Lian Quan Zhen Workshop

Back in October or November, after moving and getting somewhat settled, I did a little "Googling" to see what art organizations were nearby that I might want to join. One of the first that I found was the Florida Keys Watercolor Society. Most of its meetings and events are in Marathon, which is an hour up the Keys from Key West, but it looked like a good group for me.

I happened to click on the "Workshops" page of their website and saw that they had a workshop in January, I immediately emailed the contact person to see if it was full. Fortunately, they were willing to squeeze me in. I'm so glad that they did.

Before the workshop began, I looked at several of the instructional demonstration videos on YouTube. I watched one with frogs and one with goldfish. I found that he was so much easier to learn from in person. His techniques are the same as in the videos, but he is a very nice and engaging teacher, which doesn't necessarily come across online.

On the first day, we spent a great deal of time on composition. He handed out copy paper with two egrets on it.

He said that we should decide whether we wanted to paint only one, or both. Since I didn't want to fall behind, timewise, I decided that it would be smarter to do only one. His method involves drawing the main elements of your painting onto tracing paper. Then, you can move them around on your paper's surface to decide the best placement. The tracing paper allows you to flip elements if desired. Once your composition is decided, you put transfer paper (graphite) under the tracing paper and draw over the image. I like to use a red pen for this so I can tell what has been transferred and what has not.
We were also instructed to freehand a vague idea of where we wanted the mangroves to be.

Next, Lian had us mask the egrets with removable masking fluid. (Don't laugh, apparently there is a permanent masking fluid out there for sale...not sure what the purpose of that would be.) We were also instructed to splatter a little masking fluid where we intended sunlight to be highlighting the leaves of the mangroves and to mask an elements that were to be in the foreground (closer than the egrets).

Once that was dry, the fun began! He demonstrated his method of paint application and manipulation. He makes three dishes of color in red, yellow and blue and does ALL color mixing ON THE PAPER. I had never done anything like this. He loads his brush and shakes or taps dots of a color where he wants it. Then he does the same with another color. (Each color has a brush dedicated to that color.) Next, he sprays just a little water into the wet paint, letting it combine spontaneously. He uses his finger tips to draw. In this case some of the mangrove roots and trunks were done this way. He also blows the paint around to make random branches and roots. He advocates for leaving some white and light areas of the paper too and warns against getting the paper too wet, which results in muddy areas. I would have liked a little more blending. I felt my mixing stayed a little too bright, but maybe that is just my style. The last thing to do in this step is to mix a dark color (the consistency of clam chowder) and flick that into damp color. Lian says all paintings need black. (His "black" is really Antwerp Blue and Naphthol Red, but it does look very dark.)

I have to say that when we first watched this method, it looked completely random and like it was merely playtime. What you do not realize until later is that Lian has mastered this method and he knows precisely where to place the lights and darks to develop them into a magnificent end result. I'm sure this gets easier over time.

After the paint dried we removed the masking liquid from the egrets and he showed us how to paint them.

I don't really have a lot of technique tips specific to the egrets, but generally, Lian stresses not to keep anything the same within a painting.
"Change the intensity, change the value, change the shape."

I remember him saying this as he painted the line dividing the beak, specifically. If you look, you will see the line does not go all the way across. He says the viewer will connect it in their mind and that keeping things too similar makes a painting "boring."

After the egrets were done, Lian instructed us on how to do the mangroves.

"Do not paint the roots. Paint AROUND the roots."
"Do not paint the tree branches. Paint AROUND the tree branches."
"Don't paint the rocks. Paint AROUND the rocks." 

This is also where he implores us to "Use what you have. Improvise!"

Above is his almost finished painting. (Before he took masking off the front limb.) I wish that I had words to explain how he used about three brushstrokes to make the entire composition go from an interesting abstracted painting to a painting with defined background, reflection and depth. It was mindblowing!

Above is my painting and it is still incomplete. I'm really happy with it, so far. I need to paint his legs. I need to paint the foreground baby mangrove plant and do the leaves of the mangrove in top left area. I'd like to think that I can make the center area look like more clusters of mangroves off in the distance, but I'm not sure how that will go, lol!

I wish I could have finished it in the workshop, but we moved on to a sea turtle painting, so I can't complain! I love sea turtles!!!

The method for the sea turtle was basically the same as for the egret, except we only masked the lines between the shell plates and on the legs. During the color application, I strategically placed color this time!

Artist Network has a Video of seaturtle method.

By the way, Lian Zhen uses a great big monitor and a camera mounted over the table. The attendees of the workshop have a wonderful (right side up!) view of everything he paints! He can also zoom in and we can see what he is doing better than he can.

Here, he teaches us to paint the sea fans using a method much like the mangrove painting method.

This was my turtle painting the day the workshop ended.

I loved this workshop. The format kept you engaged and on track. If you want to take his class, there is a schedule on his website. He is doing SO MANY workshops; surely, there is one near you. He also has many books (and DVDs), including ones with techniques. I purchased the beautiful one that shows lots of his work, but does not teach you how to do it:

Below, is my finished sea turtle painting. I love it. I cannot wait to use these techniques in future paintings. I've already had requests for more turtles, which will be my pleasure!