Mar 16, 2017

The Challenge - Simplify Complex Backgrounds: Drawing & Painting Tips


The Challenge: Simplify the Complex
 You hear this all the time when it comes to drawing and painting.  What does it mean and how does it work?  The big question.

Meet my Log Mates
I was visiting Riefel Bird Sanctuary last fall. It was one of those gorgeously sunny, cool days. Walking the trails was a treat.  Birds and ducks were gathered in all the sunny spots, feeding on the bits in the soft mud.  Others were basking in the sunlight.  It felt so warm it seemed like we were back in summer.  This pair was tucked away in their own special pool.  I really loved the way the logs enveloped them and the long grasses created their own special safe place. I wanted to capture it in a painting.
Log Mates - 12 x 16 Watercolour - Available
There was the challenge. . .

Yes. Painting the heron and duck is my forte, even the logs are quite manageable. But the background grasses - the problem.  I wanted to do more than just suggest the background.  The mesh of grasses really created their wall and I wanted them to be there. The painting percolated for a while till I had a plan. 

My Plan . . .

Lay in a wash and then add frisket for grasses.  Then add more washes and repeating as I went. Seemed like a good plan so I started.  

First wash went well. Dropped in all the colours I planned to use, keep the value light. Let them mix and mingle.  Great things happened.  Started with the frisket.  I knew right away I was in trouble. This was going to be too fiddly and detailed for a background.  I needed to work with bigger tools to get my grasses, create some depth and still keep it simple. 

I grabbed a wax stick. (Clear wax used for canning)  This gave me wide strokes to simulate the grasses.  It was easy to simulate the gentle lines of movement.  The wax resist meant I could get broad strokes but still lay loose washes over the whole area.  This would keep me from fiddling and getting the background too detailed.  I was away.  Glazed with my colour again.  Added more wax grasses.  Glazed again.  Waxed some more.  
Details of  Log Mates - Bottom left corner shows the first wash. Top area is after 2 more glazing layers. 
After 5 layers I had enough value changes to give my grasses depth: Nice little dark holes among the branches but still lots of light blades.  I then touched up a few areas close to the water's edge and close to my birds to give a sense of tight detail.  It was done.  I was very excited with the glowing reds and yellows in the grasses and way the grasses became lost in their reflections.  It all helped to create this tiny little world, hidden in the bushes.  My Log Mates were done.

Oh, what about the wax, you ask?  
I placed paper towels over the waxy areas and ironed with a warm iron.  It lifts off nicely.  A wax resist doesn't give you a crisp, clean line like frisket but maybe that is a good thing.  In my case I wanted things soft and muted, after all it is the background.

For more information on painting backgrounds with glazing see Painting those Pesky Backgrounds 

See more on the story of Log Mates here.

Do you find complex backgrounds a challenge to simplify?  What works for you?

Special Opportunity to get some drawing help: 

Come join me at the Expressions Art Gallery, Maple Ridge.  There is only room for 3 people at each session so contact me to register.

     Drop-In and Draw with Wendy Mould, AFCA:    

      Tues, Mar 28, April 1 Tues, April 4, 10-12pm & 1-3pm
       Expressions Art Gallery, 227 & Lougheed Hwy, Maple Ridge.
       Bring your sketchbook and your project and come draw.  I will be happy to give you a few pointers as you work on your drawing.  $15 Pre-Registration Required. Contact Wendy 

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Brenda Hill CDM said...

Nice one Wendy, love your birds

Wendy Mould AFCA said...

Thanks Brenda, the herons are such a beautiful bird and such a treat to see them when I am out walking.