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:


  1. I can see why you are such a fabulous painter, Arena, you have the ability to solve your own problems. Your analysis is spot on. Looking forward to seeing the next step.

  2. Hi Arena, This is what I love about watercolor so many things to ask yourself, which sometimes with this medium you have no control over. It can have a mind of it's own! How do you like the Lanaquarell paper? I have been wanting to try it.

  3. Thanks Julie! I have learned so much reading your posts -- especially the analysis part. Although our preferred medium of express is different, I feel a lot of thoughts behind the final application of paint is similar. I'm still learning to define and solve all the problems encountered in any given painting. I feel that even the painting itself is not a success, this learning process makes it never a waste of time or a bore...

  4. Hi Kim, thanks for stopping by my blog! The unpredictability of watercolor is one of its biggest charms, and I have to say that I feel just the same. Regarding Lanaquarelle paper, I really love it, although I admit it is not as easy to use as Arches. I usually use cold press for smaller pieces, and for paintings larger than quarter sheet, I use the rough surface, as I really like how granulating color separates and settles on this paper. It is a soft-surfaced paper, so color appear more brilliant after drying, but it dries faster than surface-sized hard paper such as Arches, although it does dry much slower than Fabriano (which is also a soft paper), and leaves more time than Fabriano for wet-in-wet manipulation. I use Lana paper mostly with underpainting-plus-wet-in-wet-overpainting method, not with glazing method, as soft paper like this usually allows more lifting, therefore the underlying color may lift during glazing. I find if I have to glaze on Lana, usually 1-2 glazes done wet on dry is still ok, but when there is too thick a layer of color lying underneath, the glaze tend to lift a lot of them. However, if you like lifting out white shapes from a wet or dry layer of paint after the paint has been applied, this is a great paper, as it allows almost lifting back to white paper except for a couple of extremely stubborn staining colors such as Alizarin. Since it is a soft-surfaced paper, you do need to handle it with more care when using stiff brush or sponge to lift, or when using masking fluid, as it is easier to damage the surface of this paper than to damage, say, Arches.

  5. Thanks Arena! Your wonderful detailed description gives me the total picture for the Lana. I use, as well as Arches, Twinrocker paper, and it behaves just exactly like the Lana paper you described. I use it when I want more texture or granulation. My painting Mayan Gate you commented on on Facebook was done on the Twinrocker. A funny story... a fellow watercolor artist turned me on to this paper, a few years ago. Ironically it is handmade in a small town in Indiana, just a 25 minute drive from where I grew up! I had no idea. Small world.

  6. What a small world! I went to Purdue University for my graduate study and learned to paint watercolor there -- and joined my first watercolor society there, where I met the maker of twinrocker paper! She is a wonderful lady, an amazing watercolor artist herself, and also the owner of my first ever sold watercolor painting! I have some twinrocker paper myself and enjoy its wonderful textural qualities, which I can certainly see in your Mayan Gate painting! Thanks for sharing it!


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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