Cabin at the Forest Edge
Watercolor and ink on 300 lb soft press watercolor paper, 5″ x 7.25″

This was first drawn with a dip pen and waterproof black ink, using a photo I took from the train in the mountains of Colorado as a reference. Then I painted over all of that with watercolor. For the warm colors it’s a mix, in varying proportions, of dark ochre and warm sepia. That was then mixed, again in varying proportions, with payne’s grey to get the greys and darks. The cool shadows on the snow are a mix of payne’s grey and cerulean.

Since the last post I started a couple of paintings, but they weren’t working out and I decided to set them aside and try something different. This drawing probably ended up being more detailed and time consuming than necessary, but it’s something I’d like to practice more. Next time though I’ll probably try for a more basic drawing and let the paint do most of the work because this just took too long to finish. I have at least been keeping up with my reading, and just a couple of nights ago finished reading Steps to Christ for the third time now. It’s a great book.

Here’s the reference photo and the ink drawing before adding paint.

Colorado High Country

Setting Winter Sun
Oil on linen, 5″ x 7″

A winter scene from the high country of Colorado. The photo reference for this was another one I took last February looking out the train window. At the bottom of the scene where the ground looks flat is the Colorado river, hidden under ice and snow. It supplies water to much of the south western United States, but up here in the mountainous high country of central Colorado it’s much smaller than it’ll be farther along its path.

I was going to make a bird drawing today, but this painting took much longer than expected and I don’t think there’ll be enough time before Sabbath starts to get one finished. The idea I have for it will have to wait until another time then.

Colorado High Country ref

Cool Shade of Dusk

Evening Hillside with Cloud
Oil on canvas, 7″ x 5″

Painted from another photo that I took from a train in the mountains last winter. This is looking back west over the hills at evening and not far from my destination, a little farther east. As usual, I tended too cool in hue and didn’t get the slight warmth in the cloud. There’s a few odd ridges in the paint because this was painted over an old painting.

This is the second painting I’m posting in one day for me, and I’m wondering if it would be better to not post quickly made paintings so often? It’s just that I’m pretty well pleased with the recent study paintings and excited to regain the motivation to make things so often again.

Fleeting Light

Evening Light on Mountains
Oil on canvas, 5″ x 7″

Based on a photo I took last February while on a train in the mountains. The palette is the same as the last painting, mostly using the same piles of paint even, but with the addition of some green earth in the sky to counteract the redness of ultramarine and also some Indian yellow for the sunlit areas.

Distant Clouds

Passing Storm
Oil on linen, 8″ x 10″

To use some of the extra paint from my last post about genuine Van Dyke brown and similar pigments I made this study of clouds in the distance moving away.

To start with I had already mixed into one blob of paint the three paints I made – bitumen, Van Dyke brown, and coal. To that was added the two natural Van Dyke brown / Cassel earth paints from Williamsburg, plus some Rublev raw umber and charcoal black to help it dry, and also a generous amount of putty medium made from marble dust and chalk. This resulted in a transparent blackish brown paint with a lot of character. I made two piles of paint and added a very small amount of ultramarine blue to them both, with a little more in one than the other.

Forming the basic shapes of the clouds was done by increasing the thickness of the paint to make it darker, brushing harder or adding more putty medium to make it thinner and lighter, switching between the two piles of paint to get warmer or cooler greys, or adding some zinc white to both lighten and slightly increase opacity. Titanium white was then mixed into the wet paint to model the lighter or more opaque parts of the clouds. The sky was the same base paint with even more ultramarine and some white, brushed thinly, and the reddish clouds at the bottom had a very small amount of Williamsburg’s Italian Pompeii red (a bright red ochre) mixed in.

This was painted on Friday nearly all alla prima (painted at once, without letting it dry) except for a few adjustments this morning to a small area that was standing out too much and distracting.

Asphaltum, Van Dyke brown, Cassel earth, and Anthracite

Brown Oil Paint Comparison 1

In this brief comparison I have a variety of unusual brown paints that each have long histories but are seldom used today.

Van Dyke brown is one whose name is commonplace even if the genuine paint is not. It’s named after Anthony Van Dyck, a famous Flemish portrait artist who made extensive use of it in the 17th century. It’s also known as Cassel earth because of the deposits of it near the town of Cassel, Germany, and carries the pigment designation NBr8 (natural brown 8) because it contains natural organic matter.

The last paint in the chart above is a modern imitation of Van Dyke brown. It’s actually a mixture of pigments – in this case burnt umber and ivory black – that only imitates the color but not the handling of the original pigment. There’s many other modern pigments and mixtures that also borrow their names from some historical pigment that’s either no longer used or is only rarely used, such as indigo, sap green, vermilion, etc. As is often the case, part of the reason to make a modern imitation is because it’ll have better lightfastness than genuine Van Dyke brown.

Although it obviously has much higher tinting strength than the other paints – the third tint is a 1:7 mixture with titanium white and is close to the 1:1 mixtures for all the others – it also loses its limited chroma very quickly when tinted to higher values. The Gilsonite and anthracite may be weaker tinting but they’re also much more chromatic at high values.

I also made an area, not shown here, of evenly spread test strips of each paint that I check each day to see how long it takes for each to dry. All of this was started nine days ago and as of the time I’m posting this only two have dried because most of these are slow drying paints. I’ll keep checking and update this when or if the others dry.

Brown Oil Paint Comparison  1 top

These three I made from dry pigment, using linseed oil from Rublev. Nothing else was added, and I don’t know for certain how well they’ll dry on their own. They probably could have benefitted from a little bit of umber (PBr7) being added, because that contains manganese and acts as a drier for oil paint.

Gilsonite is a bitumen-impregnated rock that’s mined in Utah, USA. Bitumen (NBk6), also called asphaltum, has had many uses since ancient times, such as waterproofing for boats and ships. Today it’s still used for things like road construction, hence the term asphalt. Another example of use is that Ford model T cars were black because they were coated in a laquer made from Gilsonite. There’s many other possible applications for it. This is the most chromatic of all the paints here, but I’m unsure of its longevity as bitumen gained a reputation in the early 19th century for causing oil paintings to crack.

Anthracite, a high purity grade of coal, was used along with lower grades of coal by some artists in the past as a black pigment. Almost three years ago I made some watercolor with it, seen here.

Brown Oil Paint Comparison  1 bottom

The tube of Williamsburg’s Van Dyke brown was given to me by Williamsburg a couple of years ago and is one of the two varieties of this pigment they offer. Only two other brands – Rublev and Vasari – make paint from genuine Van Dyke brown. It has raw umber in it, but just enough to decrease the drying time to about a week without having much impact on how the paint looks or handles. The test strip took seven days to dry.

French Cassel earth is Williamsburg’s other Van Dyke brown. My tube is their old version from before they reformulated it to also have a small raw umber addition. Both of these Williamsburg paints have a large pigment grain and produce unique results that would be impossible to produce with modern imitations. Although they may look gritty in this photo, it’s not difficult to use them.

For comparison, M Graham’s paint here is a modern paint that has been given the name Van Dyke brown. Even if modern imitations are very similar in color they may be very different in handling, as you can see in how it has more uniformity and its covering power made it comparatively difficult to smudge thinly. In this case I think it’s due in part to the smaller particle size of the pigments used here. This paint was dry the first day that I checked the swatches, only about 24 hours after making them. That’s even though this is the only paint here that’s made with walnut oil, which normally takes a little longer to dry than linseed oil.

M Graham’s paint is itself an excellent paint, but there is a large difference between its handling and that of genuine Van Dyke brown. Whether this difference is an advantage or a disadvantage depends on the situation and the painting style.