DANIEL SMITH Watercolor for Camping and Hiking

DANIEL SMITH Staff Rave:  Jodi Steele’s Watercolor Travel kit for Camping and Hiking When setting up supplies for painting with watercolors on the go, I was so inspired by Brenda Swenson’s Forbidden Fruit artwork – that I had to put together a set of my own. Initially I created a set using almost the same colors with a Heritage palette and it was great, until I took it camping and tried to put it into my day pack, with my … Continue reading

DANIEL SMITH Serpentine Genuine, a PrimaTek Watercolor

Serpentine Genuine Watercolor by DANIEL SMITH with Serpentine mineral

Our DANIEL SMITH Serpentine Genuine, Extra Fine Watercolor is part of our PrimaTek Watercolor line, which are paints made from minerals.  We make our Serpentine Genuine Watercolor and Watercolor Stick from the Serpentine mineral we import from Australia.  This particular Serpentine mineral variety is an exceptionally beautiful soft green with lavender Stichtite (a purple mineral) inclusions.  Once we have ground the Serpentine and removed the unneeded minerals, like the Stichtite, from the matrix, we have our mineral pigment ready for … Continue reading

Burnt Bronzite Genuine, a PrimaTek Extra Fine Watercolor by DANIEL SMITH, plus Video

DANIEL SMITH Burnt Bronzite Genuine, a PrimaTek Extra Fine Watercolor

  Burnt Bronzite Genuine is one of our DANIEL SMITH PrimaTek, Extra Fine Watercolors which are paints made from ground minerals.   Burnt Bronzite Genuine is made from the mineral Bronzite that has been heat treated to darken the mineral, then finely ground for pigment and made into our exciting paints as you’ll see in the video below.  Besides the paint we make from Burnt Bronzite and Bronzite, the Bronzite mineral is also used for jewelry, particularly beads and polished cabochon … Continue reading

Theresa Goesling and Cindy Briggs Demonstrate in Video, Painting with DANIEL SMITH Neutral Tint

Cindy Briggs and Theresa Goesling from Make Every Day A Painting.com, have been fans of DANIEL SMITH for years and, as professional artists and international watercolor workshop instructors, they both paint and teach with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors.  What was missing on their palettes was a color that could quickly and easily, tone down colors and make rich darks, a color that “neutralizes” other colors.Theresa and Cindy asked DANIEL SMITH to develop a neutral tint, a color that has been used for … Continue reading

Introducing DANIEL SMITH Neutral Tint Extra Fine Watercolor!

DANIEL SMITH Neutral Tint  Extra Fine Watercolor

We’d like to introduce our new DANIEL SMITH Neutral Tint Extra Fine Watercolor and show you a video of our Neutral Tint being used to darken and tone down colors! We developed our Neutral Tint at the suggestion of two watercolor artists, Cindy Briggs and Theresa Goesling who teach their MakeEveryDayAPainting Watercolor Workshops here in the Pacific Northwest and abroad in Europe.  What is Neutral Tint?  It’s a quick and reliable way to create rich, luminescent colorful darks and neutrals … Continue reading

INKSMITH: Designing and Painting Semi-abstractions: The Close-Focus Watercolors of Karlyn Holman by Diana Randolph

  “Designing and Painting Semi-abstractions: The Close-Focus Watercolors of Karlyn Holman” by Diana Randolph What can artists paint when they love both realism and abstraction?  Karlyn Holman suggests blending these two styles to create semi-abstract paintings. When this Wisconsin artist sees her painting developing too closely toward realism she focuses more on the elements of design, using shape, color, value, texture and line. Movement also plays an important role in her work. And when her painting looks too abstract, she … Continue reading

INKSMITH: “Naumburg Cathedral: A Watercolor Demonstration Using Grisaille” By Molly Hashimoto

  “Naumburg Cathedral: A Watercolor Demonstration Using Grisaille” By Molly Hashimoto Last summer I traveled to Saxony in eastern Germany. There I visited the centuries-old city of Naumburg to see the cathedral and the famous stone carvings of the medieval artist known as the Naumburg Meister. Carvings of the twelve cathedral founders, including Uta and Ekkehard, encircle the west choir, exhibiting a startling psychological realism seen nowhere else in 13th-century art. They look as if they might step down from … Continue reading

INKSMITH: What Not to Paint by Tom Hoffmann

Blue Doors by Tom Hoffmann

Painting successfully from life or from photos is largely a process of deciding what not to include. Whatever your subject, when you set up to paint there is far more information in front of you than you should try to put into the picture. Our eyes can detect an infinitely subtle range of value, color and texture, but to include even half of all we can see would result in an over-painted image that leaves nothing for the viewer to do.

The paintings I admire most employ a real economy of means. They let me feel the presence of the subject without being overly specific. If a picture shows me more than I need to know I begin to feel excluded, as if I might not be part of that artist’s intended audience. In the best work there is a partnership between the artist, the medium, and the viewer that relies on our shared experience as visually sensitive people. I assume that my hypothetical audience feels the same, so I try to give them the kind of experience I look for myself.

Simplify by focusing on essential elements

Just because I can see something doesn’t mean I have to put it in the painting. Too much information tends to subvert the illusion of space in a painting. The task is to find ways to simplify the flood of information, especially in areas of the image that are not meant to draw the viewer’s eye. Looking directly at the source of the image (the photo or the actual view) is not the same as looking at a painting. As your eye moves from place to place in the source, you can often see plenty of detail wherever you look. Bright whites and very dark darks may be visible far into the distance, but painting the full value range in the background would give that part of the scene as much visual importance as the intended focal point. The background would come forward in the picture plane, confusing the sense of space.

How, then, do we choose what to show specifically and what to merely infer? Finding the essential elements of a subject depends, of course, on the individual artist’s preferences, but for the sake of generalization, let’s assume we want to display a convincing sense of the substance of the subject, an illusion of real space, and a coherent feeling of light.

Value study for Blue Doors

  Value: the most important variable

Of all the variables at work in the process of painting a realist image, the most important by far is value. Your use of color can be fanciful or moody and your drawing can wander far from accuracy, but as long as the value relationships are true the image will be solid. Starting out with a five value monochrome sketch of the subject is a good way to discover the basic structure of the painting. Limiting the image to white, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and black forces me to simplify the flood of information. I chose Carbazole Violet for the sketch of “Blue Doors”—a color that can get dark enough to represent black. Simple as it is, the quick sketch serves as a reference point for decisions about where more subtlety might be needed and where a very general treatment is sufficient.

Reviewing this sketch, several things become clear. First of all, this is a crowded image. Almost all the activity happens within a relatively shallow space. The array of rectangles, ovals, lines and cylinders float about separately on the surface of the page, held together by the matrix of the wall. For that reason, I won’t focus on the complicated texture of the wall itself—there’s already enough going on in that plane. I’ll find a way to suggest the richness of the texture without competing with the clarity of the main shapes.

Next, the darkest darks are sparse, but very important. Just a few slim strokes distributed across the surface provide significant depth and solidity. Since they are so potent I know I will be tempted to make lots of them. It would be easy to overdo it. When I’m painting the final layer I usually have to remind myself to step back after the first few strokes and ask if that’s enough.

A convincing image in five values

It is always fascinating to discover that just five values of a single color can go so far toward realizing a convincing image. In this case, there are only a few places where I feel the need to be more subtle or specific. The doors, which attracted me to the scene in the first place, want greater depth and substance. Here, I painted the central door with just three layers: medium gray, dark gray and black. The final version would benefit from a first layer of the light value, with a few areas left as “holes” in the medium second layer. The doors should also be a bit darker relative to the wall to accentuate what little space there is in the picture.

The horizontal bands of sky and road can serve as a kind of frame for the whole image. They will contain all those separate forms, especially since the sides of the image are cropped in an offhand way. The sky is wide enough to hold its own, but that narrow ribbon of road along the bottom will need to be more obviously horizontal. I must remember to let the loose strokes that define it stay nice and flat.

Light to dark, general to specific

The fluid, transparent nature of watercolor suggests a logical painting progression that moves from light to dark and from general to specific. Before I begin the final painting I try to understand the subject as a series of layers that conform to this progression. I imagine a succession of transparent films that will add up to the full complexity of the image. Each layer has unpainted areas, or “holes,” that let the previous layer show through unchanged. Once again, the five-value sketch serves to guide my choices of what to do first.

A few basic questions help plan the painting

1. What is the lightest large area of the painting? In this case it’s clearly the wall, so I’ll start there.

2. Is there a single color I can lay down over that whole area? The warm buff tone of the stucco underlies most of the middle of the painting, but before I lay down that wash I need to ask another question.

3. Is there anything I need to paint around? I’m looking for places within the large form that shouldn’t have that buff as a first layer. The few whites identified in the value sketch must be retained. I also want to leave a highlight on the inset tile, so I’ll paint around that whole oval for now. I want to preserve the clarity of the blue in the doors, so even though they will be much darker than the wall I’ll leave them white, too. I mixed yellow ochre with buff titanium and laid it on quite wet, to give myself time to consider the next question.

4. Is there anything I should do while it’s still wet? Here’s my chance to suggest the complex texture of the wall without making the surface too busy. Touching other high value, nearly neutral colors into the first wash adds all the variety I need, and the soft edges ensure that it will not compete with the more distinct door and shadow shapes that will come later. In general, it is a good idea to put overall texture and complexity into the first layer, while it is still wet. The stains and spots on the stucco wall are a good example. Later, when a more specific layer, like the shadows of the signs, is laid on top of that general information, it serves to pull it all together.

Layer 1

  Laying in the layers

I recommend putting down the first layer everywhere in the painting before moving on to second and third layers anywhere in particular. Blocking in the entire image early in the process helps keep the whole picture tied together. I confess this is where I break my own rules most often, since I sometimes can’t resist seeing how the part I’m painting right now will look with the next layer on. Painting the shadows around the doors before the doors themselves have a first layer, for example, makes it very hard to feel the depth of the space within the scene. As soon as the first layer of blue is laid down, however, the wall begins to feel continuous and solid.

Layer 2

Once you have identified the relative importance of the different parts of your image you can decide how many layers should be used for each one. Distant mountains, for example, might need only a single light wash, while a building in the middle distance might need the full four-layer value range.Since the doors are the most complex part of this painting, let’s consider the progression of layers that created them. Before each layer is applied I ask my basic questions again. Looking at the door on the right you can see the lightest blue first layer (1, 2). Note that I have painted around the four rectangles that could not have blue as a base (3). Within that first wash there are also a few places where I chose to add color while it was still wet (4).

In the next image that same door now has a second, somewhat darker layer of blue. Here I wanted to preserve those four rectangles again, plus a bit of the first layer around them that will become the edges of the raised panels. Notice that this layer is smaller and more specific than the previous one. The brushstrokes that comprise it are all connected, but the wash is beginning to break into separate strokes.

Layer 3

Looking at the same area in the finished painting two more layers are visible. The cast shadow of the overhang corresponds to the dark gray in the value study. I have also added a few very specific strokes to represent the shaded sides of the raised panels.

As soon as I see that the current layer involves small, separate strokes I know I am approaching the right place to stop. Recognizing this moment may be the most important skill of all. It involves being able to look at your own painting as if someone else had painted it. Remember, it is better to err on the side of too little information than too much. After some time has passed and you can be more detached from the work you can always add the strokes that are missing.

Layer 4


Blue Doors by Tom Hoffmann

Now look at the door on the right in the finished painting and try seeing this process in reverse. I count four layers, each one smaller and darker than the one before.

Learn by looking

It is helpful to take an analytical look at paintings you admire to see how many layers are involved. See if you can tell what was done first, then next and next again. You may be surprised to find that it seldom takes more than four or five layers to reach a very convincing density and light. Many of Sargent’s seemingly detailed images are made up of only three layers. Much of his remarkably complex and fluid water is realized with only a first layer of vertical washes crossed by a second of horizontal strokes.

There will, of course, be some subjects that refuse to resolve into a simple series of layers, but as a general approach to simplifying your painting process it is an effective place to start. Onward and upward!

“Watercolor Painting: A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium” by Tom Hoffmann

Tom Hoffmann has been dedicated to painting and teaching watercolors for over thirty years. He is determined to elevate the public’s appreciation of this most challenging and rewarding medium. His work has been shown at the Seattle Art Museum, The Frye Museum, the Tacoma Museum of Art and the Park Avenue Armory in New York.  He is currently teaching at Gage Academy of Art   and has a book coming out in December 2012, called  “Watercolor Painting A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium”  HoffmannWatercolors.com

If you are local to the Seattle & Bellevue areas, DANIEL SMITH is hosting a Book Signing and FREE demos with Tom Hoffmann for his new book; “Watercolor Painting A Comprehensive Approach to Mastering the Medium” the weekend of December 15th & 16th, 2012. Please click for details:  Bellevue December 15th, 2012Seattle, December 16th, 2012

Past DANIEL SMITH Inksmith articles are being featured on the DANIEL SMITH Blog as a series for Artists who may have missed them when they were originally published, and to share this body of knowledge with all Artists.  We hope you’ll enjoy them!

This article was originally published in the Summer 2006 catalog.

~Deborah Burns

Theater by Tom Hoffmann


Video: Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine, a PrimaTek Watercolor, by DANIEL SMITH

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise is a beautiful gemstone for jewelry with the rich blue of desert skies, and we use it to make one of our DANIEL SMITH PrimaTek Watercolors!  This particular variety of turquoise comes from Arizona’s Sleeping Beauty Mines and is a gorgeous blue. I was fortunate to be given some of these stones and I made a necklace out of them that I wear often!  Our DANIEL SMITH Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine Watercolor, made from these stones, is … Continue reading

October Monthly Voting Gallery Winners, part of our 11th Annual DANIEL SMITH Art Contest!

  Congratulations to the October Monthly Voting Gallery Contest Winners, part of our 11th Annual DANIEL SMITH Art Contest!  We want to share with you, the 1st set of Monthly Contest Winners for our 11th Annual Art Contest in this slideshow showcasing their Artwork. Each of these winners will receive a $50 DANIEL SMITH Gift Certificate! We had 21 winners from our October Monthly Voting Gallery (these were voted on from winners from the September Weekly Voting Galleries) and we would like to … Continue reading

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