Sunday, July 31, 2011

Creating a Background

During my egg tempera workshop, I spent hours developing the background for my egg and stone painting. It was coming along so nicely with rich color and luminosity. I was polishing lightly with cheesecloth every few layers and noticed that I wore down close to the gesso base in the center of the board. Koo mentioned that I probably didn't have enough pigment--sure enough, as I worked radially to the center I was putting down fewer layers. So then I tried to build it all back up and did so rather quickly. As usual, moving too fast with egg tempera set me way back. I never did get back that wonderful background.

Today I began an attempt to capture that depth and luminosity. This first image with camera doesn't do justice--I had a hard time getting away from glare.

This second image was off the scanner bed, a few hours later than the image above. There must be close to thirty layers here. I'll be pushing the darks down a bit more.

I've tentatively planned a lily for the foreground. This week I'll be working on sketches and planning the composition and will adjust the highlighted center accordingly. Today's work was so meditative. No rushing, just a steady mixing of various pigments and gently applying well-thinnned layers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Play Time

Just a little experiment here, my test version. Today was hot and I felt wilted, not perking up until this evening. I wanted to get into something but needed to stay on the light side.

Although it's now hard to tell, those sweet pepper bush leaves were first imprinted with india ink. The ink went down before any egg tempera.

I have  just started a new panel where I'm laying in the background first--same radial pattern with a vellum-like texture. Once that is down I'll drop in inked leaves and build up from there.

Friday, July 29, 2011


There's no doubt about it. This work painting Ginerva d'Benci has been humbling. And with that, I can say that I am learning a lot and still feeling that I am only scratching the surface.

After various approaches, I restarted this evening from a simple base of smoothly sponged yellow ochre and titanium white. From there I worked in some highlighting with pure white scumbles and developed some shadows with red ochre, later turning to Burnt Umber Reddish instead. Every so often I'd scumble a light white layer to pull it together. I also used transparent layers of yellow ochre to unify and warm.

I worked hard to maintain extremely light mixes. Even so, I still ran into some blotchiness, especially when using the red ochre in a slightly aggressive manner. (Notice on her left cheek the unevenness, and on the right the relative smoothness in form transition.)

I also worked on proper tempering. I have been inconsistent and tried to stay aware of my mixes, which gave me good results.

I have noticed how sometimes I get myself into trouble with heavy layers. It's all about mood. Some nights I don't get to pick up a brush until later in the evening and by then I am either tired, rushed, or both. I'm trying to be conscious of my state and relax into my painting when the time finally comes.

I think I will be drifting from time to time from this endeavor while I regroup.

I want to continue copying Old Masters drawings and paintings with white and red chalk on toned paper. (Supplies are on the way.) There is plenty to learn with a more easily controlled medium.

I want to explore turning form in egg tempera with simple shapes, something that I can apply to more complex shapes as I learn from my copying exercises.

I want to develop color charts in egg tempera with my growing collection of pigments.

And lastly, I want to get in some botanical work in graphite, watercolor, and egg tempera.

There! That's the plan! I have only four weeks left to work (so exciting!) so these paths are soon entirely within reach. With this, I'll be starting a botanical art course in late September. (More on that soon.) Additionally, I'm scheduled for two full days of demonstrations and lectures during the ASBA conference in October.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Green Earths

Here's a peek at my selection of green earths. I've had the Rublev for some time; it came with my watercolor making kit. The last four are from my recent Kremer order.

These all have their own unique colors, don't they? The Rublev is warm and subtle while the Russian Green Earth has a similar subtlety but leans towards the cool side. Green Earth from Verona is very dirty while the Vagone Enhanced is bold and rich. The Epidote is a surprise; I didn't expect such large particle size for a 1-100 micron grind. It like it's really at the high end. Very gritty.

Rublev        11111         40821        41750         11151

Verona Green (Rublev)
Russian Green Earth (11111)
Green Earth from Verona (40821)
Vagone Green Earth, enhanced with Prussian Blue and Chrome Oxide Green, Bluish (41750)
Epidote, Greenish Extra (11151)

At some point, I'll get into extended charting--mixes with titanium white and glazes with a range of transparent pigments. But for now, just having some idea what these pigments look like is a big help. Gazing into a plastic bag of pigment just doesn't convey the color.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Burnt Umbers

A Kremer pigment order arrived today! I've mentioned before and it's worth restating: Kremer rocks. An order placed Monday evening arrived today, and as always, was 100% complete.

There are other fascinating pigments in this package but for now let's look at these gorgeous burnt umbers. They all are of a fine grind--I can't feel any grit while dispersing.

  Reddish                 Type B                 Dark Brown

Here are the details:
Burnt Umber Reddish, Italy (40700)
Burnt Umber Type B, Cyprus (40723)
Burnt Umber Dark Brown, Cyprus (40720)

[pigment name, origin, (Kremer #)]
Umbers have the same iron oxide component as the ochres and siennas. Only thing is that umbers also contain manganese which means that a bit of added attention is needed. If the usual precautions are taken, there's no problem.

From what I've been reading, the manganese acts as a drying agent with oils and artists sometimes mix a bit of umber for that purpose.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Different Approach

Kind of looks like the bearded lady, eh? I sanded out an earlier image and built up layers of yellow ochre, red ochre, and burnt umber. I'm trying out initially sponging in relatively close colors and values.

I'll know once I get into it if I overstepped my values as I sense right now. I'm having trouble with the burnt umber. I didn't have pigment so used W&N watercolor. First I thought it was the high humidity as I have the windows open and its been stormy. I was noticing in general that even with the hair dryer it was taking longer than usual to dry a layer. Then I thought it was the watercolor itself--perhaps the gum arabic and whatever else was acting up. But in the end it may just be over tempering--too much egg.

I'll see how it sets up by tomorrow. Also, I do have three different burnt siennas on the way from Kremer so I can take the watercolor off the table. Worse case, I can always start over. I'm getting pretty good at initial layout! :-)

Monday, July 25, 2011


I may have mentioned how I'm learning a light touch with egg tempera. Well, I'm still learning! Today while viewing a Ginevra image I noticed that the shadows seemed to be of a blue tint. I was so excited to get home and try that out.

It didn't work out very well. Perhaps just a hint of prussian blue glaze might do but I didn't stop there. Next thing I knew, I was in trouble with lots of blotchy blue. Ugh! So I'll give it all another go soon. A bit more reading, a bit more thinking, and then it's back for another round! :-)

A quote from Koo's book serves as a good reminder:
"A thin layer such as this will dry very quickly (within seconds, ideally) and allow successive layers to be soon added. While it may not seem a significant amount of paint, you can add literally dozens more layers within an hour. Soon it will accumulate to build up a convincing form and rich color. Scores of layers of thin, transparent color, ultimately adding up to create a luminous image. This is the beauty of egg tempera painting."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One More Time!

Today I mixed a color close to local color and sponged on a few layers. Then came shadows with raw umber green, working with extremely thin layers. Finally, I felt I was on the right track!

And here a few hours later and with various very light pigment mixes, there is some modeling taking shape. I've had to scumble back a few times when I became a bit heavy handed with my mixes, particularly in the shadows.

Along with this new approach, I'm backing up my painting with readings from "Drawing The Head" by William L. Maughan and "Portrait Painting Atelier" by Suzanne Brooker. These are both awesome books.

I've also tossed the laptop and printouts for reference, working only from the Tashchen book. The images are larger, more detailed, and nicely colored.

I have been struggling, perhaps grumbling and whining, but all the while looking for solutions. I think I am finally moving onto a good process!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another Egg Tempera

Here is another portrait restart. Using the same mask from yesterday, I sponged on six layers of transparent yellow ochre and titanium white, giving me a lighter base that my previous exercise.

Unlike prior sessions, I maintained a batch of mixes to keep moving between ranges. I am slowly tuning into the particulars of each pigment. For instance, Burnt Sienna is a surprisingly powerful pigment. I'm realizing how the tiniest amount can make a big difference.

Because of the 90 to 100 degrees temperatures I have been using the air conditioner. These pigments can dry out in no time so I must spritz regularly.

Here is a couple of hours work. It's a bit frustrating but I am learning. I feel like a juggler trying to keep ten balls in the air at once! Gradually, I am sure with continued practice that my rhythm will come together. Until then, I must beat the critic down! :-)

Friday, July 22, 2011


After sanding back my previous work, I cut a mask...

and sponged a few layers of gold ochre and titanium white.

After transferring in prominent feature lines, I began building up layers of a lighter version of ochre and white with brushes, something like 20 layers or so.

This is very good practice work for me and will probably restart it again. I feel that I could do better with lighter toned initial layers. Starting this dark makes for a lot of lightening.

Oh, and I did initially work from a gaussian blurred image. I think it helped me see the big picture of lights so it was a good training tool. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Planning and Simplifying

Last night as the individual layers were dropped in, I became confused as to "what comes next." Should I put down more layers where I need darker values? That didn't seem the answer. I regrouped with my workshop handouts and realized that I might get better results by mixing my colors for my values with Koo's recommended starting points:
Highlights - Titanium white
Lights - Titanium white, yellow ochre, and perhaps burnt sienna as well
Half Tones - Green earth and yellow ochre, and perhaps titanium white
Shadows - Burnt umber and yellow ochre
Notice that the progression from highlight to shadow proceeds from opaque to transparent. Note also that this same progression alternates from cool to warm, cool to warm.

After reviewing my colors, I spent time reading the "Elementary Tone Exercises" in Harold Speed's "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials". My takeaway was that I might try to initially see the overall shapes and tonal values, rather than fuss with detail.

And today I came across the idea of blurring digital images to mask detail and better uncover masses of color and tone.

I think I am onto something here but the proof is in the doing. Unfortunately, surprise commitments pull me from my kitchen table. Sigh... Maybe later tonight I'll get my chance. If not, tomorrow evening for sure. I'll be trying to lay down the beginnings with sponges before moving on to brush.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Egg Tempera Experiments

I'm trying to establish some pigment mixes for this painting while gaining familiarity with various pigments and work in proper color. In other words, this is a fantastic exercise.

This board, rather laden with pinholes, will accommodate another face and I'm treating these as experimental. Boards from TrueGesso, which we used in workshop, are on their way. Although they had a few pinholes, they were small, and the boards had a nice feel.

I will push this painting along and document my pigments for the next try. So far it's been mostly yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and raw umber, with a bit of quinacridone magenta for the lips. At this point, I feel that I need to move parts of the cheek shadows into saturation--reds and oranges. Also realized that I need to establish a tonal range and that there are very few places where white is used. White for highlights only. It's all seemingly obvious once I see it. Again, this is all a really fun time learning--as long as I keep that infernal internal critic at bay.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ginevra d'Benci 3

Hers's another try at that portrait. Each attempt opens me up to more ideas and details. Light next to dark in abrupt transitions are particularly intriguing. I worked on this up to nodding off--not a good thing! Mistakes come easily when I am tired but I'm having such fun that it's difficult to stop.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Making Transfer Paper

I've mentioned making my own transfer paper. Here's a look at my second try, this time with red ochre. As before, I mixed dry pigment with denatured alcohol.

I probably could have used less pigment as a little seems to go a long way. You can see here how heavily laden my mix was. It dried quickly on this hot and sunny day.

Because of the initial unevenness, I put down I think four coats, changing directions to help smooth it out.

And here was the result. Notice how the excess ochre dusted the surface. It lifted off easily with a kneaded eraser. I didn't experience this dusting with the yellow ochre, and I think I probably put down a thinner pigment base. Perhaps a little rubbing to remove the lose material will help. I'll be making more of these, working on my technique.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Copying Continues

After yesterday's post I retried the same image, this time dropping in guide lines with a transfer using white Saral and a laser printed image. The Saral left a seemingly uncontrollable line, either heavy and solid or nothing at all, leaving me to erase most of what I put down. I think a red ochre handmade transfer paper is worth a try.

I am working from Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Ginevra d'Benci. Yesterday I mistakenly labeled it as egg tempera. The National Gallery states this is oil on panel.

Most students in my egg tempera workshop selected portraits. I had no interest, that is until now. I have a plan to rework this portrait into one of my lovely niece Bethany. Exciting stuff!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Copying Old Master Drawings

As usual, around here one thing inevitably leads to another. I recently picked up a copy of William L. Maughan's "Drawing the Head". The exercises call for toned paper with red and white pastel pencils. I'm trying to simulate the effect with Stonehenge Fawn paper and Polychromos Burnt Sienna and White. The White is annoying--very shiny that lends to a creepy look, but it's good enough until the real pastels get ordered up.

This afternoon I began rereading "Drawing Lessons from the Old Masters" by Robert Beverly Hale which reminded me that Koo encouraged us to copy Old Master drawings and paintings. So next I was skimming through Taschen's "Leonardo da Vinci" by Frank Zöllner.

I'm equally pleased and distressed with my first attempt at copying a portrait. At this point I don't think one could even guess who this might be but I'll be practicing. I didn't realize until just now that the Taschen book has lots of closeup images of portions of the portrait, all with incredible detail. What becomes apparent is that line is nearly nonexistent. Gradual transitions are key. By the way, this portrait was painted in egg tempera.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Today is post number 1,000!

I have 6 weeks until retirement. Going back to work after the workshops was so difficult. I tried to hold onto the magic but it slipped away my very first day back. I'll soon have the opportunity for more magic.

I am chipping away at my 10,000 hours. As my teacher mentioned in a note last night, "No other way to do it, if one wants to learn to paint!"

This evening I'm getting back to my lily pads. I think I have been under tempering, at least a bit, because the freshly painted surfaces have a very mat surface. More on this soon...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Prussian Blue

In the workshops we were encouraged to become familiar with our pigments. I'm developing my pigment properties template based on Koo's work. Mine is still a work in progress and while the template develops I'll be building data on my pigments and creating documents for the web. As this project comes together I will be posting out to my soon to come new web site.

Here's my first pigment property sheet:

Common Name: Prussian Blue

Alternate Names: Milori blue, Iron blue, Turnbulls Blue

Color Index: PB27 77510

Composition: C18Fe7N18

Synthetic Inorganic

Supplier: Kremer (45200) $7.80/100g

Toxicity: Nontoxic

Particle Size: .5 micron

Warm/cool: neutral

Saturation: medium

Specific gravity: 1.8 (1.7 Nat Pig)

Refractive Index: 1.56-1.662

Semi transparent

Lightfast (should test)

Disperses well (no dispersant needed) Mix to a thick state as further mixing leads to a wetter mix.

Engineer's blue and the pigment formed on cyanotypes - giving them their common name blueprints. Certain crayons were once colored with Prussian blue (later relabeled Midnight Blue). It is also a popular pigment in paints. Similarly, Prussian blue is the basis for laundry bluing.

Prussian blue in oil paint is the traditional material used for spotting metal surfaces such as surface plates and bearings for hand scraping. A thin layer of non-drying paste is applied to a reference surface and transfers to the low spots of the workpiece. The toolmaker then scrapes, stones, or otherwise removes the unmarked high spots. Prussian blue is preferable because it will not abrade the extremely precise reference surfaces as many ground pigments may.

Prussian blue was first produced as a blue dye in 1704 and has been used by artists and manufacturers ever since. It got its name from its use as a dye for Prussian military uniforms. Prussian blue dye and paint are still available today from art supply stores.

Since the 1960s, Prussian blue has been used to treat people who have been internally contaminated with radioactive cesium (mainly Cs-137) and nonradioactive thallium (once an ingredient in rat poisons). Doctors can prescribe Prussian blue at any point after they have determined that a person who is internally contaminated would benefit from treatment. Prussian blue will help speed up the removal of cesium and thallium from the body.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Water Lily 5

A few hours more this evening, glazing the deep blue with prussian blue and viridian layers. More scumbling for the pads and then selective washes with yellow ochre. Dropped in the rest of the lily petals and began modeling with delicate layers of verona green earth.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Water Lily, Pulling Back

This evening was about pulling back the chroma. First were scumbles over the lily pads, then glazes of chromium oxide and viridian. The water got glazes of alizarin for the foreground and viridian for the background. I'm trying to portray depth with warm and cool. It's really slow going and I wish I had more hours each day to devote to this.

Something I just realized is that I'm making almost no holes, meaning that I'm picking up a sense of control by waiting for the previous coat to be completely dry before applying the next layer. I use a hairdryer as needed when I'm in a hurry.

Monday, July 11, 2011

More Water Lily

I didn't get a whole lot of time this evening but there was a bit of development on the lily, then a bit on the pads, and finally some glazing of the top half with alizarin crimson. I think the glazing is pushing back some distance as it brings down the Prussian Blue's chroma and generally cools it down.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Water Lily 2

After posting last evening I spent more hours on this painting. Here's where I left off late last night. These are scans. I like how the glare is reduced and the Prussian Blue gets to show off its rich beauty.

And here's today's work. More layers of chromium oxide, followed by glazes of yellow ochre. I think I need to turn to the flower next, establishing back petals. After that, it's a matter of working around the painting, giving attention to all areas. That's something Koo taught me, to build up all aspects a bit at a time.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Water Lily

Today I mixed Viridian and Alizarin Crimson pigment pastes and used them for glazes. Later I made my own transfer paper, painting a mix of denatured alcohol and yellow ochre onto tracing paper. That was used to transfer the water lily image I'd earlier sized to fit the gesso panel. Now I'm scumbling and glazing and glazing...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting Started

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that I now probably have enough Prussian Blue pigment for six months! Although I'd mulled a few pigments and set them up under water, most of my pigments here at home have been mixed on the fly. I've since learned that it's really best to spend time dispersing pigments with a palette knife or muller and putting up enough to last. Over the coming weeks I will be going through my pigments making up pastes.

As well as mixing pastes I'll be developing pigment properties documents. Koo recommends taking the time to get to know one's pigments by research and documenting. Just by making paste one can get the feel for particle size, saturation, and covering ability.

Below is my basic workspace for tempering pigments. Two parts egg, one part distilled water for the tempering medium. Sephora cosmetic sponges for applying paint. Spray bottle for keeping paints wetted.

You might notice a little jar of titanium white behind the medium. This is the only pigment that is mixed dry right into the medium to keep the opacity powerful. It's often applied straight, but sometimes mixed with other pigments. For instance, a bit of yellow ochre might be added to take down the coolness, especially when used for highlights.

Here's a 5x7" gesso board with about 12 sponged on layers. I'm rubbing the surface lightly with cheesecloth every few layers for evening out the finish and developing a nice glow.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Egg Tempera Preparations

We used True Gesso boards for the egg tempera workshop. Nice boards--well back-coated, relatively smooth finish, and not many pinholes. The board is positioned on an easel made and sold by Koo Schadler and her husband Jeff.

Here is a closeup of the surface in raking light.

This photo was taken after a light sanding with 400 grit and a wipe down with denatured alcohol.

Here are the makings for a batch of Prussian Blue pigment paste.

I'm disbursing the pigment on a glass palette, mixing in distilled water with a palette knife.

Here's the final product, ready for the jar.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Elderberry Fireworks

All these blossoms appeared at the same time on the same bush. The sequence reminds me of fireworks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Drawing from the Old Masters Design workshop, what is probably the most important principle is that of clear sections of dark, medium, and light tonal values. On my first day of the workshop, I proudly presented a print of this image. Koo immediately said "No lights!" I explained that of course there were lights, "Just look at that highlight on the pear." After a couple more exchanges, I finally got it. A highlight on a turned form is not a light tonal mass. Each tonal value has to be some kind of object or mass of objects--not just pieces of an object.

This image is, I think, a good example of all three tonal values. And besides that, it also has some interesting black shapes as well as massed tonal values across the lily pads.

Here's a desaturated version of the pear image referenced above. See? No lights!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Around The Lake

The Old Masters Design workshop included a handbook that I'm now taking the time to review. It's probably a better version of my own note taking. I went out around the lake today with the intent of collecting photographs that illustrate those design principles. More on this as the week progresses. For today, here's a peek at one of my favorite spots.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Black Raspberry

While pruning back the Wisteria overtaking the front yard, I came across a hidden patch of Black Raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, of the family Rosaceae. There was a robin close by. I wonder if it was responsible for the berry picking?

Here's a bit of the FAQ from NARBA, The North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association:

Are raspberries and blackberries pollinated by bees? Most cultivars of blackberries, black raspberries, and raspberries are self-fruitful and do not require pollinizers, but honey bees are naturally attracted to brambles. Wind also aids pollination. Dewberries are self-incompatible, and must be inter-planted with other types for good fruit set.

Can I grow raspberries and blackberries plants from seed? Wild brambles often are, spread by birds which eat the fruit, but cultivated varieties are reproduced vegetatively by root cuttings, tip layering, or suckering. This insures that the exact same qualities of the parent plant are continued in the "daughter plants". Plants grown from seed are variable and unpredictable. Bramble breeders wanting to control the crosses put pollen of one type into flowers of another, grow new plants from seed that develops, and then choose the best of these for fnew cultivars or further breeding.

How do you tell the difference between a blackberry and black raspberry? The most obvious difference is that a black raspberry is hollow -- the core of the fruit stays on the plant when it is picked, while the core stays in a blackberry. Black raspberry fruit are also smaller, less shiny. and have a bluish waxy coating between the sections of the berry.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fluorescent Light Comparison

The BlueMax bulbs are in and most welcome. Here is a side by comparison with a warm light bulb I'd been using and the new BlueMax bulb. Each side is lit with a corresponding bulb. An isolating sheet of white cardboard is in place down the middle.

The warm bulb is labeled with a color temperature of 2700K and CRI is not listed. The BlueMax is labeled with a color temperature of 5500K and a CRI of 93.

Isn't it amazing how we adjust our color perception to lock onto "white"?

2700K                          5500K

Friday, July 1, 2011

Egg Tempera V

Today's discussions involved tiled floors and perspective design. It's an interesting subject that I'll explore later. Later in the day Koo discussed protective coatings for tempera paintings--varnish, shellac, and wax--and demonstrated the application of shellac.

I got in some painting today. Not as much as previous days but I was feeling rather tired. I figured it best to go slow so as not to go backwards.

And here it is! My project for the week. Although a simple composition, there's a lot going on. Stone work. Turning form on the egg. Radially gradated background. Light and shadow on cloth. There are many mistakes in this piece which made for a lot of discovery. I estimate 20 hours work here.

It's been an incredible two weeks of art workshops, my first in person instruction. I am glowing with a warm satisfaction of fun and learning.