Nighttime Doodling

Noodling on the ipad last night I tested drawing some people from imagination. Tricky but quite satisfying.

Yay Daffodils – Paul Foxton Paintalong Livestream

Daffodils. Michele Clamp. Watercolor. 14”x11”

The wonderful
Paul Foxton

is continuing his livestream painting sessions during the corona virus lockdown and I managed to actually catch him live and be organized enough to get the reference photo printed out in readiness.

I think I really quite like this one. It has an ethereal quality to it that I like and considering that daffodils are

hard to paint it was pretty successful.

More Paul Foxton Flowers


Paul Foxton

is doing daily livestreams of his wonderful flower paintings. I’m popping in now and again to see what he’s up to and painting along when I can. This is today’s effort which is not too shabby.

Watercolor Still Life

Still life watercolor
Still Life Watercolor. Michele Clamp – from a demo

Now I have to say that this watercolor still life isn’t the best I’ve ever done. However, this was for a recorded online demo and it’s difficult to do your best work under such conditions. That’s my excuse anyway. I don’t have the recording of this but here is one on my youtube channel that follows a similar method.

The still life photo reference

still life color matching reference
Still life color matching reference

Here we have the photo reference. I’ve chosen this for a number of reasons. First it has clearly defined areas of light and dark – no wishy-washy flat lighting. Second the shapes are very clear – the apple, lime, and bananas all have clearly defined edges. Finally the colors are nice and bright. There’s nothing gray and muted about this setup.

A good learning photo does not make a good painting

Now all of these reasons are because I want to get across how to identify and mix color. If I were choosing a setup for a ‘real’ painting I would not choose this. Everything is a bit plainly stated and matter of fact. There’s no nuance, subtlety, or atmosphere here. But what isn’t great for a painting is perfect for learning! And the technique I’m going to describe can translate easily into any painting you like.

The numbered squares are the colors we’ll match

You’ll notice that I’ve marked out a series of numbered squares on the photo. Before we start painting we’ll go through each of these and try and identify and mix the color as accurately as we can. This will feel laborious to start with. And it will take a long time – much longer than you think. But every one of these swatches that you make is worth it. We will go through the hard work of identifying the colors we’ll need ahead of time. The final painting itself will be made easier and we’ll paint it relatively quickly.

A color isolator is a very useful tool for color identification

gray color isolator
Gray color isolator

I strongly recommend you have a color isolator handy if you’re painting from a printed photo reference. This is just a small (say 3″x5″) piece of mid-gray card with a 1/2″ square cut out of the middle. I have a number of these handy and there’s always one close to the easel.

Your brain lies to you about color

One of the many problems we face as painters is that our brains are constantly translating what we see into what it thinks we need. If we look at a white cup in shadow our brains helpfully disregard the shadow and will be insistent that what we’re seeing is white. In practice of course it’s likely a dark blue gray and, if we want to paint it so it reads realistically, that’s the color we should paint it. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we can’t trust that little brain voice and think and look harder.

Context also makes seeing color harder

The other problem we have when identifying color is that what is around a shape affects how we see it. A mid-value gray can look lighter than it is next to black. But when it’s put next to white paper it will look darker than it is. This is where the color isolator helps us.

Use the isolator as a learning tool not a crutch

The color isolator is very useful but we need to be conscious that it’s a learning tool not something we need to rely on. So we need to use it in the following multi-step way

  • Look at the color you’re trying to match and identify it. e.g. it’s a mid-value bright pinkish red.
  • Use the color isolator by placing it over the color and see how close you are.
  • If you’re correct (or close) pat yourself on the back and have a biscuit.
  • If you’re wrong try and imprint in your memory why you were wrong so you’ll be closer next time.

The first step is the hardest! Thinking – it takes soooo much effort. But it’s really worth it. And you’ll be amazed how quickly you get a lot better at seeing color. And maybe more importantly you’ll start to learn which types of colors you get consistently wrong. For me (and I suspect most of us) it’s shadow colors and especially shadow colors of light objects. After a while when you come across these when you’re painting a little alarm will go off in your head reminding you to pay extra attention to these regions.

Color match each swatch

watercolor color matching swatches
watercolor color matching swatches

Here’s my version of these swatches. You can see that I’ve put test swatches by each box until I’m satisfied that I’ve got it as close as I can. Only then do I put the final color in the box. And you can see that some of these colors are very different to what we consider a fruit color. Number 2, for example is the shadow on the bananas. It’s a sludgy dark green. Not bananaish at all! And the shadow sides of both the apple and the lime are really quite dark even though they are still identifiably green and red.

I’m going to be making some more videos on how I go about this. It’s hard to describe in text and much easier to show and learn from a video. I warn you that the process feels awkward at first but has huge rewards. And you’ll be going around identifying colors everywhere you go!

Livestreams and Videos

If you’re interested in this process (and have I mentioned how much it’s helped me? 🙂 I livestream paintings and techniques. If you want to know when these are coming up please sign up on my mailing list. I’d love for you to join me.

Freestyling Boats

There hasn’t been much fun in anything lately and that includes painting. We’re trying to get some online classes going which is turning out to be somewhat annoying but we’ll iron out the wrinkles I’m sure. I couldn’t muster up much interest in thinking about anything so I just painted freely without much thought.

Came out pretty well I thought.

Flowers – Paul Foxton Edition

Paul Foxton

is doing a series of livestream paintalongs on facebook. I always enjoy watching him paint and he’s encouraging us to do our own versions as he paints. Now he paints in oils and I’m doing watercolor which adds a bit of interest to the whole thing. This isn’t really how I like to paint but I entered into the spirit of things and painted as faithfully to the photo as I could. I really like how the flowers came out and parts of the bottle and it was a really useful 90 minutes.

Here’s a closeup of the full thing.