I’ve been watching my birthday painting videos and have been painting along with Joseph Zbukvic for the past week or so. Wowza! This is tough – I haven’t produced such bad paintings in such a large quantity for a long time. His technique is fantastic but very different to what I would do naturally. He often paints almost in monochrome with many neutrals and a lot of calligraphic very dark lines. It’s beautiful to watch but boy oh boy is it tough to emulate.
The two paintings in this post are the most recent and the least bad of the dozen or so I’ve attempted. They’re both coincidentally from the ‘Watercolor in Rural France’ DVD. When I’ve recovered from the shame I’ll post the complete failures.
So what have I learned? Good question. Let’s see if I can make a list.
1. A good drawing is a must. Not necessarily detailed on the paper but the process of moving through each part of the picture with the pencil enables you to get to know what you’re going to paint.
2. When you put brush to paper you need to know where you’re going to put it as you have to move fast. Mr Zbukvic often works with ‘the bead’ – wet paint that collects at the bottom when you are painting at an angle. If you keep this bead there you can move down the page adding pigment to it and create smooth transitions of color. This is not something you can create, wander off and come back to.
3. As he says many times – if you can do it in less than one brushstroke do. Get the paint on the brush, take a deep breath and dive in. This means you have to have the right amount of pigment *and* the right amount of water on the brush to start with.
4. This is blatantly obvious but having watched him paint I’ve come to a better appreciation of this. Different amounts of pigment with different amounts of water have different effects. A relatively wet wash (see the sides of the buildings in the top picture) will create a good bead and enable you to add pigment into it after the first application. A slightly thicker mix will move less on the paper, not create such a big bead and not fade so much after drying (see the roofs of the buildings). A *really* thick mix can be added to either of these previous mixes and it will spread but not that much (see the shadow under the roof on the building on the left).
5. Leave white bits. Especially useful when you want to emphasize regions with very dark darks which is counterintuitive. See the separation between the roofs in the top picture.
6. Calligraphy is important – those little twiddly dark pieces that create chimneys and fenceposts and branches that suggest things. Combined with the white pieces these also create visual sparkle.
7. Plan where your tonal values are going to go. And make sure the darks join up.
8. Painting is hard. It’s also fun.