On reflections and surfaces

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Date : 19/06/2018

Reflections on water… isn’t it mesmerizing?

I want to paint them in watercolour, but it is not the easiest thing. Recently I created ‘Decorated’ surface’ and here I share some thoughts and experiences. The title being double, pointing to both water and paper.

A painting like this is built up with many layers of rather thin and transparent paints. Working this way, with time for drying in between layers, leaves room for reflections in my mind.

So – what is a surface?

A regular in my philosophical mind… I have come to the conclusion, that absolutely most of what we percieve with our eyes and touch, are three dimensional. They are ‘things’. Exceptions are surface and also shadow. They only have two dimensions. 

Natural science try to look into all things possible and do so with brilliance, revealing to us so much fascinating and important phenomenons and facts. But still – it remains on the surface and never penetrates beyond it. It only comes to new surfaces and new and new… we finally end up in metaphysics.

A water surface has no thickness! It shows us the boundary between different densities. When the air is also full of water, the surface diffuses… Air is in fact diluted water, isn’t it? It seems ‘surface’ is something that shows a border between different densities of matter. The larger difference, the most perceivable is the surface.

A fascinating thing with water surfaces in nature is to see how quick and immediate its conversation with the air is. Also showing how they are so closely related. With the movements of air, the surface plays and creates constantly changing patterns. We try to hold it, freeze it, but we can’t! Photography gives us the opportunity to freeze that constant movement. Still it is tricky…

Then, how to paint it? How to translate and transform the impression into a static picture on a flat, two dimensional paper surface? Well, we do as best we can. I love studying how others do it, so brilliantly. I am a beginner at this, but want to learn, so I watch and experiment.

In this watercolour I used different techniques. All painting is about catching the light. In watercolour we need to think backwards and decide in advance where the light shall be in the final painting, since the paints are more or less transparent and painting a light colour over a dark obviously doesn’t work.

Before starting

I study the subject, being live or a photo, carefully for as long time as it takes, until I stop seeing what it ‘is’ and everything just becomes shapes and lines. Scaling down to two dimensions only. Then I look for the underlying colours. Often there are some very few, or even just one, colour in the bottom, creating coherence and unity and harmony in the subject. Probably something I notice unconsciously when I get hooked on a subject, but then have to become conscious of in order to paint it.

Decorated surface, wip 1

First washes and adding some masking fluid. Barely visible here, since this brand, Sennelier, is turquoise in colour

Decorated surface, wip 2.

Adding greens and some lemon yellow, working wet on wet, wet on dry and dry on dry, with a light touch of the brush. The structure of the paper helps!

Decorated surface, wip 3

The right side left, ready to paint greens over the grey underpainting, to unify the shadowy part. All wip (work in progress) photos are too blueish, because of photo quality, sorry!

First washes

A thin light mainly cobalt blue wash was painted on wet paper with a broad brush over the whole sheet. Very thin at the top, for it not to turn too dark, when yellows and greens should be put on top. When still wet I added a thin and very bright yellowish green mix on the top part, fading down into the blue towards the bottom. I was not sure where that meeting edges were to be, didn’t plan that in advance, so I was careful not to get green onto blue, where only blue should show in the end.

When totally dry, I added masking fluid on detail parts that I wanted to keep crisp bright in the darker greens. I tried out a new brand, Sennelier, a bottle with a fine tip to place it with. I found it very tricky and hard to handle, because it was so liquid and too much ran out, hard to manouver. Also, it said to shake the bottle before use, stupid thing! Because it creates bubbles, that comes out on the paper! Everywhere else, it is said not to shake the bottle. Why didn’t I think… Otherwise a good medium, I shall just learn to handle it. The amazing Thierry Duval uses it all the time, so if he can, I can too…

Then I started to draw, with an hb pencil, the shapes of the dark ripples on the light blue water towards the bottom of the sheet. That was the only drawing I made.

Mixing greens

I mixed four different greens: one bright yellowish, with lemon yellow and very little cobalt blue. One green green, with the same yellow, but a darker blue, ultramarine. A darker with the same yellow, but also quinacridone gold and indantrene blue. The darkest and coolest with quin. gold, indantrene blue, some very little phtalo blue green shade. To all mixes, to tone them down to more natural shades, I added raw umber, in different portions. Raw umber is a bit greenish in itself and helps the mix stay green. If you use burnt umber, which is more red, you easily get a grey mix, instead of green. Also sometimes I added a very little hint of permanent rose, to shift some shades towards brown, mostly used on the right part of the sheet. Indantrene blue is a bit greenish in itself. It is very transparent and I love it, but it dries much more light and dull, than it looks when wet and thus is a bit hard to handle.

My palettes, paint tubes and chinese brushes - my very good friends!

Here are my friends, how helped me with this piece: My palettes, chinese brushes and Sennelier watercolour paints in tube. Missing is Permanent rose (W&N) and the broad hake brush, already hanging to dry.

Decorative surface. 35x50 cm (14x20") on Arches fine grain 300gsm 2018. In juried internet exhibition NAS (Nordic Watercolour Society, nov. 2018. 550€

Decorated surface 35×55 cm (14×20″), this is how it really looks. I did warm all up with very thin and quick glaze of quinacridone yellow, though, at the end. See it also here.

Just go on…

The tricky thing, that I need to study more, is the transition between light ripples on dark and dark ripples on light! So on to the next one… Every painting I do is an experiment and a learning. That is the energy that drives me. Once finished, I put them aside. No framed paintings in my home… Just go on, go on… I guess defines my character.

Your experiences on greens?

This with mixing greens… many seem to find greens difficult. One shall learn by experience, how the pigments mix together.

Comments are welcome!