I did a long hike on the wetlands near Palo Alto today, and came back with tons of bad reference photos of the pattern of sand bars, reeds, sage bushes and water reflections -- it's very hard to capture the scenes outdoors on the clear day using a point-and-shoot camera, since the value contrast is so huge, the dynamic range of the camera is really far from adequate. Even with two exposure settings for every scene -- a low exposure for objects in bright sunlight and an over-exposed setting for everything in shadow, the reference photos just don't contain enough color information to do these beautiful scenes justice. I tried to do a small study from them nonetheless, and since the scene is really complicated with details of vegetation and reflections, I intentionally blurred the reference photo, and made a gray-scaled version of it to paint from. I also tried a limited palette of Viridian Green, Antwerp Blue and Burnt Sienna in the attempt to capture the tranquil mood of the muted colors I remembered seeing early in the morning there.
Ebbing Tide, Spring Estuary,
Watercolor on Winsor Newton #140 Cold Press Paper , 5"h x 6"w, 2012 #27
My main interest here is to capture the abstract patterns formed by the sand when the tide water is gradually coming in. To make this work, I intentionally down-played the complicated background foliage, using only decorative shapes of light and dark to represent different cluster of bushes, with some branch patterns painted both positively and negatively to add to the impression of vegetation. The reflection in water is also greatly down-played and only hinted with wet-in-wet dropped-in passages of darker colors , so that the eye of the viewer would be lead smoothly into the foreground. I'm quite happy with the thought process, and wanted to try it for a larger piece some day, to further play with the abstract patterns. It was a fun, searching process overall, with lots and lots of stopping time to think what to do next... A great learning experience!