Landscape Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache with Nathan Fowkes – Lesson 1

I finally completed my entries for the first “week”. It actually took me over a month, but am relatively satisfied with the result.
I worked from color, here posted so you can see my references as well.

They are all master copies, painted in gouache on kraft paper (or illustration board for #8, primed with yellow). For all these I followed the procedure described in my previous post: How I tackle Gouache studies in Black and White.

Landscape Master Studies in Gouache Landscape Master Studies in Gouache (color)
I am quite happy with some of them, while others are completely off. It’s easier to tell the difference if you look at the desaturated version of the master painting, but quite complex by the original.

The whole point of it was seeing value for color, and hopefully I managed to do it decently enough to proceed.
If anyone wants to comment below, feel free to! 🙂


How I tackle Gouache studies in Black and White

For about one month, I have been subscribed to the Nathan Fowkes course on Landscape Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache at Schoolism.
It’s an amazing course and, even if I can’t go through it at the pace Nathan suggests, I am slowly building painting over painting. Each new one leads to a greater understanding of the medium, and it’s also quite rewarding.
The first part is entirely dedicated to black and white studies of master paintings, a great way to discover new artists, and I feel more and more enthusiasm after each one.

I haven’t completed the (at least) ten studies required for lesson one, but I would like to share my approach here, hoping it can be helpful to anyone fighting with the medium like me.

I am by no means a pro, and definitely still quite slow (one hour, only for the painting itself).
Scott Christensen River Painting

This is the Master painting I am working on, by Scott Christensen.
I work from the color version, as the aim of this first lesson is to see color for value (which is not easy at all!).
My copy is fairly small, usually around 10 centimeters wide by whatever height the original has. The surface is a sketchbook I made with brown kraft paper, the same Nathan uses. I have to admit mine is a little too light for the medium, and tends to buckle with moderate amounts of water. Ideally, you should look for a 130-180lb weight paper, while mine is 82.

Before starting with the actual painting, I do a quick study in pencil on toned paper with black and white pencils (Conte)
Scott Christensen River Pencil Study for Gouache Painting
I am a little exaggerated here, still too detailed (and it took ages, almost half an hour), but it helps me figure out the big masses before messing with the real thing. After this, I get to my painting sketchbook.

Gouache landscape master study initial sketchI use a water-soluble carmine colored pencil (Supracolor II), and try to keep the lines to a bare minimum, establishing the bigger shapes and relationships, only. I frame it with low-tack tape as soon as I am done, to have a clean straight edge after completing the painting.
Gouache landscape master study initial color block in

I then proceed blocking in the main shapes. I would like to stay more watery on the river bed (for reflections) but I just can’t do it with this paper. I am painting relatively transparently in any case (translucently, so to speak), trying to block in the main areas of value. If you ever used gouache you certainly know it’s not very friendly to who tries to paint dark over light and vice-versa, therefore, for areas like trees I try to figure out the main general tone, either dark or light. Alternatively, I paint a value more or less in between those, that I can darken in the shade and lighten in the lights.

One thing I noticed about trees and greenery, is that I always see them lighter than they are. Therefore, I recently started using a dark underpainting for them, so that in any case my lights won’t go as light as they would without it, even if I am a little off with the value. Call it cheating 😀 This is true especially for warmer colors, as we always see them lighter than they actually are.

I went quite off on the river bed there, so I tried recovering with the second passage, thicker:
Gouache landscape master study shapes adjustmentHere you can also see I lightened the background masses a bit, for the atmospheric perspective. I also tried softening the farther mountain and keeping trees in the distance quite simple, as another trick to conceive depth.
I forgot to take a picture of the next step, but it’s basically about correcting here and there, adjusting values and shapes. I just always make sure that my previous layer is bone dry before painting over (I use a hair dryer for this).
Gouache landscape master study Scott Christensen RiverGouache landscape master study initial color block in
So here is my final result. You can see I just lightly scrubbed in a tone for the light parts of the trees in the background, without having the edges stand out. For the closer trees I went all the way dry brushing the light tone over the dark part I had blocked in. I went off with the contrast here and made it too dark, it was actually better in the previous photo.
For the foreground water, I just mixed a tone more or less equal to the river bed, added a touch of white and painted in random shapes (yeah, I know it’s not accurate). I did the same, but with a touch of black instead, for those submerged stones’ shadows.
I want to try staying simple so I guess painting each shape separately and precisely would kill the overall feeling, as adding too much contract would have, the same way.

I used almost pure white for the fallen logs and tree trunks, and super dry white for the water foam. Yes, the shape of the rock leaning on the right side is completely off 😀
I also failed to catch the bushes on the same spot. Had a very hard time figuring out what to do.

Overall, I am satisfied enough. While I can’t say it’s perfect, I am happy with the result and have learned to control the medium a little more. It took me more than one hour and a half to finish it, if I consider the initial pencil study, so I’m totally off track with time and I have to try to get the next ones done faster.

The final step is comparing the original turned into BW and my copy, which usually leads to plenty of tears 😀 I will save this and post it together with the others, once I am done with all studies.



My version of James Gurney’s Taboret

I have been wanting to make something similar to James Gurney’s Taboret since when I first saw it. Last summer I finally got a small drawer from my carpenters, and last months I started renovating and modifying it. This is the end result, I am pretty satisfied with it.

















Here is how it looked like before, and while working on it



It’s obviously not as fancy as Gurney’s, but I am planning to make it better as soon as I get more materials


GJ Book Club: The Technique of Painting


The Practice and Science of Oil Painting - Harold SpeedAt the GJ Book club we are discussing  Harold Speed’s 1924 art instruction book The Science and Practice of Oil Painting.
This week, we discuss chapter 3 on the technique of painting (I didn’t have time to re-post part 2 of chapter 2).

Here are The main points highlighted by Gurney, almost verbatim quotes from the book.
1. “Few people realize how little they really see of the marvelous things happening on the retina of the eyes.”

2. “Sight as a faculty is not so essential to our survival as some of our other senses, such as touch.”

3. “…the surprise that greeted the first pictures of the impressionist movement.”

4. Parallel between developments in art history and the individual’s development of the faculty of sight.

5. “The extreme impressionists said there was no outline, and no use for line drawing.”

Here is my recap of this Chapter:

Our perception of the world is associated to the sense of touch, rather than on sight. We do not remember objects much as we see them,  but rather how we know they are, as a solid mass that we got accustomed with during childhood. The same goes for both shape and color. Rather than remembering the impression the object had in our retina, under “those” lighting conditions, we remember a generic shape, as it would appeal our touch sense when getting close to it (a table with four legs of the same length), having the color the surface would have under normal light.

This was clear in Egyptian drawings, representing the known, not the seen fact. An exception is represented by some cave drawings, which are purely impressionists and get away from the metal idea of form. They can be linked directly with Chinese or Japanese traditional paintings.

Light and shade was the great discovery of the 15th century (Masaccio, Leonardo). Up until then, paintings had started simply as lines little by little filled with a bit more of local color, but without getting to real shading, and with the only late introduction of the laws of perspective. This, plus Aerial Perspective, constituted the whole knowledge on visual representation that guided artists till the 18th century

Impressionists revolutionized the world of painting, by throwing away the whole concept of line as boundary of the form, and focusing exclusively on the flat image impressed on the retina. They threw away too much though, as they lost the power line possessed of appealing the sense of touch.

Line drawing, as well as the impression of light on the retina, and thus masses of color, must be put together, and painting should embrace both as a whole.


Bottom Line: I mostly agree with Speed once more. I like how he uses the sense of touch to describe the mental idea we have of an object, and also agree on having to keep a certain line quality in painting.

Next week—Chapter 4: The Painter’s Training