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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Present for the Rurally-Inclined

"Plein Air" (detail))

"Plein Air" 650cm x 505cm, oil, by Ramon Casas.
In the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya , Barcelona

If you're like me and prefer living in the wide, open spaces, you may find it difficult to get to a good museum. I love looking at art, but frankly, a lot of the art I see is either in magazines, coffee table books or in tiny, highly-pixelated images online.  It's rare when I can view good art in person.

So here's the Christmas present for the rurally-inclined.  It's called the Google Art Project.  GAP has over 36,000 pieces of art, many of them in ultra-high resolution.  If you're the kind of museum-goer who is always told by the guard to step back from the paintings, this is an opportunity to get inches close to the canvas.

In the painting above by Ramon Casas, I zoomed in as far as I could on the tabletop arrangement of bottle, glass and hands.  You can see every brush stroke!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

From the Mailbag: Brushes

Recently, a reader asked what brushes I use.  If you look through the art supply catalogs, you'll see an overwhelming variety of brushes used for oil painting.  You can get rounds, flats, filberts, riggers, fan brushes and even brushes tailored to create little marks that look like leaves.  You can get them made of synthetic fiber or natural fiber such as sable, hog, squirrel and possibly even catamount.  You can get them with long handles, short handles and also very short handles that will fit into your pochade box.  There are almost as many choices for brushes as there are for paint colors.

Well, I like to keep things simple.  I use natural hog bristle flats, period.  The flat is incredibly versatile.  With it, I can make wide strokes, thin strokes and dots.  I can scrub on paint vigorously, or I can let off the gas a bit and make delicate, twig-like strokes.  As the flat wears down to more of a filbert shape, I can make very soft, blended passages.  Also, the natural hair seems to have a more gentle "spring" and fits my style of painting better than the "snappier" synthetics.

For painting outdoors in a 12x16 format or smaller, I use sizes 2 through 10.  I don't go for the short brushes or the long brushes - the short ones are too short for my style, and the long ones are harder to control when painting in a small format.  To keep my load light, sometimes I'll only take out a couple of brushes.  For a 9x12, I may use only two flats - a size 6 and a size 8.

Although there are many fine brands out there, I've settled on Silver Brush's "Grand Prix" line.

Yes, I do have a rigger or signature brush and a few sables.  If the painting has dried so much that I can't scrape my signature in with the end of the brush handle, I'll use a rigger to paint my signature.  If I'm in the studio using glazes, I'll use the sables, which won't damage possibly soft paint layers.  I don't carry either of these into the field, though.

By the way, in my online Udemy course, I have a video lesson on how I handle my brush.  I should also mention that you get the full Udemy course as part of my upcoming Artist's Network University online course, which starts January 8.  This is a four-week course in which you get weekly assignments plus personal critiques from me.  Click here for the Artists Network University course.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From the Mailbag: Wearing Gloves

A reader asked recently if I wear gloves when using pastel.  I don't.  The reason is that I use fairly small pieces of pastel, especially in the finishing stages of the painting, and the glove tips of my index finger  and thumb tend to get caught between the pastel and the painting surface.  (I use large but form-fitting nitrile gloves, as seen in the photo above.)  Instead, I'll use a product like "Gloves in a Bottle," "Magic Gloves" or some other barrier cream to keep the pastel out of my skin.  It also helps with clean-up in the end.  Problem is, more often than not I forget to use it!  I found that my local Ace Hardware has small bottles of "Gloves in a Bottle" at the checkout counter.

However, when working in oil, I always wear the gloves.  It's more for ease of clean-up than for dealing with toxicity, but it helps with that, too.

I've found I can usually use one pair of gloves over several painting sessions - at least two, typically three and sometimes more.

By the way, if you're looking for a Christmas present idea - for yourself or another artist - please consider my Paint Sedona and Paint Campobello plein air workshops.  You can even have a customized workshop!  All you'll need is yourself and three others, and I'll tailor the week any way you want.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Workshop Week Wrap-Up - and More on Greys

View of the Rabbit Ears, 12x16, oil - available

Until last night, fall had been unseasonably warm and dry.  The last time it rained was in October.  The trails have been dusty, and the red dirt has been getting into shoes and socks, and my plein air backpack is stained with it.  This all changed when a major storm moved around midnight.  Snow stayed above 7000 feet, but we got plenty of rain down in the Verde Valley.  We are very glad for it.

We knew weather was coming, so we worked hard the first few days.  Usually, my Paint Sedona workshops run 9-1, giving students time in the afternoon to explore or paint on their own.  But this week, we pushed it.  We worked through lunch and beyond, taking advantage of the excellent weather.

I continued to play with the idea of starting off with a monochromatic underpainting, using Gamblin's Chromatic Black plus white.  It's not a technique I teach to students yet, so I'm exploring its feasibility.  I'm liking it quite a lot.  It really "nails" the shadows and darks right off.  But best, I think, is that it breaks down the initial block-in phase into two simple steps.  Figure out the values first, then figure out the colors.

Even I sometimes have trouble juggling value and color in the block-in.  But once you have the greys blocked in, you have something to test your color mixtures against.  You can tell in an instant if your mixture is too light or too dark by putting a little dab of it on the appropriate spot in the painting.

East view of Courthouse Butte, 9x12, oil - available

I've posted some of my week's work so you can see the results.  Some of these rock formations are ones I haven't painted much.  They are over near the Village of Oak Creek near Bell Rock, and I tend to avoid that area because of the volume of tourist traffic.

By the way, I'm getting some really good questions for my blog.  If you haven't sent yours in yet, please do!  You can comment on the blog, e-mail me, ask me on Facebook or send a tweet my way.  If you are so equipped, you may also send one telepathically.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Call for Questions

Hamlet considers a recently exhumed Yorick
Once again, I'm putting out the call for questions from readers.  If you have any questions about plein air painting or topics you'd like see covered here, let me know!  I've been teaching workshops for over ten years and blogging about plein air painting since 2005, so this is your chance to tap my brain.  And if I don't know the answer, I'll do some digging.

You can either e-mail me or leave a comment to this post.

I don't guarantee I'll answer every question right away, but I'll put your question on my list and get to it as soon as I can.  I'd like to make this blog as helpful as possible, and I appreciate your help!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Starting with Greys, Toning Down the Palette, and Thoughts on Green

Greys, I, 8x10, oil

I've been playing with Gamblin's Chromatic Black this week, and it's led to some interesting ideas for beginning plein air painters.

We've all heard about doing thumbnail value sketches, but you can also take this approach to the painting directly.  If you have trouble mentally isolating value from color, try doing your initial block-in with grey.  One thing I've found is that this also leads to "nailing" the light and shadow patterns quickly, which is a huge help when painting outdoors.  Rather than wasting time mixing color, just start off with grey.  Mix up a big pile of Chromatic Black and white, and have at it.  It's a lot faster to get the painting going with greys.

In the two paintings accompanying this post, I forgot to take photos of the "grey" stage, so here is part of another painting I'm working on in the studio this week for which I use the same concept.

There's another benefit to starting with grey.  Lots of beginning outdoor painters have trouble controlling their chroma, especially when using a split-primary palette like mine.  (Just as a reminder, split-primary means a cool and a warm version of each of the three primaries.)  Because you're painting wet-into-wet, the grey block-in will mix gently with your next, full-color application of paint.  This will moderate any too-intense colors you've mixed.  Later, if you really want rich color, you can slather on some high-chroma mixtures thickly with a brush or knife.

Greys, II, 8x10, oil
Finally, I wanted to mention Chromatic Black as a replacement for blue.  In both of the paintings above, I used absolutely no blue except for the tiniest bit in the darkest part of the sky.  You can use Chromatic Black with your favorite yellow to make some nice, mellow greens.  For these two paintings, I used Gold Ochre plus Chromatic Black for the greens.

As a side note, I used only the following colors for these paintings:  Gold Ochre, Chromatic Black, and Alizarin Crimson.  Plus white, of course!

Friday, December 7, 2012

From the Mailbag: Painting Large on a 9x12 Guerrilla Box

Someone asked recently if you can paint in a larger format on Judson's 9x12 Guerrilla Painter Box.  You can!  I regularly paint 12x16 on my box by using the telescoping easel kit.   Since it's hard to describe how this works, I thought I'd show a few pictures.

The mast has a little hook at the top that holds the top of the panel.  The bottom of the panel rests in a little metal bracket, which itself hooks onto the two built-in brackets in the lid.  I also use a heavy-duty knob on the lid,which allows me to give the knob a little extra twist to really secure it.

The mast and the bracket are all part of the telescoping adapter kit.

Although the mast will accommodate a larger panel, I stop at 12x16 - you are still working with only a 9x12 palette, and I like to have a larger palette if I go bigger than 12x16.  (You can, of course, get a palette extension kit that will expand even that.)

Top of the mast

Mast telescopes with a pressure clamp; see the large,
replacement knob on the left of the box lid

The bottom of your panel rests in this bracket

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Photographing Art & the Color Separation Guide

This past week, I've been in the studio creating a pastel demonstration for The Artist's Magazine.  In the process, I used a tool I've not used before.  It's called a Kodak Q-13 Color Separation Guide.  (Mine's by Tiffen.)  But it wasn't for me - it's for the magazine's art director.

If you've ever tried to photograph and print your artwork, you know how hard it is to get the print to look like the original.  Although today's home computers and printers do a reasonable job, the color is usually somewhat off.  Too cool, too warm, too orange, too blue are some of the things I've run into.  Unfortunately, calibrating your monitor and printer require special equipment, and your home printer doesn't offer much in the way of adjustments that can be made.

The equipment used by magazines, however, is much more sophisticated.  There are many adjustments possible, and with a trained professional at the helm, wonders can be worked.

But the art director needs a reference to go by.  How does he know that his tweaks will get that delicately-nuanced passage of water you worked so hard on looking just right?

Well, you have to include a standard color bar in the photo.  This is where the Q-13 comes in.

I got mine from  (Or you can get the Q-14, which is longer.)  Here's what the item blurb says:

Separation Guides are used as the set up guide to calibrate several digital color print systems. In addition, they help photographers compare the color of the subject with known printing colors. They also help Graphic Arts camera operators identify separation negatives and positives for color reproduction processes.

By comparing the color bar in the image with an actual one, the art director can tell how to tweak the image or the printing system.  If that dark red square on the bar looks too pale or too cool, he can make an adjustment so that in the printed image, the square looks right.  And if all the colored squares look right, the printed image will look right, too.

I've never used one before, and I have to give credit to the magazine's art director for getting all my past images looking the way they should.

By the way, I'd love to show you the finished painting, but you'll have to be satisfied with the snippet above until next September when the article comes out.

Monday, December 3, 2012

From the Mailbag: Paint Brands

Storm Over Bear Mountain, 5x7 oil - $75

A reader writes:  Do you feel that Gamblin oil paints are definitely better than Grumbacher Pre-tested ? Have you ever used M. Graham walnut oil paints, and if so, what did you think of them ? I see that you prefer not to use mediums – do you feel that paint not diluted with mediums provides more saturated, rich color ? Thank you for your time, and inspiration. - Name Withheld

Thanks so much for your note.  You know, the brand of oil paint one uses is really a personal preference.    I know artists who swear by Grumbacher, and others, by Gamblin.  In some ways, it's like Honda v. Subaru.  (I've had both, and currently drive a Subaru.)  Both are economical, efficient and well-made cars, and I'd trust either one of them in a snowstorm.   I use Gamblin because the way the paint handles suits me.  But I also have Grumbacher on my shelf, and Richeson Shiva, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and more.

As for M. Graham, that's like comparing a front-wheel drive car to one that's rear-wheel drive.   There really is a difference.  Graham paints are made with walnut oil, which dries more slowly than linseed oil paints.  As an outdoor painter who travels a lot and needs his paint to dry quickly, I don't use them.  (But that's my only reason; they are perfectly fine paints.)  With Graham, I could certainly use the Graham alkyd medium, but I understand that just makes the paint dry about as fast as linseed oil paint.  Or, I could use another alkyd medium (Gamblin's Galkyd Lite) that would make it dry even faster, but I prefer not to use any medium in the field.  It's just one more thing to take.

And that brings me to your question of mediums.  Oil paint, according to the consultants I've spoken to, is best used right out of the tube with as little thinner or medium as possible.  Oil paint should be prepared in a way so that it has just enough oil to be workable and create a durable paint film.  In the rare case that I run across a paint that's not workable, then I may use a medium to make it "move" better.  I only add a drop or two.  I sometimes find pure titanium white paint needs a little extra push.  If I do need my paintings to dry more quickly because I'm in a plein air festival, I'll use a little Galkyd Lite.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Painting with M.L. Coleman

M.L. Coleman (left), me (right)

I first met painter M.L. Coleman ( several years ago at my first Sedona Plein Air Festival.  Since then, we've painted together several times, perhaps most memorably at the Grand Canyon when we went up in his Lazy Daze motorhome for a few days.  Recently, I had the opportunity to paint with him again along Spring Creek here in the Verde Valley.

Me (left), M.L. Coleman (right)

M.L. has typically painted large landscapes from areas as far-ranging as Sedona and the Grand Canyon to Italy and Ireland.  Since his father was a park ranger at Yellowstone, he takes naturally to the broad landscape.  Lately, he says, he's been going out to paint less with the intention of doing a finished painting than with the idea of simply recording color notes.  These small sketches can be painted rapidly and make excellent reference material for studio work.  He finds that in places like Ireland, where fast-moving weather can change the patterns of light and shadow in minutes, these quick sketches are a lot less frustrating.

We painted in two spots.  Our first spot, under a cliff along Spring Creek, had some beautiful light effects.  The sun was inching down, and using my hand as a guide, I estimated we had maybe 40 minutes to capture the light before the creek was plunged into shadow.  (You can use your hand to measure how long till sunset - or how long before the sun goes behind a cliff - just as you can measure the height of a horse.  One hand  equals 0.6 hours, or about 36 minutes.)  We set up our gear and dove in.  For this sketch, I had to work rapidly.  But it seems to evoke a sense of the moment and the light effects.

Sketch #1
THE WINNER!  72% of you liked this one.

For our last painting, we drove to a hilltop that gave us a broad view of the Verde Valley, looking toward Mingus Mountain.  We looked into the sun, since that gave us backlit trees, and the foliage was near-incandescent in spots.  We had a little more time for this session, and as you can see, it also gave me a little more time to "massage" the paint.  Is that a bad thing?  Perhaps.  I rather like the raw look of the first painting.  I'm curious to know which you prefer. [UPDATE:  See results above!  72% liked the first one.]

Sketch #2

We're hoping to make a road trip again soon in the Lazy Daze.  Stay tuned!