Sunday, July 2, 2017

Opening in 12 week class this fall


12 Week Oil Painting Class
Thursdays September 7 - November 30
12:30 - 3:30
Swinton's studios and Carburn Park in South East Calgary, AB
**One space left**

I've got an opening in my weekly oil painting class, starting September 7.  I hope you'll join me and my group of keen painters for 12 weeks that include both structured, and independent class time.

This session will start with a brand new subject: the figure in the landscape which we'll paint from life in Carburn Park in the SE. No studio light can mimic sunshine, and the added variable of foliage, water, and sky colours bouncing onto our model makes this section of the course especially exciting and full of colour challenges.

We'll follow this with a unit of independent subject work in the Swinton's studio. This is a great opportunity to finish work that you started outside, or to bring in something that you're working on at home. I'll help you to develop your ideas and solve problems through individual instruction and demos.

Still life will be the final component of this session. You'll learn how to compose objects to create balance, emphasis, rhythm, and movement. We'll explore colour interactions and the movement of tone and colour. Still life is a perfect microcosm for landscape artists, since it provides a controlled environment in which to manipulate and explore all of the elements that make up successful landscape painting.

You can find a calendar and supply list on my website.    Please contact me if you have any questions. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Delving into colour


"With colour, one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft." Matisse




Having seen a lot of historical works over the past few months on trips to London and New York, I was struck by how paintings that were created centuries ago can still give the sensation of being colourful and vibrant today, despite the fact that their creators had only a tiny fraction of the pigment range that we now have.  It made me realize that I needed to educate myself about the subtler, older colours; the ones that painters have used for ages to great effect.  So I'm working on some small, limited palette paintings in the studio right now, trying to get a handle on colour. Actually, I don't believe that goal is truly attainable, but I am trying to learn more than I currently know.  

The paintings above contain 3 to 5 colours plus white and most of the pigments are weak ones like yellow ochre or raw sienna.  There are no blues because for some reason I'm loathe to use them right now.  Blue is a very prominent colour in a painting and I'm leaving it off my palette on occasion so that I'm forced to discover alternatives.  This is the kind of thing I do in the week after buying a 200ml tube of ultramarine.

By keeping the number of pigments small, I'm forced to be more creative in how I make the painting look lively and colourful.  It's easy to make something pop when it's already high chroma in the tube, but much more interesting and challenging to make a low chroma pigment sing.  And, increasingly, I find myself admiring works that are mostly made up of complex greyed mixtures whose components I can only guess at.  Being able to look at a painting and name every pigment that it's made of has begun to bother me a lot.  Museums have a way of changing my standards overnight.

There are some interesting, old colours on the market produced by companies like Rublev, and I may delve into them someday and buy some verona green or mummy brown, but currently I'm getting to know some paints that I already own: yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, ivory black, alizarin,  cobalt and an excessive number of tubes of venetian red and terra rosa by different manufacturers.  (I blame the sale bins at the art store.)  They're quite a change from my regular chromatic palette which is full of cadmiums and even contains the incredibly powerful pthalo blue.

So far, my charting is of single pigments with white, but I expect I'll have to splash out and begin charting the results of mixing them with other colours.  It could be a long road.  Here's the first pass at my earth colours and I've already identified some colours that will bear further exploration.   Why this feels more interesting to me than looking at colour charts beside paint tubes in the shop, I don't know, but it does.  Knowing that I already own these tubes makes me look at their properties more closely, and seeing them in my studio is very different than seeing them under commercial fluorescent lighting.


I'm excited to be doing this because I felt that I was becoming far too familiar with my daily palette. It wasn't surprising me anymore, and I'm hoping to find a new colour or two that will startle and amaze me in mixtures.  I'll keep you posted!

Happy painting!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Different brushes for different purposes

Brushes used: well loaded hogs bristle flats and filberts with thick, tube consistency paint.  Smaller, dense, light marks in the waves in the middle of the image were synthetic filberts.  Thin lines are made with a crisp, long flat used on its edge.  If the line had more modulation across its length, I'd have said it was an egbert.
Brushes used: Hogs bristle flats and filberts for most for most of the work.  Notice the broken edge at the end of the stroke of the figure on the body board.  That shows it was a hogs bristle.  The start of the stroke is very straight suggesting it was a flat brush.  Synthetic flats for dense, full coverage passages such as the orange light on the pail.  Synthetic egbert for the drawing elements such as the reddish, drawn underpainting of the body boards on the left and for the clouds (pushing motion for those)

Brushes used: mostly round hogs bristle though, in the blue area lower left, you can see the addition of a smallish filbert (it left its distinctive, oval shape).  Its size means that several marks make a patch where a larger brush could do it in one big mark.

There are so many brushes on the shelves of art stores and it can be truly baffling to choose the right one, so I thought I'd do a post that touches on the basics of brushes and their uses.

Choosing a brush comes down to what you want to do with it; what effect you hold in your mind that you're trying to replicate on the canvas.  That, actually, is the biggest consideration when picking a brush: know what you want it to do.

I like to layer paint, wet in wet, and I don't like a picky, small-detail look, so I need large brushes with long bristles.  They have to be long because short, stiff bristles tend to remove more than they apply when placing wet paint over a wet layer.  So long filberts or flats are my choice for layering.  They also need to be springy, not wet noodly, so that they can hold a lot of paint and don't require me to press them onto the canvas to release that paint.  I should be able to gently stroke a well loaded brush over a wet layer, and leave behind a relatively clean layer on top of it.

The worst brush to buy if you want to layer alla prima is the bright.  This is a short, stiff-bristled flat that's great for laying a crisp, firm mark, but won't let you layer any better than a stick would.  Brights remove the wet layer rather than adding to it.  If you work in single layers or let the paint dry between layers, this brush would be fine.

The next consideration is the type of bristle that you choose.  From natural bristle to synthetic, stiff to soft, there are a lot of options to choose from.  My preference is hog bristle (which is a springy, natural bristle) because they also help me to layer.  When I lay a coat of paint over a wet layer, hog bristle separates slightly, allowing the underlayer to show through like strands of different coloured hair interlaced with each other.  The show through is livelier than a single colour painted like house paint: densely closed and with full coverage.

The only other natural bristle that I've tried is mongoose, and it can do the same thing as hog bristle, but, because it's such a soft bristle, it can't be as heavily loaded and your oil paint must be diluted.  You'll end up with a thinner paint surface and greater delicacy in the final look.  Hog bristle will create a chunkier, rougher final work.

When it comes to synthetic brushes, there are also a lot of different types to choose from.  Some are meant to mimic hog bristle, or sable,  and others are entirely their own, unique thing.  I haven't yet found a mimic that actually acts just like my hog bristle, though.  Synthetics generally hold their shape much better during a mark, meaning that they don't spread apart in the random manner of natural bristle, and the resulting marks can be more dense and closed because of this.  It takes an extremely light touch to create the "break" in the mark if you're using synthetics, and I tend to use them only in passages where a want a single layer that looks fairly uniform, or to place an obliterating mark over a lower layer.   Synthetics are great for making thick, showy marks towards the end of a painting because springy synthetics tend to hold a lot of paint and can place it very cleanly and distinctly on top of other paint.

Other useful brushes are rounds and egberts, both of which I use fairly often.  Rounds will give a linear mark (think Van Gogh), but can also be used in a side-to-side, scribbling fashion to create patches of colour.  And, when they're pushed, rather than pulled, you can get interesting effects that don't clearly show the shape of the brush that made them.  Up until the invention of the metal ferrule in the 18th century, all brushes in the western world were round, and you can see from historical paintings that there was no shortage of varied and interesting brushwork to be had from this shape.

Egberts are filberts with double-length bristles.  Like Chinese calligraphy brushes, they bend gracefully and are capable of a variety of thicknesses in their marks depending on the pressure or twist applied to them during the mark making.  They can be quite calligraphic and a bit random because their length makes them hard to use with great precision.   Used in a side-to-side fashion, egberts can make a rather irregularly filled patch, especially if they're made of natural material. Synthetic egberts will hold together better than natural bristle and not look as random in the final paint patch.  They allow greater control (not always a good thing).

Of course, you can overcome any shape's limitations by using the brush in a variety of ways.  Many painters just use the tip of their brushes, but if they use the edge they can create quite different marks, and if they push or wiggle or scribble the brush, it can increase its mark making range considerably, as can varying the paint quantity and consistency.

And, lastly, some stuff about cleaning and maintenance.  Synthetics can take a final soap and water wash (and should get one as they tend to get stiff without it), but natural bristles don't like it.  I've used my students' brushes on occasion, and I can always tell if they've been in water because the hog bristle is soft and splayed and has lost its springiness as water was absorbed into the bristles.  Since reading about this effect a couple of years ago in an article on the Utrecht site, I've both cut down on brush cleaning time and extended the crisp, useful state of my natural bristle brushes significantly.  They get a thorough wipe, then solvent, then another wipe, and that's it.  This will help your brushes last longer, but they're not indestructible.  All brushes wear down and become blunt and less precise.  That's when you should designate them for a different purpose in your painting and buy new ones.

At the moment I'm enjoying a big order of Rosemary & Co brushes and trying to be kind to them. My old, worn brushes are reserved for scrubbing on tones while the Rosemarys are used for the crisper, more precise work that makes up the upper layers of a painting.  My current favourite is the Ultimate Bristle (hog bristle) in filbert and flat, but I'm also loving the synthetic Ivory egbert.  I'm finding that I don't use the Ivory in other shapes as often as the hog bristle because it keeps the mark too closed for my purposes.  I need marks to break apart a bit.

There's much more to explore about brushes but this should give you some insight into how I approach choosing a brush.  I'd be interested to hear about your favourite brushes and what they're good at.  Images of the marks they make a would make my day!

Happy painting!






Saturday, May 20, 2017

3-day floral workshop in BC


Bear Valley Highlands Art Workshop
June 23-25
Lumby, BC

There are some unexpected openings in this workshop and I'm hoping you'll fill them up! We'll cover a lot of ground from colour to composition to brushwork, and I guarantee that there will be revelations that you can carry into your own painting practise, no matter what your usual genre.

This workshop will focus on simplifying your subject to its essence, and discovering how a little precision can go a long way.

You’ll learn to design your paintings to create harmonious, coherent, and balanced compositions that address the age-old dilemma of “what to do with the background”. By using a shape and colour based approach to composition, you’ll begin to see the canvas space in a whole new way; one which stresses unity in tone and colour, and which recognizes that each mark has a role to play in the final painting.

And you’ll explore two different ways to begin a painting: from logical and structured to intuitive and abstract.

All the while, you'll be enjoying the hospitality of a beautiful retreat facility nestled in the wilds of interior BC. Our hosts have a well-deserved reputation for excellent meals and comfortable accommodation in their on-site log chalets, so you can step out of your daily routine and spend 3 days solely devoted to your artistic development.
To learn more, register, and to see some pictures of the retreat, click on Bear Valley Highlands.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The elusive smooth surface in oil paint

Yellow Pail
10 x 8

Oil painters spend a lot of thought and time doing something that watercolour painters do in a second: we try to create large, simple passages of paint that maintain colour and feel rich, rather than thin and greyed.  And that's because oil paint doesn't work well in very dilute form.  You can't create a wash unless you add a lot of medium to it which is something that I avoid.  If the medium is relatively safe - like my 50/50 OMS and oil - it makes the paint look meagre and dilutes the pigment so much that the colour dies.   If the medium is one of the many pre-prepared variety, it has a lot of technical and health issues that I don't want to bother with:

- how fat or lean is the mixture?  This matters in building a sound painting.

- will it damage my health to use it in the studio, day after day? I've tried mediums that leave me staggering drunkenly by the end of a painting session, and I can't afford to lose that many brain cells.

- is it hard to clean out of my brushes, thereby risking my treasured and expensive supply of Rosemary's?

- is it solid in the long term?  Rembrandt used linseed oil, so I know I'm on well trodden ground with that.   Yes, he didn't have OMS, but I draw the health line at using turpentine indoors.  Even OMS is very toxic, so I make sure to use a high quality brand with a very low evaporation rate such as Gamsol.

The best paint film is one that's been adulterated the least, and that means as close to tube consistency as possible.  That also makes the best colour, which is a priority for me.

So, with all that in mind, how does a painter make a smooth, simple area, rather than one that's choppy and brushy?

The answer that I've come up with is to use fairly thick paint and use mechanical means to smooth it.
One of my favourite tools for that is a palette knife.  If an area of paint is too sculptural and busy, I lay my knife flat on the surface of the paint and make gentle circles.  Any angling, or dried bits of paint on the knife will cause scratches in the paint surface, so this is a delicate maneuver.  If your knife has dried paint on it, you can place it flat on some sand paper and smooth them away.   This method allows you to keep your colour intact and even to use thick paint but leave it looking smooth and colourful.

Another useful method is to scrape it out with a soft tool like a silicone scraper or shower squeegee.  Again,  it lets you use a lot of paint and colour, but, if your scraping surface is large enough, you can pull the paint quite a distance and create a smooth effect.  The edges will be distinctive and recognizable in this method; everyone can recognize a squeegee effect because so many painters have been using it in the past few years.

I've also had some fun with Whistler's method.  He loved to scrape paintings down between sessions, losing the brushwork but keeping a thin layer of pigment.  Over many sessions, that pigment layer became a soft, atmospheric, and smooth patch of paint.  His work looks a bit too thin for my eye but a lot of painters have and do use this method and leave more paint behind during the scraping.

And then there are other methods: brayers, rollers, rolling pins over plastic wrap or waxed paper, and, I'm sure, many more.

If you work wet on dry, it's easier to turn a busy area into one that appears smooth and simple, because the new paint grabs dry paint in a way that it won't grab a primed canvas or board.  There's just the right amount of flow and adhesion.  It's a pleasure to work on.

The piece above has a lot of different methods used on it to create that large mass of blue.  It's painted alla prima, and has high pigment load, as well as colour variety within the blue, so you probably figured that I couldn't have done it with a lot of dilution, and I didn't.  Instead, I placed a lot paint and smoothed it with the knife, brayer, and, to a lesser extent, with a soft brush.  That's a thick area, but it doesn't look sculptural and it doesn't distract from the figure.

So, before you dip into that pot of medium to get your paint moving, consider all the mechanical means instead.  You'll end up with some interesting effects, and much better colour, even if you, like me, work in a lot of layers.

Happy painting!