Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Inspired by the Classics: Monoprint Layering in Watercolor

"Early Spring" by Starr Weems. Transparent watercolor on 140 lb. Kilamanjaro paper. 22x15

"Sun Storm" by Starr Weems. Transparent watercolor on 140 lb. Kilamanjaro paper. 22x15

As I was creating some art history lesson plans for my students last week, I came back across the work of Joseph Mallord William Turner. I love the shapes and value patterns in his paintings, but I don't particularly identify with the subject matter or enjoy the color. I began to ponder what might happen if I created a series based on the intriguing shapes that underlie Turner's seascapes. I would use colors, textures and topics that feel more accessible to me. 

Inspired by a bag of leaves, seed pods and moss that my children and I collected on a hike during an unseasonably warm winter day, I decided that I would experiment with a technique which combines my standard layering of transparent colors with a monoprinting process. 

First, I chose two paintings by J.M.W. Turner that had movement that I liked.
 This one is "Snow Storm: Hannibal Crossing the Alps." I like the swooshing feel of the storm on this one.
This one is called, "Snow Storm: Steam Boat off a Harbor's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water." Whew. That's a long title. 

Once I settled on these two paintings as inspiration, I looked at them for a long time and decided which shapes I'd like to keep and which parts I would need to change in order to fit my vision. I made value sketches to help me plan out how many pours I might need to get the value range that I wanted. I decided on about 6. 

These were my value sketches. You can already see that I changed the design quite a bit, but the overall shape of the paintings is still there. I did the color planning in my head. 

Now that I have a plan, I add a layer of drawing gum to the places that I want to leave white, wet my watercolor paper with a spray bottle and pipe on paint. 

While the paint is still wet, it's time to experiment with the printing techniques! I am not quite sure what to expect, so I try lots of different things. I lay out moss, leaves, seed pods and grasses on top of the wet paint and I weight them with geodes that we collected from the creek. I leave them like that for about 12 hours. 

After 12 hours, I remove the leaves and examine the textures. The seed pods and leaves worked great, but the moss didn't texture my paper as much as I wanted. I toyed with the idea of simulating the texture with terrycloth, but I just could not stand the thought of deviating from my plan to use only items from nature for the texture. I masked out my second value layer with drawing gum, poured paint and arranged the leaves and rocks again.

I repeated this process 4 or 5 times. Each time, I would follow my value sketch and mask out another layer with the drawing gum before carefully planning where to place each texture piece for the printing stage. 

Woohoo! The watercolor paintings are now all ready for the drawing gum to be peeled away with a rubber cement pick up eraser! 

After removing the drawing gum, I take a look at each picture next to its inspiration piece. 

I feel like I accomplished my goal of reinterpreting the pieces to fit my own ideas. Normally, I would take a scrubber brush and start smoothing out hard lines and adding additional details, but I decide to leave these alone for now. When I come back to them in a few days, I can see if there is something I'd like to change.

If you are interested in commissioning a piece of art, contact me. Visit my website at or find me on Facebook to see more work. 

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