Sunday, August 6, 2017

Basic Painting Supplies

Here is my list of favorite basic painting supplies, suitable for painting from life. 

Canvas Panels

New Traditions Art Panels Inc.
Oil Primed Belgian Linen Fine weave
L600 - 1/8 inch Birch

Paint Thinner:  

Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits

Gamblin refined linseed oil
Canvas Panels: Oil Primed Belgian Linen Fine weave

Or, wood board (birch) primed with Gamblin Oil Ground

L600 - 1/8 inch Birch
New Traditions Art Panels Inc.
3006 South Scott Lane #101
West Haven, UT 84401

Jack Richeson 694051 Italian Field Easel, Steel, Black
SoHo Grey Toned Disposable Paper Palettes
Brush washer
Palette knife (Diamond shaped, steel)
VIVA paper towels
Brush soap

Oil Paints

My basic palette includes 13 tubes:
  • One warm / opaque and one cool / transparent version of each primary color (Red, Yellow, Blue).  
  • One of each secondary color (orange, green, violet).  
  • Two earth umbers (opaque and transparent).  
  • One warm white and one cool white.  

Lead White: Thomas Harding Lead Stack White

Warm, velvety, lustrous white great for flesh painting.
Titanium White: Gamblin
Burnt Umber: Old Holland

Beautiful flesh shadows when mixed with cadmium orange or ultramarine.
Raw Umber: Old Holland

Transparent with cool green undertones perfect for underpainting, block-ins, grisaille and wipe-outs
Permanent Alizarin Crimson: Gamblin

Transparent cool red perfect for flesh tones, makes a rich black with Sap Green + Ultramarine
Cadmium Red Light: Old Holland
Cadmium Orange: Old Holland

Mix with Cerulean Blue to make a rich grey
Lemon Ochre: Williamsburg Paint

Superior yellow ochre without heavy green undertones
Cadmium Yellow Light:  Old Holland
Sap Green: Williamsburg Paints

Transparent, cool and rich, great for flesh painting and landscapes.
Cerulean Blue: Old Holland

Versatile warm blue for landscapes, makes a rich gray with Old Holland cadmium orange.
Cobalt Blue: Old Holland
Ultramarine Blue: Old Holland

Transparent with green overtones, great for under-paintings and transparent shadows, mixes with Sap Green + Alizarin to make a rich black.
Manganese Violet Reddish: Old Holland

Mix Sap Green + Permanent Alizarin Crimson + Ultramarine Blue for a rich transparent black.

Mix Burnt Umber + Ultramarine Blue for a rich opaque black.

Optical Versus Intellectual Modes of Painting

In the course of studying with artists at the New York Academy of Art and Grand Central Atelier over the years I have come across several very different modes of observation when painting from life.  At the highest level of generalization these modes of visual thinking fall into two approaches: 
  • Optical or “Paint what you see” (reacting to observed color)
  • Intellectual or “Paint what you know” (modeling the form with value based on the direction of the light source.)  
The Optical Mode

The first style of visual thinking, the optical mode, tends to generate paintings that are highly chromatic with a stimulating range of hues.  Form is created primarily through temperature changes (contrasting warms and cools).  The virtues of this style are graphic impact, energy, movement and emotional effect.  The vices of this approach are a patchy, crude or "posterized" look. In my opinion, this approach is exemplified by artists like Ben Fenske.

The Intellectual Mode

The second style of visual thinking, the intellectual mode, tends to generate paintings that are tonal, with a subtle variations in values and a limited palette of hues and subdued chroma.  The virtues of this style are a subtle, poetic, and intellectually sophisticated look. The vices of this approach are a stylized mannequin-like polished feeling and a static lack of energy.  In my opinion, this approach is exemplified by artists like Scott Waddell.

Of course, in practice great painters combine both approaches fluidly, alternating between the two modes at different stages of the painting.  This level improvisation requires a a high degree of skill, experience and confidence which few of us can readily achieve. Fortunately in painting,  “The Process is the Product” and those of is who are mere mortals can bake the benefits of both approaches into our process. 

The Process is the Product 

I recently tried intentionally alternating these approaches during a six-hour portrait study session at Grand Central Atelier

Stage 1: Block-In

Stage 2: Optical Impressions

This stage is focused on reacting visually to color and identifying regions of color that can be grouped together.  This stage involves keeping each region of color generally flat and relying on brush application and edges for the transitions rather than “modeling” transitions with blended gradations of value.  Form is turned towards or away from the light with relative temperature changes (warmer or cooler). The values are intentionally compressed into the middle ranges.    

Stage 3:  Intellectual Modeling

This stage is focused on “modeling form” by conceptually understanding of the surface planes as they turn towards or away from the light sources.  Starting in the shadows, gradations of value are applied that gradually working out from the shadows and into the lights.  The value range of the painting is expanded by working from the darkest darks to the highlights.  

The combination of these two modes of visual thinking, each at a separate stage of the process, seems to yield a more nuanced and balanced result than favoring one approach at the exclusion of the other.    


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Hour Portrait Sketch

In this post I'd like to walk through an alla prima portrait sketch approach.  Here is the final result:


The canvas is prepared with an oil-based ground of Gamblin Oil Painting Ground thinned to the consistency of milk.  This "sizes" (water seals) the canvas and makes the surface less absorbent so that the paint will flow and the strokes will hold up their shape without sinking into the canvas weave.  A warm semi-transparent tone is then applied to the canvas  using a mix of raw umber (50%), yellow ochre (30%),  ultramarine blue (10%) and alizarin crimson (10%), thinned with mineral spirits. 

For a convenient self-portrait the canvas can be placed directly on a long mirror so that you have the option of painting in "sight-size" where the reflected image in the mirror is exactly equal in height and width to the drawing. 

Stage 1: Block-In

The purpose of this stage is to lay in a rough drawing, capturing the major simplified shapes and their relative proportions using a warm, dark transparent wash that approximates the main shadow color.  It's best to use large bristle brushes and create the initial drawing using straight lines and simplified shapes which will make it easier to evaluate the relative proportions. 


Stage 2: Open Grisaille

Once the major proportions of the shadow shapes have been defined, bristle brushes are used with plenty of thinner to scrape away the under-tone and indicate the light areas by allowing the white of the ground to show through.  This is called an "open" grisaille because white paint is not used.

Stage 3: Posterizing

The "average mid-tone" colors for the 3 or 4 largest shapes are mixed and laid in side by side so that their relationship can be compared on the basis of temperature (warmer / cooler) and value (darker / lighter).  Typically this is the background, shadow shape, light fleshtone and clothing. These colors are laid in as flat "poster" shapes for easy comparison.  Once they are all adjusted to work harmoniously they form the basis of the value structure of the painting.   In mixing the "average" it is best to err on the side of darker middle values and low saturation.  It's also important to keep a bit of clean thinner in the brush so that this layer will dry quickly.  Pay attention to edges and "service the big shapes" by resisting the temptation to paint in smaller details.  Maintain the simplest, biggest shapes possible. 

Stage 4: Mid-Tone Mass-In

At this stage the brush is loaded with medium (50% stand oil, 50% thinner).  The major shapes are broken down to the next level and the large mid-tone colors are massed in with large brushes starting with the shadow shapes and working into the mid-tones.  The values are kept in the middle range for now. 

At this stage the drawing needs refinement, and a more precise exploration of the anatomical shapes.  I find it helpful to do a quick exploratory study of the major planes and shadow shapes, in keeping with the anatomical shapes identified by John Henry Vanderpoel in his classic "The Human Figure".

Using the drawing as a guide yields further refinement.  The "architectural integrity" of the major planes is maintained, with well-defined edges that blend into each other without losing their borders.  This way the sense of form and the structure of the head does not become "mushy" or "wobbly":

Stage 5: Modeling

At this stage more sensitive modeling is painted using a wider value range, crawling across the form from the shadows to the lights, but using "temperature" changes rather than exaggerated value changes to articulate the turning of the form.

Stage 6: Finish

Now working all around the painting rather than "crawling" across the form, the highlights, dark accents and saturated "broken color" passages are used to make important features like the nose extend out into space and draw attention to important moments such as the red of the lips, the high points of the chin, and center of interest in the model's right eye. 

Here is a detail of these finishing passages.  Note the "broken color" on the chin, and the transition from the "hot" pink of the right cheek to the "cooler" pink of the same value as the cheek turns:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Painterly Printing

I was introduced to the monotype printing method at the Salmagundi Club's recurring Monotype Parties which are hosted by Master Printmaker Robert Pillsbury.  The monotype (or "monoprint") technique creates a single, unique print and allows a very painterly approach to printmaking.  Ink is rolled onto a metal plate and then wiped away by using the "subtractive" method that is identical to creating an "open grisaille" or "wipeout" underpainting.  In the subtractive method, the plate (usually copper but can be plexiglass for tracing a drawing)  is covered with ink and the lights are "rubbed out" with a variety of brushes, styluses and other mark-making tools.

When the print is pulled on wet paper, the result is Tonalism at its best: smoky, atmospheric, and moody with loose, expressive edges. This style was exemplified in the 19th century by painters like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, George Inness, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

"East Hampton Beach Path No. 1",  2012.
Monotype Print, 6x9 inches, by Thomas Shelford

Monotype printmaking tips:

  • Create a medium-value  "ground by covering the plate with a  "mid-tone" using a soft rag.  Soften the ground tone into a cloudy, smoky haze by brushing it with a soft makeup brush such as the type that is used to apply blush.
  • Work into the ground tone both additively (by adding ink) and subtractively (by scraping away ink).  
  • Work soft-to-hard by beginning the drawing with a broad, soft, hazy application, (for example, by using Q-Tips to loosely "draw" the light areas)  and then gradually hardening selected edges at the center of interest as the drawing progresses. 
  • Use two types of ink, sepia and cold black, and mix them together to create a rich color with a unique warm-cool balance that is to your liking. 
  • Use a very diverse combination of drawing tools to obtain a wide variety of surface effects and a "layered" feeling.  Makeup Q-Tips, makeup brushes of all types,  bristle brushes, wooden chopsticks and toothpicks leave unique marks.  

Charles Brand Printing Press
Tools of the Trade

A great place to learn and practice monotype printmaking is The Lower East Side Print Shop which offers residencies to working artists, providing 24x7 access to their facilities which include a Charles Brand press.  I recently completed a residency at LESPS and exhibited the results, a series of monotype landscapes, with Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor.

Lastly, here is a recommended book for learning about the history of monotype printmaking:

The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century, by Sue Welsh Reed.