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Mars Burnell – Graham Berry Reconstruction


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Coffee To Go

Graham Berry – A Compelling Composition of Transparent Watercolor – simply elegant.

    Ever seen a painting that stops you in your tracks?
    Have you wondered … how did that artist do that?
    Sometimes a painting just grabs you and you do not know why.
    Sometimes re-creating a painting done by another artist … even if you don’t know exactly what they did … is a way to jump-start your own abilities.
    You may just discover a new way of seeing.
    On the other hand … sometimes you will find a unique spin.
    What others have found is that the quality of their work vastly improves … by studying the technique of master painters.
    Would you be upset … if you could take years off your learning curve?
    Would it be a bad thing … if your paintings seem to overnight … become compelling to viewers? I thought so. Let’s see what Graham Berry is doing in this painting.

Strong lights and darks and luscious color… are hallmarks of Graham Berry’s work.And one of the best ways to hone your compositional talents … is to de-construct as best you can … just what a master painter is doing.

Graham Berry’s work ‘Coffee To Go’…emphatically pulls the viewer into the painting. Lush wet in wet technique coupled with strong drawing ability… this painting ‘takes no prisoners.’ This painting is designed to pull you – all the way in…
and you are going to love it.

Coffee To Go –grabs your senses and holds you transfixed. But how? What is Mr. Berry’s technique? Is he doing things by accident … or is he a master of high key? Let’s find out. And one of the best ways to parse his technique … I will attempt to walk you through this painting as I recreate the steps. The very first thing I do is to tape the paper on all sides to a plexiglass board. This allows me to turn the painting upside down and tilt the painting from left to right or set it aside with a tilt…a technique used to allow the colors to mix to your taste and not have tell-tale brush marks when smooth washes are wanted. Then …

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Reconstruction 1

Coffee To Go … starts with a deliberate commitment to white high-lights. Everything spins off the high-lights. So I penciled in the basic forms of the dog, the girl and the bench. Then I sat back made a mental note of the high-lights…and penciled the high-lights in.

Graham Berry… consistently spins his paintings off of the high-lights. Juxtaposing lush wet-in-wet colors is the next step. Let’s consider the palette – Aureolin yellow, veridian green, rose madder, cobalt blue, transparent brown oxide, quinacridone gold and cobalt turquoise. But before you set brush to paper…think about color theory. This painting plays with the color concepts of vibration, complementaries and color unity. 1- vibration – placing a small yellow area in a sea of blue will force the eye to bounce back an forth between both. 2- Complementaries – bolts of red and bolts of green sitting in field of yellow. 3- color unity – multiple blues, multiple shades of green, mulitple shades of red and finally the exquisite relationship between blue and brown.

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reconstruction 2

Once we have our drawing in place… I started with the subject’s aureolin hair. Because this is the brightest yellow. And this will lift the subject upwards as she sits on the bench. The next lower value of yellow will be her blouse and the lowest value of yellow will be it’s cousin – quinacridone gold on the boots. This sets the upper and lower limits and the dog’s muzzle and feet will fall somewhere in-between.

The compelling composition of this painting is based on something so simple and so elegant in execution… one might dismiss it. This painting takes a line for a walk… curving and straight. The curves repeat to the point where the viewer just moves along because the curves are dressed in elaborate transparent color.

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reconstruction 3

1- Let’s follow the color … The blouse is a base tone of aureolin. While still wet, veridian is dropped onto the shoulder and along the underside of the outer arm. While still wet we now drop in rose madder along the sleeves and the botton and back of the blouse. When dry we accent the folds under the light with a purple hues – rose madder with colbalt blue and a pinch of transparent brown oxide. The jeans are rendered with cobalt blue and cobalt turquoise and shadowed with blue purple by mixing more cabalt blue with a dash of rose madder. The boots are base tone aureolin, and rounded with quinacridone gold and shadowed with transparent brown oxide. The dog is rendered with a base tone of cobalt turquoise overlaid with a pre-mixture of rose madder, veridian, cobalt blue and transparent brown oxide… giving a velvety lush blue black hue.

The areas around the boots are a tint of aureolin. The outer bench support was wet with water… then lined with aureolin just below the seat slats, cobalt blue at the base and the whole picture was turned around and around and tilted back and forth … to allow the two colors to mix on their own. Note – how the yellow tends to stay under the bench and the blue tends to stay at the base.

The young lady’s face was outlined with rose madder, then aureolin was applied to the cheeks and feathered into the red.

The mid-range blue green was first wet with water and then cobalt blue was applied, veridian was dropped in…and again the painting was turned around and around to let the colors mix on their own.

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reconstruction 4

The sky was wet with water from left to right. Then bolts of cobalt blue were dropped in, rose madder was dropped in and again the painting was turned around and around to let the colors mix on their own.

2- Lines, curves and bench shadows… were accomplished with sable round brushes – #1, 5, 7, and 8 and a #4 sable liner brush.

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reconstruction 5

3- High lights… were a bit tricky. Even though I left white paper…sometimes you have to reach into your bag of the tricks and work through some rough spots. To raise the angle of the subjects forehead I used a white watercolor pen – Uniball Signo. To raise the white curve above the shoulder, the white curve along the blue jeans and the top of the boots… I used white india ink.

Now here’s the rub. This painting was not done straight through in one sitting. I periodically let areas dry… and took multiple coffee breaks and even took time out to catch parts of the weekend football games. Because fresh eyes… will often reveal minute necessary changes … necessary to amplify the overall affect of your painting.

Let’s take a quick review before we proceed.

    Color vibrancy – check.
    Continuous curving lines – check.
    High-lights and shadows – check.
    What’s left… the bench.
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reconstruction 6

For purposes of brevity… I left out the back of the bench. What I want you realize is the bench is there but not there. And the best way to accomplish that was to concentrate on the edges of the slats. They are base tone aureolin with dashes of veridian, cobalt blue and hints of rose madder.

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reconstruction 7

Perspective in this picture is so subtle you might miss it… The dog completes and echoes the perspective that is set by the angled slats of the bench. The pup is looking off into the background. So foreshortening coupled with the dark of the dog’s head looking back into the light of the distant area … creates just enough depth in the picture to maintain a feeling of foreground – background.

Edge Treatments – is where Graham Berry pulls out all the stops.

There is slight golden yellow haze around the subject’s head. Her hand, arm, back of her head and upper back are lined in rose madder and feathered into the blue. The boots are edged in a mix of cobalt blue and transparent brown oxide. The overall affect is achieved with the liner brush and leaves the viewer just shaking their head at the subtle unexpected explosion of color.

In short … the execution of this picture reveals how a simple subject… can be transformed into a feast for the senses.

What I find compelling in this composition… is the unexpected play of colors, contrasts and most of all… the bold use of white space to command the eye. Remember… if your painting does not… command the eye… you should re-think your composition … before setting brush to paper.

Author – Mars Burnell

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