Forest Floor
Irving Shapiro (1927 - 1994)
Forest Floor, circa 1968
Chicago, Illinois
watercolor, 19 3/4 by 27 1/2 inches
Illinois State Museum collection

Irving Shapiro went out into nature to make sketches, color samples, and black-and-white photographs for his watercolors. Then, back in his studio, he would begin his large paintings. He believed that only the fewest of pencil lines should be used to give guidelines to the composition, which he designed in his head. First, he applied the main color washes to define the large areas of the painting. He preferred risking mistakes while being bold and fresh with the paint, rather than risking getting bogged down in static details.

This painting shows a glimpse of the grasses, plants, and dead limbs that carpet the floor of a forest in summer. The artist used the white of the paper and dark washes to show sunlight piercing the forest canopy to cast shadows of the leaves.

Irving Shapiro
Irving Shapiro was born in Chicago. He studied painting at the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art, both in Chicago. He taught art at the Academy from 1945 until he retired. Many artists working in watercolor today mention Shapiro as one of their teachers.

The characteristic of watercolor painting that sets it apart from other types of painting is its transparency. Watercolor consists of a thin mixture of paint pigment (from a tube or a solid block) suspended in water. As the brush lays down the paint, often on wet paper, the color spreads rapidly, leaving a transparent layer of color on the paper. A watercolor painting is built of controlled areas of wash.

White areas of a watercolor painting are made by covering them with a layer of liquid rubber called masque instead of by using white paint. The masque is pulled off after the painting is finished and dried. That is how the tiny twigs of Forest Floor were done.

A dry brush technique paints stronger color onto dry paper. Artists use this for adding details such as the small, dark twigs in the background of this painting.

Shapiro used 300 or 400 pound paper, heavy enough to stay flat without stretching or taping down. He used numbers eight and twelve round sable brushes and flat camel's hair brushes one and two inches wide. He chose these colors for his palette: alizarin crimson golden, light vermilion, cadmium orange, light cadmium yellow, mauve, cobalt violet, thalo-blue, ultramarine, cerulean, lemon yellow, sap green, thalo green, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sepia, and Payne's gray.

Shapiro, Irving. "Irving Shapiro Says Watercolor Has Gender" American Artist. April, 1959. Pp. 60, 92.