Monday, November 26, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 61-70

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 61-70
Numbers 61-70 of my 100 Starts project

Numbers 1-10
Numbers 11-20
Numbers 21-30
Numbers 31-40
Numbers 41-50
Numbers 51-60

Number 61 notes

This one was cool because I turned the green paper so it was more dynamic in the composition. I like the way the cast shadows change color as they move from the green to the ivory fabric underneath. It would have been nice to add the reflected light on the apple to give that large dark red area more life.

Number 62 notes

Building off of Number 61, I looked for reflected light in this onion and used the green paper at an angle again. I don't think it was very effective to fuss with the shadow side of the onion — it didn't really make the form any more clear. I actually think it made it harder to understand. I spent much more time tweaking it and that seems to have taken away the vitality that was captured in other studies. I really like the way the yellow bowl is painted though!

Number 63 notes

When choosing today's Start I made the choice to give myself a new challenge. And challenge, it was! Every element of this subject pushed me into new territory. I had to figure out a way to simplify the raffia behind the large flower and the flower itself. There were so many more shapes to paint, with each petal angling and catching the light slightly differently. As I stood close to the easel things just did not look like they were coming together, but after I finished, took a break, and looked at it from several feet away it looked better to me. I think you can tell where the light is coming from and how it's casting over the large rusty-red flower.

It would be interesting to paint this subject but at a smaller scale, fitting the entire arrangement into the picture frame. Zooming out on it might help me simplify better.

Number 64 notes

Picked up a few new fruits for still life subjects today at the grocery store. I included the light blue block in the composition to add interest to the right side of the study and because I liked the contrast of warm and cool colors. This one has a soft, muted quality that I'm really liking. It makes me feel calm and peaceful — and it also felt calm and peaceful to paint. That's not something I was really expecting to happen.

Number 65 notes

Continuing my study of this pear, from a slightly different perspective and a dark grey block. My drawing of the pear is a little skewed, which could have been helped by double checking where the base sits in relation to the base of the stem. It's fascinating how the same subject can look so different by changing the viewpoint and lighting.

Number 66 notes

I'm happy with the colors and shapes in this pear study. The colors in the green wedge were interesting because of the warm light being reflected in the left side of it. The composition is dull though…It's more interesting when at least one of the objects extends out of the picture plane.

Number 67 notes

This was interesting because there were so many warm colors in the subject. I noticed some especially dark shapes on the left side of the pear, next to the light yellow block. But painting them in looks a little weird — maybe just because it's flat and basic.

Lately I've been mixing my colors with the shadow family on the left side of my palette, and the light family on the right. Within that basic framework, there's no structure. I think a good thing to work on next is to organize them in color value lines (perhaps starting with just a dark, mid, and light of each color) because when it comes time to turn forms I don't want to have a crazy mess on my hands. That was one of the things I really liked about my palette knife workshop at Art of the Carolinas: having  pre-mixed dark, mid, and light puddles for the trees really helped make painting those areas easier and clearer.

Number 68 notes

I had intended to premix a color value line for this one, but out of habit just started mixing the darkest dark and lightest light. I caught myself when it was time to paint the shadow side of the first pear and rather than premixing the colors I'd be needing I just mixed them in neater piles than usual. It was helpful to see the colors next to each other as they went from shadow family to light family.

The way the light hits the pears in this still life is really nice and describes their forms well. I also like how rich the red-orange is in the pear on the left — it's so much more alive than previous studies of this subject (#64-67). The near-complement palette of the red-orange and yellow green is appealing to me, especially since the red-orange is less intense.

Number 69 notes

Dang, I forgot to premix the color value lines again. Will need to work on reforming my palette habits! The shadow family should be a touch darker, but the separation of families is good. I really like the reflected light in the form shadow of the pear that's bouncing up from the orange paper.

Number 70 notes

My husband bought these neat tomatoes at the grocery store — they're much bigger than cherry tomatoes, but smaller than a typical tomato. Very cute, and remind me of a mandarin orange. My goal with this one was to study the complementary color palette of red and green. After the last few days of pear studies, I'm thinking I need to go a little darker with the shadow family on the next paintings and see how that goes.

I like doing monochromatic spot checks every now and again to test how my separation of light and shadow is going. This one seems particularly successful:

100 Starts 70-monochrome
Start Number 70, converted to greyscale. Looks like 4 values which makes me happy!
On to the final 30 Starts…

Friday, November 16, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 51-60

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

Numbers 51-60 of my 100 Starts project

Numbers 1-10
Numbers 11-20
Numbers 21-30
Numbers 31-40
Numbers 41-50

Number 51 notes

It's been awhile since I painted one of the dogs' toys so for Number 51 I chose their blue monkey (I sketched his brother Brown Monkey nearly a year ago during my sketching focused practice). I was feeling the urge to do something not symmetrical and elliptical, and it's in the realm of a figure study. It was fun to do the form shadows on the toy.

One thing I changed up with this one was to use more linseed oil to loosen up the paint. I had been trying to follow Kevin's advice to really lay the paint on thickly, but I found that it came up and blended so easily with the colors I laid next to each other and caused a mess of my shapes. Maybe this is why they say to paint the shadows thinly, because they go down first and it helps prevent goobering things up? I also didn't worry about painting the lightest light in the beginning because that was also giving me troubles before.

Number 52 notes

Another dog toy! Actually, it's just a little plush toy that my Chi mix, Pipsqueak, snatched off the floor a few years back. She was never one for toys before that, so when she took off with it randomly we were totally charmed and it was then hers forever. It's a javelina from when we lived in Arizona and I think she likes it because she's part terrier and terriers like to hunt little vermin, which this toy looks like. I also sketched it back in January during my focused practice.

I liked the idea of doing a study in temperature. The warm brown ground and cool grey toy are not that different in value, so it becomes about the subtle play between them. My big win for this one was being able to draw out the subject quickly by switching up my approach a tiny bit: instead of drawing linearly with a synthetic brush, I chose a small flat hog hair bristle brush that helped me have a looser, more sketchy drawing.

Number 53 notes

I wanted to do another study in warm and cool, and play with the composition a little. The cool, light grey background next to the bright yellow ground is interesting, and the subtle difference between the soft warm interior of the bowl next to that cool grey background almost makes a lost edge. My cast shadow grew too large, which is something I have to continuously keep an eye on.

Number 54 notes

After pulling an apple and a few grape tomatoes out of the fridge as my subjects, I chose a green paper to put under them for a study in complementary colors. I love the cast shadows in this one! For my drawing, I used a small filbert Grand Prix and kept it loose and sketchy. This approach has been working well for me and I think tomorrow I'll pull out my tube of transparent oxide yellow instead of mixing an earthy orange, just for comparison.

Number 55 notes

The shadow across the multi-colored coaster in this study fascinates me. Ever since I discovered the way this particular object challenges my brain and eyes, I just love painting it. And this little yellow dish is one of my favorite still life objects to paint. It actually has this scalloped texture on the lower part — maybe tomorrow I'll do a close-up on it and explore that shadow pattern.

Number 56 notes

Hmmmm I'm not loving the light/shadow pattern that describes the scalloped finish on the little yellow bowl. I think it either needs to be continued around the perimeter, or left off entirely. But, it's just a start, I guess. I like how the shadow side looks more than the in-light side, where the high points in shallow shadow are just slightly different from the deep shadow. And I raised my still life surface up higher, which gives me a different perspective to work with.

Number 57 notes

I'm exploring the house, looking for some new items for my starts. I selected one of my shoes, which I had sketched back in January during my focused practice on sketching. I spent much more time drawing it then than I did today, which was intentional. But today's drawing wasn't all that accurate, so I suffered the consequences of rushing the drawing when I started painting in the color shapes. It would have helped a ton if I had drawn the line between the table and the wall right away — by the time I added it, my drawing had gone astray which the horizontal line revealed. It would have provided some easy waypoints for checking my angles and proportions.

Number 58 notes

For today's subject I pulled the waxed canvas shave kit I made a couple of years ago for a sewing class lesson off the shelf. I thought it would be interesting to paint the folds and curves of the fabric, with those shadow shapes that are unique to fabric objects. It was hard to fight through the ugly stage — after I painted the shadow shapes I wasn't sure it was actually going to look like anything! So it felt good to finish and be happy with the completed start.

Number 59 notes

I sketched this cute denim bucket hat back in January during the focused practice session on sketching. I pulled it back out for today's Start and it was fun to do it in color this time. I think I did a good job of simplifying the shapes and eliminating detail. It helped that I set a mental goal to go quickly and not worry about every little fold and shadow. I'm getting more and more convinced about these simple, flat starts! Especially because I'm one to get caught up in details and then realize an hour into a project that the foundation wasn't set well in the beginning. This project has been excellent practice for getting comfortable drawing faster, selecting color faster, and putting color on the panel faster.

And this orange paper is one of my favorite surfaces to put under the still life objects! The colors of the shadows cast onto it are so beautiful and rich.

Number 60 notes

A favorite of dogs and their humans alike: the hedgehog squeaker toy! I can't get enough of these, they're so cute. I really like the way this start turned out and I'm learning more and more how much I enjoy painting organic shapes. Especially when there's volume to depict, like with this chubby hedgie.

As a grouping of ten Starts, this set is my favorite so far. I think there's a good amount of exploration subject-wise, and I felt like things started to click from a process standpoint. Drawing and color mixing are going quicker, and there's a good separation of light and shadow families. I'd like to do some more fruits and vegetables — we'll see where the final 40 go!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Palette knife workshop at Art of the Carolinas 2018

Shortly after moving to Raleigh I learned about Art of the Carolinas, an annual art workshop and art supplies expo sponsored by Jerry's Artarama. And it's right here in Raleigh! At the time registration opened, I was painting with acrylics, knew I wanted to pursue landscapes, and didn't have experience with palette knife painting. So I chose Loose & Lively Landscapes with Palette Knife taught by local artist Kim Maselli. Lucky for me, the class was good for both acrylics and oils, so when we set up our palettes we could pick which medium we preferred (I went with the oil paints).

The workshop started with a demo by Kim on using the palette knife and some pointers on painting skies. Then we went to our panels and painted our skies, while she walked around and made suggestions. Next she demonstrated mountains and trees, and gave us time to go back and paint our own. After this step, time was getting short so I had to kick things into high gear because I really wanted to finish the grasses and water. I didn't quite get the bottom area finished, but I actually liked that time ran out because it meant I couldn't go back and fuss with details.

Loose and Lively Landscapes with a palette knife workshop painting Nov 8 2018
My (almost-finished) painting from the workshop done entirely with a palette knife.

Up close, the painting looks like a melty mess, but when I stand back several feet or go across the room I like it much better.

My favorite pieces of advice from the instructor were:
  • When doing the initial drawing to place the elements, think in terms of making five big shapes.
  • Mix three puddles of green for the dark, mid, and light values — which made it pretty easy to block them in but suggest the form at the same time.
  • Keep variety in shapes — I initially had the contours of my mountains unintentionally mimic each other and I was grateful that Kim pointed that out so I could adjust.
I wish I had taken a few progress shots but as per usual the act of painting was so engrossing that it completely slipped my mind. 

Loose and Lively Landscapes with a palette knife workshop painting Nov 8 2018
My table top easel with reference photo below.
The workshop was a lot of fun and the time just flew by. I can definitely see incorporating the palette knife in more paintings, probably for the lighter, more textured areas, with the paintbrush for darker, thinner areas. Or for things like softening edges and reflections on water. I really liked dragging the knife vertically for the water reflections.

I went back today for the trade show, and was pretty proud of myself for not bringing home one of everything. I got a few pads of paper (bristol and marker paper for playing around with pointed pen calligraphy), a big tube of titanium white, some Gamblin cold wax medium and solvent-free gel to experiment with, and a few odds and ends. I couldn't pass up the Silver Brush Grand Prix brushes and bought a few small sizes that I find myself reaching for often.

Now the question is: do I go back tomorrow for more deals??

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 41-50

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 41-50
Numbers 41-50 of my 100 Starts project

Numbers 1-10
Numbers 11-20
Numbers 21-30
Numbers 31-40

Number 41 notes

I don't know what the heck I was thinking choosing a stainless steel bowl for this study. It's like none of the normal light/shadow principles apply — the light and reflections were all over the place and it took me a long time to decide what to color as in light and in shadow.

Crazy bowl aside, I love the lemon (this angle worked much better than Number 40) and the cast shadows on the orange surface. Really yummy colors. I used size 4 brushes instead of the little 2s I'd been using and tried to paint slow and steady to keep the edges and shapes the way I wanted.

Number 42 notes

I continue to be stumped by dark objects being struck by light, and how to keep them lighter than the shadow family. I'm sure it's my mental preconception of what "dark" colors look like. This brown onion on a dark blue kitchen towel would be improved by making the shadow family of the onion darker, making more of a differentiation between its shadow side and the towel in light.

Number 43 notes

Today I had fun picking out some new items for still life options at a thrift shop, plus a cute gourd from the grocery store. I love fall! The little olive green ceramic pitcher will be nice to work with. In this start, the color isn't warm enough so I look forward to painting it again and getting the temperature closer. I think I can do better on the deep green portion of the gourd, too. With this new batch of objects, it might be smart to pick one at a time to study.

Number 44 notes

Drawing the little gourd was a serious exercise in foreshortening. It was really cool with this one to see the color in the form shadow on the gourd caused by the reflected light of the orange paper it was sitting on. I had a really hard time getting that orange paper to look right — every time I added yellow to lighten and brighten it, it got less red. But when I added white to increase the value, it got dull. But overall I'm pretty happy with this start.

Number 45 notes

For this little olive green pitcher, I learned I don't yet have the brush control for the size brushes I chose to use. But it makes me wonder about doing a version of it with more angular curves. I think it would help me make the shapes of the subject more accurately — by doing long, smooth strokes I tend to fill in areas I don't mean to. Would be worth a try!

Number 46 notes

Instead of the hog bristle brushes I've typically been using, for this one I switched to a couple of synthetic bristle flats (a Silver Brush Bristlon size 8 and a Princeton 6300 size 4). I thought these would give me sharper lines for doing the angular curves I wanted to try, and for the most part they did a good job of that. I wish I'd used the larger one for the white rim of the bowl though — the small one was too choppy.

I think this start looks great from a distance or as a small thumbnail on the computer. I love the contrast that's happening in it and the shapes of the shadow on the lemon. This setup would be fun to finish as a complete painting, with the warm objects in cool light resting on the cool grey surface.

Number 47 notes

For the most part I'm happy with the colors in this one. Two areas I would do differently: the shadow inside the red bowl is too light, and the light the outside is too dark. I think I'm doing a better job with the shadow family in general though, by not making the colors too dark in relation to the color notes around them.

I'm trying not to let my rough brushwork distract me from the bigger picture of laying down accurate colors. The perfectionist in my is really struggling with that! It can be a future focused practice though. For now I want to continue concentrating on those color relationships.

Number 48 notes

This was one of those where I really had to fight through the ugly stage. One breakthrough for me with painting this little pitcher was to see the shadow inside the spout area as a single shape, rather than seeing the positive shape of the light rim around it. That made drawing the shape so much easier. I'm happy with the colors on the pitcher, and the brushwork on the thin rim area is improved over the last one. Instead of trying to paint a continuous thin line, I did shorter, straight strokes. It was a moment of remembering that this is paint on a brush, and it could look painterly. Doesn't have to be perfectly smooth.

Number 49 notes

Over the weekend I took a look at my planning for the rest of 2018, and if I want to finish these 100 Starts by the end of the year I need to pick up the pace!

I enjoy working with these new still life objects, and wanted to see what it would be like to pair a little bowl with one of the wood blocks. Things were going well until I reached a serious dilemma: the tall face of the dark grey block, which was in the light family, was absolutely darker than the shadow inside the bowl. What to do?? I think in hindsight, it would have made sense to go lighter on the block to clearly distinguish it from the shapes in the shadow family.

One thing I loved about painting this setup was how the top of the grey block took on a purple hue (the red-orange paper backdrop reflecting into the blue-grey block) and the side of the block directly facing the light had a cooler, blue-grey hue from the cool light of the bulb. The cast shadows were also filled with colors reflected from the red-orange backdrop.

Number 50 notes

Made it to the half way mark, whew. In some ways I can't believe I've only been doing this challenge for 2 months because it feels like much longer. I guess a lot of life has happened since September 10. At Number 18, I switched from acrylics to oils (with a few gouache thrown in there while traveling) and I think that transition is working well. I'm glad to be getting experience with the oils in a way that's low pressure and not meant to be complete.

Number 46 — a lemon in a little yellow bowl — was by far my favorite start from this set. I'm discovering how much the direction of the light and where it falls onto the forms is critical to how a shape reads. Like with that lemon, if the little nub end is what makes it look like a lemon. Without it, it's just a boring yellow sphere, which I learned back in Number 40.

I'm not sure if it's all the browns or what, but I didn't get much joy in painting today's teapot. It might be that all of the elliptical shapes around the top got me in a grumpy mood…I'm happy with the separation of light and shadow families though.

On to the next 50!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 31-40

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 31-40
Numbers 31-40 of my 100 Starts project

Numbers 1-10
Numbers 11-20
Numbers 21-30

Number 31 notes

One of my goals with this start was to use more paint than the last one. I did fairly well with that, except at the beginning. And I added a new shape: the occlusion shadow under the clementine. I love it! I'm going to start watching for a deeper occlusion shadow on the next starts as well.

I really do not like painting this bowl. It's cool in real life, but the different colors of wood within it don't come across as well in paint.

Number 32 notes

Challenging myself with another dog toy, this one more complex than the previous toys. The drawing looks pretty good to me, but I didn't go dark enough with some of the shadow shapes. Or I didn't go light enough with the cast shadow. There are parts of this toy that are black, and it felt really strange to make the black in direct light as light as I did! But I wanted to trust the advice and give it a try.

Number 33 notes

We went camping this weekend and I wanted to bring my gouache paints instead of oils. On the way to our campground, we stopped at the Joe's Cheap Art Stuff outlet in Boone, NC, and I tried not to go overboard stocking up. I was happy to see they stock large tubes of Winton oil paint, so I picked up a cadmium yellow pale hue, a neutral grey glass palette, some upgraded watercolor (and gouache) flat brushes, and a couple other miscellaneous things. I was super impressed with their brush selection — lots of lines that I haven't seen in the stores before.

I picked a camping mug and spoon from our silverware drawer for my study. New brushes plus the fact that I haven't used the gouache much lately plus poor lighting made for a mediocre start. Plus, I tried to include way too much detail — a good lesson on keeping Kevin's simple starts in mind. Oh well. On the upside, I was so bummed by this one that it made me do a little playing in my sketchbook where I painted a couple of gouache seaside landscapes from my head. They turned out pretty neat! Just little thumbnails, but it totally lifted my spirits.

Number 34 notes

Another camping trip study. Our little dog, Pipsqueak, was barking and whining at me the entire time I made this one, so it was quite frustrating. I was trying to make the gouache thick and opaque vs. thin and watercolor-like, and the brushes are a little bit soft so there's a lot of texture between the color shapes. It's not what I was going for, but I don't mind the roughness of it. I do wish there weren't white spots of the paper showing though. Once again, really bad lighting in the camper.

Number 35 notes

I was determined to do at least one plein air style start this trip! The weather was cold and rainy on our last morning there so I did this from inside the truck. There was a beautiful lookout onto a lake with overcast skies and deep green reflections of the trees in the water. I liked the blue mountain in the distance. My values are all over the place — partly because gouache changes value when it dries, but also because landscapes are hard! I tried to go easy on myself because I'm so new to them, but it was a bit of a let-down. But I guess if I were good at them right out of the gate that wouldn't make the journey so rewarding.

And I encountered that situation that other artists warn about: I ran out of yellow on my palette and instead of putting more out I tried to make do with what I had. Not a smart idea. It just led to more struggles and made it impossible to get the right colors.

Number 36 notes

I was excited to be back to oils for this one, and to be able to put down a bunch of my new yellow paint without hesitation. I'm working on improving my color identification and mixing skills, so as I made note of the colors in this study I referred to my color wheel and identified the hue and intensity in order to mix them up. I didn't do a good job of noting the values though, so I'll need to start getting that into the process, too. I keep thinking about when I learned how to drive and how it seemed impossible that a person could keep track of all of the things and still watch the road. But it became easier in time and I'm hoping that's how this will get, too.

Number 37 notes

Did a few different things on this one: went back to sketching a notan thumbnail before making my drawing on the panel, premixed my colors for the main elements (the apple, lime, background, and table top), used the color isolator much less, and held up a black brush handle to compare the shadow values to it. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by too many decisions to make all at once and and thought taking it step by step would help me feel more control over things. I think doing a quick thumbnail first helps me see the subject better and be more prepared for drawing and locating shadow shapes on the panel accurately.

Premixing the colors helped because I had been feeling like I was flailing and guessing too much mixing colors one at a time. It felt ineffective and inefficient, given my goal of 30 minutes or less on painting these. I didn't really keep an eye on the clock for this one because I didn't want to feel rushed while trying out the premixing approach.

Number 38 notes

I took several days off from painting while a friend was visiting, which was a nice break. But it felt great to get my brushes back in action! I picked an onion and head of garlic for this one, switching the location of the light but I didn't notice how similar the composition was to Number 37. I had fun with this one because I didn't get obsessed with trying to make the color shapes perfect — I just focused on getting close and making the relationships work. I was excited to see after doing a 2-color posterization effect in Photoshop that the light and shadow families held true. I also think the colors are more interesting because I didn't over mix the colors on my palette or overwork the brush strokes. I like the variety that resulted in the color shapes and I feel like there's a hint of warm vs. cool happening that's intriguing.

Number 39 notes

The seemingly simple arrangement of a lemon and mug on a blue coaster revealed a lot more complexity than I initially thought! When I first started this one I didn't entirely notice just how many different color shapes there were in the coaster, between the white trim and cast shadows from the lemon and mug. But this was a fantastic exercise to practice seeing the shapes and not the objects. While painting, I didn't think about cast shadows exactly, rather focusing on the color notes of each shape in those cast shadows. So when I finished, I was delighted to see that the colors I painted really made it look like a shadow that went across the blue coaster and onto the cream-colored cloth that everything sat on.

I wish the parts of the mug in the light family were lighter — they fall too much into the shadow family. I also think the lemon would work much better if the background color were different because it really gets lost due to the similarities in value.

Number 40 notes

More dramatic cropping with this one, but it's a little difficult to tell what the object on the left is. I'm happy with the light and shadow families because the values read well. I wonder what it would take to make the lemon look more like a lemon…

Number 40 feels like a milestone! I'm happy to be shaking up the still life objects and may need to hit the produce aisle just for some new things to paint.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 21-30

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 21-30
Numbers 21-30 of the "100 Starts" exercise, painted in oil

Numbers 1-10
Numbers 11-20

Number 21 notes

After number 20's drab color scheme, I wanted to infuse a bit more lightness into this one. I pushed harder to get the light family light enough to also bring the shadow family up in value a bit. The shadow side of the yellow cube is looking good, but the cast shadow is too dark to hold together well next to it.

Number 22 notes

For this one I bright in a bright blue sheet of paper to set the still life up on. My goal was to look quickly at the color shapes and go with my first instinct, as opposed to looking so hard that everything goes to grey tones. I think that was pretty successful.

I also switched up the initial color notes process a bit. After putting in the lightest light and darkest dark, I put in the darkest light and lightest dark. I'm hoping that by establishing the boundaries of the light family and shadow family I'll give myself a more clear range for each family and avoid crossing them.

Number 23 notes

Wonky drawing aside, I love the colors in this one — so smooth and mellow. I use a neutral grey paper palette to mix the colors on, and have realized that the darkness of the paper is influencing my values. So in addition to establishing the lightest and darkest colors in the light and shadow families, I worked harder to use the mid value grey as a comparison to the color being mixed. I believe that previously my mind was framing the grey as white, making everything skew darker than I was actually seeing in the still life.

Number 24 notes

I switched things up from the colored blocks to one of our dogs' toys to start working in more complicated forms, colors, and textures. It was nice to have just one object to paint, but it was definitely more challenging to see where the light and shadow families were. The furry fabric and curvy shape made it much less obvious to distinguish the form shadows so I looked for the extremes and jumped in.

I'm excited to do some color mixing exercises from various blog posts, videos, and books to get more familiar with my pigments and see what they'll do.

Number 25 notes

Same idea as number 24, just with the toy in a different position. I pushed the colors in the light family a little lighter which helps make the shadow shapes contrast more. I think there are some really interesting shapes going on with the shadow family, and when I stand back or view a thumbnail of the exercise I can definitely read what's happening with the light being cast on the toy.

I also worked on making the composition more interesting by avoiding equal spaces around the subject. He kind of looks like he's marching across the page (or maybe creeping across).

Number 26 notes

I've been wanting to set up my still life outside and get some experience painting in natural light outdoors, and today I finally had time to give it a shot. I hauled my materials to the back deck and painted under a cloudy sky. With all of the newness of the experience, I didn't keep a very good eye on my composition and drawing, but decided to keep going in order to stay moving quickly.

Despite my desire to make quick decisions and not draw out these exercises, I would like to find a way to look at the subject more. It's easy to get shapes really messed up when I spend more time looking at the panel than the still life!

It was rather warm outside (we're running about 10° above normal temps right now) but there's some plant that's flowering in the back yard that smells absolutely amazing and made up for the heat.

Number 27 notes

Back inside my studio for this exercise. I picked another dog toy for the study, and placed it on an intensely-blue paper. It's a plush shark that we got for Pipsqueak at the shark reef in Las Vegas several years ago. There's no squeaker inside but she loves that thing! The paper is a rich cyan, which I won't get with my current set of primaries (cad yellow light, naphthol red, and ultramarine blue) so I went for approximating the value as it relates to the toy. On the toy itself, I was surprised to see how yellow the gray was. When it's sitting on the floor I always thought it looked like a very cool grey. Maybe there's just a cast reflecting off of my studio walls, which are a tan color.

I like the way the chin/underbelly area reads as white in shadow, in contrast to the warmer grey body in shadow. And since I finished just shy of my 30-minute goal, I went in with some lighter highlights. I wasn't sure if that was considered too detailed for this challenge, but the shapes are still very simple so I think it's worth doing.

Number 28 notes

I grabbed a couple of bananas from the counter and placed them with colored papers to explore some new shapes and shadow colors. I'm happy with the shapes of the bananas, especially since they're foreshortened. And I'm loving the color of the light and shadow shapes of the bananas! One area that gave me trouble was the dark brown ends nearest the light source. They seemed quite dark to me — in fact those were my "darkest darks" as I got started. But after I laid that color down I thought about how any color in the light family will be lighter than any color in the shadow family. Rather than get hung up on it I kept going, but if I were to do it over I'd change the color to read better as light family.

Number 29 notes

I found a sad little clementine in our fruit drawer this morning and thought it would make a nice subject to paint. And I've enjoyed painting the banana and candle jar so those three things together made my still life setup for this exercise. I wanted to go fast on the drawing stage, placing my images quickly and accurately enough to make sense visually but not worrying too much about being exact.

I also changed up the size — instead of making two studies on an 11x14 panel, I split it into 4 parts to get roughly 5x7s. I don't know why I didn't think of this before! It allows me to use less paint, smaller brushes, and fill in the shapes more quickly.

I'm happy with how this one turned out. Every time I switch from painting the shadow shapes to the shapes in the light family it's a little thrilling the way it all pulls together like magic.

Number 30 notes

I had a heck of a time with color accuracy on this one! My initial color (the light part of the banana) was too light and cool, and that probably threw me off for the rest of the color shapes. I feel good about the drawing for the most part — it's exciting to be getting quicker with drawing more complex compositions. I'm getting stingy with paint again, which may have influenced the color challenges. Next time more paint!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

100 Starts - numbers 11-20

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson's prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 11-20
Days 11-20 of the "100 Starts" exercise, painted in acrylics from 11-17 and oil 18-20
Numbers 1-10

Number 11 notes

I added two new things to the way I do this exercise: used multiple brushes (one for lights, one for shadows, and one for the first easy color which is typically higher chroma) and a little test sheet to organize my colors in the light and shadow families. They're very small changes that made a huge difference in the experience! I didn't spend time cleaning out one brush over and over as I moved through the stages of color mixing and painting. I also had more confidence in the colors I put down due to the immediate feedback of the test sheet.

light family and shadow family test swatch chart

It helps that that my objects were only green and white, but I finished this one in the 30-minute time goal. Tomorrow I'll mix up the colors more and hopefully these new techniques will keep things moving quickly.

Number 12 notes

One more change to this exercise: instead of doing a thumbnail sketch first, I went straight to sketching in the objects on my panel. Since they're such simple setups I wanted to see if it would hinder anything to skip that step, and happily it did not. Once I'm doing more complete paintings it would be smart to bring back the notan thumbnails though.

My little test swatch strip came in handy again.

test swatches 100 starts number 12

Number 13 notes

This drawing got a little squatty and small for the panel, which I don't like. But I really like the shadow shapes that were created with the arrangement of the blocks — and I brought back the jar candle that I loved so much from number 9. As I compare this with number 9, there's a big difference in the luminosity of the study. I'm not sure if that's because of the small brush I used on number 9 which shows the white of the gesso, or if it's the way I mixed the colors. The shadow shapes in the candle seem more dull in this one. I'm thinking it's a matter of them getting muddied up and losing vibrancy. .

Tomorrow I'll keep an eye on that and use an additional brush if it would help.

100 Starts Day 9 next to Day 13
Number 9 on left, number 13 on right

Number 14 notes

Wonky shapes aside, I'm really happy with this exercise. The shadow shapes are pleasing, and as I look over the completed study I see how I could have easily connected them together nicely for fewer shapes overall. I'm also thinking about whether I've simplified enough, and if it would make sense to put the sides of the cubes in light all in the same color note. It would be more in the spirit of the exercise: to represent the subject in the fewest and most basic shapes, with the colors necessary to do so. By choosing different colors for the sides of the cubes in light, I'm essentially modeling the form with light and halftone. Which helps make the image more readable, but takes longer and is more colors than necessary.

Tomorrow I'll see what it's like to link the shapes in the shadow family and reduce the number of colors for the shapes in the light family.

Number 15 notes

I got almost all of my shadow shapes linked, except for a tiny area on the right where my brushwork smooshed it apart. I also used just one color for the light family on two of the blocks — on the third the color shift was just too great and I decided to paint all three sides with their respective colors. Since the surface the cubes were on was a mid-value grey fabric, all of the cast shadows were darker in this one.

I've been obsessing over what colors I'd like to get for a three-primary oil palette. So I switched things up from the cad yellow light, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue (artist quality acrylics) to cad yellow medium, cad red medium, and ultramarine blue (student quality acrylics). I was hoping to get a feel for how this group mixed compared to the first group because I have a hard time mixing a rich golden brown that doesn't tend toward purple with the alizarin and cad yellow light.

Number 16 notes

As I reflect on the last few exercises, I think my cast shadows are getting too dark. It happened around the time I decided to push the lights and darks and they're pushed too far for the particular light I'm using. It may be partially a factor of acrylics drying darker and me not compensating for that. I definitely forget to do that! Today at the art store I picked up some new oil paints: a set of primaries plus a big tube of white. I'm very tempted to switch over to oils tomorrow to see how they compare to the acrylics and start getting familiar with them.

It seems like the drawing stage is going more quickly lately — it's becoming easier to see the relationships between shapes, especially when I remember to view them as shapes and not objects.

Number 17 notes

Instead of starting with oils, I finished up the acrylic paints that were leftover in my stay-wet palette. My plan is to use the palette box to store my oil palette for working in the studio, so I wanted to get it cleared out without wasting paint.

I didn't use the artificial light on the still life — just scooted the setup closer to the window and used that. It was enough to cast a shadow, but relatively soft natural light. The value difference between the shadow family and light family is not as great as previous studies, but the cast shadows are still too dark. Part of my problem may be in being too strict with the color isolator tool. There's probably more luminosity and color in those cast shadows than I'm seeing with it. Will try to adjust next time.

I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of my painted exercise next to a photo of my still life, both converted to greyscale to see if the values are close. With the exception of those too-dark cast shadows I'm happy with it:

100 starts number 17 value check
A greyscale photo of my still life setup on the left, a greyscale photo of my painted study on the right.

Now I'm thinking about the subject of transparent shadows with opaque lights…it's something I've heard many times and I'm curious whether Kevin Macpherson intended for that to be a factor in this 100 Starts pledge. That'll take some thought and research!

Number 18 notes

I set up my palette for oil paints. Woo hoo! To compare this exercise with the last one, I didn't change the still life setup (although it is overcast so the light coming in the window is different). For colors, I'm using cadmium yellow light, naphthol red, ultramarine blue, titanium white, and ivory black. I premixed the secondary colors on my palette so there's a full color wheel going on and used a mid-grey paper palette inside the Masterson stay-wet palette (sponge and paper for acrylics removed). I'm very curious to see whether this will help keep the paints fresh enough to keep using day to day without setting it up all over again each time I want to paint. Luckily with this 100-start project I'm painting every day at least a little so I don't need to worry about the paints sitting for days on end.

I definitely need to mix up bigger piles of paint for this project because I want to see thick, juicy application rather than thin and scrubby. I really enjoyed using the hog bristle brushes. I felt like I had more control over the paint application, which helped me make nicer shapes and get better coverage.

Number 19 notes

I'm so enjoying the feel of oil paints! Little things, like the way a shadow edge softens with the adjoining brush stroke, are delightful after working with acrylics. If I don't get stingy, this small tube of cad yellow light might go quickly — plenty of naphthol red and ultramarine blue though.

Instead of the color blocks, I set up an onion, a small wooden bowl, and a chunky candle in a ceramic pot. They're all sitting on a bright yellow fabric which looks vibrant but is making me face my fear of using up too much yellow paint, haha.

This week I started reading Kevin Macpherson's book Landscape Painting Inside & Out, a followup to Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color. It strikes me as much more advanced, and makes me appreciate beginning with Light & Color and the 100 Starts pledge. Something I read in the second book struck a chord with me: he said to look at a color note for just a second to record it in your mind and make a color decision, rather than staring at it for a long time because that makes it go rather dull to your eyes. That's definitely been happening to me. In my effort to really get the color note right I'm looking so long and critically that the color loses its essence and greys way out. I'm going to try doing it as he suggests and see if the color shapes become more interesting.

It's occurred to me that I'm getting much better at seeing shapes instead of things. I don't even really care what I'm painting right now, it's just so exciting to see the colors I'm putting down work together to form an image. Especially when there's life and color in the shadow family. It was such a mystery to me how a painting comes together and I'm so glad to have Kevin's book to help break it down into manageable steps.

Number 20 notes

This one was a struggle for me. The blocks were lit by the window, so it was somewhat soft light but it did cast clear shadows. One challenge was the fact that two of my blocks are painted in rather dark colors, and while I could clearly tell what was in light and what was in shadow, I had a hard time seeing how to make the darkest colors in the light family lighter than the lightest colors in the dark family. I also did a poor job of looking quickly and judging the color shapes. I stared much too long, and everything ended up rather dull.

My mission for the next few exercises will be to bring back some of the life I see in number 9 and refocus my efforts on finding one representative color for each simple shape. One thing that's getting me into trouble is the fact that the planes have gradations in them which distracts me from the bigger picture and makes me second-guess my color choices. So…look fast, mix fast, apply fast!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt

The down side to being a book lover is that I tend read them one after another without pause. With novels this is no big deal. But with art instruction books it's not very effective to blow past them like that. Especially when there's so much valuable content and fantastic advice in them.

When I read Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color by Kevin Macpherson I knew following his prompt to paint 100 starts would be a good idea. The basic premise is that you give yourself 30 minutes to get the simple shapes of your subject blocked in with correct color notes (and as he describes it, if the color is right the value will be right as well). And after 100 of these studies, you'll be better and faster at doing them.

My goal is to complete one study a day for 100 days to see what I learn — and also to experience sticking with one teacher's technique for a decent length of time. It's super hard for me to focus on one approach because I love trying them all, but I really think I'll see benefits from sinking into one approach and getting familiar enough with it to see if it works for me. And if at the end of the 100 studies something isn't fitting I can always adjust.

His exercise was also appealing to me because it incorporates the use of notan and in-shadow/not-in-shadow principles that I learned from Dianne Mize. It feels like a different, simpler way to start compared with the 4 major plane value divisions I tried out with my recent focused practice on values, which were less intuitive for me to decipher.

I began the 100 starts challenge on Monday, September 10, 2018.

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 1-10
My first ten days of this "100 Starts" exercise, painted from life in acrylics.

Number 1 notes

  • Set up a still life with cool bulb shining on colored wood blocks. 
  • Sketched a notan thumbnail, then drew the still life on my painting surface (gessoed poster board) with small filbert and acrylic paint. 
  • Using a color isolator and acrylic paints in ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light, and titanium white, put down color shapes one at a time:
    1. Lightest light
    2. Darkest dark
    3. Easy color
    4. Colors in the shadow family
    5. Colors in the light family
A couple of the colors should have been a little darker or lighter and the brushwork needs improvement, but overall I am completely wowed by this exercise. When I look at the painted study I really believe the light. Plus, it's fun to be working in color after six weeks of black, white, and grey studies!

I had to keep an eye on the clock because I started at a leisurely pace and realized I'd never finish the study if I didn't speed things up and make quicker decisions. Putting the paint down on my panel went quickly, but the color reading and mixing was more time consuming.

Number 2 notes

Same process as Number 1 with different blocks. By using the color isolator I read the brown block as leaning toward purple, which surprised me. My cast shadows seem too light, which may be a factor of the direct light and a light cloth surface. The shadow family is technically all darker than the light family but it's not very clear what's going on with it from a viewer's perspective. I'll try switching to a darker ground and see how that affects the color notes. Yesterday's cool-colored blocks in the cool light is much different in my eyes than today's warm-colored blocks in the same light. Wasn't expecting that!

Number 3 notes

I switched the cloth background to a mid grey and changed the lighting angle from side (rim) to 3/4 (form). Two color areas gave me trouble today: one was the shadow side of a light yellow block that I made too light for being in the shadow family. The reflected light from the white sphere next to it threw me off. And the other was a green color that was in the light family but it's too dark. I'm not sure yet about how to resolve that situation…

I need to watch my still life composition more carefully. With this study, a strangely-shaped shadow cast onto the vertical backdrop makes for a very confusing and unappealing composition.

Number 4 notes

The bright red block in today's still life gave me huge color matching troubles. I resorted to bringing out my cadmium red light for the brightest side. I like the strong contrast between the shadow and light families on this one.

Number 5 notes

I set today's still life up to mimic a very rough landscape scene. I love the beige sandy foreground contrasted with the cool grey background. I'm noticing that my light family tends to get a little dark, making it hard to clearly distinguish between the light and shadow. However, the shadow side and cast shadow of a dominant black block in front are particularly pleasing to me. Looking for the colors that exist in shadows is fascinating!

Number 6 notes

Today I concentrated on making the light family lighter and more easily distinguishable from the dark family than I have been. I had trouble matching some of the most intense hues with this one — the bright royal blue of the cylinder and the brightest side of the orange triangle. I need to figure out whether it's jut not possible with the pigments I'm using or if I just haven't mixed properly. I'm really happy with the light yellow block, although the cast shadow got a bit too red.

There's something incredibly satisfying about mixing these colors and applying them as simple color shapes. I don't think I'd pause to look at someone else's versions of the exercise, and they're not very compelling as compositions or anything, but the experience of making them is rewarding. The fact that I created them myself makes them much more interesting to me. And since they're meant to be studies and nothing final, it's truly about the experience and not about the outcome which I appreciate.

Number 7 notes

I've been adjusting my still life setup — the surface it's on and lighting — over the last several days. I'm finding I prefer to have my easel set up over near a window with the still life in a corner beyond it. I also remembered that when I originally painted the blocks I used some colors that just won't be possible to mix with my current limited palette selection, so I can stop attempting to match the intensity and just aim for hue and value. Which is fine because my desire is to paint the natural world, which tends toward greys and not so many high-chroma colors.

Today's blocks were cooler in color with a cool bulb directed at them, and I enjoyed painting the warmer shadow family colors.

Seven days in a row feels like an accomplishment! At some point I'll change up the subject, but for now will continue with the blocks. Most important to me is that I continue painting from life.

Number 8 notes

Today's blocks were neutrals and earth tones. I think I did well with the color shapes and indicating what's in the shadow family, but the dark browns in the light family should probably be lighter. Tomorrow I really need to push the lights to see what that feels like. I may be struggling with the fact that I "know" the dark brown background paper and block are dark, instead of really seeing them for the color they are as light.

Number 9 notes

Well, I forgot to push the colors in the light and shadow families like I had intended — clearly I need to put a note on my easel as a reminder! Despite that, I still think there are some good color notes and for the most part the relationships hold together well. I used a small flat brush (synthetic bristle) today for more control over the small shapes. I liked having more control but not how thin and splotchy the paint is applied. I also introduced a new object: a candle in a white and lavender ceramic jar. I love the shadow and light pattern on it.

I'm having trouble staying within the 30-minute time goal. Today's, and a few others, took me 40 minutes. I just can't bring myself to leave one unfinished so I need to work on not over analyzing the color mixing and go back to a larger brush.

Number 10 notes

I remembered to push the lights and shadows today and some areas it resulted in the desired effect but on the white mug I introduced to the still life the contrast is much too extreme. The shadows on it aren't the right color notes given the lighting. It was a good thing to try though. I got this one done in just over 30 minutes, which is an improvement from yesterday.

Ultimately the big thing I'm trying to get right is to make the colors in the light family all lighter than the colors in the shadow family. I need some system in place for checking that — maybe something as simple as a white strip of paper that's divided into light side and shadow side where I can test swatch everything before I paint it in.

Another new thing I tried today was setting my palette between where I stand and my easel, instead of off to the side on my tabouret. My default posture is often poor and intensely hunched over whatever I'm concentrating on, and turning to the right to mix colors was giving my horrible upper back and neck pain. Mixing straight down in front of me was much better and hopefully if I continue that way the pain will disappear.

Monday, September 10, 2018

First day plein air painting

plein air sketch on Neuse River path
My gouache sketch along the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh

Well, you gotta start somewhere! My first plein air painting is under my belt and it feels great. The sketch is rough, with lots of room for improvement, but I'm so happy I got out there and finished one.

my view of the Neuse River for a plein air meetup
View of the area I chose to paint

I used gouache to get started because I wasn't prepared to take acrylics out there on the trail yet. And I haven't even cracked open my oils. Instead of purchasing an easel and paint box setup, I cobbled together some existing supplies to see how the experience painting outside felt before committing to a particular solution.

plein air painting setup cobbled together from various supplies
My ad hoc plein air setup: scored and folded corrugated plastic board, palette made from a gift tin of flavored salts (I knew that tin would come in handy one day!), and gouache painting accessories.

While it was comfortable to be seated with this on my lap, it was cumbersome to hold everything and some of my tools had to be stashed in the bag that was sitting on the ground next to me. But it gave me a bit better feel for how materials are used in this type of painting. Of course now I'm dreaming of all kinds of portable paint boxes and easel solutions.

It was really cool to implement the techniques I've been practicing for this sketch. I started with a few thumbnails to determine the composition, and did a couple of value studies. Then I took my small panel that had been toned with a mid-value earthy red acrylic, sketched in the placement of each element with burnt sienna, and mixed up my color value lines of the basic colors that I saw using prussian blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and titanium white gouache. I followed the process of blocking in darkest colors, then lightest colors, then going back to work on details.

The sky was overcast, but you can't really tell that from this painting — it's more warm than I intended. I also wish it wasn't so high contrast, and that the middle value colors were developed more. The things I'm happiest with are the drawing and the color of the winding river.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the experience was how even though the bugs were an obnoxious distraction at times, they didn't make me want to pack it in and go home. I got into the zone and I stopped paying much attention to them. That's in stark contrast to times when I've been sitting outside to relax, and was driven back inside by bugs. I took it as a good sign!

My goal for the next one: simplify. Oh, and to choose a view that's not obscured by stuff I don't want included in the composition.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

French Bulldog study in acrylic using Zorn palette

zorn palette study of french bulldog
French Bulldog acrylic sketch using Zorn palette

An odd thing has happened now that I have oil painting supplies in my studio: I feel released to play more with my acrylics and be less concerned about being as economical as I can with them. It's liberating!

After finally making my Zorn acrylic color chart, I wanted to try painting something with it. I found this image of a French Bulldog and the colors looked like they'd translate very well. I started by doing a thumbnail sketch to get familiar with the shapes and values. In addition to trying out this palette of colors, I wanted to use a looser block-in approach by marking just a few key points in lieu of a full drawing, and massing in the large shapes with the dominant color I saw in the shape. My hope was that it would be a looser experience and unlock me from trying to be too exact.

Another thing I did for this study was identify the major color families and make color value lines on my palette before beginning to paint. I used the stay-wet palette and no mediums, other than spritzing the top of the paint piles from time to time with a water-retarder mix.

I'm setting aside my nice bristle brushes for the time being for use with the oils, but of course have many other brushes to choose from. For this study I used a variety of synthetic brushes including some Silver Brush Bristlon flats, a large Mimik Hog filbert, an Isabey Isacryl filbert, and a small Princeton Imperial round, on 9x12 Strathmore Canvas Paper. As I worked with them, I concentrated on the way the character of the brush felt as opposed to simply using the brush to apply paint.

During the painting, I got rather hung up around the eyes and nose so I think doing a bit more drawing to at least identify their boundaries would have helped. But I did enjoy how much more loose and casual the experience was overall. Having the color value lines set up before I began was enormously helpful for keeping the colors on the canvas more harmonious. Having the limited palette contributed to this, but I felt much more confident about picking up a color this way as opposed to mixing on the fly. Perhaps with more experience that will become more intuitive, but for this stage I loved the premixing.

Some things I'd improve next time:
  • sketch in the placement of eyes, nose, and mouth
  • think more in terms of large shapes and not discreet elements (ongoing area of study)
  • choose a background color that doesn't contrast so much with the subject (I chose this cool color intentionally to contrast with the warmth of the dog, but it looks more modern than I was shooting for)
  • lay down a coat of retarder on the background area to allow time for blending (like with the cloud exercise)

Friday, September 7, 2018

Zorn palette with acrylic paints

Zorn palette color chart in acrylic paint
Acrylic Zorn palette chart

Perhaps it's my frugal nature, or the way color harmony is simplified, but limited palettes fascinate me. The Zorn palette is one that caught my attention because of its muted greens and limited use of bright, saturated color. When I chose which acrylic paints to buy, one of my considerations was getting colors to work with this palette. (But I also supplemented with ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow light, alizarin crimson, raw umber, and burnt umber.)

For my Zorn color chart, I used yellow ochre, cadmium red light, bone black, and titanium white (all Golden acrylics). I followed the model from this blog post. At least I attempted to — things got a little hazy on the bottom five rows. But hey, it was still very valuable even if I went a little rogue there.

I'd love to do some landscape studies with this palette. It would be interesting to see how I could interpret the North Carolina greens! I could see this palette working great out west, with the desert landscape.

It's clear to me why artists often recommend beginners start with a limited palette. There's an overwhelming number of possibilities when it comes to paint color and color in life that it can be so challenging to know where to begin. Creating this color chart shows me the range of possibilities within just a few colors while providing some parameters that help diminish the obstacles to simply starting. As a graphic designer, I always appreciated project parameters that allowed me to focus my energies in a smaller set of directions, and this feels like the same thing.