Last Bank Holiday week-end, while we were having a mini heatwave, I spent some time in the garden and mixed some colours for forget-me-nots and Violas. It was a sunny, warm and beautiful day. I sat under the birch tree in the dappled shade. It turns out I was also sitting under a pigeon, which I realised half way through the painting. It didn’t feel particularly safe after that discovery…
Here is a link to the video (including the pigeon):
Some watercolourists seem to find it hard to make the difference between neutral colours (especially browns) and muddy mixes. There is a huge variety of browns that are clean, transparent and without a hint of mud in them, not even the detoxifying cleansing spa kind.
Unlike primary and secondary colours that are found on the rim of the colour wheel, neutral colours sit in the centre. They are obtained when a primary colour is mixed with its opposite secondary colour, also called complementary colour.
Depending on the proportions used, most of these mixes are brown, while some tend towards grey. The main complementary neutral mixes are as follows:
Yellow + purple
Red + green
Blue + orange
All of these mixes are clean neutral colours with a potential to turn to mud…
So what makes the difference between a clean neutral brown and a muddy one?
Here are a few things to avoid if you have to put your wellies on every time you try to mix a neutral colour:
Poor quality paints. This first one seems obvious but low quality paints are full of fillers, which are made of various substances (mainly chalk) that affect the saturation levels, transparency and brilliance of the paint. Fillers are used to bulk out the paint, filling the tubes or pans with anything but pigments, which are the most expensive component of the paint. This way the manufacturer saves money and the paints are cheaper. Don’t be tempted by cheap paints, even if the manufacturer calls them “artist range’. If the paint is cheap, the ingredients are cheap.
Too many pigments. Try to stick to single pigment paints. Every pigment reflects different sections of the light spectrum and too many pigments will fight each other to death and leave behind a muddy battlefield. Imagine mixing a green made of 4 pigments with an orange made of 3 pigments. This gives you a mix of 7 different pigments and it is bound to turn nasty.
Opaque paints. These tend to overwhelm the transparent paints and the washes will lose their transparency and delicate finish.
Dense pigments. Some pigments (Cadmiums are a good example) are extremely dense as well as opaque. The other pigments simply cannot compete with them and as a result the mixes become heavy and have too much covering power. The transparency and freshness of the washes is lost.
Overworking the paint. It is possible to have a clean neutral mix in the palette but ruining it on the paper by overworking the paint. Browns are especially susceptible to this. If the paint is moved around too much, the layering of the pigment becomes uneven and creates unwanted texture that looks dirty and “tired”.
Mixing too much paint. Thick washes are definitely not helping when it comes to keeping colours clean. Make sure to use a small amount of paint with plenty of water. It is safer to layer several washes of thin paint than to apply the colour in one thick wash. Remember this only works with transparent paints.
Proportion is the key. Any two colours mixed together can produce an infinity of colours. Try to identify the bias of your neutral colour before you start mixing: is it a blue-biased grey, a red-biased brown, a yellow-biased grey green? This will give you an indication of the proportions. This is important because if the proportions are wrong and the colour not what you were aiming for, it is tempting to add more and more paint until the mix becomes thick and muddy and a mountain of frustration.
If you are having trouble with muddy browns, I would bet that you have been doing one or several of the things above.
Hopefully this will help clean your neutral colours!
On this brisk and sunny Sunday afternoon I should be outside enjoying the fresh air and doing some gardening… But I went clubbing on Friday night and went to an ice-hockey match last night. Two late nights in a row, I’m too old for this. So today, I am sprawled out on the sofa in front of the fireplace, making some crochet snowflakes instead of enjoying the plein air.
I also started a new series on Instagram called Botanical Bites.
I will regularly upload short videos showing painting in action.
I have just uploaded the first one, the painting of a wet-in-wet holly berry. All videos are less than one minute long, just a little bite, easy to swallow! Here is a link: https:www.instagram.com/sandrinemaugy
Every so often I will gather a few bites together and make a video for my YouTube channel.
While the rules of composition apply to card design, composition and design are two different things.
When composing a painting, the artist has to take into account depth and perspective, the mood they want to convey, the size and orientation of the picture as well as the mount’s placement. If illustrating for a book, practical issues come into play as well, with the format and space allocated to illustrations.
Designing for a card has one principal element: impact. The space on a greeting card is limited and the painting has to have maximum impact in this reduced space. The priorities change: perhaps depth and shadows are less important than striking colours, and realistic depictions can give way to slightly looser, more eye-catching pictures.
Composing a painting looks at the real subject and draws directly from it, in whatever style you choose. Design takes you one further step away from your subject.
Here are a few things to have in mind while designing a Christmas card:
I will write a different post on composition so I will not go into the rules in great detail here. The same applies for a painting and for a card: the movement of the composition needs to lead the eye around the picture and special care should be taken with negative shapes. The composition should be balanced, in shapes and in colours.
The first thing to work out with a design is the shape of the finished picture. For example, if the card is 10 x 10 cm, the original painting has to be 10 x 10 cm as well, or in scale with the card so that it can be reduced to 10 x 10cm. The details on a reduced painting will look impressive but by reducing too much there is a risk of losing them and thus lessening impact. I would not recommend designing a smaller painting and enlarge it for a card, as the details and edges would look scruffy.
The decision on how to treat the edges needs to be taken early in the design process. The painting needs to sit well within the edges or it has to overlap the edges enough to print without leaving a white space around the design. This is called the “bleed” and if not considered properly it might ruin the card design at the printing stage.
While people might prefer a classic composition for a painting on the wall, a greeting card is the perfect space to be more creative and playful with the subject. Someone opening an envelope will react to the card in a split second, so the image needs to be arresting in order to get a second, more in-depth look.
Make it personal
A Christmas card is meant to convey personal wishes. A personal card that means something to you and/or the receiver will be appreciated, especially compared to the mass produced banalities that circulate by the hundreds. If you have a pet, a favourite tree in your garden, or a pretty thatched cottage, include them in the design. If the receiver of the card lives in a beautiful thatched cottage, ignore those negative jealous feelings and paint an image of their gorgeous home (in the snow, with a reindeer in the front garden) for them.
Above all, have a relaxed, enjoyable time designing your cards. If it’s chilly outside, add a hot toddy to the painting process. It will help loosen up these drawing skills…
I have posted my first home-made video on my brand new YouTube channel, Flora’s Patch.
It’s the first of a four-part demonstration of a sunflower painting. The demonstration will also be published in Artists & Illustrators magazine in the summer, as a “masterclass”. (That’s what they call it, a bit more dramatic than “demonstration”…)
This first part is all about shadows:
Oh wow, I was just going to include a link but it actually plays the whole thing right here! Unfortunately I didn’t exactly do it on purpose… I’m still pretty pleased.
Enjoy the video, and don’t forget to subscribe if you want to be updated when I post part 2. It’s free, you just need to click “subscribe”.