Sunday, February 5, 2012

Work in Progress: Lessons Learned from Yellow Rose

Have you ever been in the middle of a painting, and realizing that nothing seems to be working, and you are absolutely hating it? Well, I've reached this stage when trying to finish my "Yellow Rose" today with a few glazes of yellows. Sounds simple enough, isn't it? I thought it would be just a couple of hours' work, even considering the snail speed I usually work at...

...Not so, apparently.

I was painting on a beautifully soft, white paper -- Lanaquarelle #140 Cold Press. It has great handling quality -- pigments granulate beautifully on it, sinks in a little but not too much, makes it possible for lifting but not lifting too easily. I have underpainted the shadow parts of the rose with various amounts of Cobalt Blue, Permanent Rose and Cobalt Violet, which appears on paper and beautiful, soft granulation of blues and purples -- blues for the cooler, green-looking shadows and purples for the warmer, brown-looking shadows in the final painting, or so I planned --

When I start to put a coat of Aureolin Yellow, New Gamboge and Quinacridone Gold on top of the underpainting, I realizes that the beautiful, non-staining underpainting just lifts ever so slightly to mix with the yellow, and this makes the color look muddy. To add insult to injury, the yellow pigments (which are all transparent colors) start to chalk up the paper surface when I desperately added more pigment in the attempt to regain saturation. Since this is a soft paper with less absorbency than Arches #140 Cold Press, too much pigments also congest the paper surface. As a result, the paper starts to dry more rapidly when a wet glaze is put on top of the already congested parts, allowing less time to blend colors. Also, a shiny, reflective ring structure starts to develop at the boundary of each wet wash, caused by the pigments on surface floating up by the newly added water, and deposit on the boundary between wet and dry areas.

At one point I almost got up and torn the painting apart in fury. But I finally managed to control the urge, and redrew the entire painting in a smaller format (6" x 6" instead of 8" x 8"). Actually, three times. 

As I was studying watercolor I've read in books again and again that it is difficult to paint yellow object in shadow, since yellow has such a short value range. I've learned different approaches to deal with the "yellow shadow" problem:
  • Paint the shadows on yellow object with colors on the analogous side of yellow, but have longer value range, then finish the entire object with a yellow glaze on top. This approach gives a harmonious look but sometimes makes the shadow look a little too warm. I learned this from master artist Jan Kunz. She often uses a mixture of Permanent Rose, Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna to paint shadows on yellow roses and poppies, finishing the entire flower with a Cadmium Yellow glaze to tire the light and shadow parts together;
  • Paint the shadow with a staining purple, maybe enhanced with a neutral grey, then glaze on top of it with yellow. I learned this from master artist Kathleen Alexander. She often underpaints the rich golden center of her plumerias with Winsor Violet mixed with a little triad grey, then glaze over it using New Gamboge and Quinacridone Gold;
So, which one is the best for depicting this rose? And how exactly would the final results differ from one another when taking these different approaches? I don't know, and I've not systematically compared them before. Hence, I drew three identical images of the same rose, and the journey of explorations thus began...

...And when it is finished, I will report back for comparisons, if anyone's interested.

Strange as it is, after I decided to treat this painting as a good learning experience, and stop worrying about producing a good finished appearance of it, everything became a little easier, and I actually managed to finish the yellow glazes on the rose. It still does not look exactly like the beautiful image I had in mind when the project started, but it was not half bad as I'd thought it would end up to be:

Yellow Rose,  Watercolor on Lanaquarelle140# Cold Press Paper , 8"h x 8"w, WIP 6


  1. I think the shadows in the middle look a bit too warm, as you said and that the ones on the petal on the right look more realistic. Generally though I think it doesn't matter as much as consistency throughout a work does unless you really need a hue match. Or in other words if the golden yellow looks prettier, it might be better even if not "realistic".

    As an oil painter I glaze generally in cadmium lemon (mixed with various darks, usually a browns or blues). That's transparent in the thin layers I use. I also use a nickel-azo yellow for ultra-chromanance over a nickel titanate or ochrey-yellow underpainting, but azo is a very powerful staining colour. I've heard that genuine Aureolin (cobalt yellow) is unreliable so I don't use it... the azo is pretty much the same to use but cheaper and more stable.

    1. Thanks a lot for the critique and the technical information, Mark! I really appreciate that. I think there is a lacking of consistency of colors in the shadow areas of this rose painting -- because it was not turning out well, I thought I'd try to use it as an experiment. Hence, I used different yellows to glaze, which lead to the problem you point out -- the middle pedals are glazed with Quinacridone Gold and Quinacridone Burnt Orange which looks much warmer, and the right side pedals had only New Gamboge and a little Quinacridone Gold mixed with Cobalt Blue, which appears much cooler. I will carefully consider which effect works better in the final painting -- but, I must admit this paper is reaching its limit, so maybe I won't be able to modify the pedals too much any more. However, when I redo it I will go straight for the look I like better (which is undecided yet... :-P)

      I am just starting to learn painting in oils, and I will definitely keep what you said in mind when it comes to yellows. I've heard that nickel-azo yellow is very cool and strong, so I will give it a try to substitute Aureolin -- anything to avoid heavy metal pigments... ;-)

  2. 你画的画很好,有的作品看了又看真的很不错。谢谢你看我的博客,我很高兴有中国人看我的博客。我住在多伦多现在已经退休了。

    1. 谢谢您的美言!我会经常去您的博客拜访的。真的很高兴能在网上遇到一些中国朋友。好难得啊!


  3. I will not critique. But I do indeed appreciate your frustration!! I am at the same stage with the dog portrait, and it is about 12 x 15 inches. But I must start again. I think all of this is trial and error. Right now, I am doing trial runs on the back of used wc. paper to get colors and glazes right [hopefully] before I start the painting proper. Good luck with the yellows!!!


Thank you so much for taking time visiting and commenting on my blog! Your feedback and encouragements are things that keep me going with I am feeling down or frustrated... I will try my best to reply to every comment ASAP but sometimes life gets in the way and I am a bit slow in my response. I would like to apologize if that happens...

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