Sunday, September 21, 2014

Painting boats

I love boats. Ships, vessels, yachts, or whatever the name of a particular one. Chance has been that I have spent most of my life living close to water and harbours, albeit different ones. So, boats tend to be around me, and because I like looking at them,  they are one of the first things  I want to learn to draw and paint.

Having sailed some, and being fascinated by blue prints for boats, I know a little about their construction. That doesn't help me though.  Instead, I tend to want to draw what I believe that the boat should look like. When I can free myself from that, and just see the boat, and not even think about it as a boat, it works much better. Then, I just see the shapes and the relations between them.  Like in the picture below.
A picture I made when taking a break walking to work
 in February 2014.  At the time, I was practicing
making "notan" pictures. The sport being to use only one color
and three tones: white, medium, and dark. I was looking at
Fernandes II, a wooden gullet built in Turkey.  
Summertime on Malta, she carries tourists  
from Sliema to the blue lagoon in Gozo.
At her side is The Sprit of Malta, a catamaran. 

If that's all that's needed, to not think about them as boats, then how come many books on how to paint have a little section about boats? If its just a shape like everything else, then why bother?

What I have found useful in books is how to work the technique. How to not overwork it for example. I tend to want to put in all the rigging in sailing boats, but when I look at painting of boats in books, they are often reduced in detail, and the rigging is not there. For me, a good lesson is to look at the paintings in the instruction books and note what detail they have kept and what they have omitted, and with very few brush strokes still make it look like a boat.

Another thing is to put some effort into the reflection of the boat in the water surface. It looks much better with a reflection there, at least to my eyes.

To practice, I am copying paintings of boats in books, and then I practice more by looking at boats in the wild, and paint them too.

Below are two pictures I made when I looking at a painting of a boat in the little gem of a book 10-minute Watercolours. I made the third while looking at a drawing in Tove Janssons' book Trollkarlens Hatt (edition in Swedish, p.102).

IMG_1638-2.jpg IMG_1637.jpg


 Photos are a treasure trove for looking at boats from the past. This summer, we visited Pommern, a windjammer turned into a museum ship. It was one of the last sailing ships in use for carrying cargo. Being on board is amazing, she is massive. In the little information folder I was given was a black and white photo of her with the sails set. I looked at it when I did the image below. (I was very pleased with that I had remembered to take the folder. The word "reference image" echoed in my head. It feels so nice to be someone who would have a use of such a thing. A reference image.)

Watercolour of Pommern

I wasn't terribly pleased with the resulting image, so I won't send it to anyone (if I'm not too ashamed of the picture I give it to someone, or send it as a post card).  I will glue this image onto a can, so that it can become a pencil holder. I made sure that the paper had the right measurements, and that the trees align somewhat on the sides. (Much less presumptuous to give someone. "Look, here is an old can! You can put pens or some other rubbish in it! Yeah, I glued a picture to it. Don't worry about that.")

I plan to portray my dads boat, Evnig. I have a resistance to it for some reason, perhaps because it is not just any boat, a collection of shapes, but a home of sorts, and a friend. Thus, a difficult motive. When I think of her, I feel how the deck is warm under my hand. For now, I am collecting images of her. I expect to make many attempts before I can produce something that won't be painful to see. (or so I hope)

Summary of how I try to learn to paint pictures of boats:
  • Draw the shape I see, not the one I believe should be there
  • Reduce detail
  • Don't forget the reflection in the water surface
  • Practice: paint while looking at:
    • other painting of boats. One learn what details need to be there, and which can be omitted.
    • real boats. Harbours with benches are good places for that. 
    • photos of real boats. So much less wind/sun/rain onto self. Also, less bobbing about in the waves (of the boat). 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Painting with a Hake Brush

I'm learning to paint with a hake brush, which is a big blob of goat hair. It is amazing what detail it is possible to paint with such a seemingly unwieldy thing! In the image below, the only thing i painted with a small brush is the walking figure.

Painting with a hake brush

The above picture is not my first attempt. The first was a miserable thing.

I was doing exercises from Ron Ransons' book Watercolours - one of his signums is the use of the hake brush.
A short flat broad thing. This is the brush I used:

Moddler brush

I doggedly made tree trunks, foliage and undergrowth as told in the book. I made some half ovals (they can become beaches). It didn't go well, not at all. I didn't become desperate until I tried to copy the image with trees in the book. It seemed impossible! Frustrated, I reached for other brushes, trying to save the picture but, it was forfeit.  Here it is:

Fail: a moddler is not a Hake

I started looking closer at the picture of the hake brush in the book. I remembered seeing something similar in the local art-shop, one of the many things in there that are mysterious. Had I been using the wrong brush?
I brought the book to the art store, so I could compare in situ.
Here is what I found:

Hake Brush, 38 mm, DaVinci

What I had been using is called a moddler brush!
I made the exercises all over again - this was something else! Making foliage was insantenous, just a few dabs (see below).

Practise with a hake brush

When the hake has the 'right' amount of water and pigment in it, it is surprising what detail one can produce. But getting that balance is something that I will have to practice: with too much water and too little pigment it doesn't go well at all. In his book Ranson talks about the necessity of having an abundance of rags at hand. This is for taking out the water from the hake brush. In a video I saw that he was holding a hand towel as a rag in the left hand while he painted. I'll try that.

There was one thing that moddler brush was great for though, better than the hake: to easily make tree trunks. Below, the trunk in the image to the right is done with a moddler (40 mm), and the one to the left is done with a hake (38 mm).

making a tree trunk with a moddler
Trunk done with Moddler
making a tree trunk with the hake
Trunk inexpertly dabbled with a Hake

In summary:

  • Make sure the brush is actually a hake brush, not some random object that display similarities.
  • One must have a rag in the other hand to remove excess water from the hake when painting.
  • A pro of  the hake brush is that it helps making shapes as they look like in landscapes.
  • A con is that  it is difficult to get the balance right with amount of water it holds. But that might be different once one learn to master it. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introducing the blog!

and welcome to this blog about watercolour painting! My name is Mirjam Palosaari Eladhari. I am a researcher and lecturer in game design and artificial intelligence. I use watercolour painting as a way to relax and to recharge. For me,  one part of the joy is that the activity itself is so forgiving in that it is so quick, and that in that I am allowed to fail as much as I want. If a little painting is ugly: so what, it only took 10 minutes to make, and I don't have to show it to anyone.

In my handbag, I keep a tiny pillbox with 6 half-pans of watercolour, and a water brush. Tucked into the notebook, a have small pieces of watercolour paper. With that, I can paint anywhere, if i have a moment for it. Such as on a flight, or waiting for a friend who is late.

At work, I too have colours, some brushes and paper. It is like magic to do a little bit of painting if i feel stuck in my thoughts, especially if I am programming, or if I am writing a paper. Ten minutes is all I need. As the brain shifts activities it is like somethings loosens up, and I can see new perspectives and solutions.

Even, some mornings, when things feel bleak, the thought that I will be able to paint for at least 15 minutes sometime during the day is enough to coax me out of bed.

I started dabbling with the watercolours in the summer of 2012. My husband and I had just moved from Sweden to Malta, and in one of the moving boxes I found my old painting materials, leftovers must have been the art lessons in the gymnasium (equivalent of college/highschool). Despite having been untouched for more than 20 years, they were still usable.

I approach watercolour painting and sketching as the complete novice that I am. Some things are surprisingly easy to learn, other things one would need a decade to practise. That's OK. If the future holds years of painting and sketching practice - all the better! I never want this to end.

Welcome to the blog! Please feel free to comment and to share your thoughts.


PS. Here is a picture of my little travel set for watercolour painting on the fly! It is a pill box of metal. It has its little mixing space, and the metal of it sticks to the magnet in my handbag. This is especially handy if I am at a conference, listening in a chair and don't have anywhere to put anything. I just put the box on the handbag in my lap, hold the paper in my left hand, and the watercolour brush in the right one.

cool colour mini painting kit

...and here is an example of a note from a conference: I write with a pen that has waterproof ink, so that it doesn't smudge:
FDG 2014 water color notes day 2-2