Saturday, February 6, 2016

All About Palettes!

Oh Justin.  You're the best.  Here are two new videos about my palette--both the literal, wooden palette I hold, and the colour palette I use.  Now, scientists confirm I am a chatty Kathy, so even with brutal editing there is a lot of footage.  We broke it into two pieces so you can have a break to apply ointment to your pressure sores.

The large palette is a New Wave Expressionist palette.  I probably would have been happy with an unfinished one, since I redid the finish anyways.  If you're in Canada and bemoaning the death rattle in our dollar, order from ARTiculations in Toronto.  Oh, and let me tell you a story.  ARTiculations opened their doors about five minutes after Dave and I moved from Toronto, and they're located two minutes from our old house.  After I had to spend the prior SIX YEARS busing it to the nearest art supply store over an hour away, usually once a week, for supplies.  *shakes fist at the skies*

This next video is for a handful of people who have asked me a lot of questions about the colours I use, so I don't expect all twenty minutes of it to be universally fascinating.  But if you're interested in launching into Natural Pigments paints or were thinking about buying my paint set, this video will acquaint you with how I prepare my palette.  Many of the colours require some personalization before I use them.  You'll see in the video.

Of course, Dave being Dave, he has to sabotage the photo I took of his palette by sneaking in some lines of calcium carbonate and a razor blade.  Excellent.

So that mixing trick I do with the Lead White #2?  I just showed it to Dave the other day and then he went and painted the best damn satin and embroidery.  Great for flowing impastoes.  Hopefully that slacker posts a WIP of his latest painting soon.  Of course, I'd love to hear how my readers get their imapastoes, in the comments.

Here's the colour list:

Lead White #2
Chrome Yellow Light
Blue Ridge Yellow Ocher
Orange Ocher
Orange Molybdate
Alizarin Crimson
Cyprus Burnt Umber Warm
Cyprus Burnt Umber Dark
Ultramarine Blue
(Roman Black)
Bone Black

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Icarus V Work in Progress

I would love to finally wrap up the third and final installment of my "Furs" WIP, but I've been putzing around with the background endlessly and now my camera's broken.  I've been thinking for a while of making a study of backgrounds.  I want to amass a bunch of images of paintings with my favourite backgrounds and do thumb nail copies--hammer it all into my brain subliminally.  I think that's why I love trompe l'oeil paintings so much--there is no background!  Just more stuff that needs to be painted!

To allay feelings of inadequacy in light of my big blogging goals for 2016, I'm tossing up an old WIP from 2014.  I didn't even realize I had these pictures but I uncovered them today.

Above was as far as I got on day one.  Once dry, I taped off the panel to frame my new cropping and then tossed it on the table saw.  I impastoed white paint on the throat of the bird so that I could glaze a brilliant red over top.  As we all know, you can't raise the value of red by adding white, and adding yellow, which can raise the value, reduces chroma, so that left me with the glazing trick: lay down some thick, brilliant white paint, preferably packed with calcium carbonate, and then glaze the red over top when dry.  It ratchets up the value and chroma slightly.

Above, more work on the wood and the pebbles.  Painted pebbles and rocks always look like the fake styrofoam pebbles and rocks that you'd find in the pot of some motel lobby plant, don't you think? 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Furs, Part II

I left off at the colour wash-in last time (above).  After this stage, I can tackle just about anything I feel like in whatever order I feel like without regretting too much too much, but all the same, I like to think through my strategy.  Some things need to be feathered softly over top of other things (like fur over top of her blouse and hair, and hair over top of her blouse).  One thing I did differently from usual is I did a quick pass in pure paint (no medium) over her eyes.  Usually the eyes are the last part of the face that I paint, which can be fun in a saving-dessert-for-last kind of way, but is also kind of disappointing in a saving-dessert-for-last kind of way.  Actually, it can be kind of lame because a portrait just doesn't look right until the eyes are perfect, so leaving them off until the end just means your painting looks like a steaming pile of mediocrity until the last day.  Here's the painting with a quick pass over the eyes:

Below you can see the start of the blouse.  This is the third time I've painted it so it's practically cheating to keep using it in my paintings.  It came out pretty quickly, and once it was out I went back and pushed the warm/cool dither by teasing warmer colour and cooler colour in here and there.

I circled back to the face and started it the way I usually do, by laying down some warm darks in the jaw area to give me what I call "value context."  If I can get my darkest values in first, everything else snaps into place.  I also try to push this dark value as warm as I can to keep the face looking, you know, alive.  With oxygenated blood running through it.  Just a personal preference, but kind of important with a subject with really fair skin posing under a cool light.

The face was laid in with a combination of Silverbrush bristle egberts and Rosemary mongooses.  It was pretty much all one go, including one more quick pass on the eyes, which went really easily with the foundation from the previous pass already established.


And now the painting looks like this:

Below the hair has been laid in using a combination of Rosemary mongooses (of different sizes so that the tendrils don't look monotonous) and Rosemary Ivory flats.  I'm always waffling between soft, transparent hair, and really graphic, ribbon-like hair.  The latter is really fun to paint, although the former often sits back and integrates a bit better with the rest of the painting.  I indulged in some linear, ribbon-like hair this time.

And now we come to the fur.  While I think that good brushes are essential for good painting, I also think that for most tasks, good brushes can be pretty interchangeable.  I've painted faces with big bristles, tiny soft brushes, sharp synthetic flats...and they all end up looking like they were painted by the same person.  Me.  But, when painting textural surfaces, I do think having just the right brush is important.  It's the difference between creating something that looks fresh and effortless and in reality took a small amount of time to do, and creating something that looks labored, painful, and in fact took forever to do.  Below are the sorts of brushes I usually gravitate towards for painting fur.  The trick is to find a brush whose natural brush stroke creates the effect of fur.  There is no painstaking drawing of each strand of fur in my studio.  If you look at the range of bristles below, you can see I have super soft, wispy Rosemarys, a springy and sensitive egbert from Silverbrush, and coarse and ratty brushes from the hardware store.  This gives me a range of texture for creating many different fur types.  I often use all of them in one painting.  Note that in each category of brush, I try to have several sizes and shapes.  This prevents monotony of brush stroke, something that is lethal to textural effects because it makes the viewer aware that the texture was created with a tool of limited range and expression and not by the hands of invisible angels.

Below is the fur hat.  I used some Velazquez medium to beef up the lightest notes and I think you can see pretty well in this photo that the the lightest wisps of hair stick off the surface of the painting.

And below is the muff.  I used the coarse hardware brushes for the sable fur on the left hand side of the muff (her right)--the area where you can see that the base of the fur is light coloured and the tips of the fur is dark brown.  They were exactly what I needed to lay down a sparse smattering of impastoed dark hair.  Most of the work on the right was a combination of bristles and mongooses.  When painting fur I generally work just like a landscape artist.  I paint the fur farthest away first (usually that means the fur around the edges) and then work my way forward, being careful that everything in front overlaps everything behind it, and not vice versa.  It helps to have a think about which area should get painted last, and then resisting the temptation to work on that.  Incidentally, the area that gets painted last is often the most interesting, because it's the portion of fur that is sticking straight out at you and therefore you can see it clumping and parting.

To be continued...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Furs, Part I

My final project of 2015 has ended up being my first completed project of 2016, thanks to a nasty cold laying us both on our backs for a week.  I've had comments that my new painting, "Furs," is "very Russian," which I take to mean the model looks like she's cold.  Or pickled in vodka.  Either one.

As usual, I started off with a charcoal and white chalk drawing on toned Strathmore paper.  I've probably said in previous posts that I use Canson, but it turns out I've been living a lie.  That stack of paper in my paper cabinet is actually Strathmore.  It's a bit smoother than the Canson, so I get a better hatching effect.  As usual I draw straight from my laptop monitor, which took about year for my brain to reprogram to in 2013, but is pretty easy now and saves a ton of money in photo printing while providing a truer colour reference.

After completing the drawing I knocked out a few little vellum colour studies.  That wildly orange background is a giant, old-fashioned carriage house style door with studs.  It was in the original shoot, but I realized that as much as I love that door, it would kill my subject's skin tones.  So I putzed around with some green and blue and found that the colour arrangement on the far right was best.

Next came the head study.  Usually I paint directly onto a plain white acrylic ground, but this time I had a panel toned with a bit of grey.  Having a coat of paint, however thin, provides a surface that grabs subsequent layers of paint a little more effectively, and the soft grey itself is pretty easy on the eyes and doesn't scream to be covered up with paint the way that a white ground does.  I really need to paint on toned grounds more, but I'm just so lazy, and sadly there ain't no cure for lazy.

Something about the stage below had me saying, "Do you see?  DO YOU SEE?"

By accidentally making her nose too long I gave Maddie a very grown up look, I think.  She didn't actually age three years since the last painting.

Because the toned grey worked so well in the study, I toned the panel of the painting proper to match.  I traced the drawing I had done with some vellum paper (which is sturdier than tracing paper and lies nice and flat), applied a thin coat of umber paint to the back with a bristle brush, and then transferred the line drawing by drawing over top of the lines of the drawing.  I like to cut out the figure instead of keeping it embedded in a big sheet of vellum (although if you do this, it is absolutely necessary to have a plumb line somewhere in your drawing so that you don't rotate the drawing accidentally and transfer the drunk version).  It helps me appreciate the positioning better, although I do still manage to mess it up the first time around almost every time.  I had to wipe and retransfer this before I was satisfied.

Because the days have been short during our dark, Canadian winter, I had a daytime project going for about four or five hours a day, which I would chase with this, my evening project.  It can be a little challenging working on the same project in varying lighting circumstances.  Natural daylight is very different from fluorescent, even if the the fluorescent is very up on itself for being full-spectrum.  I found the painting looked very flat when I worked on it during the evenings, but came to life in the daytime.  I've heard that one reason for this transformation is that natural light is generally so much more intense than artificial, and since oil paint is essentially a transparent smear of colour on a white ground, a more intense light will penetrate those transparent layers, hit the ground, and bounce back out again with a little more pizzazz than will artificial light.  When looking at a painting under natural light, it's like looking into a transparent pond where you can see surface scum, pond water, and pond bottom all at once.  When looking at the same painting under artificial light, it's like looking at the same pond filled with silt and the effect is that I'm only seeing the upper layer of paint.  I don't know if this is true but it sounds damn poetic so I'm going to go with it.

Below is the colour wash-in, or ébauche.  The colours have been applied in a general manner with plenty of Gamsol to help the paint spread, creating a lean paint layer that will dry rapidly.  I used to be very particular about my edges and my drawing in this stage, but more and more these days I realize it's not so hard to get the drawing back later on, and it's really fun to knock this stage out quickly before parts start to sink in, which happens a lot quicker than usual when working with OMS in your paint.  It's nice to be able to stand back and take a good look at the overall effect of the colours without the sinking in affecting it.

And below is a close up.  It looks like I kept things very rough and simple at this stage, but I actually put a lot of time into nudging her features this way and that so that the drawing, no matter how rough it may seem, is accurate.  One thing I made sure to push were the vivid reds in the folds of the eyes, the nostrils, and the mouth.  These accents are so hard to establish and easy to lose, so I try to force them in right away.

To be continued...

Furs, Part II

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ba ba bird, bird, bird...bird is the word.

The true story of this still life is as follows.  I was out for a hike in the woods with my father- in-law and we happened to bring our shotguns with us (which we use to scare off hunters from harming innocent woodland creatures) along with a giant bag of bird feed (which I'll get to later).  It was a beautiful autumn day when all of a sudden, a rabid 6 ft grouse jumped out of the woods holding what appeared to be a rusty shiv.  He made a throat slitting gesture towards me, followed by cutting his own tongue open to let me know he was serious.  I told him I didn't want any trouble and I would just be on my way.  He motioned to the giant bag of bird seed I was carrying and instructed me to hand it over.  I told him I was delivering it to the orphanage for adorable baby ducklings.  He eventually became impatient and violently came at me. I had no choice but to break his leg with a spinning round house kick.  Knowing he was defeated and having no chance of survival, he picked up the end of my shotgun barrel and placed it on his head.  I knew what had to be done.  I had to do the humane thing. That day I took a life, but in return, I may have saved my father-in-law's.  After that, I figure I would paint him then eat him (the bird, not my father-in-law).  Below is a picture of the grouse in his final moments.

On that note, let's talk about painting.  When painting anything that is perishable, it is going to change over the course of the project.  This means you have to work fast to block in the drawing and large groupings of color.  Things like superficial textures and details will have some level of conceptualization as the object decays, thaws, etc.  At times it is possible to substitute one object for another.  Example would be an apple versus say, a killer grouse.  However, in the case of this painting and many of Kate's Icarus series, we don't have an unlimited supply of dead birds.  (One of the reasons Kate started painting kittens.  Pick up a new litter every week from the SPCA.)  When I had the bird out, I had to be working as fast as I could towards completion.  

Initial lay-in of ébauche
 End of day one of painting.  Started to impasto some thicker paint before the day was out.  You can really only hit values when paint is applied opaquely.

Adding wood texture and refining grouse.  For the texture of the wood, I stole one of Kate's tricks of applying the blue tone over top of a dry umber wash, then scraping out the wood grain with a rubber knife to give it a tactile feel.  This way the ridges cast a natural shadow that emulates chippy paint. Its important if you are going to do this to keep the umber brush strokes vertical, so it looks like wood grain.  However, the feathers on the grouse I had to layer quite a bit.  Not making every feather looks the same is extremely important. Birds have a variety of feathers that have different qualities and sizes.  In the white feathers, I used a rather ratty filbert bristle brush to impasto the lights since these feathers were quite wispy.  For the feathers on the side, I found it easiest to shape the small whites of each one first, before defining the rest of it.  The belly feathers were perhaps the most difficult as they were the most subtle.  As soon as they became over realized the big form of the belly was lost, so it was a tricky balance.  To avoid this, I sculpted the largest form of the belly first before adding the smaller details.
Addition of other elements to balance composition, ie, bullet bag and hinges.  Typically I am more planned at the beginning of a still life, but this was a painting of circumstance.
 Done.  In the end I left some of the umber wash showing through completely to break up all that blue.
Detail of wood with hinge.  Actually used a make up sponge to layer up some rust texture. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Teeny Tiny Art Show

I don't always enter local art shows, but when I do, I corner the market on kittens and hawt chicks.

I've lived in the Cowichan Valley for four years and have yet to participate in the local art scene.  However!  That is all about to change.  I've got two pictures in the Teeny Tiny Art Works gift show.  And since I'm trying to appeal to as many people as possible during my debut, I've painted two 5x7" paintings of...a kitten and a hawt chick.  I pretty much can't fail.

I've put a lot of science and stuff into the chart below.  I'm sharing it here for free.  You can thank me later.


By the way, the first painting is of my friend Tara.  Painting her is always kind of like cheating, because she just doesn't make a bad painting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Postcard Portraits

I love painting kids (but until kids come taxidermied, from photos only).  This past year I've been making some small scale portrait commissions, mostly of kids.  Some are alla prima (if all goes well) and some take a few passes.  What I like most is the chance to nail a likeness (thrilling), play with colours (since kids usually wear bright colours, and those colours tend to bounce around into the under jaw area), have fun with paint quality, drop mic and walk away at the end of the day.

Now for some blow by blow.  Below you can see my very brief umber drawing and the very beginning of my colour application.  I've found it's nice to attack a cheek first.  That way I can establish my flesh colour range all the way from the dark shadow under the chin, through the cool halftone colour, into the red of the cheek, and right up to the highlight on the cheekbone.  My "flesh rainbow," if you will, which also happens to be the name of Dave's former thrash metal band.  But now that I have my darkest note, my halftone, my reddest note, and my second highest note (after the forehead) established, the flesh colours in the rest of the face will magically fall into place, like the first level of tetris.

I like to nail the eyes one at a time.  This sounds like a bad idea in theory, because common sense says that the eyes really ought to be developed in tandem to make sure they work with each other, but I find this works so much better for me for some reason.  And that makes me a Hypocritical Teacher because I would totally force my students to work out both the eyes at the same time.

Just getting more paint up.  I'm just sticking to all the same colours I worked out in my flesh rainbow:

Sculpting the mouth and nose, finessing that first eye, plunking a little more red into the cheek:

 Finally developing that second eye and refining the transitions all over the place with a soft touch:

Lots of cool colour in the hair.  When I paint ears, I like to start off by drawing the rich red shapes hiding out in the fold of the helix and in the concha.  This nails down the drawing of the ear and makes the whole ear-painting process tidier.  It's really easy to paint light flesh tones around the red shapes, but hard to plunk clean red shapes in if there's flesh tone already there mucking the area up.

Before I could really call it done I noticed the second eye I painted was a bit too far out to the left and hurt the likeness and dropped his perceived IQ by about 10 points.  That was a quick fix the next day.

Doesn't he look perfectly angelic?  Now, I know that's how everyone wants their child painted, but you see, I know this kid.  I'm an honorary aunt.  I was playing it safe when I picked this shot.  The next shot I picked for me, and I was snickering the whole time I painted it:

Above is the kid I know and love.  The kid who matter of factly says, "I just farted on you," while I'm reading him a book.

Most of these portrait paintings that I've been doing are 6x9" or thereabouts.  For more information about my portrait commissions, please visit my website.