A bouquet of vibrant daisies in the Pocahontas County Art Guild room caught the eye of members and non-members alike who gathered to learn from Greenbrier Artists founding member and watercolor painter Jeanne Brenneman.
Wielding a brush and a palette of warm, cool and earthy tones, Brenneman led a group of 15 women through a three hour class where pencil drawings blossomed into bright daisies against a dark, vivid background.
However, before the Pennsylvania-native allowed her students – a mixture of beginners, intermediates and experts – to put brush to paint, she carted them along on a brief refresher course.
With color charts in each woman’s hand, Brenneman used the chart alongside a color wheel to demonstrate where each color was located in the warm and cool categories, what colors they complement and what colors could be paired together to create a new color.
“When you’re mixing colors, you want to mix the colors that are closest,” she began. “If I’m going to mix a green, and I want a spring green, I want to choose the greenest blue and the greenest yellow to give me the brightest spring green. If I want a gray-green that’s more dulled, which a lot of natural greens are, I want ones that are farther away from green.
“Now, why would picking an orangey yellow and a purpley blue give me a gray-green?”
According to Brenneman, the answer is because the colors run the risk of going across the color wheel.
“Any time you go across the color wheel with colors, you’re using complements and that’s going to grade the color down,” she said.
In addition to knowing which colors to use when mixing, it is important to know how to mix the colors.
“When mixing paint, the colors should not be mixed together all at once,” Brenneman explained. “Now I’ve got one big mess of one color, and I’ve destroyed what I had – which was a range from red to blue. Don’t mix all the colors together. Always keep some of the original color on both sides. That’s why this color chart is important. You get to know colors, and you get to know whether your colors are warm or cool.”
From there, she introduced the two main brush techniques to watercolor – wet-in-wet and glazing.
“Some people love the wet-in-wet technique where everything runs,” Brenneman explained. “It’s juicy, you don’t have a lot of control, and you get these beautiful color combinations. For other people, that drives them crazy. They have to have more control.”
For those types of artists, glazing is the preferred method.
“Glazing builds a painting up layer by layer on dry paper,” she added. “You paint a layer and let it dry. You add another layer and let it dry. Then you repeat. It’s a slower process, but you have more control over what’s happening on your paper.”
In addition to the wet-in-wet technique, the class was introduced to another common watercolor practice – negative painting.
“The biggest thing that throws people when they’re starting out in watercolor is how to save their whites,” Brenneman explained. “How do you leave your whites? Or, how do you get them back after you’ve lost them? It’s easy when you have white paint and you can just paint the whites, but that’s not something you can do in watercolor. The trick is to learn how to do negative painting. Today, we’ll paint a light subject with a big, wet, and washy dark background.”
Following the watercolor introduction, Brenneman took a moment to relay the importance of determining what makes a good shape. The first step is to recognize that good shapes are pieces of value, not objects.
“If you start thinking of shapes as a piece of light or a piece of dark, it’s no longer that fan or this box,” Brenneman explained. “Those are not shapes. The shape would be the light side of the fan, or the dark side of the box. The shape might be the shadow shape connected with the shadow it makes on the table. The dark shape might be a cluster of trees, and there might be a few light shapes in those trees. The shapes are not the trees. The shapes are the light and dark pieces.”
The next step is to remember that shapes describe contour and that the outside edge of the shape describes the contour.
“It helps to give three-dimensionality to whatever it is you’re drawing,” she said. “You want to look for those inner shapes that suggest the contour of what the shape may be, but the outside edges are where the description is.”
According to Brenneman, it is always better to separate shapes in painting by value, rather than by a line.
“You don’t want to have two shapes of the same value and have to separate them by a line,” she added. You want to assign a value to one side of the other, and that helps to define what’s going on.”
The third step in determining a good shape is to be conscious of the positive and the negative – the light shapes against the dark shapes. Every aspect of a painting counts as a shape, and according to Brenneman, the outside pieces of a flower are just as important as the ones located inside the flower.
Irregularity, the ability to interlock with other shapes and repetition with variation are the final steps in the process.
“If you’re doing more than one flower, make those flowers different,” Brenneman urged. “Have variety in them. Don’t make them all the same. Make them have different angles and different sizes – anything you can do to give repetition with variation. Interlocking just means that the edges are not too straight – that there’s something hooking it together with the background pieces and that that goes back to the description at the edges.”
Following the refresher course, the class tackled its first task – drafting their painting. Each student was able to recreate a daisy-shaped flower, drawn by Brenneman, or craft a collage of similar flowers using a variety of pages torn from magazines.
Using a variety of yellows and reds, the women set to work painting yellow daisies against a background of dark greens and blues.
A resident of Lewisburg, Brenneman began painting in 1972. While living in South Carolina, she attended a class – similar to Friday’s – at the local YMCA and has been fascinated by watercolor ever since.
In 1973, she moved to Greenbrier County, where she would become a founding member of the Greenbrier Artists a year later.
In addition to the Greenbrier Artists, Brenneman is a signature member of the West Virginia Watercolor Society, as well as an associate member of the Southern Watercolor Society.
When she is not painting with the Greenbrier Artists at Carnegie Hall, Brenneman can be found at her home studio, where she paints in a style of enhanced realism and teaches watercolor classes.
“I try to bring my own feelings to the scene when I paint,” she says on her website, “and my wish is that the viewer will experience some of the excitement I felt when painting it.”
For information PCAG, contact Cyla Allison at Cyla@wannabefarm.com or stop by the guild room on the ground floor of the Board of Education building on Fifth Avenue in Marlinton. The guild room is open every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.