Friday, December 26, 2014

Freezer, Pallets And Other Odd Things Around The Studio


We got a new small freezer for the basement. I love it! Compact and just enough room for two older people. Our large upright gave up the ghost years ago, and being empty nesters, we really no longer needed the big freezer anyway. Funny how not having a teenage boy in the house reduces the grocery bills!

Now you are wondering what is all this talk about a freezer doing in an art blog? Yes, its nice she has one, but why do I care?

One of the things I did miss about loosing the large freezer in the dungeon is the lost of pallet storage. Yes, pallet storage. Not on the top of the freezer but in it.


I paint with oils. Often in the past, I had little time to paint. (that full-time job really got in the way of my play time!) One of the best ways to preserve an oil pallet when you know you will be away from it for a while is to freeze it. Freezing does not harm good quality oil paints. This is really helpful if you need to be away from painting for a long period and you want to preserve that special mixed color. Put a sheet of wax paper over the pallet (or another sheet if you use disposable paper pallets) push the excess air out and pop it in the freezer. I used to reserve the top shelf of the large freezer for this.


Now that I am retired from secular work, I usually can get back to a canvas in a reasonable amount of time, and with big projects I have taken to using a pallet box with a sealable lid. I line it with either freezer paper or a disposable pallet sheet. This will keep the paint workable for a couple of days, which is usually all I need. If I paint on Tuesday night, I know I will not be able to get back to it before Friday. I will mound up any paint on the pallet, and seal the lid. (these boxes are also available for acrylics and have a large sheet sponge.)


Often, however, I use a Styrofoam tray for a pallet. The kind that you get from the meat department. When I come home from the store, I always repackage the meat. That plastic they wrap the meat in is not good for it or you. Then if the tray is a good size, I will wash it with soap and water and let it dry. It goes down into the dungeon to be re-used as a pallet. You can clean and re-use it several time. You cannot use it for gesso however. Gesso eats it. I use the Styrofoam trays as a cheap portable pallet. It saves money I can dearly use for other art supplies.


I will go cheap for the furnishing and accessories for the studio. I find garage sales and thrift stores a good source of furnishings. Whenever I buy things, I look at the packaging and think, can I reuse this? Most of my dungeon accoutrements are recycled packaging, garage sale fines or even things I dumpster dived for.  But not for real art supplies.


I don’t go cheap for what I use to create artwork on or with. Experience has taught me that this is false economy. I will not use low-grade paint, pencils or support. I don’t use hardware store mineral spirits. I have culled cheap brushes. Supports must be high quality. But for my pallet? I will recycle. For large paintings I often use a sheet of freezer paper taped to the craft table I got when a local school threw it out in favor of the new plastic tables. It is a heavy Formica covered table that nothing can hurt. I love it. It weights a ton, but I can do just about anything on it. I can tape down the sheet of freezer paper, and when I am done, simply scrub it off. Nothing sticks. Also, nothing hurts it.  I have a lazy-susan on this table that I put my mediums on. I can always find what I need. You know those plastic trays that they sell for holding utensils? They are touted for caring silverware out to picnic tables. I picked up several at garage sales ( I guess they really don’t work well for this, you see them all the time) well, great way to keep brushes sorted.


I used those tin boxes that breath mints come in for kneaded erasers. I am sure you all can think of tons of things to do with those little boxes.


One of the best ways to carry my long brushes is in one of those cardboard wine bottle tubes. they are sold to carry a bottle of wine as a hostess gift.  They are sturdy and have a nice handle. And they will hold your longest brushes.


So I am happy to have a freezer again in the dungeon. Someplace to stash that pallet between painting sessions.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Master Works?

Student Works


I, like many artist take great joy in the artwork I produce. And pride, but mostly joy. However, there is artwork I actually enjoy more than my own, that of my students.

Betty's granddaughter
Artist: Betty taking classes since July
First Painting ever!

I am constantly amazed by them. I throw out the challenge, and they constantly exceed my expectations of them.


Sometimes it seems as if my own greatest works are not the ones produced by my hands but the artists I have instructed and inspired to exceed their own expectations.
artist: Julia
 age 16

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beautiful Places


Beaches and mountains abound in beautiful places. That almost goes without saying. That is why we go there. But even when there are many, many beautiful places some stand out as extraordinary.


We went to Brookgreen Gardens along the coast of South Carolina.  Brookgreen Gardens


There we came to a really special place, their zoo. There Cypress Aviary is such a special place. It is the only known aviary built over an existing cypress swamp. You go in, and watch the birds simply enjoying being a beautiful bird. They nest and hunt in this swamp. And they are used to people. While they are still wild birds, they react slowing to people by simply walking or flying away.
If you sit quietly, they ignore you and go about their business. Spectacular shots and observations are possible. You can see them flying or wading, caring for their young and teaching them to fly. Often they will be curious about you, and come in for a rather close-up view of what you are doing.


The entire garden complex is a great place to fine a quite corner and bring out your sketchbook. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Working Hard on Portraits

My students at the Renaissance Art Gallery have been working very hard on their portraits and other projects.

All are showing such promise.

This week I was able to draw the correlation between standard anatomy and cartoon characters. For us to relate to these invented people, they have to strike a cord with us, and with thoughtful creation, even a robot can have a more human or humane connection.

Worked also on how we change as we age, not so much inside but outside.

A lot for them to absorb.   I often think when their parents send them to art class they have no idea how much thinking, planning and soul searching is involved in art.

Because it is a visual art, so many simply dismiss it as thoughtless. As we all know, that is simply not true. Which is why students that are exposed to the arts early do better in math and science.

We need more art. We also need more appreciation that art is necessary.

Art happens in the head, only then can it come out the hands.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Portraits: Likeness vs Identity

Working With Faces


Nothing is as scary as trying to paint a likeness of someone you know. Especially if that person will see it!


How do you go about it? How realistic should you be? When it is someone you know well, there are tons of emotions involved. It is really hard to view them dispassionately. When you need to reduce them to basic shapes, it is necessary to mentally stand back from them and try and get down a good likeness.


But that is not all a portrait is. If that is all you needed, take a snapshot.


But portraiture is more than simply conveying a likeness. It is also about identity. Which is not the same as likeness. This is where it gets hard. This is a person you love, but who is that person? What do they mean to you? What do you mean to them?


Painting someone you know and love can be fraught with all kinds of dangers. While as artist, we revel in each line and wrinkle, so we show beloved mother-in-law with all her (perceived) flaws for all the world to see? Or do we flatter, and thus paint a flawed portrait and to us a lie. Or do we paint them as we see them, with love, acceptance and forgiveness?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Unhappy Background

really don't like this background.
Working on three different portraits can be very distracting. But I must take time to really look at each one at each stage.

Not at all happy with the background for my son's portrait. Much to busy and distracting. Not at all what I was going for. So I must change it!

I did select a new pallet for this, related but not quite so yellow. Using more subdued yellow, red and green, created a softer green/gray. I refrained from using black or Payne's gray because of the black gesso that started this portrait.

background pallet.

I did add liquin to help the background dry. I also worked a little background into the portrait, so it would be background, not competing foreground. This way he will be in front of it.

After working the new background in and leaving substantially less of the black showing, I am much happier with this present look developing in this painting.

this background works to complement where I am going with the rest of the portrait. Not too garish, not too bland. Just the right amount of color. While it will reflect what is going into the actual portrait, it is softer, more muted.

The portrait of my mother-in-law is giving me more trouble. While there is nothing actually wrong with the background so far, it just does not seem to be as effective as the background I have on my father-law's painting. That one I am quite pleased with. That total package is turning out as the best of the three so far. I think I will need work live with the mother-in-law painting a while before I can diagnose just what is bothering me about it.

It is difficult to work on all three at the same time, but necessary. Each is providing a demo painting for different students at different places in their own work.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Flesh Tone Mixing Basics


You can buy a tube of flesh, but it will never, ever match anyone. You can use it as a basic pigment, and then modify it. Or you can make your own basic mix.


Your Pallet.


White. Always start with white, even for black skin. Titanium is a highly reflective paint. Most artist have this already on hand. Portrait artists have traditional used flake white, which is a bit warmer, more yellow white. Zinc white is more transparent and mixes well. This can be a plus when mixing with other pigments. Any white you are familiar and comfortable with can be used. You might want to try some new white.


Red. Any red will do. Red, although considered a warm color comes in many hues, some warmer than others. While the cadmium reds are quite warm, alizarin crimson is regarded as a rather cool red. If you choose alizarin crimson make sure you get a permanent hue. Alizarin crimson has had some permanency issues. Most modern, quality paints has solved this, but look at the light fastness rating on anything you buy.


Yellow. Again, yellows do come in warm/cool version, like lemon yellow and yellow ochre. You can use either, but it will effect the final mix. Experiment and become familiar with each of your yellows. I personally feel yellow ochre can ad a richness to several skin types that make it worth having in your pallet box.


Green. Yes green. All skin types, colors, shades have a touch of green in them. All, no exceptions. I learned this right out of high school when I worked for a photo finisher. Their expert retoucher taught me how to work on portraits. In those days (back at the end of the last ice age) when we retouched a photograph, we literally did it, with pigmented inks. She always “closed” an area she had retouched with green. She was both a skilled craftsman and an artist. Without the green the tone is never right. Years later this was confirmed by a very skilled and gifted portrait artist who only works in watercolor and always lays down a layer of green before any other pigment for faces.



On Your Pallet.


Always arrange your pallet the same way. I start left to right with my warm colors then cooler.


White is in the upper left, below will be yellow, red next to the white, then in this case orange, lastly  green and blue.


Take a medium amount of white, about 2 nerdles ( a nerdle is the amount you would put on your toothbrush)


Always mix color into white, not white into the other colors. Taking the tip of your pallet knife move a small amount of white to an area to be mixed. With the tip of your pallet knife mix a med to light pink, this will depend on who you are painting, but start light! It is very easy to go dark, not so easy to go light. Mix with the back of the knife until well blended. Use another knife to scrap off the back of the first knife. This is your starting point.




When you have this mixed, blend in a small amount of yellow. You will begin to see a light peach beginning to develop. If you need to go darker add just a tip of red, then yellow to blend out a darker peach.

To tone this down. Dip just the tip of your pallet knife in the green and blend, blend, blend.


This should be your basic skin tone.


This is even true for black skin.


You want the basic tone to be a mid tone of your subject.