Gathering Clouds: watermedia, 3.5×2.5 inches

I am not in a frame of mind for producing larger pastel pictures right now. With just a couple of weeks to go before Christmas I am running out of time to give to preparing sketches for new ideas. So, with a few blank templates still available in my “cut-up paper and board” drawer, I’m continuing with these ACEO-sized pictures.

ACEOs (art card editions and originals) are always 2.5 x 3.5 inches in size (or 6.3 x 9cm). It’s easier to measure these in inches when cutting-up paper, so I’m sticking to the original measuring format. The painting is done with watercolour (the standard tube type this time, not Hydrus) and white gouache. The surface is acid-free mountboard, using the “right” side. I use a set of miniature brushes made by Winsor and Newton, but of course any make of brush can be used, if it is small-scale, such as 0, 00, etc.

I do not always draw the scene first, but choose a suitable blue for the sky and make a wash over the whole board. Since I’m using gouache for highlights, I don’t need to leave untouched white board. Pale green washes were placed for the hills, adding darker mixtures later on. Similarly with the cloudbank, but using a mix of ultramarine plus alizarin crimson for the mauve areas, and adding a touch of cadmium orange to the same mix for a “brown-grey”.

This has to be left to dry for a little while; and when working on mountboard, the colours can tend to sink in and go a bit dull. They can be refreshed with another light layer of paint if required. Adding the gouache can be a bit hit-and-miss; the first applications tend to sink into the previously-applied watercolour and give a milky appearance. In this case that’s not a problem, since the subject is a cloud; and it is possible to obtain a range of subtle shades this way. The starkness of the white gouache can be relieved by adding a little cadmium orange, or maybe an ochre or naples yellow; as it dries, the colour will “matte” and settle into the previously painted layers.

Pure white gouache can be added finally, slightly thicker (but not too thick or else it may crack….at this scale of work, it shouldn’t be needed very thick anyway). A final darker watercolour wash on the foreground and I decided it was done.

Why would anyone want to paint this small? There are a lot of ACEO collectors and the range of subjects created by artists is vast. Painting small like this is also helpful to decide whether a subject might make up into a nice larger work; creating the mini painting allows the artist to tackle composition and basically “find out what’s there” before committing to a larger sheet or canvas. It is a method regularly used by the American pastellist Karen Margulis, who loves creating mini-pastels to test out colour schemes and compositions. And they frame up very well too!

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