Project Friday: Direct Brush Painting and Some More Green

March 16, 2018
Direct brush painting using greenish umber and azure blue and one of the browns on my test palette. (I didn’t write it down but I think it’s Schmincke’s Spinel Brown.)

In Monday’s post I wrote about how I am pushing myself to use more greens. Greens aren’t just for landscapes (which is good because I don’t do many landscapes). If you look closely you can often find green tones in people’s faces.

But you can also abandon realistic color and go in with a variety of greens as I’ve done in the images of today’s post.

In both of these images I used greenish umber, a little bit of Azure blue, and then some of the various browns I’ve been testing.

Why work directly with a brush? It’s fun, you don’t have the ink or pencil lines staring you in the face. Also, if you use pigments that are non-staining it’s relatively easy to lift and get back to  some highlights—though in this first image I was able to save the white of the paper pretty much everywhere I wanted it.

Another reason I like working directly with a brush and watercolor is that it’s like drawing with the brush pen, except instead of ink you are using watercolor and because it’s watercolor you can more readily control the value of the wash you’re putting down. Of course when I sketch with a brush pen and want lighter values I can change those values by having a water brush in my hand to pick up dilute ink right off the tip of the brush pen, but then I have two pens in my hand. Sometimes you just want some color.

Another direct brush painting withe greenish umber, azure blue, and a bit of red (didn’t note down the pigment).

Typically I will start with some sort of light wash that is a gesture of the head that I want to do. I’ll put in a brow line as you can see in the second image, this washes across the eye area. (It’s not the wash of color on the forehead, which came later.) 

In the second sketch you can also see that I pushed the ear back a little bit more from it’s first placement. This approach just seems to give me a little bit more adjustment time.

And I can build values like at the eyes and eyebrows in stages, and get more varied color in the beard, instead of shades of gray with ink.

I encourage you not only to try some greens this weekend (or whatever color you’ve been avoiding) but also to do some direct brush painting.

Another reason I like to work this way, and it’s an important one I almost forgot to mention—is that you don’t have the ink lines in your view conflicting with your assessment of an area’s value. When you squint you see the paint value and not the ink value.

For me, when I work this way, it seems that I am making value judgements more uniformly across the whole surface, working forward through the layers, instead of jumping around and chasing value. Part of that of course it due to the fact that when I work this way I’m often working monochromatically, but it seems the impression I take away even when doing full color sketches this way.

Tip: It’s easiest to work this way on a heavily sized sheet of watercolor paper—easier to lift off color that landed where you don’t really want it to be.

Arches Watercolor paper of course works for this, but so does Fabriano Artistico and many other watercolor papers. You can also work on gessoed board as I did here. I also enjoy working in this fashion on many brands of plate bristol and illustration board. Canson Illustration Pads are a less expensive option for a smooth paper that you can work on in this fashion.

Unfortunately when I went to give you a like for the Canson Illustration pads I found that Blick says they are unavailable. When I search I get some manga pads from Canson and can’t tell if it’s the same paper. All I can say is my pads looked like those pictured in the photo at this Blick link. If the pads you find don’t look like this I can’t vouch for it.

Try a bunch of papers to see which work best for you and the amount of lifting you want to do. 

Use non-staining watercolor pigments so that lifting will be easier.

I also recommend that you start with an inexpensive brush. You might be quick to go into lift-off mode without switching brushes when you first start doing this—and that will ruin your good brush.

Here’s another post you might like to look at. I start  with brush pen and wash and move to direct brush sketching in the second image.  I point this post out because in that second image of Tabitha I move the back of her head and her ear out as I go, checking my spacing and realizing that it’s got to expand. (This may happen to you too if you start from the inside and work out, instead of the other way around!)

I also point to that post because I use magenta for that sketch. It’s not the easiest to lift off but it is a nice light value that is readable. Starting with very light washes of yellow would be very difficult to see and build on! But using a bright color like magenta is not appealing to some artists and viewers, who prefer more natural colors. For the same reason working in blues can be problematic. I like to work in those colors, but the general consensus is to work with sepia and earth tones, many of which lift easily too. In fact it is easier to judge your values when working with sepia. So if you are having difficulty with your values switch colors and see how that helps you out.

Get busy painting!


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