I've been thinking on this for a while now, because sketching directly on a canvas with watercolor ground is not a very satisfactory experience. Especially with fine point mechanical pencils. It works a little better with a more blunt softer lead. But it makes transferring sketches difficult.
I decided to try something I did long ago in college, back when I was doing intaglio printmaking. There's a technique called Chine-collé where you take some lightweight paper (like fancy Japanese rice papers) and bond it to a heavier surface for support.
I dug up some rice paper I bought a long time ago when my husband wanted me to teach him traditional Chinese brushwork. It's light, very porous, and extremely absorbent. I traced and refined my sketch on the rice paper.
I then took my canvas and with a wide flat brush applied a layer of watercolor ground over the whole surface.
While everything was still wet, I laid my rice paper sketch directly into the watercolor ground, making sure there were no air bubbles. I gently wet the upper surface. Can't brush it because the moistened rice paper was so delicate it tore and wrinkled very easily.
I let it dry overnight, and was very happy with the way the rice paper had adhered. I then took transparent watercolor ground (I've only used the White before. This is my first time using the Transparent) and painted a thick layer over the top of everything. This is where I am currently, letting that layer dry. I'll be applying another layer, and then sanding it smooth before painting.
Here's a smaller mini 3x3 inch canvas where I followed the same steps as I did on the larger canvas, in parallel. It's my test, to see how the paint will sit on the final surface. I only did one layer of ground on top of the rice paper for this small one, and There is a lot of absorbancy of the pigment, I think because the rice paper might still be exposed a little too much. But in general I'm pleased with how it's working out. I think the secondary layer of ground on my larger piece will fix any excess absorbancy.
I had been planning to do this piece for a while, based on the miniature 3x3" canvas painting I did a couple of weeks ago. And that in turn was based on a photo of my daughter. I don't often stick this close to reference photos, but in this case it was so nearly perfect that I strayed from my usual.
This painting was my first attempt at doing watercolors in larger scale on a canvas, prepared for that purpose with watercolor ground (produced by Daniel Smith). I prepped the canvas by painting two thick coats of the ground onto it, waiting 24 hours, then taking medium-fine sandpaper to it to get a nice smooth surface. I have always preferred my canvas to have minimal texture. I then sketched my image onto the canvas.
The first layer was painted with a 1 inch flat brush, very rough. Lots of liquid. Lots of ink. Lots of pigment. Lots of MESS! This is basically just blocking in some rough areas. I then let it dry overnight. The waiting is what I really hate. Because at this stage it looks horrible. Half my sketch lines get obliterated (because I forgot to lightly spray with a workable fixative before starting to paint), and I have no clue if things will work out or not.
Next morning I was able to start in on the finer details.
With a small brush, I started picking out whatever shapes and edges jumped out at me in the background chaos.
Worked my way around to the figure. Pale and luminous white under the trees. I waffled for a long time on whether to give her black hair like my reference, orange/red like the mini, or to leave it ghostly white.
And building up some thick watercolor ground on the lotus to give it a slight relief texture.
Bad lighting in this photo, but you can get a glimpse of the whole canvas.
My daughter's been on a coloring kick lately. And now that she discovered I can draw what she requests....
Well, for those of you with little girls who also love princesses, fairies, butterflies and flowers (or for the inner little girl in you), here's some downloads. Click on the images to access the pdf files for printing.
I spent the day at the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, at a workshop taught by Judi Pettite on the making of, and use of plant pigments in dyes and inks. To those of you who have been following me for a while, you know I'm a big fan of the natural plant pigments that Kremer Pigments used to sell. They've since discontinued that line. But something about plant pigments has really drawn me in. I've been meaning to try and make my own Nettle pigment at some point, and after this workshop, I definitely want to make it, as well as many others.
Generally, you take plant matter, make an infusion in water, reduce, dry, grind, to create pigment. From there, various binders can be added to create the paint medium of choice (Gum arabic, for watercolors). I was surprised at the range of plants that could be used, and rather pleased that one of the banes of my backyard gardening existence (oxalis) can be used to make a very pretty yellow color, simply by soaking the flowers in water for a couple of days.
Japanese maples can be used for a variety of colors ranging from browns and reds to purples.
Oak galls, or black walnut hulls can be crushed and soaked in water for a week, then boiled, reduced, and dried, for a deep brown or black.
The artist geek in me was very happy to play with all the bottles and jars of powders, pastes, and dyes.
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Watching a demonstration of how to apply the pigment and make it into a printmaking ink. This involved grinding and mixing with gum arabic, water, and sodium alginate (an emulsifier that adds a kind of tacky viscosity to the ink).
Experimenting. Eye-dropped some oxalis dye onto a wash. I liked how the yellow droplets gleamed like gold.
Further experimentation. Crow quill pen dipped into brazilwood ink, wet in wet with eye-dropped oxalis dye.
Playing with linocuts. Quick little birdy, charged up with indigo ink.
She is a creative force, coaxing forth growth, both the
physical evidenced in the unfurling leaves, and the spiritual, embodied
by the butterflies. She bathes in the life-giving warmth and light of
the sun. She is partnered in her dance and song of creation, with the
sun. She IS the sun.
"Effervesce" is a commissioned painting, meant to be a companion piece to "Lightness".
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Some of the in progress sketches:
Initial figure sketch & some various thumbnail ideas for the background and composition. The figure came pretty easily for this piece. Sometimes I have to struggle with the concept a lot more. Her pose is an echo of Shiva's dance of creation (and destruction).
Client wasn't really going for the background proposals, so I had another thought, which is what we ended up going with.
Scanned and pieced together sketches in photoshop to get the rough idea of the placement and proportion of various elements.