Turning a watercolor painting into a print

I’ve been taking a combination of figure drawing and portrait classes for the past four years from Ken Minami at the Evanston Art Center. They are wonderful classes. Ken teaches us to do monochrome work to get the proportions and form correct and then moves us along to colored media such as pastel or acrylic or ‘water based’ oil paints. One monochrome medium he has us use is conte crayon but only the darkest and the lightest colors and then we rub them together to get form. It’s quite exciting to see this happen, and it works in a short time.

I’ve tried to apply what I learn in these classes to making Moku Hanga and i have learned a lot about getting the drawing and proportions right and have started to learn about how to achieve colors, but form has been difficult because it seems that you need many blocks to achieve the appearance of a gradient if you’re not able to use bokashi. Tiny bokashis on figures don’t work.

It is often difficult for me to achieve the colors I’d like when printing so I asked Ken if it would be OK to bring watecolors to class to learn about the colors. Ken agreed and then told me that the key in watercolors is to have a great drawing to start with and that you can’t really change the proportions, etc of the drawing after you’ve started. So, I used a dark pencil to draw in the outlines, location of the features, folds in the clothing, etc.You can see the pencil lines under the kimono and they resemble key block lines to me. You can also see that the flat surfaces like the bench and the suitcase resemble what one might see in a Moku Hanga. The hair, too, looks like a two block printing in a woodcut.

Below is a photo of the model that I drew.


Photo of Model that was the basis for the Watercolor above


It seems to me that this method of arriving at the plan for a woodblock print might be useful.

One thought on “Turning a watercolor painting into a print

  1. Hi Larry,

    I have been thinking about your color dilemma and I wanted to tell you that you are not alone!

    I am in the Baren Forum and we have exchanged prints. I am uncomfortable posting on the forum because the advice I have applies to much more than prints. I hope that it will help you in all aspects of your art making.

    My background is in surface design-mostly printed fabrics for apparel in the surf industry. Printing interesting fabrics is challenging because the more color one uses the more expensive the fabric will be to produce and so the garments will grow in price. I became very good at layering color to achieve a complicated design effect while saving the expense of many screens.

    I have a couple of rules that I like to follow when developing color.

    1. Use black sparingly and never to darken a color, it kills the kick of color.
    2. Mix your colors from primary or process color and white. A Pantone color book is helpful to give hints of proportions to achieve the desired color. They are expensive to buy new and may be overkill. You may find one used on eBay. There is a book called the Painter’s Pocket Pallet Book. . .the title is something like that and it can come in handy. I like Pantone because most of the colors are mixed using process color and white, sometimes the dreaded black. You will need massive amounts of yellow as the red and blue go much further.
    3. Always think in terms of warm and cool when developing the color plan and alternate warm and cool blocks. Cluster the warm or cool colors on the same block. This helps organize your color plan. The layering of these colors will give you secondary and third generations deepening the effect.

    The reason I limit the color to mixing from primary is because this will create color harmony in the print. When you choose color from the tube or can there is little that will create a relationship on the paper. Mixing your own color maintains a thread throughout the piece that calms the eye and allows the viewer to flow visually through the image. This is not to say that I do not have other color I might pull and use but if I do I mix a little of something else that has been used in the print. Almost never do I use ink straight from the tube.

    It is a good idea to keep a color journal. Start collecting color statements that attract you. Color is very personal and you will find that you will repeat your pallet again and again. My favorite colorists are fine artists of the Modernist Period: Picasso, Matisse, Klee. I also like Wayne Thiebaud and van Gogh for color. You may see an ad that sends you or have a favorite corner of a painting. Keep them handy to reference when you are in need of color inspiration.

    Personally, I will make several copies of my sketch and color them using colored pencils. Here I use the gambit of colors available. I pick the one I like best and make notes of where I can layer the color. I may re-color another copy or if I feel good about it I will get going on the blocks.

    Finally, I will leave you with Frances Gearhart. A California artist inspired by the work that came from Japan the second half of the 19th Century. http://www.francesgearhart.com/

    This is longer than I planned and there is lots more to say about color. I hope that I have helped some.

    Thank you for your posts on your experience in Japan! I was in Tokyo for work many years ago. . .

    Best, Anne

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