I just received a copy of the video shot during last week’s demo.  It’s long, and also pretty entertaining.

Chris Carter Demo 2013 from John Wolff on Vimeo.

Thank you Essex Water Color Club!

I’ve been working on monochromatic watercolor portraits from photographic references.  It is painful.  I much prefer to work from life than to work from a photograph.  However, I am focusing on creating solid head form and I need to go back to square one.  Photos are the most efficient way to begin again.

Monochromatic watercolor studies

I began working from a pile of magazine clippings I found when cleaning out my files.  I have moved on to family albums.

Chakaia Booker

Pablo Picasso

I had to work into this one with a bit of white gouache to bring back some of the form I lost on the shadow side of the face.

Marcel Duchamp

This is my favorite.  I like the simplicity of line and value shapes.

1952. My father pointing out to us where our house would be built.

I’m the little one in the snowsuit, staring at the ground.  There was a big back hoe behind my dad in the photograph.  As much as I love land moving equipment, it would have complicated the shapes if I included it.

Self-portrait as a baby

After two days of monochromatic painting using ivory black, I had to dip into color.  I look a bit cross-eyed in this painting.  I was feeling a bit cross-eyed as I painted it.

The inspiration for my focus on improving skills at portraiture came from the trouble I have painting female musicians during the blues jams.  Regardless of age, female faces are generally softer, the transitions of planes and forms are more subtle than than male faces.  Originally, I didn’t care that much about creating a likeness when I paint in the dark at pubs, I was more concerned about capturing a sense of the musicians movements and energy.  When I did capture a likeness, I felt a great sense of satisfaction.  I want more of that feeling.  So ….. it’s back to the drawing board to refresh and improve my portraiture skills.

A full week of paintings and drawing all day, every day made a significant difference when painting at the Blues Jam last night.

Jim Barden, Blues Harp Player

The primary triad color scheme happened on its own.  I felt like I had crossed paths with an old friend.  Slightly neutralized yellow, red and blue make for a lovely, yet strong image.

Painting: drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s #41 Brown (2012), followed by watercolor

Warmth of skin tones work backward toward cooler shadows against the wall.

Peter Whipple playing Harp

The stage lights at The Grisly Pear in the Village flush the skin tones with the warmth of orange.  I like the way the colors transition from the skin tones to the dark red / violet of the shadow.  This turns out to be an extended analogous color scheme spanning the color wheel from yellow / orange to red / purple.

Sketch:  Painted live during the Ed Sullivan Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear held every Monday night, 107 Macdougal  New York, NY. Drawn first with black ink using dip pen, followed by washes of watercolor.

Dominant complements of red and green are tied together with high key (light value) complements of yellow and purple.

Lisa Parry at the Blues Jam

Using watercolor and ink together allows for things to happen on their own.  Colors can bleed into one another, blurring edges beautifully and mixing to just the right color to allow a sketch to come to life.  The red watercolor mixed with the Blue Nose Bear ink to produce a wonderful, subtle (and pale) purple suggesting a slightly shadowed lower face and neck.  It did not bleed enough to reach the cheek and side of the forehead, nor the tip of the ear.  Here, the yellow suggests a bit of light hitting the face.

Sketch: Drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s Blue Nose Bear ink, followed by watercolor squeezed from a tube.

Power is restored, paintings scanned and ready for posting!  It is, however, still raining ….

Arne Englund, Steve Decker and Rob Fraser

Sometimes it helps to have a low level of energy.  When I painted these last week, I was halfway through our power outage from Hurricane Irene.  All fourteen paintings done that night during the Blues Jam express a put-it-down-and-leave-it attitude.  Shapes are either united by the proximity of their colors or accentuated by their difference in temperature (warm or cool) and value.  I found that I left many of the figures unpainted, allowing the background color to define the figure as a simple shape.

Steve Decker on Drums

I’m happy when I go home with a painting of a drummer.  So often they are blocked from view.  I especially like the transition from warm to cool colors in this painting of Steve.  When painting like this with watercolor I feel that the paint and I are partners.  I allow the paint to spread and mix on the paper and the watercolor allows me to respond to the music and the energy in the room without getting fussy.

Paintings: drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by strokes of watercolor

One of my favorite paintings from this week’s Blues Jam…

Justine Gardner, Musician

Justine is a delight to paint whether she is on stage playing bass or sitting at a table sipping wine.

Nothing complex here.  The ink line is simple and direct.  The watercolor washes are simple and direct, an analogous color scheme at its most basic level, yellow, yellow/green, green/blue.

Drawn first with black ink using a dip pen, followed by strokes of watercolor

When painting in the dark it is difficult to know exactly how I’m mixing my colors.

Bill Lance playing saxophone at the Blues Jam

The stage lighting at the Tuesday Night Blues Jam often directs my brush into the strong yellows and reds both as background color and as flesh tones.

My palette usually consists of cadmium yellow light, lemon yellow, aurolean yellow, cadmium orange, cadmium red, alizarin crimson or Red Violet, Cerulean Blue, French ultramarine blue and dioxazine purple.  This week I squeezed out a bit of cobalt violet, a beautiful, slightly opaque pigment.

As the evening progressed I noticed that my tendency was to work with analogous colors, the cobalt violet blending with each of the other colors to create lovely transitions.  At the same time, the paintings asked for a bit of deviation from the violet variations.  Green, my last choice for just about any painting, came to the rescue as a muted, neutral mixed (I think) from french ultramarine, aurolean and a touch of cobalt violet and perhaps a bit of something else that was on my small palette.  Even in the dark I could see that the green was playing its part well in the paintings, supporting the other colors and letting them shine rather than taking front stage as green often does.  I will have to explore the possibilities of using a neutral, olive green in more of my work.

Painting of Bill Lance playing saxophone: drawn first in black ink using dip pen, followed by washes of watercolor.  Painted on location during the Tuesday Night, Todd Wolfe Blues Jam at the Larry Holmes Ringside Restaurant in Easton, PA.

Allowing colors to mix wet in wet on the paper produces wonderful transitions in color that cannot easily be achieved by mixing pigments on a palette.

Scott Young playing at the Blues Jam

My palette consisted only of yellow, red and blue.  The variations of purples and greens came from the pigments mixing on the paper with each other as well as with the black ink that I used for the initial drawing.  I find when I use only enough water to allow a slow, creeping flow, the colors still stay pure in large areas.

Sketch drawn first with black ink using dip pen, followed by wet-in-wet watercolor.

Color doesn’t need to be complex to be strong.

Dutchman playing Harmonica

Portrait of Dutchman playing harmonica at the Blues Jam in Easton.

Black ink (dip pen) line drawing followed by washes of red, blue and yellow watercolor.

Every now and then I succeed with capturing the spirit of a musician with simple line and color.  It is for those moments that I show up every Tuesday night at the Blues Jam.  When I saw Dutchman in the room last night I stayed longer just for the opportunity to paint him.  He usually arrives late and my paints are already packed up.

The ink lines are even more abbreviated than usual.  The watercolor washes began somewhat neutralized on the palette after the night of painting.  They mixed even more, wet in wet on the hot press paper, blending to a rich display of variations.  Though the palette is simple, yellow, red and blue, the diluted wash of the shirt and the yellow of the arms (both high key in value) play against the dark values of the red and blue providing a full spectrum of both color and value.

As much as I love my fountain pens, the flexible tip of the dip pen is essential for these live sketches of musicians.