Monday, August 7, 2017

My Daily Painting Challenge with Yao Cheng

Every once in a while there is a challenge that kicks my rear in gear and makes me want to really try something new. I posted about dabbling in watercolor painting back in March, but to be honest I haven't done any painting since then :/ I was still very interested in trying to get better at painting, but I just struggled with what to paint and when to fit it in. When I saw this new Creativebug class I knew it was just what I needed to get me to give it another try and (hopefully) make a habit of painting.
I waxed poetic about Yao Cheng's beautiful painting classes on Creativebug back in March (click here to see all of her classes), and I still love her effortless style of painting florals. Yao had a new Daily Challenge class that released on July 1st. The way it worked was that a new chapter of the class was released each day to show how to paint a new type of flower. I was stubborn, so I didn't start on July 1st like the class is meant to do, but by July 10th I could no longer resist the temptation. I pulled out my palette and dove in.

I painted all of #1 through #8 on the 10th, then I painted #9 through #11 on the 11th. After that I did each flower on its assigned day. Things didn't start off terribly or anything, but I wasn't exactly thrilled by what I was able to paint on these days. Mostly I was happy that you could tell what type of flower they are supposed to be, lol. These are: 1. Craspedia, 2. Lavender, 3. Hyacinth, 4. Tulips, 5. Goldenrod, 6. Orange Firethorn, 7. Agapanthus, 8. Stock, 9. Dill Stems, 10. Allium
By the 11th, I had a decent grasp on the techniques and got slightly better. These flowers are: 11. Hydrangea, 12. Rose, 13. Fuji Chrysanthemum, 14. Carnation, 14. Pincushion Protea. I enjoyed painting the hydrangea, but I really don't love how watery my results are compared to most of the other flowers. By this time I had a better handle on my leaves and I was better able to control my color bleeds. I LOVED the Fuji Chrysanthemum. This became one of my favorites even though it's not as well executed as later flowers (and it was with my cheaper materials). The carnation saw a new technique - wet on wet. You actually paint with just water and then drop the colors you want onto the edges to get a natural looking bleed. The pincushion was fun and was fairly easy to get the desired result.
This set is when I started to realize the failings of my materials could be causing my frustration. These are: 16. Dahlia, 17. Muscari, 18. Sunflower, 19. Ranunculus. The only one in this set I like is the muscari. I was getting major puddles on my paper as well as major warping where I used more water - you can see this in the way the paper scanned all wobbly and this was after I set the dry paintings under heavy books to flatten them out. This was when I decided that my paper wasn't great. I also noticed I was having problems with the depth of my colors when dry. I know watercolor is sheer by design, but mine were much more so than Yao's and it didn't seem to matter what I did. I put that question up on the class message board and the consensus was that I needed better quality paint. Since I had an Amazon credit, I sprung for a pan set that had good reviews and people specifically mentioned the vibrancy of the colors. Day 18 (the sunflowers) was the first day I had the new paint. I couldn't resist trying to add a little of my new gold paint in there, lol. I also must confess - I was afraid of getting my colors muddy in the pans - this is why the sunflowers are such solid colors, particularly in the leaves. I got over this by picking up a porcelain plate at the Dollar Tree to act as a palette - basically I get that plate as muddy and mingled as I want while keeping my pans mostly original. This has worked really well for me, so if you're at all OCD particular about your colors like I am, I recommend a wide open palette to mix with. Also day 19 was my first day I repainted, but I still wasn't really happy with it. The first time I got a lot of accidental bleeds and then I accidentally dropped my loaded paint brush and I was really done. I painted another version that night, but I think it looks like a lollipop, lol.
This set saw things really start to turn around. These are: 20. Hibiscus, 21. Water Lily, 22. Poppies, 23. Pansies, 24. Lily. I was very happy with my hibiscus ... until I added the gouache for the stamen, lol. I couldn't find gouache locally except for full kits, and being on my very tight budget I went with the cheapest option, lol. Well, the gouache I got is kind of useless. I'm not sure if it should even be called gouache. The paint wasn't opaque and kept activating the color beneath, mixing their colors and dimming my yellows. It was also very goopy even after I mixed it with water. I'm still very happy with the flower itself and the leaves of my hibiscus. I finally got better paper on the 22nd, and I'm sure you can see the difference in this day. I had no puddling or warping of the paper and it was so great, lol. Again I was happy with this until I had to add the gouache. I still like the green and pink poppies though. The pansies are another wet on wet technique and I need to practice it more. Mine was not quite wet enough to spread the color fully, so I had to go back and add more. The lily was one of the more difficult flowers in that it took about 3 layers to do. I was frustrated at the time, but it's really not that bad now that I look at it after the fact.
These next two lines are the final week, and this is where I really saw definite improvement. These are: 25. Cherry Blossom, 26. Anemone, 27. Cosmos, 28. Alstromeria. I loved my cherry blossom until I added the gouache (again). This gouache did come out better than others though, so I still like it a lot. By day 26, I had purchased a micro brush for the wispy details and this was the first day I used it. Oh man what a difference! These anemonies became one of my absolute favorites I painted this month. The alstromeria got painted twice because I forgot to add the yellow while the base flower was wet, so I ended up painting two. In the end I actually like the first try better, lol.
And the final few days are certainly some of my best work - go figure. These are: 29. Delphinium, 30. Foxgloves, 31. Peonies. I LOVE these peonies. I really like all 3 of these, but the peonies in particular came out really nicely. 
Overall these were my favorites. Some of them I can see aren't fantastic now that I've improved a bit, but I still remember feeling proud of them at the time I painted them. I will definitely be painting all of these again :)

What I learned:
  • Cheap materials give cheap results - I talked a big game about saving so much money on my watercolor supplies when I first started, but to be honest I have replaced ALL of my components throughout this challenge. The paint I had wasn't giving me reliable pigment (probably because there wasn't a lot of pigment in the mixture), so I got a better set. My paper was warping something awful on every single painting, leaving rings around the areas where the water puddled, so I bought thicker paper (Strathmore 300 Series). My brushes just didn't seem to hold the amount of water that Yao's did, and after further research I discovered it was mostly due to the bristle type of the brushes, so I bought a few nice brushes (synthetic squirrel) in the sizes I used most. I still shopped sales at local stores, and somethings came from Amazon, but I still spent considerably more than my original $20 or so. I've really enjoyed painting everyday, so this cost was worth it to me, but it would have saved me money if I had just bought the decent stuff in the first place. 
  • Not all brush types are the same size - Yao is pretty good about telling you which brand of brush she is using as well as what size and why. When she used a size 12, I grabbed my size 12. I started to notice that I wasn't getting near the swipe size she was, so upon further examination I realized my cheapy brushes were considerably smaller even though the number was the same. I even found this with a nicer set of brushes that was a different material - as in I bought a set of brushes that included a size 6, then bought a nicer synthetic squirrel brush in a size 6 and the squirrel brush is a decent bit larger. This isn't a terrible thing, just keep in mind that you will get a different result.
  • You can improve at ANYTHING if you devote yourself to doing it a little every day. I certainly don't think I'm some amazing painter by any means, but I can see decided progress from my flowers at the beginning of the month to the end of the month. This is why I wanted to post all of my flowers here to show the difference. The differences are not just in the quality of my materials (which is noticeable as well) but in the decisiveness of my strokes, the quality of my color blends, the shapes of the flowers, etc. Just from spending a little time each day with this skill, I have improved.
I was so into watercolor that most of my other hobbies kind of stopped in the month of July. It's not that I didn't enjoy sewing and knitting still, it's that I really was having fun with watercolor and I wanted to keep that momentum going. I also painted a few extra things this month since I was in the mood and all my supplies were out. I tried Yao's geometric blending exercises from her Beginning Watercolor class a few times to test out my new paint set - *hint* all of these have metallic paints because I just couldn't resist. Then I decided to try painting birds,which turned out pretty well - a few of these were copied from tutorials I found on Pinterest, but the cardinal I painted from a photograph (cardinals are my favorite bird). Then another night I decided to paint my Crown of Thorns plant (which was on the new paper with new brushes) and I was very happy with how the leaves and buds look (still need to work on the thorns and the pot though, lol). One of the draws for me to start the flower challenge was to actually have something in mind to paint as this used to be my biggest hang up (meaning I would want to paint, but I just could never decide what subject to actually paint). Now I just have things pop into my head that I should paint, so this is another nice perk of completing this program. It made me realize that it doesn't have to be a big song and dance - just paint something!

I'm surprised and excited with the results of taking this class. What started as an innocent, "Hey why not?" type thought has turned into something that I love to do. I would never have guessed that I would take to painting in any form if you'd asked me any time before the last year. It's crazy that something I always thought I was no good at would become something I actually feel a little proud of now :) It's nice to see the results of dedicating yourself to something new. So, if you have a notion to try out art, I cannot recommend this class enough. It doesn't matter that the month is over because you can still watch each class and do this at your own pace. You can also do like I did and watch Yao's Beginning Watercolor class first so you have a little understanding of what to do going in. Both of these classes are included with a $4.95 monthly membership (you can even get 1 month free as a new member!) and I recommend watching anything and everything that spark your interest. I had a lot of fun and have a great jump start into a new skill. I'm also super excited for Yao's new class that comes out this Wednesday!

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