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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