Sunday, October 23, 2011

FCA Figure Painting Workshop

Painting and explaining - a right brain/left brain workout!

I taught a figure painting workshop for the local chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists yesterday.  It went well and was very invigorating for me.  The workshop participants were all accomplished artists who knew their way around a brush and were passionate about painting.

While I have no painting to show for the workshop (I gave the best demo piece to our excellent and long-suffering model, Susen who probably needed chiropractic work after the long, reclining pose), you can see some great  results in Alice Saltiel's blog.  Alice's education included enviable amounts of life drawing and the work that she produced yesterday sure shows it.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Defense of Oil Paint

Green Tea
12 x 16

More times than you'd believe, I've had people tell me that a friend, relative or acquaintance of theirs used to oil paint, but quit because it was too toxic. Now, I'm often told, they use acrylics instead.

I find this perception of oils bizarre. There is nothing about oils that is more toxic than acrylics or even watercolours and pastels. All of these mediums use the same pigments, just different binders. Oil pigments are bound with a drying oil such as linseed or walnut; acrylics are bound in acrylic ( a plastic); watercolours and pastels are generally bound in gum arabic. So a cadmium red oil is dangerous and so is a cad red watercolour, acrylic or pastel. It's the cadmium that is deadly, not the binder. This means that all painters, regardless of their medium, should avoid skin contact with their paints. I use nitrile-coated gloves when I work and I bark at my students when they put a brush end in their mouths.

What is toxic about oil painting, is the solvent that is often used for thinning oils and cleaning brushes. But it's entirely possible to be an oil painter and never use a solvent or to keep their use to a safe level. Many painters use only an oil such as linseed or walnut to dilute their paint enough to move it around on the canvas. And brush cleaning can be done entirely in soap and water, or by using a container of a cheap oil like canola to dunk the bristles into and swish the paint residue out, and then following that with mild soap and water. For those who want the swift clean up of solvent, it's possible to limit the amount of time that the solvent container is open so that its evaporation and indoor pollution are kept to a small amount. This may seem unacceptable to some, but they should remember that acrylics dry by evaporating ammonia-containing stabilizers and formaldehyde preservatives into the air. This is far from harmless.

So whenever I hear oils being bad mouthed, I make a point of defending them. Their reputation is undeserved and painters who steer clear of them out of fear are missing out on a wonderful experience. Spread the word!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Painting a Still Life Start to Finish

Berry Branch
20 x 16

I like the mental exercise of painting still lifes.  The set up alone can take an hour or more of tweaking and evaluating every aspect of the objects that I'm painting.  Things that I consider are: number, size, colour and shape of the objects; view point; repetition of colour, shape, and value; negative and positive shapes; balancing objects; light source; and much more.   If I can set the objects up well, the painting is easier, so I force myself not to skimp on this task.

Once it's set up, then I can work at leisure and that's when the fun begins.  I do a few quick thumbnail sketches to determine the overall pattern of dark shapes and shadows and to see if I can connect some of them and make pleasing abstract shapes.  Then - finally - I get to paint.  

The nice thing is that all of this prep work has made me very familiar with the subject and has allowed me to make a bunch of mental notes about how I'll paint it.  I might have noticed an opportunity for the repetition of a colour or the losing of an edge.  I knock in the lightest value and colour of the set up; not in a final, polished way, just as a marker to remind me of my tonal parameters.  From there, it's all midtones.  While the bright, impasto highlights on a subject are often the most exciting to look at, they are also the smallest pieces of paint and so I have to restrain myself and not put them in too early.  I like to tell my classes that it's like constructing a house.  You can't put the trim around the windows before you've built the foundation, the frame and all of the other less-exciting stuff.  But when you do get to put that trim on, it has a firm base, feels right and makes a statement.  So I work the midtones in as varied a way as I can, incorporating different warm and cool colours, an assortment of paint consistencies, brushstrokes and edges; all as a means of setting the stage for the lightest, smallest pieces of paint.

The final marks are the juicy hightlights, often applied with a palette knife, and some dark accents.  These little notes of paint create order out of soft-focus patches of colour, allowing the forms of the objects to come into focus.  It's the magical step and I always get a kick out of it.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving and happy painting!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rendezvous Gallery, Vancouver, BC

Wood Sprite
24 x 30

I'm thrilled to have been invited to join the artist roster at Rendezvous Gallery in Vancouver, BC.  

I've been waiting impatiently for this piece to dry so that I could send it off with some others to the gallery.  For me, this represents the Vancouver way of life as I remember it when I lived there in the '80s.  Though it's a huge city, I always felt close to the lush green of the the West Coast rainforest, and I'd often hike down the hill across from the University of British Columbia to lie on the beach.  For a mountain-born, landlocked-raised student, it was paradise!

Although my paints are calling from their storage place in the freezer, I'll spend the day wrapping paintings and head to the UPS store.  If you're painting on this lovely Autumn day, put on some paint for me!