Susan Escobar

 
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    Applying Kosvanec's Color Theory

    While my watercolor class is on hiatus, I continue to study watercolor techniques at home.  I have found a bounty of wonderful books on watercolor at our local community college library.  The one I am currently reading is Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanec.  This is probably the very first book I should have read when I started painting in watercolor because it has all kinds of basic information such as how to select your paper, brushes, and paints; how to extend the life of your paints with various mediums; how to determine the right water-to-paint ratio for a wash; and much more.  Most useful of all is the Kosvanec watercolor wheel which shows which colors can be mixed without losing their transparency or richness or turning to mud.  Somehow I missed out on a lot of this information despite taking several different watercolor classes over the years.  I have wasted a ton of paint and ruined many a painting by combining incompatible colors!

    I can look back at the seven sunflower paintings I completed a few months ago and see just where I went wrong in my color mixing.  To practice my new color mixing skills, I just finished a half-sheet painting of some sunflowers using almost exclusively the transparent, non-staining colors of aureolin, rose madder genuine, cobalt blue, and viridian.  For a little warmer yellow, I also used some new gamboge, a semi-transparent non-staining color.  The violets were mixed from rose madder and cobalt blue.  Below you can see the initial drawing and masking, the color glazing and negative painting of the leaves, the addition of detail and shadows, and the final painting below.  The tricks of color theory have resulted in much cleaner and almost translucent colors  in the final painting.  Thank you, Jim Kosvanec!  I will keep referring to your color chart until I know how to use all the colors in my palette.


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    Changing the Subject:  From Flowers to People 

    The other day, one of my fellow watercolor students referred to me as the class "flower expert."  How nice!  Then another artist friend began bringing me photos of flowers that she thought I might want to paint.  Most recently, I got a number of orders for sunflower paintings from a friend and her family members.  That's when I started thinking that perhaps I was stuck in a rut.  I love flowers, but   I am certainly artistically inspired by more than just botanical plants.   So when I heard someone refer to another classmate as the "portrait expert", I decided I had to expand my repertoire.  (After all, I want to vye for the title of "people expert" also.  I'm quite competitive!)

    You may have noticed that I just added a new page to my online Gallery -- "People."  It only has three pieces so far, but look for more in the near future.  Painting people is much harder than painting flowers.  After all, no one notices if a flower has a misshapen petal or two or if the stem of a rose is perhaps a shade too thick.  But a portrait is a different story.  The slightest inaccuracy in a face -- a cheek that is slightly too hollow or an eyelid that is a bit too heavy -- will render a portrait unrecognizable, especially to the subject of the portrait.  After my daughter looked at a portrait I had painted of her one day and asked, "Who is that supposed to be?", I knew I was never going to be a successful portrait artist.  But I do enjoy painting people.  In fact, most of the drawings I did as a child were of people.  And adding a person to a painting immediately enhances it's interest level because --well, people like looking at people!

    Unfortunately, I don't have many people around to serve as subjects.  At home, there's just me and my husband.  All the other members of my family are a state away and are not around much for me to badger for a photograph.  So I have taken to photographing strangers.  Luckily, I have a camera with a pretty decent zoom lens.  Otherwise, I might have already come under suspicion for stalking children with my camera.  (Although I was once confronted by a suspicious neighbor when he saw me lurking behind his bushes with my camera.  I explained to him that I was an artist and that the play of sunlight and shadow on his rhododendron flowers had attracted my attention.  He instantly turned very welcoming and took me on a tour of his entire garden where I had to take pictures of all kinds of less well lit floral specimens!)

    I hope to be adding to my new Gallery page soon with more paintings of people and children -- maybe even of you!  Of course, you would be highly unlikely to recognize yourself or any of your children in one of my paintings, but you certainly might wonder at how similar the clothing in my painting looks to one of your own outfits. 

    Now that I have your interest, you may want to  take a look at the clothing of the children in my newest People Gallery additions.  For "Summer Kids," I captured a great shot of three children who hopped onto a fence to look at the Metolius River right when I had my camera out.  And for "Beach Kids," I used my telephoto lens to capture three different children exploring the tidepools at Cape Perpetua and I fit all three into one composition.  Enjoy!


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    Practice Makes Perfect (Sort of)

    I recently had the good fortune to have several paintings commissioned by a friend and several of her friends and family.  The requested subject was all the same -- yellow roses or sunflowers with a ladybug.  I embarked on the first of the nine paintings with great enthusiasm.  I made changes to the composition and color scheme for the next three paintings and proceeded with a fair amount of enthusiasm.  But, by the fifth painting,  my interest was waning and I found myself longing to paint something other than yellow flowers.  

    Thinking about this problem, it occurred to me that these paintings had become tedious because there weren't any challenges.   I wasn't trying anything new.   At that point I decided I needed to learn something.  I needed to work on some of my weaknesses.  So off I went to the nearby community college library.

    I went to the art section and found the shelves housing books on watercolor painting.  The first book that I checked out was on painting light and shadow.  The masterful use of light and shadow in a painting can make the difference between producing nice paintings and creating dramatic paintings.  From this book, I learned little tricks for painting believable, interesting shadows such as using local color that is at least two steps darker in value than the adjacent lit areas and to vary the color from cool to warm.  I also learned to save or add more white areas to my paintings.  Aha!  My next two paintings were intensely interesting because I was learning and applying a new skill.

    The second book I checked out was Making Color Sing by Jeanne Dobie.  This book on color and design was a real eye opener for me.  I had never paid much attention to the various qualities of my watercolor paints.  I mixed them with abandon, not knowing or caring if they were transparent, staining, or opaque.  My lack of knowledge about the qualities of my paints often resulted in muddy or dull colors.  Although I knew of the power of complements to enliven colors in a painting,  I wasn't taking care not to deaden a color by adding in too much of it's complement.   I wasn't  being thoughtful about how to use warms and cools to create distance and atmosphere.  I wasn't aware of the power of glazing to retain transparency and luminosity.  Well, I really didn't know much about color at all.  The exercise of properly mixing and using color to my next project, painting number 7, made that painting even more fun and exciting than the first of the series.  In fact, there is so much information in this wonderful book that is new to me that  I could paint another 20 or more sunflowers or yellow roses without getting bored.  And hopefully my paintings are getting better and better as I learn and apply new skills. 


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    Maintaining Your Personal Style

    Dancing with Yupo

    Like most artists, I enjoy taking art workshops and classes from time to time to hone my artistic skills as well as for the camaraderie of being around other artists.  I am currently taking a class in which the instructor often asks us to study and paint in the style of another artist.  There is much to be learned from this approach, but it can also be uncomfortable to work in a style that is different from your own especially if it is different to an extreme.  When this happens, I often find myself rebelling against the proposed project or wondering if there is any value in trying to work in an alien artistic style.

    Most recently, we watched a video called "Dancing with Yupo" in which the artist uses a full sheet of yupo paper, a very large brush, and an abundance of fresh paint to create very loose, expressive paintings.  Her technique of slapping gobs of paint on the slick yupo surface without any initial drawing or compositional planning other than a reference photo is a huge departure from my own carefully planned, meticulous style.  

    I usually work from detailed drawings and frequently mask out areas I want to remain white before applying paint to the paper.  My largest brush is a one-inch Langnickle, but I usually use much smaller brushes.  I like painting on the glossy surface of yupo, but my intent is always to restrain the paint.  I allow it to mix and flow in limited areas, but I always impose boundaries.  If my paint crosses those boundaries, I wipe it off and try again.. My style is all about control, control, control!

    So I ask myself, what can I learn from this exercise?  Will this violation of my personal style be worth the frustration or will it be a waste of my time and money?  (Watercolor tubes are expensive!) 

    I have doubted before -- on a project using Doak spray paints and pressing a variety of grasses, and leaves, and fibers into it, for example -- and yet I was quite pleased with some of the results I obtained.  But this time I think I may forego the assigned project and stay true to my own style.  As much as I admire the looser style of many watercolor artists, I like my own, unique style too much to abandon it so completely as "Dancing with Yupo" would require.

      


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    Designing a Business Card

     

    With more leisure time to paint comes a new problem--what to do with the many completed paintings?  I have already filled every room in our house with my paintings; I have given many away to family and friends; I have donated to raffles, fundraisers, and other good causes.  But with the freedom to paint almost daily, my inventory of paintings has increased so much that it has now prompted me to think about marketing my artwork a little more ambitiously.

    So yesterday I decided to redesign my outdated business card.  Since our move to Oregon has inconveniently placed me a state away from our tech-savvy daughter, I sat down at my computer yesterday to tackle the task by myself using my long-neglected Photoshop Elements program.  My basic knowledge of how to use the tools and layers of Photoshop is pretty minimal.  I was off to a poor start, staring at the editing screen helplessly for about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get a photo of one of my watercolor paintings onto the blank background layer.  Finally, I pulled out a book I bought years ago, How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements 8, and read about using layers.  An hour or so  later--voila!--I had completed a simple digital business card!   (Okay, I know that was slow, but it's a new skill for me.) Today I took my digital file off to a printer and ordered a batch of new business cards.  

    The lesson of this story is that you are never too old to learn new skills.  Too many older artists don't take advantage of computer technology to  make their lives easier.  Don't be afraid of your computer!  It's your friend.