Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Poplars II

Remeber this picture? I am presently working on version II. I would like to get a less detailed, more deeply coloured version of it.
So far the colours used are: Schmincke Cobalt Blue M; Schmincke Rose Madder O; Rembrandt Permanent Yellowish Green 633.5.

Why again. I was very happy with the original - but then I put up the mountains picture beside it. It pales a little beside the bold colours of the mountains.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Colour Studies I, II

I have been rereading a very great book on colour. Colour: A Workshop for Artists and Designers by David Hornung. (It appears that perhaps the US edition is differntly titled Color: A Workshop Approach).

Anyway - I am learning a lot more by DOING the assignments than from just READING the text. The pictures above are the results of Assignments 1 - a study using only grays, with wide value range and another with narrow value range - and 2 - study with muted colours, again narrow and wide value ranges. There are 16 assignments altogether, so it seems I have a lot more learning ahead of me.

I am reasonably pleased with my choice of values (as you can see from the black and white photo), however I found that some of my planned grays were a little colourful and some of my planned muted colours were a little gray. It seemed to me that targeting a particular value sometimes limited saturation levels which could be achieved. Then again, it also became very evident that defining exactly where gray starts and finishes on a continuous scale of saturation is a matter of opinion.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Canterbury Foothills

Two books which lately I have been reading have inspired me to try to paint more emphasis on colour and less on detail. Not because less detail is easier, but because a few of the paintings in these books looked jaw-droppingly great, without the detail that I typically try to achieve in many of my own paintings. First Wolf Kahn Pastelsand second Raw Colour with Pastelsby Mark Leach.

Both artists call themselves colorists (I am not an art historian, so please excuse me if I use incorrect terminology here). I cannot admit to liking all the paintings in both books, but some take my breath away. Maybe that's how it is when an artist interprets reality rather than copying it - maybe sometimes they get it right and intensify the emotional connectedness with the scene, and sometimes they don't.

First I painted the Poplar Shelter Belt (below), and in the last few weeks I have completed this pastel of the Canterbury Foothills. I have a long way to go before Achieving the jaw-dropping wok of the artists above, but I am very happy with my progress so far.

For the piece above I first created a textured surface by stretching a piece of watercolour paper and painting it with acrylic paint and a small foam roller. I coveredthe lower half with black pastel and charcoal, imaging that this would give the impression of shadows behind the wheat.

I like that 3 different textural finishes in the painting, the evenly blended sky, the carefully drawn mountains, and the roughly scratched in wheat fields. Each texture suits the subject very well.

The colours I used:
Sky: Schmincke Ultramarine Light (H, D)
Mountains: White, Schminke Blue-Green Deep (H, M), Caput Mortum Deep (M)
Hills: Winsor Newton Oxide of Chromium IV, Schmincke Bohemian Green (H), Grey Green II (B), Ochre Light (M, B), Olive Ochre Deep (H)
Fields: Scmincke Vanadium Yellow Light (O, D), Vanadium Yellow Deep (H, D), Permanent Yellow 3 Deep (D), Sennelier Orange Lead 37

New Bookshelf

I have gotten around to installing a new bookshelf at home. One of the shelves is reserved for my art books.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Poplar Shelter Belts

I came across a box of 40 assorted Sennelier extra soft half pastels in my local art shop before Christmas. Being difficult to find here and not having used them before I thought that, despite the expense, I would try them out. As well, I bought some sheets of almost sandpaper-like pastel paper. The Sennelier pastels were so very soft, and yet did not crumble, I loved the feel of them on paper.

Looking around I found a picture of a shelter belt that I was interested in painting, and I was also interested in trying out a impressionistic style, with emphasis on colour - well apart from my normal style. In the end I used only one Sennelier colour - the bright green (Apple Green - 205). I also used Winsor Newton Greens (Permanent Sap Green 3 and 4, and Oxide of Chromium 4, for the tree leaves. I used Schminke Cobalt Blue M for the Sky, and Schmincke greys for the tree trunks. I am happy with the picture although it isn't what I envisaged and so I will probably try it again sometime.

(480 x 670)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Venice Number 2

This is what I have been painting since March. I haven't had much time for painting over the last few months.
There has been much learning and many mistakes, but I reasonably pleased with the results so far. Lots more to do!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

One petal and half a leaf

Yesterday, just before my art class, I arrived back from an very nice long weekend in Tauranga where I was most fortunate to be able to attend a three day watercolour workshop learning from Susan Harrison-Tustain (website). It was a rainy weekend, so good to be inside painting. I feel I've taken a big step forward in learning to paint watercolor.

Back when I first thought to paint, one of the very first books that I bought was Glorious Garden Flowers in Watercolor by Susan Harrison-Tustain. On reading the book I felt quite intimidated by the quality and detail of the painting and the after (very) briefly trying out a few exercises, consigned the book to a shelf, every so often pullingly it out for a browse and longingly wishing I could do something approaching the work therein.

More recently I purchased Susan's two instructional DVDs Susan Harrison-Tustain's One-on-One Watercolor Workshops and Susan Harrison-Tustain's Watercolor Portrait Workshop and I found that the DVDs helped me considerably to understand and use her watercolour techniques. The next logical step then was the workshop.

The result is shown above. One petal and half a leaf. One might have expected to have achieved a little more than this in three days! However I am a slow painter and Susan's techniques are painstaking. There was a lot to learn: how to mix colours, how to put the paint on the paper so that later washes don't move earlier washes, how to use a yellow underpainting to bring out the colour, and so much more. I would have liked more time to paint, that's true, but I am sufficiently pleased that I will be keeping a close eye out for any of her future workshops, and would rather hope to be able to attend her more advanced workshop should she choose to hold one in the future.

In the meantime I will continue painting the rose above - one petal at a time.

So thank you Susan and Richard, and thanks to all the participants, I had a great time, and learned a lot. Tauranga was a lovely town to hold the workshop.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Crisis in Venice

I took this photo of a gondola parking lot in Venice during my first ever trip to Europe in 1986. I chose to paint this because I thought that much of the painting would be large shapes without too much detail, and perhaps it could be completed reasonably quickly. Oh how wrong I was!

The photo is black and white, as are most of my photos from this period, and while I thought this would help me choose values, I realised that picking colours was going to be more difficult for me. The first thing I did was to scan around for a few photo references of Venice in order to get the colour scheme correct.

I chose to paint in Artisan Water Soluble Oils, and started by blocking in the larger shapes in approximately the colours and values I wanted. I thought this might help me achieve the colour and value judgements I needed to make as the painting progressed. In retrospect I think that painting in the windows was a mistake and should have been left until later.

Then I wanted to paint the evenly graded blue water - you know like one of those graded washes that every watercolour book teaches you how to do in lesson one, except it's never as easy as it seems. Well I have to say that in oil it just didn't work. I was painting with the oil undiluted, it was thick and did not spread well on the canvas. I achieved a gradation of sorts, as you can see, but it was nowhere near the even grade that I needed. I also started trying to correct the colour of the main building.

Having failed to achieve a graded colour with thick oil paints, I chose to paint over with several coats of a diluted pale blue (Artisan thinner) and then then build up the grade with several "glazes" of a thinned darker blue, or paler blue as necessary. At this stage I was starting to lose some of my important shapes but for the moment I was willing to accept that in order to learn how to achieve this wash.

Just back from art class. This is the result. My paint has had different ideas from mine. This is now a crisis. A disaster. This painting has beaten me. Simple shapes does not equal easy. I have a new-found respect for Mondrian.

Remember me talking about white paint? I think I'll start this painting again - in watercolour.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


It has been a relaxing and busy Summer break since Christmas and I start work again on Monday. I have shared what little time I have had for painting between watercolour work and continuing to develop my oil of "The Couple" which has been going now for almost 1 year.

I have discovered 'scumbling' which has allowed me to produce subtle changes in colour that I have not been able to achieve in the past. It has allowed me match colours without having to premix on the palette, and so I have been able to take the time I need to develop the three dimensional sculpting I am searching for.

Scumbling has its disadvantages also: it makes a real mess of my brush! I still have lots to learn about scumbling and here are some of the technical characcteristics I have noted, and will have to learn to cope with. (1) When I wash the brush to change colours and then continue to use that brush to scumble, then I find that the moisture on the brush moves the earlier layers around too much - solution, use a dry brush always, or wait just a short while for the brush to dry. (2) If I correct something, for example by putting a light colour over a dark colour then I cannot immediately scumble over the top of the correction. If I do, then I find I will tend to remove the correction - solution, it takes several days, allowing the correction to at least partially dry, to build up a correction. (3) I have not yet tried to approach scumbling areas requiring fine detail, for example the eyebrows and around the eyes. I look forward to the challenge.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Painting Hair

Yesterday evening at art class I painted the woman's hair. I started by painting the thick main strands in raw umber. After that I became a bit timid, I wanted to paint the thin wisps of hair that surrounded these main strands, but did not know how. Fortunately Julie came to the rescue (this after all is why I am attending an art class). Julie showed me how a flat brush, and the correct consistency of paint, leaves the bristles of the flat brush in thin little clumps which allow the painting of thin parallel lines which look just like wisps of hair. I used Winsor Newton Artisan Water Mixable Thinner to get a paint of just the correct thickness to achieve this effect. I finished the hair like this with mixes of raw umber, burnt sienna, ultramarine, and just the gentlest hint of white to show off highlights.

During the evening, one of my fellow students started to tell me what my painting told her about the character of the people I was painting. She told me that the fellow on the left was a serious person, but having fun in this painting; and that the woman in the painting has a generous personality. Hearing people read emotions into my painting has given me perhaps my greatest yet sense of satisfaction that I am beginning to achieve my goals.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Watercolour Project 4

Yesterday I completed the fourth in my series of ten watercolour projects from the book "Step-By-Step Guide to Painting Realistic Watercolors" and once again I feel that I have made some important steps forward. I am not, however, sufficiently satisfied with this image to move on without repeating the work.

The rose does not look sufficiently three-dimensional to me. This may be because I have not found the correct values, and could be the result of the rather "paint-by-numbers" approach I took to the painting (by which I mean that I copied the books instructions and believed that would be sufficient to complete the picture).

The wine looks very patchy, not at all evenly coloured in the glass. In part this was because I was trying to carefully paint around the reflections, and I think it dried out at different rates - next time I will try to paint out the reflections with latex, which might allow me to work a little faster. As well, the wine does not convey the curve of the glass, and I think a little improved contouring is in order.

There was a lot of fine detail which I was not able to achieve, at first I tried to use the very tip of the brush with little paint to draw the detail, but I found that the paint dried too fast, and spoiled the effect. Then I tried to work faster, with more paint, but it seems to me that the surface tension of the water limited the amount of detail I could achieve - perhaps a little ox gall would help to lower the surface tension.

So many things to try! Interestingly, the scan I made of the picture which you see here (you can see a larger image by clicking on the picture) does not show up these errors as they appear in the original watercolour. (230 x 305, Fabriano Acquarello 300 gsm hot pressed watercolour paper, Winsor Newton Artist's Watercolour, 21.10.07)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Joan Armatrading

I have taken the day off work today, so I can pick my son up from school, and I am spending some more time on my watercolour projects, listening to Joan Armatrading in the background. It is perfect music for painting watercolour. I'm taking time out to write this while my work is drying, and because - despite my cold - the music and the painting are putting me in a great mood.

I am really loving painting with watercolour. I'm not quite sure why. A part of it to be sure is the book I am working from. The projects give a feeling of accomplishing something while forcing me to practise the techniques of watercolour. I think another part of my enjoyment comes from the immediacy of watercolour. I paint a section, and stop. I cannot rework anything, that will destroy it. This is quite unlike any other media I have tried. Pastel, oil, acrylic, all allow me to rework and rework and it seems that I rarely finish anything. Watercolour is teaching me some important painting disciplines - planning, patience, colour accuracy, drawing accuracy.

I think that long term watercolour will not take me where I want to go. I suspect oil or acrylic has more room for experimentation, and I will want to try that. For the moment, I am very happy painting with watercolor.

(Later in the day) Well, I've finished this, my third watercolor. For all of the many, many errors in this painting, I'm very happy with this work. I have learned so many lessons over the last few days painting. The biggest problem I had with this painting was the background. I could not control the ballooning of the water into the blue paint no matter what I did, and then when I tried to repair it, I made things worse. The paint was Cobalt Blue - does it have any characteristics which make it especially hard to work with? How do I overcome this?

(230 x 305, Fabriano Acquarello 300 gsm hot pressed watercolour paper, Winsor Newton Artist's Watercolour, 16.10.07)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Watercolour III

I continue to work through the projects in "Step-By-Step Guide to Painting Realistic Watercolors."To the left is my first attempt at "Project 2." It has been quite a challenge. In particular I note three difficulties I have experienced in painting this project: (1) charging one color into another, and softening edges - for example the yellow and taupe shadows behind the card and in front of the truffle. On rereading the books instructions, I believe that I need to work on getting just the correct amount of moisture on both the paper and the brush; (2) Getting the colour depth correct - the brown of the truffle should be deeper; and (3) I cannot seem to paint smooth lines, so many of my lines have little bobbles along their length. This is most easily seen this on the lines of icing.

(230 x 305, Fabriano Acquarello 300 gsm hot pressed watercolour paper, Winsor Newton Artist's Watercolour, 13.10.07)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Family Art - I

My wife has attended Julie's art class in the last few months. Here is what she is achieving with pastel. It is not yet finished but I think that it is amazing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Couple - IV

Since restarting my art class I have been working a little more on "The Couple." It's coming along quite nicely I think. I have (1) removed the brown line in the background; (2) reshaped the eye of the woman - I think that it looks much better now; (3) worked a little more on the hair, this is going to be a real challenge to me. How do I suggest that I have painted every single hair individually, without actually doing so? I need some tips, and plenty of practice I think! Finally (4) I have been quietly and slowly building up better tones and colours, especially around the woman's neck. My plan going forward is to continue to slowly modify shapes and colours to complete the sculpting effect, (hopefully along the way the hair will also be finished) then it should be complete. The colours I used for her neck were: viridian, cadmium red medium, naples yellow and chinese white. I sketched in the hair with raw umber.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Watercolour II

On the left, you will see my recently repainted "Stained-glass Irises." I found the experience of using hot pressed paper for this painting to be measurably more pleasant than cold pressed paper I had used the first time. I do not know for sure how much the manufacturer of the paper influenced that feeling, so I shall have to try and procure some cold-pressed and hot-pressed from the same manufacturer to experiment with. I am much happier with the colours I mixed and I am also happier with how my colour gradients (from yellow to green on leaves) turned out. I found that in order to best create the gradient, it is important to understand the relative tinting strengths of the 2 colours I am trying to blend, ...and the only way I know how to discover this is to try it a few times on a scrap of paper. I was not quite so careful with keeping a good bead when blocking in the colours, and you can see a few spots of ballooning as a result. Once again I have seen the need for patience with art. Also, I often found that I had too much paint on the brush, and this led to what I feel is quite poor drafting of the soldered joints. Eventually I realised that I was dipping the whole brush into the paint, and all that was needed to properly fill the brush was to dip the tip in the paint, and let the brush draw up what it needs.

I read that watercolour brushes should have a sharp point, and I found that my brushes were not so well pointed that I had the degree of control I would have liked. I will perhaps look arond for some better brushes. All in all, after 4 hours of painting and despite the errors, I am much happier with this second attempt. I am looking forward to moving on to the second project in my book.

(230 x 305, Fabriano Acquarello 300 gsm hot pressed watercolour paper, Winsor Newton Artist's Watercolour, 4.10.07)

Monday, October 1, 2007


In yesterday's blog I mentioned in passing one of my all-time favourite art websites "Handprint Watercolors." I first found this site while making some obscure technical search about paint pigments. Let me explain, I am a chemist - this stuff is important to me.

My blog, that you are reading now, is my journal, and so I was interested to read the almost poetic journal section of the Handprint website - the first pages in several ways record my own experiences of learning to paint from books, how my lack of technique and knowledge took away the pleasure in painting, how I bought many more supplies than I needed (perhaps in the mistaken belief that if I owned enough supplies I would become and artist).

But the thing that draws me back and back again to this site is the effort which the author has gone to, to prove to himself the various qualities of paints and papers and brushes; the arduous cataloging which has gone into this site; the well presented opinions on techniques, and books and choice of palettes and so much more. This is a treasure trove of information, written for his own use, with no time limit imposed (not for some target demographic, due for a publishing deadline), and shared freely with anyone. Even incomplete this site is better value than many of the books I own. Thank you Bruce MacEvoy!

I see that the author has also recently started up the "Handprint - Painting a Day" blog. As of this moment I cannot imagine me completing a painting a day, first - I have a day job, second I have a family, third I have an XBox360. My wife and I both have a dream of retiring early and spending our time travelling and painting, then it might happen. In the meantime I will try to ignore most "Painting a Day" blogs - but this one, I will probably visit many times as I continue my journey learning art.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


On Friday, while at home for a day off work I decided to try my hand at watercolours. In part inspired by some of the work I had seen from my classmates, and in part inspired by the excellent watercolour website "handprint" and in part because of the opportunistic find of the book "Step-By-Step Guide to Painting Realistic Watercolors" by Dawn McLeod Heim, while I was in Christchurch recently visiting Scorpio Books.

Here, finally after several purchases of "how to paint watercolour" books I had found a book which passed on techniques in a way that only a proficient teacher can pass on - how to load a brush, how to blot a brush, how moist is moist, how to soften edges and much more. In particular she teaches how to paint a wash using a "bead." I can find only one other book in my watercolour collection which teaches about the "bead" and that book pays only scant attention to it. Yet, having tried this technique of laying a wash I have found it to be a most effective way of controlling your wash, which can also be used to fill in small shapes in your picture.

Above is my first painting - Project 1 from this book. It is by no means a perfect painting, I haven't always blended the greens with good technique, and there is some rather unsteady line drawing. The yellow background is too dark and the blue/violet mixes are not what I wished. I do not find the subject matter particularly interesting, but it is my first watercolour painting, and it only took about 2 hours, and I am impressed by how much I learned from completing this project. I will repeat the painting when I have some more time in the next few weeks - perhaps this time on hot pressed paper to see what it is like. "Painting Realistic Watercolors" is a great book, easily the best book I have which teaches the very basics of watercolour and then takes you through ten projects of increasing complexity and beauty. I look forward to working my way through this book.

(210 x 300, Bockingford cold pressed 300 gsm watercolour paper, Winsor Newton Artist's Watercolour, 28.9.07)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Julie's Art Site

I attended my art class for the first time in about 3 months on Thursday. (Having a day job and various family commitments had kept me away. I should also add that having purchased a copy of Halo 3 for the XBox360 did not keep me away from class this Thursday.) I was very happy to receive a warm welcome back to class after my "holiday." I was also rather surprised at how my perception of my unfinished painting "The Couple" had changed during my time away. I was very much happier with it on Thursday than I was 3 months ago, and now consider it not too far from being ready to be abandoned. I'll let you all see it in a few weeks I hope.

In the meantime I leave you with this link to Julie's (the art teacher) website. Click here. I've never personally known anyone crazy enough to hug a tiger before, but I guess that's art!

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." Leonardo da Vinci

That said, I am today posting two of my "abondoned" works of art. Abandoned? Perhaps not, these few are pictures which I stopped because I was overwhelmed with the technical complexity required to finish them. I will come back to them in time, after I have learned those skills - and I suspect also gained a certain degree more of patience.

Piazza San Marco is my first attempt at a pastel painting. What you see here as undergone many revisions. Starting with Winsor Newton pastels I found that I overworked the the picture so much that I lost the tooth, so I brushed a lot of the pastel off and moved to Faber Castell polychromos sticks and pitt pastel pencils. The much harder pastel allowed me a lot more control and I was much more pleased with my results (the face for example). Everything I read however seemed to point to the beauty of soft pastels, and after some months I purchased a collection of Schmincke soft pastels and went to work on the larger pigeon. It looked beautiful, and suddenly the pastel pencil work looked dull and lifeless.

I sprayed over the image with Schminke fixative in order that I could keep some tooth, and the colours changed. Especially the lighter colours immediately started to show the darker colours that I had layered beneath. I have read countless times about not overworking pastel, and here was the prrof. I was getting tired of repeating work over and over again, this and the complexity of the work led me to set this painting aside and start "learning" with a much simpler painting - Waitaria Bay, shown in an earlier post.

I like this image and very much wish to finish it, even if it means starting again from the beginning.

This second painting is my first attempt at an acrylic painting, and there are parts of this painting that I absolutely love - the luminosity of the yellow fence posts for example, and the expression on the boys face - he is taking every possible enjoyment in eating his icecream. My problem with this painting is two-fold. One, I painted the boys face, and then his arm, and found that the colours of the face and the arm didn't match. The solution - well I'm looking for advice on that! My thoughts are that I could try painting and layering the face and arm during the same sessions, and work up the whole painting at the same time rather than concentrating on tiny bits at a time. I tried this approach (to some degree) with "The Couple" and found it takes a lot of discipline not to fall back into my piecemeal style. Practice, practice and more practice.

My second problem lies (again) with painting the detail in the cobblestones, and the trees. If the only way to deal with this is to paint every leaf, and every cobblestone then perhaps I must. Preferably I would like to find a way of implying the detail, without ignoring it. The cobblestones almost worked, but not quite. I have no idea how to approach the branches and leaves.

Again, I very much like this photo, and would dearly love to see it hanging on my wall at home.