April 5, 2011

My Long Love of Strings and Painting Progression Two - Violin

I've owned a violin for something like eight months now. Am I eight months better at playing a violin? No. I'm not even three days better at playing the violin. I don't feel too terrible about not devoting more time to it since it was so cheap. I had a full time job up until a month ago, plenty of other in-progress projects, and I have yet to locate a teacher that is not a book for dummies or online video.  However, I'm still somewhat disappointed I haven't put more into it.  I've wanted to play the violin since lessons were offered in grade school, but when one of three brothers needs braces at the time of violin lesson registration, it usually means that braces win over violin rental. It seemed like an unfair and senseless outcome then and it still seems like one now!

Whenever I was unable to try something as a child, I always saw it as a missed opportunity to prove that I was a waiting prodigy at whatever that thing was.  There was no question of whether or not I'd be any good at the violin or despise the tedium and discouragement that comes with developing most rewarding skills.  No, I'd simply been denied an opportunity to let my genius shine forth because one of my excess of brothers had freak teeth!

When I finally got around to purchasing one, I suppose that romantic notion was still alive in my brain.  The strings produce some of my most favorite sounds. Those songs that make my hair stand on end, noticeably shift my heartbeat, or tend to be playing in the background when the keyboard suddenly catches fire after being stuck on that chapter for months is months, are usually rich with dense, dramatic and deft strings. If I identified with and loved such sounds that much, shouldn't it mean I'd naturally know how to duplicate them? It's perfectly logical...

Buying a violin would also be a great way to work my way up to the sexy, sexy cello in just a few months! Well, it didn't quite work out that way. However, all was not lost.  For forty bucks, it turned out to be a pretty decent violin that produced pretty decent violin sound.  I also learned more about the structure, form and function of an instrument that looks beautiful regardless of how beautiful one can make it sound.

With my new influx of non-office time, I took another crack at playing it but soon moved on to painting it instead. I think my cat was thankful for that decision.  So here's a breakdown of my latest watercolor: Violin.

This is the reference shot. I thought the burgundy wall color would
wake up the red of the violin's body, while the hardwood floor would
bring out the bridge and the bow's horsehair.

The least fun part of this painting was the starting part. The image is mapped on medium weight, cold-pressed watercolor paper using watercolor pencil.
I know it's not the clearest shot, but if you look closely, you can see a few of the
shadow lines have been drawn as well.  It helps to keep track of these
in addition to subject.

Watercolor pencils are a help for more than mapping a painting. They're great for creating an underlying dry layer which can save a lot of time and paint especially for darker colors.
The blacks, deeper reds and a few of the accents are filled in with a layer
of watercolor pencil.  This is a big help for outlining the thin, light strings
across the dark fingerboard.

It's then time to dive in and get wet.  I usually start with the largest and simplest area. In this case, it's the painted wall.
That light layer of dry watercolor pencil enhances the thick burgundy just by adding
a bit of red, fuchsia and touches of black, which are blended as needed.

The wall space around the violin is filled in using brushes in various sizes and shape to create thin edges or cover large areas.
I used a soft stencil brush to blend in shadow and create the light texture of a wall
with matte paint.
The right side of the violin is more or less established, it's time to move on to the left by adding the violin's shadow against the door and frame molding.

The violin's shadow against the white door and molding is fairly sharp and defined.
A very watery black is used over the light watercolor pencil layer. 

Moving down to the floor, the wood grain under the door, the door shadow, and the boards of the hardwood floor are filled in.

The grain of the floorboards is created by making blotchy zigzags with some
straw yellow and watery umber. 
Chinese white is used to add in subtitle highlights, which are great for
establishing a sheen on a hardwood floor.

Moving on to the bow, this is where much of detail work begins.
The wrapping, thumb leather, and outline of the frog are added,
along with all applicable highlights and shadows.
The eye, screw, ferrule, and rest of the frog have
been filled in.
With the horsehair, tip, stick, and their
shadows added, the bow is complete.
Apart from the violin, most of the color elements have been completed. It's easy to put all the focus into these elements, but sometimes the subtleties are where the depth is really established.

There are slight shadows and textures in the white door, which are created by
thin lines of watery black and coatings of Chinese white.

And finally, moving on to the violin itself, the body is filled in, as are f-holes, tailpeice, chinrest and saddle, along with their highlights.

A dry flat brush is used to create the texture of the body's finish,
Some areas are left blank for the sharper white highlights.

Creating the fingerboard to outline the strings requires a very thin detail brush.
It was by far the most nerve-wrecking part of the painting.
On the homestretch now. The bridge, nut, pegs, pegbox and scroll are filled in.

There's the completed painting. Time to carefully pull the edge tape
and scan it.

There you have it!


  1. Wow, Rosa -- this is beautiful. The way you capture light is impressive. It's cool to see the progression of a painting. Lovely!

  2. lovely painting- seeing the progression makes me want to take out my watercolors and try painting again.

    I hope you find a way to motivate yourself to learn the violin! Do you play other instruments? I know how difficult it is to stick with learning a new instrument, I am currently battling with the penny whistle and guitar while also trying to get back into playing jazz on my clarinet. But its worth it! I always wanted a violin so I could learn to fiddle...maybe one day

  3. Thank you both, ladies!

    Jasmin, I had piano lessons briefly in my teens, but theatre got in the way. Violin, cello and harp are still on my list. I hope you're getting a lot of enjoyment from the penny whistle and guitar battle even if it is a battle. I'm very happy to hear the post make you want to get back to painting as that's one thing I really hoped to accomplish with this blog. You should totally dive in!

  4. What a nice painting! The prospective is great. Have you heard Kate Bush's "Violin"? I think you'd enjoy it.

  5. Sonia, thank you so much. I have not heard of that song, but I've found a few video links and I'll have to give a listen :-)