Combining Wet and Dry Media
Here’s one you might be familiar with. You’ve heard the old saying “oil and water don’t mix?” Well it’s precisely that reason that makes resist painting and drawing so attractive. Any time you mixed water-based media with oil-based media, interesting results can happen. For instance, laying a watercolor wash over an oil pastel drawing can have very interesting effects. The oil pastel resists the watercolor, which can only adhere to areas where this is no oil.
First draw your subject matter on the paper with the oil pastels. If you are using crayons, press hard! Take your time drawing and think about leaving some of the white paper showing. There is no limit to subject matter used for this lesson. Abstract scribbles are just as interesting as complex drawings sometimes! White oil pastel or white crayon will show up white when painted over – with lovely effects. When you are happy with your drawing begin painting over the whole paper with one or many colors of the watercolor paint. Make sure your brush is very wet. The oil from the pastels or wax from the crayons resist the watercolor paint and fill in the background beautifully.
A good thing to remember is that because of this tendency for oil-based media to resist, you should not use any water-based media over oil if you need it to stay put. Specifically, acrylics painted on top of oil paint will not adhere well. Oils on top of acrylics work much better.
How To See Tone
Being able to use tone is a really important skill for illustrators and animators - it helps create dynamic pictures and stops images looking flat. In representational drawing and painting, tonal value is even more important than colours; good paintings are always good tonal paintings.
• Tone defines the dimensional volume, whether it is full, round, or flat.
• Value describes the textures of an object.
• Tone conveys the contrast between the light and dark, and thus sets the mood in a painting.
Thinks about it; when you paint something, you really trying to mimic the effects of the light as it interacts with the objects in your painting. The transition between lights and darks on your canvas produces an illusion of three dimensions.
Due to the vagaries of the English language, ‘tone’ is an often misunderstood word, especially when used by artists, yet its meaning is very straightforward. Tone simply refers to how light or dark a colour appears to be. The importance of using the correct tonal qualities in a painting should not be underestimated.
Get it wrong and your painting will appear to be flat and lifeless; get it right and your work will sing! In representational painting, tone is essential in creating the illusion of form, space and depth; in more abstract paintings, tonal variations can be used very effectively to lead the eye around the work, creating movement and excitement.
It is not the colour that makes it look like an apple. It is the contour and the form, and tones or values are what make up the form. You could colour it blue or yellow, and it would still look like an apple if the tones are right. From this come the old sayings: “the value can go wrong even if the colour is right” and “use whatever colour as long as the value is right”. It really is true for representational painting.
Yet the simplicity of the meaning of the word belies the difficulties artists can experience in evaluating the tonal qualities of their subject matter. To accurately assess tone, one must temporarily ignore texture, shape, detail and even colour. This is much more easily said than done – thankfully, there are ways of making the job simpler.
Letting go of what we ‘know’ to be there is equally as important in evaluating tone as it is in drawing. Due to the phenomenon known as perceptual constancy, we can have difficulty in seeing what is actually in front of us. For example, in a room in which all the walls are painted the same colour we are aware that walls in shadow appear to be darker in colour than walls in bright sunlight.
However, because we know that the paint on the walls is all the same colour we have a tendency to under-estimate the difference. In addition, there are certain colours we perceive to be either dark (e.g. black, brown or purple) or light (e.g. white, pink or yellow).
Be certain that you are not confusing colour and tone. In certain light, a dark colour may need to be rendered as almost white in your painting; consider the shine on a conker. Similarly, the petal of a white flower may need to be rendered a very dark grey when seen in shadow. Our perception is so strong that even when you have discerned the need to use these tones, it can take courage to apply them to the painting.
How to see tone…
Artists need to overcome this if they are to use the correct tone in their painting. So, how do we learn to see what is there, rather than what we know to be there?
You will be creating images that use only Black and White.
Try squinting through your eyelashes. This will effectively reduce the mid-tones, leaving only the darks and lights.
This method is useful to assess where the very brightest brights and the darkest darks are, but it can be limiting. It is OK as a method to give yourself an overview, but it hinders the ability to define the subtleties of the mid-tones.
You will be creating images that use 2 colours - make sure the two colours are contrasting such as red and blue.
Again, try squinting through your eyelashes. This will effectively reduce the mid-tones, leaving only the darks and lights.
Layered images using using 2 colour + pure white.
Step one - mark the darkest and lightest points
First thing to do is pick the darkest point on your subject, and put a corresponding dark note on your painting. Then find the lightest light, and MATCH that. That gives you your tonal range, and every other tone will be judged in relation to these.
Step two - fill in the background
Once the two extremes of tone are stated, it's time to fill in the background. This should be done as evenly as possible.
Step three - fill in the base and main shadows
Although the tone blocks are put in with flat tone, the edges should be stated as carefully and accurately as possible, with particular attention to where they are sharp and where they soften and disappear.
Step four - lay in the main shadow blocks
These are also done with a flat, even tone. Simplifying the main shadow blocks and deciding where to end them is no easy task, and comes with practice.
Again, attention should be given to the edges, particularly where they meet the background.
Step five - put in the main light block
At this stage, you have your surface covered, and can begin to judge more carefully the RELATIONSHIPS of your tones, one to another.
It's important to note that I'm talking about the relationships between them, or the ratios here. I'm not MATCHING what I see, because your black could be red for example. So I'm trying to make sure that the light block reads as light, which means bringing down the surrounding tones. But I also have to make sure that the base still reads as black, as far as I can, so that means bringing them back up. Lots of push and pull. This stage should be slightly less complex on a raw umber monochrome, since the darkest tone will be almost black anyway.
Step six - work the edges
As in the previous stages, the task now is to concentrate on the edges where the tonal blocks meet, making them softer where there are smooth transitions, (indicating rounded transitions between planes), and harder where there is a sharp edge.
Harold also goes to some length to advise on how the brush should be held. Not near the tip, like a pen, that will reduce you to small, fiddly movements. Holding the brush as far down the handle as you can allows for grand, confident sweeps. Unless you have wobbly old arms like me, in which case you just get paint everywhere, and have to wipe it off again.
Step seven - final modelling and finishing
The last stage, of course, is putting in the finer modelling and highlights.
One of the strengths of this approach, I think, is that it forces you to work from the general to the specific, just like a Bargue drawing. This seems to me to be such a universally useful approach that I'm beginning to think that it's a basic tenet of producing good representational work.
You sometimes see people who work gradually down a picture, completely finishing each part before they move onto the next.This seems to lose the 'big picture' working like this, and the overall strength of the work suffers. There's nothing wrong with detail, but it must work within the entire picture, or it's just fiddling for fiddling's sake.
If your painting is still looking flat, the chances are that the tonal values are incorrect. Try any of the above methods to view your picture in monotone. It will quickly become obvious where you need to lighten or darken your picture. Do this as your painting progresses, giving yourself plenty of opportunity to make adjustments. When using a camera and photographs like this, do not forget to keep looking back and comparing what you see through the camera with what is in front of you. Over time, you will learn to see the tonal values without the aid of the camera.