Archive for February, 2010

Welcome, Good Sirs!

February 21, 2010
Welcome Good Sirs illustration

Welcome Good Sirs illustration

This is a practice illustration piece I just completed, working with mixed media techniques. I’m still working out a number of things, not least of which is what the heck I want to do when I grow up. Illustration and so-called “fine art” (boy, do we ever have to come up with a different term for that one) both appeal to me in different ways, and I admire many artists from both of those fields. For now, I’m pursuing both, in oil colors, in pastels, and in these mixed media experiments for some of the illustration work.

In this case, and following the ideas I’ve been building on for several pieces now, the media being mixed are: ink, watercolor, gouache and oil paints. Why all these different media? Well, the idea is kind of to capitalize on the different strengths of each one. Ink is great for making a drawing and getting in details; watercolor is great for quick-drying initial washes; gouache is great for building up quick-drying highlights; and oils are great for adding color depth and vibrancy, and modeling deep shadows.

An earlier stage

An earlier stage

So, for “Welcome, good sirs!” I made an intial ink drawing, then laid in flat watercolors, then built up the modeling of the skin tones and clothing with gouache; then, after laying down an isolating layer of thinned gum arabic and allowing that to dry, I brought up the piece using oil paints. (Using gum arabic for the isolating layer is working so far, but it’s problematic in various ways; I’m planning to try some other natural possibilities, including casein varnish and shellac varnish.) So that’s how the illustration was built up. I think there are numerous problems with the colors – but this is an experiment, and in any case the mixed-media techniques themselves are working all right. I just need more practice.

One of the aspects of illustration that attracts me is this: when archivability is not a concern (as is often the case with illustrations intended for reproduction), then I can use whatever pigments I want, without worrying a stitch about lightfastness. Most of the colors used in this illustration are natural colors, but not quite all of them. The ink is an ordinary Calli brand India ink, probably with an acrylic binder. The watercolors are various earth colors from Winsor & Newton and Da Vinci, plus W&N’s rose madder genuine, and natural indigo. The indigo is a watercolor I made. In the gouache layer I used all the same colors mixed with titanium white gouache (I’m all out of eggshell white at the moment, have to make some more), plus dragon’s blood, indigo lake and weld made by me – the weld is from my own garden (yay!). The final oil paints were burnt umber (Winton), rose madder genuine (Winsor & Newton), and weld.

Madder glaze

Madder glaze

The fiery red of the background is achieved by glazing the rose madder oil paint over an ordinary earth color watercolor, Da Vinci burnt sienna I think. It’s amazing the colors you can get this way, and I definitely want to try it out in a straight oil painting – glazing rose madder over earth colors – and see just how bright of a middle red I can get without using any cadmiums or pyrroles.

(p.s. I have no idea at this point where I got the photo reference for this exercise, I’ve had it sitting around for years. If the original photographer or model contacts me and wishes me to remove the illustration from this blog, I’ll be happy to do so. But it’s just a practice image, and not for sale or anything.)

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Availability of high-chroma colors?

February 8, 2010

I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about a limited palette, and what it means to me as an artist, and which colors I might choose. We are so used to having bright, saturated colors available to us from the art supply store – but I’m not convinced that they will always be there for us. Not all of them, at any rate. I still haven’t gotten around to making the final “pigment categories” post about synthetic organic pigments – I’ll do it soon, I promise – but the short scoop is that the synthetic organics are manufactured from hydrocarbons: petroleum and gas residue (called coal tar). Hydrocarbons are, obviously, a limited resource, as well as currently causing intolerable environmental problems for us. Sooner or later, hydrocarbon production will decrease, and when that happens, the colors currently made from them, and many other things, will begin to get more expensive.

Even the availability of some of the synthetic inorganic pigments I posted on a couple of weeks ago is not reliable in the long term. Cadmium, from which cadmium red, cadmium yellow and cadmium orange are made, is becoming a real problem environmentally – is it prudent for us to continue using it? Given the recent issues with cadmium content in children’s toys from China – well, this is the sort of thing that can lead to legislation. And cadmium is generally produced as a by-product of zinc production. Does that mean zinc white is out too? As it turns out, zinc production has its own slew of environmental issues associated with it. And what about the cobalts? These are just a few examples.

high chroma portrait painting

high chroma portrait painting

Thing is, I’ve become rather attached to these colors just lately too. The cerulean blue I was talking about last post is a color made from cobalt and tin. And just this week I’ve begun a new direction in my thinking about color in painting – using color temperature as a partial stand-in for value, and painting much higher-chroma than I ever did before. Here is my attempt from class (and with help from my instructor).

Obviously there’s a lot wrong with it… it’s my first real attempt at something like this. But artisticially, I like the direction it implies. And that’s got me thinking. Two hundred and fifty years ago, not one of the colors I used in this painting was available to artists. Are we certain they are going to be available into the indefinite future? Or, even if they are: at what price?

This is just an introduction; I have a lot more to post about these things. Suffice to say, for the moment, that I believe we occupy a marvelously rich moment in history, in the colors we use for our paintings as in so many other things. And as these colors do not stretch into the distant past, they also may not stretch into the distant future. Something to which most artists don’t give a moment’s thought, but it’s worth thinking about nevertheless. What colors are really sustainable, and which ones are unsustainable – and what will we do without them?