Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shopping for Oils? Read the Labels.

Experimenting with  my Flats (Filbert) Brushes # 4 and 8. A light, flat-out stroke made
with brush held with the long handle extended, turned and twisted and drybrushed itself into this "doodle.
I was also experimenting with a palette limited to two colors and black and white ala Zorn. 
But before you do, do know your brushes. Flats, #1, 5 and 8, are on the list for my Venetian Techniques painting course this Fall. I only own an 8 and what looks like a 4 and a 2--but those were good enough to  let me get a freeforall feel for Filberts,
before sizing up the quality of the paints in my box.

They were poor according to Michael Wilcox, founder of The School of Colour and author of The Artist's Guide to Selecting Colours, a book highly recommended by Richard Schmid.  My mistake was I never, ever, turned the tube over and read the label. Why would I?  I had no clue as to what those numbers meant.  I just wanted the color, I wanted.  I was an uninformed shopper. No more.

Enlarge this photo and you might be able to read the information that's important before selecting a paint. 
M. Graham & Company's label has all the information.  Gamblin's label even has health warnings included.
Dick Blick's label is off side, but has all the necessary info too.  What is confusing to me about these three
paints made by different paintmakers is each company uses a different binder. From Blick to Graham: Safflower oil, Alkali refined linseed oil and Alkali Refined Walnut oil leaving me confused as to what makes one oil better than another?
For my Venetian Technique class, I bought Gamlin paints based on  knowing linseed oil has been used for centuries--but
then I have also heard it yellows with time?  Maybe that's where Alkali refined makes the difference? I also have used it before and like its consistency and the way it comes out of the tube.

As the chemistry of painting grounds affects the longevity and the look of our work, so does the chemistry of our paint.  I don't know about you, but I was a C student in high school chemistry. At that time in my life, I didn't know that any chemistry interested me. After years spent in architectural design and construction, I realize that I am as interested in the sound construction of a painting, as I was in the sound construction of homes.  I believe structures of paint or wood and brick should be soundly built from the ground up or clients get mad at you.

In the beginning, I bought these mediums to try.
Now, I don't know.
 I am interested in grounds that receive the paint well and allow for the correction of errors.  I am  interested in paints that don't  fade or darken even if the painting is hung outdoors in brilliant sunlight. I appreciate  paint that doesn't crack and fall off the canvas with changes in humidity and  the expansion and contraction of wood surfaces and stretcher bars that are affected. Paint that refuses to come out of the tube without an assist from a tube wringer or gushes out with a lot of oily filler that oozes all over the palette makes me moan and groan.  I want paintings that will last in good condition for decades--if not centuries. It has nothing to d with dreams of immortality; it has to do with excellent craftsmanship and satisfied patrons.  Wilcox's book, a short afternoon's read, discusses the chemistry of modern manufactured oils, watercolors, acrylics, gouache and alkyds,

We all know by now how  unstable Alizarin Crimson is so we've been buying the tube marked "Permanent."  But how permanent is it?  Do we really know the paintmaker corrected the chemistry and didn't just add the word to make us feel more secure so we'll keep stocking up? We don't--not unless we understand the writing on the back of the tube.  Wilcox, a chemist, doesn't like any of the Alizarins. He prefers the much more stable chemistry of Quinacredone violet and red. He has other preferences too in the other color families and tells you the science of each one and why he recommends one color over another.

Where once I stared out the window of my chemistry class bored to death, familiarizing myself with the science of color (light) and paint grabs my interests. I am spending way too much money on paint to buy junk.  Now, what about those painting mediums?  Both Schmid and Wilcox say use the paint right out of the tube and don't mix it with anything.

All of us would love to shave our painting costs down by buying "Student Quality" paints, but
our ego says, "NO. NO. NO! Artist is who I am and 'Artist Quality' is what I'll buy." Well,
we don't have to spend artist quality prices for all of our colors. Shouldn't we know which
pigments are made the same way?  Wilcox's guide is an eye opener.


Friday, August 15, 2014


IN PROGRESS: Van EElees, oil, 16" x 8"

The cone flowers died. Shoes never die. I save them forever thinking, "One day maybe....?"  Paint what you love.  I love shoes as much as I love flowers falling as they may on the still life pedestal I've set up between the two easels in my studio in an effort to paint from life when plein air is out of the question due to rain or laziness.

Shoes are fun, but challenging as a subject!  I never was easy on myself--and I always loved colors  in a multitude of values all mixed up. This is as far as I got. It's a complex composition, the kind that  isn't knocked out in a day.  Edges, a steady hand and accurate drawing are key. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shaking Loose of Schmid

Cone Flowers, Oils, 15" x 8"
Up till this morning, I couldn't think of anything to paint. I didn't even feel like painting. I was over-read. I felt guilty having not painted. I decided to shake myself loose by painting from life, something I very rarely do and should do more.  I went out to the yard, cut a bunch of cone flowers, made a makeshift still life set up high enough to see eye to eye, and painted with the colors I had on my palette. They were left over from my experiments the last week with Zorn's limited palette of Yellow Ochre, Alizarin, Titanium and Ivory Black plus my own, which were the three primaries. Enough experimentation had gone on. Enough reading Schmid had gone on. It was time to shut the books and just paint.

I should know by now that too much looking at art and reading about art tends to cripple me.  But every now and then I forget. It'll probably happen again, but after today's Cone Flowers, I'm free.

FYI: Cone flowers, out-of-water, die in front of your eyes.  In water, in a vase, they live for weeks.