Monday, January 18, 2010
Myrna Wacknov Workshop
Myrna Wacknov is teaching her Beginning Portraits class for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society. If you like to do people and you enjoy Myrna's experimental approach to watercolor, take this class if you have the opportunity. Being raised in New England, there is a touch of the Puritanical upbringing that says it's sinful to have this much fun!
If you follow Myrna's blog, you will recognize Linda as one of Myrna's images. I painted Linda because Myrna likes my image of the Egg Lady, an old woman we saw in France. Most juried shows do not allow a piece of work done in a workshop under supervision, and Myrna did not want me to waste my image in class. She told me to practice the techniques and then do the Egg Lady. Thus I painted this image with Myrna's permission.
Myrna began the class by stating this workshop is more about drawing and less about painting, though we got to paint quite a bit. The first day was spent creatively learning about the proportions of a human face and how to design our painting. As Myrna pointed out, the photo is the reference, but you do not just reproduce the painting. You must apply design principles. She had us do 3 thumbnail sketches with different value patterns. She really liked my pattern that used rim light. Myrna saves pictures from magazines and newspapers that have interesting value patterns, so she pulled out a photo that used rim lighting and pointed out that the features were all visible, but the background was dark and the person was lit with a halo effect.
Next we cut our paper to size, ensuring it was proportionally larger by using a method Myrna demonstrated, that I had learned in Arne Westerman's workshop several years ago. Next we cut tracing paper to size, allowing for the space a mat would cover, and drew our image on the tracing paper using a simplified grid method. Basically we folded the paper lengthwise and crosswise so we had the midpoints in each direction. This makes it easier to achieve placement and correct proportions. Then Myrna showed us her method of transfer which she believes she invented. We turned the tracing paper over and traced over the lines with a turquoise blue watercolor crayon. We turned our tracing paper back to the drawing side, taped it over our support, and used a mechanical pencil to transfer the lines. Myrna does not like using carbon paper for this application because it can leave residue on the support. Watercolor crayon dissolves as you paint, and the blue is nice if any of it remains.
Myrna likes to paint on different surfaces. My first painting is done on watercolor paper that I gessoed. You can even cover over failed paintings and reuse your paper. (Just think how excited future art critics will be when they discover a second image underneath your Mona Lisa). I had not used this surface before and I really enjoyed the way you can apply paint and lift paint, and the wonderful painterly surface you can achieve. This is a wonderful tactile experience, and I had the feeling of sculpting my painting.
Myrna also paints on Tyvek. I'm not sure how she got started with this paper. It's the same stuff they wrap new homes in minus the writing. Art stores used to carry it, but no longer in our area. It's used by printers. Thus Myrna buys a bundle of 500 sheets at a time and freely sells them to others at $2 a sheet. However, a friend found a place where you can get 25 sheets. More one that tomorrow. The Tyvek has a very plastic surface and there are wonderful threads running all through it, so the resulting painting has great texture. Last year I bought some Tyvek from Myrna and have painted a few pieces on it, but I have little experience. This time I chose a standard lighting pattern, with a single light source from the left. I used a limited palette of Hansa Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Magenta and Diozanine Purple. Myrna says using limited palette guarantees harmony. Myrna prefers to use Dr. Martin's Hydrus fluid watercolors, but I mostly had to use standard watercolor. She advised that tube watercolors must be fresh squeezed.
By now, it was mid-afternoon and I had a half hour before critique. Myrna had shown us that it's good to learn to use a brush and draw your piece directly on the support. I had also talked with Myrna about having trouble using non-traditional colors. She suggested painting with just three colors that are not flesh tones. When Myrna had talked about thumbnails, she showed us how she uses two L-shaped pieces of mat board and moves it around on the image to determine cropping. She then demoed using one of her favorites, her Morris image. The piece was close cropped and lost one part of the face.
With a half hour left, I grabbed a narrow sheet of Tyvek, selected 3 colors (Ultramarine Blue, Magenta, and New Gamboge) and did a brush painting using Cerulean Blue. Much of the line remains visible. You will see I straightened out the image and it's not quite as accurately Linda, but I had so much fun with this quick piece. Myrna gave me kudos for my bravery.
At critique we saw some wonderful paintings, some by artists who had never painted a person before this workshop. Outstanding! View the slide show on Myrna's blog. Myrna's personal favorite of my images is my first piece on gessoed paper. She said I achieved the best likeness and she loved the value pattern.
I have two more days of workshop -- one day of painting a young adult in profile and the final day is doing a young child. If you are in the area and want to take this workshop, there is a second scheduled for January 22 to 26 and a few slots remain. You can either take the first three days or all 5 days at a cost of $70 per day, a real bargain made possible by the watercolor society staffing with volunteers and taking a non-profit approach. I am the coordinator for this workshop.