“Kat” Using the ‘Zorn Palette’

I really love painting with the Zorn Palette. It’s simple and has the required three primaries, though slightly different. It’s nuanced, meaning I can get a variety of colors and values. And it’s BEAUTIFUL.

The Zorn palette is composed of Yellow Ochre, Vermillion, Black, and White. In a self portrait Zorn famously showed the palette of colors he used, and therefore the name, “Zorn Palette” has been ascribed to him.

It most likely was not the only set of colors he used but he was known, as were other painters (John Singer Sargent was also known to have used this limited palette as well), to use a limited scope of colors.  In this palette of colors black replaces blue.

One of my early teachers, Aaron Westerberg, made a great chart showing off the Zorn Palette.

You can see how wonderful and broad the colors are going from highly chromatic to tints and shades.

In this short YouTube video (under 2 minutes) you will see a start to finish painting I did this past weekend of a model named, Kat. (Yup…..her hair really is lavender, grey, and black)

To see more of my work please go to http://www.etuckerart.com



Black Bear Skull

Black Bear Skull

Black Bear Skull

I love drawing skulls. Especially animal skulls. They are hard to draw because the values are so close in the lights and darks, but that’s what I love about them. That, and they are so architectural. As I draw them I can almost feel the muscles and tendons building up on the bone scaffolding.

Here is a timed drawing YouTube video of a bear skull which I recently completed. Enjoy it and I hope you will consider sharing it and subscribing to my YouTube Channel.

Blue….It Used The Be The Most Expensive Color on the Planet



Blue is a color widely held to be most people’s favorite color. While some may find it cold, it’s psychological impact is generally thought to be serene, calming the mind and aiding concentration.

For the painter blue has always been quite costly. During the Renaissance true blue, sometimes called ultramarine blue, was five times more expensive than gold. Its color was derived from lapis lazuli, a rare, semiprecious gemstone mined almost exclusively in Afghanistan since the 6th century, and imported to Europe through Venice.

There were a few alternatives, such as smalt and azurite, but none was stable when suspended in oils, and none had strong tinting strength or covering power. For centuries, artists managed with these imperfect pigments using ultramarine as they, or their patrons, could afford. But when synthetic blues started to be made, a whole new world of potential opened up.

Prussian Blue

HTB1CtRbFVXXXXb_XpXXq6xXFXXX2       prussian

In about 1706, the German chemist and the color maker Heinrich Diesbach was sharing the Berlin laboratory of an alchemist, Johann Konrad Dippel. Dippel was preparing so-called “animal oil” – an alchemical concoction supposed to cure all ailments – by distilling blood and adding potash, while Diesbach was working on more practical projects for various private clients. Up against a deadline for one such client, Diesbach rushed to manufacture a batch of Florentine lake, a red pigment derived from boiled cochineal insects, alum, iron sulfate, and potash. Lacking this last ingredient, he borrowed some from Dippel, unaware that it had been contaminated with hexacyanoferrate from Dippel’s “animal oil” concoction. The next day, Diesbach returned to the lab to discover a deep blue precipitate, rather than the expected red material.

The two men quickly realized the commercial value of this new blue pigment. Dippel relocated to the Netherlands, where he began manufacturing his own Prussian Blue, while Diesbach remained in Berlin. Relying on word-of-mouth and sales through trusted contacts, Dippel and Diesbach realized high profits from the pigment, whose secret formula they guarded closely. In 1724, however, the English chemist John Woodward published a method for producing Prussian blue in the London Journal, ‘Philosophical Translation of the Royal Society’, opening up production in various European countries.

Cobalt Blue

cobalt 2 cobalt 1

As revolutionary as Prussian blue proved to be, it was a mere precursor to the explosion of available colors brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the French government played an active role in catalyzing innovation at the dawn of the 19th century, as the country emerged from the Revolution with its economy in disarray. The newly appointed administrator of the Sevres Porcelain Manufactory, Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) oversaw chemist Louis Jacques Thenard (1777-1857) as he developed the next synthetic blue, a vivid cobalt blue pigment, inspired by the traditional cobalt oxide blue glazes seen on 18th century Sevres porcelain. In late 1803-1804 he published his successful experiments roasting cobalt arsenate and cobalt phosphate with alumina in a furnace. By 1807, production in France had begun. The pigment was, and still is relatively expensive. Variant hues of cobalt blue followed Thenard’s discovery. He had unlocked the complexities of cobalt mineralogy, including cobalt violet, green, and yellow. Cerulean blue, a cobalt stannate, was introduced in the 1860’s. In spite of its limited tinting strength and hiding power, landscape painters soon favored cerulean blue for skies.

French Ultramarine Blue


The third major synthetic blue to emerge was the culmination of centuries of searching for a cheap, plentiful, high-quality replacement for the most valuable of all pigments: natural ultramarine. In 1824, the French government announced a competition among chemists to develop a true synthetic ultramarine. The prize was finally awarded in 1828 to Jean-Babtiste Guiment (1795-1871). Painters at last had an affordable, fully balanced palette of cool and warm colors spanning the full spectrum. This fact, combined with the innovation of ready-mixed oil colors in collapsible metal tubes, greatly facilitated the ability of painters to capture a range of observed natural effects en plein air (outdoors). Plein air painting culminated in Impressionism, which realized all the possibilities made available by the new spectrum of commercial paint colors. Like cobalt, the discovery of synthetic, or “French” ultramarine led to the development of variant hues, notable ultramarine violet, of the defining colors on the Impressionist palette.

(I want to thank the Norton Simon Museum for all of this information which is highlighted in their show, “A Revolution of the Palette: The First Synthetic Blues and Their Impact on French Artists”)

Plains, Trains, and Automobiles: Part 3 – Clothes

On a recent 3 week painting trip to Scotland and France I had to pack painting gear as well as clothes for 2 climates: Cool and potentially rainy Scotland, and hot and dry southern France. Everything was casual, but clothes are always tricky. Will I be going out? Do I want to look chic/cool, or just put together enough to get by without offending anyone?

In Scotland my hosts had clothes I could borrow which really, really helped. I didn’t need to pack Wellies but brought waterproof hiking shoes instead, which also doubled as my sneakers. I could have borrowed a raincoat if I needed it. But I found some resale shops (never underestimate the amazing finds in resale shops!) so I bought a raincoat with the thought it was inexpensive enough that I could leave it behind if space got tight. Plus, I needed one to replace a worn out one. I also borrowed a fleece. What I brought were 6 T-shirts – 3 long and 3 short, which I could layer when I was cold, a vest, a cotton cardigan sweater, a large flannel shirt that I use as a painting smock, socks (wool and cotton) and 3 pair of shoes. One I wore on the plane (clogs), 2 were packed (hiking shoes and super light Toms). I also brought 1 pair of jeans, 2 pair of shorts, and one summer weight dress shirt. I was able to do laundry and I wore shirts for a couple of days before feeling like they needed to be washed. On the plane I wore leggings with a long-sleeved top and a cami for extra warmth, and a scarf. This also doubled as my ‘going out to dinner’ outfit, and I could use the leggings for stretching and working out, or if the weather was really cold, as another layer under jeans.

What I found was that I wore all the clothes except the dressier blouse. Everything else got a lot of wear. I did manage to buy a couple of things along the way…Nothing I needed, but hard to pass up. And this brings up purchases that seem like they are ‘must haves’.

I admit I really like books. But damn…..weight wise they are expensive. I only bought a couple, and I’m glad I did, but the cost was my luggage was that much heavier. I was limited on my checked bag to 50 lbs. (40 lbs on certain smaller carriers). Any thing over that costs a lot of money, about $100. My painting gear already had significant weight and with cloths and supplies I was close to the limit. So that terrific ‘deal’ might cost very little until the extra weight fee is added on top of it.

So to sum up about clothes: 1) The less you pack and carry, the faster you can move around and the less likely you are to lose or forget something. 2) think in layers. 3) You can find amazing things in resale shops. 3) Think about what you REALLY need instead of what you would like to have ‘just in case’. Anything you pack should have more than one use or function. As long as you are warm/cool and dry, you will probably have enough. 4) Borrow what you can at your destinations.

For a good website with more pointers on packing and traveling light, OneBag is really helpful.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Part 2 Luggage etc….

My personal rule is to PACK LIGHTLY.

This may seem obvious, but it’s rather amazing just how little can add up to a lot of pounds. Easel, tripod, and painting supplies take up both weight and space. To make the trip, anything else has to be able to work really, really well.

Like most of us, when I travel I want to be somewhat hands free so, of course, a backpack seems like the obvious choice. However, the first rule I’m instigating, no matter how cool I think I look with my old, beat up leather backpack, it is seriously uncool when it starts to weigh me down. For travel I’m trading leather in for nylon, and one with zippers and pockets. If I can find a light-weight wallet with a zipper, I might even trade in my leather one for a lighter one as well.

All gear needs to have zippers. Nothing should be easy for a pickpocket to get or for things to fall out. Magnetic closures are not secure. My wallet zips shut and is large enough to hold my passport. (So maybe I won’t trade it in.)

I have found it way too time consuming to fish through odd change to pay for train or bus fare so I keep my native coins in a separate coin purse.

A strong nylon bag with a zipper top can be a great carry on and can hold your purse/backpack as well, especially if you get in a situation where only 1 carry-on is allowed. I’ve been using an Orvis nylon tote (It comes in 3 colors as of this writing) for several trips and is extremely durable. It zips shut, has multiple inside pockets, 2 outside pockets, one of which has a zipper at the base that slips over the handle of my roller, (I have to remember to re-zip so I don’t lose things thinking pocket is secure) and is light weight. Plus, I can carry it on my shoulder. (I also have a carry on roller duffle from L.L. Bean, and generally, this, along with my Orvis, are my go-to bags.) On this trip, because it was long, (3 weeks divided between Scotland and France) I used the L.L. Bean extra-large rolling duffle to carry all of my painting gear and clothes and carried the nylon tote as my carry-on. I had a lot of extra room and everything, tote and backpack, could fit in the roller when I wanted to consolidate.


On the downside of all of this, when it was all packed, this extra large duffle was at the 50lb limit and was really tiring to roll around, especially at train and bus stations where I had to maneuver stairs and gaps. And there was no way I could lift it, without a lot of help, to store in the luggage sections. On trains the bag didn’t fit in the luggage area at all so I sat with it in the train car entry area. For me, because I was taking my larger easel, and because I didn’t have an intermediate size suitcase, I was limited to the largest duffle.

Obviously rolling suitcases are best. Mine only has two wheels but I’ve helped my friends with their 4 wheeled versions and they are super smooth and easy to maneuver. I would suggest comparing overall weight when empty and making sure it will be long enough to carry a tripod or painting umbrella, if you are taking one.

My take-aways are 1)Keep your gear light but make sure it’s strong and well made. 2) Make sure the length of your suitcase will be long enough for your longest piece of painting gear.  3) Ease of movement is super important. If you can afford to have a choice of luggage, choose wisely. Smaller is usually better.

I’ld love to hear your solutions!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Traveling with Clothes and Painting Gear: Part 1-Easels

After 3 solid weeks of traveling to Scotland and France with my painting buddies, I want to offer some suggestions on painting boxes. In another post I’ll talk about clothes.


I have several sizes of easels that I considered taking….a Guerrilla 5 x 7 Pocket Box, a ‘Kevin Mcpherson’ ProChade box easel by Artwork Essentials, and a Versa 11 x 14 easel, also from Artwork Essentials. From my point of view, here are the pros and cons of each:

Guerrilla 5 x 7 Pocket Box 0v03235000000-st-01-pocket-box


* It’s really small and really light….While it is a box, this takes up minimal space.

* It’s extremely light. It weighs in at 1 lb.

* It holds wet panels. My configuration only holds one wet panel, but that is because I have a fold out side tray to hold my brushes which takes up wet canvas space when the box is closed. The side tray can can double as a larger mixing area, and I’ve used it as such (most recently when I left my palette mixing area in the freezer and forgot to take it with me.)

* There is a small amount of storage inside the box for limited paints and/or short brushes.

* It can be used in your lap or with a tripod.

* Because it’s light in weight, if you use a tripod, you can use a lighter one.

* You can customize the box. For example, I added the foldout Palette Extension kit, the rubber foot mounts, and the universal tripod mount set. Palette Extension Kit

* The panel size is limited to 5 x 7 allowing you to have a very consistent size in your body of work and you won’t have to carry a variety of panel sizes with you


* It’s really small. If you need room to spread out or are a messy painter, this could be a real challenge.

* Storage inside the box is very limited.

* It’s set up to paint in landscape (horizontal) mode. (With clips I can easily paint in portrait mode.)

* The panel size is limited to 5 x 7. Because the format is limited, you may be frustrated when you want to paint larger.

* On your lap, the box can be a bit awkward, but it is doable.

* Sometime the panels move a bit back and forth while painting. I solve this with clips that I keep in the storage area under the mixing area or keep 2 panels in the painting area for a tighter fit and take out the second panel when I fold it all up.

* You will have to add anything that isn’t part of the basic box, for example the tripod mounting set. However these cost very little and are super easy to install.

Kevin Mcpherson Easly L ProChade Box by Artwork Essentials:ProChade_1


* It’s extremely light. This weighs in 1.8 lbs.

*It’s very thin so it doesn’t create bulk.

* You can buy a full set up – easel, tripod, etc…from Easy L

* Because the easel is lighter, the tripod will be as well. Easy L’s is 2.7 lbs. (I also use this tripod for my 5 x 7 Pocket Box as well).

* There is a side table that come with it that slides in to place on the left side. I use it to hold my medium cup. I also added some wood at the top and bottom to hold my brushes in place and keep them from slipping. Or you can use the brush holder which comes with it.


* There is no place to hold a wet canvas. In fact, there is no storage of any kind.

* If you hang your turp jar, it can be slightly tricky as the lip of the box is not very tall. I’ve found the safest place is from the brass knob on the right side. If you are left handed this might not be comfortable for you.

* You are limited in vertical size to 10 inches maximum and 6 inches minimum. In other words, a 5 x 7 panel won’t work in landscape mode as the spring clip that holds the panel in place is fixed at 6” when it’s at rest.

* You have to use panels. I often cut linen from a roll and then tape it to cardboard to save on weight. However, you can tape your linen/canvas to a standard panel and have that as your backboard.

Easy L Versa by Artwork EssentialsVersa

* This has a really good sized working area.

* It has a wet canvas carrier built in which can hold 2 panels at a time as long as they are the same size.

* It has 3 different size options for holding wet canvases.

* By changing the brass resting shelf you can paint on panels or 1” deep canvases.

* It will hold a canvas up to 20” in height.

* It’s very sturdy. I’ve had mine for about 10 years. I’ve dropped it and it’s still working really well.

* Side trays mount easily and are very sturdy as they are made out of brass.

* Side trays can store inside the palette, along with you brushes.

* It is designed for oil, watercolor, or pastel painting.


* It’s definitely heavier than the other two easels. It weighs in at 4.8 lbs. I added a glass palette that adds additional weight.

* The knobs can be awkward inside a backpack, as can the wet canvas carrier edges, as they sometime catch on things.

*If you have panels stored you will need to remove them to adjust the height of the panel/canvas resting tray as they are secured with screws which loosen from the back.

Practically Speaking:

I was really torn as to which easel to bring with me on a 3 week trip. I’ve traveled with each of the easels and had good success with all of them, but those trips were about both painting and vacationing. This was all about painting as we were painting 2 – 3 paintings per day. I had to be able to move about, but I also needed to be comfortable with my set up.

Because I didn’t want to be limited by size I brought the Easy L Versa. After traveling on several planes, navigating train stations that only had stairs, and lots of them, I’m not sure I made the right choice.

I only painted small paintings. Nothing I painted was larger than 10” in height so probably I could have used the Kevin Mcpherson ProChade Box and been quite happy. I might have made due with the Guerrilla box, but being limited to just 5″ x 7″ for so long still seems like a stretch.

Every easel has pros and cons. Some of the women traveling with us had Strada easelsOthers had a Coulter system. Though it opens and closes really fast, Coulter’s take-up a bunch of space and is weighty. The Strada weighs in at just over 4 lbs. without the sides, and with sides would weigh similar to the Versa, but it is a very elegant looking easel. However, neither hold tubes of paint or wet canvases. In truth, there is no perfect solution. But for future trips I will take either the ProChade or Guerrilla 5 x 7 Pocket Box.


I was painting with a girlfriend and Christopher came running by and asked if I could paint him.  “Sure!”  I said, thinking he was kidding.  5 minutes later he comes back and says, “I’m ready”.  OK…….  So I started painting him and then finished it in my studio.

This is an older painting, but if I remember correctly, I only used 3 colors, plus white, for this painting. Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Alizarine Crimson, and Cad yellow medium. It’s really wonderful how colors can harmonize with a limited palette.

Follow Up on Drying Time of Cobra Water Soluble Oil Paints

Lavender Fields small

After 12 solid days of painting in Scotland (sometime 2 paintings/day) I can start to give an update on the drying time of Cobra Water Soluble Oil Paints. First, they DRIED! I think one of the keys was that the room we kept our gear in, including wet paintings, was very, very warm as it was a sunroom. Honestly, I think even in winter this room would allow one to grow oranges in this haven of Scottish warmth. We were lucky in that the whole time we were painting it was sunny. When  I was in warm and sunny southern France, I experienced the same thing. I also changed the material I was painting on from Yes, All Media Primed Canvas to Fredrix Kent oil primed linen.

After a few hours of painting I did find that need to switch my brushes out. I had brought a combination of bristle and bristle with synthetic (Rosemary Classic) and mongoose. After several hours of painting and using water for cleaning my brushes I was finding that the Rosemary Classic hog/synthetics were splaying a bit and not holding a firm edge. I bought inexpensive synthetics, which mimic sables, and have found they worked really well.

I could lay on a light scrub and the paint dried very, very fast allowing me to start building color without picking up the color of the toned canvas. This was a big plus for me as I was toning in the field. I would thinly tone my canvas with paint and water and then set up the rest of my colors while my canvas was drying.

I found that, especially in warm weather, the thinned paint would dry pretty quickly on my palette but I could re-wet it to continue using it. The piles of color, however, would stay wet just as long as my traditional oils did. I also found that when I scraped up my paint at the end of a session and put it off to the side, they were still quite workable the next day.

One thing I really love about Cobra Water Soluble paint is that because I’m not using OMS, I am not getting it on my skin. I don’t like wearing gloves so invariably my hands would have some turp on them. Strangely, if I was spending all day in my studio I could even feel the oil mixture in my mouth. This has not happened at all with Cobra.

If you are using water soluble paints I’m interested in hearing what your experience has been. Let me know!

Christ on the Cross small          

“Christ on the Cross” painted at a church in Castillon du Gard in southern France

Want to see more of my work? www.etuckerart.com

Cobra Oil Paints: The First Tests

This is part 2 of my series on Water Soluble Oil Paints. To see part 1, please go to. “Oil and Water Do Mix: Royal Talens Water Soluble Oil Paints”.

Now that I had my COBRA Water Soluble Oil paints and Holbein DUO I was really excited to try them! For the test I chose what are called single pigment colors, meaning that there was only one pigment used to make the color in the tube. For example, a Cadmium Yellow (PY35) is a single pigment but Cadmium Yellow Deep (PY35/PO20) is not. I wanted single pigments because part of what I was testing was how clean the colors were and how well they played with the other colors on my palette.


I painted the tests on YES! canvas.

Every tube of paint has its own feel and texture and this is true from brand to brand and color to color. COBRA’s consistency is really nice. It is creamy. It is also slightly ropey. I don’t know how else to describe it. Maybe a bit like the way mercury rolls around in your palm?…..(Remember those days??) But then not exactly like that either. The paint is a bit slippery when I went to pick it up with a brush, but totally workable. And after a couple of days I didn’t notice any difference from what I had been using, which was primarily Rembrandt, Holbein, and Windsor Newton. (Rembrandt is also made by Royal Talens)

The colors stay true whether they are wet or dry. Water soluble oil paints have a reputation of becoming dull. There is no dulling at all. In fact, wet or dry the color was exactly the same.

COBRA Color Swatches

They also have a reputation of being sticky on the palette when water is added. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Adding water felt the same as when I would add OMS or any other medium to traditional oil paints. COBRA mixes very cleanly, lightens up well with white and the colors are truly lustrous when mixed with each other. The paint holds brush marks very well, but not like an impasto. They thin really nicely with water just as an OMS would thin them but it didn’t have the crazing that sometimes happens with OMS. The thinned colors were clean and looked like watercolor. (You can see it on the right side of the swatches) My brushes rinsed easily and cleaned up well. When I let my water sit for a couple of days the paint dropped to the bottom of the liquid just as they do with OMS. So far just as advertised and I could see potential!

The Cons:

The Cons of the paints was in the drying time. It really took ages and ages. When I started the tests the weather was cool and damp. After 4 days the paint was still very, very tacky. I didn’t make very thick marks and any other paint would have pretty will set up and dried by day 4. If you want a long workable time then this can be an advantage. But for travel I was worried that the long drying time might be a problem.

Thinking maybe it was the brand, I bought two earth colors, Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna, and a Quick Drying Medium from Holbein DUO. Unfortunately it didn’t speed up the drying time at all. The DUO paints, colors that normally dry very quickly, also took a long time. I’m not at all sure why. Even when my weather warmed up (I live in Southern California…..warm, minimal humidity… the paint stayed wet for days.  Maybe it was the surface I was painting on??? Anyway, I’ve contacted Royal Talens and they are sending me samples and formulas for me to test.

In the meantime, I’m sticking with Cobra and hoping for the best. I am travelling for 3 weeks, half the time in a colder and damper climate of Scotland, and the other half in a hot, dry area of southern France.  If my paintings stay wet I will use waxed paper between the paintings to help protect them.

I’ll keep you posted……