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Susan and Silver
2007, watercolor, 22 x 3~. Collection the artist.
Life Is a ,., No.6
2007, watercolor, 22 x 30. Private coil ection.
2007, watercolor, 15 x 22. Collection the artist.
2008, watercolor, 18 x 30. Collection the artist.
Best of Watewolor
Paintings With a
Sue Archer's dynamic, light-filled paintings begin and end
with careful planning.
I BY AUSTIN
lorida artist Sue Archer is a planner, and this applies to nearly everything she does. From her approach to composition, to her choice of subject matter, her treatment of color and value, and especially to her career, this artist likes to know where she's going. This quality accounts to a large degree for her success, both creatively and professionally, and recently it has also helped her overcome some health-related obstacles that limited her energy and ability to paint. A mainstay on Florida's circuit of outdoor shows, Archer is known for her whimsically titled paintings that showcase her understanding of the effects of light and shadow, and she has every intention of continuing that course. Although she is often identified with her fruit and vegetable subjects, Archer says that her primary concern is not what she paints but how. "Design and composition are very important to me, and showing strong light," she says. "Right now I'm going through a phase of using fruits and vegetables, but I
don't paint fruit. I paint the effects of Light on my subject." One of Archer's most important techniques for capturing strong light is her careful planning and preservation of white shapes. In treating the white shapes as a color and the lightest value, she can use strong color in the middle
values. "The white paper gives a glow to a watercolor that you can't get any other way," she says, adding that this is not the only function of the white shapes. "It has been documented that we see light shapes first when »re 1001< at a painting, so it's very important that this white shape, which is going to draw the viewer's eye, is either the focal point or is leading the viewer through the painting and directing the eye. I have a tendency not to have a focal point-l create whites more to lead the viewer through the painting." Whether she is using the white shapes as a way to direct viewers' attention, as negative space, or as a highlight, she always paints around them during every wash. No matter how thin the shape, it \..ilI remain unchanged as long as no water is put in it. "I don't mask, no matter what the size or the shape," she says. "It's not that I couldn't or that it's not a valid way of painting, but when
Best of Watercolor
Blue Bottle & Lemonade 2006, watercolor, 30 x 22
P riv ate
I was learning, I had an instructor who said, 'If it's not worth painting around, it's not worth saving." Besides carefully reserving white shapes, Archer relies on drawing and photography in her planning process. "My planning process comes from enjoying the drawing and designing," says the artist. "In don't preplan, I don't get the design that I want" Setting up her still lifes outside on sunny days, she uses both her digital camera and
directly on her computer, and once she finds a satisfying design, she sketches it larger and larger until it is the same
size that she has planned for the painting. She then transfers the drawing with homemade transfer paper to the watercolor surface. Although she uses photographs to help with cornposition, they don't influence her choice of color or value to nearly the same extent. "Photography is really a question of shape," the artist says. "It gives ideas for
sketchbook to gather. reference material. "I change the placement of objects, and I get all different viewpoints," she describes. "I may not paint from these for several months, but I'll think about the design and look at my photos." Archer studies her photographs
34 Best of Watewolor
shape and placement, and then I decide
on the values, colors, and temperature." Once she begins painting, Archer carefully manipulates several formal elements to create the shallow pictorial space she favors. One of her first steps is to crop the image so that the
subject spills off the edges of the paper, 'which brings the image forward. She also paints dark, formless backgrounds that suggest little depth. One of her more unconventional techniques is to show form through color rather than through value. In this technique she paints warm color where light hits an object, but rather than using a darker value on the shadow side of the form, she moves around the color wheel to a cooler hue. She explains that on a red apple, for example, "I'm not going directly to blue but to a bluer red. Ifit were a greenish-yellow apple, I would move from yellow-green to blue to show light on that apple." Archer explainsthat this is a more modernist approach than the traditional method of describing form through value alone. "It gives you shallower space," she says, "but still tells you what you want to know." In another technique, which AIcher calls "merger" or "massing," she links "object to object object to cast shadow, and object to background. You can merge by value, hue, texture, soft edge, air all of the above." In this way the artist can create a sense of unit}' within the piece while still flattening the pictorial space. In terms of her paint application, Archer bnilds up the col.or in layers. She first prewets large areas of her paper during both initial and subsequent washes ..noting that prewetting strictly controls the areas that will receive color and also gives the paint an appealing unpredictability.
Employing the largest brushes
possible, she favors a I" flat for large shapes, such as prewet blocks of color. She paints on Arches 14o~or 30o-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper, which
Tube watercolors from Winsor & Newton, DaVinci, Holbein, American Journey, Daniel Smith., and DalerRowney in the following colors: • permanent rose or quinacridone red
permanent alizarin crimson • new gamboge • aureolin yellow • yellow ochre burnt sienna • quinacridone gold • quinacridone burnt scarlet sap green cobalt blue • indanthrone blue • mineral violet • phthaJocyanine green • phthaiocyanine blue
Loew-Cornell synthetics, as large as possible
• 140- or 300-lb cold-pressed Arches watercolor paper
2008, watercolor, 30 x 22. Private co Ilecti on.
2009, watercolor, 18 x 30. C oltec tio n the arti st.
8e31 of Watercolor
Artsy Apples No.2
Archer began this still life by painting the red of the apples as one large shape, then separating them in a second layer, To create texture on the apples, she dropped water onto the paint at the moment that the surface changed from a shiny to a matte finish, "I call them controlled backruns," the artist says. "Most people don't want them, but I create them allover the plac e. You have to bepati ent. lts called watching paint dry."
The arti st inserted her "colorful grays" on the while of the apples, using graygreen to complement th e red, She added cast shadows, which she merged with the apples by using a soft edge between shadows and objects and by using some blue in both the shadows and the apple slices, Archer chose grayed-down blues and greens for her background, which she added in one wash after prewetting the large negative spa ceo
Best 01 Watercolor
Archer added layers to the apples, putting texture on each additional wash, Each layer of texture modified the eHect of th e laye rs beneath, creating a modeled, or subtle, texture, "Everyone needs to find their own way to texture," Archer emphasizes, "The salt revolution led to everyone usin g salt for everything,"
To complete the
pai nting, Archer added the seeds and the final cast shadows, She felt th at the large slic e in the middle was too big to be so white, so she added glazes of warm green and yellow, AJthough Archer rarely makes alterations to a background, she did so here, "I left too mu c h space, and I didn't like it, so I went back into cut those light areas down,"
THE C OMPlET
Artsy Apples No.2 tile artist
2007, watercolor, 22 x 30. Collection
Best of Watercolor
Life Is a ... No. '1 2007, watercolor, 29 x 41
Collection the artist
Jubilee 2004, watercolor, 30 x 22
Morning Light 2006, watercolor, 30 x 22
Private co lIecti on.
she leaves unstretched, "Usually I don't want a flat wash," Archer says, "so if the pOl per bends a little or wrinkles or gets lumpy-if something happens that I W<e-[ leave it" Archer works with a variety of tube watercolors by Winsor & Newton, DaVinci, Holbein, Daniel Smith, DalerRowney, and American Journey. For her light and middle values, she uses transparent or granular pigments, which she prefers for their brightness and transparency and because they allow her to lift when necessary. Most of Archer's darks, however, are staining pigments, such as phthalocyanine blue, phthalocyanine green, permanent alizarin crimson, and burnt sienna. These create the richest mixtures, Archer employs these darks in her backgrounds, which she paints in only one wash, midway through a painting. "I have some warm darks and some
38 Best of Watewolor
that are cool," she says. "1 put them in depending on the hues 1 put next to them. If I have green grapes, I'll probably put purples and blues next to them. Ifthey're Ted grapes, T way put some grayed-down greens next to them. It's important that I'm playing color against color." Recently, Archer's painting has faced a series of obstacles, Health issues involving nerves in her neck that affected her painting armleft her unable to paint for a year, and although she has now begun painting again, she is being forced to adapt her methods. "1 used to paint on double-elephant paper," she says. "Now I'm down to only full sheets, and 1 may be moving smaller." Archer used to paint for hours at a time with few breaks, but now' she sometimes needs to stop painting after 15 minutes to move around and engage in other activities. "1 take a lot of breaks and
spend less time painting each day than T
used to. I work for an hour or so in the morning and go back later in the day." She now paints with the paper more upright, which is less strenuous for her arm but causes some problems. "Prewetting is difficult, because it all ends up on my feet," she says. "I can prewet flat and let it dry a little bit. 1 may end up painting without prewetting, but I'm not happy with that." Archer has experimented with new techniques and styles, including relatively abstract images and figurative paintings. "1 don't know if figures and I are going to get along," she says. "I'm trying smaller landscapes, landscapes with figures, and stilllifes, 1 haven't found my new niche yet." Archer is gradually working her way back into the business of being an artist. For decades, she has sold her artwork at outdoor art festivals, and she attended
Sue il.reher. of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, began painting in watercolor in 1980. She is a signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society, the Southern Watercolor Society, the Trans" parent Watercolor Society of America, the National Water" color Society, and the American Watercolor Society. She sells her original watercolors at juried outdoor shows in Florida and teaches privately and in work" shops. In 2008, Archer appeared in Commanding C%r, a DVD workshop produced by Creative Catalyst. For more information, visit www.archerville.com .
several shows in 2009. noting some positive changes in the business. especially in regard to giclees, "The giclee industry has allowed us artists to have €xcell.ent reproductions of our work" she says. "They're more expensive than some other types of reproductions, but we don't have to paint as much, This has become important at this stage of my career because of my new limitations. I can have original paintings and make additional money selling good-quality reproductions." Archer is fortunate that her husband is a photographer who uses a digital darkroom for his own work, 'where he and Archer use the same pro" cess to make giclees of her watercolors. They are careful to only reproduce those paintings in which they Gill successfully replicate the original colors. "If we can't print an image up to my standards, we don't do it," Archer adds. The artist worries, however, that
giclees are having a negative impact on the art business. "When I started in the 1980s and I990S, selling at outdoor shows was a wonderful way of marketing original artwork." says Archer. "The best artists in Florida were out on the streets. There WdS a lot of competition, but we would all help one another." According to Archer. however, recent years have seen an increase in artists presenting and selling paintings that are not as original as they appear to be. "We're finding a lot of people coming into the shows-and they're juried inwho are using other people's works, putting up gidees as originals, or putting a couple of brushstrokes of paint on gidees and saying they're originals," she says. "A reproduction is a reproduction no matter what kind of spin you put on it." She also notes that the digital revolution has led to an increase in the avail" ability of original artwork-s-both online
and in other media. This makes copying more of a problem than it used to be. Copying also occurs in workshops, 'INhere inexperienced artists try to irnitate a teacher's style rather than working toward finding their O\'I'n.Archer avoids this problem by spending her workshops teaching concepts rather than emphasizing her own particular style. "I try to teach students how to think," she says, "as well as techniques for achieving strong light." Among other lessons, Arches emphasizes how to design from a student's own photo references and setups. She advises students never to use any other person's photos. "A camera is a tool, not a crutch, and don't be a slave to your photo," she says. "It is only a jumping-off point." In doing this, especially in terms of creating and implementing a plan, she is a fine example, as surely many of her former students would attest. •
Best of Watercolor 39
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