From the very start of this illustration blog, I have been transparent – and not just with watercolors. I celebrate my honesty, though I realize that sharing invoices, backstories and unusual career shortcuts might be a bit cringe-worthy.
An example of one of my earliest shortcuts was when I sent off finished assignments that were completed with markers. I’m sure my clients might not have been thrilled to hear that, but when deadlines were tight – it was an efficient way to create finished art quickly.
Recently, I joined a watercolor group on Facebook and shared some of my old paintings. My illustrations were very different from the other paintings on that site. Aside from the intense photorealism, my use of vivid dye colors intrigued many other artists.
The downside of using dyes was discussed immediately. Brilliant dye colors are fugitive and will fade when exposed to UV light. But as a commercial artist, my paintings were for reproduction and I never displayed them. It’s been decades and my paintings in storage are still as bright.
I’ve been painting new imagery over the past few years, and have wondered whether I might be able to sell my original dye paintings. The benefit from joining this group was that I learned about some new and interesting ways to seal my paintings and protect them.
Most comments I received were very positive. But one comment was puzzling.
Tracing is cheating a little but so many artists trace from photos it seems. Your painting skill is amazing though.
Thank you for your compliment on my painting skill. I don’t agree that tracing is cheating. If you’re looking for immediacy, then it’s just not the same technique. Even Renaissance artists used tools. It’s the end result that’s the beauty of art.
I don’t consider myself to be a traditional watercolorist. But when I was learning, I loved dropping paint into wet areas to see where it would go. I even painted a few watercolors on the beach. But I far preferred painting watercolors that were very tight. I like to call myself an “inch by inch” artist.
I shared some of my old paintings with this group, replete with tracing paper, reference photos and even an abandoned “painting in progress.” Many people thought my paintings were photographs, so it was important for me to share those attachments.
I worked with tracing and graphite paper for over 30 years. If the person who wrote “tracing is cheating” read what I’m about to share, I would definitely be disqualified as an artist. I’m a little nervous that if I share this with the watercolor group, my art will be dismissed.
For the last 15 years, I have painted over lightly printed layouts, rather than trace and transfer.
Fifteen years ago, I had a clever idea while working on a rushed assignment. I inserted watercolor paper into my inkjet printer and printed out a faint under-painting for my job. It worked very well!
Creating a “light layout” definitely involves thoughtfulness on my part. Of course, the main layout is my baby. It can involve countless photos and reconstructions of them with Photoshop.
The light layout has to be just right. If it is too dark, it interferes with my ability to build up transparent layers. It must be so light, that it is almost imperceptible.
Once I am satisfied with my light print, I wet the back and cover the edges with gummed paper tape. Then I staple it onto a wooden drafting board. When it’s dry, I cover the entire image with a sheet of Graphix high-tack frisket film. I use a #2 pencil to draw onto the frisket all of the lines I plan to cut.
With sharp tweezers I peel away the areas I will paint. Sometimes, I will cover an area again with masking film once it has already been painted (my camellias, for example). Even with the risk of leaking, it is usually easier.
My Epson Stylus Photo R800 printer is very old. The reason that my shortcut works is that the printer ink for this model is not water soluble. I tried on two occasions to replace my printer with a newer Epson model. But as soon as I wet the area with my brush, the ink dissolved into a muddy mess. Unfortunately, my printer isn’t working well and the inks aren’t easily available anymore. I wonder what I’ll come up with once my R800 dies.
My faint print gives me adequate contour information and painting over it works perfectly for me. I’ve been spoiled, because I’ve been spared countless hours of tracing and transferring. Cutting frisket is tedious enough.
Because I solve all of the compositional, contrast and color issues ahead of time on my computer, I am eager to start painting. I delight in creating beautiful colors and textures. With the time I’ve saved, I am able to create more paintings that I love!
I’m glad I could honestly share. I appreciate what my friend and former art professor Nancy told me when I shared my trepidation about sharing this unconventional shortcut. She said, “Well, if people think it’s easy, let them try it and see what they come up with. Your work will always be unique!”
Am I a mixed media artist? Or perhaps because photos are so integral to my work, am I a digital artist? Whatever artist I am, I would say that creating beautiful imagery is my entire objective.
Even though I work primarily with watercolor, my “whatever works” motto translates to using many other mediums that go along with it. I carefully choose my subject matter and set up my painting using digital tools.
What a pleasure that is! In the past, I would make photocopies and cut them up with an exacto knife before taping things back together. I have folders of photocopied line drawings that helped me compose many illustrations.
I faithfully follow my motto of “whatever works” as I go along. It can involve a crowquill with liquid frisket or a tiny drop of Badger Acrylic to add tiny details. I use Prismacolor pencils to add texture, over and under my watercolors. I will score the paper lightly with an exacto to indicate tiny veins on leaves or to create a tree bark texture. An eraser (typewriter or electric) is a wonderful tool to rough up and lighten an area. When I’m looking for a stipple effect, toothbrushes are very handy. Sometimes I’ll splatter liquid frisket, other times Badger acrylics or dyes.
I view texture as a puzzle to solve and I hope to inspire others to find out what works for them. Experiment, explore, and have fun taking chances!
Working on one of my paintings usually takes about two weeks. I’m thrilled to be freed from deadlines, because I feel like I am creating something special.
Even though my finished product looks like a photo, I’m always hoping it is better than a photo. A lot of time and energy goes into every painting. The sheer joy of mixing transparent dyes to create brilliant colors gives me pleasure.
Simply creating my art is enough for me.
I believe that what I’ve described with words, can best be understood by my sharing some of my favorite projects. (Clicking on the final art image is a link to other posts about that subject.)
Wow. Judy. Such a lovely set of photos and paintings. You must not be discouraged by narrow minded people who think your work is not ‘true’ or ‘real’. I love the idea of making a low res print on watercolour paper. You really have pushed the boundaries on that. I would never have thought to do that and am intrigued and would definitely try it if I had the correct ink and printer. The old masters would try different things to make their paintings stand out so please don’t think it’s cheating in any way, it’s just exploring new ways. I wish I’d thought of it. Your work is stunning. I wish you would teach.
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Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, Trina. I am grateful that you signed up for my blog! I wrote this post several weeks ago and it honestly took courage for me to put it out there. Your words are so comforting and appreciated!! I think that is what motivated me most – the thought that I could inspire someone else to experiment like I have. Why not?
I loved teaching back in the 80’s. In fact, I have a post on this blog about that experience (#17). My students really picked up well on my technique. I’m not sure how to go back to it on-line. I might at some point – but I am truly just enjoying my life now, as I create music and art.
Thanks for your reply Judy. I understand regarding the teaching it’s a big commitment. I will read your blog and learn from practicing your techniques. You are so inspiring. I’ve learnt so much already. I take a photo and think I have to recreate that, I’ve not ventured to taking several and chopping bits up and making a composition from several photos. I guess when you paint by yourself you get stuck in a rut. That’s how I feel anyway. I must challenge myself more. Take care.
I have made it my life’s work to inspire. My art was a job and I didn’t have passion for it. Only in the last few years have I enjoyed it again. Music is actually my passion.
The process of exploring and experimenting can be fun, you can do this alone, Trina. You’re no longer in a rut! Photoshop Elements works great and it’s not expensive. A good scanner is helpful and you can play around with your reference photos that way.
Feel free to email me anytime for further inspiration or help. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck and thank you so much for commenting!
Thank you so much.
Once again, I am amazed by your talent. I had to re-read the caption under your painting of the cat… I was sure it was a photo. Those flowers are gorgeous too.
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Thank you so much for commenting, Janis. I appreciate your compliments!!
Your “whatever works” of art are just drop-dead-gorgeous!!! You have taken painting to a next level for certain. A trail blazer with your new techniques. You are incorporating new technology into old methods of painting. Sharing your new methods, techniques, what works, what doesn’t work is greatly appreciated. Long ago someone probably said, using paints out of a tube, or manufactured paper was cheating. Whatever works is definitely working very well for you!
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Oh, Debbie, I am so appreciative of your comment! I was actually debating about whether to share my methods with a watercolor group. There are purists there that, like you said – probably won’t approve of my methods. But I am excited to share with artists who are open to experimentation. I hope I never stop. I’m looking forward to trying new things as I keep painting along. Thank you for your warmth, encouragement, and magnificent compliments!
Judy, I absolutely love your honesty and style! I was so intrigued by your processes and believe we parallel in techniques. I started when digital wasn’t even a mere thought in the art world. Pen/Ink/Pencil/Paint on vellum, erasers and templates was all we had. I am a former professional Medical Artist now focused to painting whatever “feels right and fun”. Even with all the supplies and digital opportunities currently at hand, I still gravitate to what I am most familiar with. However, I do love learning of new techniques as well. Keep on painting! Your work brings much joy to many!
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Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Catherine! I am thrilled that I could share helpful information with you. Please let me know how it goes. Your last sentence especially made my day. Nothing could be better than bringing joy to myself and others!
I will definitely let you know how it goes! I’d love for you to see my work too – catfrancucci.com. I’d be curious as to your feedback! Happy painting!
I’ve seen your art in the watercolor group. Your paintings are so much more vibrant than the photos. I’m always drawn to saturated color! I don’t think it’s cheating. It is inventive. I used to do art when I was younger. I’m just getting back into it. I’m so glad I found your blog. I’m hoping you don’t mind if I try some of your ideas eventually. Of course, finding a suitable printer might be an issue.
Thank you for sharing your process and art. Also, who cares what people say, do what you like and feels good to you. The world is clearly more colorful with you and your art in it.
Thank you so much for your comment and I’m so sorry for the delayed reply. (For some reason, your comment ended up in the spam folder). I’m thrilled that you were inspired and will try some of my ideas. Please let me know how it goes and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Certainly, I might have to search out a suitable printer in the future when my old one quits. I love the idea of whatever works, because sometimes it leads me in a wonderful new direction. Good luck!
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