Saturday, August 26, 2017

Texture and Obfuscation

Oil with cold wax
Oil on textured board

Oil on multi-colour, toned linen
My favourite paintings are the ones that hide parts of themselves, forcing viewers to finish ambiguous areas with their imaginations.  I also love rugged textural surfaces that allow underpainting to show through in surprising glimpses.  Vuillard was a master at this way of painting as was the recently departed Bernard Dunstan.  But oil paints are manufactured to be smooth and buttery which means that it's pretty much impossible to create the type of surface that I long for without trickery and additives.

These 3 pieces come close to achieving my aims (no painting is ever what I'd hoped it would be) and they all do it a bit differently.

In the first piece, I mixed a bit of Gamblin's Cold Wax into the paint and applied it with both brush and knife, making sure to work dryly.  It's fine to add some more fluid medium to the wax and paint, but I find that it defeats the purpose of the wax - at least for me.  Wax allows a complex building of layers as well as giving the opportunity for beautiful, smoky, soft effects when it's flattened gently with a palette knife.  You can see that atmospheric blurring in the bottom of the shawl and in the background.

The second piece has a lot in common with the surface of the first, but I did it without any wax.  The key to this one was using the paint without any medium at all, and working on a board that had some texture to it.  In this case, the texture was a simulated weave effect that I achieved by brushing on acrylic gesso in one direction, letting it dry, and then brushing on another coat with the strokes crossing the first.  I like to put on about 4 coats and, by using a stiff, house painting brush, I can get some significant texture on the support.  This is what grabs the paint in a broken fashion, both from the brush, and the knife.  If the paint were fluid, it wouldn't work; it would flow into the dips in the gesso, filling them up, rather than sitting on the peaks.  This broken layering is especially clear in the area beside the elbow on the left.  Light blue paint was spread over top of dark blue while both were wet, but the dark was applied with a more solid, scrubby application, and the light with a swipe from a loaded knife.  Because I didn't force the paint down into the dips, and because it wasn't fluid at all, I could preserve those little windows of dark blue, and get a real sense of depth.  It was a happy accident.

The final painting is a larger one, done on portrait grade linen.  That's a smooth, rather slick surface and easily gets clogged with paint, especially in alla prima work.  In this case, I did add a bit of 50/50 stand oil and OMS to the paint, but not much, and I kept the paint application generally thin and broken, using hog bristle brushes.  The underpainting was very colourful but completely dry when I started so there was no risk of new colour blending into a ghastly mess with all that chroma.  Working on dry toning, also helped me to create a sense of depth as the underpainting clearly sits behind the figure, not on the same level.  The challenge with this piece is to cover enough, but not too much colour, and to build a robust paint body but not a monotonously thick one.  I'm still tweaking this one, so it'll change in the future when I figure out what to do next.

Rembrandt used ground glass to add both texture and sparkle; marble dust is a common additive, and there are lots of impasto mediums to choose from which will help in overriding the homogenous buttery nature of modern paints.  My choice is always to keep it simple and predictable, so, while I do try most mediums, I tend to drop them after a while because they make me nervous.  I wonder, when picking up a dry piece to continue working it, if I've added this medium, or that one - if I've worked with a lean or a fat additive.  By sticking to a couple of simple and intuitive mediums, I can usually figure out where I was in the painting process and carry on to create a painting that will age well.

Happy painting!


Sunday, August 13, 2017

New Lighting!

Daisies on Red
16 x 12

My studio has north and west facing windows, and I've always yearned for some southern exposure. In my continuing quest for sunlight, I broke down and bought a powerful spotlight from a camera shop: a professional-looking LED light called a Lightstorm Aputure.  It's a huge step up from the Home Depot brooder, clamp lamps with halogen floods that I've been using.  The light is very bright (equivalent to 1000W, according to the salesman) and cooler than I'm used to - something that's always deterred me from buying "daylight" bulbs as they seemed so blue - but the CRI (colour rendering index) is extremely high and so I'm not seeing a colour cast to the objects that I put under it.  In fact, colours are crazy rich, and it's taking some time to get used to.

Below are some of the small still life arrangements that I've painted since the big light up.  Because the light is cooler, I feel like I'm learning these familiar objects all over again.  The little bowl that I've painted dozens of times,  took me ages this time as none of the usual mixtures described what I was seeing.  And, for the first time, I'm seeing a lot of bounced colour from object to object, and from the ground cloth to the objects on it.  There are many new variables; I feel as if I have to recalibrate my eyes.

I haven't figured out my new colour space by any stretch, and things are too chromatic at the moment, but I'm having a blast.  Instead of imagining bright light and true colour, I can push a button and get it.  When winter comes, it'll be summer in my studio!

Happy painting!

Green Vase in Sunlight
12 x 16


Sake Bowl
8 x 10
Apples and Oil
11 x 14


Friday, July 28, 2017

Experiment with Rublev Epoxide Oil Gel



Some studio days are given over to experimentation: painting with no aim or gallery in mind, just seeing what comes out.

Yesterday I spent some time working with a new medium: Rublev's Epoxide Oil Gel.  It's thixotropic - the new word of the day - which means that it flows while you're moving the brush and stops dead when the brush does.   This, and it's rather sticky consistency, allows me to make visible brushmarks, even in colours that contain very little white.   Because I avoid all the smelly alkyd mediums in my studio, this is a big deal.  This gel acts somewhat like an alkyd gel (though it's stickier) but it's made out of "reinforced" linseed oil (don't ask me) and so has no smell or associated health issues.  Like the alkyd gels, it transparentizes the paint and increases gloss.  I'm not a huge gloss fan, but found that if I used it sparingly, it wasn't too shiny for my liking.   That took some concentration because I'm not a "sparing" painter.

What really appealed to me was the ability to create lots of gooey, juicy layering and texture with both the brush and the knife while working alla prima.  The transparency means that there's a greater variety of effects than would be possible with just paint, or paint and my usual 50/50 oil and OMS mixture.


This detail shows the nice, broken effects possible when just a little is mixed into the paint (in the pink and green of the face), as well as the thixotropic effect in orange mark at the top.  Notice how that piece of orange froze into place and left a nice heavy mark, but picked up again as I dragged it across to the right.  The edges of the initial mark are richly coloured and don't feel meagre, but still have the fine, hairy quality of a soft-brush application.  Those of you who've used mongoose brushes know exactly what I mean.   So I can get soft brush edges and layering while using a lot of paint and my beloved hog bristles.

Overall, I like it.  This isn't an ideal gel, by any means, but it's the first solvent-free gel that I've used that doesn't feel greasy and too slippery.  If anything, it suffers from being too sticky, but I feel that if I slow down my marks - as if I were using pure stand oil, for example - I can make it do interesting things.  I can also add a bit of OMS to it to increase its flow a bit.  I wouldn't add much, however, as that defeats the point of the medium.  It's not meant to keep on flowing.

Like all mediums, you shouldn't use it in just one part of a painting or you'll risk cracking as different mediums create different drying times and conditions.  So if you want to use it, start the painting with it.  Because it's pure fat, you should follow the usual fat over lean rule and use it sparingly, or cut with OMS in the bottom layers and increase the amount that you add as you build.  That happens naturally in alla prima painting because we always grab more paint volume as we build layers, but it's something that you have to be more conscious of if you let the work dry in between layers.  Remember how much you were adding, and how much paint you were laying down, and do more of both in the next layer when you start the painting up again.

I'm also playing around with Rublev's Impasto Putty and will let you know if it holds any revelations.

Happy painting!







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!