Artist gives final tips in watercolor series

By Page H. Gifford, Correspondent

For many of the Fluvanna Art Association members who attended the last in Troy Weidenheimer’s series on learning the basics of watercolor, watercolor truly lived up its reputation for being one of the most difficult mediums to master. He apologized to the group for what he called “throwing them into the deep end“ on this last project. But it was a test to see if anyone had truly learned what he had been teaching throughout the series.

He began by asking members, “How many of you nailed watercolor?” Many were hesitant to admit whether they felt they had or not. A proponent of practice, practice, practice, Weidenheimer described his method.

“I call it the Piñata Principle. I beat it to death until all the candy falls out, or in this case, when I am satisfied I got it right,” he said. “When it goes south, trash it and do it again. Don’t stop at making one, make five.” The group then began painting a beautiful but very flat red abalone shell – an excruciating subject to draw.

Since the shell was difficult to draw or paint at any angle, Weidenheimer suggested finding ways to position it, including lighting, raising it up for better viewing, rotating it or tipping it forward or away from the viewer for a more interesting shape.
“Every artist has to make these critical decisions before starting to paint,” he said. When broken down into its separate components, artists learn to figure out composition with more planning than off the cuff. The best format for the paper’s orientation, landscape or portrait, is often determined by the subject itself.

Background is also a question mark for many beginning artists: whether it should be warm or cool, dark or light, and what hues will bring out the color of the subject. This is where chroma, or the intensity of a color, comes into play to enhance the subject.
“For example, a low chroma (muted) red will emphasize a green subject,” Weidenheimer said. Then as painters progress, they must determine what to do with overall color. The ultimate goal is to figure out whether the painting will be more impressionistic or more representational of the subject.

Weidenheimer showed members some of his own attempts at painting the shell in various styles while experimenting with colors and backgrounds.

“Less experienced painters often unwittingly tackle subjects that are extremely difficult with transparent watercolor but would be relatively simple with gouache, acrylic or oil,” he said. He gave an example of a lot of little white flowers against a dark background. This would mean the painter would have to mask out every little flower to preserve the white areas or paint around it. He added that portraits are much more difficult in watercolor. “Before attempting what seems like a challenging subject to paint, Google watercolor painting of similar subjects online,” he said.

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