Saturday, May 12, 2012

How to Shade Flower Petals in Watercolor

Shading flower petals in watercolor is easier than it looks. Controlling edges so that some edges are clean and hard while others are soft and gradual takes combining Wet in Wet techniques (for loose, soft flowing edges) and wet on dry - by a very simple process.

Below is a line drawing for a Bird of Paradise flower. I chose to use a Pigma Micron waterproof pen for the drawing so that it would scan easily and also to make it easier for readers to copy. Please feel free to copy my outlines or print this out to try coloring it. The lesson here is about shading, not about how to draw the outlines of a Bird of Paradise flower in detail. If you want to do a different flower, feel free to blow up the photo reference and trace outlines with a pencil, then transfer them onto watercolor paper.

I drew and painted this on my 7" x 10" Stillman & Birn Beta journal, which has bright white 180lb Rough watercolor paper. You may get good results with Cold Press (medium texture) or Hot Press (smooth) watercolor paper instead. The journal pages don't have the big dips and bumps that other brands of Rough watercolor paper do, just deeper dips and taller bumps. The smoother your paper, the easier it is to get a clean line with a pen or pencil - or the edge of your wet area.

The simple trick for shading flower petals is to just wet the area of one petal at a time. Get it good and wet so that it's shiny. Let it soak in and add a little more water so it's still shiny. Stay within the lines if you want those lines to turn into hard-edged forms, like the outside edges of a classic botanical painting against the white background.

Here, I'm using a Niji Waterbrush to wet just the big outer sepal, the leaf-like structure the flower springs out of, and the thick stem. There's a lot of shading in that structure and a variety of interesting colors flowing softly into one another, so that made the best example.

Below, I've swiped my Niji Waterbrush through the Payne's Grey pan and dipped into the Pthalo Green pan to get a greenish dark gray. I'm bringing the color all the way up to the edge of the wet area, but not over the whole structure. Just at the edge where I want that color to show. Be sure to pick up lots of color on your brush. Watercolors dry two steps lighter than they look when they're dry, so if it looks too light, add more color quickly before it dries. Don't be afraid to go too dark because it'll probably turn out fine.

Now I'm adding a band of the next color. I put a band of strong Pthalo Green overlapping the previous layer to make it darker, then I added a stroke of Olive Green right next to it to let the colors mingle. You can put rows of different colors, even complementary ones. A petal that's dark violet on the outside can shade gradually to almost white and get some golden yellow charged in right at the base. Or a rose petal can shade from pink through orange to golden yellow along its shape. Just paint each separate hard edged section as its own project.

When the petal or leaf is finished, let it dry completely before doing an adjacent one. I moved from doing this big petal to painting the orange petals, then while they dried I worked on the blue one, then I finally mixed a thinner mixture of Paynes Grey and green to shadow the waxy white structures connecting the orange and blue petals to the base.

Then I signed it with the pen. If you use a pencil for your sketch lines and work lightly, they can be erased sometimes after the paint dries. If you use a watercolor pencil lightly and do have color right up to the edges, you can dissolve the lines into watercolor and look as if you did it entirely without a sketch.

Another option is to use a light box. Put your line sketch under your watercolor paper and paint with the light box turned on. Then no outlines show under the watercolor and everyone thinks you've got miraculous brush control!

Enjoy this technique! Either try it with my Bird of Paradise sketch or try it with a simple flower that has several large, shaded petals. I will discuss other ways of shading with watercolors in later articles. For now, this is how to get smooth wet-in-wet color changes in a limited area.

Just wet only that area and paint whatever colors work for you. It really is that simple!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pen Drawing Challenge

"A Page of Little Ari"
9" x 12"
Pitt Artist Pen - black brush tip (regular size not Big Brush)
Lanaquarelle 100% rag watercolor paper.
From life.

This page of life sketches of my cat, Ari, looks so simple. I've drawn this cat hundreds, maybe thousands of times, most of them while he's sleeping so I can get him to hold a pose for at least two minutes rather than two seconds or less in transition to a new pose.

Why this is a serious challenge is that I did it as an art trade with a professional artist, my teacher, Charlotte Herczfeld. Along with several of my pastel paintings, I answered her request for "A page of little Ari's, just the pen drawings you do in your sketchbook." She likes them. I post them constantly. I still suggest you choose something you really love, or someone you love, and sketch that beloved subject hundreds of times in your sketchbook.

Try to get used to drawing in pen without penciling or correcting pencil sketching first. It teaches boldness. Don't worry about mistakes. Don't plan it. Just start in your sketchbook page, draw what you see, keep it less than five minutes per drawing and do lots of them. If it's a pet or a person, let them move every two minutes so you get used to sketching a moving target.

Once in a while for fun, try drawing that subject from memory and compare to your life drawings.

The challenge of composing an entire page of life sketches in pen without corrections, preliminary penciling or using photo references is harder than it looks. The first few go on easily by habit. But laying out the space well so that the drawings create something like a visual path, so there's something of a focus in the whole and the page as a whole looks good - that's the big challenge.

I was inspired by pages of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci's drawings all my life. Somehow these great artists filled the space perfectly. Sometimes the drawings overlapped but not in a way that obscured any of them. Leonardo combined subjects regardless of what they were - a human foot, a plant, a bit of machine, a pretty girl's face could all be on the same page and somehow make sense. A bit of a statue and a bird's wing would overlap and still make sense.

That's not what this page is. I just placed them carefully and varied the size within a range. The farther I got, the tougher it was to keep going with my original discipline of no pencil, no erasing, no corrections, no layout lines. I wanted the Page of Little Ari to have the genuine spontaneity of the many pages in my sketchbook that accumulated one or two or several Little Ari sketches.

Unless you've drawn your main subject hundreds of times, don't expect your page to be perfect. Just try it once in a while. It doesn't all have to be the same subject either - you can try to combine subjects the way Da Vinci did and it's fine to vignette just portions of a subject or overlap them in interesting ways. That'll be my next challenge. This wasn't my first page of small sketches on a large page that laid out well. I did dozens of line drawings of random fruit and flowers so that I could paint them with samples of Daniel Smith watercolor in a large Moleskine watercolor journal. I think it was close to 9" x 12" and some pages of it were on various watercolor pads that size.

I still haven't tried overlapping, but I will in future. Use any sort of pen you want unless you're going to sell or trade the page to someone you respect. The archival materials were because Charlie's going to frame and hang this Page of Little Ari - but yours doesn't have to be as permanent unless you want to frame it or it's for someone else. Just keep trying in your sketchbook for "a beautiful page."

Please feel free to post links to your pages and page layouts in the comments to this entry. A good place to post them is the Art Journals forum at WetCanvas, an art community where a number of my friends do absolutely gorgeous multi-image journal pages that inspire me. If you're new to the community, you need to join, be approved by admins in a day or two (it's big and they're busy) and then post three text posts before posting any images. Comments on other people's art are a good way to get reciprocated attention and support when you're a new member, so is an introduction post.

I'm very proud of the Page of Little Ari. I have a beautiful model whose soft foot rested on my shoulder a moment ago while he was grooming his luxuriant fluffy hair, and I have lots of practice drawing him. When you draw what you love, that's when you'll improve the most and be able to accomplish great things!