Friday, June 27, 2014

Painting; Making Color Charts

Red Color Chart of Oil Painting Pigments by Brand

A couple of weeks ago I made the very painful decision to give up on trying to finish a painting, let alone two paintings, to enter in a juried show at a museum in Texas. One painting wasn’t advancing to my satisfaction, and the other one was barely started. Better, I decided, to put the paintings aside and do them properly later than rush it and end up with subpar paintings. 

Meanwhile, I was sidetracked with other projects. One of them was to create color charts of all of my pigments. I’m doing them by colors, and shown above are the reds which are currently in my inventory. 

Step One; Create a Grid

I chose to do these on  9x12 canvas panels because I had them on hand, but one could also do them on unstretched canvas or canvas paper. The first step was to draw a grid on the boards with a fine tip Sharpie. At the very top is the brand of paint abbreviated and the color name. 

I tried to sort all the tubes in some kind of order from lightest to darkest and/or warmest to coolest. Some of my guesses weren’t quite right but it doesn’t matter that much. I put a dab of each color on a 9x12 paper palette. You really don’t need more than a dab. In the left lower corner I put a bigger dab of Titanium white, the most used white by artists. In the lower right corner I put a dab of ivory black. 

Step Two; Paint The Chart

In the second square from the top I placed an “X” with the Sharpie which revealed how transparent or opaque each color is. In that square was placed the mass color right from the tube. Below that I added successive amounts of white to the color until it reached a very pale value in four stages. 

Notice which mass color swatches still reveal the “X” and which don’t. 

Step Three; Paint The Darker Values

The chart is divided in half top to bottom by another grid line. This separates the half adding white from the half that black was added to. For the first two charts, i didn’t put in the center grid line and the demarcation tended to wander up and down across the board. The red chart looks much neater so I’ll definitely do that for the rest. 

Starting from the top of the lower section, I added increasing amounts of black to each tube color, starting with a very small amount until the final box contained just black with a small portion of the color. There are five divisions in the lower section. For those pigments which were already dark in value, five steps were not needed because they went to very very dark in a hurry, as you can see with the one Indian Red and the Gamblin Alizarin Permanent. 
My palette setup for painting the charts


The charts are very revealing. They tell me which colors/pigments are transparent and which are opaque or some degree in between. They tell me just how much a pigment will be dulled down by a touch of black added. They reveal the warm/cool bias of the color. For instance, the Old Holland Red Gold Lake on the far right goes very orange very quickly when white is added. So does the Old Holland Tansparent Oxide Red Lake. 

Notice the warm pinks produced by the Old Holland Scheveningen Red Light contrasted to the cool pinks produced by the Alizarins and the Old Holland Magenta (what a pretty hue that is!). One Alizarin is slightly more blue than the other while Old Holland Vermillion Extra is very close to the Old Holland Cadmium Red Light. 

Using this information I can tell which colors are similar enough to stock one in my studio supplies while setting the other aside in my plein air paint box. Or, which color will not be needed to replace when it runs out. 

I also got a feel for how well each tube of color handled. Some of my older paints are very stiff and applied very grainy, so they may need to be replaced with newer paint or eliminated altogether. 

Final Notes

I used only two #6 brushes (my favorite mongoose: one natural bristle and the other synthetic blend). One brush was used for the lighter half of the chart and the other was used for the darks only. This worked well although I had to rinse and clean the brushes carefully between colors so that remnants in the brush wouldn’t influence the next color. 

When the charts are done, I scrape off the remnants of the pigments and wipe down the palette for the next chart, leaving any remnants of white and black in the corners. Then the palette goes into the palette keeper until the next day. 

I also used gloves for part of the process, my favorite is the Nitrile EX  which seem to be fairly tough but also very comfortable and thin. My husband brings them home from the office for me. 

I look forward to finishing the charts and using them to help me get better acquainted with all my pigments when I soon get back to painting. 

Meanwhile, I’m also doing some sketching. Here’s one I did years ago from life of our German Shepherd, Daisy. That’s as far as I got before she moved. 
Pencil sketch from life of our German Shepherd dog, Daisy

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hummingbird Syndrome and a New Horse Sketch

"Goldilocks" palomino filly sketch

I’ve been suffering lately with a case of Hummingbird Syndrome; easily distracted and flitting from one project to another without finishing any of them. 


Having put the paintings aside to ponder on them, I decided to inventory my oil paint pigments to figure out which ones were getting low and needed to be ordered. That done, I decided to research each of those pigments and make notes on them as an educational project to help make better choices when choosing which colors to use. This turned into more of a project than initially anticipated! Some of my tubes of paint are so old that they don’t contain any information on them as to the pigments used or their toxicity and lightfastness; all information that is included on more recent tubes of paint. 

What followed was research online at the websites of various paint manufacturers and other art related sites. To my dismay, Grumbacher does not include pigment information on their website while Winsor-Newton, Daler Rowney and Old Holland do. Of course, I have a lot of very old tubes of Grumbacher oils. To supplement what I couldn’t find, I consulted the Artist’s Bible; Ralph Mayer’s Manual of Artists Materials and Techniques. Pretty dry stuff that and also incomplete for some pigment numbers found on newer tubes of paint. The book was last revised in 1991 so is now out of date. 

I’ve almost finished this project, and it’s been very illuminating. For instance, a company may change the pigment or pigments used in a particular named color over time. And what one company calls Burnt Sienna may contain totally different pigments from what another company calls Burnt Sienna. Each pigment has different qualities of lightfastness, opacity, drying time and toxicity, so it pays to know what’s in the tube. It’s also a good reason to stick with one or two brands of oil paint. 


One evening while watching TV, I sketched the above drawing of a foal. The next morning I worked on it some more and added some background. It turned out so well that I had to share it. Then I thought about doing more sketches, something I should be doing daily anyway. So I got out some more photographs to copy. 


My horse, Scottie as a four year old
But, before I could do anything about that, I was distracted again by a photograph of my horse as a four year old just before I bought him. Having scanned that and a few other photos and the sketch, I posted it on Facebook to share for Throwback Thursday when people post old photos of themselves or family or childhood pets; that sort of thing. 

Before I knew it, I started researching my horse’s pedigree and found some resources online. The biggest find online was a website where you can type in the name of a horse and get that horse’s pedigree that may go back hundreds of years. For instance, my horse is an unregisterd Quarter Horse, but his sire is registered. In researching his sire’s pedigree, I was able to track back as far as the foundation sires of not only the Quarter Horse breed but the thoroughbreds whose blood are part of the breed through a Thoroughbred named Three Bars. Three Bars goes back to the Godolpin Arabian, Darley Arabian and Byerly Turk all of which were used to improve the Thoroughbred breed back in the 18th century. Their pedigrees in turn go back to the 1600’s. That’s where I stopped. 

Finding these three horses in my horse’s geneology was nothing short of magical. It took me back to my childhood of reading Marguerite Henry’s books, Album of Horses and King Of The WInd. I adored Album of Horses and spent many hours reading and rereading it and even copying some of the drawings and paintings. 


Meanwhile I dealt with a spoofing attack on my email account. Some spammer was using my email address to send out hundreds of thousands if no millions of spam emails. Although the spam wasn’t going out of my email server, all the returned spam emails were coming into my email server. By the thousands! The highest count was over 9000! A call to my website host was not of much help except the advice to just wait it out and the returned mail notices would go away as the spammers moved on to use someone else’s email address as the From address. This blitzkrieg lasted for five days, and thankfully, yesterday morning it ended. Abruptly. 

The website tech guy advised me to sign up for a newer hosting package that included more perks and better spam filtering at a lower cost. So, of course, I had to look into that but couldn’t find much on the website. 


With all of these loose ends dangling at this point, I’ve dedicated today as a catchup day. Putting aside horse geneology and website hosting changes, I will endeavor to finish the pigments research project. Going through my horse’s folder and throwing out old farrier receipts, vet visit bills and Coggins test results is also on the schedule after which I will file it away again. And make a separate folder for the geneology finds. 

But first the bathroom needs to be cleaned. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Twilight Horse Painting; Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

Horse oil painting on canvas

That’s how it goes sometimes with painting. Almost every painting is a struggle at some point. 

The background on the Twilight painting is now pretty much done - unless I decide to change something. Painting that foreground grass was one of those two steps forward and one step back sort of things. 

Painting blades of grass is like, well, watching grass grow. I had half of the grass painted and had to wipe it out and try again. Thankfully, with a little more planning, that grassy hilltop came together at last. 

Now all that remains is to finish painting the horse with the final layers. Two steps forward and one step back? I hope not!