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Sunflowers assume a forlorn look at the end of summer when their heads droop and the large, lush green leaves turn to brown. This is the mood that I tried to capture in Sad Sarah, who weeps sunflower seed tears. In this demonstration, you will practice combining several techniques, including glazing, overlapping, dropping in, rubbing out and using Plexiglas. Use these techniques alone or in combinations; you can apply them to any painting.
Nos. 8 and 14 rounds
No. 1 detail
Daniel Smith: Quinacridone Gold, Sap Green
Grumbacher: Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Yellow, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Van Dyke Brown
22×30 sheet of 140-lb. Arches cold-pressed paper
Books (for weight)
1. Plan the Format
Make several rough gesture drawings with loose and swinging lines to determine the general feel of the design structure. In this case, it’s a vertical thrust with a pyramidal base. Show movement and counter movement in your drawing. Then draw several similar thumbnails to establish an interesting value pattern.
2. Make a Line Drawing
Make a detailed line drawing on a sheet of newsprint cut to the same size as the 30″ × 22″ (76cm × 56cm) watercolor paper. Use lots of twists and swirls to represent the crumbling, curling and drying stems, petals and leaves. Trace your drawing onto the watercolor paper.
3. Choose the Colors
Make a sample of your glazing colors on another sheet by painting a square of Raw Sienna. When it is dry, paint stripes of other colors such as Sap Green, Opera and Quinacridone Gold over the square. Try other colors to find out which ones you prefer. Transparent colors usually work best.
4. Begin the Sunflower’s Head
Paint the seed area of the sunflower with Raw Sienna and a little Burnt Umber. While it is wet, press a piece of Plexiglas onto the paint and hold it down with a weight. When it is dry, lift off the Plexiglas to produce a nice texture.
Next, paint seed shapes onto the textured area, outlining them in Burnt Umber. Carry the shapes to the edges bordering the petals. Add Raw Umber in the darkest areas. Glaze some areas lightly with Alizarin Crimson and others with Cadmium Yellow. Don’t try to be realistic. Let the texture be your guide.
5. Add Surrounding Flowers
Fill in the surrounding petals and leaves with Raw Sienna. Glaze over the leaves with Alizarin Crimson in some places, Cadmium Yellow and Opera in others. The appearance of the flower head will change a little as you make adjustments to balance all the parts of the painting. Later, you may want to add extra petals and stems.
6. Begin the Body of the Plant
For the initial layer use only browns. Try Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Burnt Sienna. Paint the shapes within each leaf, alternating section by section. The leaves will be striped like zebras. Cover the entire page, changing the brown colors from leaf to leaf for variety. Let dry.
7. Finish the First Layer of Leaves
Paint the in-between spaces of the leaves, slightly overlapping the previously painted sections to give the effect of veins. The first section must be entirely dry before you overlap so that the edges remain sharp and don’t run. Paint close to the dry edge, leaving thin white lines to create sparkle and to help the eye follow the flow of the design. When all the leaves have been painted, move around the painting adding Van Dyke Brown for the darkest darks. Create a “push and pull” effect of sinking some areas into the background and bringing other areas forward to add a range of values to your pattern of movement. Go back over areas where washes are uneven. Clean up rough edges.
8. Start the Glazing Process
Choose a color and begin glazing at the center of a leaf section. Gradually wash toward the edges so there is less paint and more wash on the far edge to give the leaf form. In some cases, glaze only parts of the leaves. Don’t go over the same area a second time until it’s completely dry or the sharpness of the vein lines will blur. If colors fade as they dry, add another glaze to enhance the vibrancy or glaze over with a third color. You can layer on washes indefinitely. Add more paint and less water to leaves in the background to push them back and give depth. Lift paint in the lower leaves by wetting and gently scrubbing with a stiff brush to bring the leaves into the foreground.
* Helpful hint
If a wash in a large shape within a leaf is not smooth, paint a thin line around the irregularity to make a hole in the leaf or an extra vein. If a wash mixture looks undefined, paint a dark shape with hard edges in that area or rub out a white area for sparkle.
9. Choose the Background Color
The background color establishes the dominant mood of the painting and must harmonize with the many shades of browns. Test several colors that might complement the subject. Two options are presented here: blue and yellow. Since browns are warm, yellow seems to be the best choice.
10. Add Finishing Touches
Refining, defining, tidying up edges and re-doing some of the washes will help balance all sections of the painting. Some sections can be wet and blotted to lighten and others can be further glazed to darken for the best result. Use the no. 8 round and paint in and around the stems and leaves to fill in the shapes that form the background.
11. The final version
Sad Sarah (30×22)
Excerpted from Exploring Watercolor, Creative Exercises and Techniques for Watercolor and Mixed Media © 2007 by Elizabeth Groves.