Last spring I was fortunate to be in a workshop given by Betsy Dillard Stroud. She is amazingly creative and has way more ideas than can fit into a week-long workshop. This led me to buying her book, "Painting from the Inside Out," which has 19 different projects in it.
Ever since I read about her "ink and tempera resist with watercolor" exercise, I wanted to try it. I think it was the photo of spraying a painting down with a garden hose that really hooked me.
I chose a sketch I'd worked on awhile ago of my husband with our cat in his lap. Finding the actual photo, however, took an entire morning, as it was on a backup disk. (Technology can be so aggravating sometimes!) After doing my pencil drawing on an 18" by 22" piece of 140 lb. cold-press watercolor paper, I did the required underpainting. In her book, Betsy emphasizes letting every step dry completely, so I left it overnight.
The next step was using white tempura paint (which will wash off in a later step) to paint over the areas you want left light. The process is painting the entire piece negatively, so in the end, everything you have not covered with tempura will be black, and everything you have covered will have the hues of the underpainting.
Again, letting this part get completely dry is very important.
The next step is potentially messy, so I went outside for this. I painted the entire piece of paper with waterproof India ink, using a sponge brush.
I could hardly wait until the next morning when I could get to the part that excited me in the first place, hosing down the whole painting to see what was left. It's quite mysterious and takes a bit of trust that it will produce something other than gray mud.
After the hosing off, here is what I had left.
I started thinking about ways to sharpen the edges. I felt there was a story there, but the images needed more definition. At this point, I also could have just given up. But that doesn't seem to be how I operate.
In the end, I realized that I had nothing to loose. I took the painting to my work table with pen and ink and just started in creating patterns and sharper edges. Without any preformed thought, I just followed my instincts. The further this process went, the more fun I had. I became more confident in my own finishing process.
I like the old style of this piece. I feel like I might have seen something like it in a book from my childhood. It makes me feel like I'm in a library, opening a dusty old book to find this illustration.
Most importantly, this exercise taught me more than the experience of following a painting exercise--it taught me that following my own instincts and believing in my own creativity serves me well.