Archive for the ‘Drawing and painting’ Category

Daniel Smith Primatek Oil Paints Review – Part 2

May 31, 2014

Here is a somewhat better pic of the cool colors of the paint swatches (from left: ultramarine, turquoise, amazonite, malachite) from the last post:

Daniel Smith Primatek

Daniel Smith Primatek

Still having trouble photographing that amazonite – it’s really quite saturated out of the tube, but you’d never know it from looking at this.

The paints themselves: overall they were fine to use. Upon first opening, some of them (especially the malachite) gave off a distinctly rancid oil aroma, even though they were bought directly from Daniel Smith. Not a big deal, of course, though the smell of linseed oil is normally one of the (many) pleasures of working with oil paint.

The paints are very smooth, which personally I don’t particularly like; part of the joy of working with natural pigments is the sometimes grainier texture, which seems completely absent from these paints. I personally would like to feel the “naturalness” of these natural pigments under the brush; of course, other painters might disagree (in fact, I know at least one personally who does disagree). For me, missing out on that is missing part of the point of using natural pigments in the first place.

The vehicle for these paints is alkali-refined linseed oil (alkali-refined means it’s chemically processed), with the exception of the two blues (Turquoise and Lapis), which use alkali-refined safflower oil instead. Again, the choice of binders seems to me to miss the point of the paints: if you’re making a big deal out of using natural pigments, wouldn’t you want to use a natural oil to go along with them? (It’s not nearly as bad as wasting natural pigments in a thoroughly synthetic medium like acrylic, of course, but still.) Maybe it’s just me, as an enthusiast of natural art materials: but having these paints in a natural, raw, cold-pressed linseed oil, along with some greater variation in pigment particle size, would make these paints much more exciting.

Lightfastness: For some reason, the only one of these paints that has lightfastness information listed on the Daniel Smith website is the Malachite Genuine, which is listed as having “Lightfastness Rating: I.” Others of these pigments are available in watercolors and do have lightfastness ratings listed: Rhodonite Genuine, Purpurite Genuine, Lapis Lazuli Genuine, Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Genuine, Amazonite Genuine, and Malachite Genuine are all listed as “ASTM Lightfastness Rating: Excellent” in watercolor. However, there have been some lightfastness problems noted by various artists who have done their own tests. Note the changes in the Rhodonite, for instance, here by annie.nz on WetCanvas. Again note the Rhodonite here on Jane Blundell’s blog, and also the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise. These two posts seem to indicate there may be some question about those lightfastness ratings provided by Daniel Smith. (At the same time, I’ll note a general consensus that many pigments have greater lightfastness in oil than in watercolor, possibly mostly because of the thicker paint layers used).

Here are two test paintings done with the Daniel Smith Primatek paints. This first one is a sketch of some of the blue irises blooming in the backyard (the same irises from which I get the green ink). The background was done with some paints from Da Vinci and Rublev; the flower and plant parts were done with the Primateks, with some help from Rublev’s Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre and Lemon Ochre.

Irises Still Life © Bispo

Irises Still Life © Bispo

I was expecting to be able to use the Purpurite for the flowers, but that color loses too much saturation in tints. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to get better violet tints with a mix of the Rhodonite and the Lapis. (I still had to steer the tints more toward the magenta, since the Rhodonite is so much stronger than the Lapis.) The Purpurite was fine for the darker violets. Amazonite, Malachite and a bit of Turquoise did a fine job for the green plant parts, and in fact were more saturated than I needed – except for the brighter chartreuse bits, which were helped along with some of that lemon ochre.

Here is another test, a portrait of my wife Joy. For this one I used the Primatek Sedona, Pipestone, Rhodonite and Turquoise; Rublev supplied the yellow ochre, black and white.

Joy Naomi © Bispo 2014

Joy Naomi © Bispo 2014

I went a bit mad with color on this one; it’s actually quite scandalous for me, who usually uses just earth colors (and maybe a touch of madder) for skin tones. A bit of a color theory experiment, really, that was only partially sucessful. Early in the painting I got the urge to use some of the Turquoise for the flesh tones, and it worked very well for that. The Rhodonite worked fine as well, mixing nice oranges with the yellow ochre, and rose tints with white. You can see how rich the color is in the shirt; if it were just a touch redder in hue I’d probably use this paint regularly.

Overall these Primatek oil paints will be a welcome, if occasional, addition to my palette; and I have to give a lot of credit to Daniel Smith for choosing some of these unusual pigments. I’ve been wanting to try painting with natural turquoise for a long time, and it was a pleasure to finally do so, especially in the portrait. Along with that paint, the clear winners here are the Amazonite Genuine and the Rhodonite Genuine – both stunning paints that can actually compete with some of the modern synthetic organics. The Purpurite is also fun for those dark violets, and the Sedona Genuine is a good-quality, if fairly ordinary, natural red ochre. Even the three disappointments in my set – the Minnesota Pipestone, the Genuine Lapis Lazuli, and the Malachite Genuine – are still useful paints (although the Pipestone may be relegated to underpaintings, since it’s such a weak tinter). At the end of the day, I can recommend Daniel Smith’s Primatek line of oil paints for those interested in painting with natural pigments. Give them a try; and feel free to post the results back here!

Thanks for reading!

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!

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!

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.

The Student Palette

November 27, 2011
Portrait using Student Palette

Portrait using Student Palette

The oldest palette, according to the story of the previous post here, has been in use for about a hundred thousand years or so. The palette consists of black, white, red ochre, and yellow ochre: these are the colors that have been used in cave paintings for all of our long prehistory, readily available and easily processed and used. Black, white, red and yellow are often the earliest colors to receive their own names in a culture, and I hypothesize that that’s precisely because those are the four colors that are universally in use. Pliny the Elder mentioned that the great Greek painters used the colors Attica earth (yellow ochre from Attica), Sinoper (red ochre from Sinope), black and white. And earth reds and yellows, plus black and white, have made up the greater part of easel painters’ palettes since the Renaissance (at least up until the Twentieth Century). This basic palette of earths and neutrals has been called the student palette, because the paints it uses are so inexpensive, and also because the restricted palette is an excellent learning tool.

Working with such a restricted palette has its own challenges and rewards. One challenge of using earth colors only is that they lose saturation quickly in either tints or shades. Another is that it’s difficult to avoid a monochrome look to the painting. But, with patience, it’s a palette that does work for portraits. The reason it works, aside from the fact that earth colors mixed with white naturally resemble skin tones, is something called simultaneous contrast. Simultaneous contrast means that colors have an effect on each other’s appearance when placed side by side; in particular, they tend to push away from each other, perceptually. What this means, practically, is that you can get a blue in your painting without actually using blue – a neutral gray will appear quite blue when placed among warmer colors (a mix of black and white actually is slightly blue, which heightens the effect). And a serviceable green can be had from a mixture of black and yellow ochre (in addition to the simultaneous contrast effect, dark yellow, or olive, actually looks quite green to the eye even by itself).

Sketch of Joy, student palette

Sketch of Joy

The benefits of working with a student palette: first of all, it teaches how to make effective use of this simultaneous contrast. (I think half or so of the so-called Old Master Techniques were developed simply to deal with the lack of inexpensive blue pigments, and this is one of them.) Also, one simply learns a lot about mixing with earth colors, which must be an integral part of any traditional palette – and about paying attention to values, since the student palette simply doesn’t work without good value contrast. Finally, crucially, one learns how to make a painting work without trying to match all the colors you see in front of you. Modern painting practice seems to be all about matching colors; but if you literally cannot match the colors in front of you with the paints you have available, what do you do then? Can you still make the painting work?

I wouldn’t necesssarily use this restricted of a palette in professional work – as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you just can’t get all the colors you might need. But as a study it’s invaluable, and I definitely recommend it.

Portrait using the student palette

Portrait using the student palette

The four paintings on this page were done with variations of the student palette, and were painted alla prima (though the one at right took an extra few minutes in a second session to block in the background and the shirt). The painting at top was done using Blue Ridge Yellow Ocher, Ercolano Red (a light red) and bone black, all from Rublev, plus zinc white from Winsor & Newton. Notice the blue shirt, painted with black and white, and the green background, painted with black, white and yellow. The second painting on the page is a quick sketch from life of my wife singing and playing the piano (the other three are all painted from photo reference at the WetCanvas Reference Image Library), using the same palette as above. The painting just to the right of this paragraph was done with a slightly expanded student palette, using two red earths: the same yellow ochre and ercolano red from Rublev, plus Venetian Red (also from Rublev) and substituting Da Vinci Magnetite Genuine for the black, and Rublev lead white in place of the zinc. Other helpful earth colors can be added, of course, including raw umber, burnt sienna, terre verte, et cetera. Below is an experiment using a very limited palette indeed: Venetian red, burnt umber and zinc white only.

Venetian red, burnt umber, zinc white

Three tubes of paint

The temperature variation on all of these is very limited (though I managed a bit on the third painting), partly through my lack of experience with this palette, but mostly because they’re all painted opaquely. A good deal more variation can be achieved by taking advantage of transparent effects, and I’ll be exploring that direction in the future. Some additional reading: George O’Hanlon discusses painting with earth colors here, and here is a discussion of Marvin Mattelson’s use of earth colors for skin tones.

Candle Black

September 12, 2011
Candle Black Ink Drawing

Candle Black Ink Drawing

There was a power outage last week here in the American Southwest. You might have seen it in the news – or even been affected yourself – it was quite a large blackout, about 5 million people without power. It was interesting to go for the evening walk with the dog, seeing house after house darkened, and the unusual sight of neighbors actually talking with each other on the street. Amazing, the things that happen when the TV and computer are out. As always, it brought home to me how lucky we are to have such things as electricity at our constant disposal. With a changing world on my mind, it was a thoughtful but enjoyable walk.

When we got back home from our walk, we lit the place up with candles. Romantic and comfortable as it always is to do so, I found myself by habit still reaching for light switches in every room I entered, even though I was carrying a candle with me. The whole thing brought to mind an experiment I’d carried out some time before to make a different kind of carbon black pigment. The kind of carbon black pigment with which many will be familiar is vine black – created by calcining grapevines in the absence of oxygen – but there’s another kind described in various treatises from the Middle Ages that is made from candles. This is a black pigment with extremely fine particles, which mixes very easily into linseed oil, and makes a beautiful black ink. It’s also a snap to make. Here’s how you do it:

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

First, the equipment. You’ll need, not surprisingly, a candle. But not just any candle: this needs to be a natural beeswax candle, not the paraffin or carnauba wax variety. Preferably, it will be a beeswax candle with no perfumes or dyes. You’ll need some kind of metal bowl capable of holding water, and some way to hang it suspended above the candle while the candle is lit. It doesn’t have to be fancy; you can see the system I’ve jury-rigged here. In fact you can tell a lot about me and the kind of stuff laying around my household from taking a look at the different objects I’ve used here: two fantastic books from the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco about impressionism and post-impressionism; an old paintbrush holding up the bowl; a sketchbook to adjust the height of the candle (notice how the cover is bound upside down–I saw it that way on the shelf and of course had to grab it); and the table underneath protected by a newspaper clipping about the power outage, which I just had to put under the candle.

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

Fill the bowl with cold water, suspend it, then light the candle and put it under the bowl. The candle flame will deposit its black soot on the underside of the bowl. This is your pigment. You can see in the pic how close the candle should be to the bowl. This will heat the bowl up quite a bit, more than one might think, and that’s why it’s necessary to fill the bowl up with cold water before beginning.

Making Candle Black

Making Candle Black

One of the great things about making candle black is that it’s not labor-intensive at all. You can walk away and do something else while you’re making your pigment. Just wander back once in a while and put a finger into the water to make sure it’s not getting too hot. Once it starts to feel a bit on the warm side, blow out the candle, pour the water from the bowl into a garden plant, and simply scrape your black pigment from the bottom of the bowl. You can keep doing this as long as you wish, of course; you can also periodically move the lit candle around to deposit pigment over a larger area.

Candle Black in Oil

Candle Black in Oil

In this image you can see what this candle black pigment looks like in oil. I made a little set of swatches using homemade candle black and lead white from Rublev. Straight candle black in oil is a really rich, inky black, slightly darker even than my bone black from Rublev. Mixed with lead white, it makes fairly neutral grays. If you’re working in oils with candle black, keep in mind the very small particle size of this pigment, likely much smaller even than lake pigment particles. This means that it might lead to premature cracking of your darks if used too thickly on its own.

Candle Black in Oil

Candle Black in Oil

But where this pigment really shines is as an ink or watercolor. With oil, the candle black pigment dispersed very easily with no mulling at all, just a little mixing together with the palette knife right on the palette. In water and gum Arabic, however, the pigment resisted dispersion mightily. I had to resort to mixing in a couple of drops of glycerin, which helped. Nevertheless, once finally dispersed, it made a beautiful ink. In the large image at the top of the post, you can see the drawing I made with this ink. I’ve been trying to figure out a way, in my ink drawings, to mix quill work with brushwork. This represents another attempt to do so. I don’t think I’m there yet; but this one is better than some of the ones I’ve done recently, and I’m happy that my more successful attempt happened with the homemade ink.

Candle black is a beautiful color, historic, sustainable, and easy to make. Grab a beeswax candle and give it a try!

Watching the Grandchildren – layering process

July 24, 2011

I’ve just finished the most recent oil painting – It’s called Watching the Grandchildren. I had a lot of ideas in mind while I was painting it, and a lot of struggles as well. One thing that went pretty well, better than I had a right to expect probably, was a complex layering process on the blouse and wrap of the subject. The blouse has a complex pattern on it, and tassles as well – underneath which is a strong red color. I knew I wanted to use a rose madder glaze (can’t get enough of that madder these days), and as I’ve posted before I wanted to use the madder in a flat glaze layer so that any eventual fading will not break the picture. So, I would model forms in an underpainting and then glaze over that, as expected – but in this case some elements would have to go over the glaze layer as well. So how to layer everything? I made a plan and followed it, and here’s how it went:

Leo Carillo layer 1

Leo Carillo layer 1

The underpainting is Da Vinci Arizona Brown Ochre and Rublev Lead White #2 (lead white in walnut oil). I use paints from both of these companies regularly; I’ll do reviews here at some point I’m sure. I chose brown ochre because the transparent rose color of madder makes a nice middle red color over brown, as I’ve discovered in other experiments. As I found out later, I could have made this brunaille underpainting a bit darker. Common wisdom states that the glaze layer will darken whatever’s underneath; but I’ve found that’s only true up to a point. I wound up having to darken the shadows further at the end.

Leo Carillo layer 2

Leo Carillo layer 2

Then I laid down the pattern on the shirt. I wanted to get the pattern down first and then glaze right over it, because the pattern would still show through the glaze somewhat, so that I’d be able to use it as a template for repainting it on top of the glaze layers later. I figured if I tried to just tackle the pattern on top of the glaze for the first time, I’d wind up messing it up – erasing and lifting and correcting and scrubbing – and run the risk of ruining the crystal clarity of the madder glaze that I wanted. I think I was right about that; a pattern like this is not something I find so easy to do. My wife mentioned that I might stop painting at this point, and that was a compliment; but it wouldn’t have worked to leave it here. Besides, how could I resist the next step? It’s got madder in it!

Leo Carillo layer 3

Leo Carillo layer 3

This is what the first glaze of madder looked like. For some reason this particular color seems nearly impossible to photograph accurately. From this point on, heavy Photoshopping was necessary for each photograph, and so you may see some variation from pic to pic. I liked the color of the madder here, of course, but the blouse wasn’t really dark enough to make the composition work. It had to really stand out from all that white wall – especially since it would have all that distracting pattern in there. In a composition, focal point is everything. So more layers were necessary. Madder, of course, takes a long time to dry in oil; this stage of the painting took a while.

Leo Carillo layer 4

Leo Carillo layer 4

After three glaze layers of madder it was pretty much as you see here, dark and rich. But if I’d made the underpainting any lighter than it was, it wouldn’t have worked. I would have had to keep darkening with another layer of rose madder, and that might have made the element too saturated in color. It’s right on the borderline already (although, of course, this nice thick layer of madder gives some wiggle room for fading later on). Sometime before I try doing this again, I’m going to have to do a bunch of glazing studies over drapery, to really become familiar with just how these very transparent paints interact optically with differently-colored underpaintings. I’ll try various madder lakes, of course, but also ultramarine, Prussian blue, weld, carmine, verdigris, and perhaps lac. When I do these studies, I will most certainly post them here.

Leo Carillo layer 5

Leo Carillo layer 5

At last I was able to restate the pattern on the shirt, using the previously-painted pattern as a template. After it was down I had to knock parts of it back a little, and emphasized other parts, for the sake of the composition. After doing that, I put the tassles above everything, and did a bit of last-hour modeling on the whole thing. Below is the final look. I planned it out as carefully as I could; still, I think I was somewhat lucky. Much could have gone wrong, and I knew it could right from the beginning. It was a bit of a tightrope walk in the dark.

Isn’t that madder pretty, though? If you’d like to see the whole painting, you can see it (and a couple of life drawings) on my artwork blog here.

Leo Carillo layer 6

Leo Carillo layer 6

This is the kind of layering technique that is sometimes required when using a limited palette of traditional colors. Some colors, like rose madder, are best used transparently – and sometimes not as the final layer. Most of the time I simply paint directly, but in situations like this one, that just won’t do. I don’t think of the color palette that I use as being particularly limiting; but sometimes it is necessary to plan ahead. Though some other aspects of this painting could have gone a bit better, I’m very pleased that the blouse turned out so well, and even more pleased to have this process under my belt for next time.

Lightfastness Anxiety Disorder

May 1, 2011

I think it is very beneficial to learn as much as possible about art materials, and how to construct a sound oil painting, and which commercial materials are to be preferred or avoided for this purpose. The last thing you or your buyer wants is a painting that crumbles to the floor when someone slams the front door too hard. But I also sometimes feel that artists of today are rather more concerned about “permanence” than they need to be. That’s putting it a bit mildly; at times it seems that many artists’ concern over lightfastness in particular has reached a fever pitch. And yet, the fact is that real permanence in an oil painting is impossible! No matter what colors you use, your oil painting will not last forever. If you’re painting on stretched canvas, your painting will probably not last more than a few centuries at most. If you’re adding many adjunct ingredients as mediums, then quite possibly considerably less than that. If future generations decide that your painting doesn’t merit conservation efforts, then almost certainly less than that. Many oil paintings created this year will likely crumble and be thrown out before the permanence of any color commercially sold today becomes a real issue. And yet, so many artists today are worried about lightfastness. I sometimes, with affectionate exasperation, refer to this obsession as Lightfastness Anxiety Disorder (LAD).

Artists of the past don’t seem to have suffered from this disorder. It was common for artists of the past to use colors that today are widely considered to be impermanent, fugitive, and even “unfit for artistic use.” This doesn’t mean that artists of the past didn’t know what they were doing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they didn’t care about their art. Quite the opposite. I personally think that they were focused on the right things, and didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about trying to make an oil painting last forever.

At Ivy Ranch

At Ivy Ranch

Just as importantly, many artists of past eras simply knew how to use less permanent colors in the safest possible ways. Take the natural lake pigments: madder, carmine, weld, etc. In oil paintings the natural lake pigments were most commonly used as glazes, over underpaintings that had been completely modeled using more permanent colors. This way, if or when they faded, their doing so would not break the painting in any fundamental way. Take a look at the painting on the right, At Ivy Ranch, which I recently completed. The forms of the couch were glazed with two coats of rose madder genuine by Winsor & Newton. If the lake color ever fades, the drapery will still be there, because it was painted in very permanent earth colors, bone black and lead white. Then, if a conservator (or any reasonably competent professional artist, hired by some future owner of this painting) wishes to retouch or even completely reapply the glaze, it will be an easy matter to do so: no modeling required, just slap another glaze layer on there. (In the case of the conservator, this reapplied glaze would be done with a removable resin paint, rather than an oil paint.)

At Ivy Ranch - no madder

At Ivy Ranch - no madder

A benefit to working like this is that I can see exactly what the painting will look like if the glaze happens to fade entirely at any time in the future. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I used the lake as a regular mixing color. At right is a photo taken from quite early on in the painting process – just some basic value and temperature separations slapped in, the only parts that had been worked up at all were the skirt and the couch. The couch wound up going a bit farther than this before the glazes were applied, particularly in that the area behind the girl became a much darker shadow accent. But aside from that, this is somewhat like what the painting would look like if the madder glaze were to fade completely from the picture. Unlikely to ever happen, of course; rose madder, for all its notoriety lately among those afflicted with LAD, is actually a fairly durable pigment. (Surprise!) More likely is that the madder, over the course of decades and centuries, will fade to some extent; and so much later on you might instead see something like this:

At Ivy Ranch - simulated fading

At Ivy Ranch - simulated fading

Not my first preference – but not the end of the world either. And again, that madder glaze could be rather easily reapplied at any point in the future, and even more than once if need be.

Certainly the safest natural lake pigment to use is madder, and the safest way to apply it is in a full-strength glaze, as I’ve done in this painting. Many artists of the past were quite content to regularly use colors far less permanent than madder; but even for artists of today, with higher standards of lightfastness, there really should be no problem in my opinion with using madder as I’ve used it here. This is a very safe use of a pigment that is actually reasonably lightfast (ASTM II, suitable for artistic work).

Professional artists have a certain financial responsibility to use quality materials and sound painting practices; but this emphasis on “permanence,” I feel, has gone a bit far. And it almost always seems to revolve around lightfastness, and so seldom around other factors of durability in art materials. It has often amazed me that so many artists eschew the use of madder for “archival” reasons, but then turn around and mix large amounts of natural resins or balsams into their paint layers! … or buy and use the cheapest acrylic-primed canvases they can find, ones which will certainly not hold onto an oil paint layer for very long. I encourage my fellow artists to learn more about the structural aspects of longevity in a painting, and to lighten up – just a little – about lightfastness, and learn some of the ways in which less lightfast colors may be used in relative safety. Rose madder is certainly one of the most gorgeous colors ever to grace the medium of oil painting; and it is, unlike the quinacridones and pyrroles, a sustainable artist’s color. The madder lakes have been used by many, perhaps even most, of the greatest and most celebrated oil painters in history. So go ahead and use a rich glaze of madder on that drapery – why not! You’ll be in very good company.

Take the plunge. You won’t regret it.

Portfolio and traditional palettes

April 3, 2011

I always have so much going on in my life, both professionally and otherwise. There’s the gardening, the paintmaking, the painting, the writing, my family, exercise, research, drawing and painting classes, etc. etc. – and this is all aside from my day job. But it is time for one to take precedence over all the others (except my family and my job). It is time for me to get my portfolio together.

For about three or four years running, I’ve promised myself: “This is the year.” This time it really is. This time I’m forcing myself into the professional world: I’ve taken an illustration gig, a book cover job. Very low-paying, but with a not-insignificant promotional aspect. And there’s a deadline. If I don’t have a website up and running by the time the book comes out, it will all be for nothing. So… in a few months I need to have not only the illustration completed, but a professional body of work completed and online as well.

Cowboy Santa illustration

Cowboy Santa illustration

The illustration isn’t really down my alley – it’s a Western Christmas story book – but it’s fun, and it’s a good opportunity to try out some traditional paint colors. I’m doing a Western Santa Claus on horseback, and my working title is – of course – Cowboy Santa. I’ve just gotten to the point of covering the canvas – the second of the four milestones in completing a painting (one, finishing the sketches and comps; two, getting the canvas covered; three, getting everything to work; and four, the endgame). I’m doing this with something of a nineteenth-century palette: natural earths, bone black, red lead (that’s the bright orange color that will be glazed with madder to get a Christmas red), chromium oxide green, ultramarine, Prussian blue, rose madder, Naples yellow and lead white. It has occurred to me to keep an illustration avenue open in addition to the fine art and portraiture, since in illustration I’ll be able to make use of some lovely colors that would be problematic in professional fine art, such as carmine, weld and indigo. But none of those are called for in this image, so it will actually be pretty archival.

At Ivey Ranch

At Ivey Ranch - unfinished

My fine art portfolio will initially consist of Southwestern portraits, for a number of reasons I’ll go into later, when I’ve gotten everything prepared. Here’s an image of a partially-completed painting (in the middle of stage three), one of the four or five I’m working on now (not counting the Cowboy Santa). The palette on this one is very traditional: natural earths, bone black, lead white, lead-tin yellow and orange, rose madder, and um… yeah, that’s it. Oh: and a new one, pink pipestone, made from the same soft red rock as the Native American Calumet pipes. This color is magical, and very useful. See the pinks in the shirt and skin tones? Yeah. More on that one later, for sure.

The end of an era

Today I had to give up my old community garden plot that I’ve been working for three years. We moved to a different town last year; that plus watering restrictions means it no longer made sense to keep it. We hadn’t been there for months. Made me sad to close it down today; lots of good memories of gardening with my wife (then my fiancée) there. But I have another garden plot, one closer to home, and we have some containers in the back yard for tomatoes and eggplant. So it’s for the best. In honor of the garden plot we had to give up, the painting above will be titled At Ivey Ranch.

The next few months will be a little sketchy as I indicated; but I will check in when I can. I will also be putting a lot more effort into the attached blog, llawrencebispo.wordpress.com. Wish me luck!