Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sunkissed (in Progress), and Some Thoughts about Glazing

SunkissedWatercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press paper, 5"h x 7"w, WIP 2

As I gradually glaze the deeper, richer tones on this one (another one getting ready for the Filoli "Meet the Artists" event!), and add a few blue/purple here and there to indicate shadows, I recall that I was such a stickler about the rules of glazing when I just started painting in watercolor -- no opaques over transparents, using staining colors only as underpaintings and avoid glazing with them... 

Now, after practicing wet-on-dry glazing and mixing a rainbow of colors using only three randomly picked primaries, following Jeannie Vodden's instructions, I have finally reached a point that I've started to discard many rules about glazing, no long caring whether transparent or opaque paints were applied underneath or on top. I have realized that problems often occur when too many layers of paint are applied too thickly, resulting in not enough transparent areas being left to set off adjacent layered areas; and all opaques would look transparent when thinned enough -- they are watercolor paints after all!

I've gradually come to an understanding that rules can be used as a guide when needed, but following them rigidly without carefully thinking about the "why"s each time would only hamper, not help your painting in the end.

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Some Old Progress, Some New Starts, and Thoughts about the (Layering) Process...

Still working on finishing some older projects for the "Meet the Artists" event in the Filoli Show. I'm a bit stuck on this one (I realized that I have posted some of its earlier progresses on my facebook page, but not yet here on my blog) -- I feel the shadows on the water-lily need to be a bit darker to give dimension to the flower, but worry if I darken it, the entire painting would be way too dark -- it seems the leaves on the background are already getting to dark. What do you think?...

Summer Glow, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press paper, 5"h x 7"w, WIP 1

When not sure how to "conclude" a certain project, I usually turn to a new one and making a fresh start -- nothing liberates the mind more and gives it more energy/stimulation than beginning to create and solve a complete new set of problems! I've started a couple of portrait and figure master study projects this way, which have led me to reconsider carefully the "paint by layers" process of watercolor (which I realize that I have actually never mastered). I am trying to do these paintings more consciously, and more structured, trying to block each of the major shapes (face, hair, clothes, etc.) with its lightest tone first before adding any middle-value forms later and applying any darks, and trying my best to resist the urge to put a second layer anywhere until I've put the first layer everywhere. Of course, the first layer does not have to be a flat wash -- I mingled a couple of analogous colors on the boy's face, and his jacket has quite a bit of color and value changes painted wet-into-wet when doing the first layer of wash...

Out Fishing (Study of Jan Kunz)
Watercolor on Lanaquarell #140 Cold Press paper, 15"h x 11"w, WIP 1

When painting the initial underlying wash, how careful should the application of color be? I think it depends on the following factors: 1. Is your style casual or painstaking? 2. Is your subject even, smooth or rough in its texture? Does it contain quite a bit of color and value variations? 3. How much of the first layer would be visible after the application of the second, third, and the rest of subsequent layers? Is a "bloom" or uneven spot really going to be visible after all the other layers are applied? 4. Is there anything that needs to be painted around, and if so, how complex is the shape that needs to be painted around when applying the first wash? And most importantly, immediately after the first layer is painted (or better yet, before doing this first wash), I try to ask myself -- is there anything I should do while this layer is still wet? Any variation of the color (subtle color shifts), touching in a pattern of soft-edged marks and so on are best done while the first wash is still wet, which leaves the window of application very narrow. It's both nerve wrecking and exhilarating!...

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sun Dance (Take Two) Heading for the Filoli Exhibition!

Sun Dance II, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press paper, 12"h x 12"w, 2013 #51

Bid at My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $195) 

So -- here is my main piece for the exhibition at Filoli Garden - "Nature’s Many Splendors: Farms, Gardens and Woodlands". I just took it down there today to be hung, and saw many splendid artwork by other artists in the show -- if you are in the bay area, this show is definitely worth going to! Lots of gorgeous floral, lovely landscape, and amazing photographs. As of "Sun Dance", I've painted it at a smaller size, and sold it during last year's Filoli show when I was still working on it as an on-site demo. I really love the different problems presented by this project, such as creating glowing shadow on a yellow flower -- yellow itself is too light for any shadow area, so the shadows on a yellow flower is never actually "yellow"; yet this flower is largely in shadow, so to maintain the impression of it being an "yellow" flower in this case is especially difficult. Also, I was practicing wet-on-dry thin glazes of limited color palette this year, and thought this could be an interesting one using such method. So I gave it a second take, and was quite happy with the results: I feel this time the yellow glaze applied in very thin coats really retained the color variation of the underpainting without deadening it, and the flower center painted wet in wet to made it appear much less rigid compared to last time. I would like to practice more mainly yellow paintings to try out a couple of other methods, such as one without purple underpainting, to compare the results. But for now, I will switch to some slightly less difficult projects for the next couple of days...

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Exhibition at Filoli Garden, and Thoughts on Chinese Painting Philosophy

Fighting with my jetlag and trying to finish some small pieces for the exhibition at Filoli Garden - "Nature’s Many Splendors: Farms, Gardens and Woodlands". The show runs from August 27th through October 27th, at the art gallery area in Filoli Garden, which is located at 86 Canada Rd in the lovely town of Woodside, California. The garden opens every Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. Besides the art exhibitions, Filoli's other attractions include a lovely greenhouse with constant blooming flowers, and more than 600 acres' nature preserve with beautiful grassy hills and woodlands abundant with wildlife -- from turkey to deer. It is a great place to spend a family weekend to hike, bike, play and relax. There would also be an "Meet the Artists Day" event during the weekend of Saturday, September 14th and Sunday, September 15th. On this special art-festival-like weekend, visitors can meet the artists in the show, watch them doing art demos, chat with them and learn what has inspires them to create their art pieces. Framed pieces, prints, note cards and other items will be for sale both during the show and at the "Meet the Artist Day" event. I will show my main piece in the next few day's posts. For now, I'm working on a few other pieces that will be available for sale during the show and at the "Meet the Artist Day" event, and I will share the progress of some of them here with you, my friends:

Fire Dance,  Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

"Fire Dance" has been in the works for quite a while, off and on since the end of last year, and is nowalmost complete. I am currently adding darks to the center flower in focus to model its form. I thought the background may need another coat of darker mingled colors to bring the flowers forward, but not very sure. What do you think, my friend?

Orange Freesia, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

For "Orange Freesia", I am still playing with thing glazes and wet-on-dry mingling of color for modelling. I am fighting the temptation of going too dark too soon and using saturated color in one go wet-in-wet, because of the delicate and subtle colors that I have in vision for this particular painting. Also trying to play with abstract shape more in the background -- like playing with a puzzle -- it's really quite a lot of fun!

Heliconia Dance,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 5"w, WIP 4

For "Heliconia Dance", I have put it away for a while and just recently started working on it again. Looking at it with a fresh eye, I think it still needs a final application of wet-in-wet on the background to soften it, and add some "punch" of darks -- to reach that balance between "too similar to the photo reference" and "too abstract from the reference"... Ah, maybe I should start from the beginning of the story: Last night I was reading ancient Chinese literature, and one passage of art critique says, "If a (realistic) painting is too identical to the scene in front of the artist, it is not great art because it's kitsch; on the other hand, if it is just haphazard slapping of color on paper without enough reference or similarity to the scene that inspired it, it is also not great art because the artist is on the suspicion of trying to hoodwink people with insufficient skills and gain fame that they don't deserve. Therefore, the best type of (realistic) paintings always walk a tightrope between "similar" and "dissimilar" to its original inspiration." (bear with my terrible translation -- the original was much more poetic: "画太似为媚俗,不似为欺世。画之大妙也,在乎似与不似之间。") 

Reflecting on my own painting practice based on this standard, I think I am still leaning too much on the "too similar" side to my photo references. Therefore, I've decided to consciously challenge myself to break away from this tendency, and design my shapes -- especially those away from focal areas and in the background -- more deliberately, not so "carbon-copy" of the shapes in the reference material. It takes some effort to get used to new working methods, but I'm very excited about all the different possibilities this may lead to... For the starters, it makes the painting process much more exciting! 

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back from Neverland (Actually, China...) with a New Direction

Ok... I cannot believe more than two months have passed since I last posted here. Such a long lag is not entirely due to my laziness -- I have traveled back China during this period of time, to accompany my father for his cancer treatments. This has been a difficult year -- I lost two dear art friends to cancer and one to suicide. Suddenly death has become such a close-by acquaintance, a vivid face instead of just a distant whisper, a blurred shadow. In this difficult summer, I feel that my entire self has settled down, precipitated into a more pure, more sensitive and deeper being. 

Run, Baby, Run (Study of Jan Kunz)
Watercolor on Saunders Waterford #140 Cold Press paper, 15"h x 11"w, WIP 1

Art, fortunately, has always lingered in the tense air through each difficult and surreal moment. I have painted -- off and on, enough to not let the once familiar brushes fall back into becoming strangers again, but not really enough to show anything significant here to you, my friend. More time was spent looking at the amazing works of Chinese artists -- watercolors, oils, charcoal sketches and pencil drawings -- as well as the drastically different land that has inspired their artwork. For the first time, I took in this land I grew up on with a fresh eye and revived interest, and absorbed it as a returned stranger, a guest, a returned travelling soul. I visited quite a few art exhibitions and artist's studios with every bit of free time I have, although it is hard to squeeze time out during this visit. And for the first time, I feel inspired and a little more confident to try some subjects that I have always avoided due to their difficulty, including figure and portrait paintings, because I felt so inspired by the amazing portrait work done by contemporary Chinese masters of watercolor.

Uncanny Smile (Study of Jan Kunz)
Watercolor on Winsor Newton #140 Cold Press paper, 15"h x 11"w, WIP 1

I've always been scared to try my hands on this daunting genre, I know. But during this trip, for the first time of my life, I felt really compelled to put my brush to paper in order to capture the different souls I encounter -- old, young, fresh and lively, or tired and burnt out -- I never felt so close to every single one of them, because of the clear understanding -- an understanding beyond the abstract knowledge of death -- that each unique soul can only exist for a brief moment in the ever-running river of time, like a bubble in water. Being able to capture the impression of them as their lives cross path with mine is such a exhilarating experience, yet the process of recreating that moment in time for that particular soul is such a humbling struggle! I could not help myself trying again and again, despite of all my fears and incompetence dealing with such subjects...

Best Friends (Study of Jan Kunz)
Watercolor on Lanaquarell #140 Cold Press paper, 15"h x 11"w, WIP 1

The few pieces I've shown in this post -- all of which still works in progress -- are projects following master watercolorist Jan Kunz's tutorials. Jan is a master of beautiful figure and portrait paintings whose work I greatly admire, and she is a very inspirational teacher through her books and dvds as well. Despite of my best efforts, I feel all of these paintings are still a bit stiff in their gesture, and the colors of the subjects' skins are not as fresh and delicate as they should be, but they are my first tries of this daunting genre (at least to me it is!), and I'm really happy that I've finally started my exploration, instead of putting it off to the indefinite "tomorrow"... Better late than never, right?

You can now buy high quality Giclee prints of many of my sold paintings, both on paper and canvas, as well as some note cards with my paintings here:

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