8×10″ Still life with Mandarins.
Tried to stay loose here, limiting myself to three short sittings, about an hour each.
I think paint is a fascinating thing. I’m a very technically minded person and I am always interested in discussing materials with fellow artists. To that end, I wanted to share a couple resources for those interested in more information about their paints.
First, dickblick.com is a terrific online supply store. They’re constantly running promotions and various discounts which usually make their already hard-to-beat prices better than most of the competition. They have the best selection under one roof (or one domain, in this case), and unparalleled customer service. It’s a great company and I can’t recommend them enough. But beyond all that, their website is a goldmine for painters looking for detailed information about their colors.
From the long list of colors on your chosen manufacturer’s page, click the magnifying glass icon to the left of any color…This brings you to the following page:(Note the tabs at the top: “Description” – “Color Swatch” – “Pigment Info”) Here, you find a complete list of the pigments contained in your chosen color, a large color swatch for a look at the actual paint, and a wealth of information about the pigments therein. This is especially useful when looking at mixtures (colors containing multiple pigments) and for brand-to-brand comparisons of similar colors. How does Williamsburg’s Brilliant Yellow compare to Winsor & Newton’s? Want to compare that new color you saw in the store to something you already own? (And so on…)
And if you want to get really crazy, check out the “Art Is Creation Art Pigment Database” for historical information, chemical composition, toxicity and more. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by this site, but when you’re looking for something specific, or trying to identify a color you haven’t seen before, this database is an excellent resource.
Is one paint better than another? It really comes down to personal preference. But with all this information at our fingertips, it’s easy to make informed decisions.
I consider myself a traditional painter.
I believe that art of today depends too heavily on explanatory doctrines. The viewer should reclaim the authority to decide whether or not something is worth their time. The artist and the critic have grown too comfortable in their pseudo-intellectual rhetoric, creating a divide between themselves and the art viewing public. Time and again judgments are made depending upon familiarity with the name, not the validity of the work. We find museums congested by people hunched over labels rather than looking at art; their attention stolen by the anecdotal tales of the docent, experiencing art only through passing glances.
I say look at something. Do you enjoy looking at it? Sometimes that’s enough.
As painters we must remember that the visual spectrum (perceived light) is far greater than the limited range of paint. Paint is capable of going as dark as pure black pigment, and as white as pure white pigment. The value range of paint is approximately 10 equally spaced steps between white and black. (This number may vary depending on who you ask. Some debate that there are nine, ten, or eleven steps by counting white as “zero”, effectively making “ten” eleven, etc.)
To recreate the effect of perceived light, we must plan and make compromises to suit the painting. A crude example: Standing outside on a bright sunny day, observe a white object. Then observe the sun. The sun is tremendously brighter (higher in value) than the white object. To recreate this effect in paint, we must adjust the image so that the white object is not painted white; pure white is reserved for the sun. Otherwise, the white object and the sun would appear equal.
Paint cannot faithfully record the brightness of the sun. The painter can, however, adjust values accordingly so the sun appears brighter relative to its surrounding values, thereby imitating the “effect” of the bright sun in relation to its surround. (For simplicity I have omitted consideration for color intensity, or chroma, which would also play a part in this example.)
My sister’s brother’s nephew’s neighbor knows a guy who said this thing which is true. Common sense tells us that the farther something gets from the source, the less reliable it becomes. (Remember that childhood game ‘telephone‘?) This grain of truth is often swept aside in historical inquiries. We must remember to always ask questions. The author’s sources should be the biggest area of concern.
The subject of Vermeer’s technique warrants such a consideration. The facts are simple:
- We don’t know with certainty who taught Vermeer how to paint.
- Vermeer did not have any documented pupils.
- Vermeer wrote no treatise on painting.
A basic understanding of the technical practices of the day does provide some insight into the likely methods used by Vermeer. The Delft School, Fijnschilders, and the whole of Genre Painting are a clear place to start. An excellent resource is found in folks like Dou, de Hooch and ter Borch. We can also connect Vermeer to Rembrandt’s circle by way of Carel Fabrititus, a pupil of Rembrandt who lived (and died) in Delft. There’s no shortage of information, but none is exactly from the horses mouth, as the saying goes.
David Hockney wrote a controversial book called Secret Knowledge. Personally, when I see a painter claiming authority about another painter’s work, the first thing I am compelled to do is look at the author’s paintings. Unfortunately, doing so here would keep us from reading Hockney’s book, which is an intriguing and entertaining hypothesis about past painters’ use of the camera obscura (and lucida). It’s also complete speculation, and in my opinion, false. As it has been several years since I read Secret Knowledge, I’m not prepared to give a proper book report, but Hockney’s argument boiled down to “it would have been too hard for them to paint these pictures free-hand, so they must have traced an image using these optical devices.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) This is obviously flawed.
Hockney’s celebrity propelled his book to some critical acclaim; regrettably, we live in a world where popularity is synonymous with truth. A better argument is found in Philip Steadman’s book, Vermeer’s Camera. Steadman’s argument is far more academic, but still rooted in speculation. (For the record, I love speculation… All I ever do is speculate. But we should all take issue when someone presents their opinions as facts.) Personally, I favor Lawrence Gowing for a speculative analysis of Vermeer’s technique.
Nigel Konstam expands on Gowing’s analysis and poses a compelling hypothesis regarding Vermeer’s painting methods through the use of mirrors. See the following videos:
An article written by Anne Shingleton, the painter in the above videos, follows:
Vermeer’s advantage of using two mirrors, By Anne Shingleton
Nigel also has some interesting theories about Rembrandt, and art history in general.
His blog is worth visiting.
Remember that in the end, we’re all just guessing. Some are educated, others are ignorant. It’s important to remember too, that Hockney’s title is deliberately provocative. There are no secrets. Good painting is made of good observation, and good observation will return good technique. Shortcuts existed then as they do now (far more now, no doubt), but shortcuts will only get you so far without a solid foundation beneath.
I think it’s a bit silly when I see painters methodically cleaning their palettes with solvents after painting. Far better results come from simply scraping excess paint with a knife, and then buffing the remainder with a rag. That is to say, don’t try to remove all the paint from the mixing surface; scrape off all that you can, but rub the rest in.
This creates a wonderful “neutral” ground and over time, a surface like glass. (I say “neutral” in quotes because it’s not chromatically neutral, far from it in fact, but it’s literally an average of all the colors you use – what better starting point for a mixing surface? I also favor this color as a painting ground for the same reasons.) And of course leave the piles alone, they won’t likely form a skin for several days.
Representational painting can be pretty tough; I could talk about the difficulties ad nauseam. Instead, I wanted to offer advice in overcoming two very common problems faced by painters: Straight Lines, and Ellipses.
Of course the knee-jerk reaction to straight lines is to use a ruler or some other straight-edge. However, once you try to follow a ruler with a brush full of paint you’ll realize how impractical this device is for our purposes. Another option is taping or masking areas to create straight lines. Again this works, but the results are far from perfect. Taped lines will give you a very hard edge (better suited for the trim in your bedroom than a piece of fine art). Both a ruler and a mask may give you a straight line, but not without a lot of extra work to make it what you want.
The answer is even simpler. Just look down the painting at an extreme angle. It’s tough to represent this in photographs, but see the following images of a still life in progress at two different angles.
One need only put themselves at this position to observe the line in an extreme compression (foreshortening). Blemishes and deviations will become immediately clear. Make an adjustment, recheck, repeat. You’ll have a satisfactory straight line in no time, without the hassle of restating the edges as if you used tape or a ruler.
And it’s not just straight lines that will reveal themselves here; those dreadful ellipses will jump out at you too. As is known, the ellipse should never look like a football (with pointed ends), and it shouldn’t necessarily be an oval either. It’s supposed to look like a perfect circle viewed at an angle. The effect of this extreme compression on your ellipse will reveal issues pertaining to symmetry. If it’s working, your object will take on a more cylindrical appearance. The opening of the vase here (work in progress) gives a good example. This ellipse is pretty good (not perfect yet…), but it only arrived here after lots of angled viewing and correcting.
Just like checking your painting in a mirror, looking at it upside down, using a dark-mirror, squinting, standing on one foot (…), looking down the painting at an angle is a helpful and organic way of checking your work. By all means, use whatever devices you have at your disposal, but I find it’s often the simplest approach which lends the best results.
I came across Katy Schneider’s website a while back and wanted to pass it along.
I don’t know her… So I can’t say much about her…
But her paintings, especially the interior/figurative work, are quite wonderful.
Mostly autobiographical family portraits, they have a lovely spontaneity about them. Painted in a kind of short-hand, most things seem abbreviated or condensed down to the essential spots of color. These small paintings create a visual journal of her life as a mother and painter. Nothing seems contrived or too elaborately composed, lending a sense of candor not often seen in picture making. www.katyschneider.com
She mentions recently illustrating a couple of children’s books… Once I Ate a Pie, and Painting in the Wind. But most of the paintings on her website are more than 10 years old.
I’d hate to think she’s not painting anymore… Hopefully the selection is just out-of-date.
(I know how that goes – and I’m not busy with children!)
Evidently I was too distracted by her beautiful paintings to notice that Katy has several shows coming up. The Wistariahurst Museum in Hartford CT (June 2012), and The Washington Art Association in Washington Depot, CT (September 2012).
I find blogging to be rather intimidating. Or, maybe not intimidating… but it’s something.
Here’s a look at something in progress, an 18×18″ trompe l’oeil of David’s eye. This photo from the end of day one after about five or six hours work.
David’s eye plaster cast from Giust Gallery.
I just learned that my self portrait was selected as a finalist in the ARC’s 2011/2012 Salon.
Visit the Art Renewal Center here:
and view past Salon exhibitions here.
Winners are announced sometime next month (I think?).