The watercolor process creates dramatic atmospheres. New York City threatens to dissolve into Susan Weintraub’s paintings. Due to her adventurous watercolor process, buildings and figures loom softly over veils of drizzle and mist that can make concrete and steel as flimsy as a dream. Street lamps and street lights glow in the dark and dark of city nights. The cars, flooded with water and blurred by movement, drift away from us towards the horizons covered by the rain. This vision is enhanced by the spectacular manipulation of watercolor in which drips, splatters, splatters, and glazes provide powerful equivalents to the experience of polluted and moisture-laden city air.
For Weintraub, the community of watercolor with the ability of water itself is solid. She recalls attending a class at the Art Students League of New York in October 2012 only to be called home to participate in a mandatory evacuation of her property in Brighton Beach before Hurricane Sandy. Although home safe, she witnessed considerable destruction in the surrounding areas. “I looked around the neighborhood that I have lived in my entire life with a new sense of appreciation and respect.
In addition, I realized many potential themes on the beach, on the boardwalk, in the entertainment area, in family shops, and especially in the elevated subway system that runs through the main arteries and connects our site with the rest of the city. Then I recognized that I would love to create works that capture all the strengths and vulnerabilities, but above all the resilience, of these natural and artificial structures. The unique properties of watercolor seemed ironically adequate for this purpose.
Capturing observations and feelings
Supplied with a unique feeling of relationship to her surroundings, Weintraub went to work creating paintings that reflected her observations and feelings. Each frame begins with the search for the subject. My urban landscapes are all made with photographic references, says the artist. “Sometimes I go out to my neighborhood with my 35mm camera specifically to take pictures for possible future paintings. Sometimes I take out my iPhone and take photos with it. Like when I’m a tourist in a vehicle without my camera, the weather or lighting conditions look particularly promising.
Weintraub believes that obtaining good reference shots is one of the most challenging parts of the creative process. “I don’t consider myself a perfect photographer, he says. Often what I ‘see’ with my eyes is not what I notice in the photo. I try to catch images that have sharply specified values: light, medium, and deep. Ideally, one is powerful, one is small, and one is an emphasis. It doesn’t mean which is which.
After choosing a concept, Weintraub assigns it to his iPad. Then use the editing functions to adjust the composition by cropping. “I also try to keep the overall proportions as close to the size of a standard sheet of paper as possible. Many of my original compositions are done on 26×40 inch sheets. Sometimes I search with filters that alter or even eliminate the value to emphasize the difference value further.
Create a study of value
After digitally processing the image, the artist makes a valuable study using a dark neutral color such as Payne’s gray. Although the filter on the tablet is good at this, I think it still helps me plan and run my study. It makes me remember how I will simplify and emphasize the value model. And it helps me better imagine the finished painting. Weintraub then transfers the image onto a large sheet of watercolor paper. To do this, he uses his iPad to superimpose a nine-panel grid on the photo. I take a screenshot and create a printout of my grid image, he says. So I measure a grid of nine cells on the large sheet. With a 2B pencil, I make an outline drawing ideas in the same proportions as my reference.
Weintraub protects the areas that should remain white. In the past, he did this using a combination of duct tape and brown paper. These days, he is experimenting with masking fluid. Most masking methods have identical drawbacks: they leave sharp edges that you may not want. Removing them early in the process of moving the paper used to block while I work can help.
Build and tear down
Weintraub is now ready to start painting. He begins his watercolor process by covering the areas that will be darker with a dark neutral like sepia, ivory black, or Payne gray. I use an oil painter’s quill grove for this and utilize the paint quite often. Then I move on to the medium value washes, some of which may add white gouache to give them body. At this point, I can blur some of the previously painted hues with a large nose brush.
He sometimes sprays enamel over the paint while the paper is laid vertically on the easel or horizontally on the floor. I often apply multiple coats of nail polish, but only after the previous coat has dried. It is where a hairdryer comes in handy. The fin-hairdryer ting can appear spontaneous. But it is actually a very laborious process res a lot of patience. At times, I may feel that I have lost some necessary definitions in one area; I can go back and redefine where necessary. It becomes a back and forth process of building and breaking until I am satisfied.
An essential part of Weintraub’s watercolor process is managing its edges. One of the benefits of watercolor as a factor is the type of borders that can quickly achieve. By giving some advantages and limiting others, I can lead the observer to the desired focal point. To achieve very smooth edges, Weintraub often uses white gouache in his glazes. “Some areas of a painting can have numerous layers of this varnish. I like to paint city streets in various weather conditions, like rain or fog, and glazing is one way to get that atmospheric quality.
Sometimes I hold a large chalk bristle brush loaded with gouache glaze, a dark color wash, or even water almost parallel to the paper in my hand and drag it over the previously painted image. It works particularly well on textured paper, depositing pigment in the mountains on the paper surface and avoiding valleys of paper napkins across the form to create a soft, fuzzy effect.
Reaching the universal time and place.
Part of the suggestive nature of Weintraub’s watercolor method is the effect of the somewhat restricted palette he uses. Limiting the color gives me the ability to focus on the tonal values. I often find that my preliminary studies of matters are more robust than the finished paintings. In a conference, the painter Antonio Masi said that most artists are a painter of colors or a painter of values; I’m obviously in the second group. I newly read an extract from an account with John in which he said: Spirit is the workhorse, but color has merit.
As for the future of his work, Weintraub plans to move on an even larger scale and continue to gain experience with the dramatic techniques he employs. All of this will serve his vision. I hope my paintings give the viewer a sense of universal time and place. I paint urban landscapes as I see them today and hopefully as I remember them from my childhood. Most of the rapidly increasing large chain signage has been blurred or removed, partly for simplicity but also to give timeless works.
I hope my portraits show the look of the area and evoke a sense of place, sometimes pleasant, sometimes mundane, and sometimes even anxious. Ideally, spectators will see something that resonates with their experience or gives them a broader view of mine.