Spotlight on an Artist- Ilya Ibryaev

This week, I wanted to share some paintings and videos by Ilya Ibrayev.  Ilya does these wonderful wet-into-wet landscapes that feature fog and piercing light.  I admit, although he does other work, it's these nature scenes that are my favorites of his.  You can tell he's in his element- with a confident hand, he's softening and hardening lines as the composition requires, reserving dry areas, working on his values and leading lines, moving between warm and cool hues.

I've found three videos of his that are very illustrative.  I'll be diving in deeply with this first one, and will mostly let you guys apply those thoughts to the second two.  Regarding the video's length- there's some gentle edits occurring in here, so I'm not sure how long the painting actually took, but I would be very surprised if it was only 35 minutes.  I would imagine there was atleast a bit of extra "waiting around" going on, as you paint in one area while waiting for another area to dry up a bit, etc.  As always, with wet into wet, patience is a powerful skill to develop.  In the spirit of that, I advise watching atleast one of these videos all the way through.  There's lots to learn, even in the little uneventful bits.

In this first video, Ilya starts out by pre-wetting most of the paper, but preserving an important area as dry paper, up at the focal point.  In these early minutes (about the first 10) it's interesting to watch him lay value and color in.  Normally, we work from light to dark, but if you take white as his palest value, he starts by laying in his mid-values (like an acrylic or oil painter), then dropping in his darks and pulling his lights back out.  You can see him using a wet, clean brush to soften the edges with water, and occasionally he takes a thin, thirsty brush (or even a damp... but thirsty!... sponge) and pulls out streaks of color, to pull it back closer to white.

Once that wet-into-wet plate is spinning, he starts adding in his darks up in the dry area with a flat brush.  What's intriguing about this section of the video is how much attention he pays to value (expected), but also edges.  A number of times, he drops a tissue back in, to try and pull out a dry area and get harder edges, and a couple of times he actually swipes in a bit of water next to a dry area to soften an edge.  It's not all higgledy piggledy or totally random, despite how it looks- instead, like the ebb and flow of a tide, he's slowly moving from purely soft edges on the perimeters to 100% hard edges in the center.  You can see him push color temperature around too, as he moves away from the sort of dark plum he sues for his shadows to an orange, and then to a muted yellow for his highlights in the areas closest to the light source.

It's also worth watching how he controls the moisture level of the paper by rotating "geographically" around the painting.  Everything starts pretty equally wet, but in the beginning he spends a lot of time getting the bottom streaks just right, before he moves up to the top right area.  For a long time he works there, until, eventually, when he goes to the left side of the painting (around the 20 minute mark), things are relatively dry, and he can drop in some dry brush marks that don't spread or bleed.  Finally, as we approach the 30 minute mark, he starts to do his drybrush strokes in the bottom half of the paper- enough time has passed by then that, despite the fact that the paper is still wrinkled and clearly is holding water inside of it, the surface is relatively dry.  Dry enough that he's not getting blossoms.

Something I really like about his process is how he doesn't overwork areas.  He goes in and pushes the water around while its pliable, for those soft, diaphanous streaks, and then he leaves it alone.  No going back in and screwing with it!!  :)  Sometimes, he gets little blossoms or whatnot, but he leaves them alone.  I guess it's a matter of opinion about whether they're mistakes or just little watercolor blessings (my take is that their blessings), but either way, if he were to try and remove them he would only make things worse.  My opinion is that there comes a point when you've got to leave the painting alone, and if there are sections that aren't perfect, you either accept them and eave them alone or integrate them into the rest of the painting.  The wrong thing to do is to always be "fixing" things.  Ilya is very good at letting it just be watercolors, a little wild and free.  I like that about his work.

This next video is very similar to the first compositionally, but it's always interesting to see a painting done, particularly when you can kind of anticipate little moments because you're familiar with the process.


Here in the third and final video, you can also see a lot of the techniques from the first video put into action.  Most notable is how he moves around geographically, working on different areas as previously painted areas partially dry.  He starts at the top, does the the heavier-valued horizon line, and then drops to the bottom half.  Once he's done with the bottom half, the top section, despite being buckled still, is dry enough for him to do some light drybrushwork.  No charging the paper with lots of water, from an oversaturated brush!  Just a daub here and there with a thirsty brush.  This is the sort of "almost wet into wet" kind of work that's good to try out on test sheets, so you can get the hang of it.