3D Abstracting Shapes: Feedback

December 2, 2014 at 8:10 pm

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What an incredible collection of BEAUTIFUL coloured shapes we have this week. I loved seeing the progression of people’s work through the different exercises. There are a lot of stunning splashy watercolour sketches in the mix!Week 3 flcikr13

Note: the images in this post are only a random sampling from the Flickr group

I have enjoyed SO much looking through them all and reading all your comments. Thank you to those who have written about their process. I truly feel connected with you and your work when I read your notes and get excited at your light-bulb moments. I love engaging with others in the process of making art.

It is great to read comments about how drawing shapes is less overwhelming then working with lines and how it is empowering to merge two objects into one shape, and how much fun many of you had to just go for it with the paint.  They were my goals for the lesson!

But, I know some of you have found it hard.  Please don’t despair or set unrealistic expectations to achieve instant perfection. It takes time (remember the analogy of learning to drive a car!).  The important thing is to start SEEING the shapes.

General shapes

  •  A few people were worried that they were still drawing outlines and then colouring in. That is still fine because shapes ARE defined by edges – the important thing is that you see the shapes (hmm, I just said that before – must be important!). There are other ways of creating shapes, such as working from the inside out or working with loose blobs of colour initially and then progressively defining the edges. Both of these are more painting techniques used with opaque paint and less applicable to sketching.
  • Seeing things more 2D due to your eye sight or glasses is a good thing. The reason we squint is to flatten out the sense of depth into pure shapes. If we get the shapes right the depth should be inherently there.
  • Someone in the group wrote “how powerful simplicity is” and I hope you have realised that with this week’s exercises. The challenge that lies before us is to apply this principle to more complex scenes – stay tuned!

Week 3 flcikr12

Negative Shapes

  • It is most natural to see the object rather than the negative shape around it but  the goal is to switch our way of seeing onto the background. (just like Rubins figure-ground vase ) When you look at the background shape, your ‘object brain’ doesn’t know how to ‘label’ it – so your ‘visual brain’ has a better change of drawing what it sees.
  • Being able to see the background is a very useful skill to develop for tricky situations when you can’t get the shape correct (such as objects that are greatly foreshortened). Someone mentioned how much easier it was to see the perspective errors with a negative space drawing and this is very true in my experience. You might be interested in this blog post from my recent trip to Brazil when I used a shape approach to overcome my ‘fear’ of sketching two strong geometric formed buildings.

  Week 3 flcikr1

Shadow Shapes

I deliberately simplified the shadow shape exercise. The main goal was for you to clearly distinguish between what is receiving direct light and what is not. So I didn’t go into reflected lights, or the differences between shade (or form shadow) and cast shadow. You can see these in the yellow cup example that was included in the lesson.
LizSteel yellow Cup combo2
This approach of distinguishing being light and dark is most suited to objects and hard edges/ geometric forms. In landscape scenes just painting each shape in the colour and tone you see it is more applicable. In the castle illustration in the lesson, I only applied the light vs dark to the building not to the water/ land areas
LizSteel eilean-donan-With diagram

I also simplified the colour mixing instructions and just applied a grey wash to the areas that were in the ‘shadow areas’. I normally would distinguish between

  • the shade -using a darker version of the local colour
  • the cast shadow – using a cooler and dark wash of blue/purple gray or a darker version of the object)
  • reflected lights or colours – dropping in a colour wet-in wet.

There are many variables and personal preferences as to how you could approach these – there is no ‘right’ answer or perfect formula that suits every situation and everyone’s colour preferences.


I loved seeing the letterboxes/ mailboxes/ postboxes – whatever you call them! And also seeing the alternatives – the bird houses, fire hydrants, chimney, garbage bins (trash cans!) etc. There were some very strong clean shapes and I hope you all noticed the power of the whites! Once again, this exercise will be very useful to remember when we expand the subject matter to more complex scenes later in the course.

I must apologise for not doing my homework – I promised some watercolour letterboxes this week … I will do some soon! Keep an eye on my blog!

Watercolour Mixing

A few specific colour questions were asked and I have been doing a little mixing play for these!

640_Shapes feedback_Colour mixes

  • Mixing a ‘perfect’ gray takes a bit of practice but in general I normally base it on Ultramarine and carefully add the ‘burnt sienna’ and then a touch of Quinacridone Rose so it has a little more warm ( Note: I didn’t do that last step on this page).
  • It is easier to control the results if you wait till the first wash of local colour is dry before adding the shadow wash over the top. Wet-in-wet work must be done quickly and boldly!
  • Changing brands for ultramarine blue or ‘burnt sienna’ colour can lead to quite different effects. See this post for my investigations on this very issue
  • There were a lot of lovely wet sketches with some happy accidents – they work perfectly for this exercise! Getting the right amount of water to pigment takes … yes you guessed it… a lot of practice. I find that some days when I am out on location my sense of water:pigment ratio is just not right! Ah! that is one of the reasons I love watercolor on location so much – I love a challenge!
  • Make sure you mix up enough paint if you have a large area and try not to work too dry – remember JUICY!
  • I can’t discuss shadow shapes and watercolour without mentioning Daniel Smith Moonglow. A lot of people love this paint and use it almost religiously for shadows. It is an amazing paint (a mix of pigments) with interesting effects, but it is just not the right colour for me. Always trust your own colour preferences.


There was a question about how to get the foreground and background aligning across the objects. It takes another level of awareness to be focusing on the edges of the one shape and, at the same time, seeing how it aligns with an edge on another shape – and of course this comes with practice. A horizontal guideline would help, wouldn’t it?

Well… stay tuned for tomorrow’s lesson when we start constructing volumes!


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