I used to balk at doing studies before embarking on a large piece. I was afraid they would take some of the enthusiasm, the freshness away. A “successful” study might make me rigid and want to replicate my efforts exactly large scale.
Well, That’s Silly Lazy Thinking.
A study for me is a blessing. It saves me from making huge mistakes or disappointing myself on a large expensive sheet of paper. It gives me a chance to play, try out different angles, colors, patterns, and compositions in a short amount of time. (Have I mentioned it takes me upwards of 60 to 80 hours to complete a piece?) In the end, I have a little series of painted notes that not only help me in the immediate piece ahead but can be added to a personal library of watercolor technique trial and errors. Or happy mistakes.
In short, art studies take the pressure off. It’s not like I am goofing off or not accomplishing anything as I once thought. The other thing is that people really enjoy seeing artists’ studies, their art journals, witnessing their process, how they solve a visual, medium, or technical problem. We all learn something.
A Sample Study To Illustrate My Point.
STEP ONE: Ultimately this will be a much larger piece (30 x 22) and I know what effect I want. That is, high contrast between the various yellows, browns, and oranges of the fallen Aspen leaves and the dark paved pathway. To avoid a flat black surface, I paint a wash of cerulean blue mixed with a bit of indigo around the leaves. Then I paint the leaves. It was also important to give a sense of perspective. To see the leaves right underfoot larger and the leaves that have blown ahead on the path to be smaller. This will (hopefully!) give the viewer a sense they are standing right there. That may not come across in a small-scale study but it is what I am striving for with the large-scale piece.
STEP TWO: Like the caption reads, I inked in the pathway as a pattern with specks of small stones to add texture. I was pretty pleased with the effect and the contrast. After finishing the study, I feel really good about starting (which is in the works) the larger version of Aspen Leaves on Pathway in Autumn. Inspiration for this piece came from an overcast autumn morning while walking in Thomas Lake Prairie Preserve. The leaf color popped on the dark pathway. It was like a “follow the yellow brick road” moment.
YOUR TURN: How do you feel about doing studies? What do you learn? Do you like your studies more than the final piece? (it happens sometimes) Don’t be shy. Tell me your thoughts in the comments.
It’s been a week since returning from a late summer 2-week break on the Big Island. One foot there, one foot here. Having traveled to the Big Island many times before, we no longer feel like tourists, more like visitors, familiar and knowing our way around. We took it SLOW, sinking into island time, visited with friends we have not seen in years and took in all the colors and flavors Hawaii has to offer.
I almost didn’t pack my Winsor & Newton pro watercolor compact with me and so happy that I did. Because we were taking it SLOW, I had time to paint a series of “postcards” inspired by the gardens around Waipio Wayside, the B&B Inn where we stay on the Hamakua coast, and from visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. There are greens upon greens in an island setting so I did what I could to push as many greens from my limited color palette. This is a good exercise ~ stretching and creating new color recipes. I admit I can get lazy, letting myself rely on tried and true color mixes.
Painting and drawing outside under the gazebo, I would hear chickens scratching the underbrush for insects, clucking and cooing as they went. I would look up and see the clouds etch shadows across the ocean surface. Huge stands of bamboo clunks, rattles, and creaks as breezes brush through them. There were times when the wind had a sound that would make most of us want to head for the basement back home. The energy, light, and air currents are different here.
I am a studio artist, not one to go out and do Plein Air painting yet there is something about working outdoors, drawing from nature surrounded by nature that creates a flow – I was so focused and would lose complete sense of time until my significant other would show up, sit down, and hand me a glass of wine. Is it 5:30 already?
POSTSCRIPT To those who might be thinking, yes, traveling while COVID is still with us has its trepidations. Surprisingly it was not that uncomfortable wearing a mask on the eight-hour flight to the islands. We just got used to it and then sort of forgot about it. Landing in Kona, all we had to do was present our COVID vaccine cards and away we went to find our Turo rental car. Before traveling we filled out the Mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form ~ this made things go much smoother with no hold-ups at the airport.
When asked “what do you do?” I will say I am an artist. (Note that I answer “who I am” versus “what I do.” Art is who I am and art what I make). The first question is followed by “what kind of art?” To which I typically answer with a medium. “Watercolors” I’ll respond. “Oh! they’ll say, Watercolor is so hard. You have to work so quickly. I could never do watercolors!” I smile. Everything takes practice and lots of it and I will encourage them to try.
I practice a lot at my art and I am never too old, too experienced, or too perfect to seek out instructions or new techniques. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon YouTube videos on negative painting. Instead of painting inside the subject, you paint around it. I’ll show you the process so it makes sense.
There you have it! Super effective once you get the hang of it. I did not get too fussy about pencil lines but you might want to erase yours with a kneaded eraser (no eraser shavings) so your lines are much lighter. It was pure play and I can see incorporating this method of negative painting with layers in my work. I am a little bit on the fence though with these studies. They were such a joy to make yet at the same time they feel a little like a Hallmark formula. That could be because I started super simple and trying this out for the first time.
Project Notes: I used 300lb Fabriano Bright White hot press watercolor paper. The thickness of the paper held up to all the paint layers really well and did not buckle from the water. Watercolors are Winsor Newton and some inexpensive cake watercolors – any brand of watercolors will do! It is important to mix colors and not just use colors straight out of the tube ~ you get a much richer effect that way. There were really small paintings, too, about 5 x 7 inches.
I have worked with watercolors for decades. It’s my first love next to drawing. Gouache, which is more or less a cousin to watercolors, never piqued my interest until I saw what other artists were doing with it.
2021 is my transitional year. Since I made the bold move to end my tenure as a full-time graphic designer working on projects for clients, I knew I wanted to devote a portion of my studio practice to pure experimentation.
Then I started to breathe. I remember the quote from Ira Glass from “This American Life,” who said something to the effect that you are not satisfied with your efforts at first it’s because you have taste. Your taste drives you to keep practicing, and through practice, you will reach the level of your taste.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass
I settled on my experiment. Since I knew watercolor and what it would do when paint hit paper, I would create a comparison painting with gouache. I chose a simple subject, our Christmas Cactus optimistically sprouting pink buds. I would paint the cactus first in watercolor and then in gouache.
At first, I thought I would be bored painting the same subject twice. (I never do that!). It turned out to be a good exercise. For one, I had been doing large-scale detailed drawings for some time and had such a limited color palette it was liberating to get back to a lot of colors.
After those earlier terrible first stabs using gouache, guess what? I like the gouache version of the Christmas Cactus best, enough to use it in a thank you card.
A couple of practical notes: It’s a good idea to paint a swatch set of your colors – no matter what medium you use. You’ll have a visual reference of what a color looks like on paper, which can look different than what the color looks like in the tube. Make a note of whether the paint color is transparent, semi-transparent, or opaque is helpful, too.
Your results are so much better if you don’t use color straight out of the tube when painting with gouache. Mix your colors and establish a color palette for your painting before you put brush to paper. You’ll be so happy you did.
What to do with the results? Make a greeting card, of course! Hope you enjoy it. What mediums are you experimenting with these days? Jot your questions or comments below. I’d love to hear what you are working on.
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Terra Kind Studio is the creative working home of visual artist, writer, apprentice poet, and graphic designer Kristin Maija Peterson.
“I write stories about of my work to bring you a connection and understanding of the thinking that goes into my work. As a self-proclaimed “Beauty Hunter,” I seek to represent the wild, the messy and the misunderstood places and spaces that are either ignored or destined to be controlled or developed. There is such beauty in the natural chaos of things. I hope your visit here is an inspired one.
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