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!






Saturday, April 22, 2017

Painting knives and brushes

30 x 30 in progress
Brushes are great, but they can feel a bit obvious: we've all seen (and made) paintings in which you can tell exactly which type of brush was used and what width it was; flats are particularly distinctive in a painting.  While I do try to vary the type of brush that I use: flats,  filberts, and rounds, and the type of bristle: synthetic or natural; soft or stiff, I still feel that all of the marks clearly say "brush" and that the colour is sometimes less clean than I'd like.  So the painting knife has become a bigger part of my work.  

I've mentioned this in a previous blog, I know, but I thought that this in-progress still life had a good example of the difference between brushes and knives in alla prima painting.  

The bowl of water below was painted with brushes.  I left a space open for the clean swipe of pale green because I couldn't achieve such a high key, clean area if I'd been layering over another colour wet in wet.  

You can see that the marks have a softness to them from the pressure of my hand (I paint firmly!) spreading the bristles slightly as I place the mark.   That softness also comes from the fact that I have to slightly dilute the paint in order to allow it to flow smoothly off my brush and make simple, long strokes.   
using a brush

The second water bowl was painted using a knife.  It has an entirely different feel: crisper and less obvious in displaying the method of its application.  And, it has a patch of clean, high key paint that's been placed over darker, wet paint.  The centre of the bowl was initially a warm dark ochre, and, with a loaded knife, I smoothed the pale pinks and peach colours over top, allowing some show through. I think it really says "water".  If I were painting a reflective pond, I'd do it this way so that I could build a lot of colours underneath the reflection first.

The paint consistency was my preferred "mayonnaise softness" so that I didn't have to press too hard to move it over the length of the bowl, but, even with the pressure of my hand, it didn't soften at the edges.  It has a totally different effect than the brushwork.  
knife painting
To make the brush-painted bowl settle in with its rather edgy company, I added a line of knife-applied orange on the left side.  It serves as a link between the softness of one tool and the crispness of the other.  Because the knifed bowl has so much brushwork near it, I haven't felt the need to add a brushy touch to it.  But it's still in progress, so who knows what will happen in the future?

I like both effects.  A painting done entirely with the knife or one done entirely with the brush aren't as exciting for me as a painting that shows both.   Knives and brushes can live harmoniously within the same work as long as they're each sprinkled throughout the surface.  Those crisp little lines and dashes in the top third of the painting are done with a knife edge laid over brush work.


It's just another piece of visual vocabulary and I'm having fun exploring it.

If you, like me, struggle to find a good, flexible knife, I can recommend Oakblade Palette Knives by fellow Canadian Ray Hyder for their extreme springiness and razor-sharp edge.  And, no: this isn't a paid promotion; more of a public service announcement.  Ray didn't ask me to shill for him, but I like to mention good art supplies when I find them.

Also, if you're looking to paint some florals with me, I hope you'll consider joining me for a 3-day workshop in BC in June at Bear Valley Highlands.  There are only 3 spots left.

Happy painting!




Sunday, March 26, 2017

Working with colour and tone

Curve
30 x 30
On most days I consider myself a tonalist with a colour obsession, rather than a true colourist.  The difficulty lies in trying to figure out how to use strong colour as well as strong tonal changes in the same painting.

Colours are at their most beautiful and interactive in the mid tones, the colourist's domain (picture Monet's scintillating haystacks), while tonalists use the drama of a full value range to create their images (think of Rembrandt whose spotlit images are so memorable for everything but their colour.)

The pitfall of purely colourist work is that it can appear unanchored and weak, lacking a strong underlying structure (and this is in my eyes, only.  All art making and viewing is subjective). So, increasingly, I try to incorporate some strong darks into my work.  It gives the paintings focus and solidity in my eyes.   The challenge is to gauge the right amount of dark and its placement.  Too much, or too near a special colour and the darks will take over the work, becoming more important than the colour interactions.

I haven't come up with anything as prescriptive as a percentage of dark to use (and would be appalled if it were that predictable), but I do know that the darks must be applied confidently and in significant amounts.  If darks are dropped into a high chroma work in small, discreet touches, they feel like little black holes peppered over the surface; so they have to be given enough space and they should be as connected as possible.

This is "Curve" in an earlier stage of development, before I hit the dark shapes on the right with greater gusto.


You can see that the shape was still a relatively dark area, but was being used to move warm colour from the figure into her surroundings, as well as to intensify the yellow/green of the illuminated shape.  I could have kept working in this direction - I'd have had to lighten the hair somewhat since it was too dark and isolated for this setting - but it felt weak.  So I loaded a 2"brush and went over the right hand shape and some of the lower marks with a rich dark and no hesitation.

Some of you will think that was a bad move and some will wish I'd done much more work in the darks, but that's not important.  What matters is that it felt right to my eyes; it had enough conviction and strength for me, and pulled the painting into focus.  

The next painting will, however, be a whole new challenge and that's the joy of the process.

Happy painting!






Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2- day figurative workshop




Painting the Clothed Figure from Life
May 6/7 
Tsawwassen, BC

I hope you'll join me for a 2-day figure painting workshop in beautiful Tsawwassen, BC.

I love teaching this workshop because I get to see so many "ah ha!" moments. Painters who usually work from photos, grid their canvases, or create detailed preliminary drawings all discover that a brush and a good squint is all they need to capture accurate proportion. And discovering the amazing colours in the model in front of them is a revelation.

It's an intensive weekend that launches a lot of new exploration and discovery for painters no matter what their usual genre.

There are still some openings in this workshop.  To register, please contact the South Delta Artists Guild.











Saturday, March 11, 2017

A London adventure


I was fortunate enough to be in London last week filming some shorts for Winsor & Newton's weekly "Masterclass videos" series. That was a kick, but a bit nerve wracking: some of the demos that I'd so blithely scripted required a lot to go right, first time, on the canvas board that had 2 cameras and 3 video and art professionals focused on it. No pressure there! But it all worked out well, and I learned a great deal about what it takes to film art technique videos. 

After the work portion of my trip was over, I tacked on a couple of days to see museums. That's totally, laughably inadequate, but it was enough to give me a couple of years worth of thinking in the studio, so I'm satisfied. 

What surprised me was that I was as entranced by the 600 year old Tudor portraits with their intricate, gold encrusted brocades as I was by the Sargents and Freuds that I'd gone to see. Perhaps even more so because my expectations were completely overturned. 

I'd seen the Tudor portraits in art history tomes forever and flipped the page without much thought for them; they seemed so mannered and all about the outfits, but when I was actually in front of them, I could see that there was a portrait there: a real person who was captured by a long-forgotten artist with staggering skill. The outfit was a big deal, but so was the haughty, or serious, or open face that topped it. And, despite their age, the paintings were in perfect, crack-free condition. Painting on panels will do that, apparently.








Like a kid in a candy shop, I spent the weekend mooning over art, snapping detail images, and forgetting to hydrate myself. I came home with a cold and a head full of wonders.


























And I even got to see a Chardin that Lucien Freud admired enough to copy in several drawings and etchings.



It was a great adventure that has already had an impact on how I apply paint. Seeing so much virtuosity in so many different styles has reminded me that it's not what you paint, or what style you paint in, it's how confidently you lay your paint down. I saw a lot of great confidence on the museum walls, and that's my take home. 

Happy painting!













Saturday, January 28, 2017

Toning a support: the big decision!

White Blouse
16 x 12

White Blouse 2
14 x 11

Every single choice that you make in an oil painting is visible, in some way, in the final work and toning is the usually the first choice that a painter makes.  For me, it's the decision that usually takes the longest because I know it will launch a painting down a path and I have to decide which path that should be.

There are no rules about colour choice when toning a support, but here are some routes that are worth exploring:

-Tone to the colour of the light.  So, if the light is warm, tone warm.  If you're in green, forest shade, tone green etc.

- Tone to the brightest colour in the motif.  If you're trying to depict the vivid orange of a pumpkin, it will be easier if you're working on a support that's toned orange; nothing will interfere with the special colour or grey it.

- Tone to the complement of the most important colour.  This is the opposite of the above choice: if you're trying to show off the orange pumpkin, tone blue so that orange will really pop.  This toning requires you to work very opaquely to counteract the neutralizing tone under your star colour.  The first painting above is toned in this way: the most important colour was the warmth on the figure's face and body, so I toned the board green.  You can see that this choice has helped to pop the warmth, but it has also resulted in an overall cool painting.  The warm mixtures of the flesh are all dimmed by the green undertone.

- Tone in an earthy colour such as umber.  This choice will automatically launch your painting into something earthy and, possibly, traditional in feel.  It's a natural choice for tonal painters but not for colourists who struggle to create pure mixtures on top of the rather dirty start.

- Tone grey.  This works as a useful mid tone without being a colour statement.  You'll end up working opaquely on this,  and your colours - even complex mixtures - will look rich on the neutral ground.

- Tone to the opposite temperature of the general temperature of the scene.  This is related to complementary toning, and is often used by landscape painters.   If they're painting a cold, snow scene, they may use a warm toning underneath to balance the painting and avoid excessive coolness in the final work.   Many plein air painters take out red-toned supports as a matter of course because the elements of landscapes - trees, mountains, water - tend to cool colours, and the red fills out and balances the scene on the canvas.

- Tone bright if you intend to paint dull.  That's the choice I made in the second painting above; I used a strong yellow tone under an earthy palette of black, ocher, terra rosa, and ultramarine.  There may have been a touch of cad red light for some of the hot spots on the flesh - I'm not certain - but, overall, it's a dull, tonal palette, and one that doesn't really suit my eye.  I need a hit of brighter colour to keep myself interested, so I toned strong.

- Yes, you guessed it: tone dull if you intend to paint bright.  This helps to keep works from becoming too candy coloured, because the dull tone will take the edge off of high chroma mixtures.

There are, I'm certain, a lot of other toning choices to be made, but these are the ones I consider most often when I'm planning a painting.

In general, I tone to about a value 3 (if 1 is white and 10 is black), and I make sure that my tone is lean, but not too lean.  A medium composed of a 50/50 mix of oil and solvent will make a good paint film, but anything leaner will result in an underbound layer and you'll be able to rub it off even after it's dry.  I avoid flowing the paint on and, instead, scrub it on with a stiff brush and a small amount of paint.  Then I give it a good wipe to remove excess paint and medium and to even out the scratchy application.

I also consider the drying time of my toning pigment and try to use fast dryers like umbers and raw sienna, or I add them to a slower drying pigment to help speed it up.  The last thing you want is to have a wet tone under a dry painting.  It's the surest way to a cracked work.  Drying times of some common colours are available on the Winsor Newton site and, probably on the sites of other major manufacturers.

If I don't want the colour to contaminate the paint layer, I'll let the tone dry completely before starting to paint, but there's also something interesting about letting the wet tone mingle with the first paint layer.  There are no rules.

If you've got any thoughts on other toning possibilities, I'd love to hear them and learn.

Happy painting!










Sunday, January 1, 2017

Painting knives

Sidelong Gaze
16 x 12

detail 

I used to be a watercolourist when I started painting, but I soon switched to oils.  The reason? Texture! There's something wonderful about the way that oil paint can move beyond 2 dimensions and enter the 3rd.  Ingres' smooth, enamel-like surfaces are impressive, but give me Monet's crusty canvases, Sargent's thick, dashing swirls of paint, or Freud's heavily layered surfaces any day.  They hold my attention for the rugged physicality of the paint itself; there is both an exciting image, and exciting paint application.

This painting takes texture pretty far as I used a knife heavily throughout.  There was plenty of brush action, as well, but the knife was what saved the piece from being boring to me.  It's painted on a gessoed panel which is a surface that I'm not sold on.  It doesn't grab paint in the way that linen does, and I find the brush marks that I make on it look uninteresting to me.  The best way to explain it is that when I make those first few marks, I can already see exactly where the painting will end up when it's finished; the repertoire of possible brush marks - at least alla prima marks - is limited, and there's nothing more tedious.  A painting should be full of surprises and discoveries, especially for the painter, or else it seems like a pointless exercise to me.  This belief explains why I discard a lot of work as too boring to see the light of day, and also why I eagerly walk into the studio each day: I'm looking for the next great surprise.

So, to counteract the surface, I did a lot of knife work for the relatively uncontrolled element that it adds to the painting.  The best painting knives are long and very flexible; my favourite one is about 2" long and triangular.  Inflexible ones are good for scraping paint, or for mixing it on the palette, and the teeny, tiny, diamond-shaped ones have no purpose that I can discern.  A good painting knife will lay down a hefty amount of paint with surprising precision, but it won't let you get too finicky.  It also allows you to place very clean paint over wet paint, creating a sense of depth.  You can see that in the detail of the forehead above.  Under that clean pink layer, there's some murky, cool, greenish paint.  A brush couldn't have kept them separate in the same way.  

I advise my students to keep their palette knives perfectly smooth and clean -rubbing it on sandpaper can often bring a knife back to full use - and discourage cheap, plastic knives; they're not capable of subtle paint application.  Like scrapers, rollers, squeegies, and other tools, knives are a way to break monotony for both the painting and the painter.

Happy painting!