Saturday, June 30, 2012

Red Hibiscus… With Girl

12.5 x 15 inches
watercolor on paper

Kidding!  Haven’t decided on the painting’s title yet.  Was just playing around with the article title and thought I probably should acknowledge that I am aware some of you may be thinking that I am stuck on hibiscuses with them being mostly my output lately.  Partly true.  Could not help myself.  I had not realized there were so many color varieties for this flower that it makes me want to experiment with the color mixes whenever I get my hands on a new variety.  The second reason is because I get requests for hibiscus paintings.  Win/win for me.  I get to paint what I like often.


Let me introduce you to Morgana, my niece.  She was accompanying me around their garden as I scouted for flowers  when the reference photo for this painting was taken.  Not many are probably aware but perfect reference photos do not usually just happen by chance.  Most blooms have a mind of their own and usually pose themselves so that they stand out like divas from their peers.  Perhaps a quirk of evolution... survival of the prettiest.  More often than not, as I like painting flowers in their natural setting, I would find myself fixing and posing the flower/s on the spot.  I was doing exactly that with the red hibiscus here.  The flower was quite large and looked velvety red.  it was also the sole bloom at that time from that particular plant.  So when my niece suddenly placed herself in front of the camera and pulled on this bloom, my first reaction was to panic.  I have just spent several minutes tucking this branch here, this leaf there, and I thought she was going to snap the flower off thinking to help me by just handing the thing to me.  So I was saying…no…no…no… and then realized she was carefully posing with it.  Feeling relieved, I took her picture.  When I looked at the camera display, I realized, wow... she’s quite a photogenic kid.  The lighting seemed perfect too.  Sunlight was coming from behind the foliage highlighting her hair in places and there was a lot of reflected colors.  It is a good thing she’s not shy around the camera and was game when I gave her instructions… look this way, hold, now smile when I tell you to… the kid is a natural model.  I exercised artistic license though and later changed her ornate headband to a plain white one when I painted it.  She was also wearing a black top with a checkered green and peach pattern which I changed to plain unadorned white for two reasons:  To make sure the outfit would not pull attention from her face and also because the lighter color would suit a child better.  Originally, I was planning to use a very simple background for this painting.  So it would be just Morgana and the red flower.  But as I started to put the initial washes for the arm that she was holding the bloom with, I realized her body position and gesture would look unnatural and strained if I did not include into the painting a hint of why she is posed like that.  So I included the leaves and the upper part of the plant that the flower is attached to.  At the same time, I was aware that if I made the plant too detailed, it may compete for the viewer’s attention.  I used more definition for the leaves specially the one on top that was pushing against her hair.  I just hinted at a branch and some leaves on the lower right side just to suggest an anchor for the rest of the plant.  Subtle enough not to lead the viewer’s eye out of the painting.


I finished the sketch for this portrait and had the drawing already transferred to the paper months ago.  But I only put paint to paper two weeks ago.  It was because I was at a loss as to how to paint our skin color.  Most instructional books have color suggestions for fair and dark skin but not our race's usual color which is "morena" - a sort of golden brown.  I have just finished another painting, Red Hibiscus, when I noticed I still had a lot of clean colors left over.  It made me remember a conversation I had with my friend Erika who is also an artist.  She shared her morena color with me.  While what I had on the palette was not exactly the colors she shared with me, I got the concept from it.  I remembered Morgana's drawing and decided if I was to swim in cold water (having painted my last portrait so long I feel like I've forgotten everything), better to get over the initial shock by jumping right in.

The idea is a basic brown mix to which you add blue, red, or yellow depending on whether you will use it to highlight, darken or just to add a glow.  This method may also remind you of Jan Kunz's method and you are right.  She is one of my earliest influences.  I received my knowledge about crevice darks, reflected colors, highlights and general watercolor knowledge from her books and videos.  I highly recommend her instructional books and videos.  Back to my color mixing.  I made my basic brown mix from cadmium orange, french ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson.  I used for my yellow, red and blue mixing colors cadmium yellow, permanent alizarin crimson, french ultramarine blue.  But have fun experimenting with different colors.  I am reserving Erika's exact trio for my next portrait painting.  Thank you Erika!


Red Hibiscus
8 x 8 inches
watercolor on paper

This red hibiscus will be auctioned off this September for a cause my high school batch is supporting.  Batch 88, Assumption College.

Colors used for Morgana's portrait and for the Red Hibiscus are:  Cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, permanent alizarin crimson, French ultramarine blue, permanent sap green, ivory black, winsor violet, and winsor green.

My colors were a combination of transparent and semi-opaque colors.  The trick for  not producing “mud” is patience.  I dry completely between layers.

Another thing I noticed is that some of the colors look different on the photograph.  When viewed in real life, the flesh tones in the painting look very soft and well blended.  However, in the photograph, I can see color patches with distinct edges overlapping.  I am already aware that some colors like Cobalt blue behave this way in front of the cam.  This probably is related to some colors being transparent and some opaque.

Well that is it for now.  Til next.

Erika Nelson’s blog