My plein air group had a lovely day painting at the Lyford House in Tiburon. Since we had a workshop leader doing a demo that day I brought my sketchbook instead of plein air gear, knowing I wouldn’t have time to do a full painting.
I focused mostly on the drawing, trying to capture this very complicated Victorian home. The Lyford House was built in 1876 as the main residence of a nearby dairy farm. It was barged over to its present site, an Audubon Sanctuary, in 1957 after conservationists saved it from being torn down.
The site is surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the country, with an average price of $3.5 million but with many homes for sale in the $18 million to $35 million range. I wish I could have visited the lavish Mediterranean-style villa next door that I was spying on through the bushes.
When I got frustrated with painting from life last month, I took a break and experimented in working from the same photo in different media. First I did the sketch above in my journal from the photo below which I took at Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands last year.
I took the photo during a very cold and windy plein air paint out where I did a plein air sketch (posted here) and planned to eventually paint the scene in the studio. As you can see, I did what I call “imaginating” (a combination of imagining and exaggerating the colors I see in a photo or a scene) instead of rendering the photo as is.
After I did the little journal painting at the top of this post (which I like very much), I tried it again 4 times bigger on a 12×9″ Arches watercolor block (above). It was fun to get back to painting in watercolor on something other than a small journal page. I didn’t use any masking on either of these, just painted around areas I wanted to stay white.
I enjoyed working larger on a watercolor block–I could work at a slant, mix juicy washes, and not have to worry about trying to keep the pages flat and the journal open. I’m falling in love with watercolor painting all over again.
Stay tuned for the oil and oil pastel versions tomorrow.
When Cathy and I visited the Marin County Fair to sketch I was experimenting with sketching on pieces of paper instead of in my sketchbook as I wrote about here. Later I pasted the sketches into my journal. Above is a medley of chickens of various kinds along with one of the 4-H girls sitting at the “pet a chicken” table.
I asked this sweet boy if he intentionally styled his hair to match his chicken and he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No.” The best part of the fair for me is seeing the kids who show their animals and win prizes for how well they present them.
I made numerous attempts to draw cows, trying to figure out their shapes, and finally sketched one I liked plus a few parts (head and butt). I had no idea their feet had two toes(?). Amazing what you don’t see when you don’t really look.
It got really hot so we went into the air-conditioned theater on the fair grounds to see the Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats perform. I tried sketching in the dark, adding color later. They were amazing. The sketch, not so much.
For the last sketch of the day we sketched from the midway. I sat on a ledge on the back of one of the game booths in the shade of the hanging teddy prizes. I cooled off a little more than I expected: I didn’t realize until it was too late that I was sitting in a puddle of water.
I got inspired to try water-soluble (aka water-miscible) so researched which brand had artist quality paints made with real, archival pigments that performed most like regular oils. From my reading, Holbein Duo Aqua Oils was the answer.
I bought 3 colors (Cad Yellow, Napthol Red, and Ultramarine Blue) and white and gave them a go with this happy little painting above from a photo and watercolor sketch. I really, REALLY enjoyed working with them.
Indeed they worked exactly like oils, but with no solvents, no odor, and brushes clean up with water! To thin the paint you can use a little water or Duo Linseed Oil. The consistency was nearly perfect but I used a tiny bit of water because I like my paint smooth. Next time I’ll try the oil.
After working with the Golden Open Acrylics for several months I became frustrated with the way they dry darker and how sometimes the paint gets tacky or dry in minutes (outdoors) and other times stays sticky for days.
When I paint, I like trying to match the colors and values I see, so I’m disappointed when I paint with Open Acrylics and the painting dries to look completely different. Supposedly they only shift 10% but I just don’t seem to be able to guess right when mixing (and don’t want to have to guess!)
With the Duo oils I loved being able to mix colors and have them not change, and to not worry about the paint getting sticky during a painting session. I spent about 2 hours on the painting above last night and it’s still wet today. And, because I could clean the brushes with a swish of water while I worked, I only used a few. Clean up was quick and easy, with a little Masters Brush Cleaner for the brushes and a spritz of water and a paper towel across the palette.
Holbein Duo paints are more expensive than the other water-soluble brands because of their higher pigment load and use of more expensive pigments. Their prices are about the same as regular artist-quality oil paint. From my research and my first experiment with them, they’re worth it. I’ve ordered a few more colors and look forward to trying them out for plein air painting too, where I think they should be ideal.
P.S. I know you can use regular oils without any solvents, and that you can clean up regular oils using walnut oil followed by soap and water. But it means painting with thick paint and spending even more time in the clean up process.