This was a class project with students at the Akron-Newstead Senior Center. The class meets once a week for an hour and a half.
A Lesson in Painting Folds in Clothing
As strong as my passion is for wildlife subjects, not all of my students concur. I've had to paint a variety of subjects other than wildlife working commercially as an artist/illustrator. At the suggestion of one of my students, I chose to demo folds in the clothing of these three ladies in 1759 period dress. This happens to be a second passion of mine, figures, ones with character, facial, structural, with expressive gestures. These ladies are part of a reenactment of the siege of Fort Niagara in 1759. For three days in July, hundreds of characters are "on stage" portraying life during that period. I stroll the camps and fort photographing reference for future paintings. To help the class, I decided to work relatively large. This not only makes it more visible to a group but it helps to keep my painting looser. Most people have a tendency to tighten up when they paint small.
The image to the lower right reveals my use of artistic license by the absence of the fourth lady in the background. First, her face is obscured and I didn't want to pressure myself into successfully creating the missing half. Second, she is taller than the woman with her hands on her hips whom I regard as the main character. Last, I like odd numbers! Before drawing my images, I placed the sheet of Arches, 140# w/c paper in the sink and gently removed the surface sizing with a sponge. I then place the sheet on several paper towels and wipe off the excess water with a damp sponge. Next, I place the sheet on a wooden drawing board and begin stapling. I start at one end and gently pull and staple, from side to side, until I've fastened the sheet to the board on all four sides. Most watercolor paper, has a tendency to bulge, buckle or ripple when wet. Good quality, heavy rag w/c paper, washed and stretched, will show minimal wrinkling after it is dried and rewet for painting. I prefer to air dry my paper but you may want to expedite the process by using a hair dryer.
After drawing the images in the desired positions on the now stretched and dried paper, I begin painting. Watercolors are traditionally painted light to dark. This means the lightest colors are applied first followed by the mid-tones and the darkest values last. I started with the light tones in the white bonnets and dress trim. I use cool blues to make the whites look fresh and crisp. Not wanting to have them all look the same, I pushed a little Burnt Sienna into the whites on the middle figure to warm it up slightly. Next, I put a wash of warm tone into the apron of the woman at the far left and the shirt of the figure in the middle. These are under tones which will enhance subsequent glazes. Note that I left white paper showing on the left shoulder of the middle figure as a highlight. This will help to draw attention to her. Remember to save your whites!
After the wash had dried, I began to render the shadows of the folds. Folds usually have crisp edges at their source and then begin to soften as they open up. I load my brush with an appropriate value, locate my starting point and ending point and connect the two. The brush will discharge the greatest and thus darkest tone at the start and lighten or thin out at the end of the stroke.
Crisp edges are hard edges and accomplished by painting wet on dry. To make that hard edge disappear, you need to soften the edge of the stroke or a portion of it with a damp brush.
Laying a flat brush parallel to the w/c sheet, I dragged color up from the bottom edge of the apron to replicate the texture of that material. You pretty much get one chance with dry brush so practice a couple of strokes on a scrape sheet, adjust paint consistency and pressure and then go for it!
Your not trying to match the reference photo. Your trying to render a personal artistic impression. Your, artistic impression. If the fold is dark and crisp at the tightest point and lightens and softens as it opens, your good. In the case of the apron, we will revisit it to paint the plaid pattern over it which will obscure many of the questionable washes. The shadows now give us a target for the plaid stripes. The curvature of the pattern changes as it comes forward in the light ares and recedes into the darks.
If you've ever studied with me, you know I'm not much of a color guy. I'm more concerned about value, the value of any color or mix. The overall color wash on the blouse is Van Dyke Brown with some orange and a smidge of French Ultramarine Blue, mixed loosely with a generous amount of water. I applied the color briskly leaving heavier color puddles in the shaded areas. As the color began to dry, just past the glistening stage, I lifted color out creating the highlighted areas using a damp brush. What is a damp brush you ask? The brush, flat or round, is rinsed thoroughly, then patted once on an absorbent paper towel, rotated 180° and patted again. The brush should now act like a rung out mop and lift moist color off the paper. I used a flat brush here turning the handle as I pulled downward to broaden the stroke. I'll return to this later to add the folds.
I approached the middle figure's skirt a little differently. Because the color of the skirt is going to be dark, I was concerned about accidentally lifting the skirt color as I softened edges of the dark folds. My solution was to paint the folds first and then paint the skirt color over them. Remember, if you have a good transparent watercolor going, those folds will show through that skirt wash just fine. It is important not to belabor the wash. Use a large brush and try to avoid stroking any one area more than 2 - 3 times!
The skirt will be a muted green, a mix of Hooker's Green and Indian Red, with a generous amount of water. First the folds. I'm choosing a color somewhat opposite of the skirt color. I'm mixing Alizrin Crimson and French Ultramarine Blue with a touch of Burnt Sienna to calm the brightness. Using a large flat brush, I start at the narrowest point of the fold and pull downward turning the brush handle to broaden the stroke as it reaches the end. The greatest discharge of color will be at the beginning of the stroke and lighter at the end which is how folds are. With a second brush, dampened, I soften edges as they open up to the light. Continue this method until you've completed all the folds.
The picture to the left shows the completed wash of Hooker's Green and Indian Red over the purplish red folds. Because of the transparency of the watercolor the folds have shifted color looking like they belong to the skirt. Finally, using that damp brush again, we lift out our highlights creating that dramatic contrast in values.
Below is the painting at the end of Week 2.
Between Classes The majority of the class chose not to include the figure to the far right in their compositions. Using the techniques used in class during the past two weeks, I painted the woman on the far right in my studio.
Her shirt was painted with French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. The ultramarine has a sedimentary characteristic and tends to separate, giving texture to the area. After the wash was dry, I spattered the same mix, a little darker, onto the shirt with a toothbrush followed by a couple of fine sprays of water. This causes some of the spatter to move or spread adding more texture.
After the area was completely dry, I proceeded to create the folds using hard and soft edges. In some cases I painted around highlights and others I lifted color out. It is best to lift out when the area is damp, not wet. If the paper is too wet, the color may creep back into the extracted area further than you planned. Again, once the area is thoroughly dry, I began painting the stripes. I used a variety of reds including Alizarin Crimson, pushing color into color, lighter in the highlighted areas and darker in the folds.
If you look closely at the photo reference, you may see some decorations in the stripes of the woven shirt. As artists, creators, we have, what is referred to as "artistic license" which allows us to bend, spindle and mutilate our masterpieces as we see fit. We have the opportunity to add things that may better tell a story as well as subtract that which may be confusing or distracting. The stripes contained dots and chevrons. My first thought was to leave them out, too much unnecessary detail. The figure in the middle also has stripes and the woman to the left has both vertical and horizontal stripes in her apron. So, to break up the monotony, I chose to simplify the pattern and use only dots. These are quite small and difficult to lift out with just a brush so, I chose to use a stencil. With an xacto knife, I cut a small hole from a piece of mylar, a thin, durable plastic sheet. Placing the hole on the stripe, I gently scrubbed the hole with a damp toothbrush. Once you see the paint move, press a tissue into the area to absorb the water. Remove your stencil and gently press the area again with the tissue. Be sure you remove any moisture from both sides of the stencil before placing it back onto the painting.
WEEK 3 This week we moved back to the figure on the far left. I made a dark mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna to use in the shadow areas. Using a round brush I placed color into the areas of deepest tone. Using a second, damp brush, I blended the edge of the brush stroke that was away from the darkest portion of the shadow to make it soft and disappear into the highlight. I deliberately avoided shadows that touched the arms. I'll do those after the skin tones are in. Vary the values of the shadows and continue hard and soft edges to create both distinct and subtle creases and folds.
Next we began the plaid pattern on the apron. I used a variation of reddish brown for the larger stripes and a darker version for the thin stripes. I chose the reddish color to help balance the reds (figure, far right) in the painting. The lines will vary in direction and value as they travel into the deep folds and across the highlighted areas. Not all of the stripes reach the bottom edge of the apron. Allow some of the vertical stripes to disappear into a fold. Lines should break here and there. Using the dry brush technique can be effective for this. Shown in the three photos below, I allowed the stripes to dry and then went into the highlights and moistened the stripes, scrubbing, in some cases and then pressing with a paper towel to lift the moisture and color out. You may want to darken some of the shadows in the folds as I did to increase the contrast.
Image at the close of week 3.
WEEK 4 Over the years, I have watched, listened to and painted with some of the finest watercolorists in the country. I have always said that if I came away with only one new concept of painting with watercolor from each workshop I attended, it was worth it. A few years ago, The Burchfield Penney Art Center, along with the Niagara Frontier Watercolor Society, held a Watercolor Weekend in Buffalo. One of the guest artists was a gal by the name of Mary Whyte from Charleston, SC. I was fortunate to have been able to study with her that weekend and can honestly say that she has been the most influential in my approach to portrait painting. Needless to say her work is phenomenal. I should be so lucky as to have a fraction of similar results.
One of Mary's methods is to paint facial shadows in first and while the wash is still damp, add the warmer tones. That is the way I painted the face of the woman at the far right of the group. Once the area was dry, I glazed the same colors into the areas of the face I felt needed more value. The darkest darks were last, softening edges as I went along.
As with all of my mentors, I take their methods and then change them up somewhat to make them my own. For the purpose of this lesson, I decided to paint this figure's face using a glazing method, allowing each wash of color to dry before applying the next On this figure I started with a wash of Raw Sienna applying heavier values where I want stronger tones.
The second wash is Quinocradone Rose. This tames some of the dirty yellow of the Raw Sienna. I applied this color using the same philosophy, stronger values in the areas I want heavier tones. These are colors from Mary's pallet. They are also her brand, M.Graham. They have blueberry honey in them which helps them stay moist a little longer.
The third wash is French Ultramarine blue which not only darkens the first two values but creates cool shadows. I have done other portraits using Windsor & Newton Yellow Ochre, Opera Rose and Cobalt Blue. Experiment to find a combination of colors and application methods that suits you.
I did the arms one at a time so that I could get a sharp edge to define one arm over the other. The same colors and method of painting was used as on the face. Next week we'll add glazes and darks to help define the facial features.
Note: I painted around the frames of the glasses continuing the facial tones where the lenses are. I hope to lift some of the color out of the lense area to represent reflections. If you're not confident painting around the frames, apply misket to them before painting. Misket is a resist which prevents color from entering the area. After you have finished rendering the face, you peel the resist off revealing the white paper where the frames are. You can then add color to the frames which I will do later.
WEEK 5 We began this week with additional glazes on the face of the figure to the far left. The properties of the M.Graham watercolors are different from Holbein and Windsor and Newton colors so you should not be surprised that they handle differently. Image A above shows the application of French Ultramarine Blue with a touch of Quinocridone Rose. Softening edges and lifting out is easier with this paint. We know that all watercolor dries lighter but this brand of blue seems to go a little further. If you find that so, make an adjustment. C and D show the addition of the same color mix into the recessed areas of the face to create depth (lights come forward, darks recede).
I took a different approach to the middle figure's blouse than I have to the other garments. I painted the stripes first, over the initial beige wash, followed by the shadows. I want the stripes to soften slightly in the shadows. It is important to know your target and be deliberate in the application of color. If you belabor the wash you run the risk of loosing the stripes and I don't want that.
WEEK 6 This week we addressed the bag hanging over the shoulder of the figure in the center. With a dark mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue, I made simple, one stroke gestures, of the design on the bag. After it was completely dry, I applied a wash of lesser value but richer in Burnt Sienna. As that wash begins to dry just beyond the glistening stage, I lifted color out with a damp brush to create the highlights.
I also applied a background. I chose a mixture of Cerulean Blue with a touch of Ultramarine Blue mixed in. My intent was to be subtle, light enough to not distract from the characters yet dark enough to create edges on light colored objects, like their bonnets. I also chose to vignette the color as it went to the edges of the paper. I accomplished this by wetting the area around he figures with clear water. When the moistened area reaches the glistening stage I apply the mix, cutting in around the figures to create sharp edges. The mix in the damp areas of the paper creeps slowly outward getting lighter and seemingly disappearing creating the vignette. Week six concluded the lesson with a little left to complete this piece which I have since done in my studio.
Conclusion In the studio I painted the strap to the bag along with a few darks here and there. Having done that, I felt the shirt on the middle figure needed darker shadows and a little more definition which I did with French Ultramarine Blue and a touch of Burnt Sienna.