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Winter Sun or Hat With Girl

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Winter Sun I (9 x 12) $75

Winter Sun I (9 x 12) $75

Arne Westerman has a little chapter in his book, How to Become a Famous Artist Through Pain and Suffering, in which an artist complains to his psychiatrist that he just can’t do lost edges because he has a compulsion to paint in the lines. I can relate. I have a hard time painting loose and yet the paintings I most admire are often painted that way.

This painting was an exercise in staying loose. I had to throw away two tighter versions to get it. But I’m glad I kept at it. And yes is does have a lost edge or two.

The palette is my trusty favorite four, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, cobalt blue and phthalo blue. It’s a good palette for painting loose. The burnt sienna and the blues flow together in the most interesting and unexpected ways. I washed just a hair of quinacridone deep red rose into her lips.

But however much I may like the painting, my eleven year old daughter, does not. As she complains, you can’t even see my eyes. And you can’t But if she will wear oversize hats, what else can she expect?

Or purchase a print at Fine Art

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Pigment Geekiness or Palette Ramblings

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Choosing paint can be a daunting task for a beginner.

Not all pigments are created equal. Some stain and some lift. Some overpower every mix they are in, and some must be added in quantity to make any change at all. Some are textured and some go on smooth. Some transparent watercolors really are transparent and some are rather less so.

Nor are all paints created equal. Knowing what pigments are in what paint is vital. Some, the good ones, are just one pigment. Some are mixes. Some are mixes of lower quality pigments. And brand matters. Cobalt blue even if it is the very same pigment behaves differently depending upon the manufacturer and the grade of paint.

The name of the color does not necessarily answer any of these questions.

Fortunately some of this information is standardized. The Society of Dyers and Colorists and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists have indexed the pigments. The index number is found on almost every quality paint tube. Cadmium yellow, for example is not one but one of two possible pigments PY35 and PY37. PY35 is a little greener. Some paints also include the American Society for Testing and Materials lightfastness rating. One is good and five poor.

But for the beginner, too much of this kind of information is simply overwhelming. It overwhelmed me. So I cribbed. A little over a year ago when I first started painting, I entered the art store with a list of paint colors drawn from the basic palettes of two or three artists who’s how to paint books I admired.

After my heart recovered from cost of buying all that paint at once ($295.99 or so), I made a chart of all of my brand new paints. First I painted each color across the page horizontally. When the page dried, I painted a vertical stripe of each color down the page. It looked like a multi-colored loosely woven basket. The idea was to show the colors and all of the mixing possibilities. I never looked at it again. And I have no idea where it is.

Then at direction of Butch Krieger, Watercolor Basics: People, I made a tonal value chart of flesh tones in paint. It was a lovely chart and I learned a lot about mixing flesh tones making it. I never looked it again either. It’s probably with the color chart.

Colored paint remained a mystery.

Sometime after that, I bought a copy of Blue and Yellow Don’t make Green, by Michael Wilcox. The book consists almost entirely of color swatches from a dozen basic colors. His basic colors are cadmium red light (PR108), quinacridone violet (PV19), cadmium yellow light (PY35), Hansa Yellow Light (PY3), cerulean blue (PB36:1), and ultramarine blue (PB29). To these he adds yellow ochre (PY43), raw sienna (PBr7), burnt sienna (PBr7), Phtalocyannie Blue (PB15), and Phthalocyanne Green (PG36). It’s a good list and I almost wish I had started with it, but I did learn somethings from my broader first palette and I still used many of the colors in it including one that Wilcox specifically warns against, Alizarin Crimson (PR83). (Alizarin crimson is subject to fading.)

And Wilcox did teach me a great deal about mixing paint. After reading Wilcox, I didn’t need a chart. I had a much better idea of how to mix colors although I didn’t do any of his color mixing exercises.

But mostly I learned about color by using very restricted one to three color palettes. Using only a few colors at a time I learned something about those colors. I add new colors to my basic palette slowly. Anyone who actually reads my pigment notes can’t help but notice that cobalt blue, french ultramarine, phthalo blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna and yellow ochre are my favorites. I think I have the blues and yellows sorted out. In addition to the above colors I use cadmium yellow and hansa yellow light. I still haven’t settled on the reds, but I’m leaning towards the quinacrones for the violet reds and windser for the orange reds.

In the meantime, my new paint bible is Hilary Page’s Guide to Watercolor Paints. Page tested all of the artist quality paints of all of the major manufacturer’s for light fastness. But that’s just the beginning. Her paint swatches show the value range, lifting capacity, transparency, and the wet into wet spreading pattern of each paint.

The swatches are conveniently divided into chapters by color and color temperature. Each chapter includes general notes on the pigments’ painting and mixes characteristics and toxicity.

She also includes: a color wheel of the pigments currently on the market; color curves for many pigments; and lists of staining, transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, opaque, textural and two toned paints.

Truly a fantastic book, though perhaps only for real paint geeks. My only complaint was that it was last published in 1997. But as I’ve since discovered that she published a web update in 2000, I have no complaints at all. Hilary

She is my guide whenever I am tempted my a new color of paint. Dioxazine purple is my latest find. It’s beautifully transparent and there is no good mixed substitute. She gives it the thumbs up.

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Counter-Weight IA: A Pouring Demonstration

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Pouring is one of my favorite techniques. It literally means to pour paint across the paper. It can either be the atmospheric beginning to a painting or a major part of the painting process. Some people use it to create abstract shapes to suggest the painting subject. But however much pouring is used, it provides transparent color passages that can be gotten in almost no other way.

The method I use most frequently was popularized by Jean Grastorf in her book Pouring Light: Layering Transparent Watercolor. Her technique uses multiple masks in much the same way batik uses multiple wax resists.

When I first began painting I used her pouring and masking method as an aide to help me paint with contrast, because it forced me to divide my picture into five distinct tonal values or less. It also helped me loosen up about color. These days I pour only when I think the subject of the picture will be enhanced by pouring.

Sunday I photographed just such a picture, one of the counter weights to a local railway drawbridge recently converted to a pedestrian bridge. The silhouetted subject is perfect for pouring.

Working Photo

Working Photo

After one false start detailed in the previous two posts I had a drawing of the bridge I liked. I began the painting by transferring it to a block of Arches 140 cold-pressed paper. (Because removing mask is hard on paper I always use the more durable 140 weight cold-pressed paper when pouring.) My photo of the bridge has loads of minute detail. In my cartoon I simplified. I want the silhouette of the bridge tower and counterweight to predominate. Too much detail would take away from the graphic nature of the image.

After making the cartoon I taped off the edges of the painting and began masking the sky plus everything I’d like to remain white. The trick to masking is to use nylon brushes and to soap the brushes frequently. This keeps the mask from gumming up the brushes and saves your quality brushes from rack and ruin.

Once the mask was dry, I mixed three cups of very thin paint: cadmium yellow, phthalo blue, and Windsor red. I deliberately choose staining colors, because mask lifts pigments. Then I wet the paper (an important step as otherwise the paint tends to run off the paper without staining) and poured the yellow straight across the top of the tower. I tilted the paper right to let the paint run off and wiped up the excess. Then I poured the red just below the yellow, tipped the paper, and cleaned the excess again. Some of the red bled into the yellow making orange. Then I poured the blue the same way across the counter-weight adding a dull purple where the paint crossed the red paint I had just poured.

After the First Pour

After the First Pour

When the paint had dried completely, I masked all of my lightest values and poured slightly thicker paint over the paper in roughly the same places. After the paint dried I masked the medium values and repeated the process with milk-thick paint. When the final pour had dried, I pulled the mask off, revealing a bold but rough painting in vivid color.

After the Mask Came Off

After the Mask Came Off

It’s all brush work from here.

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