Friday, August 28, 2009

watercolor painting outdoors

Michigan artist Jim Johnson:

Viewers often comment that his watercolor paintings “sparkle,” an effect he gets through his practice of leaving bits of white paper showing between large and small areas of color. The strong draftsmanship and crisp value contrasts create a fresh effect that does indeed seem to sparkle. To round out the overall effect of his paintings, Johnson varies the size and direction of his brushstrokes, adding texture and an impressionistic look to his artwork.

“For me, a plein air painting records an event, a treasured memory, and a particular moment in time with its unique light, mood, and color,” he says. “To achieve this, I always try to capture my very first impression of a scene. These first strokes can be the most exciting part of the painting process, and my goal is to have that excitement clearly visible in the finished piece.”

"Most of the time Johnson uses a primary three-color palette. Alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light, and cobalt blue are his favorite choices, and these basic colors can be intermixed to create almost any desired hue, warm or cool. He will on occasion add other colors if needed."

"First, he works up value sketches to set the light-dark pattern and investigate the basic shapes in the scene. Next, he develops the shapes into patterns that create a solid composition. Then he executes a color study, paying careful attention to color temperature."*

"...130-lb Strathmore 400 Series paper, which has just enough tooth for his style of painting. He continues to experiment with other papers but keeps coming back to the Strathmore. “It holds the color longer, giving me time to work the wet pigments without staining the paper,” Johnson says. The artist prefers modern synthetic brushes, feeling that they retain their original shape better than traditional sable brushes. He generally uses only the best tube watercolors because of their intense hues, but Johnson sometimes experiments with student-grade paints."


With preliminary sketches at hand, he begins by squeezing dabs of alizarin crimson, cobalt blue, and cadmium yellow light at equidistant points on his porcelain-coated butcher’s tray. In the middle of the tray Johnson makes a puddle of clear water and creates a “river” of water with his brush that connects the puddle to the red dab. He then makes two other rivers connecting the blue and yellow dabs to the puddle. The colors are allowed to swirl and run together randomly. He then mixes darker versions of the mixtures. “At that exciting moment one knows whether or not he or she is destined to be a watercolor painter,” he says. “As I see the endless variety of color possibilities forming on the tray, I am ready to paint.”

As a final suggestion, Johnson recommends the careful use of a combination of hard and soft edges. This will keep the various shapes from becoming too sharp and having the appearance of being cut out and pasted on a background. Soft edges will connect a large shape to a background, making it recede. Edges—hard and soft, lost and found—can control the viewer’s eye movement and give a painting a sense of mystery and mood.

* 1. Analyze Values First
When painting en plein air, time becomes crucial. The light is constantly changing, so it’s important to quickly identify the light source, analyze shadows, and establish a value pattern. This becomes the basic structure of the piece. Shapes and values are the most important elements of a painting.

Translate the objects that you see into major areas of three gray values—light, medium, and dark. Squinting helps to simplify forms and eliminate extraneous detail, allowing you to visualize the scene reduced to simple patterns of shapes in these three values. Execute a small value study, using the white of the paper to represent a fourth value if desired.

2. Develop Shape Patterns Into a Composition
Connect the various shapes together to form both simple and complex patterns. Choose a center of interest. Then, direct the viewer’s eye through the painting as desired by grouping shapes. Remember, having a variety of shapes adds interest and balance to a composition. Don’t be afraid to change or eliminate objects or detail.

3. Work Up a Color Plan
A small color study can be very helpful, especially for complex subjects. Assign colors to the pattern of shapes, keeping in mind the value structure you established. Color choice can be true to the scene or interpreted more freely and creatively. Note the effect that warm and cool colors have on each other—remember that warm colors tend to come forward, whereas cool colors recede. Also, warm light creates cool shadows; cool light can result in warm shadows.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rebecca Alzofon

" Pompeii red, which she describes as 'an incredibly hot red-orange,' is helpful to turn forms at the edges and provides the local color often found in the fingers, toes, knees, elbows, and occasionally the lips."

"...Naples yellow [is] useful for making flesh tones advance or to increase illumination."

"...the artist defines her outlines slowly and carefully, aware that some of these lines, especially those around the fingers and toes, might appear in the final painting."

" The next step is basically a replay of the last, but using different colors. Alzofon compares the process to layering gauze. As she applies additional layers, the colors become more opaque, and there is a greater saturation of tints that gives the hues a more luminous appearance. This technique also produces a subtle interplay of colors filtering up from layers below--a look, the artist says, that could never be created with one swipe of color."

" The artist uses glazes to merge areas and help certain areas recede. For instance, in Young Woman Overlooking Silicon Valley, she used glazing to make the eye cavity recede, push the cheek back into the hair, unify the hair, and create the folds in the neck. Scumbling softened the face and created a slight motion blur that made the model look less static."

" Indicating the shoulder of the girl on the left in The Simons Children, Alzofon used an outline with an inward notch to pop the arm out from the chair and give it volume. 'I don't hide the fact that this is a line,' she says, noting that she learned this technique from looking at paintings by Rubens."

Her materials list

Raw Umber, opaque: Gamblin, Williamsburg, Winsor Newton, Utrecht, or Daniel Smith
Raw Umber, transparent: Old Holland
White, flake or cremnitz

Venetian Red:
     Williamsburg Rosso Veneto is natural, original Venetian Red rather than 'synthetic' iron oxide (all others)
     Old Holland--nice
     WN, Gamblin--a little orange
Terre Verte: Williamsburg Earth Terra Verte--bluish green
FW acrylic drawing ink: antelope brown/black/red earth

all above, plus:
Williamsburg Pompeii Red
Old Holland Deep Ochre
Williamsburg Bohemian Green Earth OR Old Holland Olive Green Dark
Ivory Black: any brand
Burnt Sienna: any brand
Raw Sienna: any brand

IV. additional color needs due to clothing/backdrops
all above, plus:
Williamsburg Cadmium Red Vermillion
Williamsburg perylene crimson, or any brand alizarin crimson
Cadmium yellow light: any brand
Pthalo Green bluish: any brand
Ultramarine Blue, any brand

V. additional color needs for special flesh tones:
Williamsburg Cobalt Teal
Williamsburg Ultramarine Pink
Williamsburg Green Ochre (Italian Earth Series)
Williamsburg Brown Ochre (Italian Earth Series)
Williamsburg Red Ochre

(see site for materials lists for advanced drawing and ink drawing classes)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Andrea J Smith, Atelier Canova:

"Many of the best classically trained artists admit they are not as skilled at working with color as they are with drawing and value painting. Smith made up for that deficiency as a student by spending a great deal of time learning to evaluate various oil colors and how they might be combined to make a full range of harmonious colors. “I developed my own way of working with a limited palette of colors, and now that is one of the distinctive aspects of my workshops and classes,” Smith says. “I spend a lot of time helping people understand how to use a few tube colors in order to prepare a full range of secondary and tertiary colors that are appropriate for whatever subject they select. I encourage them to premix small amounts of the colors as needed before they begin each painting session. This is the process I follow when I paint, and it is the same one I use for still lifes, figures, landscape, and portraits.”
2007, oil, 14 x 14. Private collection.
Participants in Smith’s classes are introduced to color theory through a quick sketch to help them understand how to use a limited palette of colors. The instructor also works alongside them and stays one step ahead by giving a formal demonstration each morning. “Some of the most basic techniques are explained during these demonstrations, such as the differences between opaque and transparent colors,” Smith explains.
The specific limited palette Smith recommends includes lead white, yellow ochre, English red or Indian red, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, and ivory black. “These colors can be intermixed to create warm and cool versions of the needed colors,” she explains. “For example, students can make a beautiful green by combining yellow ochre with either ivory black or cobalt blue. An extended palette of colors that might be used for a complicated still life or landscape painting would have the addition of cadmium yellow, Indian yellow, vermilion, cerulean, or viridian.” The brands of paint Smith uses include Michael Harding, Old Holland, and Robert Doak. The medium she recommends is produced by Robert Doak in Brooklyn and is a combination of turpentine, sun-thickened walnut oil, and balsam."
Limited palette:
  • lead white,
  • yellow ochre,
  • English red or Indian red,
  • cobalt blue,
  • alizarin crimson, and
  • ivory black
optional 'expansion pack' for landscape:
  • cadmium yellow,
  • Indian yellow,
  • vermilion,
  • cerulean
  • viridian

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flesh II

John De La Vega:

For fair light skin tones, especially in the lighter areas, I DO NOT recommend using any of the Cad Reds, including Vermillion. The reason is that the Cads do not really mix well with white. The cads are great as modifiers in those subtle mixtures for transition areas where the form / light changes very delicately, on the smallish planes, and for glazes and feathery scumbles (ah, transitions and edges, one of the main themes of my next book, which I seem to be writing right here).

Nothing wrong with a base of some yellow and some red for the light skin which we can then modify at will depending upon illumination, skin color, etc. The red I use is Rose, and the yellow I use is Naples Deep. A delightful, smiling woman in one of my last workshops said "I only use Rose when I paint flowers'. Rose and Naples, of course, already have some white in them, and they mix beautifully together and with white and other yellows and reds, as long as they are together to begin with. As anybody who paints knows, mixing goes on constantly. The trick is to keep color clean by smart and controlled mixing strategies. Best Rose: Old Holland Schveningen Rose Deep (expensive). Best Naples Yellow Deep (you guessed it): Old Holland (not expensive). A beautiful, not expensive Rose is Rowney Rose, made by Daler-Rowney. Unless you happen to be painting in Bangladesh, and ran out of Old Holland Naples Deep, why not use the best?

I also DO NOT recommend the use of Burnt Umber, or any browns for that matter (with the exception of Burnt Sienna, judiciously), on ANY part of the skin, including shadows. Even in those 'dead' shadows and 'dead' middle tones (if there is such a thing, which I suppose depends on the blimey light or, our capacity to see how light creates movement and vibration even in the shadows), using browns such as Burnt Umber is a recipe to end up with Henry's worst mud.

We should also remember that 'painting what we see' in the way of color is NOT always the best artistic strategy, no matter how realistically we wish to paint, especially in the first stages of the painting. One of the most important things I learned from the great Nelson Shanks is "Start Bright! (high chroma, even on the garish side)". As subtle modeling and refining progresses, color will find its way to reality, if 'local' color, vibrant or dull, is what you're intent on seeing and painting

I mix my browns with Rose, Alizarin (or Carmin Lake, a better Old Holland Alizarin) and bright or not so bright yellowish Greens, even an occasional smidget of Ultramarine, Cobalt, Magenta (I highly recommend Maimieri Puro Verzino Violet, a fabulous, rich, inexpensive Magenta ), or Dioxazine Mauve, adding cads and other reds as needed, for maximum VIBRANCY in the shadows. If there is a formula for color, whether on flesh, an apple, or a sunset, the recipe is simple:


VIBRATION is, after all, in the very nature of light and, come to think of it, in the very nature of form itself(eternal dance of the atoms and molecules). Nobody understood this better than the Impressionists. They changed our vision and how we deal with color as painters and art lovers forever.

Next chapter: Ah, those middle tones! or, as my friend and fellow Sorolla lover the late Adrian Hernandez, a wonderful pastellist, once remarked as he looked at one of my pastels: "How to you make those darn things (the middle tones) look light and dark at the same time?"

Fair Skin Light Areas = Reddish Whites or Yellowish Whites.
Red = Rose (Old Holland Schveningen Rose Deep or Daler-Rowney Rowney Rose)
Yellow = Naples Yellow Deep (Old Holland Naples Yellow Deep)

Mix browns from Reds + Greens/Blues/Magenta--NOT Burnt Umber!
(judicious use of Burnt Sienna okay)

Fair Skin Shadow Areas = Reds + Yellowish Greens + Blue/Purple as needed
Old Holland Schveningen Rose Deep
Alizarin Crimson (Old Holland Crimson Lake)
Old Holland Carmine Lake (better Alizarin)
yellowish greens
Magenta (Maimieri Puro Verzino Violet; OH Magenta)
Old Holland Dioxazine Mauve (or less-$ dioxazine purple)

Old Holland Schveningen Rose Deep
Old Holland Naples Yellow Deep
Old Holland Carmine Lake
Maimieri Puro Verzino Violet


John de la Vega:

flesh tones:

Don't eliminate cad orange, just keep it on the palette for one of its roles: in the flesh, as a "brightening / warming modifier". Ultramarine is the best blue modifier for the flesh (which you appear to use), but of course, as everything else, it has to be observed and mixed carefully in total context with the color of the light on the form.

Your 'orangy skin' on the painting doesn't bother me at all precisely because of the light context, even if, strictly speaking, it's not 100% 'true' to (yes, Karin, I got it) 'Caucasian baby skin' in that PARTICULAR lighting situation. But it's close enough, in my view, to be perfectly acceptable.

You may also try Grumbacher Pre-tested Cobalt Rose (Cobalt Violet Light), that's how the color is designated, a very weak light reddish purple that mixes wonderfully with, say, the Old Holland Naples Yellow Deep (a must for the flesh) to give you exquisite flesh tones with just the right amount of cool.

Ultramarine Blue
Old Holland Naples Yellow Deep
Grumbacher Pre-tested Cobalt Rose

Flesh Tones

Flesh Tones

Alia El-Bermani:

In one of the previous posts I mentioned the colors I place on my palette, but I didn't say how I mix them. As a reminder, here are the usual colors on my palette in the order placed counter clockwise on my palette (note this time my white is different from the Flemish White previously mentioned, and unless otherwise noted, all colors are manufactured by Old Holland):

Lead White with Mica (purchased from Robert Doak),
Green Earth,
Lead Tin Yellow, (Robert Doak)
Yellow Ochre,
Raw Sienna,
Burnt Sienna,
Manganese Violet,
Raw Umber,
Burnt Umber,
Cobalt Blue

(occasionally I will add Cad-Red Medium, Olive Green, or Vine Black)

So off to the mixing... I use a palette knife to pre-mix my flesh tone starting with a mid-color-value. That approximately consists of 1 part Raw Sienna, 1 part Yellow Ochre, 1/2 to 1/4 part Burnt Sienna (depending on the ruddiness of the model). Without cleaning my knife I then start making tints of this by adding white to separate pools of this mid mixture. I also then add Green Earth to this mid mixture to aid in neutralizing some areas (bottom left mixture). I then clean off my knife and start my shades. Again, using the mid mixture, I add about 1 part Manganese Violet (for warm shadow masses), then the next puddle is that plus about 1/2 part Raw Umber. The next puddle is that mixture plus a tiny bit of Cobalt Blue and then the last puddle is that mix plus white. This also gives me a cooler neutralizer which doesn't affect value in the mid to light areas (as much as if I were to use the darkest puddle). These pre-mixed puddles act as a starting point. Once I get into the painting, I often add colors to these mixes using my brush. I find having these puddles at the ready speeds up my process greatly. It also gives the painting good color unity. The Lead-Tin Yellow is a really strong beast but is a clean yellow which I can add a tiny amount to my light flesh tones if needed. I use Vermillion in the same way.

And voila... now go to it and see what you can do!

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