30 August 2011

Baco Noir

Now that I’m living in a burgeoning wine region, I thought I’d push my envelope and try a medium that few artists are working in: wine. How different from working in watercolours or inks can it be?

Materials (now featuring 100% more vino).

Where to begin? With the wine, of course. With dozens of wineries in Prince Edward County to choose from, I decided on the Sandbanks Estate Winery to feature first. Their signature wine is made with a grape called Baco Noir which is rare in this area (and, unfortunately, has nothing to do with bacon or back-hoes). My medium for this painting happens to be vintage 2007.

Initial results.

At first the wine looked like a light violet mixed with some red, but as it dried, it got a little darker, towards purple. Still, the wine was very transparent and, although perfect for the initial blocking-in of shapes, wouldn’t get me the intense darkness I prefer for deep contrast. I tried laying down a second “coat” on the wine parts after the initial pass has dried, but I could tell simply adding wine on top of wine wouldn’t cut it in the long run. I’d heard of other artists cooking the wine, reducing it as though making a sauce, to get it to a dark and a little thicker, too.

Small Pond Test Kitchen.

I didn’t measure the wine before cooking, but I poured a good number of glugs into the small pot and began reducing it on medium, testing the wine with a brush on scrap paper intermittently. After just over half an hour, I decided to stop the reduction for fear of reducing it all away. The wine was now darker, redder, and slightly thicker –not perfect, but better.


During the reduction, I added some water to the wine in my cup to lighten it and filled in the remaining white areas in the background and cutting board.

Pretty good for grapes.

The reduced wine looked pretty good –rich and deep red– but I discovered that wine takes longer to dry than regular watercolour paint. In fact, after laying down the latest “coat” of wine at around 11pm that first night, the painting was still wet the next morning at 8:30am, so I put it in the sun to dry. Exposure to sunlight might wreak havoc with the lightfastness (i.e. permanence) of the pigments, but I couldn’t think of another way to dry it (besides sitting over it with a hair dryer, wasting time and electricity).

The never-drying painting.

It's been a year now since this experiment (yes, the final painting below is dry) and my six new wine paintings are nearly done. I used three different wines, including the bottle of baco used in this experiment. Interestingly –but not unexpectedly– the wine has turned a rusty brown colour, both the liquid in the bottle and the wine in the painting, so the deep purple colour below has now oxidized and changed.

Baco Noir

15" x 11.5", wine on watercolour paper, 2010
(photographed in 2010)

See the follow-up here.

20 August 2011

Tangle (AW-18)

22" x 15", watercolour, 2002, private collection

My latest painting project I've recently been chatty about is almost finished and I'll be posting actual images next week. It went well, but the "Science Element" meant to aid the darkening of the colour was only a semi-success, and I'll talk more about that next week as well.

Here's Ashley yet again wearing her blue velour tube top. I'm absolutely happy about how I handled the lighting on her right shoulder, but somewhat disappointed with how I handled the lighting on her face and her lower left arm. It's not subtle enough on her face, and I should have added some "bounce" light on her left biceps, letting the lower part remain descending into darkness. Not a terrible (or even bad) painting, but it was a learning experience, for sure.

That red tangly motif in the upper right is an art nouveau design I borrowed from Alphonse Mucha.

12 August 2011

Coke Addiction 3 (AW-29)

22" x 15", watercolour, 2002, private collection

My next painting project (for this year's Prince Edward County Studio Tour) will be getting underway tonight, so I'm continuing with the figurative watercolour posts for now.

A key concern with this new project is maintaining the level of dynamic contrast I enjoy employing in my work. With watercolours, this involves leaving key areas of the white paper to be the brightest end on the Contrast Scale (let's call that level 1) and mixing blues and browns to get rich darks at the opposite end of the scale (let's call that 10). In between  I can play around with all kinds of delicate glazes, showing off what the medium does best. AW-016 is another great example of my love of contrast (also featuring Ashley).

No mid-range-only wimpiness here.

The challenge with this new project, and hence my concern regarding sufficient contrast, is that I'll be using a new medium. I experimented last year with a test painting which turned out pretty well, but there were some issues when it came to getting severe darks from the medium. My new approach will involve a bit more science than last year...

And yes, that's the Coca-Cola logo in the background --chosen for it's colours and, quite honestly, brilliant design.

07 August 2011


30" x 18", watercolour, 2002

I'm gearing up for a new painting project I intend to have ready for this year's Prince Edward County Studio Tour, and, although most of them will likely be still lifes, I may do one or two figurative pieces. With that in mind, I thought it'd be fun to post a few of my older figurative watercolours until I'm ready to reveal the new works.

Here, Ashley's in the same outfit as in this painting, but I wanted to try something a little different, so I changed her black skirt to white (I did a similar inversion in this painting) and, since I decided to leave the background blank white (it looks grey in these photos, but it is the white of the paper...as in the first, watercolour version of Fuel), I outlined the skirt area --as well as the bright highlighted area around her left shoulder-- in yellow, creating a luminous glow. Thus, her tube top is now the anchor of the painting with Ashley's head and hands balancing it out. 


I am exceedingly happy (and somewhat surprised!) with the way the velour texture of her tube top came out so convincingly in this and the other paintings in which she's wearing it.

I normally try to have any white areas of my watercolour paintings be the bare unpainted paper, but sometimes I need an assist from some white ink. Look closely at the detail below and you can see the white ink I used for the highlights in her eyes, glasses, and lower lip.

Visible ink.