Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cleaning brushes

Some days I paint a little, break a little, and repeat. I get used to leaving my brushes out. And then I forget to clean them.

I've put off cleaning the most recent oversight for some time. I tried a soak in Gamsol but nothing doing. Spike oil would cut the dried paint but it's expensive stuff for cleaning brushes.

I heard that Murphy's would work so I put it up against the mighty turpentine, two brushes for each. The turpentine--fast, powerful, and full of toxic warnings--cleared up two brushes in 30 minutes or so. Murphy's took a few hours with its two but achieved the same results as turpentine! I can't find a warning of any kind on this product and its smell reminds me of lemon balm. Its MSDS doesn't seem to show any out of the ordinary cautions.

So unless I'm in a real hurry, and I can't imagine why, it's Murphy's for me! :-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Inspired by an onion

In a painting from a few months back I found joy and frustration. I liked what I was doing with the light but felt some things were wrong. After repeated deconstructions, it became clear that I failed to show enough details, enough clues, to properly identify the sphere as an onion. Now, I didn't want to take this to photorealism or high botanical accuracy but I did want it to read as a vegetable. (I do have other issues to get to with this painting. We'll just take them one by one.)

I realized that if I couldn't properly draw an onion with good detail, how could I model one in paint with a slightly loose style? I don't think "loose" is about painting quickly and willy-nilly but actually a very controlled effect by an artist who know the details and knows how much detail can be left out.

I'm reading "Drawing From Observation" by Brian Curtis. It's bringing me to ponder what I see versus what I think I see. I think this is a fascinating subject and I'll get into more details in upcoming posts as I work further into the book's exercises.

For now, here are a couple of quotes from Chapter 3, Mechanics, that I find intriguing:
"Fluctuating line is the single most crucial element for establishing the overall level of sensitivity in a drawing."

"Every mark that you make needs to be in constant flux to embody the restless energy and tension that underlie the functioning of our biological organism and, more specifically, our perceptual experience."

So for now I am going to freely play with line. And onions. This won't get my onion properly painted today or even next week. But that's okay. There's no rush.

Here's one with a blunted 2B.  Where is my sandpaper...

"A line is a dot that went for a walk." 
                 Paul Klee  1879-1940

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

After a few months of introspection, I think I'm back. More on the details in upcoming posts but for now I'd like to share inspiration by way of my teacher, my mentor. Some time ago she was standing over me and quoted while I worked through an old master design exercise:

"Begin by adorning yourself with these vestments: Love, Reverence, Obedience, and Constancy."

Cennino d'Andrea Cennini 1370-1440

You know those moments when time disappears and your art is really working? That quote reminds me of this.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I have a few pieces on display at Cornell University's Alfred R. Mann Library. Marcia, my instructor for all three botanical art classes, recently brought this exhibit together. It couldn't have been any easier for artists. All I had to do was was place high resolution images into my public Dropbox!

For details on each course, see the links at the top right on my blog.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


After a few weeks of focusing on my first still life, I felt the vacuum upon calling it done. I did have a couple of limited palette charts that needed wrapping up.

In this first chart the center row contains the starting pigments. Columns 1, 4, and 7 are the tubed colors, others being mixed neighbors. Kind of amazing the color range!

Yellow Ochre, Ercolano Red, Ultramarine Blue
Mixed with Vine Black or Titanium White

This second chart is certainly a more subdued version and seeing that I used Vine Black for blue, I left out darkening with black, going only for tints with Titanium White. It might sound odd but I can stare at these charts for the longest time, imaging the worlds that could be built with such a humble set of pigments.

Lemon Ochre, Burnt Umber Reddish, Vine Black
Mixed with Titanium White

In an effort to keep work ahead of me, I started a couple of studies. This first is based on an painting by Adriaen Coorte. Many of his paintings make use of a table top, mostly of stone. I like his warm/cool methods and I'm trying to apply them here. Next I will straighten my edges (they were hand painted, no tapes or tools) and then paint in some sea shells.

Raw Umber Green Dark, Burnt Umber Cyprus Dark

I'd painted this portion of a Luis Melendez painting some time ago. Now I'm retrying it using a method that I am picking up second hand from an artist friend studying in a local atelier. The surface is first coated with Burnt Umber Cypress Dark thinned with OMS. Form is developed by rubbing out with a rag in my hand, a rag over my finger, and a cotton swab. In some cases I have to pick up the brush and reapply pigment. It's really quite thrilling to see an image begin to appear out of the darkness. I wanted to push this further but by 2 AM I was fading and knew this umber would be dry when I woke.

Rub out technique.
Burnt Umber Cyprus Dark

So now I have two pieces in my queue and I'm working on laying out another Melendez copy piece. By the way, I've jumped away from smooth panels--birch plywood, GAC 100, acrylic gesso--and switched to linen. The charts are on linen pads, the paintings on linen panels. Both products are Centurion OP DLX, deluxe oil primed linen. I enjoy the grab of the canvas against my brush and paint. Additionally, the rub out technique needs the linen's texture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My First Still Life

I've been hunkered down with this piece for the past three weeks. I first built a composition with natural light, photographed, and printed out various tonal arrangements to help me set values. With the exception of titanium white and ultramarine blue mixed with burnt umber for the deepest shadow, the oil-based pigments are earths--ochres, umbers and green earth.

After the first week or so I might have stopped. Rather, each evening I'd poke about with new ideas. Curiously, a change in one spot might reverberate calling for updates in other areas. An often felt example was that of making a change on a single clove in that bulb of garlic and how it would disturb the overall form of the bulb. All in all, just a wonderful learning experience.

The surface is very shiny at this point, making it tough to photograph. I took advantage of filtered overcast sky to work around the glare and this photo is reasonably close, albeit with a bit of value and hue shifts.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mycelium Musings

Recent rains seem to be the stimuli for hidden mycelium to fruit. All were found within a fifty foot span.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Around the lake

I've lately been back to my daily explorations around the lake. The heat of summer is waning, nights becoming cooler. Late summer wildflowers presage the glorious fall colors soon to arrive.

Let me kick off this series of visual posts with my favorite "around the lake" spot.

Reflecting Pool

Starling acrobatics

Joe Pye and Goldenrod

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lily Work

The paper support from the previous post just didn't feel satisfying so I brought out one of my new birch plywood panels and transferred the design. I began with a grisaille underpainting and then explored glazing lightly. I was working from a monotone printout posterized down to just four or five values on the lily.

I then mixed strings of yellow into brown--cooler colors for the highlight and halftone; warmer colors for the local color and shadow. I spent a good deal of time standing back up to ten feet or so, working to get the form to read well from a distance.

I'm now going back in, developing detail while holding the overall values in place.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Yellow Day Lilies

I've been on a quest since the yellow day lilies in my yard began flowering. Nearly every day there has been a photo session for reference material. Once I sat out sketching to become more familiar with details. Then I've been out there taking measurements and notes. Lastly came color studies.

A hand mulled yellow, PY154, proved too warm so an order with Kremer supplied a relatively cool PY184. I also mulled up a tube of PG36 to pull any needed green while keeping the chroma high. From my studies with "Yellow and Blue Don't Make Green" as well as Munsell, these pigments  promised to return nice high chroma.

I created this chart to explore the possibilities. Three days work here, phew.

Next I simply wanted to explore getting paint down. Rather than work on design, I selected one of my many photos, cropped, and printed on the b/w laser. I applied one coat of Golden's GAC 100 to the front side only to seal off any oil absorption and began painting on the paper taped to a panel.

This is proving to be a good path for me as I get to explore tone and color in easy fashion. I can make up these printouts in minutes and they feel like wonderful practice.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Panel Making

I've been back to panel making, inspired by recent conversations with Golden technical support. The following took place over the past five days.

Birch plywood now replaces hardboard (masonite). I had a sheet of 3/16th's laying around. In the future I will probably increase thickness as there was a bit of warping with a couple of the panels. Ya, some were just fine and I don't know why.

Birch plywood (3/16")
After cutting to size came a bit of sanding with 100, 150 and 200 grit to round off the edges and corners and a light scuffing with 200 grit over the entire panels.

Rounding edge and corner
I opted to use GAC 100 before applying gesso. I like the idea of isolating the raw support from the gesso. Maybe different woods have varying absorptions? I don't know, but perhaps this helps to take some variables out of the picture.

Golden's GAC 100 dries to a tacky touch. Stack panels and they will stick slightly together, coming apart with a clicky grip. There is no sanding to be done with this stuff. Brings the grain out nicely, doesn't it?

Two coats of Golden GAC 100
In the previous post we found that the new sandable gesso does not need base coats of regular gesso. I still have the old stuff here so needed to firstly apply a couple of coats of "regular" gesso. There was no sanding with these coats.

Two coats of Golden Gesso
My workflow is to lay out the panels and walk them to my painting station one by one. Paint a side and put it back. Once done, restart with the other side. It helps to assure me that I equally coat all sides. The gesso products dry to touch so quickly that I can paint nonstop.

Keeping order
Here are the first two coats of sandable gesso. I experimented with various toning media. Acrylics behaved just as nicely as aqueous dispersions. Wish I would have had a tube of deep dark acrylic. It takes a lot of pigment to pull down that gesso. I now think of it as white paint!

I let these first two layers of sandable gesso dry for a day and then sanded with 150 grit to remove most brush marks. The surface was already quite smooth but I just wanted to knock it down a bit. Must one wait a whole day before sanding? Perhaps an hour or so would be adequate. Not sure...

Toned with Golden Acrylic (left) and toned over with aqueous dispersion (right)
Here I tested dry pigments premixed with water using a palette knife. Although the pigment appeared to be well mixed...

Mixing wetted pigment with Golden Sandable Gesso
When I began applying sandable gesso toned with my mixed pigment I was in for a big surprise. The gesso went on very light with dark streaks. Essentially I was mixing my paint on the support! I considered halting work to properly mull the gesso but kept on, eventually applying two coats front and back to all panels.

It will be well worth my time to try mulling pigment (that is, rather than just mixing with palette knife) and mixing with sandable gesso. I use my dry pigments for many purposes already so why not use them here as well? I thought I'd prefer acrylic in a tube but I'm leaning back to my old friends. (I recently inventoried my pigment collection--over 60 of them!)

Streaking pigments
And here's my results! Tomorrow I will give them a light sanding with 150 grit to level them off. I may go to 200 or higher grit with a few as I begin experimenting with first applications of oil paint.

Final coats drying

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Panel Making

For some time I've been experimenting with panel making to support oil paints. I thought I had a good process down but still had a few questions. As I am using Golden products, I turned to their technical support to help me out.

. . .

Here is my query to Golden Technical Support:
I am making panels for oil painting only--no other media. I begin with masonite which I lightly scuff and then apply two coats of GAC 100, then two coats of Acrylic Gesso and finally a few coats of Sandable Acrylic Gesso. My goal is to achieve a smooth surface and I'm pleased with my initial results.

I do have a few questions that I hope you can answer:

-- For oil painting only, should I still first use GAC 100 or can I start right off with Acrylic Gesso?

-- If I should use GAC 100, would GAC 500 work just as well. (I am interested in the self-leveling property.)

-- Do I need to use Acrylic Gesso before applying Sandable Acrylic Gesso? I seem to remember reading that in one of Golden's guidelines for use but cannot now locate it. From what I can find I do not need to use regular gesso before applying sandable gesso.

-- Can I tone Sandable Acrylic Gesso with dry pigments? I have toned the Sandable Acrylic Gesso with a raw umber aquaeous dispersion from Natural Pigments and that seemed to work well. I later read that Golden recommends toning with acrylic paint. I'd like to be able to use my collection of dry pigments if that is possible.
. . .

And here is Golden's reply:
We are not fans of hardboards, generally speaking. 'Hardboard' is the general term for what used to be called masonite, which was a brand of hardboard, not produced anymore, to my knowledge. Hardboards are made with wood dust and a variety of ways of getting them to stick together. Some use resins, some use polymerized oils, etc. The main issue has to do with moisture sensitivity. We think that either Birch Plywood or MDO Plywood are better choices, and that either of those panels would have better dimensional stability. Having said that, many artists are still using hardboards of various sorts. It is possible that certain types are more stable than others, but we do not have that information.

You do not need to be concerned with SID or support induced discoloration if you are painting with oils, so the GAC 100 or another stain blocking primer is not required for that reason. The other reason for using GAC 100 is to block oil absorption into canvas, but I doubt this is a concern with the hardboard. We still like the idea of some kind of separation or primer, and you could use a commercially available one such as Kilz, in either the alkyd or water borne variety, or you could use GAC 100. The newly re-formulated SHG does not require a coat of Gesso first, so you can apply it directly over the GAC 100 ( or 500 if you like, in this instance ), or commercial stain blocking primer.

Yes, assuming you can get the dry pigments to disperse well, you can use small amounts to tint the SHG. Too much may make the mixture have a higher propensity to crack or craze upon drying. The reason we recommend acrylic paints is because dry pigments tend to clump and it is difficult to get then dispersed and homogenized in the material, without using a paint mill or special mixing machine. But, if you feel it is working for you, then by all means go ahead.

Our Sandable Hard Gesso tech sheet is found when you put your cursor over 'Products", then click on 'Gessos and Grounds'. Here it is:

I hope this information is helpful, and if you have more questions, please don't hesitate to call or email.
. . .

My follow-up responses:
I finally found the reference to first applying regular gesso before sandable--right on the label. So for now I'll stay with my process until I pick up a new jar of sandable gesso.

I hear you on the dry pigments. I suppose I could try to premix pigment with gesso using a palette knife or muller on my grinding glass but I'd be going against the quick drying nature of the gesso. All this instead of a little squeeze of acrylic paint...
. . .

I'll be documenting my adjusted panel making in a later post. I have plywood to cut and a proper color of acrylic paint to select. I've learned that even with an established process, it must be revisited to keep up with product changes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A little more work

Some time ago I wanted to compare the relative yellowness of various oils. Additionally, I duplicated the comparison so as to keep one in sunlight, the other darkened. While building these samples I really didn't pay attention to the thickness of applied oils, making my test a bit skewed. But, the difference between light and dark is more significant than I would have imagined.

After a good start over a week ago, I'd slipped away from my brushes. At this point I'm simply blocking in with minimal form and detail.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Back to copy work

I've been in a painting slump, some charts and mulling and such but without any real painting. I was recently lucky enough to be called out on this by a couple of dear friends, both who know that discipline leads to accomplishment. In that spirit, I've turned back to Old Master copy/study work.

I'm working with Meléndez's Still Life with Oranges, Honey Pots and Boxes of Sweets.

Still Life with Oranges, Honey Pots and Boxes of Sweets
Luis Mel
A scan from the book "Luis Mel
éndez Master of the Spanish Still Life"

Yesterday I began by trimming a masonite panel. The original painting is 19" tall but I scaled it down slightly to fit an 18" panel. I applied Golden's GAC 100, Gesso and finally Sandable Gesso toned with an umber aqueous dispersion. I like starting with a toned surface and the sandable gesso allows me to work up a reasonably smooth finish.

Here I've dropped in a background of ultramarine and burnt umber for a rich black and set initial values for the table. Working on a toned surface allowed me to use titanium dioxide Saral. I find it applies much easier than the graphite Saral.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Exploring PR264

I've been checking out my newly mulled Irgazine Ruby. I tried stringing out the pigment with Lead White and Raw Umber Dark. For previous charts I've created lower values with black but recently read that dark umbers might pull less of a hue shift with yellows, oranges and reds.

I used a heavily umber-laden mix for those deep shadows in the rose petals. I also applied lots of glazing as well, finding real joy in slowly laying in transparent glazes of studio oil mixed with aged linseed. This might be too fat a medium and I'll be looking into glazing recipes. It's all new to me at this point.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Extending my palette

I am taking the leap into a few high chroma pigments in oil. It's not that I need an intensely high chroma color but that I want a higher chroma's ability to mix into an extended range of colors. To that end I first tubed up Viridian, a lovely blue-leaning transparent green.

Next I mulled Ultramarine Blue. My usual procedure is to first mix oil and pigment on a glass grinding plate with a palette knife. Once the materials combine I turn to the muller. With this pigment, mulling caused the paint to become runny. You can see that effect here--the pile on the left is palette knife mixed whereas the pile on the right has been subsequently mulled. I then went back and added dry pigment to firm up the mix.

According to what I've read, Ultramarine Blue is often allowed to "sweat", that is to let rest for a week or two as it again softens up. More pigment is added and remulled. This process may continue for more than one round to fully develop this paint. I have my mix in a cat food can sealed with plastic wrap, which I'll check back on in a few days.

Here's a batch Irgazine Scarlet PR255 underway. This pigment is documented as having a granular nature that requires extra breaking down with the muller and that was experienced here. I had to apply extra pressure on the muller to quicken the breakup of obvious clumps.

I forgot to grab a picture before tubing but the scraped palette still shows the intense cool red of this Irgazine Ruby PR264. Makes me think I have the beginnings of a split primary palette.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Have you seen this recent ArtPlantae Today article? Congratulations to my friend Valerie Littlewood! Her work as an artist, designer and educator comes together naturally as she entertains and educates us in the ways of bees and their ecological importance.

I first discovered Val's work with her leaf a day botanical illustrations from Leu Gardens in Orlando. See her past and recent work on the wonderful Pencil and Leaf blog.

Again, congratulations Val for well deserved recognition as ArtPlantae's featured guest artist!

p.s. Her cards, prints, book and original artwork available via the Waving Bee Press site.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Linseed and hardwood floors

Oh so many years ago I stained and polyurethaned my hardwood floor. Last year I stripped the remaining finish and prepped to refinish with water-based polyurethane. Alas, in my procastinating and flighty habits, I never did get to this.

I've opted to refinish instead with boiled linseed oil. What a joy! I can do a bit at a time and I couldn't be more pleased with the results. Note that this is not the linseed oil we paint with. The oil is heated to polymerize and oxidize and there may also be metallic dryers. There will still be a second and possibly a third coat.

Here's a look at the floor with a light sanding prior to oiling.

The oil has been applied and is soaking in.

And here's the final look after two rubbings.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yard Critters

This clump of blackberries is well visited by bees. Perhaps because I'm reading about Vermeer, I'm trying to work with natural light instead of my macro flash unit. Depth of field drops off dramatically but I like the softness of natural light, particularly when the sky is cloudy.

The rhodys are in bloom. Each year they are loaded with bees and this is the first time I watch closely enough to see that the bees are feeding from a crease surrounded by rusty colored dots.

Ants here are feasting on the surface of peony buds. From The Heartland Peony Society's FAQ:
"Do not try to get rid of the ants on your peonies. This is a natural and temporary activity. It is believed that peonies produce small amounts of nectar and other ant attractants to encourage ants to help in opening the dense double flower buds found in many peonies. The ants may be found covering certain varieties and avoiding others, this is totally normal.

"Once the buds have opened the ants will disappear - also normal."