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Seeing Your Subject From Two Points of View

Seeing Your Subject From Two Points of View


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Have more than one great idea for how to approach your next painting? Maybe you want to paint a charming old barn on a hill; but then, you also want to clearly show where this barn is located. Why not do both in the same painting? Artist and instructor Gordon MacKenzie shares how to create two points of view within one painting subject with a fun demonstration of a homestead landscape, that is, well, quite literally “mapped out.” Enjoy!

One Painting Subject, Two Points of View

For this demonstration, I am using the term, “points of view,” in the broadest sense. I am referring to any aspect of a subject that can be visualized. As artists, we typically depict our subject from one point of view — that is, we show what we know about it from a single vantage point. Here’s a chance to combine two related aspects of your painting subject into one picture.

But, before we jump right in, take a look at the painting, above. Canoe Dreams depicts a canoe and a map of the lakes and streams it travels. It’s a combination, or transition, between these two aspects of canoeing, the craft itself and where it travels.

In this painting, the canoe, water lilies and lakes were masked with packing tape. The green of the map was then painted so that it graded into a dark green beneath the canoe with ripple marks from the movement of the canoe. When dry, the masking on the lakes was removed. Then, I painted the lakes a pale blue.

One of the advantages of using packing tape is that it can be removed in stages. For example, when I did the canoe I removed everything except the gunnels, seats, paddle, ribs, lure and tackle box. That way, I could easily paint the strips of cedar for the bottom of the canoe.

Next I removed the tape from the ribs and painted them, then the tape on the seats, paddle, gunnels, lure and tackle box was removed and each element painted individually. Finally the water lily pads and flowers, contour lines and lettering on the map were added.

Getting Started

For this demonstration, we will be taking a similar approach by also using of the transparency of watercolors to overlap two different views of the subject. Only this time, the subject is a homestead and it’s surrounding landscape that incorporates a map of where it is located as well.

For the landscape view of the subject, I use a sketch made earlier of a small farm. For the geographical portion of the subject, I use a map of its location.

My intention in this demo is to have the landscape image, which will roughly occupy the bottom half of the picture, fade upward. The map image will more or less occupy the top half and fade downward to create an overlapping effect.

Step 1: Sketch

I start by sketching in the landscape based on my sketch and then the major lines for a map of the area above it. I add a bit of energy to the picture by tilting the map. I also chose winter to simplify the landscape.

Step 2: Masking with Packing Tape

To suggest snow on the roofs, I reserve the shapes using packing tape. I use this tape not only because there isn’t a drying time, but also because it is faster, far more precise and more reliable than using masking fluid.

Warning: Test your paper first. Arches paper is fine but some others, especially machine-made papers will tear when the tape is removed.

Simply cover the roof areas with the tape and then cut around the edge of the roof shape with a very sharp craft knife. Unwanted tape is then removed and the remaining tape is pressed down.

I start the landscape painting by using pale blue to define the edges of some clouds, the contours of the fields and shadows on the buildings

Step 3a: Painting Contrast

Before I remove the packing tape, I paint in some dark hills and trees that will contrast the roofs and define the edges of the distant fields. I then paint in the sides of the buildings with the appropriate value differences and shadows.

Step 3b: Removing Tape

Once the tape is removed, I add the shadows on the roofs, darken the shadows on the snow and paint in two of the larger lakes on the map.

Step 4: Applying Greens

Next, I paint in the pale green that represents forests on the map. The remaining white areas represent fields. As I come down the page and start overlapping the farm, I start blotting the green so it fades out the further down I go.

Step 5: Adding in Details

I now turn my attention to details on the map, such as words, roads, buildings, etc. I use a black Uniball pen that is water- and light-proof for most of the work. For lake names, I use a blue Uniball pen and for lines I want to appear lighter, I turn to a mechanical pencil.

To start, I draw in the roads with double lines. This could have been tricky doing free-hand so I devised a creative way to use two pens at once. Below, is how I created my “double-pen hack.” (The wonderful thing about watercolors is that you are continually challenged to solve problems).

1. Cut a piece of large eraser at the angle necessary for the pen tips to almost meet. Cut grooves on the sides of the eraser to hold the pens.

2. Tape the pens to the eraser once you have them in the position you want.

3. Practice making double lines on scrap paper before using on your painting. A ruler can be used for straight lines.

The Big Reveal

After the roads, fence posts, buildings and words are added, my painting is complete. Notice how the map does not block the view of the important buildings

Different Paintings, Different Points of View

There are tons of possibilities for creating two points of view within one painting subject. For instance, the following paintings also combine a map and landscape but with a different approach.

In Mississagi River Country, below, the paper was divided into four quadrants with tape. The upper right landscape quadrant extends and fades into the upper left and lower right quadrants.

And, the lower left map quadrant extends and fades into the upper left and lower right quadrants. So, two quadrants are blends and two quadrants are single images.

Going Even Further

Your paper can be divided in many ways. The lines that divide your painting don’t have to be straight or even definitive lines at all. They could be long narrow objects, for example, such as a boat paddles, flower stems, skinny leaves, road signs, neckties and feathers.

You don’t have to use maps of parks, rivers and country-sides. Why not try city or landscaping maps? Or, don’t even incorporate maps at all! Try sheet music, a menu, house plans, theater ticket, a dress pattern or a seed package. So long as they are of a different scale to the other “view” you want to combine within your painting subject — a landscape, cityscape, floral, figure, whatever that may be.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Give it a try.

About the Artist

Gordon MacKenzie is an artist, instructor and a North Light Book author, including the popular titles, The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook and Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook – Keep Painting! Gordon has taught students from kindergarten to university level.

Though he has been retired for over 20 years, his reputation as an art instructor and the demand for his painting seminars has caused him to change his focus to using his writing and teaching skills to help others discover the magic of watercolors.

If you want to learn more from Gordon, check out the Watercolorist’s Essential Painting DVD Collection. This essential bundle includes Gordon’s four latest watercolor video workshops and his new book, so get ready to take your watercolor skills to the next level!


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