Anatomy of a Portrait

“Redheads Have More Fun”  portrait of Willy

I have been working on a commissioned portrait of a beautiful 8 year old chestnut warmblood gelding.  Commissions require extra care, because we all have unique perspectives based on our experiences.  I wanted my vision to capture the horse’s sweet generous nature and the owner’s expectations.

I took extra care with the pencil study, being careful with Willy’s anatomy, his stunning drop-dead-gorgeous-good-looks and conformation, as well as his sunny personality.  I took extra time drawing his face, as the face and especially the eyes are the window to the spirit.

willy 1
pencil study

When the pencil study was complete, I did a value map.  I would recommend this step to anyone who wants to ensure success with a studied composition.  This process is not suitable for alla prima quick painting, but it works out many of the compositional problems that could crop up in a larger studio work.  My process is to find 3 values- dark, medium, and light.  I combine close values from the pencil study into larger connected shapes.  When I get to the painting stage, I keep the values accurate, and add a variety of color within the value shapes.  This variety of color enlivens the painting’s surface and the subject of the painting.  I also like to create lost-and-found edges at this point.  Where the sunlight touches the edge of the horse’s body, I have allowed the shapes to merge with the background- (horse’s left front leg and hoof.)

willy #2
Value map

The next step is the underpainting.  The underpainting sets the tone/temperature for the completed work, as this glaze will glow from within.  I have a warm golden wash in a variety of tones and tints- (hansa yellow, gamboge, raw sienna, burnt sienna).  I masked the areas of white- blaze and socks, and left those white areas in shadow blank- no underpainting.  For this portrait, I want a warm painting with distinct blue shadows on the horse’s socks and nose, so I saved those shapes for later painting.

willy #3.JPG
underpainting

After the underpainting was dry, I painted the background.  I wanted a very soft, light background that wouldn’t compete with the horse.  I used both blues for contrast and yellows for harmony.  When the background was dry, I built up shapes, added color, and worked from light to dark, using my value map.  As the body was taking shape, I switched to a smaller brush to complete the face.  The face slowed the process down, as stated before, an artist must capture the soul here.  When the horse was complete, I added energy in the foreground with lively brushstroke and splattered color.  I wanted to convey the energy of a joyful gallop and the impression of a flowery meadow.

willy

This work will be previewed at my Open House Sept 29, 2017 5-7 PM at Backstreet Street Bagels & Gallery.    To purchase a painting or commission a work, use this link:     purchase painting

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New Work 2017 “Break in the Clouds”

After seeing my “After School” painting, a good friend sent me a photo she took while traveling in Nicaragua, which she said reminded her of my narrative painting.  (see March 31 post- After School)  I thought the photo would be a perfect subject for a poured watercolor approach.  I will be teaching this technique in Telluride, CO this summer.  If you are intrigued by this method, you can register with this link- poured watercolor workshop

As with many of my paintings, the first step is a study in ink or pencil.  Lately I have been using ink.  These studies are important to determine values for the many pours, along with defining edges and movement in the painting.

1 break

After transferring the drawing to 140 pound Arches watercolor paper, I begin masking and pouring the multiple layers of color and value.  Now that Adobe Photoshop is so popular, many more people understand the process of poured watercolor.  One must think in layers from light to dark.  Details can be painting early and masked, or the area can be defined after all the masks have been removed and the layers integrate into a composition.  I do both depending on the colors needed and the type of detail I will be adding.  Street scenes have far more fussy details than the landscape and horse compositions I have been pouring, so I’ve been improvising the best ways to define details.  If the details have complimentary color in the adjacent background, it works best to paint and mask the details before pouring to keep the colors pure.

After the final pour is dry, the mask can be removed.  This is the time to clean up edges, define shapes, and resolve the composition.  Sometimes this step is like unwrapping a present; the painting revealed under all the drips, masks, layers, and pours is glowing and almost done.  Other times, removing the mask presents a conundrum; how do I pull all the elements together?  This painting presented a conundrum.  I studied this step of the painting for several days before adding the final touches.

4 break

After much study, I cleaned up the painting and started to add dabs of paint in ways that would unify the artwork.  This took a few days, some brainstorming, some problem solving, and outside eyes to discuss where things needed to go.  I was pleased with the solution.  This painting evolved organically, and the original painting I saw in my mind’s eye was not the final result you see here.  As artists, we must be flexible and listen to what the painting is telling us.

Break in the Clouds (1)

Poppies by Moonlight

"Poppies in Moolight" watermedia, 5.5" x 11"   $125 with archival matt and backing

Another overpainted composition from an abandoned painting.  Can you tell there is a horse under this one?

 

 

 

With a vertical composition and a blue-dominant palette, this one is very different from my first painting in this series.

 

I used windsor blue, (green shade), manganese blue, cobalt blue, and ultramarine blue, accented with rose madder, alizarine crimson, aureolin, and small amounts of copper, gold, and transparent metallics.  Negative painting creates passages of light, and dark value scumbling gives punch.

 

 

“Poppies in Moolight” watermedia, 5.5″ x 11″   $125 with archival matt and backing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Experiments

This spring I’ve been developing a new patio garden.  The plan is to plant in clumps, creating areas of color and texture that will highlight different areas of the garden throughout the growing season.  March brought crocus, pink creeping phlox, and woodland hyacinths dancing along a stone path.  Transitioning from the earliest blooms, as the crocus and hyacinths faded, white phlox joined the pink phlox along the pathway and candy tufts bloomed below the apple boxes.  The single flowering Siberian almond burst into a pink cloud, followed by the frothy glory of the common double flowering almond.   Between the path, at the edge of the berm, a variety of daffodils and early blooming tulips complemented the display.  The daffodils have faded; the phlox continue to glow.  The Siberian almond has turned green, and the double-fowering almond morphs as old blossoms are replaced by vibrant leaves.  The wooly daisies have begun blooming along the lower garden brick edge next to the lawn.  Stately iris will bloom any day along the masonry edge at the  garden’s front.  In the old apple boxes that line a rusty metal wall along one edge and a woven willow fence along the other edge, the Texas Blue Bonnet seed has sprouted along with a colorful mix of butterhead lettuce, including red, green, and polka-dotted varieties.  Marigolds, daisies, and poppies have sprouted on the berm, along with late parrot tulips.  I hope they will be blooming in June for my daughter’s graduation garden party.  Soon it will be warm enough to plant cosmos, African daisies, and the hanging baskets.

With this parade of blooms, my thoughts have turned to flowers in my artwork as well.  I’m doing some very experimental, direct work.  Taking old painting that I don’t choose to frame, I have turned them 90 degrees from the original compositions, torn them in half vertically to create long or narrow formats, and re-stretched the paper for new paintings.  The old compositions are like ghosts, influencing my new painting choices.  There were many layers of paint already on the first composition.  I began with some paint splatters, then added several more glazes.  Dark lines and dry-brush dark textures, along with some lifted color revealed the forms and balanced the composition.  Finally, I put a touch of gold on the petals.

poppies
5.5″ x 11″  watermedia; $125 archival matting; finished size 7.5″ X 13″

“First Pal” finished painting from Demo

“First Pal” is a portrait of my daughter’s first pony, a section B, 12 hand Welsh Pony, which I bought as a weanling for her fifth birthday.  Capriceaux and Marissa grew up together.   You can read more about them at Marissa and Capriceaux or just watch the video Pony Pals video

slide-scans-24002571
Taken on Marissa’s 5th birthday

It took me awhile to finish this painting; sometimes how to resolve/finish a painting can be elusive.  When that happens, I’ve found the best strategy is to stop painting and simply think about different approaches.  Returning from the sketching trip to Texas reignited my creative flow.  I played up the negative grass shapes, adding some counterchange and juxtaposing negative grasses from the pour with positive grasses, painted with the brush.  I added atmosphere in the background with wet-into-wet painting, and finished with textural splatters.  To review the painting process for this painting, visit Demo part 1 and Demo part 2.

First Pal
“First Pal,” watercolor, 15″ X 11″  $350; copyright Cheri Isgreen, 2016

Poured Watercolor, part 2

In this post, I will show you how I take a poured watercolor composition from conception to finish.  In yesterday’s post, I noted the steps I feel are important in developing a successful poured painting.  Today, I will illustrate these points.

Critical concerns to Ensure a Successful Painting

  • The artist needs to make studies before painting.   For each mask layer to be successful, a careful drawing must be executed with accurate shapes and   values .  Additionally, the artist needs to consider all the elements, (line, color, texture, form,  and space, as well as shape and value), to insure a balanced composition.  Though pouring is primarily a studio technique and not suitable for pleine aire painting, poured watercolor develops technical skills, habits of mind, and the awareness of compositional elements that are critical in the field when an artist must work quickly to capture the light.
  • When initiating compositional studies, develop your ideas into connected shapes with three or more values.
  • Edges matter- draw and mask shapes very carefully, so the painting will read when the mask is removed.  Buy the best brushes you can afford for masking, (you will need a variety), and take good care of them, so the mask doesn’t destroy them.  Mask brushes and water containers must be dedicated for masking only.
  • Exploit lost & found edges, negative space, and counter-change when developing compositional studies.
  • Avoid details until the end, when the mask is off.
  • When the mask is off, find areas where the edges must be softened.

Make Studies:

The photograph below shows my daughter’s pony, about 17 years ago.  It is well suited for a poured demo, as it has large shapes and strong light.

Develop strong connected shapes in three values:

I made an initial drawing in three values.  You can see how the shapes connect- the white area of grass flows into the pony’s nose, and the dark area of grass flows into the pony’s legs.  This gives the painting nice use of negative space, and the lost and found edges compel viewer involvement.  In the actual composition, the white leg flows better into the white grassy area.  Without making the value study, I would not have noticed this.  At this stage there are few details, yet the painting clearly reads as a pony in his pasture.

IMG_1906

Consider each element of art:  (line, color, texture, form, space, shape, value)

I begin designing with shape, value, and space, then I consider the other four.  The light on the pony’s back and the lighter belly areas will define a well-rounded, solid form.  I will enhance this element after the mask is off, as I soften edges that define form.

Color, line, and texture come from my painted studies.IMG_1907

Raw sienna, cobalt blue, and manganese blue all produce granulation, which will add texture to both the pony and the foreground.  This color study tells me what to expect as the colors mix during the pour.

In making a small color study, I learned that my initial primary color triad- raw sienna (for yellow), burnt sienna (for red), and cobalt blue, needed a little punch to the earth pigments.  I added rose madder, because it is earthier than permanent rose, and manganese blue for its lovely green mixing qualities and granulation.  I use a limited palette of 4 blues, 3 reds, and 3 yellows for my paintings.   For poured paintings, I limit my palette to just 3-6 pigments.

IMG_1908

In the painted study, I connected the white leg into the white grassy shape, as noted above.  In painting the grass, I used a variety of long, short, and broken lines to convey both texture and to lead the eye into the pony, as subject.  Then I added juicy drops of color into the tail to blow tail lines that echo grass lines and blend into pasture.

Edges matter:

Shapes are carefully masked.  I use my value map, (first photo), to make order out of the chaos of masking and pouring.  Once the first mask is applied, it becomes difficult to see how the painting is progressing, so the initial studies are critical to organizing the pouring process.

 

cheri3
Preparing for the first pour.  Each pigment cup is labeled and dedicated for only that pigment, which I rinse & save after each pour.   Large syringes work well for mixing, and small syringes are handy when pouring into small spots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1904
mask and first pour- raw sienna, burnt sienna, cobalt blue. Note very light underpainting of soft trees and clouds before the first mask was applied.

 

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After the final pour, removing the mask.
IMG_1913
After the mask was removed, beautiful passages of granulation and texture were revealed

 Avoid details and soften edges when the mask is removed:

Check back soon for how to resolve the painting once the mask has been removed.

Watercolor Demo at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts

An interested audience of close to 40 artists attended a watercolor demo by Cheri Isgreen at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts Thursday afternoon. The demo focused on the technique of poured watercolor, which exploits watercolor’s natural tendency to produce unexpected, yet rich luminous color mixtures. Cheri explained that this technique emphasizes lost and found edges, negative space, counterchange, and a strong value design. With its many layers of mask and washes, poured watercolor is primarily a studio technique. A good underdrawing, balanced composition, and carefully applied media ensure successful paintings. Though not suitable for pleine aire painting, poured watercolor develops technical skills and the awareness of compositional elements that are critical in the field when an artist must work quickly to capture the light. The demo, sponsored by the Brush and Palette Club drew one of the largest audiences the club has experienced for a demo. Elise Lind, president of the club remarked the club gained 5 new members after this demo. The club is working with Cheri to provide a Poured Watercolor Workshop in the coming year. If you are interested in attending, comment below.

To learn more about the technique and see how this demo painting is developing, follow the blog- https://cheriisgreenfineart.wordpress.com         The series will begin tomorrow, taking the demo painting from initial studies to finished painting.

A large audience of artists await the beginning of the demo by Cheri Isgreen:cheri5

Poured Watercolor Workshop offered Sept 12 – 13th

In conjunction with “High Point: the horses, wildlife, and landscape of Colorado” showing at the Commonwheel Artist Coop August 21st- September 13th, 2015, I will present a Poured Watercolor workshop.   The workshop will take place September 12th & 13th, 2015 at the Manitou Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, CO 80829.    Hours for the workshop are 10 am – 4 pm each day.

“Buckhorn Glow” copyright Cheri Isgreen, 2015

Knowing pigment properties and following simple pigment rules go a long way in achieving colors that glow. Pouring paints, instead of using a brush, further ensures that each layer remains undisturbed, allowing a build-up of color that provides depth to paintings. The workshop will  cover strategies for strengthening your compositions, pigment rules, and pouring techniques. Strategies include focusing on value, edges, and of course, color! Each participant will complete 1-2 watercolor pieces. Cost for the workshop is $85 for MAC and Commonwheel Artists Co-op members/ $105 for non-members.  Each participant will receive a 12-page reference workbook.  For more information and to register, please visit:  commonwheel.com/isgreen.html

final pour dry; removing mask
final pour dry; removing mask
“Frolic in the Moonlight” copyright C Isgreen 2015

Demo #2

Besides the landscape demo, I created a surreal composition of Lipizzan horses frolicking in the moonlight.  This painting employs a number of unusual characteristics, resulting in a modern painting, though rendered in traditional representational imagery of the 3 foot phases of the canter: (hind leg strike off, diagonal pair on the ground, and foreleg lead pushing into the suspension phase.  The suspension phase was not included, as it would have made this composition crowded.)

First, the moon was pushed forward to become the fourth character in the painting.  Second, I changed the color scheme to warm, though night paintings are usually portrayed  in cool colors.  Finally, I changed the format from the traditional horizontal format depicting a group of running horses to a vertical.  The hard edges resulting from the poured technique, combined with the vertical format gives this painting the flavor of an Oriental woodblock print.

"Frolic in the Moonlight" copyright C Isgreen 2015
“Frolic in the Moonlight” copyright C Isgreen 2015

Below one can see the results of the final pour with the mask being removed to reveal the painting underneath, as alluded to in the previous post:  Poured Watercolor Workshop at Western Colorado Center for the Arts,  https://cheriisgreenfineart.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/poured-watercolor-workshop-at-western-colorado-center-for-the-arts/

final pour dry; removing mask
final pour dry; removing mask

Poured Watercolor Workshop at Western Colorado Center for the Arts

For a successful pour, it is essential for the artist to have a strong design with connected interesting shapes and at least 4 delineated values.  In the photo below, Trudy transfers her value map, (large thumbnail) to her stretched watercolor paper.

transfer value map to watercolor paper
transfer value map to watercolor paper

Each value is masked in succession, with a separate pour for each mask.  The pouring process allows for spontaneous color mixtures.  Tilting the board after the pour allows the artist to “control” the direction of the color blending.

part 1- pouring the masked painting with a variety of paint pigments mixed to a predetermined value based on the artist's value map.
part 1- pouring the masked painting with a variety of paint pigments mixed to a predetermined value based on the artist’s value map.
Marilyn tilts her board to encourage the paint to move in a specific direction.

When the final pour is dry, the mask is removed, and the painting receives final touches to resolve the composition.  Sometimes an over-pour is required in different areas than the initial pours.  In that case, all mask is removed, and new mask is applied to areas where the initial pours are to be preserved.  Removing the final mask is like unwrapping a Christmas present.  By the final pour, the painting is quite obscured, and it’s always a surprise to see what lies underneath.

Helen removes her mask, revealing her poured, blended canyon landscape.
Helen removes her mask, revealing her poured, blended canyon landscape.

Because there is quite a lot of dry time between the masking and pouring process, each artist worked on at least two separate paintings simultaneously.  The photo shows workshop participants pleased with their results learning the poured process:

Each participant finished two paintings and had a third painting in progress to explore and finish at home.
Each participant finished two paintings and had a third painting in progress to explore and finish at home.  Helen plans to add more pours to her goats.  In the photo, the painting is still masked.  Because she has a strong design, the intent of the painting comes through, as does some of the color mixtures.