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.
Here’s an update on the art I’ve been creating for the past month. It’s been a month for drawing practice. A painting doesn’t get very far if the artist’s drawing skills aren’t up to the job, and really painting is just drawing in color anyway. Above are a few of the ink drawings I completed this month for the Inktober 2018 challenge. I did them all in my miniature sketchbook that I carry around with me in my purse, so most of them are only about 3″ x 3 1/2 inches.
I’ve done other challenges — National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words of fiction in 30 days) for November and the National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for April — and those were interesting and fun, but also frustrating. I think that’s because I write well, but I LOVE drawing and painting. It’s my gift. Also, because I’d never heard of it until November 1st and I jumped in on a whim, I didn’t feel guilty when, about two-thirds of the way through the month and I stopped and only did two more for the rest of October. I just didn’t want to do any more. It was a liberating thing, actually, to abandon it, because it was good practice for a time but was no longer of benefit to me. Never keep doing something just because it’s what you’ve been doing.
I did these two drawings in an art group that I meet with at our church. The group leader stopped at a roadside produce stand to get the props to set up the still life. The drawing of the old man was from a photo she clipped from a magazine, and the rest of the page was cut away, so I don’t have the information to properly cite the photographer. I am particularly pleased with the hands, which are much harder to draw accurately than faces.
I finished two paintings in October too. The first was the acrylic version of that still life. I’ll share a picture when I finish the oil version, so I can unveil them together. The other was the abstract below titled “Vineyard” which started out as just a loosening-up exercise, but it went well enough that I refined and finished it so it’s ready for framing. I plan to paint three companion pieces in the near future titled “Orchard,” “Field,” and “Garden.” If you are interested in purchasing “Vineyard,” see my gallery page for more information.
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.
Yes, that’s a still life in black and white. Don’t adjust you set! (Seriously dated myself there.) Actually it’s the under-painting — about 3/4 finished. It’s an Old Masters technique that I read about, painting the values first to establish the form and then glazing over with color. They used it mainly on flesh tones.
I’m trying it out on a still life… because a peach is not going to complain that I didn’t capture her likeness adequately. Actually, if those peaches could talk, I think they’d be flattered. No wait, I already baked them in a cobbler, so they wouldn’t say a word. (Working from a reference photo at this point.)
I’ve got five cherries, a white pitcher and one big flower yet to go, and then I can get to the really fun part — glorious color. This stage is getting tedious, but I’m very pleased with the results so far. I especially like the way the wood grain in the table is turning out, and the reflection of the pitcher in the shiny wood. (That reflection is pretty subtle at this point — probably can’t see it in this small photo.)
I think I stopped fussing with the wood grain just in time. There is a famous art school proverb about painting: “It takes two people to make a painting — the artist to paint it, and another person to clobber the artist over the head and stop him before he messes it up.”