Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thistles and Thorns

Posted by: Kate

Today is our first day off in ages, so like any happily married couple still very much interested in each other, Dave and I are sitting on the sofa reading on separate laptops side by side for the entire afternoon.

However, I can manage a break from this demanding schedule to write a blog post.  I would like to share my current painting with you, so sit down and shut up.

In October (or November?  Whatevs.) we visited Candice Bohannon and Julio Reyes and got a glimpse inside their studios.  They are incredible painters and as always, when painters get together there's a great exchange of ideas.  Studio tricks that evolved on their own and that you have taken for granted are brain-exploding revelations when you share them with your friends.  Candice said something along the lines of how one favorite tubed sienna in particular can practically be used as a tubed flesh colour, just add white.  I was indoctrinated to believe that using those bandaid coloured premixed flesh tints straight from the tube was sacrilege, and that flesh tones had to be painstakingly mixed from a palette of carefully selected colours.  So when she said that, effectively sanctioning what I had always thought of as sloppy painting, right when the crevices of my brain were awash with her beautiful paintings and my optical neurons were happily firing messages to my brain that said "squeee" and "holy monkey balls," I was all like:


I'm all for streamlining the painting process, so ever since, I've been trying to find myself a nice flesh-ready tubed colour.  And by "ever since," I mean I spent like an afternoon playing around and found one right away amongst my loot from Natural Pigments.  Orange Ocher, people!

(I want to put it out there that I don't know jack about how Candice actually paints or anything.  For all I know she smears pheromones on the surface of her paintings and that's what makes them irresistable.  Probably.   She just said something offhand that set me down a rabbit hole.)

I did these two head studies of Maddie and Nicholas with my new found cheat flesh tint.

The idea is that I have my main flesh tint with which I mix up one or two values by adding white.  Next to each tint I have a neutralizing mixture of the same value.  In the above instances I whipped up a neutral tint with some black and umber.  I also add a bit of red for the cheeks and lips.  Super simple, and it forces harmony.  And harmony has always been something that I took to like a granite rock in a pool of deep water.

Emboldened, I started plans for my new painting (working title "Thistles and Thorns").  You saw the drawing.  Below is the head study.  It's good for me to do these so I can get all the impulsive drawing errors out of my system.  It's like a reality check that lets the steam out of my inflated sense of ability.  I'm continuing to use my gorgeous Orange Ochre, but I'm using Ultramarine Blue to knock back the chroma.  There are some reds in there too.

Here we are with an umber drybrush.  Fun Times!

I clamp the head study to my painting so that I can work on the two side by side.  This way I can keep in mind the mistakes I made in the study, and also make an effort to keep the strong points.

This looks much more like Maddie.

Above, I knocked in a background.  I was kind of worried about what I would do.  I had this really strong feeling for the colours I wanted.  However, I didn't know how to make those colours make sense, since I wanted her to be in a landscape.  The greenish grey I wanted isn't really a sky colour.  And as I thought these thoughts, I stared out my window and noticed that the greyish green I wanted was the exact colour of the wooded mountain across the lake.  Derp!  My lizard brain was all like, that's what I was trying to tell you!  And my cumbersome frontal lobes were like, I was busy processing Breaking Bad from last night.

 Hat and hair.

Start of cloak and dress.  I premixed some epoxide oil into my colours using a palette knife, rather than keeping the oil in a medium cup and mixing with my brush as I go.  This ensures that I get a consistent amount of oil in my paint.  I also used a bristle brush to scoop off excess paint and maintain some visual permeability, so to speak, between final layer and drybrush.

Above shows my approach for sketching in the clasp and then finishing it.


What will become of Maddie's head study?  Will I banish the painting to the guest bedroom in a fit of rage?  Will Dave make totally typical insult-compliments that drive me to the brink of madness?
Tune in next time to find out!


  1. Gorgeous!! Damn you Kate, just beautiful! I really look forward to seeing this one. We can't wait to visit the Gluck/Stone studio compound so as to leek amazing tidbits from your studios too. :) p.s. your use of orange ocher is divine...

  2. Amazing portraits. So now I need to buy some orange ochre? I'm not familiar with epoxide oil either. Discovered your blog not too long ago. It's really enjoyable AND informative!

    1. I'm excited about orange ocher right now, but I'm always changing up my flesh palette. It's important to get the right colour for a given model, that's all. Orange ocher is great for these kids because they are redheads and I can use the same colour for hair and skin.