I finished this pet portrait back in October, but I couldn’t show it to the world yet, because it was a commission for a Christmas gift. It started out as a pencil drawing, but I just wasn’t satisfied with the blackness of Max’s eyes, and I didn’t want to leave out the warm tones in his fur, so it evolved into a colored pencil painting. Or technically mixed media because I had to use ink to get the obsidian-like sparkle in his peepers.
This was my first experience with laid paper. If you’re not familiar with the term, laid paper has ridges in it that are the result of the manufacturing process. It was the usual type of once until it was gradually replaced by wove paper wove paper which has a uniform surface without lines. I learned that recently when I’d been reading a lot of those little signs next to the art at museums that describe what you’re looking at. A lot of them said “ink on white laid paper” or “printed on cream laid paper,” etc. I took out my phone and educated myself a bit. Thanks, Wikipedia!
My advice for laid art paper: Yes, when you see it on clearance for just 15 cents, by all means buy it. Just don’t try to use colored pencil on it. It was a bit like drawing on fine-whale corduroy and those ridges showed through unless I really pressed down hard. This work in progress detail photo shows pretty well what I was dealing with:
I was very happy with the finished work. My friend who commissioned it got a little choked up when I showed her. Her husband who received it for Christmas gave me a hug and thanked me the next time he saw me. I’ll call that a success! Here’s how they framed it:
If anyone else is interested in a pet portrait, I am open to doing more commissions. Valentine’s day would be a great time to surprise your sweetheart with a portrait of his or her special furry friend. Contact me for details.
A bonus chuckle — This is what my cat thinks of dog art:
The oil on canvas version of Still Life with Hydrangea (on the right) that I started back in mid-summer is finally finished. It just needs some drying time and a coat of varnish. The acrylic version on the left was finished last month, but I thought I’d wait until both were done to “unveil” them.
I started with oil paints that are water-miscible (water-mixable or water soluble — all three mean the same). I determined that they weren’t all they were marketed to be. Some colors/brands mix with water better than others. Some mix better with turpentine substitute (mineral spirits). Some don’t mix very well with either. Most colors got gummy at some point and resisted spreading. I ended up giving in and buying a bottle of Turpenoid® and a set of inexpensive conventional oil paints — the supposedly noxious chemicals that I’d been avoiding all my life for fear that they were dangerous to work with.
I found that I had been silly to wait so long to try oils. I had always assumed that oil painting required a big bucket of solvent. For that I blame Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting… also my unpleasant experiences with oil-based house paint. I bought a nifty little stainless steel cup with a spill-proof lid and a grate inside for rubbing the brushes against to clean them. It only needs a few ounces of solvent and it can be reused over and over again before needing to clean the cup and change the solvent, because the paint solids sink to the bottom under the grate. I can’t believe in all my years of making art, I never learned about this.
I’m sure you knew all about this and you’re shaking your head at my ignorance. Anyway, I’m very happy with how both paintings turned out and I will be posting them for sale shortly — the oil version will need to dry first. And I’ll need to keep my fingers out of the paint while it does. I seem to be getting better at that.
Still plodding along with the still life. When I used the wrong mixture for glazing and had to set aside the oil version (on the right) back in August, I expected that it wouldn’t be dry enough to paint the next layer until Christmas. But it surprised me, and it appears that only a couple months was necessary. In the meantime, I started on the acrylic version of the same still life (on the left) and it has been going well… mostly. I’ve experienced some frustrations with the paint drying too fast on the canvas. (That’s situational irony, right? My 9th grade English teacher really tried, but I’ve always been a little unclear on that.)
So it wasn’t the subject matter that drove me to give up temporarily on the first canvas, it was the medium. And while working on the second canvas, the medium is making me itch to go back to work on the first canvas. I’m learning a lot, and relearning some too, about my mediums. (Or media, if you prefer–both plurals are correct in an art context; I checked.) That was pretty much the goal of this project–to learn the properties and possibilities of my materials.
So, even though I’m not finished with either version, I’m already thinking about Still Life with Hydrangea No. 3. I’ve got a whole room full of art supplies. I could do watercolor next. Or gouache. Or ink. Or watercolor over ink. Or pastels. Or charcoal. Or colored pencil. Maybe Crayola crayons will suit my mood?
OH, HOLD THE PHONE! I just recalled that single sheet of art paper that I bought on clearance this summer. (Only 15¢–I’ll never get out of an art supply store that cheaply again.) That paper is a rich muted red and that would be the perfect support for a pastel painting of that still life! I think it maybe the time is approaching to try out that box of pastels.
More art tools … or, more precisely, framer’s tools. But most artists get good at framing too, because doing it yourself saves a bundle. Also, a lot of us wouldn’t let a professional framer touch our work, because our work is like our babies or a piece of our own souls. (Or we’re just control freaks.)
I just used these to frame “Bridesmaid in Pink,” (see my Gallery page) which I am about to enter in the 40th Annual Elkhart Juried Art Show at the Midwest Museum of American Art. If I get it finished soon, and if I can find a frame within my (currently very tight) budget, then I will also enter the still life painting that I’m working on.
One of my favorite Youtube art teachers, Stefan Baumann, says artists need to put their work out there for the world to see, even if they’re not trying to sell it, because it keeps them motivated. It also gives you the opportunity to see your work on a gallery wall next to other artists, which let’s you see how far you’ve come as an artist… or how far you need to go to achieve the level of art you are going for.
A fascinating portraitist whose blog I just discovered, Gwenn Seemel, provided the encouragement (in a video she shared) to get me over the dread of having to talk to people at an art event, should my work be accepted for the show… or even win something. It’s not that I don’t like people, I’m just one of those awkward introverts who has a knack for saying the wrong thing. That’s why I like blogging; I can edit the awkward out before I click “Publish” and put my words go “out there.”
They begin accepting submissions for the exhibit this week. Wish me luck!
About thirty minutes after I published my last post, I had a face-palm moment. There was no brown in my set of paints, and there was no true green to mix with red and make brown, BUT there was a tube of yellow in the box that I never bothered to open. I did have all the pigments I needed to make brown. I’ll blame that on staying up too late.
After almost two weeks, the still life [see previous post] is still not dry, and I have determined that it probably won’t be dry enough to glaze another layer until sometime after Christmas. (It only has about five new fingerprints in it, even without the angry doberman.) While I waited on it, I did some more studying about how to use oils for glazing and how to work with water mixable oils. I learned that I should have done that reading first, and I should have finished that canvas in acrylics for the look I was after.
Today I was smarter. I took a cheap canvas that had a hole in it, and I made a chart of swatches to test each color. The vertical black lines under the swatches are there to help me see how transparent the different colors are. I labeled everything with an ultra fine Sharpie marker because the swatches won’t help if I don’t recall which tube I squeezed it out of.
I learned a lot. I now know that one brand is more highly pigmented–at least the two colors I bought. I learned that the other brand varies widely in consistency. I learned that both reds take a LOT of washing to come out of the brush. And I learned that the tube of French Ultramarine doesn’t mix with water like it’s supposed to and it’s also very, very stinky. It’s not turn-your-stomach stinky, but I would only use it as a last resort if I needed to mix a very particular shade.
I did a smart thing this time… I left the paint on my glass palette, so I can stick my fingers in that instead of the swatches on the canvas to see if it has dried. Next I need to slap some paint around a practice canvas and try some blending. Then I’ll have a better feel for these paints, and I’ll be ready to use them in an actual painting. Not tonight though–don’t want to stay up too late again. Time to feed the cats and catch some ZZZZZzzzzz.
Two days ago I spent the day at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, which really gave me the itch to get on with painting. Today, I finally opened up the new set of water soluble oil paints that I’ve been planning to try. It didn’t go quite as well as I’d imagined. Half an hour into the project, I was wrestling with a cat in the bathroom, trying to remove Viridian Green from her paws. I’m glad it was the water-soluble type of oil paint because Turpenoid® probably isn’t safe for kitty to be licking off of her paws.
The next problem was that there was no brown paint in the set and brown tones are more square inches of the picture than any other color. Yes, of course I know that you can mix brown from red and green, but there wasn’t a true green either. (Viridian is a blue-green, in case you aren’t familiar.) I wasn’t having much luck coming up with brown, but I did come up with a lot of interesting grays. I’ll need to go back to the store and get a few more tubes in more basic colors.
The next problem was too much linseed oil in my glazing mixture. The blue was amazing, but it started running down into the unpainted areas and staining the white parts. (I may or may not have said a not nice word when that happened.) At that point I decided that it should lay flat to dry and I should continue working on it later.
The final problem is me. I am apparently completely unable to get near a wet canvas without sticking my fingers in the paint. With acrylics, watercolors, or gouache, that isn’t a problem. I even managed to keep my fingers out of the latex paint I used on the studio walls until it dried, but not this stuff. I need an angry doberman to guard it out there in the garage and keep me away from it until it’s dry enough to work on again.
It wasn’t all disappointment. I do REALLY appreciate the fact that oils don’t dry out on the palette before I’m done using them. I didn’t do much thinning with water, but when I did, it worked beautifully. It’s weird mixing water with oil, but it works.
So, my new drawing tool — a proportional divider (also called a scale divider) — arrived from Amazon on Friday. It’s the X-shaped tool on the left, and it’s used for enlarging a reference photo or increasing your accuracy when drawing from life.
When new art supplies arrive in the mail, it’s just like Christmas. I was tracking the shipment with Amazon, and I also signed up for that “Informed Delivery” service with the postal service, so I was ready to ambush the mail carrier when she arrived. (I may or may not have startled her a bit.)
I found it to be very useful. I am grateful to Stefan Baumann and his Youtube video for letting me know about something I didn’t even know I needed. I may have over-used it a bit on this canvas, but it definitely helped my drawing accuracy, and probably saved me some time too. The longer you use it the less you are supposed to need it, because it doesn’t just measure for you, but trains you to measure visually on your own.
I will also be trying out a new set of oil paints that have been sitting in my studio waiting for their first squeeze. That’s why I’m doing a nice, simple still life — don’t want everything in one project to be new and/or challenging. Also, I’ve heard that when you can’t decide what to paint, you should paint your lunch. The cherries were delicious.