masking is; the masking appears rather white, or shiny. Masking, by the way, is the use of liquid latex over a virgin surface, a wash, or a brush stroke. Once dried, the masking preserves the integrity of whatever is beneath it  from future washes and brushstroking until it is finally peeled off.

PHASE 4 Recesses & highlights, salting, masking removed

Recesses & highlights, salting, masking removed

Phase 4 takes on deeper saturations in shadows to create depth. At this point creating visual recesses assists determining if the highlights will be too high (they were). Some salting was done at this stage, but not much. (Salting is the application of salt, table or kosher,  thrown onto a wet wash to create texture). The masking was peeled off at this time.


Recesses & highlights, salting, masking removed

Recesses & highlights, salting, masking removed

Reconstruction, details added

Phase 5 is when there’s serious reconstructing. Colors are intensified, highlights are brought down some, detailed characteristics such as natural blemishes, holes, ridges around the edge of the mushrooms emerge.

Completed painting

The finale

The finale

The finale

This is the completion of the painting. The final technique I used was sandpapering. Yup. I took sandpaper and scratched at some of the highlighted areas to bring them up again and make them bounce. The painting is signed in the lower right corner. The end.


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