I’ve been reading the book of Psalms in the Bible a lot lately and noticed these verses. “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.” (Psalm 36:5-6 NIV)
I’ve also been experimenting with plywood lately. Usually I glue illustration board to a small piece of plywood, draw on it, seal it with acrylic, and then use oil paint over that. The wood gives it a strong back so it won’t bend and crack the paint in the future. This time I wanted to try using the PVA glue to attach a small piece of canvas to the wood. I had already put one coat of gesso on the canvas before attaching it, but next time I’ll probably just attach it raw and then gesso it. In the end there were at least 3 coats of gesso, which also filled in the weave a bit, but the canvas was still rougher than I prefer for small details.
Normally I work on a white surface and lately especially I’ve been drawing extensively before painting, but this time I tried making a simple toned ground from transparent red oxide and a little ultramarine to neutralize it some. The next day it wasn’t fully dry but I decided to start painting anyways. That did cause a little bit of a problem with the reddish paint mixing into the sky color, and you can see in the second step I had wiped away the sky that had been dulled too much by that mixing. In the first step I just used the sky color and some thinned paint on a small brush to sketch the outlines of everything. After that it was mostly a matter of filling in each section with a basic color for that section and then adding details. This was all painted in one day.
The photo reference for this is from Ilja on Paint my Photo.
The toned ground was actually painted with a different brand, but everything after that was just made using the paints from Winsor & Newton above. The sap green probably wasn’t necessary, either.
The process for this painting is similar to the last one, using a watercolor canvas with extra gesso again, except instead of sketching with acrylic I just went straight to oil paint.
The photo reference is from Ilja on Paint my Photo of the sun rising on Annapurna, Nepal. I selected a Bible verse to go with this one: “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18, NIV)
In the first stage I tried to be conservative with the line placement for the skyline because it was easily moved lower but I wanted to avoid moving it too low and having blue paint under an area that would be painted yellow later.
After the yellow area was blocked in I felt like it should have been more thinly applied and tried to remove some of the excess. Even though titanium white is opaque, it wasn’t as opaque as I would have liked, so it was necessary to apply it thickly to cover the yellow and to avoid too much mixing between the two. A little mixing was fine though, because the white snow also had a warm glow from the morning sun.
The paints used were mostly French ultramarine, synthetic yellow and red ochres, titanium white, and mars black. There was a little bit of some other blues added to the ultramarine, some bright primary yellow added to the yellow ochre, and a little zinc white buff used too.
Finally a new post. I’ve been active on Instagram but haven’t felt like I had something substantial enough to put here. This new painting was an experiment using oil paint on a watercolor canvas because I liked its fine weave. The photo reference is from Nancy Winn on Paint my Photo.
I think the package said it was acrylic primed for all media, but to be sure that it was sealed well enough for oil paint I applied an extra coat of gesso. Mixed in with that gesso was a little grey acrylic paint that was leftover from an attempt at a different painting. Immediately after I roughly sketched the scene with diluted black acrylic and a small synthetic dagger brush.
Before beginning with oil paint I let acrylic gesso dry for at least four hours, or until it’s no longer cool to the touch, to be sure that it’s finished whatever mysterious chemical processes are happening as it dries. Since it was late, this was left overnight before starting the next day.
I tried roughly blocking in different areas slowly and at the same time so I’d be able to see how their color was affecting each other. Adjustments needed to be made, such as the lower clouds needing more warmth in their subtle highlights and the sky just not actually having the faint blue that I originally put there. I guess it was a diffuse warm light from a cloud behind the mountains rather than seeing all the way through to the sky. That’s the sort of thing you may not notice at first and at a glance until you’re actually painting a scene and purposefully examining each component of it, so I had just assumed the gap in the clouds was showing all the way through.
This watercolor canvas turned out to be really nice to paint on. It has enough texture that it’s not a slick surface the way some gesso boards can be, but it’s fine enough to allow for much more control of details and for the paint to glide across it more smoothly than it would on a heavier weave canvas. I wouldn’t say the quality control is especially high though, since there’s a lot of little knots and dents in the canvas, but it was good to work on.
If you haven’t check out my Instagram, here, there’s a lot of sketches and paintings there that aren’t posted on this blog.
This past week I’ve been using a palette with a little more spring potential, with the inclusion of chromium oxide green, but I also wanted to paint some clouds too. This painting above is from a photo I took last winter in the Rocky Mountains.
It was a snowy landscape with little light from the overcast sky late in the day, but then the clouds started to slowly part enough for sunlit clouds to be seen through them in a long rift. Thinking about it now reminds me of this quote I’ve read- “When Satan thrusts his threatenings upon you, turn from them, and comfort your soul with the promises of God. The cloud may be dark in itself, but when filled with the light of heaven, it turns to the brightness of gold; for the glory of God rests upon it.” -Ellen White
Because of the green on the palette I made sure to also paint some plants. This waterlily was painted from a photo I took at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It’s called Black Princess, and apparently has blackish red flowers when they’re blooming.
For the palette this week cobalt blue was a very good, strong blue, but granulated a little too much to get the smoothness of the water. It made nice greys when mixed with the red earth, which was otherwise not used much. The real stand out was the chromium oxide, which is the one that I made myself from dry pigment. It’s very strong and also opaque. About 12 of the 25 mixes above are green because so many of these are either green or combine to make green. Ivory black actually wasn’t used very much, except in the trees of the sunset painting, but I wanted the option of something darker than the grey made from mixing cobalt blue and the red earth.
For the paintings this week I used a limited palette of five paints – genuine turquoise, raw sienna, Minnesota pipestone, and black hematite – which I’ll post at the end here.
This painting above was the second attempt because the first was an experiment that didn’t work well. I originally drew this on heavy printmaking paper and then decided to try covering it all with transparent watercolor ground before painting over it. The paint lifted off the transparent ground too easily, behaved differently in areas where the ground was a little thicker, and just didn’t feel the same as paper.
It would have still worked though, but I had tried painting it much darker so it’d look like it was lit by a candle or fireplace, and that was didn’t look as good as I wanted. There were a few other problems too, like the expression not being right. So after finishing that first try I started over and made it again. This one is on normal, good watercolor paper from Twinrocker. The reference photo is from Pauline Govaert on Paint my Photo.
The week started with this painting. The sky was a challenge to get right because the palette didn’t have a normal blue. The turquoise was very greenish, and since my color vision isn’t very good with greens and reds it was hard to get the right balance of manganese violet added into it to cancel out the green without going too far into violet.
Turquoise is a color that I really like but almost never use, so I wanted to make a point of including it and as a challenge to not have a normal blue to fall back on. Looking around there’s not much turquoise, except maybe distant mountains, so it seems mostly for mixing. The pipestone is like a red ochre, but a bit weaker and more pinkish. I didn’t use it that much, but it did make a good grey with the turquoise. Manganese violet is the one paint here that I made myself from dry pigment. It turned out to be very useful, especially for mixing with the raw sienna for a range of reddish browns. The cat is mostly just those two colors mixed, plus some hematite in the darkest areas.
The chart was posted here on my Instagram last Sunday, which is when the weekly palette for most weeks from here on will be posted.
This scene is from a few months ago, when I got to see this area at a different time of day than normal because my train was very late due to snow earlier on its route. It’s the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains again. From this point we’re looking south. To the right is the mountains, and just off the paper to the left is a view of the plains and most of the urban corridor that’s up against the mountains.
I used a mix of watercolor and gouache because they were both already on my palette. Most of it was painted with a small flat brush, but I also used a few others. One was a small filbert that was working very well. For watercolor brushes I only have a few filberts but they’re so versatile that I think I should have gotten more filberts instead of mostly rounds. Didn’t go dark enough with a lot of the colors though.
Lately I’ve been practicing with a newly bought dip pen. I like the tactile sense of the nib on the paper. The white is white gouache, thinned with a little water and applied to the nib with a brush. It’s not as convenient as ink, but opens more possibilities.
The reference photo was one I recently took at the new tiger exhibit at the Denver Zoo. I had wanted to practice sumi-e painting and tried it with an ink stick on an old roll of paper. Then I started trying other papers, and on every painting tried a different brush. In the end they didn’t seem very successful, so I’ll have to more practice again, but after a few days I decided to revisit the same photo with the dip pen.
I was asked recently about zirconium blue, PB71, which is called zirconium cerulean by Kremer Pigments because of its similarity to cerulean. Unlike normal cerulean it doesn’t contain cobalt, so I presume that it’s less toxic, but it does cost about the same or a little more.
In the chart above zirconium blue is in the center, surrounded by all of the watercolor ceruleans (both PB35 and PB36) that I have access to and also some cobalt teals that I thought would be similar, plus manganese blue. The tartan blue was a limited edition variety of cerulean that I don’t think is made anymore, and the pigment for manganese blue isn’t made anymore either.
Zirconium blue is basically a heavily granulating turquoise or greenish teal. Some of the ceruleans and cobalt teals granulate more than others, but zirconium blue is only matched by genuine manganese blue. It seems to be a bit weaker tinting than the other paints here. The lifting is partly affected by the medium used to make the paint, but what I made here does lift very well, as does the “cobalt blue light” (actually cerulean) seen at the center left and the cerulean grey from Blockx in the bottom left.
The medium that I used to make each of the self-made paints was an experiment. Each time I make watercolor medium it’s a little different to explore how changes in proportions affect the paint. This time I used 5.5 grams of gum arabic powder dissolved into about 12-13ml of water that was heated to 140-150°F (60-65°C). Then about 2-3ml of light colored honey and 1-2ml of glycerin was added, which is less of both of those than I normally use. After shaking it gently but thoroughly 4 drops of synthetic ox gall from QoR were added. As a preservative I dipped the end of a brush handle into a bottle of clove oil, getting just a thin coating of it on the tip, and I put that into the medium. So far the medium seems to be working well. All of the self-made paints were just made justing a palette knife to combine the pigment with medium. Update- the paint was a little dry, so I approximately doubled the amount of glycerin.
A couple of weeks ago I took the train again to visit family across the mountains and I noticed a distant mountain that still had snow on it. Using a Nikon P900, which zooms really far, I got a photo and then later sketched it before making the painting above.
The reference photo isn’t very clear because of distortions from the train window, which happens with other cameras I’ve tried, but it works for my purposes. The sketch is entirely gel pen a new Stillman and Birn sketchbook. A lot of it was drawn while waiting in the lobby of a tax preparer’s office or while my niece and nephew were getting haircuts while surrounded by the chaos of little kids.
After that I colored it in with some watercolor pencils, which are very useful when traveling, and used a waterbrush to turn the colored pencil into watercolor. A lot of the brown in the foreground is walnut ink that I had loaded into a brushpen with an extra piston ink converter that lets me use any compatible ink in it. For those areas I didn’t use the waterbrush and instead just let the ink hydrate the watercolor pencil if there was any. The shadows in the foreground are actually a regular colored pencil because I accidentally discovered that one pencil in the set, the indigo, is partly water soluble for some reason. A couple of the others were too, but not as much.
The final oil painting is the first finished oil painting that I’ve made in about five months, and it was a nice change of pace from watercolor. Some of the paints used in it are ones I made myself, such as burnt sienna, orange ochre, and one of the white paints. The others were from various brands. For a medium I was mostly using a small amount of safflower oil mixed with odorless mineral spirits.
By the way, lately I’ve been a lot more active on Instagram than here, so if you guys haven’t looked yet there’s a lot of new drawings and paintings posted here.
This is one of a couple of deer I saw while taking a long walk at the Highline Lake State Park last week. I liked the pose as it stepped over a branch.
On the reference photo I made a grid and some diagonal lines to make it easier to see where different areas of the body are in relation to each other, but there was no grid on the paper. Transferring a drawing from a photo to paper using a grid on both can really help to get good accuracy, but the process is so slow that I don’t enjoy it. This was still slow because it was partly relying on that method, but I feel like if a drawing can’t be transferred by sight then it means more practice is needed, which is still something I need. Besides that, I tried using some sight-sizing, which is where you hold a pencil between you and the subject and use your thumb to measure the length of various things. That way you don’t accidentally draw a line disproportionately long and it’s faster than using a grid.
In the first try the proportions were off because I was going purely by sight and not measuring anything. Since the drawing was going to be started again anyways it was an opportunity to try different pencils and charcoal on that paper, so that’s why it looks a little messy.
The second try was drawn just with my favorite pencil, a .3mm Pentel graphgear 500 with either 2H or 4H lead. I have both and I’m not sure which is actually in it. The eraser was a thin Tombow mono. The drawing was going pretty well, but there wasn’t a finalized plan for what to do in the rest of the composition or what kind of background to use, so I decided to place everything in an oval with a simple background. After watching a video on how to draw ovals it went surprisingly well.
The background sky is just a Prismacolor light cerulean that’s heavily applied in two layers and smoothed out with a Derwent blender pencil.