Sunflowers in Old Crock

Sunflowers in Found Crock, oil on linen panel, 8x8 in

Sunflowers in Found Crock, oil on linen panel, 8×8 in. Click image to enlarge.

I found this wonderful old crock set out on the curb, adorned with a “Free” sign so I carried it home for my “Found Stuff” painting series. One handle had broken off but the owner had thoughtfully placed the pieces inside and I glued it back together. I love the way the flowers are reflected and shadowed on the crock. The painting is available here. Below are photos of the work in progress.

It takes two to paint. One to paint, the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it. William Merrit Chase 

My biggest painting goal is to stop what I call “unauthorized painting” — I finish part of a painting, like it and write my plan for that area: “Don’t touch it!” Later I decide to just do a little “touching up” and the next thing I know I am wishing for a “REWIND” button as I try to wipe off the “unauthorized” paint. Where’s the guy with the axe when I need him? I need to draw him, axe and all, and stick it on my easel!

If you’d like more details about each session’s goals, my thoughts, missteps and corrections, click Autumn Sunflowers and Found Crock (PDF) to open the chart. As promised in my last post, here is a Session Template (click to DOWNLOAD Word file), for anyone who would like to use or modify it to track their own work. I’ll also post it on my Resources Page.


Two Sunflower Survivors with Process Chart

Two Survivors, oil painting of sunflowers and white vase on linen panel, 7x5 in

Two Survivors, oil painting on linen panel, 7×5 in

Persistence, patience, perseverance, determination, curiosity, courage, confidence, wonder…these are all qualities needed to become a better painter. Another essential is learning to really see and understand the subject. I titled this painting (available hereTwo Survivors because only these two survived from the big bouquet during the week I struggled with two previous sunflower “studies” (aka failed paintings). Sometimes it takes a while before the “blinders” fall away so that I can see the shapes, colors, and values instead of the named bits (e.g. petal, leaf, or nose) that interfere with seeing as a painter.

I was inspired by artist Chris Beaven (whose sunflower painting I purchased and love) by his Session Detail charts that he embeds at the end of each post (sample). I modified his chart to create one for myself to focus my goals and intentions for each session and the painting as a whole. Completing  the chart at the end of each painting session with image, results and plans/goals for the next session is making a big difference in my process and helps me avoid random, unfocused messing about with paint.

Below is the chart I used for this painting. If you’d like to see all three session charts for this painting with my notes about goals, composition mistakes and corrections, and corresponding images, click here to open 3-page PDF file.

Session 1 Detail Chart (Click image to enlarge or click PDF link above to see all 3 sessions)

I loved the original painting of the vase in Session 1 above, with wonderful warm highlights and cool shadows created by the new LED lightbulb I’m experimenting with. My intuition told me to leave the vase alone but instead I started adding the pattern from the actual vase. After a few strokes I realized I didn’t like it and tried to wipe the pattern off the still wet paint. Then I tried to return to the original shapes of color, temperature and value.

I revised the chart layout after this painting. In my next post (another sunflower still life) I’ll include the completed chart for that painting’s 6 sessions and a blank template for anyone who wants to experiment using or modifying it for their own artwork sessions.

Loads ‘o Lillies and Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor review

"Lily White on White," oil on Gessobord panel, 8x8"

“Lily White on White,” oil on Gessobord panel, 8×8″
(AVAILABLE on DailyPaintworks Auction: CLICK IMAGE to visit auction)

I spent some time sketching and painting a calla lily that sprouted in my garden and while I was at it, tested a palette of Winsor Newton Cotman paints. Several of my friends have this clever, inexpensive Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketchers Palette and I thought it was worth a try so I ordered one.

I started by testing the colors, listing the pigments to match them to artists’ quality pigments I normally use (click to see larger with pigment numbers) and making notes about which ones to swap out (at that point assuming I’d continue using the others).

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

Test of WInsor Newton Cotman pan paints (FAIL)

I was very frustrated with the results I was getting when painting and in the end, took ALL the Cotman pans out of the palette and replaced them with pans filled with artist quality paints from tubes. I put the Cotman pans in a large jar of water to soak so that I could empty and reuse the empty pans. After dumping and refilling the jar many times I ended up with a jar of tinted water with a lot of white sandy junk at the bottom: the nasty fillers and binders added to the pigments to make it cheap.

I know that for the same $17 that this palette AND crappy paint costs, you can only buy one or two tubes of full strength, high quality paint. But I’d rather have only a few colors than use junk. Most of the following sketches lack vibrancy, richness in color, and paint application was difficult and unattractive. Here they are in reverse order of completion:

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #6, watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the drawing above, but not the grayed colors.

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #5, ink & watercolor, 8×10″

I liked the shape of the leaf above.

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8x10"

Lily sketch #4?, gouache, 8×10″

I painted over an awful sketch with gouache (above), just loosely trying to get the shape of the flower.

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #3-4, watercolor, 8×10″

Two previous attempts at the leaf, on 2 other kinds of paper I taped into the 8×10″ Moleskine.

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8x10"

Lily sketch #1 with Snail, watercolor, 8×10″

The first sketch. I like the composition but the colors and application were yuck.

I’m still using the Cotman Palette. I think it’s a great for sketching because it’s light,  compact and holds enough colors (12). And at $17 I don’t mind the price, even after throwing away the colors it cane with. It’s handy to have the now-empty, extra half-pans which usually cost about 50 cents each. So really, I got the palette for $11, and 12 empty pans for $6. Not too bad.

EDiM 5-6: Draw A Scented Product (one to counteract another) and a Pine Tree

Draw a Pine Tree  and a Scented Product (perfume and cat litter)

Draw a Pine Tree and a Scented Product (perfume and cat litter), ink & watercolor 8×11″

I had fun with May 6: “Draw a Scented Product.” I sketched two scented “products” — one man-made and one cat-made. The man-made is a lovely (and expensive) room perfume (Vanilla, Bourbon and Mandarin) that I fell in love with at my dentist’s office and unlike most scented products doesn’t give me a headache. It nicely counteracts the scented product my cats produce on a  regular basis.

“Draw a pine tree” was the cue for May 5. Easy…found one in my neighborhood bigger than a house and sketched it and painted it sitting in my car on a cold, foggy, windy day.

I’m experimenting with an inexpensive ($13.00) Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor palette. I like the format, size and light weight very much and the way the paint easily re-wets. Although the colors aren’t as intense as their artist’s grade paints they’re all permanent/lightfast. But that might be fine for sketching since it might help me keep the sketches simpler and save fancy washes for real watercolor paper.

Testing Stillman & Birn Sketchbook Paper with Strawberries: A Review

Stillman & Birn Delta 180 lb Ivory paper, ink & watercolor, 6x4"

Stillman & Birn Delta 180 lb Ivory Multi-Media, ink & watercolor, 6×4″

Stillman & Birn sketchbooks are highly rated by other sketchers so I wanted to try one but couldn’t figure out which paper to choose. I emailed the company and they sent me a packet of paper samples. On a sunny afternoon I tested them using potted strawberries and flowers on the deck for my subjects. (Then I ate the strawberry. Yum!)

Stillman & Birn Beta 180 lb white multimedia paper, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Beta 180 lb white Multi-Media Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

The two most likely options were the Multi-Media Surface papers: either the Delta 180 pound ivory (at top) or the Beta 180 pound white paper (above). I liked the way the ink went on smoothly. The watercolor worked well if applied directly in one layer without much water. Otherwise it backwashed like crazy (see splotches above).

Stillman & Birn Epsilon 100 lb white Plate Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Epsilon 100 lb white Plate Surface, ink & wc, 6×4″

I liked the Epsilon paper (above) but worried that the 100 pound weight wasn’t going to be thick enough. The very smooth finish was nice for both ink and watercolor, similar to hot-pressed watercolor paper.

Stillman & Birn Gamma 100 lb white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Gamma 100 lb ivory Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

The 100 pound Gamma (above) and Alpha (below) vellum surface paper was probably my least favorite, although I ended up judging my impressions by how well I liked the way the sketch turned out instead of technical reasons since they all took ink and watercolor somewhat similarly.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 100 pound white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4x6"

Stillman & Birn Alpha 100 pound white Vellum Surface, ink & watercolor, 4×6″

I chose the ivory Delta paper (at top of the post) in an 8×6″ wire-bound journal  because I liked that paper the best, even though it only comes wirebound. I’ve used that journal for the past month. It works well if I draw in ink and then apply a stroke of paint and leave it alone. I’ve been less successful if I add another layer of paint or try to get a smooth wash over a larger area. The paper pills, previous layers of paint lift off, or it backwashes.

I also keep getting nasty, dirty, thumbprints on the previously painted page when painting on the next page (which has ruined a couple nice sketches). But maybe that’s just me being clumsy. Or maybe I should only paint on one side of the paper even though it’s thick enough to paint on both.

I’m halfway through the journal and have found workarounds to my problems. It’s been good practice for me to be more direct and get it right on the first stroke or else. But I’d still like the option to add more washes when I need to. It’s a beautifully made journal but I don’t think I’ll buy another. I’m going back to binding my own with the watercolor paper I prefer.

If you’ve used a Stillman & Birn journal, which version did you use and why do you love it (or not)?

Frankie Flathead Planes of the Head Study, oil on canvas panel, 11x14"

Frankie Flathead Finally Painted (Planes of the Head Grisaille Study)

Frankie Flathead Planes of the Head Study, oil on canvas panel, 11x14"

Planes of the Head, Grisaille study, oil on canvas panel, 11×14″

When I bought a “Planes of the Head” life-sized plaster cast two years ago I wanted to learn more about portrait painting. I put it on display in the studio and studied it. I knew I should be drawing and painting from the cast, but hoped learning would happen by osmosis since it didn’t really inspire me as a painting subject.

Planes of the Head Plaster Cast

Planes of the Head Plaster Cast

Then I got curious about grisaille techniques after seeing beautiful paintings that began with that approach. I watched the excellent video “How to Paint: The Grisaille Method” by Jon deMartin (in which he paints from a cast of Julius Caeser) and decided to try grisaille using homely Frankie Flathead, my Planes of the Head cast, as my model. See bottom of post for a clip of the deMartin video.

Planes of the Head Open Grisaille

Open Grisaille in which Frankie resembles a demented old perv

I was going to display all my steps along the way, but my photos weren’t good enough. Above is the first stage, the “open” grisaille, which means it’s painted thinly, using only transparent washes of grey (or in this case, burnt umber) and wiping paint off to achieve the lighter values. At the top of the post is the “closed” grisaille, made by mixing and applying a range of values opaquely, using white and the same burnt umber on top of the original “open” grisaille.

One of the most powerful things I discovered in the video is the way light changes across planes.

Gray scale and strip painted 50% gray

9-step Value Scale (white to black) on left and strip painted Value 4 Gray on right (screenshot from video)

Same Value 5 gray strip curved to show the range of values as it turns from light

Same Value as image to the left but the Value 4 Gray strip is curved to show the range of values as it turns away from light (screenshot from video)

When bent so planes are at different angles to the light, the gray strip on the right seems to have all the values in the 9-step value strip on the left. Isn’t this a powerful demonstration of the effects of light and shadow?

My first attempt at grisaille was  interesting. I made many mistakes and got lots of good practice.

My finished painting isn’t great, but doing the study helped prepare me for the next lesson I gave myself (and that I enjoyed more and will post soon): starting with a grisaille to set the value structure in a still life and then adding the color in the same values.

Below is a clip from the video. I was very curious about how grisaille works so it was worth the $35 to download the three-hour program, also available here to watch online and DVD.

(Disclaimer: I have no connection to or receive no benefit from writing about these products)

Mothers' Day Bouquet #1, oil on linen panel, 8x8"

One Bouquet, 2 Paintings: Generalizing vs. Specifics in Drawing and Painting

Mothers' Day Bouquet #1, oil on linen panel, 8x8"

Birthday Bouquet #1, oil on linen panel, 8×8″

My three wonderful next-door neighbor children bring me flowers every year for my birthday. This year the bouquet lasted so long I got to make two paintings from it. They come to my door, hand me the flowers and then each one shyly gives me a hug and says “Happy birthday.” I love that they’re still doing it at 10, 13 and 16.

When they were little they would come to the studio and make brilliant expressive paintings. Then school got the better of them and they started drawing the archetypical house under a rainbow with 2 windows, a door and smoke coming out of a chimney).

Mothers' Day Bouquet#2, oil on linen panel, 8x8"

Birthday Bouquet #2, oil on linen panel, 8×8″

When I try to work too fast or am tired, I start generalizing, which rarely turns out well, whether in painting or drawing. It’s too easy to do like my neighbor kids and just make a generic house or bunch of flowers rather than these specific ones. I enjoy the process and the results much more when I go for accuracy in drawing, color and value.

Some people are great at simplifying and whipping out gorgeous, impressionistic art. But for me, it’s the individual personality of my subject that interest me; the specifics that make it that particular rose, place or person.

That was the discovery I made when painting these, so they are two more “almost” paintings (see previous post). Each one is just a stepping stone on the long and joyful path that is painting. (And some paintings really are better suited to use as stepping stones in the garden than hanging on the wall!)

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