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).
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)
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.
I 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.
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:
Here 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).
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.