Workshop J: The Structure of Light in Watercolor
Instructor: Matthew Brehm (USA)
Location: Armenian Street
This workshop will focus on techniques for using watercolor to achieve sketches that are bold, clear, and dramatic. The major goals will be twofold – first, approaching watercolor as a process of subtraction that reserves specific areas of “light” intrinsic to the page, and second, effective brush/wash handling to achieve a reasonable degree of accuracy and precision, and therefore “structure.” If we treat the blank page as the only “light source” in our drawings, and if our brush-handling skills allow us to confidently structure the washes, our sketches can be infused with the warmth, clarity, and crispness of bright, dazzling sunlight, and we’ll be more able to represent the volumes and depth of architecture and urban space. This approach to structuring light is founded on the notion that value contrast is far more important than specific color, and it requires some advance planning before painting, which is best practiced through the regular use of thumbnail value studies. We will go through a series of straightforward, useful exercises that can become part of the participants’ regular sketching practice, so that their learning process may continue long after the conclusion of the Symposium.
Participants will complete the workshop with the following understandings and abilities:
- To create luminous watercolors, it helps to be strategic about subtracting light from the page.
- Value contrast is far more important than hue.
- Skills that will help lead to effective sketches:
- Thumbnail Sketches and Simple Washes (to establish the value scheme)
- Brush Handling and Palette Management
- Mixing Washes (amount and ratio of water to pigment)
- Flat Washes
- Graded Washes
- Layered or Glazed Washes
- Forced Shadows
- Introduction (10 minutes) – After personal introductions among the participants, I will provide handouts and describe the goals, strategies and structure of the workshop.
- Selecting Subjects and Planning the Sketch (20 minutes) – As a group, we will briefly analyze our workshop location, discussing potential subjects with an eye toward value contrast. We will discuss lighting qualities, points of view, places to position ourselves for sketching, etc.
- Graphite Thumbnail Exercises (30 minutes) – Thumbnail sketches in soft graphite. This will be a short demonstration followed by group participation and a quick discussion of results.
- Monochrome Wash Thumbnail Exercises (30 minutes) – Building directly on the graphite thumbnail exercises, we will do several small, watercolor-only sketches using a single dark hue. If possible, we will focus on one subject in common as a group. Again, this will involve a short demonstration followed by group participation and a quick discussion of results.
- Wash Technique Exercises (45 minutes) – Again using a single hue, we will work on skills for applying clear, strong washes to larger areas of the page. Techniques for creating consistent flat washes and smoothly-graded washes will be demonstrated and practiced on their own (without trying to sketch from observation), with participants being guided by one-on-one instruction.
- Culminating Exercise (60 minutes) – To conclude the workshop, we will incorporate all the exercises into a single effort. Starting with a small graphite study and perhaps also a monochromatic wash (time permitting on an individual basis), participants will sketch a subject of their choice at a larger scale, guided by one-on-one instruction.
- Conclusion (15 minutes) – The workshop will end with a brief synopsis of the subjects covered, a question-and-answer session, and a discussion of participants’ work.
- Sketch Pad or Sketchbook for doing thumbnail studies in graphite.
- Watercolor Pad or Block for doing monochrome and full-color washes, with minimum dimensions of 7” x 10”, but preferred dimensions of 9” x 12”. Any type of watercolor paper is fine (Cold Press, Warm Press, Rough) – the size is more important than the surface. The critical element is to have actual watercolor paper in a format that is large enough to do some sizable washes and not be fighting with a sketchbook – so a pad or block is required.
- Soft Graphite Pencil in the range of 2B – 6B.
- One Round Watercolor Brush in the range of #8 to #10. A “Taklon” synthetic fiber brush will work, but a natural fiber brush (one that holds a good amount of water and snaps to a point) is preferred. [Note: a “waterbrush” will not work well for this workshop, as they don’t allow for moving large, wet washes across the page, and they make it very difficult to achieve consistent or smoothly-graded washes.]
- Watercolor Palette with enough space to mix fairly large washes. [Note: very small travel kits will not work very well for this workshop.]
- Watercolor Pigments in at least the three primary colors, preferably in tubes rather than pans.