Counting Crows Live at the Sydney Opera House

 Counting Crows Live at the House On-Demand

 And I can’t recommend this one enough: Counting Crows August & Everything After (DVD)

Different brands of paint…

I use many different brands of paint; I enjoy trying new colors and comparing the differences between manufacturers. But I know several painters who stick with just one brand of paint. We see brand loyalty such as this in all kinds of consumer markets; you find something you like and you stick with it. While there’s nothing wrong with this mindset, limiting yourself this way when it comes to paint really does take away some very worthwhile possibilities (it’s limiting, after-all). Now… before getting ahead of myself, it bares mentioning that it’s not the products which are important, it’s what you do with them (which is to say, you can make wonderful paintings with very modest materials, and you can also make terrible paintings with extravagant materials; in the end it’s the painter which is important, not the products they use).

my paint drawer...

Lower quality paints, commonly referred to as “student grade”, tend to regulate paint consistency across their lineup with any number of additives. Paint manufacturers, like modern food-makers, add numerous foreign ingredients which are often unseen (and unconsidered) by the consumer. Aluminum stearate, hydrogenated castor oil, bentonite clay, calcium naphthenate, silica gel… the list goes on. These are common additives used to manipulate the state of the pigment as it sits in the tube and the way it pours onto your palette. Unlike foods, paint manufacturers are not required to disclose any information about the contents of the tube. As a rule, you can bet some additives are present in your paints. (Aside from those used as filler in low-quality paints, additives are most commonly used as preservatives, to extend the shelf-life of the paint by preventing oil/pigment separation in the tube.)

The first thing a student will notice when sampling higher quality paints (“professional grade” vs. “student grade”) is the variance which exists between pigments. All pigments are different; they aren’t supposed to squeeze out of the tube in exactly the same toothpaste consistency as the last. Sienna should not feel like cadmium. Also, cadmium should not dry as quickly as sienna. Back when paints were made by hand in the artist’s studio, it was understood that different colors had different properties. One may be gritty while another is buttery. One may be very light and transparent while another is heavy and opaque.

Unfortunately these differences are compounded when looking across different manufacturers. Some brands are more heavily pigmented than others. Some are generally thick and stiff while others are creamy and soft. Some of these differences are due to the way the paint was milled, some are due to additives, and some are just a mystery. Many manufacturers disclose a great deal about their practices, while others consider it a trade secret. Most manufacturers list the pigment content on the tube, but we have to do some research on our own to figure out what kind of binder they’re using (the type of oil) and what kinds of additives, if any, are disclosed. (If you care to look for it, most of this information can be found on the manufacturer’s websites, and that which is not is often given on request in response to a friendly inquiry to their customer service department.)

It’s also important to point out that color names are completely arbitrary. One manufacturer’s “sky blue” may be another manufacturer’s “primary blue” which is the same as another manufacturer’s “cerulean blue”. This is an unfortunate obstacle painters must overcome. We can get around it a little by looking to the pigment content, but that’s more an indicator of how the paint will behave than to what it actually looks like. (For example, the pigment contents will help us to estimate the tinting strength, opacity, etc, but the actual color of any of these pigments varies a great deal.) And what’s worse, those colors which should be most predictable are often the most varied. Take something like Burnt Sienna, a staple earth red on any painter’s palette. Not only does the color vary from one manufacturer to another, but some don’t even use burnt sienna (PBr7); many use red iron oxide (PR101), which is usually more transparent than natural sienna.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if one is better than another; it really comes down to personal opinion and how it affects your particular working practices. I personally love Williamsburg’s Burnt Sienna. It’s a little redder than most and for me, the consistency just feels right. But Williamsburg is not my favorite for every color. Next time you run out of one of your staples, try a new brand. You never know until you try it… Plus, with earth colors, the cost difference is not overwhelming (compared to cadmiums, where the price varies from $15 to $50 between brands). Take a look at this selection of Burnt Sienna’s from popular manufacturers:

Burnt Sienna, various manufacturers @ Dick Blick
Old Holland, PBr7.........$12.11
Blockx, PBr7..............$11.26
Williamsburg, PBr7........$10.36
Schmincke Mussini, PBr7....$9.20
Holbein, PBr7..............$9.19
Rembrandt, PR101...........$7.79
Michael Harding, PBr7......$7.76
Sennelier, PBk11 + PR101...$7.13
M. Graham, PBr7............$6.24
Winsor & Newton, PR101.....$6.00
Gamblin, PBr7..............$5.97
Da Vinci, PBr7.............$5.88
Grumbacher, PR101 + PBr7...$5.36

Tallest Man on Earth



8×10 Still life with Mandarins

Still Life with Mandarins, painting by Thomas Conway

8×10″ Still life with Mandarins.
Tried to stay loose here, limiting myself to three short sittings, about an hour each.

Detailed paint information…

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, 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… Old Holland Classic Oil ColorsThis brings you to the following page:blick-pigmentinfo(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.

Nerdrum Judgement Revoked

Nerdrum Tax Evasion Case UpdateOdd Nerdrum will be retried sometime next year for those tax evasion charges. The previous judgements, which would have had Nerdrum serving 2 years and 10 months in prison, have been revoked pending retrial by the high court. We will have to wait and see.

Read the full translated article here.

Mission statement

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.

Black and White

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.)

Vermeer, in a Mirror?

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.

Additional texts such as Vermeer and the Art of Painting and the recently released Vermeer: The Complete Paintings are highly recommended.