Using Pastel to Quickly Lay In an Underpainting in Oil

If time is short, or the scene will quickly change, or I want to experiment with underlying color, I will lay in an oil painting using a hard pastel such as a NuPastel and then ‘melt’ the pastel with OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits). Pastels have the same pigments as any other colored product but the binder is different. OMS will dissolve the binder and allow the pigment to adhere to the canvas whether it is oil or acrylic primed. You can see where I’ve done this in another posts here.

In this painting I was after one major goal….to get the grapes to really glow. I thought the best way to do this would be to lay in the grapes with a color that is analogous to the general hue (color) of the red grapes. I chose a reddish plum because it is in the red family and the lighter, brighter orange would pop against it.

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In this image you can see the still life I’m going to paint in the upper left corner. The orange pastel is where the lightest part of the grapes will be.

For the green bottle I used a brighter pink as I wanted to dull down the green. I could have used an analogous color such as Cobalt or Cerulean which would have pushed the green better, and I might in a future study.

Notice that I just mass in large blocks of shapes. It’s these large blocks that I will make more specific as I move through the painting. At this stage I want to establish where things will go and their relationship to each other. One thing I ignored in laying in the pastel is the light/dark relationship. In fact, the bottle is darker than the grapes which are, for the most part, a dark middle and a dark value, and the background a light value. The lines that you see in green are compositional lines that I often use to help with the design and to quickly lay in an accurate drawing.

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I’m starting to lay in the dark dull green of the bottle and in the next photo I’m starting to add the lighter yellowish green elements of the bottle and the background

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Once I’ve set the value and hue I can start to move on to the grapes. The biggest challenge is getting the grapes to glow. Grapes are semi-translucent and I want to emphasize all the warm rich colors that are in them. One way is by using a green bottle as that is the opposite of red/orange. The other way will be to play warm/cool of the grapes and to add bits of grey. Because grey is so neutral it is a wonderful color that will help the color shine.

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Im still keeping the grapes rather blocky and loose, only establishing large shapes and light/dark relationships. I’m starting to make more distinctions in the dark areas by adding some darker and cooler spots of color as well as darker and warmer spots of color. Because I want to highlight the warmth and glow of the light part of the grapes I’m making sure to make the darker masses cooler in the area closest to the bright and light section. In the end, the goal is to have it read as true even if it isn’t exactly what my eye might be seeing.

The next step is to start refining the shapes of the grapes and the background. I keep checking through my viewfinder to make sure I’ve not lost my compositional structure and one of those is the triangle shape that is created from where the grapes lay on the ground plane and then start to move up.

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Finally, I will add any other details that will help the final result….color, temperature, drawing, highlights, and hard/soft edges.

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If you want to see a time lapse video of this click here.

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My, What Big Eyes You Have! – Drawing Realistic Eyes

Drawing eyes, or any part of the face is tricky because we are all so familiar with the human face. We start looking at faces from birth. We look at babies and they to us. So what we tend to do when drawing the face, especially eyes, is to exaggerate. Eyes get drawn with dark lines instead of emerging out of a darkish area of the socket which end up looking more like an Egyptian kohl eye than a more naturalistic eye.

To draw eyes well there are some physical considerations. The first is the skull itself and the socket. When you see a skull (and at halloween you can see lots of skulls) there is a hole where the eye ball, muscles, and skin will fill. Notice the shape of that hole. It’s not round! It’s kind of shaped like a pair of sunglass lenses, more of a rectangle shape. Notice the slope of the eye brow bone. Each side bends down toward the ear. Notice also at the bottom where its lower and higher.

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Inside this cavity sits a ball. To start the drawing draw a ball shape, but fill the cavity. Remember, we are seeing just a small section of the orb of the eye. If you take a ping-pong ball, you can start to visualize it sitting in the ‘eye-glass lense’ shape. In fact, you could make a model using a ping pong ball as the eye ball.

The bone of the brow ridge, the top of the socket sits FORWARD, or IN FRONT OF the ball. So how do you show this?  By remembering that there is going to be a shadow created by the brow ridge and socket bone. To render this, lay in a middle to dark middle value in the whole eye socket area, but still keep the ball lightly visible.

eye ball massed in

Over this lightly draw in the eye lid. When drawing the lid, notice, again, which is higher, which is lower in both the top and bottom lids. The ball is now being covered by the skin (and muscle) on both the top and bottom of the sphere.

eye lid

When drawing the lid, but make sure you draw it lower than the top of the circle. Note where the corners of the eye are. The top of the circle of the eye ball is where the lid dives back in to the socket. It’s the area where one would apply eye shadow.

The lid will make it’s own shadow on eye ball, and the iris is often darker, even in pale eyes. When drawing the iris, notice what master painters have done – they use straight lines to depict the shape. The reason is that we, the viewer, will round it. And as an artist it’s easier to create the illusion of round with straight lines, especially in a small, tight area such as the eye.

eye iris

Add the lighter, highlight to the lid(s) as it’s also a ball on top of a ball and needs to show form. You can also add a highlight to the eye itself, but be judicious. See what really there and make sure the highlight is not too dark, nor too light. It has to be in the correct value.

eye finish

Remember that all the prep work you do underneath the drawing should be light, but dark enough for you to see, and most especially accurate. If it’s not accurate, what ever gets laid on top will be off. So take your time to really observe and get it correct. To go fast, go slow. Take your time. You will live with the drawing way longer than it will take to make it, so be really thoughtful about your lay-ins.

This is just a basic lay in and can be taken further. One book that I use often and travel with is John Vanderpoel’s “Human Figure”. In it he breaks the figure down in to their separate parts. Copy them until you can do them from memory.

 

The Baffling Attributes of White Paints

There are several versions of white paints and their attributes can be a bit confounding. Warm, cool, tinted, leaded, non-leaded…..How does one choose?

Let’s start with the reason most painters use white and what it does. Simply, most painters use white to lighten a color’s value. It’s not the only way to do it, and not necessarily the best way to do it, but it is the most direct and basic method. It also will dull and cool the color you want to lighten because white is actually the lightest version of grey.

That being said, here are some of the properties of whites.

Titanium White is the most opaque and is non-toxic. Some see it as a replacement for Lead White. To my eye Titanium White is the coolest white.

Zinc White is the least opaque, slow drying, and creamy. This, too, has been used to replace Lead White. To my eye it is a warmer white.

Some companies make whites using a combination of both Titanium and Zinc in the hopes of getting the best of both. Jack Richeson’s Shiva line of paints uses both whites in their Titanium White and Ultra White though I’m pretty sure the ratios of the two colors are different for each color as they look and interact differently with paint hues.

To my eye Lead White is the the cleanest of the whites and the warmest. It is also far and away the most expensive. It handles very differently than other whites in that it’s ‘ropy’. It’s more fluid. Think of the Rembrandt ‘drippiness’ in some of his paintings.

Cremnitz White is also a leaded white, as is Flake White.

I wanted to visually see the difference of each of the whites and then see how they reacted with Jack Richeson Shiva paint. I will be writing another blog on Shiva, but for now let’s focus on this.

Below you can see the whites and the companies I used. JRS is Jack Richeson Shiva, W/N is Windsor Newton, and M. Hard is Michael Harding. I noted the pigments of each of the paints as well. The only one not listed is Michael Harding, but it is a PW1, the same as W/N Cremnitz.

White the whites do not show up well at all in the photo below, you an see how they are interacting with each of the colors I used. For each hue I took the color to about its middle value using each of the different whites. To my eye, Lead White allowed the color to maintain its hue the best. You can see that there is much more integrity in the colors all the way down the line especially when compared to the Titanium Whites. It also dried the fastest and glossiest. Remember when I said that white will dull and cool a color? It’s most obvious in the Titanium band.

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The next whites that allowed the integrity of the colors to stay truer were W/N Cremnitz, and that makes sense as it is also a Lead White, and JRS Zinc White. In my tests, even in the violets the color stayed truer though Zinc has a warm bias to it which I thought might have dulled the violets due to its creamy/yellow/warm bias. In fact, there is a glow that is maintained, especially in the JRS Ultra White. Cremnitz did not dry glossy which makes me wonder what else might be in the M. Harding Stack Lead White?

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Finally, I want to mention Gamblin’s Warm and Cool whites. These whites are made using Titanium and Zinc as the base and then adding other colors to tint the white. Just as an FYI, you can do this yourself with the colors on your palette.

I hope this helps. Let me know what your tests show!

Pastels and Oil Painting

Did you know that you can draw and mass in an oil painting with pastels and use that to guide your through your painting? I don’t remember where I learned this great tool, but I use it a lot as it keeps me on track.

Pastels have the same pigments as oil paints. The difference is in the binder. So it makes sense that you can use pastels with oil paints and have everything work well. In my YouTube demo I show the start to finish painting but I want to share a bit about how and why using a pastel base to create an underpainting and keep you on track.

How: Take your hard pastel (I use NuPastels) and lightly mass in the areas you want. In the photo below I’m starting to lay in my light and dark pattern using pastel.

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You can use any color(s) you want but when I choose colors I’m thinking about (1)how they will work with the overall finished painting, and (2) Do I want a simple lay in of just lights and darks using just 2 colors, or (3) Do I want to give more detail to the lights and darks and use maybe 2-3 values of light pastels – leaves on trees tend to be dark in color, but if they are in the light area I might use a darker light pastel to indicate the masses of this dark light value -and 1 or 2 values for the darks?

Once the pastel has been applied I take a clean brush and dip it in Turpenoid or Gamsol and then lightly blot the brush. Beginning with the lightest colors I use my brush to paint over the pastel. Don’t let it drip, unless you like that effect, and keep your brush clean. Once you’ve done all the light area go to the next lightest area and continue working until you have completed all the lights. Do the same in the darks.

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When I’ve done all the painting I then take a soft brush and soften the whole thing. This will need to set up for about 10-15 minutes and I will set out my paints while waiting for the Gamsol to evaporate. It doesn’t need to be dry, but if it’s too wet it just is slippery and it’s easy to loose what you’ve just done. Plus the pastel mixes with the paint and will affect the color.

Peonie Gamsol Softened

This the painting after softening with a brush. You can see it’s a really cool abstract version of what’s to come.

When and Why: (1) You can use pastels to quickly tone a canvas. (2) It’s a great way to set your plein air painting as it will keep you from chasing shadows and light. After you do a thumbnail and decide on the design, transfer it to your canvas using pastel and set it with your Gamsol or Turp. You will have saved so much time that even taking the 10-15 minutes for the abstract to set up you will still be ahead of the pack. 3) Use this to start a really large canvas and this will save you HOURS!! I painted a 6 foot painting using this method and it saved me days of work.

Here is the finished painting:

Peony Finished

Let me know your thoughts and if you’ve ever tried this.

 

 

Simple Changes for Better Composition

I want to talk/write a little bit about composition and how it can help or hurt a work. There are so many things to consider when designing a work that it can often feel like 3 dimensional chess…..finished size, focus of interest and how to get the viewer to look where you want them to, the supporting players, color, edges, even the type of support you are painting on.

I was commissioned to paint some hawks for a collector who live near Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania and wanted an homage to that part of their world. I chose some images and did several thumbnail sketches to hone in on a design. Once I chose the design that I thought was best I drew the painting completely ignoring what I had chosen. And then I continued to paint, never once going back to look at my original design. Big mistake. A fixable one, but none-the-less, what a silly thing to do, right? After the work was completed I showed it to a friend as it felt so off. Wisely, she asked if I had done a thumbnail as the painting was weighted to one side of the canvas with no balance. Duh…..

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If you think how your eye is moving (or rather barely moving) around this painting you can feel yourself hanging out on the left side of this work. There is nothing helping you to move around the the scene. Even if you want to look at the hawk that’s eating his prey, too quickly your eye is pulled back to the left side and, for me, I barely notice the hawk but am focused on the mountain.

Here it is after repainting the background.

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You can see that the design elements are much stronger now. Not only is it better balanced, but the sky is a nice foil for the standing hawk on the left side of the painting. The verticality of the hawk moves the eye up and down the canvas where the tails of both hawks are on an internal horizontal design line leading the eye across the canvas. The fence further supports movement to the right helping our eye to rest on the hawk that is eating. Then the vertical line of the eating hawk’s prey, beak, and head move us up to where the mountain will direct us back to the left to the standing hawk. The sky is a resting spot and the clouds mimic the horizontal line where the ground plain meets the mountain. Nothing was changed from the horizon line down. But change at the top 1/3 of the painting made a huge difference to the whole piece.

hawk bad very small  hawk very small

So some notes……Make thumbnails. Try different formats-square, rectangle. Design where your lights and darks will be to see what will be best to get your idea across. Using your thumbnails play with how the work is weighted. You can ask your friends which design they like better. If in doubt, paint a small study. And finally don’t be afraid to change your work if it doesn’t work.

 

 

Art is Even in Your Latte

Art is never ever cancelled in the home-schooling community. Home school teachers, whether they be parents or other types of teachers, know that the arts is not only valued, but seen as completely relevant and especially important part of a well educated person. As a teacher, painter and draftsperson,  who has taught art for the last 8 years and who also lives with an architect, I can tell you the importance of art instruction in one’s life. And I can show you by example how my own grown children benefited from exposure to the arts.

The creation of art in any form, whether it be 2 dimensional such as drawing, painting, collage, or 3 dimensional such as pottery, sculpture, or architecture, forces us to slow down. In a world that runs on nano-seconds, it’s hard to slow down and find the quiet where listening, experimentation, and creativity come from. It, slowing down to listen and create, is an important a skill as any other.

Art (and music as well) teaches us to not only look but to see. It gives us permission, in fact forces us, to see things from more than one view point. It allows for multiple mistakes and encourages multiple corrections.

Art is, 100%, in EVERYTHING we buy, touch, wear, sit on, travel in, and walk through. Art is in science and math. As an example look at the Fibonacci sequence, a conch or nautilus shell, and design concepts. Or Sacred Geometry. Or map-making. And why is a picture worth a thousand words? Because of the feelings evoked which are sometimes harder to express in words. Art works with the rhythm of music and the rhythm of words because as a designer we want to lead the viewer on a path. Sometimes it’s fast, other times slow, sometimes staccato.

Obviously I’m biased. But the next time you sit down with a latte and see a beautiful design laid into the foamed milk, remember that’s a form of art too.

latte art

Know Your Weaknesses. Know Your Strengths. It’s Just a Process.

The title is really for me.

This past weekend, after spending weeks, months actually, on a project (still not done) and studying color theory from the late 19th and early 20th century, I needed to get out and paint from a live model. It did not go well.

Not to make too many excuses but…. I got there late so I was in the very back row and I couldn’t see the model very well. The linen, which had a clear primer on it, had a strange and slippery feel. And because I couldn’t see well, I couldn’t measure well so my drawing was beyond off. I was testing a new limited palette of colors (suggested by Carlos Duran, teacher of John Singer Sargent) and thankfully that was going well. So I painted and scraped. Then I experimented and scraped. This painting/experimenting/scraping continued for the full 3 hours. All the while I could see other painters look behind them as they repeatedly heard the palette knife taking off layers of wet paint. (It has happened to them too. I truly believe I could feel their empathetic, “I feel your pain”.)  At the end of the session I gave the linen to a friend of mine so she could try it. Painting is hard work. Some days are very good. Others, not so much. This session was brutal.

Today, as I hiked the mountain with my dogs, I thought about what happened and why. And then I recalled….you know how certain things just come back to haunt you?….that an early teacher had suggested I stick to what I do best and not try to do it all. I completely reject that kind of pigeonholing. But there are things we are better at and more suited to do. Portraits are hit and miss with me. I do better with still life. They are more controllable and I have time to develop and correct. It’s quiet. It’s my space. No one is watching me. And even Rubens would parse out sections of his paintings to those who were more capable. That says something!

So I will continue to paint and draw portraits, but I do know that my stronger suit is the still life and (animals portraits). It’s good to know what one is better at. It allows more room for mistakes, learning, and growth.

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Limited Palette of Venetian Red, Raw Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Red Light, Alizarine

Analogous Colors: Ahhhh……Harmony

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Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work using limited palettes. When you use a limited palette there is always harmony as all the colors work with all the other colors.
I just posted a video on YouTube on an analogous palette, which is another form of a limited palette, using a section of blue. Before I post it at the end of this post I want to talk a bit about analogous colors and a color wheel that helps you with some of the color choices.

An analogous palette is a set of colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. The colors work well because they are all related to each other so they are naturally pleasing to the eye.

They can be any sets of colors, yellow-orange, orange, orange-red, or red, red-purple, purple, purple-blue. You want to have both a minimum and maximum number, so a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5, with one color dominating. In the painting and video below, green will be the dominant color though I used blues plus yellow to make the greens.
If you only use analogous colors, plus white and possibly black), you will have a mostly monochromatic work. That can be quite lovely, but if you add a complimentary color you will be able to dull down the main colors and still have the neutral colors be colorful. Black will make the colors look kind of dingy but a compliment will keep both colors lively.

You can add to this mix discordant colors. These are colors that ‘clash’ with the main colors but also add a bit of pop. To help me with choosing colors I use a Color Harmony Wheel or an Analogous Color Wheel

color harmony  In this wheel the analogous colors are blues and purples, the compliment is yellow, and the discords are green and red.

In the painting above, the analogous colors are in the blue to blue green range, the compliment is a red, and the discords are violet and yellow-orange.

I use the compliment to dull down the colors so when I put a more chromatic version of the color in it will shine. The discords help to make the work more visually interesting. You can see bits of violet in the shadow side of the apple and the orange-yellow in the stem. You don’t need or want a lot of the discord, but just enough to make it interesting.

You can click here to see the 2 minute YouTube video of the painting from start to finish.

 

When All Else Fails……

run away

I know….It sounds so lame to run away. Kind of kid like. But having worked months to finish a project I was SERIOUSLY burned out and never wanted to see another paint brush, studio, art book, museum, again……..Or at least for a good, long while.

So for about 3 weeks I sort of took off, but not really. I went in to my studio to do some work, but every chance I got I would leave and watch Spanish soap opera type stories on Netflix. I loved the happy endings but it didn’t help my mood. I washed dishes, did laundry, hiked the mountain. Normal, daily stuff (except for the Netflix binge watching). But I was still encased in my house/studio. And the more I sat the harder it was for me to break away.

So I moved to working in my garden and cleaning the chicken coop. Better. But still burned out.

Then my in-box announced a workshop/lecture that was totally un-art related. I didn’t have to create anything, only listen. OK, sounds really good. My brain could rest……So I put an orange star next to the email to remind me it’s something I’m considering. When the day arrived I could feel myself melting in to my chair and thinking all kinds of excuses. I had to fight the rather strong urge to just stay where I was.  But if like begets like, this was begetting me nowhere!! I HAD to get up and get out.

So I did! And it was fantastic to be free of the bindings I was composing in my head. And for good measure I took a second day to do more things away from my studio. By day 3 I was refreshed and ready to go back to work. Yay! Finally!!!

My take-away from this is that I MUST take time away to run away and do things that are un-art related, out of my house, and enjoyable on a regular basis. And I have to do this without feeling guilty which is what starts the whole dilemma in the first place. This is a serious, ‘note to self’. Feeling guilty about not wanting to work, and then trying to work, and then working badly, will only work for just so long. At some point, guilt be damned. One has to just leave!!

So running away is not going to be a scheduled event, but it will happen when ever I need it and without inner thoughts voicing their critique that I’m really just ‘lazy’. Can I hear an AMEN to that?! Yup…..I hear you!!!!

How Long Will It Take to Draw Well??

copy of a master drawing

Drawing after Rubens

The question of how long it will take to draw well is often asked in one form or another. I ask myself that all the time!
There is no question that drawing takes time. And learning to draw well takes even more time. But here are some things that will help speed the process.
  • If you can get a teacher, do it. Even if you don’t take a regular class, have someone that knows how to teach drawing look at your work to help guide you toward your goals.
  • Don’t fall ‘in-love’ with your work. It will cloud your objective judgement. You need to actually seeing what you’ve drawn and what needs to be corrected. And believe me, there is pretty much ALWAYS something that can be corrected.
  • To go fast, go slow. It’s much more important to learn one thing really, really well and correctly because from that one correct ‘thing’ you can relate the next ‘thing’.
  • Some things you will get quickly, others will take more time. Don’t worry about that. It’s just the process of learning to draw.
  • Know that as you keep getting better, you will always have a carrot dangling just ahead of you.
  • Really observe. Draw what you actually see and not what you assume to be real. It’s really surprising when you leave your assumptions at the door and take the time to really look. Where does one line start and end? Where do shapes intersect? Use plumb lines to see what else falls in the same line.
  • Draw EVERY day. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. It all adds up.
  • Copy from the Masters. They have SO much to teach.
 And finally, you will probably always feel like there is more to learn. That is a great blessing because you will always stay fresh! Manet was complaining until the day he died that he still had so much to learn! And have FUN!!!