NMO ARGO – A Watercolor Progression

Watercolor progression photo #8 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen NMOmo Argo  – Original watercolor by Woody Hansen, 15″ x 22″
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NMO Argo, begins on a half-sheet of 140-pound, cold press watercolor paper. In this particular case. work is accomplished on a level surface. A large, flat watercolor brush is loaded with Manganese Blue and Cyan, then the paint is encouraged to drip on areas of the paper, combined with a bit of a splattering and flicking motion.

The large brush, held by the tip of the handle, is slowly dragged over the surface during various stages of wetness. This is done in an attempt to create interesting shapes that  help to relate various parts of the composition to one another.

Paint is removed, scratched away, in a few selected areas. This is done to help create “repeats’  of similar marks in blue, and to open spaces and add interest. A brush handle is used to make rapid, assured,  scratch marks in three places.  These marks can be seen starting in the lower left area and progressing diagonally toward the upper right of the painting.

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Once the initial layer of paint dries, the same, large brush is used to, here and there, apply a light tint of the same colors as used previously. This further helps bring various areas together. NMO Argo, is allowed to dry once again before proceeding.

Work continues using a large, flat brush loaded with transparent, Magenta paint. This layer of Magenta color carves out a continuous shape, encompassing the bottom, left, and right areas of the composition.

The painting is thus divided in to two basic shapes with the larger shape dominating the smaller blue and white area in the upper portion of the main, 15 x 22 inch rectangle.

At this point a permanent, black ink pen is used to divide the dominate shape into three, linked shapes. To visually add variety to the three, relatively equal shapes a transparent layer of Cyan is applied to the left and right shapes. (see below)

Watercolor progression photo #2 of 8 for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


The red is warmed and further intensified by a combination of colors in two or three layers. Each layer is allowed to become bone dry before adding an additional layer. (see below)

Watercolor progression photo #3, of 8 for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


The large area on the left could stand some variety. How about that small shape in the lower left corner. What would happen if that color was intensified? To accomplish this with transparent watercolor, the existing paint must first be removed, lifted, from the area.

The small shape is ;masked off and the paint “lifted,”, while being careful not to overly disturb the hills and valleys of the paper surface. This procedure is done in about three stages, Each stage allowed to dry completely before continuing to the next, and so on.

The masking  is removed, and the shape is repainted a bright red, to closely match the larger middle section to the right, lower middle. The same red, value and hue is added to a small area in the left of the painting.

Now the eye is entertained by the place meant and size of the bright red areas. his is noticeable in the upper left, lower left, and lower middle of the painting. Next, surface variety and texture is heightened  by the addition of black line in the form of calligraphy. (see below).

Watercolor progression photo #4 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


There is something bothersome with the upper part of the lower, middle shape. How about overlapping and lengthening the direction of the black line at the upper end of the left side of that middle shape?

The obvious solution might be to extend the black line further by simply adding more line. However, using a contrasting white line might be more entertaining. How to go about that?

One solution might be to add a red shape divided by the continuation of a white line. (see below)

Watercolor progression photo #5 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


How best to encourage the further development of NMO Argo? Two, of many, options are considered. The first option, is to allow the shape on the right to remain as is and develop the diagonal downward thrust of the three, bright red shapes. This would allow for a purposely unbalance motif (see above). The other option is noticed by a class participant who asks, “What about developing the shape suggested in the upper right like you did in the lower left?” Could this be a case of two heads being better than one?

Either approach appears valid. Option one would create a desirable sense of informal balance, however this would seem to leave the right side of the painting less interesting and lacking the entertainment than the more formally balanced left side. Of course, there are positives and negatives to either choice. I decide in favor of the second option. Problem solving; exactly the kind of thing that makes painting enjoyable.

So, a decision is made to lift the implied shape in the upper right side to allow the color to be intensified using the method employed earlier with the smaller shape in the lower left side (see above, Stage 3).

After lifting the color, and before the mask is removed, the area is over-painted with me more intense red hue.  (below).

Watercolor progression photo #6 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


The basic hue of the larger, right and left shapes are changed from red to purple by adding a transparent layer of cyan over the red. NOTE: These two shapes, seen above, appear a darker value than what they were at the time of the photograph.

To add entertainment, a large, flat brush is loaded with transparent yellow. More opaque, Cadmium Yellow could have been used, but the yellow of choice in this case is a transparent, Lemon Yellow. Drips and splatter are added with care, stopping now and then to evaluate the overall pattern and effect.

The large, yellow drip in the lower right corner is an accident, but my, oh my, what a WONDERFUL accident. I could have removed it instantly with tissue. Years ago I most certainly would have. However, I have learned to embrace happy accidents. They are the jewels of painting. Contrary to popular, and much of academic opinion, there is simply no perfection in art. As Frank Webb asks, “Whose perfect?”

Try covering that yellow spot with your hand. Hopefully, you will agree how very, very important that happy accident is to the success of the painting. (see below)

Watercolor progression photo #7 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


To help unify the yellow splatter, the same transparent yellow is applied over the predominately blue and white shape in the upper, center of the painting. The yellow layer placed over blue turns the blue to green and provides an attractive primary contrast of red against green, warm next to cool.

The yellow area also provided an additional primary counterpoint, contrast, conflict,  of yellow against purple, warm against cool, that visually stimulates and excites the eye. Ah, entertainment!  It is fascinating to note  how one color has the potential to energize, and positively affect, an entire painting.

Additional calligraphic line work is added to the yellow-green shape specifically, and to a few  other areas in the  painting as well. Next, various color areas of the painting are intensified by adding additional layers of related, intense color .

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with this watercolor.

Watercolor progression photo #8 of 8, for NmoArgo, watercolor by Woody Hansen


I’ve commented on various methods of titling paintings in previous posts, so I’ll only note that this title is typical for me, in that it  came after the work was completed.

In the process of giving the work a title I became fascinated by that little shape in the bottom, left of the painting. After the fact, it reminds me, ironically of a slightly misshapen bug of some kind that unnoticed, ever so slowly creeps upward on its journey of destruction. Or, could it simply be on a journey of discovery? So, we ponder the old, question, “Is the glass half full, or is it half empty?”

Not wishing to be melodramatic, I must note that Nmo Argo, unexpectedly ends up being a work of unique, personal meaning. It began without a plan, without a direction, but evolved in a way that cannot be duplicated. It is not an abstract painting, it is a non-objective painting that came from I know not where. It is a painting, not an illustration. During its creative journey it evolved beyond my greatest expectations. That’s how I feel about it tonight. Tomorrow might be an entirely different story.

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