Archive for September, 2012

Many watercolor artists who run workshops have a style that makes it very easy for people who can’t draw.  In fact, the dominant reaction to watching a demonstration done by the most successful on these guys is “Heh, I can do that even if I can’t draw”.  For example, Ted Wesson often got that reaction.

by Ted Wesson

On the other hand, they  actually compose and draw very well, but they don’t begin with a careful drawing in the demonstrations.  Like many oil painters they “find” the drawing in the paint.  This is a successful way to attract people to a workshop, but in fact behind every really good watercolor painting is a really good drawing even those that look easy to accomplish.  You will find that, when you learn to draw, it will be faster than any other way to get a preliminary image on the paper which I am going to review below.

Anyway, suppose you really can’t draw, what should you do?   There are several separate problems.

1. First you have take a photo of the scene.

2.  then you have to enlarge the photo image to the size of the paper you want to use.

2. Third, you have to transfer that image to the paper.

On Cameras

Many people have expensive and bulky camera.  The adage is that the camera you have on you when you want to take a picture is the best camera.  Smart phones generally fit this condition best of all.  I’m of the opinion that, for the purposes about which we are talking, smart phones are sufficient.  In case, you do not know, my iPhone camera zooms in very well. Since I am only interested in an outline and a general idea of the scene, this kind of camera is enough.

I think it’s imperative to also do a sketch –even if you can’t draw– in addition to taking a photo.  The sketch should probably have a frame drawn in beforehand so you can see how the subject relates to the edges.  The purpose is not to use the sketch to make a drawing on the watercolor paper, but to help you see, think and compose.

enlarging your photo to the size of the paper

squaring up

The classical way to enlarge a sketch or photo is to “square it up”.   This is used by artists who can draw incidentally.   In it’s simplest incarnation this means drawing even squares on your photo or sketch and squares on the final paper you are going to use.   It’s been done since before the common era, but it’s harder than you think particularly if you want to keep the proportions the same although often that doesn’t matter.    here is a very nice PDF on how to do it “geometrically” without measuring and calculating, that is by just drawing lines.  I also have a post here on how to do it in detail.

enlarging your photo

You can just send your photo off to a photo printing place via the internet or bring it in to the local drug store, but it will not be the right size, and it is expensive to enlarge photos to big sizes.

The alternative is”Tiling” software.

Like the tiles that are on the walls of most bathrooms, there is software that places an image on many sheets of paper.  The sheets of paper are considered the tiles.  The most expensive and complicated tiling software comes with professional programs, but there is one that works on Macs that is inexpensive. here   It’s called “Imprint Studio”.  This is what I have used particularly for a very large “mural” sized painting, but it will work with any size you choose.  You just drop your image on it and then choose the size.  It then prints the image on several sheets of paper on your printer.  You take these sheets of paper and cut and paste them together.  Sometimes the break between pieces of paper comes at a critical point like right down the middle of someones face, but you can move where this takes place.

Ted Wesson’s watercolor as it appears in Imprint Studio

The Ted Wesson watercolor above would appear on 4 sheets of paper.  There would be a margin of white paper around each of the four sheets which would have to be cut away.

transferring the image to the paper

1. You can build a light box.  140 lb watercolor paper is translucent enough to show a drawing underneath it if there is a strong light shining up through the two pieces of paper.  There are quite a few helpful sites that you can access by using the search term “build your own light box tracing” that will show you how to do it.   It’s important to include “tracing” in the search terms because light box also means a box for putting some small object in that you want to photograph.

You can use a frame with glass in it to incorporate into a design like that below.

from “Canadian Home Workshop”

You can, of course, buy a ready-made light box but, for a big sheet of paper, it would cost hundreds of dollars.

I think this is preferable because you actually draw the image and can have decent line quality.

2.  You can use transfer paper.

Transfer paper does not leave you with a good drawing, and you will want to go over the rather unattractive marks to make them more like a drawing.  This introduces an additional step.

Saral transfer paper comes in several colors, but you will want the “graphite” one which makes a mark with the same stuff you pencil does.  It is not like the old “carbon paper” which was very waxy and would ruin your watercolor.

An alternative to transfer paper is to take a soft pencil and on the back of the paper cover the lines with graphite.  This is a substitute for transfer paper.  You can now turn the paper over, position it on the paper you are going to use, and trace the image.

That’s it.  You now would have an image on the paper.  The image would be determined by the photo, which is not a good thing.  You really want to be able to change things radically.  Make some objects larger, change the location of some other things, maybe put something from another photo in this image, etc.   If you are very good with image editing software like Photoshop you could do that on the original photo.  You can also cut and paste from one Image Studio printout to another.  But once again, when you finally start to draw, it’s much easier.

I’ve written about this before so I won’t bore you, but drawing is not a mechanical skill but the ability to see.  The branch of the tree you are looking at is much more complicated in the way it twists and turns than you are going to draw it unless you look at it many times.  So, if someone says to me that he or she can’t draw, I reply “That’s because you’re not looking.”

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