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Step Paintings

April 7, 2010

Mediums such as Oils and Acrylics are sometimes applied, altered  and manipulated in one step to create the chosen subject. An artist can continue work the paint while wet until they are satisfied with the results. This is a process which I refer to as “once-and-done”. With Oils, the color you see when wet, is the color you get when it drys.

Watercolor is a more challenging medium. An artist mixes water with pigment and applies the mix to his support (paper, illustration board, etc.). After it drys, the artist can anticipate that the result may be from one to two values lighter than when it was applied to the support. Some watercolorists are satisfied with thinner applications of paint to achieve a suggested image. I prefer to push my works through more intense applications of pigment. It is very difficult to successfully create a passage that has rich colors in only one application of pigment. If you try to apply, alter and manipulate the paint for a finished image in one application, while wet, you could end up with a muddy mess. Many students have a difficult time with this facet.

I work with my students in an attempt to get them to resist fighting watercolor. An aspect that makes watercolor exciting is the ability to build up layers of paint, or glazes, in order to create rich color passages. I aim to have students learn to create their works in stages or steps.

I generally build up my watercolors in three steps to create the deep, rich, lively color intensity I desire. I refer to these steps as Outline, Refine and Define.

Outline – With a rough pencil drawing in place, I fill in the outline by laying in colors. I aim to have exciting things happen through loose mixtures of colors, mottled washes, blossoms, etc. I want to get exciting “watercolory” effects and be able to see and establish where the painting is going. I do not anticipate nor expect this application of paint to be the last application.

Refine – Based upon what the Outline gives me and where I see and want the painting to go, I start to refine the first applications. I establish layers, and separate shapes. I add layers of paint to help create depth to the image.

Define – This is the final punch. I use  more intense glazes of color to help push and pull shapes to finish the painting.  Additions of the final details to complete the image.

To help communicate this concept to my students, I use “Step Paintings” such as the one shown below. My students can gain a sense of how to imagine and conceive the step process to creating their paintings.

Step Painting - Cascade

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