Thursday, September 5, 2013

Splash Ink Watercolors

I can't believe how long it's been since my last blog post: over a month. Guess I've been busy! Most of August found me editing my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, and practicing the techniques I learned in a recent 2-day art class, Splash Ink Watercolor.

I was attracted to this class for two reasons: first, the word "ink" made me think of fountain and gel pens, freewriting, and calligraphy. And I just love ink! Second was the course description that mentioned using our imaginations to paint--always a good sign of something interesting up ahead.

In a nutshell, Splash Ink is based on Chinese art and theory. One of the things that surprised me the most was that the word "splash" actually means "pour" in Chinese, so the class wasn't quite as messy as I thought it would be. (I wore my absolute worst clothes and shoes on both days, terrified that we would be throwing paint all over the room and each other. Thankfully, this never happened and was straight out of my over-active "imagination." Splash Ink can be safely attempted in any work space or studio with a plastic tablecloth and paper towels.)

To start off the first day of class, our wonderful instructor, Ming Franz, gave us each 12 sheets of good quality rice paper measuring roughly about 14" x 14" that we divided into sets of 4. The sets of 4 were kept together and taped to plastic boards. After taping, we then sprayed water onto the top sheet until all 4 sheets were saturated. We then poured ink and liquid watercolor and/or acrylic paints onto the top paper in the following order: sumi ink first, then blue, red, yellow, and white paint. Using the white paint was the most surprising to me as I've always heard, "Don't use white in a watercolor!! Ever!" But for this method it was essential. Somehow the white paint seemed to soften, blur, and highlight the other colors all at the same time, a very nice effect.

After pouring the color and letting it seep down into all 4 sheets, the next optional step was to sprinkle salt onto the first sheet. We could also drip diluted dish washing liquid into the damp color for added depth and texture. Another option was to place pieces of scrunched-up plastic wrap in selected spots. Last of all we then carried our boards outside into the New Mexico sun to let the papers dry--which in our super-dry climate took about 30 minutes.

Once everything was dry we were able to separate the pages, and wow: 3 sets of 4 abstract backgrounds in varying degrees of dark to light depending on the order of the papers . Here is one of my lighter pieces that was #3 in a set of 4:

This next much darker sheet was the first of a set of 4. I also used some of the crunched-up plastic wrap to fill out the design:

Day 2 was where the magic really began--we got to paint over the backgrounds with either acrylic or gouache (opaque watercolor) paints. Our homework assignment between classes was to study and meditate on our pieces so that we could "find the picture" inside each one, kind of like looking at clouds or cracks in the ceiling. There's an elephant! No, it's a giraffe! Ming also suggested we look through books and magazines for reference photos we could bring to class and that could help turn our background pieces into finished paintings.

For me, a magazine picture of falling autumn leaves over rushing water seemed to fit the red paint splashes I already had on this particular piece:

I was sorry the class was for only two days, because I certainly had a lot more backgrounds to fill. I ended up with even more when I took 4 of my least favorite sheets and cut them down into quarters, giving me a stack of little "mini-sheets" to practice on. Here's the result of my first small attempt at home; I called it "On the Way to Taos" as that's exactly what it reminded me of:

Now that the class is over, I hope to continue using Splash Ink and adapting it to my own style and choice of mediums. I think it would be an incredible way to illustrate a book, especially one for children, or perhaps a dark and mysterious Gothic novel for grown-ups. Maybe I'll have to do this one day for a new edition of Overtaken!

Tip of the Day: To learn more about Ming Franz and Splash Ink, take a look at Ming's book, Splash Ink With Watercolor (Looking East, Painting West). Not only will her beautiful artwork inspire you to try some painting of your own, but you might want to experiment with using Ming's paintings as writing prompts--a great idea for yourself or your writer's group. Happy creating!

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