Friday, April 12, 2013

Painting Calla Lilies

I took a break from the inspiring indoor events at the Plein Air convention for another outdoor painting session. Monterey has a number of beautiful vestpocket flower gardens that are in full bloom right now. I concentrated in on four calla lilies. You can see them in the upper right corner of photo above. 

Three were in bloom and one was shriveled. Behind them was a rhododendron bush.
As with any flower garden, the amount of detail was overwhelming, so I tried to focus my interest on the white shapes of the lilies against the foliage in the background. I could see through to the far side of the bush and a white building in shadow.

That's four layers to contend with: 1. lilies in front, 2. rhodie leaves in light, 3. rhodie leaves and branches in shadow, and 4. white wall. I was using mostly transparent watercolor, which meant mostly painting around the lighter forms. 

First I did a pencil drawing to outline the main forms. The initial painting step on this one was to lay a fairly bright yellow wash across everything but the white lilies, and then bring the yellow down with a layer or two of varied green leaf colors. I then established the blue-gray background color with a large flat brush. That blue-gray color needed the opacity of white gouache mixed in to knock out the yellow underpainting color. After that dried, I painted the dark leaves and stems in shadow. Total elapsed time was a little over two hours.

I have rationalized these steps after the fact to try to give you the impression that I knew what I was doing, but my mind state was rather scrambled and chaotic as I did the painting. I agree with John Sargent's description of the watercolor painting experience as "making the best of an emergency"—and that's what I love about the medium.

I'll tell you more about my fellow Plein Air convention faculty in tomorrow's post.


Novice Naturalist said...

Thank you for posting the sketch and your "rationized' steps in creating it. Love the concept of watercolor making the best of an emergency situation

Anonymous said...

I used to work for a wholesale art publisher and distributor, and this reminds me of what was popular in prints for home decoration (the dead flower would be a no-no though). Just scribble a sentimental platitude across the bottom and the prints fly off the shelves.

Cynthia Nicole said...

thank you for sharing your knowledge, insights and experience... as usual.

Truepinkas said...

I just did a painting with a very similair subject the other day (though my watercolor technique is not as proficient as yours yet). I appriciated your after the fact breakdown and found it helpful. It's also comforting to know that you too describe the amount of detail as 'overwhelming'.

I don't think non-artists think about it this way, but painting really is a process of observing and editing.

WendyLady@GoodBooks said...

Monterey is so beautiful, and your calla lilies are glowing! If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles in the spring, be sure and visit the L.A. Arboretum. We were just there and the calla lilies, magnolias, roses - and peacocks! - were in full bloom.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for again reminding me the nature of watercolor painting. I guess in a way we all are asking to live or die by the wash when we pick up our brush to paint with this wonderfully crazy medium!

Rich said...

I like the photograph of yours on that picture; you look so dedicated and those fluorescent stripes on your coat really blend well with the rest.

Kind of an "ordered chaos". That emerging result blooming up in watercolor:
Mr Gurney making the best out of an "emergency"..;-)

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Rich. That's my garbage collector uniform, and those stripes glow in the dark, helpful safety device for night painting.

Micah, I love that expression: "Live or die by the wash."

Wendy, I love the LA Arboretum, and used to paint there when I was an art student.

Truepinkas, yes, the first and most important decisions for me when I paint outdoors is what to simplify, because I can never begin to get it all.

Thanks, Novice and Cynthia.

Etc, Commercial products like prints for the home were the very farthest things from my mind as I did the personal study in my sketchbook. I was thinking of line, color, life, death, spring, and time, and just trying to learn to see better. If people put pictures of flowers in their home or on greeting cards, perhaps it is because it reminds them of such thoughts, and isn't that a good thing?

Mike Porter said...

Love the Sargent quote...just think if a master like him said this, then...!!!