Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I'm planning to copy a portion of this Melendez painting. The highlighted section is a full page in my Melendez book. I'll be building a transfer to lay out the larger shapes. But first, I thought I'd make a few preparations.

Rather than use my existing oil paints, I wanted to try my hand at my own. Here is an English Burnt Sienna. It's a lovely rich red that I've enjoyed using with egg tempera. I've mulled enough to fill a 20 ml tube. Note the dramatic color change with oil mixed in.

During cleanup, I used the leftovers to lay down an initial layer. I've read that in this painting that Melendez put down two layers of red so perhaps I'm getting a good start. I guess it's quite common with oil painting to begin with a base layer or a grisaille rather than a blaring white surface. You can see here how I use one panel for two paintings. (The tomatoes and melon paintings are on my other panel.) This picture doesn't do the sienna layer justice. It's really so luscious that it looks good enough to eat.

Here's Bohemian Green Earth mulled and in the process of being tubed. I want a warmer green that the  Nicosia Green Earth. This pigment is a very fine grind and requires a lot of mulling.

I also want a warmer yellow and this Gold Ochre looks good.

These three paints just seem to feel right together and will, along with Flake White, probably form my palette.

Tomorrow I will transfer the image and rough in the shapes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Cornell Course

Cornell is offering a new course and I'm registered! Botanical Illustration 3: Advanced Techniques. We'll be touching upon lots of media--pencil, charcoal, chalk, pastel, colored pencil. Exciting! See the full syllabus for all the details.

Here's the full list of Cornell's online horticultural courses. Check out the Botanical Illustration 1 course for an image of one of my drawings from that course.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back to the brush

Just couple of hours work here this evening to try shaping up this piece. The two tomatoes on the right have received more attention right along and it shows. I dropped in form with Nicosia Green Earth, surprised by how well it worked. Highlights are white with Lemon Ochre but they look stark white, leading me to try a yellower mix next time. Also need to work on grounding the fruit as right now they look like they are floating about.

I have three Melendez copy practices in various states of completion and I really want to start a fourth with apricots.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Yesterday I spent some time in the produce section of the market, particularly in the exotic fruit section. I came across this beautiful Hachiya and just had to bring it home for study. More to come!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Oil Cleanup

I've had some difficulties with oil separation, particularly with Lemon Ochre and Ercolano Red. I had an inkling that I might experience this as Natural Pigments grinds their pigments with linseed oil only. That is, no additives at all. From what I can gather, every other oil paint producer at the very least includes aluminum stearate to eliminate paint/oil separation. As an experiment, I've squeezed out a little less the half of each 50 ml tube, left behind any puddly oil, mixed with a palette knife, and loaded into 20 ml tubes.

I must note with emphasis that I am in no way complaining here. It's just the way it is. These paints are meant to simulate conditions that existed in the time of the Old Masters. Please see this Natural Pigments document for details. I am using these pigments for the pure pleasure and excitement of exploring times of old. There is lots more cool stuff from this period that I'm getting up to speed on, stuff that'll be coming out soon enough, especially now that this ratty old cold is finally slipping away!

Over time, will these new tubes display separation? If so, how long will it take to separate? We will find out!

Free oil in the Lemon Ochre.

Free oil leaked from this closed tube.

Ercolano Red mixed and ready for tubing.

All tubed up and ready to go.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm a daily poster but this cold has knocked the stuffing out of me. I think I'm finally on the mend and soon to be back to my regular antics.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just a little bit

Not really thrilled with where this is going so I didn't do too much with the melon and cleaned up the pears instead. This darned cold won't let go and so my mind's not very sharp--not a proper time to experiment!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I feel like a melon

This melon is slow going. Once it's all in place I plan to glaze in the form. I'm wondering what might have best for underpainting, as well as if I should have varied the webbing color to match form. Before or after with the form building, that is the question. Another thing is I can't tell if Melendez used impasto here. I will be looking closely at this painting when I visit the MFA.


Well, I just couldn't leave it partly complete. I'd have to wait another day before glazing.

1:30 am

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back to copy work

After a couple of down days with a nasty cold, I'm back to my copy studies. This evening was about filling in and a bit of form building. I'm experimenting with how to handle the melon's webbing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lazurite Pigment

Common Name: Lazurite
Alternate Names: Lapis Lazuli, Ultramarine
Color Index: PB29 (77007)
Composition: Na3CaAl3Si3O12S
Specific Gravity: 2.34
Refractive Index: 1.50
Particle Size: ?
Natural Inorganic
ASTM Lightfastness: I
Opacity: Transparent

Lazurite is a mineral of the rock Lapis Lazuli, other minerals being calcite and pyrite. I'm familiar with Lapis from my gemology studies, the finest quality grading out with no visible calcite or pyrite, just a deep rich blue. (Personally, I preferr to see pyrite veining even if the costliest, the rarest, is without.) It's common in the trade for lapis to be dyed, detectable by swabbing with acetone. Sometimes it is not even lazurite, but a simulation of dyed sodalite.

I was completely stunned to discover that the Ultramarine we commonly know of in our paints (with the exception of the very few paints that use natural lazurite, like Natural Pigments) is a true synthetic! Coloration can vary with differing amounts of sulphur but it's the real deal!

From The Craftman's Handbook written in 15th century Florence by Cennini Cennini, and translated by Daniel V. Thompson:
Ultramarine blue is a color illustrious, beautiful, and most perfect, beyond all other colors; one could not say anything about it, or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass. And, because of its excellence, I want to discuss it at length, and to show you in detail how it is made. And pay close attention to this, for you will gain great honor and service from it. And let some of that color, combined with gold, which adorns all the works of our profession, whether on wall or panel, shine forth in every object.

(If this piques your interest, the text that follows this quote continues on page 37.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

New Books!

A few books arrived today, two inspired by the cloth in my Melendez copy practice, the last by my growing interest in Renaissance artists and materials. A couple of these books have portions online with Google, links provided in case you'd like to take a peek:

The drapery books are interesting and inspiring, and I'm already paying more attention to pulls and folds.

And then there is this sweet book I just ran across, most of it online here: The Artistic Anatomy of Trees and for offline use a PDF download.

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. 
~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Botanical class ends

I thought I'd show you the results of today's last botanical class. Sarah had me work on the beet and spinach leaves, fixing up color and adding form. All these little sections of leaves can be broken out as spheres or ovals or other individual shapes and the form turned on each. At the end of today's class we all placed our works out for review. My beet leaf was a hit! :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back to the oils

As I question if I have bitten off more than I can chew, I settle into just one object and try to bring it along a bit. Then move on to another. Piece by piece, I am learning a good deal about modeling in color. Just what color is that shadow? How does that color change as the form turns through shadow into local color into highlight? Try to notice all the gradations on the way.

And as I gain a bit of satisfaction as form develops, only to sigh as I see errors or more detail, it's all a dance of learning and I love it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Break From Oils

I missed last week's botanical art class and Wednesday is to be the last class. I've been so wrapped up in oils that I've disregarded my botanical work. This evening I went in and added work to each leaf as the goal of this class was to complete this exercise. More on the class after it wraps up.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Color Swatches

Here's the MFA's Melendez image where I've sampled colors and build swatches. Lot of surprises! Didn't realize how wide could be the tonal range with the cloth and melon. That the cloth shadows are so warm. That front pear is so much more yellow than green. The red on the pears is a lower chroma than I'd expect.

It makes me think that I can model in the melon with a considerable range of tone before working in the webbing.

Another thing... I can try mixing colors with my small set of paints prior to actually painting.

This image was created using Photoshop CS5. If you'd like to know how it was done, drop me a note. It's not really difficult, just a bit tedious. Next time I'll make the swatches larger. Click the image for an easier to see view.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

And a wee bit more

A few hours late last night and another hour today fills in most of the painting and begins a bit of modeling. That's all for this evening--playing out at a party. Happy Birthday, Bob!  :-)

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Third Practice Piece

I'm experimenting with stand oil with the pears; it may take days to dry. So in the meantime, there's a piece I'd like to make into a larger project. The MFA Boston has this Melendez on display and what could be better than to see an actual painting? When I visit I will try to get good reference  photographs.

In the meantime, I'm working on a portion of this painting from a closeup in the Melendez book. Although my painting is 11.5 inches high, the actual painting is about twice that size. I plan to make my final painting full size.

Here's about 5 hours work starting from transfer. I'll take a break now and then go back in for more.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Copy Practice Pears

I fell back to some work on the pears. That background is actually a large melon with a string wrapping. More string to come.

From Luis Melendez Master of the Spanish Still Life:
The melon is wrapped with a string ending in a looped handle and tied to the stem, indicating that it was hung up high and stored away from the heat and damp of summer for preservation over the winter months.
I'm picking up new tricks all the time. This evening I learned to turn form with subtle mixes with white. There is little to no real white in most Old Master paintings. Some artists will mix a "string" of a color with different values, having the set ready to build convincing form.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Copy Work

This work can be addicting! I was up almost all night on this one and the pears.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More Practice

I started a second practice copy to have a few in the queue. This is good in case something needs a lot of drying or I get into ambitious day.

My red is off, more looking more like a pumpkin. I may have to grind up something or other to reach those truer reds.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Copy Practice

I'm beginning to copy sections of Old Masters paintings in oils. I really like Luis Melendez still lifes and I'm working from close up photos in the book from yesterday's post. 11" x 8.5". I'll be refining this painting while working on a few more.

A portion of Still Life with Pears, Melons. Cask, and Plates with Fish.
Luis Melendez. 1764.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A New Book

This book recently arrived. Melendez is one of my favorites and it was a real treat to take in the MFA's Melendez exhibit back in March 2010. I'll be checking this out to select a practice painting. (Setting up acrylic panels this evening.)

The exhibition is over and I picked up my paintings. Sales were few and far between. Still, it was a great experience, meeting lots of nice folks and having the opportunity to hang out in a gallery with a bunch of artists. Cool! :-)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hughes Donahue Exhibition Open

I had a great time at the exhibition opening, meeting some interesting and talented artists and chatting it up with attendees. Many were interested in egg tempera, giving me the opportunity to talk on and on with one of my favorite subjects. The hours flew by!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Oak Leaf in Oil

Here's a quick one in oils. This medium is so different! The paint is available for mixing right on the support, for hours. I learned a bit about smoothing with a fan brush. Tried mixing paint with oil to lighten consistency. Began working with a brush for each paint. I'm putting in hours with oil paint instruction on YouTube. It's an awesome resource. Only thing is that I feel like I'm painting while wearing mittens! :-)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaf Awareness

I have of late often received the counsel to look closely at leaves. It came up in a few ASBA Conference presentations and again in my botanical class. The class was visited by a few waves of visiting children and Sarah did a fine job of raising awareness on the diversity of leaves. More that once a kid hung out to my side, asking a few questions. My question back was "Hey, you must be an artist?" The answer was always yes. We'd then get down to tool talk--media, subjects, etc...

Leaf awareness came back to me today while shopping in the produce section. All the colors! Kale's blue-green and celery's yellow-green. Beets, lettuces, collards, and on it goes. A flurry of blurred greens fading one into the other.

And while lugging my groceries indoors I was again caught up with fallen leaves--oaks and maples and crabapples and all those I still can't identify! Like the examples below, I am scanning leaves for subjects for when the snow is flying. This one might make it into egg tempera and oils.

Scan cover down to flatten leaf for detail.

Scan cover up to capture dimensionality.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Back To School

Things have been hectic around here lately but I am still participating in my botanical art course. Two more classes to go! There was no class last week with the ASBA Conference taking front place. And with distractions of oil paints, an upcoming gallery exhibit, and rehearsals for a birthday party gig (I'm so out of practice), I didn't get to very much homework.

Today's class focused on reds. Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Blue Green Shade, and Raw Sienna made for a color that matched the salad leaf surprisingly well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Oil Experiment

I'm trying to recreate my egg tempera lily painting in oils. Very thin glazes and lead white are drying to touch in less than a day. Except for the lead white, these are all earth colors--Lemon Ochre, Ercolano Red, Nicosia Green Earth, and Cyprus Umber Medium. (All Rublev paints from Natural Pigments.)

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3