Michele Clamp Art

Joseph Zbukvic

Learning Time - Zbukvic Day 4

cityscapeMichele ClampComment

Well that was one hell of a day. Sometimes you just want to pack everything up, put it on ebay, and take up golf. And I hate golf.

Only 3 paintings done today and none went well. Muddy washes, dodgy backgrounds, clumsy finishing flourishes. Nothing worked.

But let’s go through them anyway. Number one :

This was probably the most successful. Nice light on the sunlit part of the building and the foreground shadows work well. Not much else to recommend it though.

Onto number 2 :

Blergh. Not much to say about this. Didn’t enjoy it one bit.

And number 3:

I’d been quite looking forward to doing this as lighter buildings with dark accents are generally easier. It was not to be however.

Takeaways :

  • I’m fed up.

  • I probably need to stop doing these before I lose all enjoyment.

  • I’m fed up.

The main thing that is so frustrating is that I have no idea how to improve these. I know they’re bad - I just can’t see what to change to make them better.


Learning Time - Zbukvic Day 3

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Stepping it up a bit today and completed 4 paintings. All are from Zbukvic originals. I was hoping that a fast turnaround would speed up the learning process and consolidate some things into muscle memory.

Before the pictures a summary. None of these came out as paintings. They’re obviously sketches or studies but I started to soak in a few things.

  • Shapes. A few big shapes, more smaller shapes. Make sure the negative space is also an interesting shape.

  • Values. Keep the values even in the big shapes (with a little variation for interest) and you only really need 4 or 5 to make the picture work.

  • Color - ugh. Still need to work on this.

  • Texture. This was hard. Mr Zbukvic has lots of lovely slight variation in his washes which I really struggle to get.

  • Drawing - Surprisingly simple to draw out these paintings. Lots of simplification has already been done by Mr Z.

Anything else? I think I improved as the day went on and was making the paintings more mine than copying the original. No great breakthroughs but definitely worthwhile.

So to the paintings - in reverse order :

This was the last and I think the most successful. I’d got used to the sequence of washes - lightest in sky and the sunlit parts of the buildings. Second the background and shadows on the buildings. 3rd - cars and dark recesses. 4th and final - people and the foreground and other bits and pieces.

I’d also started to get used to some of the wet in wet for windows and background mistiness.

Next one - number 3 :

Struggled with this one. The original has lots of variation in the darks which I just wasn’t getting. The strong composition makes this one - especially the foreground shadow - which is of course all Mr Z’s doing.

Next one - number 2

This had quite a lot I liked. The color came out well. The combination of dull orange and the purple shadows worked without being too in your face. The center of interest has nice lots of choppy darks and lights which read well without specifically being anything. So not great but not too bad.

Finally - number 1

Again this didn’t come out too badly. I was feeling my way at this point and you can see the background washes are a bit muddy. Nice choppiness in the center of interest and the combination of darks and lights worked well.

So it was a busy day. As usual I’m too close to things to really assess whether it was worthwhile. It’s certainly a different beast copying paintings rather than scenes. The simplification and composition has already been done for you which are two things you don’t have to worry about. Once the drawing is done it’s a case of identifying which value wash goes where and trying not to get too fiddly. I think after another day of these (I have nine in total to have a go at) I’ll concentrate on extreme simplification of some of my own scenes.

Learning Time - Zbukvic Style - Day 2

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I was eager to start another Zbukvic style copy today. This is one I’ve done sketches of before (see here) which were reasonably successful.

This time it didn’t really come together. I couldn’t feel the big washes properly and everything was a little bitty. One change was that this was done on rough paper and at a smaller size. I think this made a difference. I’ll go back to the original cold press and keep on soldiering on.

The Zbukvic original is this :

Learning Time - Zbukvic Style

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Copy of a Joseph Zbukvic painting.

After yesterday’s rather glum conclusion it was back to basics again today. I was having a lot of trouble with pretty much everything. The values were either too different or too similar. The colors were not cohesive. The brushstrokes were too heavy handed. The only thing that really held up was the drawing which is one less thing to worry about I suppose.

So what to do? After spending an hour last evening riffling through pinterest I went back to one of the masters - Joseph Zbukvic. His style is deceptive. It looks like he just dashes things off but that masks a mastery of drawing, composition and above all value. Copying one of his paintings is not for the fainthearted but I was ready and had a plan.

Plan :

- Do a preliminary thumbnail sketch and work out the big shapes and values.

- Draw carefully but not too rigidly detailed. Make sure all the shapes work - especially the negative ones.

- Work out the large shapes ahead of time and what values they are.

* Lightest = sky

* 2nd = sunlit portions of the buildings.

* 3rd = shadow portions of buildings and parts of the cars

* 4th = foreground

* 5th = cars and middle portion of the picture

* 6th and darkest = foreground buildings at the sides and the poles/wires.

Phew - that turned into quite a lot of values. Was only really planning on 3 or 4.

- Keep the values fairly close. No stark changes and keep the highest contrast in the middle area of the painting.

- Keep an eye on color. Use a restricted palette (ultramarine, perylene maroon, yellow ochre).

- Don’t rush!!! Simplification doesn’t mean slapping the paint around willy nilly.

And here’s the original I was using to paint from :

Okay off we go.

First the thumbnail :

Well I’m not sure what I learned here. Was it worth it? It didn’t really feel like it at the time. Well actually it did help. It made me remember to keep the sunlit portions of the buildings pale and mark in where the shadows fell across the buildings. This got lost in the sketch and it shows.

Second the drawing and first washes :

Fairly happy at this point. Drawing is fine and the first washes are light but have some color. Frankly it’s hard to go wrong for this part.

Next is the tricky bit and I think I learned quite a bit here. The plan was to go to the next darkest value and put in large even areas of the same wash. At this stage this means the roofs and the shadow portions of the buildings. However there is a wrinkle. A lot of the sparkle in Mr Z’s paintings come from the twiddly bits. The little dots and dashes and also the small pieces of white left in between brush strokes. In addition his washes aren’t uniform - they have variation in color and texture and maybe have a couple of layers.

I had to remember all this so I went about it as follows :

  • Mix up a big purply wash and use a squirrel mop to block in the larger areas but leaving some gaps and not filling in the wash to the edges.

  • Using a smaller synthetic brush (escoda perla) use the same wash mix to put in the edges but giving them some interest and dottiness.

  • Use the small brush to also put in shadow pieces and windows on the sunlit parts of the windows.

  • Add in some interest to the wash areas but adding in some water.

  • Spray the whole area to keep things moist and add in some color variation. In this case is was a bluer version of the purply mix.

After the buildings I had a first pass at the cars. Things to remember about cars :

  • Keep those horizontals really horizontal. No scrappiness there.

  • The highlit portions of cars need to be really quite small.

  • Don’t be too accurate about the rest of the car once the windows and the wheels are in.

  • Shadows under the cars are essential for the brain to read something as car.

  • Don’t go too dark too early. Good advice in general.

Things were looking fairly good so I then put in the foreground. It was too light to begin with and I had a couple of goes at it. It’s still a bit light but I felt I’d fiddled too much already. I made sure to get a rough brushstroke at the top where the shadow ended.

So at this point this is what I had :

Frankly I was pretty chuffed at this point. There’s reasonable variation in the washes. The brushstrokes nicely indicate the window and shadows on the buildings and the cars definitely read as cars. A little scrappy in the foreground but you can’t have everything.

Now I was getting worried I was going to screw everything up. All I had left to do was to put in the right hand side darker buildings, the people and the lampposts and telegraph poles. I almost went too dark with all of these but sponged off the worst of it. The final thing has a lot to recommend it :

So what did I learn? Let’s make a list :

  • Take your time over those twiddly bits. They look dashed off but they’re not. Why do I never remember this?

  • Remember the big shapes - keep the value within a small range in these. This is painting 101 - why do I have such a hard time remembering this?

  • Keep those large washes moist by spraying them and add in color/water to add some variation but not so much it changes the value too much.

  • Don’t go too dark too early. A small value change over a large fraction of the painting reads so much better than chopping and changing from light to dark all over the place. I think this is the thing that I mainly took away from this piece. I can also see the regions where I strayed from this concept and they suffer.

  • Horizontals are horizontal. Verticals are vertical. Should be covered by following point one really.

  • A restricted palette really helps.

Now all I need to do is to carry this over into my own paintings.

More Zbukvic Practice

cityscapeMichele Clamp1 Comment

Yes I'm a glutton for punishment.   I'm still on the path of getting to the heart of Joseph Zbukvic's style.   This one is more successful than most.   The colors are nicely muted and most things are suggested rather than explicit.   The brushwork, especially around the windows came off rather well.   All in all I think this goes in the success bucket.

I have to say that the actual painting of this went really quickly.   There is very little detail in here apart from the odd piece around the roofs and windows.   Almost surprised me when I came to the end and thought 'Yeah - it's done!'.


The Zbukvic Emulation Experience - Multiple Sketch Day

Michele ClampComment

After the french village post-mortem I was musing about how to go about simplifying my buildings paintings.    Going smaller was my first thought and all of these are done in a 5"x7" Strathmore sketchbook.    The paper isn't my favorite by a long chalk but it dries very quickly and forces me to work fast.    I wanted to do multiple copies of a fairly simple Joseph Zbukvic painting and see if I could get better at seeing the big shapes and get the values.

So 4 small paintings done in a couple of hours.  You can see how things changed over the 4 paintings.   The first one is a little bitty.   I'm not getting the big value areas well and the colors are a little slapdash.  Paintings 2,3, and 4 are much better in both regards.   It was a really worthwhile exercise to do.   Seeing them all together shows a big difference to me.  Strangely I didn't notice any difference as I was painting them.

Here's the original Zbukvic image  - lovely isn't it?

The Zbukvic Emulation Experience

Michele ClampComment

After yesterday's decision to do a detailed value sketch for all paintings I promptly completely ignored it and went straight in with some paint.   In my defense I had spent a while doing some practice value swatches.   This was a game of 'guess the value from the paint on the palette' which I did pretty well at.   Further in my defense this was only meant to be a quick doodle while I contemplated what to do as a 'proper' painting.  

Despite the terrible (for me) cheap paper this came out quite well.   For once I didn't rush it and blunder around like a bull with a paintbrush.   I concentrated on keeping the grays colorful and not muddy and this helped a lot.   

I think I may be on a path out of this painting desert.   I certainly hope so.

Sketch of Joseph Zbukvic

peopleMichele ClampComment

As I was in sketching mode here is a quick sketch of Joseph Zbukvic himself.   Apologies to Mr Zbukvic.  As if it wasn't bad enough that I'm butchering his paintings :-)

Zbukvic Practice

Michele ClampComment

I'm persevering with trying to get a handle on Joseph Zbukvic's style.   I think this is the closest I've managed so far and I had a bit of an epiphany on the way.

Browsing through pinterest I came across a lot of Mr Zbukvic's sketches.  And boy are they great.   For example :

Nice huh?   I mean really nice.    And the thing that struck me was there's no contour drawing here.    Not much outlining at all.   It's all *values* and a lot of them.   Now my 'value' sketches look something like this :

Bit different huh?    To be fair his sketches are 'proper' sketches and mine are just layout thumbnails but it got me thinking.    If I'm having a problem getting a good range of values into my paintings how about I practice with a more detailed value sketch first?    Genius yes?   I then hit myself in the face for not thinking of this before.

So I tried to do something a little more detailed 


Better yes?   Actually now I come and look at it again I could have gone further but definitely better.

Interestingly when I came to the painting itself I found there was very little drawing to be done.   Once the roofs and windows were done and the boat everything else could be left.   And the lack of drawing made for a very different painting experience.   It felt much much simpler and I could play about with the colors and the textures.  Even selecting the values felt easier as everything had been simplified beforehand.

So I think there's something here I can use.    The finished painting is nothing to write home about but boy it's better than all the others I've tried.   If I ever do something to be proud of I'll post all the failures but I'm not there yet.

Oh - and here's the Zbukvic original.    Had to put it at the end as the comparison is painful.


Zbukvic Practice

Michele ClampComment

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.