Pigments Windfall

November 14, 2018

An amount of pigment has recently come into my possession—quite an amount, in fact. An older artist passed away, and the stash of pigments he left behind was so large I understand it was in some peril of simply being thrown out. I had to keep that from happening, of course. Artist’s pigments are precious!

I have received a total of 71 (!) one-gallon cans of pigment in various states of fullness; 15 five-gallon drums (holy crap!); and one jar of an unidentified blue, say about 400g or so. There’s also a single box left unclaimed, by its photo a lovely-looking violet I expect will be either manganese or cobalt. Excited about that one, still waiting to hear.

Cans of pigment

Cans of pigment

There’s lots and lots of bone black and raw umber, far more than any artist could ever use in a lifetime of painting. Maybe a mural painter. Also significant amounts of burnt umber, chromium oxide green, viridian, alizarin crimson, and iron oxide red (it’s labeled “light red” but isn’t—it looks more like Venetian red). Plenty of cobalt blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ochre, and ultramarine blue; cadmium primrose lemon, yellow, yellow deep, red light, red, red dark, and maroon; and two cans of phthalo green.

I’m still working out just what to do with this monster load of pigments, which we barely managed to fit into the free space in our garage. In the past I haven’t been big on cadmiums, with their overpowering tinting strength, but I suppose I could cut these with calcite or kaolin (both of which I have in plenty) to make them more manageable on the palette—essentially turn them into weaker, student-grade paints. They should last a goodish while that way. I’ve already mulled and tubed of some of the chromium oxide green, viridian, and “light red” in a gouache/casein mixed medium:

Swatches

Swatches

The second row is with some Winsor & Newton Aquapasto added. See how the watercolor medium helps preserve some of the transparency of the viridian? Pretty cool, huh?

This windfall is timely for me. I’ve just begun my adventures in casein, and with that medium you’ve pretty much got to make some of your own colors (unless you’re completely happy with the ones in Richeson’s Shiva offering). Luckily I’ve got plenty of experience hand-mulling paint, and some of these pigments will give me just the playground I’ll be needing.

I’ve also mulled several other of these pigments into aqueous dispersions, which I’ll post about next.

Advertisements

Drying Shifts in Water-Based Media

October 29, 2018

With matte, water-based media—gouache, casein, or transparent watercolor—some pigments can suffer a shift in color when losing moisture. The reason for this is physical—the scattering of light, or some such physics thing. The reason this doesn’t happen to the same extent in oil paints is that they remain more or less “shiny,” continuing to scatter light similarly to they way they did before curing, which is close to the refractive index of the surrounding air (again: or some such thing—I never took a physics class in high school, and I’m sure it shows). When gouache or casein dry they effectively go from glossy to matte, so some change in color is to be expected. For a useful (if incomplete) reference on how different pigments behave in watercolor, check Handprint: watercolor drying shifts.

Many artists have learned to deal with this phenomenon. A quick image search for gouache paintings or casein paintings proves this amply. If you’re intimately familiar with your materials, you can keep an eye on which pigments you’re mixing, judge the drying shifts they’ll undergo, and adjust your mix accordingly—before laying it down. If you really know what you’re doing, you won’t be surprised by the result when it changes. Many, many good artists have learned how to do this.

Personally, I can’t deal with it. It freaks me out. I feel like I have enough trouble predicting how a color will look in a composition without having to worry about it changing on me after I lay it down.

Oh, I can handle it to some extent. I have to, if I want to use casein or gouache (which I do—the matte aspect means they’re easy to photograph and reproduce, which makes them ideal for illustrations). I can deal with some loss in saturation, and with small changes in value. But if either one becomes too drastic, I start losing my cool.

So I try to stick with the colors that have smaller drying shifts. One of the reasons I haven’t used natural indigo as much as I would’ve liked is that it loses much of what little saturation it has when it dries. Dry swatch is on the left:

Drying Shift Natural Indigo

Drying Shift Natural Indigo

What starts out as a lovely deep blue becomes something pretty close to gray. No fun! (Note: while I did paint the newer swatch a bit darker, the photo shows the dry swatch less grayed than in real life. I’ll let you know when I’ve conquered the skill of photographing artwork.)

One of the most dramatic value shifts I’ve seen is the “Ultramarine Blue Deep” in Jack Richeson’s Shiva brand of casein. It may be “deep” when wet, but that’s hardly an accurate description of the dried color. Dry swatch on the left:

Drying Shift Ultramarine Blue Deep

Drying Shift Ultramarine Blue Deep

I can’t use that paint. It just changes too much for me to manage it in mixes.

I told some folks at WetCanvas that this was the most extreme shift I’ve ever encountered, but when I wrote that I’d forgotten about my experiments with egg tempera some years ago. My rose madder pigment in egg tempera might have had an even larger shift, with the beautiful deep crimson changing back to the dry pigment color, which is a faded pink. Again, not usable, for me at least.

PBr24 also has something of a drying shift. Luckily, the tube I have happens to be from Schmincke, where they’ve tried to help out with this. Check it out, dry swatch on the left (note: colors are significantly more orange than IRL):

Drying Shift Titanium Gold Ochre

Drying Shift Titanium Gold Ochre

See what they’ve done there? The color displayed on most paint packaging tends to have only a vague relationship with the color inside the tube or pan. This label matches not the paint color in the tube, but the paint color as it will be after it’s dried. And that, my friends, is one of the things that set Schmincke apart from their competitors.

Oldest Known Drawing… and some newer ones.

September 13, 2018

Appropriately enough, yesterday afternoon my phone alerted me that the world’s oldest known drawing was found in Africa—a cross hatching some 73,000 years old (though there are engravings much, much older than that).

Gizmodo

I say it was appropriate because at the time the widget popped up on my phone, my friend Cutter and I were just arriving at San Clemente Art Supply for an evening of life drawing. Cutter and I, and the facilitator Bruce, marveled at the extent of the tradition we were continuing.

Ancient ochre drawing

Ancient ochre drawing

Here’s the best I managed to do, a 20-minute sketch among others, and some two, five, and ten minute quick sketches:

20-minute sketch

20-minute layin

Nowhere near as important a drawing as the one discovered in Africa, certainly, but it was the best I could do. Not bad, not great, better than some of the others I did. Luckily for me, since I started drawing again (just a few months ago now), I don’t take the end result as personally as I used to. These days I’m enjoying myself more, experimenting more, not expecting any outcome in particular. For instance, instead of relying on my abstractions, in some of last night’s quick sketches I tried just blocking in the values first before adding any lines at all.

5-minute quick sketches

5-minute quick sketches

It was fun, like tightrope walking but without the possible dire consequences.

I’m not even really trying to make good drawings anymore. Just playing. It’s a good place to be.

Affinity Photo review

September 2, 2018

I’m a traditionalist painter (some might say reactionary). I only do digital painting once in a while, and it’s usually just to enhance a photographed image. But right now I’m working to create good comps for my book cover illustrations, and I’m keeping digital finishes in mind in case I’m unable to get my gouache technique under control in time (which seems all too likely). So I picked up Affinity Photo, as it looked like it might finally be the Photoshop alternative some of us have been waiting for. The features looked great, and with the special they were running it was less than 40 bucks—certainly a reasonable price for a full-fledged photo editing and digital painting application. Especially when you compare its free-upgrades-for-life deal to Adobe’s pay-us-every-month-of-your-life racket.

But when I tried Photo out, I immediately found some serious issues with their brush engine. To begin with, it periodically just… stops working. That is, I make a brush stroke (with either the drawing tablet or the mouse) and nothing happens. This goes for the Eraser tool as well. Sometimes you can restart the engine just by zooming in or out or rotating the canvas, but other times you actually have to close and then reopen the document to get it to work again. Needless to say, this is unacceptable.

There are other, weirder things going on with the brush engine. Sometimes the eraser tool will work only if I begin the stroke over existing layer pixels. If I start the stroke over transparency and then move the cursor over the layer pixels, nothing happens. This odd behavior is fixed when I zoom in or out. This is called weird.

On one notable occasion (actually, the very first day I tried out the application), the paintbrush antialiased to white instead of transparency, leaving jagged halos that showed up when I tried to paint a background on the layer underneath. This wasn’t because of any brush or layer setting that I could find; it started doing that and then stopped again, all on its own.

I initially thought this stuff might be a problem with my limited CPU or RAM—Photo is currently hogging about 1.8 gigs of memory on an open file with many layers. But Medibang Paint Pro is using almost that much with the same file open, and I haven’t had similar problems with its brushes.

Photo does have some really cool features, especially the live preview of both gradients and layer blending modes (hallelujah!), and I’m sure Affinity Photo is a decent tool for photo editing. But I think the application just isn’t ready for digital painting, even with the low price tag. I’ve got the thing now, so I suppose I’ll keep playing with it from time to time—and with the free upgrades, I can hope these problems will be fixed in future releases. But in the meantime, for projects that matter, I’ll use a free app like MediBang Paint Pro (or even Krita or Fire Alcapa), even with its relative paucity of features and slightly clunky interface (the wretched type dialog!). Photo is much richer, but until they fix that brush engine I’m afraid I won’t be using it much.

I’ve seen some great work done in this application—maybe others have had better luck on their machines. I’m genuinely sorry about this review. I’ve been waiting for years for a credible contender to knock Adobe off their horse. But as of now, from the perspective of this artist at least, Affinity Photo isn’t it.

M. Graham gouache plug

July 13, 2018

Periodically someone on WetCanvas will pipe up and ask the crowd to list their picks for the best gouache brand. All due respect for my fellow artists, but some of the responses make me think a lot of people just haven’t tried very many varieties. There are others out there besides the ones you can get at Michael’s.

I have a good friend, an illustrator who’s unfortunately developed some rather horrific allergies to certain art materials, including solvents, alkyds and even most watercolor preservatives. (Yes, he’s that sensitive. Airbrushers take note: if it’s in the air, it’s quietly bulding up in your body.) I emailed M. Graham on his behalf to ask about their gouache ingredients. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t list for me their proprietary ingredients; however, they kindly offered to send us some sample tubes. When I received them I was pleased to find they weren’t the miniscule promotional samples I’ve seen from other companies, but full-sized, 15ml tubes.

It turns out that not only are M. Graham gouaches one of only two brands my friend can safely use, but we were both blown away by the quality of the paint. Their gouache prices are so reasonable ($12.50 for a tube of genuine cadmium orange!) you might think they couldn’t be that good. But they are. Out of the six or seven artist-quality gouache brands I’ve had the opportunity to sample, they’re tied for first place with Schmincke (also amazing, but considerably pricier). And their pigment lineup is attractive, with a full range of cadmiums, a PB36 cerulean (yummy!), Prussian blue, viridian, etc. No, I’m not getting paid to say it. I’m happy to plug a great company with such a fantastic gouache offering. These paints come fully recommended by moi.

I’m currently trying to get my hand back in by doing some gouache sketches, so I filled out my palette.

After Loomis

After Loomis

Here are my M. Graham colors:

M. Graham gouaches

M. Graham gouaches

For those longtime readers shocked to see a synthetic organic on my palette, the alizarin crimson is just a placeholder to jumpstart my sketching until I can make some of my own gouache paints to supplement these. Yes, of course I’ll be making my own! In fact, I’ve already started:

Vermilion gouache!

Vermilion gouache!

Sun tea

Sun tea

Bispo’s remedy for mulling paint on a hot summer day: sun tea!

For instant sun tea, try Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Tea—it’ll be ready in a jiffy. The stuff’s serious. (No, I’m not using a pigment jar for my beverage—perish the thought!)

As for the Sisyphean task of keeping ant scouts from suiciding in your vermilion during mulling, I’ll leave that post for another day.

Death of a Pigment

August 16, 2016

As I have posted before, we artists are at the mercy of much larger industries in terms of what art materials we have at out disposal. The art materials industry is minuscule compared to textiles, architecture, automotive, etc. It does not have enough clout to leverage economies of scale.

Without these larger industries to manufacture our pigments and other materials for us, these things would be much more expensive for us than they are. Without them, artists might have to actually make and mull their own pigments again – as artists and their apprentices from past centuries have done, as I and others have at times done.

A few pigments are still made by the art materials industry, for instance Winsor & Newton’s Rose Madder Genuine, and those tend to be the more expensive colors. But the vast majority of them are not made for artists at all. We just buy the leftovers from the bigger boys, and that’s how we get our pigments on the cheap.

To some extent, this has always been true. Even in the Middle Ages, the copper blue pigment (blue verditer) that was used by artists was manufactured as a by-product of silver production. But it is truer at this point in history than it ever has been before.

One of the results of this situation is that when a pigment is no longer deemed useful for the larger industries, its manufacture will cease. Cerulean blue (PB35), for example, may wind up on the chopping block at some point. If it does, it will not matter that many artists love this color: it will go away, for all except those who have managed to stockpile some for themselves.

This has happened to a pigment I happen to love: ultramarine green, PG24. PG24 is not considered useful any longer to the large industries, and as far as I can learn it has stopped being made. It is an extinct pigment.

It used to be available as a tube color in oil from Rembrandt. But the tube they call “Ultramarine Green” is no longer PG24, but a convenience mix of PB29 and PY129. It used to be available as a powder pigment from Kremer. No more. (They still have some of their PG24 watercolor pans left, I believe.)

In the next post, I will post some pictures to show what this wonderful pigment looks like, and why I love it so much and was so sorry to see it go – and what might be done to bring its production back online.

In the meantime, here is a closeup of a painting I did a couple of years ago, in which PG24 was used extensively, especially for that aqua foam on the water. To be continued!

wyoming_waterfall-2d2_800

Ancient Paint Box

February 2, 2016

I came across this ancient palette of colors through a post on Tumblr by Ancient Peoples. It’s a palette of pigments from the second century b.c.e, in New Kingdom Egypt.

1914.680_w

This from the Cleveland Museum of Art. I guess from a quick perusal of their website that this is in their permanent collection. That would make at least two things from Cleveland I really like, along with the Cleveland String Quartet (loved their recordings of the late Beethoven quartets!)

Here’s a description of the pigments:

This paint box still preserves its original cakes of pigment: one cake each of red (red ocher), blue (Egyptian blue), green (a mixture of Egyptian blue, yellow ocher, and orpiment) and two of black (carbon black, from charcoal). It belonged to Amenemope, who was vizier, or prime minister, under Amenhotep II. Amenemope probably used his paint box for recreation.

As I posted on my new tumblr microblog, I question the description of the green in the image as “Egyptian blue, yellow ocher, and orpiment” (not really – I’m sure the folks at the museum know what they’re about). It sure looks like plain old malachite to me.

Anyway, I really like this palette. As some of you know, I’m a fan of earth colors, and a great blue to add to yellow and red ochre is Egyptian blue, which is copper bound up in silica. With the addition of black and white, it would make for a great subdued portrait palette, though the blue would have to be used a bit judiciously due to its cost. And in place of that green I could add in my own copper green.

As a reminder, here’s what Egyptian blue looks like in oil:

Mulling Egyptian Blue

Mulling Egyptian Blue

Nice glazer, that. I think I’ll try out that palette soon.

And: If I ever visit Cleveland, I’ll have to try out that museum!

Upcoming show and opening reception

June 1, 2015

My upcoming show got a mention in the San Diego Reader here:

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/events/2015/jun/06/rustic-portraits-local-artist-prese/

My friend Rena Kamariotakis also kindly created an event for the show here: Art Show featuring Louis Bispo.

The paintings are all framed and wired and ready for installation. They’ll go up tomorrow (with a few stragglers on Wednesday) along with all their labels.

As a reminder, the show will be at the Ranch Buena Vista Adobe Gallery from June 4th until July 4th, Thursdays through Saturdays 10am to 3pm. There will be an opening reception from 1–3pm on Saturday, June 6th.

The gallery is located at 640 Alta Vista Dr., Vista, CA 92084. I’d love to see you there!

First Solo Art Show

May 28, 2015

Hi all! I’d like to announce my first solo artist exhibit! It will take place at the historic Rancho Buena Vista Adobe gallery in Vista, CA. (640 Alta Vista Dr., Vista, CA 92084.)

The show is coming up in a couple of weeks. It will last from June 4th through July 4th – Thursdays through Saturdays only, 10am–3pm. There will be a small reception on Saturday, June the 6th from 1–3pm; the public is invited.

My oil paintings and ink drawings are of rustic and southwestern characters, and I think the Adobe gallery is a perfect place for them. I’ve included a few sample paintings in this post. Here they are:

At Ivy Ranch © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

At Ivy Ranch © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

Arizona Daybreak - © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

Arizona Daybreak – © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

Watching the Grandchildren © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

Watching the Grandchildren © 2011 L. Lawrence Bispo

Survivor, © 2013 L. Lawrence Bispo

Survivor, © 2013 L. Lawrence Bispo

The Spinster © L. Lawrence Bispo

The Spinster © L. Lawrence Bispo

The Weaver © 2014 Bispo

The Weaver © 2014 Bispo

This announcement is also posted to Facebook here, and to my artwork blog here. Hope some readers in the area can make it! – L.

How to Make Madder Lake, part 3

February 13, 2015

Previous post: How to Make Madder Lake, part 2.

After allowing the dye bath to cool down, you need to separate the roots from the liquid. Take a clean cloth sack – I use a pillowcase I bought for this purpose – and put it into a bucket with the top of the sack wrapped out over the lip, as shown below:

Making Madder Lake

Making madder lake – separating the roots

You can tell I’ve used that pillowcase a few times before – both for madder and for weld! Pour the dye bath into the bucket and sack, then slowly lift out the bag of roots. You want to squeeze these out somewhat as you’re removing them – there’s a lot of liquid being held in there. When you’re done, you can toss out the roots (I mean, put them in the mulch box, of course!) and wash out the cloth bag – you don’t need them anymore. From here on out, we’ve finished with the hard part; the rest is just following standard lake-making procedure.

Next we’ll filter the dye water. The purpose of the bag was to keep root bits and bark gunk out of the dye, but we’re going to make sure it’s as clean as possible. Once we get to the next step, any remaining contaminants are in there for good. Put the funnel over one of your jars and place a wet coffee filter in the funnel. (Getting the filter wet beforehand makes it easier to make it cling to the walls of the filter, which makes it easier to pour the dye water into it.) Pour and wait. Find something else to do for a few minutes; it can take a bit for the dye to filter through. When the funnel has emptied, pour again. I recommend using a new filter for each pour. Repeat until all the liquid has been filtered.

Making Madder Lake

Making madder lake – filtering and laking

When that is finished, you can wash out the pot that was used to hold the plastic bucket, and pour the dye water into it. Warm it back up a bit – again, be careful not to go over 170º – and then add the alkali. This is either washing soda or potash. I’m using washing soda here. You want to measure perhaps a quarter the weight of the alum that you used. Pour it in slowly, stirring, over a little heat. The dye bath will turn cloudy red, and perhaps give off some pink foam at the top. This is the madder lake pigment forming!

After a few minutes, when there’s no more foaming action, allow the liquid to cool. In fact, let it sit, covered, for a few hours, or even overnight. The pigment will settle somewhat to the bottom. We’re going to wash it a few times. Here’s how you do it. Carefully pour the separated liquid off the top, then refill with clean water. Let the pigment settle. Pour the separated liquid off, refill, allow to settle. Do this until the separated liquid is clean and clear.

Making Madder Lake

Making madder lake – washing and drying

Home stretch now. After a final settling, pour off as much of the separated liquid as you can; then we’re back to filtering. Put the funnel over a jar, and a wet coffee filter into the funnel, then fill up the filter with pigment water. Go do something else for a while. After some time, the coffee filter will have a somewhat thick residue of deep red, wet pigment. Pull the filter out of the funnel, spread it out and lay it somewhere to dry. (Laying it on a brick works well; the absorbency of the brick pulls out the moisture more quickly.) Repeat until all of the pigment water is used up, and you have various paper dishes of pigment drying around the house.

That’s it! You’ve done it! When the pigment dries, it will be a much lighter shade of pink. Don’t worry about that – once you’ve gotten it into one of its preffered binders, oil or gum arabic, it will regain all of that intensity. In the next post I’ll give the pigment a good grind and try it out in a painting!