This Monday, I bought a Blue Label Ultrasmooth canvas from Fredrix. I'd heard one of my favorite artists on the internet, Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art rave about it many times, so when I saw that one of my go-to art stores, Artist & Craftsman was starting to stock them, I had to get myself one and try it out.
I'm going to paint a girl lying down in a grassy field.
This is what she's going to look like. Right now I'm getting in my values and blocking in my shapes. I've decided to paint right over her irises and I'll redraw them later to make things easier for me. I'm really happy with the way I made the shape of her eyes. That comes from me taking a liner brush and painting thin, dark lines around her eyeballs and lids, varying thickness as necessary.
This is days three and four. I've gotten to what's probably one of my favorite parts of a portrait and that's painting the irises, you know that colored part of the eye. I don't feel like a face is really alive until I paint the irises. For this particular subject, I was determined to get enough contrast between the main part of the iris and the rim around it to depict the brightness and intensity I saw in my reference photo. Adding white highlights in the right place also helped.
If you've read my blog before or watched my youtube videos, you might have heard me say that the white of eye is not really white. Well, I'm going to repeat myself here. You'll see that on the inner corner of her left eye and the outer corner of her right eye, I've actually painted a pretty dark shade that sharply contrasts with the rest of the corneas.
I've painted highlights in her upper and lower lids and every time I add a light shade next to a dark one, I feel like it brings out that feature that much more.
Painting the texture of her sweater was something I wasn't looking forward to doing, because I knew it would be very repetitive and boring, but it's something I think the painting really benefited from after I was done. The way I did was to make tiny dots using the tip of my liner brush. I made these dots very close to each other in rows that were likewise, making sure to vary how light and dark they were while also making some of the dots go go in different directions other than straight across. This is all to add more realism to the piece.
I added some individual hairs to her eyebrows using the tip of my liner brush. Her sweater needed some highlights. I'd painted it light gray rather than white to start with, specifically so I could use white for my highlights.
I started on the color today. I first used a simple mixture of transparent mixing white and transparent raw sienna for her skin, which I wanted to be very pale. The first layer went on too light, so I knew I would have to go over it. I had other stuff I had to do before continuing, though, so I put my paint in a jar and went on with things.
When I got back to painting, though, and scooped it out, it had mixed with some green that was in the jar. Long story short, my attempts to return the color to a neutral tone resulted in a color that was way too yellow. I exacerbated the issue by absentmindedly putting even more yellow on top. I finally got back on track and layered purple, mixed with yellow so it wouldn't be too strong, over her face. This gave me the neutral color I needed but now her face was way too dark. That problem was solved with a couple of layers of transparent mixing white.
While I was still trying to figure out her skin, I decided to tackle her eyes for a bit. Now a major advantage to using a reference photo on a phone, rather than one that's printed, is you can enlarge the picture and zoom in on particular parts. That's what I did to figure out how to paint this woman's irises. I decided to paint them with a wash of light blue to start with. I later went through with touches of yellowish brown and muted green in the inner half of the left iris.
I painted her hair and eyebrows with a wash of grayish brown.
Her lips were a bit of a challenge. I thought I needed to add green into the pink but this made the mouth blend in too much with the rest of her face. It didn't stand out until I glazed over it with pure red that was thinned out of course.
For the last part of today's painting session, I took the same red that I'd painted her lips with, added some green and white to it, and used that to paint her cheeks.
I finally got some color on the background! I used a pale pink for my lightest shade, a slightly lightened ultramarine blue for my midtone and a dark purple for my darkest shade.
I also saw that her sweater had a peachy tone to it, which I got by mixing transparent mixing white with yellow and a tiny bit of red. I'm only putting one layer on because I like the gray showing through this time and, I don't want to risk covering up all those dots, ie, texture, that I spent so much time on.
Today's painting session started with the need to neutralize the shadows around her nose. The yellowness of them had been bothering me, so I glazed purple over them. After that I looked at her gray creases and wondered if I should add some color to those. It turned out, when I looked at my reference photo, I saw that they were indeed a violet color. I painted that with my liner brush. I also extended her right eyebrow, glazed some grayish brown over the wing on that eye, and gave her some eyelashes using my liner brush and some mars black. Lastly, I saw that her bottom lip needing a highlight. After a few failed attempts to create this highlight by glazing transparent mixing white over the lip, I decided to add an opaque layer by mixing transparent middle red with titanium white. I finished by glazing transparent middle red over that to darken it a bit and blend it more with the rest of her mouth.
In this post, I'm going to explain how I did this watercolor painting of a doe in the bushes.
An important tidbit I've learned about watercolor painting and layering is to paint your lightest colors first. Not only is it pretty much impossible to paint a lighter color over a darker one in watercolor and have it show up, but if you put a layer of paint on top of one that has less water in it, the water in the upper layer can cause the layer underneath to lift, even if the layer underneath was dry.
This is day two. I started by putting masking fluid down on parts of the deer's face and body that I wanted to stay white. I thought his body should be painted a taupe brown color with a grayish purple shadow. My plan to accomplish the taupe brown base was to mix my burnt umber with paynes gray. After wetting down my paper, so the color wouldn't go on too dark, I painted on my first layer. It didn't turn out grayish enough for me, though, so I layered black over it, but the black was watered down so it looked gray.
Before I painted the purple shadow, I wetted that area of the paper again so the edges would be soft. Then I mixed some of the black that I already had in my palette into the purple I had. I actually liked the look of it better after I dabbed the color with a tissue, lightening it.
For my background, I put down masking fluid in placing that were going to be white spots. This photo was taken early in the morning, so that probably had something to do with why everything was so bright. I wetted the paper again, and using my flat brush, I painted a blue-green that I'd mixed from emerald green and ultramarine blue.
Here's day three. I knew I would have to go over the brown marks on her forehead and that's the first thing I did in this section, starting with watered down black, and when that was dry, purple. I painted the edges of her ears with black and brown paint, being careful to leave a rim of white showing. I had very little water in my brush while I was doing this so that I could have maximum control to make the shapes I wanted.
I turned my attention to the background. First I put some dots masking fluid down in the space above the doe's head. While letting that dry, I went back to the same color, the blue-green that I had used to paint the background near the doe's back, without wetting the paper this time, and with relatively little water in my brush, painted texture in this area.
Once my dots of masking fluid were dry, I painted some of the blue green over that space with my flat brush, but with the paper dry this time because I wanted value color to be darker this time.
While I'm on the topic of the background, I came across an example today of why you need to always look closely at your reference photo and never assume anything. I was prepared to paint the whole background the same blue-green, but, on closer inspection, I saw that the brush on the doe's left was more of a yellowish green. You might even say it's more olivy. I tried mixing that shade by mixing my emerald green into some dried yellow that I already had on my palette. I ended up with a very bright yellow green. I needed to darken and dull it and I tried to do that by mixing black from another part of my palette into the paint. I still had yellow-green in my brush when I went to scoop up the black, though, so I ended up accidentally mixing the colors in that compartment. Even though mixing the colors in this way was an accident, though, when I saw the results, I knew they were what I had been aiming for, so that was going to be the color I would use. This part of the painting would have to wait, though.
The next thing on my agenda was figuring out what to paint the ground underneath the doe's hooves. I decided on a pinkish brown. I wanted this to be very light because I was going to paint sticks on top of it. I wanted to get the ground painted first, so I wouldn't absentmindedly paint that area with my yellowish green.
I wanted to have highlights on the branches, so I put down more masking fluid. Then, having mixed black into the same brown that I'd used to paint the doe's body so it was even more grayish, I painted the branches with my smallest round brush. Now it was finally time to use that grayish yellow green that I'd mixed earlier. Using my medium sized round brush, I painted my the yellow green, carefully, around the branches I'd painted.
Days four and five. On day four, I was down to the last twenty minutes before I was due to "close shop" for the day. I thought I wouldn't have time for something as involved as painting. I set up my stuff, without dallying, and painted the brown in the bushes that you see above the doe's back. You can see that I went right through some of the green and the white. That's exactly what I wanted. I wanted the brown to be fairly dense, to I painted little clusters here and there and painted some vertical lines going off the horizontal lines. I also painted more on the branches on that day, going almost to the edge, but being careful to still leave some white showing. I was so anxious I would accidentally lose that white!
On day five, I painted even more brown, this time, going right up to the edge of the doe's back and leaving just bits of white. I'm leaving more white than is in the reference photo, just because I'm nervous about accidentally covering up too much of the white and I'd rather have too much white showing than lose it all. You can see I've finally given her some pupils too. There were some parts of her face that needed touching up, so there wasn't an abnormal amount of white showing.
On the topic of white, I did something that is unorthodox in watercolor painting and that's to take some titanium white acrylic paint and use that to mark out areas that I want to be lighter than the color underneath them, and that I forgot to paint around. After fighting with the color a bit, I used some plain burnt umber and dabbed it with a tissue.
I couldn't forget the rest of the ground under the doe's hooves, so I used the same light pinkish brown I'd used before. I painted very slowly around this part, so I wouldn't accidentally paint over the grass here.
I want to start off by saying that I think looking at your reference photo for a good while before starting to paint or draw is smart. I talked about this in my post about how to improve as an artist. But if you get into the mindset that you have to know exactly what to do before hitting the canvas, this can hinder your productivity and cause unnecessary anxiety. Eventually, you need to be okay with going forward with a piece without being one hundred percent sure.
I struggle with this myself. That's why I'm writing about it. I can't help thinking I've wasted time because I was afraid to paint the wrong thing, when I could have moved forward with the piece by putting something, anything, on the canvas.
Why do you think we try on clothes and look in the mirror instead of mentally figuring out what looks good on us? We're not afraid to try something on for fear that it won't flatter us. I know I'm not, at least. If the item doesn't suit us, we just don't buy it.
I don't always know what colors to mix to get a shade that I see in my reference photo. It can be a debate between mixing yellow and brown or brown and white? The only way to settle this conflict with myself is to get out the paints that I think will make the color I want and start mixing. The more colors you mix, the more this sense of indecision will subside.
You won't be a hundred percent sure if you like something or not until you see it on your canvas or paper. I'm thinking of what Lisa Clough has said in her live streams, which is to adopt the attitude of "Let's see what happens when I do this.
let's look at how this is manifesting in my current piece. I really want to paint a sheer green over these reeds. Because this area is so small, though, I need to be super careful to thin my paint down enough so that it doesn't go on too thick. I don't have a lot of area to spread the paint out after all, so even a tiny bit is going to look very thick if I'm not careful. That makes me hesitate.
Here's how the reeds came out. Not exactly what I was envisioning, but I'm pretty happy with it.
There's an obvious highlight on the side of this palm leaf I'd like to paint. It doesn't look green to me. If anything, it looks like a light tan color. I'm nervous about painting it because I've tried and failed to paint this highlight before.
I tried using my unbleached titanium white. I was happy with my shade choice from my first brush stroke. Your eye will always know better whether something is right or wrong visually than your mind will. All I had to do now was make sure I followed the shape I saw in my reference photo. I brought the unbleached titanium white down to the bottom of the leaf in a pointed shape. Then I cleaned and dried my brush and blended out my edges.
For my second attempt at painting the little tan highlights on the palm leaf, I used a my liner brush. I was much happier this time. I noticed there were also some thin stripy highlights too, so I painted those.
I saw some colors, like yellow, brown, and purple, in the leaf closest to the river that I'd missed before. I didn't want to use straight yellow for it, so I mixed it with violet, because I thought it looked a bit reddish. I noticed there were some highlights on the side the same shade as the ones I'd painted on the palm leaf, so I painted those.
If you're working in a medium that's not easy to cover up, like watercolor or colored pencil, you might want to keep a piece of scratch paper(that's the same type of paper your project is on)to test colors before using them on your project.
Assuming it's not a commissioned piece, though, even if you do put the wrong shade down, at the end of the day, it's not the end of the world. You'll probably be the only one who notices the "mistake" anyway. Do you really think if you have a great foundation drawing, a fantastic balance of lights and darks, and phenomenal perspective,(okay, I'm getting a little ambitious here, but just go with me), if you're piece has all that, do you think the people you show it to are really going to notice if you used the "wrong" shade of blue somewhere. No, they're not.
At the time of beginning this post, I haven't put a single stroke of color on my painting that I'm doing from this photo. But I knew very early on that I didn't want to make the river gray as depicted in the photo. I felt like I wanted to make it a blue green.
I thought I should do some experimenting in Corel Paintshop, though, to see if my idea would work. I think it will.
I started by blocking the river in a grayish blue green liked I planned on, darkening it for the shadows.
Now, while I was doing the underpainting, I noticed some white spots, but I didn't paint them at the time. Now was the time to paint those so that they wouldn't get covered by the blue-green I was using for the water. The most important part was keeping my brush moving in one continuous line in order to make the spots as smooth as possible. Smoothness here was more important than getting the exact right shape or width. These things had to be close, but they didn't have to be exact is what I had to tell myself. I need the smoothness because I'm depicting still, shiny water. Ragged edges would give the feel of roughness, which would be helpful if I was painting an ocean with waves crashing, but not for this.
Even after I'd painted the white spots, made sure they were nice and opaque, and my edges were smooth, the water still didn't have that glossiness I wanted it to have. I decided to do something I'd thought about earlier, not knowing how it would come out, and that was to paint thin outlines of black around the white areas. Using the tip of my liner brush and some mars black, I did exactly that. My objective was to keep the lines as thin as possible. After I did that, I felt like the water was starting to take on more of the gloss I wanted it to have.
Today was time to paint the duck and leaves. When I looked at the duck, I have to admit, I wasn't entirely sure what to paint it. Now, I've had a habit of, when I'm not completely sure about something, feeling almost paralyzed with indecision. But now, I've decided to start a habit of plunging into something rather than pondering over it forever.
I thought I saw a brownish green in his neck. Again, I wasn't a hundred percent sure, but I went for it. If I hated it, I could paint over it or wipe it off. But the only way, really, to know if you're going to like how something is going to look in your painting is to see it and the only way to see it, is to take the plunge and paint it. Well, it didn't look horrible.;)
I saw a blue gray in the duck's body and can you guess what I did? That's right, mixed some up and glazed it over that part. I try to remember what Lisa Clough says, which is that you can paint something pretty much whatever color you want.(Assuming it's your own painting. You can't take as many liberties with commissions.) It's your values that matter.
I mixed a little bit of brown into some yellow and then a tiny bit of red into that forth the big leaf on the right hand side. I mixed some blue and yellow, so I made a green, into this color for the rest of the leaves. I felt like the leaf under the palm leaf was a bit more bluish. No big deal. I just glazed some blue right over it.
Everytime I finished anything that was touching the water, I brought that color into the water, often going over it a paint free wet brush to make sure it was translucent enough. This helped add even more to the shine and iridescence of the water.
I sat down to today's painting session with two objectives, to add some pink into the water, and darken the duck's wing. I originally didn't think I would add any other colors into the water, other than those of the duck and the leaves, but I'm glad I did.
Anyway, as you can see, I ended up doing quite a bit more than what I'd originally intended. Adding the pink,(and the orange, and the blue), was important part of making it look as shiny as I wanted it to. Anything that's shiny is going to reflect whatever is around it.
So, besides putting some pink in the water, I said another thing I wanted to do was darken the duck's wing. I'm still sticking with the blue-grey color scheme, but I thought there should be more of a contrast between the duck's wing and his belly. After doing this, though, I felt like the highlights I'd painting weren't standing out enough, so I went over them with a liner brush and some titanium white. I still didn't like the pattern I'd made, so, while not being one hundred percent sure if I had the right idea, I widened the end of the third swipe that was closer to the leaf, closing the gap between it and the one next to it. After I did that, I was much happier with the shape of the wing.
I'm not sure about the patch of blue with white streaks in the water on the left-hand side. After painting a few layers of the blue, it didn't look quite right and I thought adding the white would improve matters. Now, though, I think I'm going to find myself glazing over those white spots with more blue.
I started by painting light blue right over the dark blue streaks I had painted on the river in the far left. After the first couple of strokes of that, I was already thinking that section was looking much better. I went directly over the white spots with a liner brush and some watered down ultramarine blue. The little bit of white that still shows will act as my highlights.
I directed my attention to the leaves and rock. I painted the rock a grayish blue and brownish pink. Since it appears to have a pumice like texture, I painted some holes in it using burnt umber mixed with ivory black and a liner brush.
I realized there was a whole side to one leaf I hadn't painted it. I painted it with a mixture of transparent mixing white, burnt umber, and permanent green light. I later glazed yellow and brown over that side of the lead to make it blendi n better with the others.
I felt that the reeds needed painting. I tried painting them a yellow green, but I quickly saw that that wasn't working. I wipe most of the yellow-green paint off and painted them just plain brown instead. I think it looks much better, although I may glaze over them with green and see how that goes.
Id' like to give you a little back story on this painting. In the Spring and Summer of 2018, my parents and I went on a road trip across the United States. We saw twenty-five states in all, including Texas. While we were there, we saw the Alamo, and after that, we went on a river walk around the San Antonio River, which is where I took the photo that I'm making the painting you're seeing from.
I’m really going to enjoy working on Ampersand boards. I could tell that from the first stroke. I thought, why is the feel of my brush so pleasant on this? Is this really what Ampersand boards are like?
This is what the painting looked like before I added the duck and leaves. I started by blocking in most of the canvas with a medium dark gray, making a small sliver in the bottom left hand corner a much darker gray, closer to black. The large blocked out section will be the river. I took a charcoal pencil and drew the shapes of the ripples in the water and set about painting them different shades.
Going back to what I was saying about some of these ripples being lighter and some being darker, trying to paint every ripple exactly like the reference photo is another one of those things that can stress you out. Unless that’s really what you want to do, I don’t recommend putting that kind of pressure on yourself. As for me, I’m not worried about making every ripple the exact right shade. I’m just trying to get some variety in here.
Then I drew the duck and leaves on using tracing and transfer paper.
Back to the topic of these boards, the cool thing about Ampersand boards is that they’re wooden boards that are pre-gessoed. That’s a big deal because a lot of wooden boards are not pre-gessoed. So if you wanna try working on wood, but don’t want to have to gesso your surface, Ampersand is the way to go.
Today I decided to fill in the extra dark, almost black shadows of the leaves and duck. After painting a few of these, which included the duck’s head, I noticed there was a shadow on the duck’s stomach, which I’d painted a very light gray. The shadow was a good bit darker than the base of shade of the stomach but much lighter than what I’d been using.
I went on and used the same shade on one of the leaves. At this point, the light values in his wings started to catch my eye and I decided they needed to be painted. I painted them using my liner brush. I thought the color was too light to start with, so I went over it with a slightly darker shade.
I painted some more of the ridges in this big leaf, using a much lighter, but still dark gray. ‘Painting more shadows on the leaves.
Then I painted highlights on the duck. What I painted on his chest is meant to depict the fluffiness of his feathers.
I reach a point twice, at least, in the process of every painting where I know I'm not done, but I don't know what else needs to be added. I was at this point with this painting until I realized I hadn't painted those big stalk things. How could I forget that?!
All in all, the gessoboard from Ampersand, which is what I'm using for this painting was a great buy and one I would recommend. I'm including an affiliate link if you're interested. If you buy from this link, I get a small percentage of the purchase price.
I was inspired to do this when I saw that my friend, Shana Rowe Jackson, who runs the channel, Caution: Artist At Play, uploaded a video of herself doing a project in India ink to her channel.
This is day one of working on the jellyfish. I wanted to have a very light wash to start with. I layered some darker, but still fairly light shapes on top of this light wash. The thing I’m having the hardest time with is getting the right ratio of water to ink to get the value I want. My ink keeps going down way darker than I want it. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. This is my very first piece in this medium. I’m finding, though, that I can lighten a mark that’s already on my paper by layering water on top of it with a wet brush.
My friend Shana, who inspired me to do this told me India ink is a good way to get those really stark blacks that are hard to get in watercolor. I think she’s right. Even when I don’t think I have a lot of ink on my brush, my values still end up being a lot darker than what I had in mind
Today was day two of painting my jellyfish. I learned to use the dropper to put out just a little bit of the ink onto my palette, but it was still going on way darker than I wanted it. I continued to paint shapes, copying my reference photo. I utilized a tissue to dab the ink and lighten it. Then it dawned on me to use my spray bottle, the same one I used to mix water into acrylic and watercolor paint, to spritz water straight into the ink! That really helped to lighten it and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.
Anyway, I thought the piece really started to come together when I added the tentacles, which I did with a combination of my smallest watercolor round brush and my liner brush. I started with a lot of ink in my brush at the top and purposely kept going without reloading my brush so I the lighten would get lighter going down. For some reason, painting those and those little loops at the top was the most fun part for me of this whole project so far.
I made sure to have the tentacles overlap each other. The last thing I want is for them all to be in a neat row. In the water, the tentacles would be moving. After all, that's how the jellyfish catches his pray.
Today I painted more smaller shapes on top of the bigger ones I’d painted. I can see the texture coming out more and more. I put some marks down too dark like before, but I used the excess ink for more marks, rather than going back to my palette.
Today I painted the leaf on the side and even more shapes on the jellyfish. The process of painting this guy's body has been painting a shape, then paint a smaller shape on top of that, then paint an even smaller shape on top of that,etc.
I figured out that I can use the excess ink from a too dark spot to paint other marks and lighten the spot in the process.
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Forget About What You Think You Know Something Looks Like
I'll repeat that, forget...about what you know something looks like. We all have these preconceived notions of what shapes and what colors things are, usually from cartoons. You need to get those notions out of your head while you're painting. A cat's ear is not a triangle.
As you can see in the drawing above, I drew this cat's ears with folds and a rounded shape at the top. We might think we know a cat's ears are triangular shaped, but only cartoon cats have truly triangular ears.
A parrot's beak is not solid black. Or orange, for that matter.
For these parrots, I used mostly shades of gray, and very light gray at that, to paint their beaks. As an aside, nothing that's black, assuming it's three dimensional, is really going to be totally black. Not only that, but you're really only going to use black for the darkest shadows. See my post video, "How To Color Something That's Black" for a demonstration of this principal.
Take a look at the bird's beak I'm working on now.
I didn't use any black or orange on it. I used a pale yellowish green as the base color and then mostly blues and purples. That's why I say, forget about what you think something looks like.
Look at everything as an abstract shape and not as what it actually is.
Look At Every Rock, Tree Branch, Etc, Like It's Unique, Because It Is
When you paint an object, you're not only painting that object, you're painting the lighting on that object. That means the colors and patterns you paint on it will very, depending on that lighting.I will tell you, though, that in my experience of taking pictures outside in natural daylight, rocks, tree branches, and even animal’s fur, tend to have bluish and purple shadows on them. You can see examples of this in my paintings, “Monkey Eating Leaf”.
and “Squirrel Among The Palm Branches”
While we're on the topic of rocks, I feel I might as well bring up my latest painting again.
Note the big rock in the upper right hand corner. You'll see that I put streaks of turquoise on it. As a result of the way the light was hitting the rock, that's what appeared. Now, no other rock I've painted so far had those, so this is a perfect example of why you need to forget about what you think you know something looks like and look at every individual thing like it's unique. If I went into this with the idea that I know what a rock looks like and that all rocks look the same, I would've completely missed those turquoise streaks. Look at things like a child who's seeing something for the first time when you paint or draw.
Believe me, when you see these colors, you’ll think to yourself, those colors can’t be there. I must be seeing this wrong. If I paint blue on this gray rock, anyone who looks at this painting will think I’m crazy. I’m telling you, ignore these thoughts. Paint those colors anyway. I promise, you won’t regret it. On the contrary, you’ll love the results. There are a couple of caveats, though.
First, don’t use bright versions of these colors, mainly blue and purple. Always mix them with gray or brown to mute them. This will make them more natural looking. To make them even more realistic, apply them transparently in glazes, rather than opaquely.
I think this would be a good time to point out my article, "I Use Lots Of Colors" as it's very relevant to this topic.
But this all comes down to one specific thing and that's look at your freakin' reference photo, or your subject, if you're working from life. That's why I say to number one, forget what you think you know something looks like, and number two, to look at every individual thing like it's unique, because the biggest mistakes that will keep you from seeing these like an artist, are, to think you already know what everything you're painting looks like, and thinking every rock looks the same as every other rock. Trust your eyes, not your brain.
I asked in a Facebook group about things I could add to this article. A couple of suggestions were watch proportions and pay attention to composition. I'd like to direct you to my video "2 Tricks For Drawing Better Proportioned Figures", and, for more help on the composition front, my videos, "Subject As The Focal Point: Making It Happen" and "How Do The Elements Of A Painting Work Together?
If you came across this post in a search and are not on my email list, please consider joining so you can get posts with tips to help you improve your art sent straight to your inbox every week. You'll also see the latest progress of the piece I'm working on and maybe hear about future plans. You can sign up at the side of this post.
1. Set the intention to improve
If you paint consistently, you'll improve over time, no matter what. But I think you can accelerate the rate at which you improve by actually making the decision to draw or paint something very well by putting extra effort into it. So by, set the intention to improve, I mean, make the decision to put in extra effort.
I want to direct your attention to this painting, particularly the eye on it.
When it came time to paint this eye, I could've just decided I was going to fill the iris in one solid color, paint some flicks going out from the lid for lashes, painted a little black dot in the middle for a pupil and called it done. that entire process probably would've taken me less than a minute.
But that's not what I did. Instead, I looked intently at the reference photo before I started painting and asked myself what colors and shapes I saw. Where was there white showing? What direction did the hairs in her lashes and brows go in? I made it my goal to replicate all of this in my painting to the best of my ability. I might've spent about five minutes just on this one eye, but it was worth it.
I want to remind you that what made this eye one of the best things I've painted, one of the things I'm most proud of really, is something I did before I started painting. I'm really working on getting better about not only looking at the reference photo, because I could glance at a photo and count that as "looking", but to study it before diving into the painting, that's what I'm talking about here.
2. Go into each piece with the mindset that you're capable of more than you think you are. Believe your goals are attainable.
Along those same lines, is to believe that you can actually achieve what you want to achieve. Where you are now in your skills is not where you have to stay. As I mentioned in tip one, this will probably mean spending more time on a single part of your piece than you originally thought necessary or might have been willing to spend. I wrote about the topic of patience and how important it is to artists a long time ago.
3. Don't set lofty goals.
It's great to be ambitious, but don't tell yourself, I'm going to paint super realistic faces, without breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps. Otherwise, you'll most likely get discouraged. Instead, put increased effort, like I said in tip one, into a small, but important aspect of achieving this goal, and as your competence increases, add to that overtime. Decide you're going to work on getting accurate proportions, then decide you're going to master shading and blending, etc. Overtime this will lead to you painting more realistic faces, even super realistic ones. This brings me to my next point which is...
4. Practice mindfully and deliberately
Of course, there's nothing wrong with zoning out while you're painting and I do it all the time. I even made a post endorsing it, or rather, endorsing painting without judging yourself as you do. But when you're trying to master a new area, you need to be focused and deliberate about that task. For example, I've been taking a portrait drawing class and I decided, I was going to practice getting smoother shading. Everytime I started to shade, I was 100% focused on what I was doing with that pencil. Of course, putting all this mental effort can be tiring, so to take the pressure off...
5. Do this practice as part of a project you're excited about
You don't have to do your deliberate practice separate from your incidental practice, ie, projects you do because you want to. Pick a photo, whether one you took yourself, or from a royalty-free site, that you really like, and in recreating it as a painting, use that to work on improving your art skills.
6. Take time off from all of the above
Now this might sound like a contradiction of all of the above, but it's not. Constantly being intentional about your work and worrying, for lack of a better word, about improving, will exhaust you and take the joy out of doing art at all. You need those times where you just zone out and paint and don't worry about anything. In fact, I recommend doing any of the other five steps only as much and as often, as you can emotionally handle them.
Keep in mind, these are tips for how to improve your art faster, not how to improve your art fast. I also can't give you a timeline of how fast these tips will help you improve because everyone is different.
Here's the painting I was working on while writing this post.
I decided to do my tests against a black background because I thought it would give you and me a better view of how the yellows looked than white. From left, I have hansa yellow, cadmium-free yellow and azo yellow.
There was a surprise, because, while the hansa yellow says it's transparent, and the azo says it's semi-opaque, as you can see, the hansa clearly has more opacity than than the azo! I also think the azo looks green against the black, so I knew I'd have to test these colors against a white backdrop too.
So far all of the yellows I've swatched for you have been from Liquitex's soft body line. I felt having all of the paint be from the same line was important to get a fair comparison. But, I wanted to compare the hansa yellow from the soft body with the cadmium yellow from the Basics line. Hansa yellow is known to be a transparent color, and while cadmium is traditionally an opaque color, the paints in the Basics line tend to have very little pigment and so, be very translucent. Basically, I wanted to see which is more translucent, the hansa yellow from the soft body line of Liquitex, or the cadmium yellow from the basics line. I was a bit surprised to see that the Basics cadmium was actually more translucent than the soft body's hansa. I'll keep that in mind when I'm painting in the future.
I made a discovery when I decided to take a chance. I was painting the butterfly above and I needed the aforementioned bright, but deep blue for the butterfly's wings. I knew no premixed color that I had would cut it. I thought, though, what if I mix cyan with ultramarine?
I start with cyan, because I want that to be the dominant color. I put a generous amount of it on my palette, then I squirt some ultramarine next to it, and using either a palette knife or a brush, I slowly add the ultramarine into the cyan until I get the color I desire.
Okay, so this color mixing experiment worked out, but what if it hadn't. That would've been fine and I explain why in this post.
I remember wishing I had some cyan in watercolor when I did this painting, because I thought it would be perfect to mix with the ultramarine I had for the water. I seem to remember finding a tube of cerulean that I didn't know I had after going out and getting one after finishing this piece.
Here are swipes of cyan mixed with ultramarine in watercolor, both in wet-on-dry and wet-on-wet.
While ultramarine tends to be my go-to blue, I do find cyan to be a very pretty color, I used for the sky in my painting, "Mountains Over A Lake In Silverton",
and for Adelaya's top in my painting, "Mother Sitting With Child".
I saw another artist that I watch on Youtube, Sayanti Chadhauri, who's channel is Sayanti Fine Arts, do a painting on her channel that involved layering streaks of ultramarine and cyan on top of eachother to paint water. That inspired me to try that out for myself. Here's the result.
I started to like this combo the more I looked at it.
I had learned through Facebook that mixing cerulean with raw umber gives a nice blue gray color. I'm a curious person, so I had to try it out.
I mixed a little bit of raw umber into some cerulean, than a bit more raw umber into the cerulean, and a little cerulean into some raw umber. I really like the first two shades, but I'm not so sure about the last one.
Painter of portraits and wildlife