This week I was working on some drawings in a bit of a new style. Or maybe it’s more of a new technique. I’m not really sure. I always like trying out new ways of making pictures. I find it fun. This one harkens all the way back to my high school days. I had a good art teacher back then and he liked to encourage us to try new techniques and experiment a bit. One of the things he had us do was to mess around with watercolor to see what we could do with it. It wasn’t about drawing or making an image though.

We students would grab a big sheet of paper. I can’t remember the exact size but it was probably some kind of poster board and that probably puts it around 14×17 inches. Maybe 16×20. Either way I remember it being bigger than any of the usual notebook sized paper I would normally draw on in high school. I can remember wetting the paper in one of those giant high school art class sinks and then we’d put some watercolor on it. Or we’d put some watercolor on the paper and then run it under the sink. Either way it was about seeing what watercolor, water, and paper could do. How the colors would mix together and what kind of edges they would form. How the colors mixed on dry paper differently than wet paper. How everything changes as it dried. The ultimate result wasn’t that I made any good pictures but I sure liked how all the colors mixed together and could repeat the steps.

Fast forward about ten years to the mid 1990s and the time I was learning to paint with gouache. Not always being a fan of white paper I sometimes wanted a toned background but I was also not a fan of working on grey paper as is often used for toned background stuff. So I grabbed a big sheet of 22×30 inch watercolor paper and ran some water and watercolor paints over it to make my own colorful background. I cut the paper up into smaller pieces to use for various paintings and it ended up working out well. Gouache is an opaque watercolor so I could cover up any areas I wanted with solid opacity and let the colorful watercolor background show through in another places. Every now and again I’d pull out another big sheet of paper and splash some watercolor on it to make more toned/colored paper.

This week I was using that watercolor background style but with a different technique and on a different scale. I’ve been struggling a bit lately about what I wanted to work on and still haven’t yet come up with a plan. But I try not to let the lack of any current plan paralyze me so that I sit around and do nothing. Sitting around never leads me to a plan so I try to keep busy until I can come up with one. That means I often pull out my 5×7 inch watercolor paper. 5×7 is a good size when I have no plan. It’s not a lot of commitment and leaves me the ability to change gears quickly.

I wanted to draw some faces but not just in black in white. I wanted some color. That meant I had to figure out what technique I wanted to use for the color. I’ve been using a lot of marker over the last few moths but I was kind of bored with that. I was bored with gouache too. I also didn’t want to go with my rough paper watercolor technique that I’ve used a lot this winter and fall but that brought me to thinking about my old watercolor backgrounds. Maybe I could use those in some way?

I didn’t grab a big piece of paper this time. I ruled a small border around the edges of the 5×7 inch paper and grabbed a pan set of watercolors. I used a big brush to spread the paint around and mixed in three or four colors, mostly oranges, reds, and yellows with a bit of blue tossed in. I kept the edges and blends fairly soft and ended up with some nice and colorful pieces of paper. After the paper dried I grabbed a pencil and drew a face on the paper. Once again I think of most of the faces as female but they’re pretty androgynous. They all have weird hats and weird hair with not a lot of upper body showing to clue us in on their gender. Then I pulled out my Series 7 brush and inked the faces.

What makes these paintings different than my gouache or marker ones is that I used the background color as the face color. Instead of opaque gouache I added modeling and other color in with markers which are transparent. That’s also why most of the faces have an odd skin color. That’s what I was going for when I made the backgrounds. With four different colors blended together to make the background there is a variety of tone and color to be found throughout the piece. I tried to use the color from the markers to separate the face from the background a bit. I not only did a little light to dark modeling but tinted some things here and there. I tried not to go too crazy since the whole idea of using the background color also as the foreground color was to unify the piece. I didn’t want to go opaque so I kept away from the gouache. The final part I added was a color border outside of the black border. This gave then a little extra splash of color. I like that.

I still don’t quite have a plan yet. That’s how I ended up doing nine of these faces. For a week I just kept making them. They didn’t take up all my time or anything like that but they take some work. Right now I’m a bit tired of making them but in the future I might make some more. Now who’s got a good plan?