More Leaking Watercolor

"Crimson Sentries"
Watercolor, 15" x 18"
This design challenge of the steep cliffs along the edge of the Pacific Ocean near my home has been nagging me since I first began painting 20 years ago.

As you can see from the last few posts, the cliffs came into play again with a series of sketches and some oil paintings that threw an entirely different bias into the paintings. That bias was one of using a highly limited palette and avoiding the reality of the color on the site. The last post spoke about how my watercolor technique sometimes leaks into the oil painting process.

The tree shape in the composition is really the center of interest as driven by the value contrast . . . .and the unusual color of a deep crimson base (rather than dark green). It was this palette choice that pushed me to wonder if I could (or should) attempt something similar in watercolor. When painting those trees in oil, the darkest coolest version of that red is laid down thinly first, then the progressively lighter values and warmer tones laid over each other until the sense of a lit solid volume becomes apparent. In watercolor, however, it is exactly the opposite . . .painting first the light then working backward to the darks. Watercolor is (to me) dazzlingly beautiful when it is wet, especially those rich darks! I find myself getting carried away by them and often go too far and put too much dark into the composition. Then, the painting has to be rescued.

This painting, similar to the last few compositionally, was the test to see if I could do something similar with watercolor. The trees came out okay, but they don’t have the density of pigment that the oils have. ( I am not dissatisfied, just pointing out a difference). The foreground in this watercolor is a good deal less forgiving, however, than the oils. With the oils, the strokes themselves indicate what the textures and abstract indications of the foliage might look like. In watercolor, that doesn’t happen. Those textures and patterns have to be created . . .. . again working from light to dark. . . . . .and, for me, that is no easy task. Because the foreground shape is such a large shape, something had to be done to keep the internals of that shape entertaining yet supportive of the rest of the piece without attracting too much attention. The colors had to harmonize with the rest of the piece, yet be subordinate to all else, too.

As a result, this piece took quite a while longer to paint than a typical alla prima oil painting like the last few. Each layer had to wait for the last layer to reach bone dry before proceeding. And those layers were sandwiched in between other goings on in life . . . .but that’s another story.

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