After Titian, Part 2

January 10, 2014

Here is the basic process in the Titian study:

1. A simple, loose underpainting using earths and lead white:

After Titian 1

After Titian 1

2. Modeling the clothing using terre verte, raw sienna and yellow ochre, and deepening the background:

After Titian 2

After Titian 2

3. Modeling the flesh and deepening the background further:

After Titian 3

After Titian 3

(I apologize for the awful photograph – I’m having a hard time with it. If I can take a better photo soon I’ll post that one.)

I deliberately put less yellow in the face than the reference contained, thinking that a lot of that yellow might be due to the darkening of the varnish layer on the original painting. I suppose I should have de-yellowed the clothing a bit as well, but I didn’t really think of it at the time. I may have gone too far with the face. I can always lay a thin glaze of yellow ochre over parts of the face if I decide it needs more. If I do, I will of course post the result!

In the last post, I wrote about ‘creating Old Masterish paintings…’ In retrospect, that sounds really conceited. The painting I’ve made here in no way compares to those masterpieces. I’m simply attempting to use the materials they probably used, and reconstruct the technique they probably followed as a result of using those materials. I think these materials and techniques could be used for many different styles.

In the pic below, check out the lovely range of colors you can get from simple terre verte and yellow ochre. Also, the total palette used, in tubes:

Titian palette, greens

Titian palette, greens

Thanks for looking – ’til next time!

After Titian – Student Palette WIP

December 25, 2013
After Rubens 1

After Rubens 1

Here I’ll be posting three or four stages of a work in progress. In addition to painting almost exclusively from life, I want to do more Old Master studies. Here is one I did a while back, a study of a head by Rubens.

This current one (seen below) is from a portrait, by Titian, of an Unknown Gentleman. I’ve begun with a basic underpainting, and will be moving on to the green clothing, then punching in darks, then finally adding color to the face. Throughout, a student palette (here and here) of only natural earths and lead white, and possibly a bit of black, will be used. (The Rubens study above was also painted with the student palette.) The basic underpainting color that I’ve used for the new study is an approximate 50/50 mix of two Da Vinci Natural Pigment oil paints: Arizona Brown Ochre and Mummy. And, of course, lead white from Rublev:

After Titian 1

After Titian 1

Here is an image of the original. I’ve cropped my copy a bit on the canvas to focus a bit more on the head.

Clearly, I need more study drawing and painting clothing. Rather than spend days getting this just right, I’m moving on to the next stage. Hopefully I won’t regret that decision dearly.

Posting this WIP is about showing how to create an Old Masterish painting using only natural earths and lead white, as Titian himself might well have done. I hope you’ll stick around, and post any comments or questions. More stages to follow!

The Monster Madder Harvest

December 7, 2013

I have been on a bit of a hiatus this year – lots of time spent with work, not as much with painting or pigment-making. One big thing did happen, though: this past spring, I made the decision to leave my wonderful garden plot. (Well, okay, I actually made the decision a long time ago, at least a year and a half. But it can take me a long time to get around to doing something, especially if I don’t particularly want to do it. But it’s a good thing I did: the way this year has gone, the garden plot would have languished completely.) And in this case there was another reason it took me so long.

Why did I get rid of the plot? Well, we bought this house last year. It’s a really great house, and it has some space for growing plants outdoors. A backyard, don’t you know. So it made sense to move my dye plant operations closer to home. And truthfully, I had been spending less and less time at the plot over the past few years anyway – it’s just hard to find the time. There was a waiting list for garden plots, so it didn’t make any sense for me to hang on to it and keep it from someone else.

Still, I miss the place sometimes. I put a lot of energy into that plot.

There was a big reason it took me so long, though, and that is that there was a monster madder harvest to deal with. Readers may recall that it takes madder about five years to fully mature; these plants wound up staying in the ground for almost six. And there were fourteen madder plants left in the plot, from an original seventeen. The roots go deep and far. It took me a month and a half to dig them all out, going over there to work at it a couple of times a week. I’d like to show you the pile they made when they were sitting out to dry. Here they are:

Madder Roots

Madder Roots

That’s quite a few madder roots. Of course the pile shrank when they dried; still, I should have enough to make, well, quite a few batches of madder lake. More than enough to try all the variations I’ve had in mind for so long. Here they are dried:

Madder Roots

Madder Roots

I also rescued a couple of volunteer weld plants. And: madder plants! Some root clippings took to new soil very well. Take a look:

Madder and Weld

Madder and Weld

And, the iris plants (the ones I didn’t give away) have successfully made it into the new location as well. This summer a few of them even expressed early approval of the place, unexpected but quite welcome:

Blue Irises

Blue Irises

So the dynasty continues. This time, though, I’ll definitely be growing the madder in containers. (!) I still have seeds from the indigo plants as well, they will go into pots next spring.

Coming up: a review of some of Daniel Smith’s PrimaTek natural pigments oil paint line. And: the long-awaited madder lake recipe. Stay tuned!

Brunaille, Eighteenth-century Palette

February 1, 2013

Portrait of Neil

Portrait of Neil


Here is a recently-completed portrait of our friend Neil. I am, among other directions, working toward the brunaille underpainting as a general starting point for my portraits. A brunaille is simply a brown underpainting, usually done in umbers or brown ochre, and is something different from either verdaccio or grisaille.

I may have posted earlier that the old master portraits and figures I’ve seen up-close in musea recently – notably Rembrandt, Rubens, Hals and David – all seemed to display a common feature, which was a brown transparent color in the shadows of the flesh, over which the lights and some midtones had been layered opaquely. I’ve seen photos of other old master works (I’m thinking of Velasquez in particular) which also seem to display this: shadows left transparent to the canvas, lights built with opaque colors. I’m sure this process isn’t universal or anywhere near it; but it’s common enough that it seems to have been a standard procedure, if one of many.

I noticed this some time back, but had held off on introducing it into my own work, probably because I fell in love with thick paint and broad brushwork – which haven’t lent themselves to the care which is required to preserve transparency in shadows. But more recently, when I took a portrait painting class with Vanessa Lemen, I discovered she was following this very procedure of leaving shadows transparent from session to session, and I couldn’t help noting how efficient it was for her.

So, after a few experiments, I tried the process with this portrait. The underpainting was brown ochre and lead white (Da Vinci Arizona Brown Ochre and Rublev Lead White #2). After the underpainting dried, I used transparent earths – siennas and yellow ochre light – in a transparent glaze which both gave a bit of color to the shadows (especially a bit of red around the cheeks and ears), and provided a nice couch into which to lay the opaque lights, wet-into-wet. (This is a trick I learned from Vanessa.) I took some care to leave the shadows transparent, except for a bit of reflected light under the chin (which is the only place that got screwed up – gotta be careful with those!). At the same time, I painted the shirt opaquely in something similare to a grisaille, but with some color variation.

If I were a more accomplished painter, I could have completed the skin tones in two layers. It really is an efficient way to work. As it was, it took some fixing. The whole thing was painted using a student palette of natural earths and lead white, plus a final glaze layer of Prussian blue over the shirt. I think of this as an “Eighteenth-century Palette,” as Prussian blue was discovered in 1704 and used through much of that century. Snapshots of the process are presented below:

Neil Portrait Process

Neil Portrait Process

I do still love thick paint, and I will not sacrifice it to this technique. I will be keeping in my mind the question of how to use the two together. I am already using shorter, smaller brushstrokes rather than the big paint smears of just a little while ago; perhaps these two methods will meet in the middle.

Note: I am currently engaged in a massive madder harvest. I should be finished within the next two weeks, and I will post about that. Good painting!

Hand-mulling Paint, Part II

November 2, 2012

Continued from Hand-mulling Paint, Part I.

If you’re mulling a particular pigment for the first time, you won’t know just how much oil you should add. You can do some research online, something like “raw umber oil absorbtion” – but you don’t really need this information to begin. At first, use less oil than you think you will need. Many pigments (not all) will loosen and become more and more oily as you mull. I try to add just enough oil to pigment so that when I start mixing with a spatula, I’m pretty sure it won’t be enough oil. Then I start mulling. Often it winds up being enough after all. Once you’ve done this, you can keep notes on how much oil to add to each pigment.

You’ll go in a big circular motion with the muller, and pretty soon you’ll have to stop, grab the paint spatula, and scrape the paint together into a pile again. You’ll have to scrape paint off the sides of the muller as well. Make it into a pile and start mulling again. It helps to switch hands every so often. It can take a tiring amount of time with some pigments, and patience is sometimes required. After a while, you’ll know if you need to add more oil (or, sometimes, more pigment).

Below, I’m mulling and then scraping together a homemade copper green pigment into linseed oil:

Mulling Copper Green

Mulling Copper Green


Mulling Copper Green 2

Mulling Copper Green 2

Just how necessary is it to mull pigment? Why can’t you just mix the stuff up on the palette with a spatula and go? Well, sometimes this might work – the homemade candle black I made into an oil paint recently barely required mulling at all, and probably could have been used right after mixing it with oil – but other times, mulling is absolutely required. See the difference between mulling or not mulling Egyptian blue, below:

Mulling Egyptian Blue

Mulling Egyptian Blue

The first swatch is unmulled. It was quite difficult to even brush it out: I had to add extra oil and use one of my stiffer bristle brushes to manage it. The second swatch is after perhaps only two minutes of mulling. Big difference, isn’t it? The third swatch is the mulled Egyptian blue mixed with some zinc white. Nice color, huh?

Some earth pigments are said to display their best colors when only lightly mulled, and that this is one problem with the uniform grind of modern, industrially-produced pigments. I thought that I was seeing this phenomenon when I was grinding up a nice raw sienna from Sinopia Pigments. The more I mulled, the duller the color seemed to get. See the pic below, the difference between those two piles of paint? I thought I was seeing over-grinding in action. However, I was wrong: it was just that the finer clumps of pigment were soaking up more of the oil. When I added more oil back into the paint, its color sprang to life again. So if that happens to you, try the same.

Mulling Raw Sienna

Mulling Raw Sienna

I’ll post one more installment of the Hand-mulling Paint series, and discuss tubing your own mulled paint.

Old Flemish Technique

July 15, 2012
Flemish 2

Walnut Ink Drawing

This drawing is derivative of a copyrighted work of Steve McCurry.

When I write about Flemish Technique, I’m talking about techniques of the so-called “Flemish Primitives” of the early Renaissance, right at the dawn of oil painting as an art medium. I appended the adjective “old” to the title of this post to distinguish this Flemish Technique from other techniques of the same name, including Baroque Flemish portraiture, Dutch Rococo floral still lifes, and others newer still.

Oil painting in Flanders was really a mixed medium technique, and not really oil painting as we understand it today. Egg tempera paintings, as you may recall, were often begun with an ink drawing, sometimes a quite detailed one. Egg tempera paint was laid on, being the main component of the painting, and them sometimes an oil glaze or two was added at the end to enrich or deepen some colors. (Theophilus described the use of oil glazes over metallic surfaces some time before the Renaissance, so the idea had been around for a while.) Sometimes the oil glazes became more important; instead of being an egg tempera painting with some final glazes, a work might become essentially an oil painting with an ink and egg tempera underpainting. This is the basic technique as it was exported to Italy, before the invention of oil painting as we know it by Bellini and his compatriots. This information on Flemish Painting I first found at the great All the Strange Hours blog.

One can skip the egg tempera bit altogether, and simply paint in oil directly over the ink drawing, much of it still in glazes. This is what I’ve been working on. The ink drawing has been in homemade natural walnut ink, the same as I used here, but this time on a traditional gessoed panel. It’s nice to draw in ink on gesso, as it’s mostly erasable by scrubbing with a bristle brush; the only difficulty is in getting a flat wash. For the ink drawing, I’ve used a bristle brush, a fine sable ink brush, and the occasional quill pen. The picture at the top of the post shows the second ink drawing I completed, before the oil paint glazes have been applied. Here’s the first:

Flemish 1

Walnut Ink Drawing

After the ink drawing, I laid down an imprimatura of linseed oil, because the gesso is so very absorbent that it can otherwise suck an oil paint layer dry, and also to lock in the ink drawing. Oil paints on gesso dry very quickly, so by the next day it was completely dry to the touch. I then laid down oil paints; some of them, as in the brown glaze over the hair, were able to remain completely transparent, so that the ink drawing really is an integral part of the final painting. For this stage I used a student palette of natural earths, bone black and lead white (pardon the quality of the pic here, the paint was still a bit wet in spots).

Flemish 1

Flemish Technique

The final stage was for more highly-saturated glazes over the clothing, which again I could apply very quickly. For the blue I used natural ultramarine (lapis lazuli from Da Vinci); and I just couldn’t resist glazing with natural carmine over the red overshirt. (This is the Winsor & Newton Carmine oil paint I located a while back.)

Flemish 1

Flemish Technique

All materials that were available in the Renaissance. Woo-hoo! (Well, the walnut ink is conjectural – but probable.) I will be doing one of these with egg tempera included; before that, I will complete in oil the drawing at top, and post in more detail about the technique of layering the oil paint.

Part II of Hand-mulling Paint is on the way too – promise!

Lead White: The Real Story.

June 6, 2012

(With apologies to Stephen R. Donaldson.)

Lately there has been some hand-wringing over the shortage and high price of lead white artist’s oil paint on the market. Some artists believe that lead white is now illegal or on the verge of being so, and that it will be only a black-market item in the future – or that the artist’s materials companies are being strong-armed behind closed doors to not produce the stuff any more. Others, that the art companies themselves are jacking up the price or discontinuing the pigment voluntarily because of some kind of market disapproval of toxic materials.

That, of course, is not the real story.

Artist’s pigments, with very few exceptions (for instance Winsor and Newton’s Rose Madder Genuine or Rublev’s Stack-process Lead White), are not actually artist’s pigments. They are pigments that are manufactured for much larger industries than our little artist’s corner – for instance the massive auto, plastics, and textiles industries. The art materials industry is too miniscule to manage the economies of scale that make materials inexpensive in the modern world. So we buy pigments that are left over from the big boys and get our tubes of paint on the cheap.

In the United States, lead white was banned from commercial paints all the way back in the 1970s. There were some good reasons for it. Artist’s paints were kindly excluded from this injunction. There has been no banning of lead white in artist’s paints in the United States; nor, as far as I know, any real political discussion of such. Lead ammo, yes. Lead fishing tackle, yes. Artist’s oil paints, no. I believe we are probably safe from Washington in this regard. We’re under the radar. (Europe is, unfortunately, a different story.)

However, since that ban on lead white in commercial applications occurred in the 1970s, the big manufacturers have almost entirely shut down production of the material. Why shouldn’t they? Artists still wanted it, but the larger industries couldn’t use it any more – and again, we’re just way too small of a sector to make it worthwhile for them to keep producing the stuff just for little old us. No economy of scale, in other words.

Without the economy of scale provided by larger industry consumption, materials are going to be more expensive. No way around that. So artist’s paint companies have a choice: Keep selling lead white paint, but at a higher price – or drop the pigment from their lineup. Only a few have chosen the former.

Those interested in reading more should check out this recent article by George O’Hanlon over at Rublev. In it, he describes how basic lead carbonate is still obtainable from Asia, though with some difficulty. His article is what inspired this post.

So, two things: one, lead white will probably still be around for awhile; and two, yes, it’s going be more expensive. And that’s the real story.

Hand-mulling Paint, Part I

April 16, 2012
Mulling Yellow Lake in Oil

Mulling Yellow Lake in Oil

For the past few years, I’ve been mulling paint, both watercolor and oil. Mulling is the process of dispersing pigment into a painting medium. This involves some elbow grease at times, since you’re breaking up larger glomerates of pigment into smaller glomerates. (Though mulling is often called grinding – slightly older terminology – you’re not actually grinding pigment particles into smaller pigment particles. With homemade pigments, though, there are some exceptions: for instance, there’s just only so fine I can grind eggshell white in a mortar and pestle; the fine grinding of that pigment happens with the muller.) Some pigments take longer and require more work, some less. The vermilion that I ground up recently was very quick and easy.

Eggshell White on the Palette

Eggshell White on the Palette

So: why mull paint, when there is so much in the way of ready-tubed paint to be had at the art supply store? Well, here are a few reasons one might want to mull their own paint:

One, to save money. Art supply companies often charge premium prices in what is, after all, a niche market. Understandable. But if one is willing to do a little work oneself, a noticeable amount of money can be saved for our hero, the starving artist. Remember the recession?

Two, to make a paint with a pigment that isn’t available on the market. If you’re a fan of de Laszlo and you’ve got a particular hankering to try painting with chrome orange, you’re just going to have to make that paint yourself, because it doesn’t exist in a tube at the store. Or, in my case, I wanted to mull up the pigments that I’ve made myself. (That’s actually what got me started mulling.)

Three, to produce paint with specific qualities that are not currently popular in tube paint. I personally like gritty, goopy paint, especially in earth colors (it’s just no good if I can’t make happy, chunky swirl sculptures on the palette), and it’s pretty easy to mull up a bit for the day and slap it onto the palette. I have found some paints on the market – Rublev in particular – that match the qualities I like, so I use a combination of home-mulled and bought paint.

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

(Related to this: some pigments alter their color depending on the grind. Vermilion, pictured at right, has been said to become brighter and more orange the finer it is ground. Copper pigments such as azurite and malachite become brighter and less intense – you could theoretically model an entire form using only different grinds of azurite!)

Oh, and Four, just for the experience. It can be quite satisfying to make your own paint, and even more satisfying to paint with it! – and it certainly educates one about materials. I recommend trying it!

The equipment you’ll need to start mulling your own paint: A muller and mulling slab (usually a tile of glass, but it could be stone as well); a paint spatula; and a rough material for roughening the glass surface of the slab. Maybe a gripping material like a cabinet liner, so the slab doesn’t slide all over the place while you’re mulling. Oh: and pigment and binder. How could I forget!

Next: Mulling and Tubing Your Own Paint!

Back to the Student Palette

February 26, 2012
Student Palette - Layered

Student Palette - Layered

Here’s the next one in the batch. I wanted to use a slightly wider palette of earth colors for this one: In addition to my base palette of Rublev Ercolano Red, Venetian Red, Blue Ridge Yellow Ocher and Lead White #2, and Da Vinci Magnetite Genuine, I added Da Vinci Hematite Violet and Arizona Brown Ochre, and Winsor & Newton Burnt Umber. All the earths are natural except the WN Burnt Umber, which as has been discussed is likely synthetic. The violet shirt is done with the Violet Hematite, black and white. (Cool that that’s a natural earth, huh?) The “blue” shirt is just black and white.

Once again I’ve turned to Steve McCurry for my reference. I cannot say enough about his books as a learning tool for students of portrait art. Of course you can’t sell derivative works, but if you’re doing studies, these photos are just great for reference – interesting characters, good lighting, and so on.

Brunaille

Brunaille

This is a layered painting, unlike the others of mine in the thread. I used brown ochre and lead white for the underpainting. This sort of brown underpainting – transparent, opaque, or a combination of the two – has been called a brunaille.

My goal was to experiment with an impasto underpainting, and glaze, scumble, and wipe away earth colors on top of it. Though not everything is working here yet, I am really pleased with one part of the painting, which is the forehead, the part where I actually took that goal seriously and went for it.

Glazes Wiped Away

Glazes Wiped Away

Longtime readers may remember the posts on the so-called verdaccio technique from some time ago, and may see a connection here. I have long been thinking of getting back around to that technique, as I had the impression that the basic procedure was sound, but that the materials were bunk. This painting is going back in that direction – at some point I will try an actual pedigree verdaccio underpainting with glazes, and see if I can’t make something good come of it.

Next post: Mulling your own paint!

From Student Palette to Zorn Palette

January 22, 2012
Student Palette Portrait

Student Palette Portrait

As described in my last post, I’ve been working with something called the student pallette. This is a severely restricted palette using only earth colors, white, and black. I’ve been working on that some more, as you can see from the pics I’ve posted here. The color palette of the painting at top uses: Rublev’s Raw Sienna and Venetian Red; Da Vinci’s Magnetite Genuine; and Winsor & Newton’s Flake White #1. The color palette of the second painting is: Rublev’s Blue Ridge Yellow Ocher and Ercolano Red; Da Vinci’s Magnetite Genuine; and Winsor & Newton’s Cremnitz White (a blend of lead and zinc whites). So all natural earths, plus white.

Student Palette Portrait

Student Palette Portrait

It’s rather difficult to work this way. I wrote something to the effect that it is like doing calisthenics. You’re fighting to get as much saturation as possible out of earth pigments, while at the same time maintaining your valued structure. At the end of a couple of hours it can feel like you’ve been in a battle.

One of the more difficult things about using this palette is maintaining temperature contrast. Even the slightest amount of blending – intentional or not – and the colors just disappear into each other, making something that looks like a monochromatic painting. This may be partly psychological as well: when you’re fighting for saturation, the last thing you think about doing is deliberately de-saturating some tones to get that temperature contrast. However, as my instructors have pointed out, desaturating some tones is the best way to get other tones look more saturated – in other words, if you want one note to look more saturated, place a less saturated color next to it.

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Mulling Vermilion Oil Paint

Despite these difficulties – or, I should say, because of them – I highly recommend working with this palette. I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about painting just from the half dozen or so paintings that I’ve done this way. I’d like to include a third painting here, one that was done with a different palette. This one was done in the Zorn palette, wherein the red earth in the student palette is replaced with vermilion. And for the first time, I’ve gotten some genuine vermilion to work with.

Zorn Palette Portrait

Zorn Palette Portrait

I purchased the pigment from Kama Pigments (which was a good deal less expensive than purchasing a tube of real vermilion paint). Because the jury is still out on the toxicity of vermilion, I took a few more precautions than I normally do when mulling paint: I took everything out to the garage, left the door open, and wore a mask and gloves. (I still managed to get a bunch of vermilion paint on me. Of course.) This pigment makes the most incredible vibrant red imaginable. And it’s got pretty high tinting strength in mixes; however, it doesn’t paint at all like cadmium red. You have to fight cad red a bit to get it to behave itself in skin tones – but mixing skin tones using vermilion and yellow ochre was a breeze. I’m not sure I can explain exactly what makes it so different from cadmium red. I guess I’d say that Vermillion wants to mix into skin tones – whereas cadmium red has no such desire.

One sketch, and I already love this paint. I know I’ll be using it more. In my last post, I wrote that the Student Palette is great for study, but probably not robust enough for most professional work. Vermilion is for the professional stuff.


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