Sunday, November 21, 2010

Watercolors and white paint (or lack thereof)

Meet Charlie. He is a terrier and chihuahua mix, weighing in at about 5 lbs. He is a white dog, which brings me to my topic: Painting whites in watercolor.

In watercolor, you don't use white paint. The white of the paper serves for the white areas in a piece. So, painting a fuzzy white puppy would not seem possible. Take into account that my palette is comprised of juicy, floral fruity, almost candy colors. It does not contain any browns, grays or black. Now, look at the painting again with these things in mind. I managed to paint a white dog.

Given that there are no true whites in nature, and a white dog is not going to be pure white, I started out by putting down an extremely light wash of palette mud, that is a trace of leftover brown mixture and water, until it looked cream in color. That softened what could have been too a high contrast between white and the shadows. The brown touches on his ears are a combination of something called "Dragon's Blood" and Indian yellow, and a touch of Sap green. The cool gray shadows are a mixture of Alizurin crimson, Sap green, Indian yellow and Royal blue, which make black. By adding more or less of each of these components, I can "weight" the black to be more warm or cool, and both are used here.

Underpainting played a part as well. The deeper shadow areas behind the dog were underpainted with Royal blue, because of the depth of the pigment and also because it is not sedimentary and won't cause the overlaid paint to separate. Some of the shadows on the dog, such as those on his belly and under his ears, were underpainted very lightly with Alizurin crimson to warm them.

The background is a personal departure for me. I shun warm colors as a background. Cool colors recede, while warm colors advance. The client wanted her cranberry couch behind him, so what to do? (The photo didn't quite capture this, but cranberry it is.) I decided that the only way this could work, and still recede, was to play with warm and cool shadows throughout. By marrying local color to the background (Royal blue, Dragon's Blood, Alizurin) there is a unity that pushes the red back away from the subject. The warm shadows on the face fall against the cooler shadow in the background, and vice versa. I think it works.

The result of painting a white dog with no white paint and no earth tones, is a little fella who seems soft enough to stroke and cuddle up with.