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;
- Paint the shadows in neutral grey mixes with a small amount of green or brown, depending on the warmth of the shadow area. I learned this from the master flower painting Jacqueline Gnott by watching her DVD on the yellow day lily painting.
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