Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Basic Flesh-Tone Palette

New flesh-tone color chart - top
Page from painting journal with notes on flesh tones - center
Pages from painting journal with recent flesh-tone mixtures - bottom
The January issue of The Artist's magazine featured artist Michael De Brito's paintings and the four-color, flesh-tone palette he uses to render his figures. I read with interest and decided to give the colors a test run. The economy of using just four colors seems to break down the process of mixing flesh tones into a basic formula. Since most artists (including myself) struggle to depict accurate flesh tones, I thought De Brito's palette was a refreshing break from all the complicated mixtures I've tried in the past.

Which basically gives me a pretty wide range of colors. Pinks, oranges and dusky flesh tones in both warm and cool variations can be mixed from Flake White mixed with Naples Yellow, Vermillion and Ivory Black. For those elusive cool green tones, a mixture of Naples Yellow and Ivory Black renders a muddy green, the addition of Vermillion warms. For darkest darks Vermillion plus black gives a warm or cool dark, depending on how much black is used.

The bottom two images show the pages from my painting journal, detailing additional mixtures from the same palette, along with notes on their use in recent paintings.

So far I've used this flesh palette in two paintings I'm working on: Blue Angel and Daydream Believer, both are detailed on my Fan page. I'm happy with the results! I think I'll stick with this palette into the New Year!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Why I love Blacks and Browns!

Detail from Blue Angel - oil on canvas - 24 x 36
Many of my art books eschew the use of black or brown, saying it makes paint mixtures muddy. I disagree. Artists such as Rembrant, Caravaggio and Titian used black and brown in abundance. My color reference book: Color: a Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finley covers blacks and browns in the second chapter. What I found particularly intriguing is her statement '...the first paint was black and the first artist female'. Like I'd want to argue with that?

Plus anyone who understands even a smidgen of art history knows that early cave painters used charcoal made from lumps of burned wood or chunks of earthy substances mixed with animal fat or water to make brown paints.

So it makes sense that early 16th and 17th century painters used colors handed down through history, and that also must have been relatively inexpensive. They probably had plenty of charcoal available due to all the fireplaces they burned just to cook and keep warm. Rembrant's rich darks made from browns and blacks have a depth that no other artist (in my opinion) has managed to capture. The realistic flesh of Caravaggio and Titian indicate they modeled figures with layers of shadowy colors. My books on how to paint in the Old Master's style say they used blacks and browns to underpaint their figures.

I'm using brown and black in my painting Blue Angel, detail above, in which I've modeled the flesh and background with only three colors (all oils), Ivory Black, Burnt Umber and Flake White. So far I like the progress. My black is a Rembrandt (brand) Ivory Black, and the Burnt Umber and Flake White are both Winsor Newton (brand). Ironically, I'm painting like Rembrandt, using Rembrandt brand oil paints!

Thus, I plan to continue using blacks and browns in my paintings, in spite of what a lot of art books say. I'll go with Rembrandt, he obviously knew what he was doing!

See the finished version of Blue Angel.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Way to go Mabef!

In late August I picked up a Mabef Lyre M11/D easel at Michaels Store for a great price. I desperately needed a second easel to support my 48" x 96" mother-of-all Rhododendron paintings. Mabef easels have never disappointed me. They're sturdy, the wood is good quality and best of all they're economical.

So I was very surprised when after spending two hours assembling my new easel (mind you, I'm artistic, not mechanical) that it was missing a crucial screw part necessary to support my painting. Darn was not the word I used! And a return to the store was out of the question. I'd already spent two hours assembling, who knows how long it would take to disassemble and re-pack.

What to do? Since I'm a blogger and a Tweeter, I snapped a photo and posted it to my Flickr site, then tweeted and dashed off an e-mail to Mabef customer support, which resulted in an automatic reply saying Mabef staff were on vacation until September 1. Double darn.

Now here it is mid September (just a couple weeks later) and this week I was pleasantly surprised to receive a small package postmarked Italia postaprioritario from Cardano al Campo Italy! Enclosed was the missing screw part, mailed to me all the way from Mabef Easels in Italy! They even printed out and enclosed a black/white copy of my Flickr photo, Italian version! Mabef Easel missing part su Flickr - Condivisione di foto! You can see it in my photo (above).

WAY TO GO MABEF! Now that is customer service! I'm blogging and tweeting, so everyone will know that Mabef supports their customers, all the way from Cardano al Campo, Italy to little ol' Kalama, Washington USA.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Use Payne's Gray?

Payne's Gray Color Chart
Every artist struggles to mix vibrant grays, which is an oxymoron, because vibrant and gray aren't exactly sympatico. But if you've ever tried to mix them, and ended up with a pile of mud, that is, muddy gray, you know what I mean.

I decided to explore the quality of Winsor & Newton Payne's Gray oil paint. It's transparent, according to the WN color chart, with blue undertones from the copper phthalocyanine pigment it's made from, along with carbon black. (Color index: PB29, PBk7, PB15)

I made a half tone by mixing 1/2 Payne's Gray and 1/2 Titanium White, then made a similar half tone from every color on my palette, then mixed the Payne's Gray half tone with each of my color palette half tones. The result; a series of muted, yet vibrant grayed colors, as you can see in the third and sixth rows of my color chart.

I imagine that muting these grayed colors with additional white will give me a series of grays that have many uses: sky colors, white fabric colors, shadow colors, etc.

I've added Payne's Gray to my palette in place of black. I think it will be a good addition!

But I still have one question, why did Winsor & Newton name it 'Payne's Gray?'

~ I will keep the brush happy in my hand! ~

Friday, August 14, 2009


I should know better than to try and paint without using Artguard! It coats your hands with a rubber-glove like film that prevents paint from staining or penetrating your skin. I try to use it every time I paint. On some days I paint in three or four sessions, so I wash it off in between and reapply.
It's tricky to use the right amount. If you use too much, your hands are slimy, not enough and you don't get enough protection. I use a dab the size of a quarter, and don't put much on my palms, just the tops of my hands, sides of my fingers and fingertips. That way my palms aren't sticky, or sticking to anything. Since I don't usually get paint on my palms, I get it on my fingers, it works great.
Artguard is made by Winsor & Newton. The product description on the Web site says:
A light, non-greasy cream which, when applied to hands before working, forms a
protective barrier against all types of artists' materials. It can be removed
with soap and water or Artgel and also contains moisturizers to condition the
skin and hands.

A jar lasts forever!

~ I will keep the brush happy in my hands! ~

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Gridding and Transferring Rhododendron Explosion

Oh my aching back! I'm transferring the 12" x 24" Rhododendron Explosion study onto my 48" x 96" canvas. Square by square; using colored pencils. I'd drawn the grid previously, using a grey colored pencil. I managed to finish the transfer this weekend, so now I'm ready to paint, that is if I can stand up!

However, before I start painting I have to finish another, smaller rhododendron painting, which will serve as the catalyst for this one. I'll work out the painting in steps: blocking in, connecting shapes, adding detail. Then I'll know for sure that my steps will translate into a workable method for the larger canvas. At least that's the plan.

Previous steps:

Final sketch, color study and transfer grid
Sketches and color studies
Canvas preparation
Canvas stretching and stapling
Canvas frame

~ I will keep the brush happy in my hands! ~

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Shape Studies for Rhododendron Explosion

Sketch #1 - top
Color and Shape Study #1 - second
Sketch #2 -third
Color and Shape Study #2 - bottom
Final Sketch and Color and Shape Study
Small studies for my big painting: Rhododendron Explosion, 48" x 96. I started by sketching a couple of rhododendron shapes onto tracing paper, then tracing the design onto watercolor paper so I could block in the shapes with gouche to see how they look-yuk.
I started over, including more rhododendrons. But I still didn't like it. It didn't seem dynamic enough to enlarge Finally, the third try worked, and that's the design I'll transfer to the canvas.
Here's the canvas frame.
~ I will keep the brush happy in my hand! ~

Friday, July 17, 2009

Plein Aire Painting with Golden Open Acrylics

One Day Plein Aire Painting with Golden Open Acrylics
workshop taught by Corrine Loomis-Dietz
the workshop studio - top
our acrylic palletes - second from top (l-r: Allan's, mine)
Allan painting outside - third from top
Allan painting outside - fourth from top
teacher demonstrating in studio - fifth from top
Allan painting inside - bottom
Both Allan and I want to learn more about acrylics, so we registered for this workshop through Art Media. Golden Open Acrylics are a new product by Golden Artist Colors, designed to stay wet longer than regular acrylics. The workshop provided all the paints, brushes, paper, water and instruction. All we had to do was show up with some rags!
I really liked using these paints. They handled similar to oils, as far as brushing and blending, but I didn't have to worry about cleaning my brushes with thinner, or breathing any toxic substances, or transporing a wet painting. The instructor focused a lot on how economical it is to paint with acrylics when you blend them with medium, due to the per ounce cost of paint versus medium. An ounce of cadmium, for example, costs up to $8, versus an ounce of medium, which costs about $2. Thus, thinning your cadmium red with medium makes it go much farther, without any loss of brilliance or pigment power. Plus, I think the overall cost of acrylics is much less than oils.
Most of the workshop attendees had previous experience with acrylics. However, I've never used them! So it was a really eye-opening experience to create a painting that was dry enough to touch in an hour, yet could be worked over like it was still wet! Amazing. I asked Allan if this meant I was going to have to chuck all my expensive oils and convert to acrylic. He just shook his head! Like I haven't invested thousands of dollars into every type of art supply on the planet already!
Allan said he really liked using them too, because they didn't dry so fast.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Winsor Blue and Violet Color Charts

Winsor Violet color chart - top
Winsor Blue (Green Shade) - bottom
I think I'm in love! The two Winsor colors I experimented with (blue and violet) are amazingly powerful and vibrant. I've mostly shied away from the Winsor colors, because they're so strong, and because they aren't traditional, but I think I'll change my ways.
Winsor Violet (top chart) makes some great brown-grays when mixed with yellows (right side), but the violet shades are lovely. You can see the Violet by itself (not mixed with any other color except white) in the fifth row from the right. Oooh la la! Can you picture a violet like that in a painting?
The Winsor Blue (bottom chart) is so strong it overwhelms anything you mix it with, so you have to go easy. But if this color had a personality, it would be flashy! When mixed with different yellows, it makes many varieties of clean greens. You can see the Blue by itself (not mixed with any other color except white) in the fourth row from the right. What a gorgeous blue. Cest magnifique!
Why Winsor?
Both are made by Winsor & Newton , but althought I searched their Web site extensively, I couldn't find any reference to why they were named 'Winsor'. Was it because William Winsor, cofounder of the company together with Henry Newton, discovered and named them after himself? He was the chemist and Henry was the artist. Did it happen after 1900, when I believe copper phthalocyanine, the pigment in Winsor Blue, was either discovered or accepted as a pigment ingredient by the colourmen? I tried several Google searches, but found nothing. However, the Winsor & Newton Web site has some fascinating historical information in their historical catalogues. I'd love to visit the company someday, if I ever make it to England!
In the meantime, I'm checking out the other Winsor colors to see how they behave.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gessoing a large canvas

Gessoing the canvas for Rhododendron Explosion - 48" x 96"
scraping on the gesso - top
spraying it down - middle
brushing it in - bottom
The last step is gessoing the canvas. I worked one quarter at a time, scraping gesso on with a putty knife, spraying it down, then brushing it in with a house painting brush. After three coats I'll sand, then add two more coats of gesso and sand again, then a final coat. That should do it! It will take me about a week. Then it will be ready to paint on.
~ I will keep the gesso brush happy in my hand ~

Stretching and stapling a large canvas

Stretching the canvas for Rhododendron Explosion - 48" x 96"
one corner in the works - top
me stretching the corner - bottom

It was a week filled with nightly stretching and stapling sessions, one inch at a time. The corners came last, because that's where I worked out the last wrinkles. It was hard on my wrists, and oh my aching back. That's why I needed to see my massage therapist on Saturday!

However, the effort paid off, and pardon moi, but I now have one tight-assed canvas!

Coming next, gessoing the mother of all canvases!

See the frame for this canvas.

~ I will keep the canvas stretcher tool happy in my hand ~

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Getting ready to stretch a large canvas

Frame for Rhododendron Explosion - 48" x 96"
I'm preparing the frame for the largest painting I've ever done. At 4 ' tall by 9' long, it probably won't ever leave my house. The plan is to hang it in my livingroom.

Allan got stretcher frames at Utrecht on sale; a set of 48" and a set of 96". I wanted several cross braces, but they only had the one 48" center brace, and Allan said that would be strong enough. Since he's the one who has to hang it, I'll go with his recommendation. Plus, he assembled it for me because when it comes to anything carpenterish, I'm basically useless.

Then I cut my piece of cotton duck, 57" x 105", which will give me 4.5 inches to wrap around. I laid everything out on the floor, because I don't have a table large enough, and proceeded to stretch and staple.

For the life of me I couldn't figure out why staples kept shooting across the room, instead of going where I pointed them. Allan came to the rescue and pointed out that I was holding the gun backwards. Doh! He called me a retard. "Why don't you put that on your blog," he said. So I am!

Like I said, when I comes to assembling stuff, I'm challenged. I hope I don't shoot my eye out with the staple gun. But by gosh, I know how to hold a paintbrush!

~I will keep the brush happy in my hand ~
But staple guns, that's another story...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Terra Verte Color Chart

I think I'm in love with Terra Verte!
I grabbed a tube of what I thought was Viridian, but was really Terra Verta. The color band on both tubes looked remarkably the same, and as the color name on my tubes is usually obscured by messy paint, I just assumed it was Viridian. Plus when squeezed out, Viridian looks the same as Terra Verte. But when mixed with Liquin to a thin, milky consistency, then washed onto my white canvas, it turned into the most wonderful, muted soft green I ever saw! So different than flashy Viridian. It actually resembles the earthy, gray greens we see so much in the Pacific Northwest.
The next day I made a color chart, and found out that Terra Verte is remarkably adaptable to all the other colors on my palette. It even makes a wonderful gray when mixed with Alizarin Crimson! From now on, I'm using Terra Verte for my greens, forget Viridian.
According to the green page on Pigments Through the Ages, Terra Verte is the french name for green earth.
~la bonté de remerciement pour terra verte~
thank goodness for terra verte!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Flesh Mixtures for Poseidon

Flesh mixtures and notes for the painting Poseidon
  • top - actual mixtures on my palette
  • second & third - flesh mixture practice from my painting journal
  • fourth - Verdaccio mixture notes at top, initial flesh mixture practice at bottom
  • fifth - flesh palette diagram from Gage Mace portrait painting workshop I took at the Hipbone Studio last August

Practicing these flesh mixtures was the result of me not liking the flesh mixtures I used in my first portrait of 2009 - Klimt Scarf.

Flesh palette (all are Winsor & Newton oil paints):

  • Titanium White - TW
  • Cadmium Yellow Light - CYL
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep - CYD
  • Cadmium Red - CR
  • Terra Rosa - TR
  • Alizarin Crimson - AC
  • Burnt Sienna - BS
  • Cobalt Blue - CB
  • Ultramarine Blue - UB
  • Viridian - V

Basic mixes:

  • Yellow mixture - mix CYL + CYD to get a 'taxi-cab' yellow. Lighten this mixture with TW.
  • Purple mixture - mix UB + AC to get a 'rosy purple'.
  • Brown mixture - mix 'rosy purple' with 'taxi cab yellow' to get a 'baby-shit green.' That's what Gage Mace calls it! To this mixture add TR to get a 'brownish earth' color. Lighten this mixture with TW. This is the 'basic flesh tone'.

Secondary mixes:

  • Red mixtures - mix one pile of TR + TW to get a 'dusty rose.' Mix one pile of TW + CR to get a 'rosy pink.' Add either of these reds to warm the 'basic flesh tone.'
  • Blue mixture - mix one pile of TW + CB to get an 'ice blue.' Mix any warmed 'basic flesh tone' with small amounts of blue mixture to make grayed flesh tones (for shadows).
  • Green mixture - mix V + BS to get a 'sap green'. Lighten this mixture with TW. Mix any warmed 'basic flesh' tone with small amounts of green mixture to make a grayed flesh tone (for shadows).

I have to admit, these steps are tricky, and I had to practice (and stilll am), but I think these are the best flesh tones I have used in my painting career. The colors aren't muddy, even though in some cases I am mixing up to five colors, plus white.

I applied my flesh colors over a dried Verdaccio. Here are some Verdaccio steps from a different painting. And I used the medium Neo-Megilp, which keeps the paint workable for a while, and lets me vary the transparency.

In case you are wondering how I kept track of all this, here are my notes on keeping a painting journal. I couldn't paint without it! I still look back at my notes from several years ago, to see how I mixed something, or to compare whether I'm making any progress!

~Happy painting!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A New Year and Color Charts

A fresh start to the New Year with Color Charts!
Our Christmas celebration wouldn't be complete without new art books! This year I asked for Alla Prima, Everything I Know About Painting by Richard Schmid. I must have been very good because Santa got it for me!
I love Richard Schmid's work. He always paints alla prima (from life) and his paintings have that fresh, just painted quality. His work is uncomplicated, simple and fresh. Yet that uncomplicated, simple and fresh quality is one of the most difficult painting techniques to master!
I read the book in a couple of evenings, particularly the section on color. Richard suggests making color charts to learn one's palette better, and I thought, if he does it, I will too! I spent the better part of January creating 14 color charts, one for each color on my palette, which is the same palette Schmid says he uses.
Here's how I did each chart. I taped a sheet of 9 x 12 Fredrix Canvas Pad to an 11 x 14 gessoed masonite panel. (Allan and I have lots of these laying around). Then I divided the sheet into 11 rows across by seven columns down. I split pieces of regular masking tape lengthwise into thirds and adhered it across the rows and columns. (This created a clean break between each color mixture).
Following Schmid's instructions, I mixed every color with every other color on my palette, and added white in six increments. The colors on my palette (with abbreviations) are:
  • Titanium White
  • Cadmium Yellow Lemon - CYL
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale - CYP
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep - CYD
  • Yellow Ochre Pale - YOP
  • Cadmium Red - CR
  • Terra Rosa - TR
  • Alizarin Crimson - AC
  • Burnt Sienna - BS
  • Cobalt Violet - CV
  • Cobalt Blue - CB
  • Ultramarine Blue - UB
  • Viridian - V
You can see the Cadmium Yellow Pale chart above. The first column is the palette color Cadmium Yellow Pale (CYP) mixed with increasing amounts of Titanium White. The next column is CYP mixed with CL, followed by CYP and CYD, followed by CYP and YOP, followed by CYP and CR, and so on.
When the chart was finished I removed the tape and set it to dry for about a week. Each chart took about 2.5 hours. I didn't use any medium. I used a boatload of white. But I figure, if it helps me be a better painter, it's worth it!
I definitely feel I have a better grasp of color mixing, particularly those tricky grays. I hope my first painting in 2009 is better, thanks to all these color chart studies. Special thanks to Santa Claus (AKA Allan) for bringing me this book! If you want to learn how to mix colors, I definitely recommend Richard Schmid's book.