At Cobalt, as I have said a few times before, there was no wasted time. Each time we finished a project, we'd set up a new project. We would stretch muslin over our flats and have to size them with starch. While we were waiting for the starch to dry, Rachel or Kimb would teach us something else. On one of those occasions we learned about painting drapery.
Of all the things I painted at Cobalt, I think my drapery assignment was my least successful. If I had to choose one project that I liked the least (not because of the teachings or anything the teachers did) I would choose the drapery project. I performed the least well on that one. I had one unteachable moment at the beginning of the project and it served to sabotage me all the way through. I try to be teachable all the time. Once in awhile I mess up, though and the drapery project was one of those times. Consequently I had to learn the hard way on this project.
But since I learned things on this project and I am not afraid to admit when I've made a mistake I have decided to blog about it anyway.
Step One: Base Coat and Cartooning
This was one of those quick projects in between other projects, and we were told to take a flat that was 2' x 3' and choose two colors from the paint corral and scumble them together. I chose purple and yellow. The paint corral was a collection of all the extra paint we had mixed up until that time. When we would finish a project, instead of throwing away all that paint, we capped it and put it in the paint corral. Then it was fair game for anyone to use from that time on. It saved a great deal of time in paint mixing. No sense mixing a new color when the color we wanted was already mixed.
I chose purple and yellow, complementary colors. Other people were choosing blue and light blue, or blue and green, colors that were analogous or related to each other in some way. Kimb questioned me about my color choice and I think was giving me the opportunity to make a switch, but I went ahead and did it anyway. This was my one unteachable moment while at Cobalt Studios.
At this point, we didn't know what we were painting, we had just been told to scumble two colors together. Then we found out. We were painting drapery, but not just any drapery, embroidered drapery. Even though I made a poor decision at the beginning of this project, I still learned the principles and when I have to paint drapery like this again, I will have a much better outcome.
Rachel showed us a photo of drapery that she had put through photoshop and had abstracted it into color blocks that represented local color, shade, shadow and highlight. With charcoal on a bamboo, she then cartooned out the big shapes on her demo piece. She suggested that with drapery, she usually cartooned it upside down because she was more successful on drapery when she approached it in the abstract shapes upside down than she did when she painted it right side up. I followed suit.
|Ugly scumble of purple and yellow and charcoal cartooning|
Step #2: Stenciling
Next we were shown the collection of stencils and asked to find a stencil with an all over pattern but one with recognizable shapes within that pattern. Rachel then taught us how to stencil specific to this project. With wallpaper, it's important to meet edges and to be careful where the repeats go. On embroidered drapery, however, it's important for the stencil to follow the curves. We worked on one fold at a time with the stencil, making sure the recognizable shape was visible here and there.
I was not having a good color day and I chose brown for my stencil color. Another poor choice. That's the thing about choices. A poor choice is still a choice.
|Ugly brown stencil on an ugly purple and yellow scumble|
Step #3: Shade
Rachel then demonstrated how to paint the shade. Once again, shade is the shadow on a surface caused by the absence of light on that surface while cast shadow is the shadow that is projected off of one surface and onto another. The shade on this project as on all the other projects was made of burnt umber and ultramarine blue, thinned to transparency with water.
It's important to note that scenic artists keep the paint elevation or other reference material close by when they paint in order to compare and refer to it during the process.
The shade is painted by finding the deepest part of a fold and painting darkest there and bringing it out into a fuzzy line as the shade transitions to the light. Fuzzy lines are made by painting a brush stroke of clear water on the fuzzy edge before painting with the paint color. The paint then mixes with the water which dilutes and thins it. We help a fuzzy line out with a brush just a little.
|Rachel painting the shade upside down. Note the source material next to her work|
|My project with the shade painted on it|
Step #4: Cast Shadow
Looking at the source material, we were to identify the difference between the shade and the cast shadow. Whereas shade has a fuzzy edge, cast shadow has a hard edge. Our cast shadow on this project (on every project) was a mixture of ultramarine blue and velour black, thinned to transparency with water. In other words, Payne's Grey.
The shadow painting was pretty straightforward. Where the shadow was on the reference, transfer it to the painting. Pretty quick.
Step #5: Hightlight
In the high points of the drapery, where the light would strike it normally, we added highlights. Highlights are made by taking the predominant local color, and adding the "color of the light". I had always made my highlights by adding white paint to the local color prior to studying at Cobalt. Adding the color of light for my highlight was revelatory for me.
Since my predominant color on my piece was an unattractive yellow, I added the amber color of light to my base coat. Still another example of where my poor choice at the beginning served to make this project less successful than it should have been.
As I looked at everyone else's work on this project, I have to say on this one mine was the weakest, and that was due to my one unteachable moment at the beginning of the project.
I really want to paint this project again, but this time make a better choice at the beginning of it. I wish I had taken the opportunity Kimb had given me at the beginning to choose better colors. I'm glad I didn't end my Cobalt experience on this project.