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Demo ~ Tyler Art League

May 26, 2009

I had a very enjoyable evening recently, doing a demonstration for the Tyler Art League in Tyler, Texas.  It was my first demo, and the folks there made me feel very welcome, and put me at ease very quickly.  Gouache is a medium that most artists aren’t very familiar with, so there was quite a bit of explanation necessary, from types of materials and setup to the unique characteristics of the paint itself.  Unfortunately, because of that, the demo painting didn’t get very far.  I felt bad about that, so, for the nice folks at the Tyler Art League, I’m posting a step-by-step, along with some progress photos and close-ups.

Below is the painting as it is now.  I may tweak a few things before calling it entirely done, but it won’t be anything major.  This is 16×20, gouache on Multimedia Artboard.

Country Road 2

Below is the work we got done that night:

Country Road 2 initial block in

I started with a block-in of the major shapes, establishing my dark areas, getting some basic color into the sky, and the strong undercoat for the grass that is my usual starting point.  For the darks, I used ultramarine and burnt umber, for the sky, I laid in some random shapes with ultramarine, burnt umber and titanium white.  The grass areas are pure yellow ochre straight from the tube.  These areas were painted in very quickly, with very opaque paint at first, then wetter, and more transparent as I worked in lighter areas.  I then went back into the major tree shape with yellow ochre, starting at the top lightest area, and working down into the shape.  Although we didn’t get any further than this with the painting, I think the point was made regarding my embrace and extensive use of the lifting characteristic of gouache.  As I carried the brush strokes down, the dry layer of ultramarine and burnt umber was reactivated, and mixed with the yellow ochre.  A previously dark blue-gray mass began to take on varying shades of green.

Next are a couple of progress shots as I worked on the painting back in the studio:

Country Road 2 step 2

The telephone poles were a major decision for me, because I rarely include them in my paintings.  Here, however, I felt it might give the scene a slightly more contemporary feeling, and I needed them to help balance the composition as well.  The poles were laid in with a palette knife, something I’ve only tried a couple of times, and am not very handy with.  But it did help keep the poles fairly straight, much easier than using a brush.  Using ultramarine, medium yellow and yellow ochre, I started laying in some greens in the grass areas and to identify the background trees.  I’ve said before that I tend to use a  lot of yellow ochre, but it provides an underlayer in some areas that contributes to a somewhat luminous glow, and I believe it helps tie the entire painting together.  I worked with pretty thin paint at this stage, almost washing it in for the background trees, and letting it lift the foreground paint to get some more directional brush strokes, just trying to establish the lay of the land.  I laid in some strokes in the road as well, adjusting the width as it receded.  These were primarily directional strokes with thin paint, using yellow ochre, burnt umber and titanium white.

The next image shows the development of the greens.

Country Road 2 step 3

At this stage, I began to use combinations of ultramarine, medium yellow, lemon yellow, burnt umber, yellow ochre and titanium white.  Keep in mind that, as new strokes were laid on top, the first stroke was generally very opaque, but subsequent strokes moistened the underlying paint, pulling it into the color mix.  I generally begin these strokes with a light color, at the lightest point of a particular mass, as in the big tree and the clump of bushes in front of it, and work my way down into the shape, allowing the new strokes to mix the paint as I go, taking me from light to dark, with new color variations.

The following closeup shows the development of the clump of bushes in front of the tree.

Country Road 2 closeup 5

Next is the painting as it stands now:

Country Road 2

Indication of trees in the far background on the left, serves as a stop at the edge of the painting, and adds a sense of distance  i.e. what lies over the hill?  I brought in a few more strokes in the road, and decided not to overwork it with a lot of detail.  I spent a little time in the sky, bringing in some touches of yellow ochre and white at the horizon, most strongly where the road tops the hill, darkened the shadow crossing the road, generally trying to strengthen the focal area of the painting.  Then, more work in the sky, with mixtures of white, ultramarine and just a touch of burnt umber.  I cleaned up the poles a little, but left them simple with no detail, trying to make sure they recede into the distance.

The rest of the time was spent in further development of the greens in both the trees and the grass.  This was done with touches of varying mixtures of ultramarine, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, a touch of red, burnt umber, and titanium white.  Some strokes were fairly opaque while others were just light washes with a very light touch.

I’m not totally convinced of a couple of areas, but I’m going to live with it awhile before doing any more to it.

I’ve included some close-ups here, because I think the close-ups really give a better picture of the color variations that develop when bringing wet strokes over dry paint, and the textural quality that happens by using those worn, bristle craft brushes that I tend to use more than anything else.  I’ve sharpened the close-ups a little, just to emphasize the brushwork.  From a couple of feet away, there is a real sense of softness that’s created by the blending of the paint and the bristles of the brush.

Country Road 2 closeup 1

Those who got a closer look at this at the demo may recognize that the darkest edges of the tree are untouched from the very first initial strokes.  By using a light touch with those worn bristles, this was just enough, and I found no reason to go back into this area.

Country Road 2 closeup 2

This view gives an idea how working down from the lightest spots picks up existing dark color, changing not only the color, but the value as I move down.  You can also see how spots that were not touched, or that were touched only lightly, allow the color below to come through.  Had the yellow ochre under there had a touch more yellow mixed into it, this area would have really glowed.

Country Road 2 closeup 3

An even better example of working strokes of very thin, almost transparent paint as well as more opaque strokes, over the existing dry paint, picking up and mixing with the underlayers, but also allowing those colors below to shine through in spots.  The intent on my part is to indicate grass without painting grass.  The hardest thing for me to keep in mind is that the painting is intended to be viewed from several feet away, not nose-to-surface.

Country Road 2 closeup 4

The sky is another example of using all the characteristics of gouache:  quick drying paint, wet transparent washes, very opaque touches, lifting, all of those things come into play especially in the sky.

Hopefully, this is somewhat educational.  I can’t stress enough that there are as many ways to paint with gouache as there are artists using it.  It’s really a very versatile medium once one begins to experiment and learn what happens to it when you touch it onto a surface.

And, to the folks at the Tyler Art League, I hope this adds to the little bit of painting you actually got to see at the demo.  Thanks again for the warm welcome!

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