Sunday, August 6, 2017

Basic Painting Supplies

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

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.