Daily watercolor – Kyoto, Kiyomizudera Temple

March 18, 2014

I’m working strictly to a timeframe today: 5 minutes for under-drawing followed by 25 minutes (maximum) drawing in watercolor. I’m hoping that fluency with this method of working in the studio will prepare me for plein air watercolour. A lot of things have to become “automatic” and reflexive in the controlled indoors environment before I go into the field.

I grabbed the nearest photo I could, a snapshot of the mountain behind Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto.

kyoto temple

Step 1. DRAWING. I traced the main outlines by putting it up against a window pane, as if it were a lightbox. An ordinary 3.5×5″ photo translates to half an A4 page, which is close to the maximum size possible in half-and-hour. I’m learning not to create a perfectly “flat”-looking pencil drawing because that will only promote a ‘colouring-in’ approach when I add the paint. Instead I’m providing myself with what looks like a “miniature drawing”. It has to have a bit of character, some suggestions of fine detail in the ground plane with receding contours in the background. Because it features buildings, it’s no good freehanding in the lines of the buildings; they have to be constructed very carefully with dots as “feelers” first then with straight lines connecting those dots. I’ve obviously straightened up the building to the left, warped because of the camera’s parallax error. I reversed the photo against the window to get the people facing into the painting, not out of it.

Step 2. SIMPLIFYING. I’m not going to paint from the colour photo because I’ll be too strongly influenced by local colour. I have to paint the light, not the colour, so I’m painting from a grayscale scan of the photo via GIMP. If I had a smart phone or iPad, I could use the ‘Posterize’ function of an app like ValueViewer. This grayscale approach heightens the fact that I have to leave the sky white and balance that big space at the top with an equally big space of white in the foreground. I’m taking note of the play of ‘whites’ through the whole piece, as well.

kyoto temple b&w

Step 3. PAINTING. I started with the darkest darks, using Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. I felt I was ‘colouring-in’ so add some Quinacridone Gold to the brush, creating some differentation in the mid-ground temple. Then it was a matter of working the grays. I left the background forest till last, adding some red to the far right. I tried rather unsuccessfully to add some people by painting the negative space around them. Towards the very end you can see I started to overwork the piece by playing with the trees in the background in the final minutes. 

kyoto temple watercolor 001

Step 4. ANALYZING. I ran my finished drawing through the scanner and created a grayscale using GIMP. Obviously, I chose to amp up the roof of the mid-ground temple by leaving it white. My other big weaknesses were (1) not painting carefully the straight lines of the architecture (left) and (2) the incomplete, hurried nature of the negative painting around the people. Lastly, the colour looks too “washed out” because I’m still using the routine three steps: pigment to palette, mix on palette, palette mix to paper. That’s three steps and can be abbreviated to just one, pigment to paper, especially if I were to use a travel palette as developed by Malcolm Carver, where the triangular lids for each pigment become mini-mixing trays and none of the colours run together as on a large plate or mixing tray.

kyoto temple watercolor b&w


2 Responses to “Daily watercolor – Kyoto, Kiyomizudera Temple”

  1. Speaking of “painting the light”…..the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” tackles the artistry of J. Vermeer and how he painted the light….or could have. Theories are open ended but endorsed by David Hockney and others. A must see docu.

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