Art: Watercolor Plein Air tips?

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  1. #1
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    Watercolor Plein Air tips?

    I've been trying a project since May where I try to do at least a plein air a week, and I've found it's significantly improved my ability to recognize and compose a picture around values. However, something I've been struggling with is how to approach foliage. I've been trying to challenge myself but I'm not satisfied with my approach. If I were doing things in oils or acrylics I know what to do but I'm a bit stumped as to how to better simplify given that watercolor isn't opaque. I have no issues using watercolor in the studio but out in the field where alacrity is needed I'm failing.

    Below are some ~30-50 minute plein-airs I've done that show where I'm at. Please ignore the brown stain on the edge, I accidentally smashed a peach into the sketchbook and since these are just for practice and the paper is fine otherwise after I washed it, I haven't replaced it yet. I've found just letting things like that go lets me feel more courageous about experimenting since it's "just a sketch."

    I don't want to switch mediums, I use watercolor because it dries quickly and the materials I need more than reasonably fit in my pocketbook for lunch-time work without major cleanup at my dayjob. The ones below are 5.5X8 on this paper: http://www.cheapjoes.com/strathmore-...FQ6f4Aod_jEAig Done with Pentel waterbrushes, a Winsor-Newton travel student paint set with a couple extra colors dried onto the tray for use in the field, namely paynes grey, sepia, indigo and shadow green to encourage me to include more values.

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    I'm waiting for my most recent one to dry (I just got back from being caught in a freak rainstorm, so it's soaked not just from paint >.<). it was much larger than the ones below, of a river, with lots of foliage on the banks so that I could experiment. I can put it up too if others are interested, I have it under weights to try to flatten it out as the whole 9X12 block buckled.

    Thank you for your time.

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  3. #2
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    You're using dark pigments but it looks like you aren't making them thick enough. You can make some dark washes pretty thick with paint while still maintaining some transparency.

    EDIT: Oh! I almost forgot! Because you are following the One True God of Watercolor Painting (keeping transparent), if you are working in a limited palette you don't really have to worry about color accuracy in dark values! The point of watercolor is NOT to make things dull typically. If you want to make dull shapes you can always paint in oil or acrylic. Have fun!

    Last edited by Ninjerk; September 1st, 2013 at 05:51 PM.
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    Thank you for your comment, Ninjerk, I always forget that about watercolor, thank you! I often forget that introducing colors into washes can be a beautiful effect.

    It's funny that you say that! My biggest issue with my early works was that I seem to have an instinct for what colors mesh well together but that everything would then be super-saturated. I've found I've been much happier with my work when I work to keep the colors dull unless I want to emphasize. Maybe I'm overcompensating? I know you're technically not supposed to, but I often keep my palette dirty as a means of greying out my colors, otherwise I find everything much too bright. I'm pretty instinctive as to which pigments mix and which don't by this point, so the result has worked very well for me. Maybe I should try having a cleaner one and see how it feels now that I've gotten better?

    The bottom painting is unfinished, due to the thunderstorm and the fact the river is too flooded for me to go back right now, but it shows my approach to foliage with prompted my thread. It looks better dry than I thought, but I'm still not happy with it. Do people usually block in the darks or the lights first? I've tried both and I'm just not sure. Wet in wet works great for trees in the back but in the foreground it gets messy >.<

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  5. #4
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    With watercolor you could try lightly sketching things in with a brush and work from your lights down to your darks building up your color and values as you go. Save your darks for the very end where they are needed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    With watercolor you could try lightly sketching things in with a brush and work from your lights down to your darks building up your color and values as you go. Save your darks for the very end where they are needed.
    How is that going to work with changing light conditions?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ninjerk View Post
    How is that going to work with changing light conditions?
    It works like it does with oils or acrylics, you have about an hour of consistent light if you choose the scene well. You have less if you don't. So if you sketch in your scene with a light color first or pencil if you aren't comfortable drawing with a brush, then once that is finished you have an hour to paint. Watercolor takes a little more planning than other mediums. One of the things I see in your paintings is you are mostly painting the positive spaces and shapes, try describing some things using negative space around them.

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