Over the past couple of weeks it has been pouring rain here, so I’ve been having a great time shut away in the studio painting hammers. It all started with the claw hammer and grew from there. Following through on an idea is a great way to build up a series of paintings. It gives you the chance to experiment with techniques, play around with the subject and not be too worried about the outcome. These were all done on paper with various combinations of Charcoal, Gesso, watercolor, gouache, ink and ocher powder.
Santa Claus was good to me and left a box of shiny new paint from Japan. These trays of watercolor are handmade by the Ueba company in Kyoto. They were established in 1751 and still operate out of the same premises, so they must be doing something right. The main ingredient of the paint is finely ground scallop shells. The process they use to create these paints can be seen on their website (click on Factory Tour)
To experiment with these new paints I painted this Barramundi.
Starting with a loose charcoal line drawing, I then washed in some shadows with a mixture of the rich purple color and the yellow ochre. The pigments are very intense and more transparent than I expected, considering the high ground shell content.
After the first washes dried, more detail was built up with Indigo and the pale Turquoise. Scale shapes were painted on and some fine detail marks were applied with a rigger brush. A patchy wash of the orange/red was worked through the upper half of the fish before some spots of the white pigment were applied. I expected the white to be similar to white gouache, but it is more transparent and dries to a beautiful, pearl like sheen. When the white is used to tint other colors the resulting mixture also dries with this unusual sheen.
Finally, because the Barramundi is an elusive, almost mythical fish, I decided he shouldn’t be presented so blatantly. A big rough brush full of gesso and some scribbly white charcoal marks pushed him back into murky water. A green/grey wash around the head suggests the milky green of a tropical waterhole.
I love these new paints and look forward to playing with them some more. My only fear is that I’ll become hooked on them and then they will run out!
For the last two weeks I have been busy conducting a workshop looking at selecting, manipulating and extracting the most from a painting subject. It was a lot of fun, but we worked hard – doing a couple of paintings each day and squeezing in a few critique sessions, where we examined everybodys work and discussed various problems and solutions.
It is always a pleasure meeting new students and catching up with students from previous workshops. One of our new students for the second week was Carol and her assistant, Kim. What an inspiring lady – taking up watercolor a couple of years ago after a severe car accident ended her career as a lawyer and left her a quadriplegic. Forgetting about her disability, the standard of her paintings is excellent, but to see how she has overcome so many physical hurdles to produce the work she does is just amazing. On top of this, she is determined to keep on improving and works hard to that end.
Thumbnail sketches and simple monochrome collages were used to simplify and rearrange our subjects.
The demonstration paintings below illustrate some of the techniques we explored.
Manipulating a large foreground to lead up to a focal point while not causing a distraction.
Creating depth with hard and soft edges
Flat Ultramarine gouache used to squeeze more vibrancy from the warm, transparent watercolor.
Confining detail and using empty space as an element in the painting.
Practicing the random placement of suggestive abstract marks
Sometimes an unusual subject will free you up to try new techniques.
Making a strong focal point in what was a flat uniform facade.
Starting loosly with a big brush and no preliminary drawing, then adding detail as the painting progresses.
Experimenting with techniques to break up a symetrical subject.
While we were in Italy one of the artists in our group, Lety Herrera, from Mexico, asked if I had ever tried Watercolor Canvas. I hadn’t, and she suggested I should, so when I arrived home I picked up a pad of small sheets. I was amazed how good it was to work on and how well the washes reacted to the primed surface. I did a couple of small paintings then ordered a roll of the canvas.
It needs to be stretched or mounted securely to a board before you paint on it or it will buckle and twist badly, making it impossible to work on. The paint tends to sit more on the surface than it does on paper, and can easily be washed back to clean canvas. This may sound like a problem, but you soon get use to gently working over underlying washes so as not to disturb them. Eventually, the ability to easily lift off pigment becomes an advantage, allowing tones to be adjusted and whites to be retrieved at any stage.
You may wonder why work on watercolor canvas when there are so many excellent watercolor papers. For me, the big advantage is not having to place the finished painting under glass plus the option to work on a larger surface. Once finished the paintings need to be treated with a suitable varnish.
Sorrento Breeze – Marina Grande
I still love the feeling of painting on watercolor paper but this watercolor canvas offers a new way of working and different way to present your work. I see it as an extension to the traditional format of watercolor on paper. Acrylic, ink and pastel can also be incorporated into these paintings.
Fredrix Watercolor canvas is acid free, 100% cotton canvas, primed with a patent pending, specially formulated Gesso for all water based paints. It is available in pads, boards and in a 58″x 3 yard roll.
Do you have a collection of dried up paint tubes you just can’t bring yourself to throwing out?
Here is a way to bring the paint back to life. I found a small pestle and mortar hidden in the back of a kitchen cupboard. It turned out to be the perfect device for grinding the contents of all those dried out tubes into a fine powder, ready to be brought back to life.
The first thing to do is cut open the tube and empty the dry lumps of pigment into the motar
Next step is to grind them to a fine powder. The pigment sticks to the pestle, so a metal palette knife is handy to scrape and loosen the pigment.
Once the pigment is a fine even powder, slowly stir in some water. Just enough to make a thick, creamy consistency. Keep grinding the paste for a few minutes to make sure there are no small, unbroken lumps left.
The final step is to scoop the recycled paint into a container. These little plastic sauce containers come from the local Thai restaurant – a couple of dollars for a plastic bag full. A piece of masking tape with details identifying the brand and color is a good idea before you throw away the empty tube.
Some pigments contain heavy metals such as Cobalt and Cadmium (check the warnings on the tube). Be careful not to breathe in or swallow the dust off these. Wear a suitable mask if in doubt.
I’m a sucker for an Art Supply Shop. I just can’t walk past them. While we were in Hong Kong an assortment of pastel pencils, water soluble crayons and colored inks became absolute necessities. Things that I couldn’t leave the shop without!
I have drawers full of such items. Essential in the excitement of the moment, but once in the studio and tested, they become just another unnecessary distraction. Fortunately, this bout of impulse buying resulted in some really useful new toys.
The inks are Winsor and Newton Calligraphy inks – Brilliant primary colors
The pastel pencils are a Dutch brand I have not tried before – Bruynzeel. Fine textured and good colors.
I have used the Caran d’Ache water soluble crayons before, but fell for a pile of new colors.
Red Shoes – Sketched with a charcoal pencil then colored with a red, orange and pink crayon. After the crayon was applied, a wet 1/2″ brush was used to dissolve and blend the colors. Finally a few red ink lines were drawn on and sprayed with a mist of water.
These Lemons were painted with a mixture of crayon ink and pastel pencil. A gesso wash was scrubbed over the foreground before the final yellow crayon marks were applied. Before the Gesso had dried the lemon was carefully sliced and dropped into a Gin and tonic.
There is nothing like a looming magazine deadline to speed up the painting process. I had just finished an article on controlling color temperature for International Artist Magazine and realized I didn’t have an example of a dominant warm painting using a cool contrast. Rather than go through paintings I already had, I decided to work on a sketch I did along one of the little back canals in Venice.
Most of this painting was done using a 1″ bristle brush. I attacked it mercilessly using watercolor and pots of premixed acrylic and gesso, splashing the paint on and feathering it out with a 3″ Hake brush. This quickly covered the paper and provided the area of light at the focal point. Once the dark shapes were scrubbed in with the 1″ brush, I used a charcoal pencil to define the details – again very quickly and accidentally – sort of like draw first and ask questions later. After all this a small brush added all the details – bricks, window frames, striped awning etc.
It is a fantastic way to work, pushing and shoving until things somehow work themselves into place. The hardest thing is learning not to be careful until it is absolutely necessary! The beauty of building up a painting in layers like this means you really can’t go wrong – things can continually be worked over and changed.
A rough looking collection of brushes, but perfect for this type of painting.
- A charcoal pencil
- 1/4″ flat One Stroke
- #1 Liner Brush
- 1/2″ Bristle Brush
- 1″ Bristle Brush
- 3″ Hake Brush