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Challenge Prompt: 2 Colors

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 2: Two Colors

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

This is a tough one!

This prompt is, in my opinion, the hardest out of the bunch. Working with just two colors is really challenging but it also means you will learn a lot. If you have no idea where to begin, I suggest you start with color swatching. Pick two colors at a time and just see what you can make by mixing them together. I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to approach this exercise but luckily I came across a reference photo and immediately realized I could manage it with two colors. So that may be another option. Keep your eyes peeled for images in a very limited color palette. Photo filters can be your friend here as well, and trends like orange and teal could also work in favor of this prompt.

Example of an orange and teal photo reference.

What colors to pick?

Ideally, you want to choose two different colors (pans, tubes, etc.) preferably not from the same color family. So, for example, not two different greens or two different purples. Choosing colors from the same color family avoids color mixing which is the intention behind the prompt. Also, there is little value in it in terms of learning about color. Choosing black will have a similar impact, diminishing the usefulness of the exercise. So again, I would say that black and white do not count as colors for this. However, if you mix two colors together to create your own black, this is completely different and absolutely okay.

The goal is to make as broad of a range of colors as you can from just two starting colors. Additionally, you want to be able to create a full range of values using color rather than relying on black. Keep these two things in mind when you pick your colors.

Some things to try:

  • A dark neutral plus a bright color. Example of dark neutrals: Sepia or Payne's Gray.
  • Complimentary colors, this will work some of the time but not all of the time. Example: Red and Green.
  • You can also try compliments that are shifted slightly, like blue with an orangey-red or pink and a bluish-green. Example: Magenta or Carmine and Perylene Green make an interesting shade of dark purple.
  • In general, colors that mix to create a neutral are a safe bet. Example: Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.
  • Avoid picking two colors that are light in value as this will lead to problems with creating contrast. Example of light value colors: Potter's Pink and Naples Yellow.
  • Simple subjects like a pitcher or a piece of fruit may be an option if you are running short on ideas in regards to subject matter.
  • It does not have to be a full edge to edge painting. Feel free to leave the background white.

This photo reference could be painted using only dark blue and dark brown.

What colors did I choose?

For my painting, I have chosen Indigo and English Red (both from White Nights). A slightly unusual combo but it is effective and suited the photo I wanted to use. Using only these two colors I can create delicate pale washes as well as a near black mix and everything in between. They also combine to create a very nice neutral grey.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram @amyearls.art

Reference photos shown here are from Pixabay.

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Challenge Prompt: Monochromatic

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 1: Monochromatic

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

Artistic License

From one artist to another, please feel free to interpret the prompt however you wish but if you are looking for a little guidance or a few suggestions, read on and I will do my best to explain without getting too technical or going off on a tangent about Physics lol.

What does Monochromatic mean?

According to Google, monochromatic means, "containing or using only one color." This means all of the colors in the color spectrum (aka - the rainbow) are fair game. To offer further clarification, you are not limited to primary colors. Orange, for example, would be considered one color, even though it is made up of red and yellow. For our purposes think of using just one pen, or one colored pencil, or one tube of paint, etc. This is how we will define "one" color.

What about Black & White?

While a black and white image is considered monochromatic, I would encourage you to not to choose either of these as your "color". In fact, I would go so far as to say that white and black do not count as colors for the purposes of this challenge.

Why am I making this distinction? One very simple reason, this challenge is open to all art mediums. When it comes to opaque mediums such as acrylic or gouache, white is used to lighten a color and black can be used to darken a color. In other words, in order to create a range of values the use of black and white is unavoidable and I don't want this to hamper your color choices. That being said, the black or white should not be used alone for this first prompt, but mixed with your main color. For the watercolor painter, this consideration is more than likely unnecessary. I almost never use black or white, and if I do it is not to create changes in value.

If you want to get super technical, Wikipedia says that, "Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, grey or black."

Why just one color?

The monochromatic prompt is intended to encourage you to explore the range of values and dimension you can create using just one color. It is also good practice for keeping your values consistent. Think of this exercise as a more in-depth value study but instead of being limited to greyscale you are using a color instead. Using color can make it a bit trickier but also more fun. In general, darker colors are the easiest to use for this purpose as they only require you to change the value in one direction (make it ligher). For me, as a watercolor artist, this just means adding more water. However, I think that changes in value can be created in most mediums so please do not be discouraged if painting is not your thing. Here are a few ideas on how to explore this prompt using other mediums:

  • Pen - changes in value can be created using hatching, crosshatching, stippling, or even just scribbling.
  • Colored Pencil - the pressure applied to the pencil with effect the darkness of the color and can create beautiful gradients.
  • Marker - I would suggest starting with a color that is more towards the middle of the value range. Leave the white of the paper for highlights. Add more layers where you want darker values.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram @amyearls.art

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Question Sticker Series: Overworking

Question Sticker: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "Overworking"

Oooh, this one can be tricky. Let's first define what overworking means and then hopefully I can shed some insight on how to avoid it.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that this is something that happens to all artists from time to time but is more apparent with mediums that are less forgiving. I have overworked my share of paintings and I am sure I will do so again in the future. For the oil or acrylic painter, if they don't like something they can simply paint over it. This is not the case with watercolor since it is a transparent medium. Thus planning before you start the painting process goes a long way.

What is overworking?

So what does it mean to "overwork" a painting? To me, this could mean several things.

  • One, that my colors are getting muddled and muddy and are no longer distinct. In other words, too many unintentional neutrals (greys and browns, AKA 'mud').
  • Two, that I have created unwanted textures with excessive brush strokes or damaged the paper by scrubbing and lifting too much. This is distracting and can, in my opinion, detract from the aesthetic appeal of the work.
  • Three, that I have put too much paint down on the paper, or simply made everything the same value. By making everything too similar in value it has a flattening effect on the painting due to lack of contrast. This also diminishes the impact of the focal point and lessens the effectiveness of the composition.
  • Four, high level of detail in too many areas of the painting. Excessive details are often distracting and overwhelm the eye of the viewer. What constitutes excessive will vary a great deal from one painting style to another. Again this is just my opinion.

I am sure there are other things that could be called "overworking" but these are the ones that come to mind.

I feel like this piece was overworked because much of the green is the same value and feels flat.

How to Avoid Overworking

While I do not consider myself an expert in this area by any means, I am happy to share the things that have helped me deal with this problem. I hope you find them helpful as well and I encourage you to add to this list if you have other techniques or suggestions. That way we can all learn from each others knowledge. Much of what I have to share on this is similar to my previous post about Understanding Light & Shadow, as the two things go hand in hand.

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Value studies.
  2. Thumbnails and/or rough sketches.
  3. Color planning/mixing and making swatches ahead of time. Mixing colors in advance saves time later and can help a lot with timing (which is often quite important when painting with watercolors).
  4. Use a limited color palette. Fewer colors in your palette means less mixing and fewer decisions of "what to use where". In other words, it can help simplify the color aspect of painting so you can focus on value and tone, etc.
  5. Remember that contrast and value are more important than color.
  6. Intentionally exaggerate or engineer the contrast between values to create greater depth and impact in your artwork.
  7. Leave some areas of the paper white. You can always go back and tone them down later. But once you've painted over them, there is no getting that pure white back.
  8. Try using a well-developed under-drawing with some values indicated.
  9. Don't rush! Take your time. Rushed decision making will lead to more mistakes.
  10. Try not to get caught up rendering details from your reference photo UNLESS they have a purpose. (I struggle with this one!)
  11. Less is more (most of the time), especially in watercolor. Both in general and in regards to the number of washes and brushstrokes.
  12. You do not have to create just one version of a painting. Masters will often repeat the same painting over and over until they get it just right. Masterpieces don't happen by accident.

Planning is Key

Preparation will give you a solid plan and help you to avoid overworking. It is like creating a road map for yourself to follow. Planning allows you to work out a lot of the questions ahead of time so you don't have to make rushed decisions during the painting process. When it comes to a successful painting, VALUE is far more important than COLOR. It is easy to get distracted with color matching and the vibrant hues in your palette, so stop from time to time and do a progress check. Take a step back and evaluate your contrast and value range. Sometimes a few well-placed dark tones are all a painting needs to feel complete.

For a while, I had a piece of paper taped to my wall with three words listed in order of priority when it comes to painting. It read: contrast, composition, color. This advice comes from Tom Newnam, a successful Pennsylvania watercolorist.

If You Are Unsure, Stop

Often, if things start to go wrong it is better to just stop and move on to another area of the painting. Many times I have overworked a painting by trying to "fix" it. While sometimes it does work itself out, there are plenty of other times I just made it worse. If you are unsure how to handle a particular area, take a break. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, then come back to your painting with fresh eyes. Trying to rush or force things is usually not the best solution.

No Painting is a Waste

It is easy to feel disappointed when your painting doesn't turn out, but try to keep in mind that every time you put brush to paper is a valuable learning experience. As watercolor artist Angela Fehr says, you are "logging brush miles." All of our mistakes are teaching us, showing us what we need to work on to take our painting to the next level. Without mistakes, we cannot learn, without learning we cannot move forward.

Angela also encourages artists to use overworked paintings as a place to push your limits and experiment. If it is already "ruined" you have nothing to lose by taking things in a new direction. Try something dramatic or turn it into an abstract. Regardless of what you choose, try to get the most out of it rather than seeing it as a failure.

Quality Matters

I think it is also important to note that the quality of the materials you use matters and can impact the amount of "wiggle room" you have before a painting starts to get overworked. Paper quality, more than anything else, can have an effect on this. Higher quality paper can take more brushing and lifting before it will start to show damage or pilling. It also helps to make your washes smoother and layering easier. It dries flatter with less warping, which means less puddling etc. Long story short, good quality paper can completely change your painting experience. I am often frustrated by lower quality papers because I am fighting with it the entire time, trying to get it to behave. It is not something I am doing wrong, it is just how it goes with cheap papers. I worry that some people blame the flaws in the paper on themselves and think it is because of something they are doing. Keep in mind that painting should be a pleasant experience, and your supplies should work with you, not against you. I promise you that spending a few extra dollars on better quality paper will have a positive impact on your work.

Additional Resources

One of the artists I follow on YouTube, Steve Mitchell (his channel is called The Mind of Watercolor), has a video about overworking where he shares his insight on this topic. You can watch it HERE. It's a vlog style video so skip ahead to 1:15 to get to the painting stuff. Steve has an entire playlist on watercolor basics as well as many other types of videos such as product reviews and his painting process.

Thank you for reading!

Wow, that was a long one! If you made it this far, thank you so much for choosing to spend your time reading my blog! I really hope that you found this helpful because I know overworking can be super frustrating. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. You are the inspiration behind my posts so if there is something you'd like me to talk about, please let me know.

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Cleaning Your Brushes

A How-To Guide for Cleaning Your Brushes:

One of my goals as an artist has been to improve and learn new skills through online tutorials, classes, blogs, etc., so I have watched hours of video! While there are a ton of “how-to” or “best” art supply videos, none of them really go in depth about caring for those art supplies, specifically brushes. A good brush can be a bit of an investment. However, with proper use and care they can last a long time. Please note that some styles of painting and techniques are harder on your brushes and will cause them to wear out faster. The material the brush is made of will also impact how fast or slow it wears (synthetic vs. natural fibers).

A component of taking good care of your brushes is cleaning them. Now I will be the first one to admit, I don’t do this as often as I should (which is every time you paint!). The frequency of cleaning will be up to you and largely depends on how often you are using your brushes. Cleaning your brush will lengthen the life of your brush and will eliminate any chance of leaving old paint on the bristles.

What you will need:

  1. A paper towel (or something to dry your brush on)
  2. Clean water
  3. Brush Cleaner
  4. Your brush(es)

A Note About Soap: I would recommend using a brush cleaner for this purpose. I am currently using “The Masters” Brush Cleaner. It was only a couple of dollars at my local art store. You can also order it off Amazon.com, see link below. This cleaner is specifically meant for artist brushes and won’t cause any damage. In a pinch, I have also used a liquid soap like Dr. Bronners Castille Soap. As a general rule of thumb, anything safe for human hair, like shampoo without conditioner, is safe for your brushes. For my masking fluid brushes, I use a local handmade laundry bar stain removing soap, and it is the only thing I’ve found that will remove all of the masking fluid from my brushes. For you local Ohio artists, the laundry bar is made by The Tree Hugger Company.
Amazon Link: General Pencil Company The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver 2.5 0z.

Step-by-step method:

Step 1: Wet the brush thoroughly.

Step 2: Load the brush with clean water and apply the water to the brush cleaner.

Step 3: Gently lather the soap onto the brush, taking care to keep the bristles working in the proper direction. Be patient, it may take a moment to activate the cleaner. Also, you do not what to gouge the cleaner with the base of the ferrule. You may see some pigment leaving the brush, this means the soap is doing its job!

Step 4: Carefully work the soap through the brush with your fingertips. Very little pressure is needed. DO NOT pull on the bristles.

Step 5: Rinse your brush in clean water. This may be at the faucet or in a water container.

Step 6: Repeat until there is no more pigment leaving the brush head. For me, this generally isn’t more than twice per brush.

Step 7: Pat your brush on the paper towel and leave it to dry laying flat.

Now your brush is clean and ready for the next time you paint!

 

General Brush Care & Tips:

  1. Allow your brushes to dry flat so that there is no water trapped in the base of the brush, or ferrule, where the bristles attach to the handle.
  2. Make sure to store your brushes in a way that the bristles will not be misshapen (I keep mine upright in a stoneware mug). If a brush is left in a bent or crimped position it may retain this shape and never return to it’s original form. This will more than likely leave the brush unusable for normal brushwork.
  3. If you are traveling with your brushes, I would strongly recommend using a case designed specifically for protecting the bristles. A normal style pencil case is not adequate.
  4. When rinsing your brush, do not smash it down on the bottom of the water container. It is okay to gently touch the brush to the bottom, but scrubbing the brush hard can bend the hairs, which causes damage or can break them.
  5. The same goes for when you’re painting. If your style involves placing a lot of pressure on the brush, and rough strokes, that is up to you, but be aware that you are going to need to replace your brushes more often.
  6. You will know a brush is worn out when it will no longer take a crisp shape when wet. If you wet a brush and then firmly tap the handle against your finger, it should form a sharp point or edge. If it does not, then it is showing some degree of wear. This is also a technique for selecting a good brush before you purchase it.
  7. Old worn out brushes often make great textures, so it may be worthwhile to hold on to a few just for this purpose. Splayed bristles make great grass and fur details, to name a few.
  8. If you know you are going to be packing your brushes away for an extended period of time, it is best to make sure they are clean beforehand.

There is a lot to know about brushes, so I may write more about them at a later date. Please let me know if this was helpful to you!

Happy Painting!

amy


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