Study Without Ink

It’s a habit of mine to always use ink pen to outline or accent my paintings.

In my dépanneur study, I definitely abused this habit and went a little overboard.

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Dark and detail cluttered.

In my light and simplicity study, I used it minimally, but wanting to keep it simple had me compromising the quality as I went quickly.

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Impressionistic and simple, but a little too much so.

So this time around I decided I’d ditch the ink altogether and see where I got by relying solely on my watercolour pencils and gouache highlights.

I’ve been wanting to sketch at Mount Royal Park for a while now, and when the opportunity arose to head over to the Sunday Tams on top of it, it seemed like the planets had aligned. There was no question of subject this time either: I’ve had my eye on the George-Étienne Cartier Monument for a while now.

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George-Étienne Cartier Monument at Parc Mont Royale, Montreal.

Thus, here’s a study in 6 steps.

Step #1: Laying the Foundation

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Step #1: Sketching the figure with a uniform colour to get a sense of the highlights and shadows.

Since I skipped the initial ink step, I went straight to sketching with my watercolour pencils. The benefit here is that if I mess up (ex. the ball she’s standing on), these pencil marks can fade as I go over them with my brushes. I decided to do the whole thing in a uniform forest green since it was a neutral colour found across the whole monument (particularly the angel). It was also easier to mark out the lights and darks this way by simply pulling the colour to the darker areas and leaving a lighter wash in what I’d later make my highlights. When it’s only one colour, the difference in value becomes more obvious.

Step #2: Add in Colour Tones

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Step #2: Adding colour tones.

Eventually you want to add some complexity though. Here I began sketching in light and dark brown to give depth to the image through contrast. I took a picture immediately before I used my brushes to blend in the colours because I wanted to show how easy it is with these pencils to map out your piece before you even need to put the brush to the page.

Step #3: Blocking in Highlights

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Step #3: Blocking in Highlights

I did this painting a little backwards again in that I probably should have blocked in the highlights before the darker browns, but because I had gouache with me this time, I cheated a little. To compensate, I used yellow to give a very bold, punchy brightness to emphasize the lightest areas. If you’ve ever done foundation contouring for your makeup (a fascinating art in and of itself), I use the similar principal of having very dark and very light blocks which I then blend for a smoother finish. You don’t have to have it blended – that’s just my personal preference – but if the lighting isn’t extreme and you want a more even look while still maintaining depth, I find this to be a good plan of action.

Step #4: Gouache and Filling Empty Space

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Step #4: Gouache and Background

Here I started adding in the gouache. Gouache can be tricky to handle as it’s only a margin less translucent than watercolour, so the first layer can leave you in dulled disappointment. Don’t be discouraged though! As soon as it dries, you can keep on layering until it’s as opaque as you need. If that fails you, my mom’s special trick is to use white acrylic paint which definitely covers up anything still showing through. I also went over the background in a pale blue wash with the intention of detailing it later. But I wanted the base colour in place so I can start refining the edges of the angel and pillar.

Step #5: Blending and Accenting

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Step #5: Blending and Accenting

So here I make good on the contouring promise: There’s still some extreme lighting on the pillar, but all the other highlights and shadows are fairly smooth. I spent almost two hours on this piece, meaning the lighting changed as I went and made it tricky to keep consistent just using my line of vision. That said I used some common sense and knowledge of shape to aid me. I also had some fun with the clouds. I didn’t want these to be too distracting, so I exercised minimalism and was pleased with the results.

Step #6: Final Shadow Accents

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Step #6: Final Shadow Accents

Though I was sorely tempted to add in some pen/ink outlines to at least the shadows, I resisted. My compromise was to use some unblended watercolour pencil overlays to add both accent and texture. The rough watercolour paper lent itself well to the illusion of stone and my hungry need for solid lines was sated. I actually was surprised at how much I liked the soft effect. In the end I think (and Andrea agreed) that ink would have clashed and therefore done a disservice to the medium.

Final Thoughts

Compared to the Study in Light and Simplicity, I far preferred the result of this one. It came out a bit cartoony for my taste, but I think that’s more to do with my realist skills than anything else. Perhaps next time I’ll practice in sharp angles and straight lines as opposed to having everything kind of curving and rounded.

What do you guys think?


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