Limited Palette Paintings – Waterlilies and Sunset

Sunset in Winter Mountains
Winter Sunset, watercolor on paper, 7.25″ x 5.25″

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

Waterlilies, watercolor on paper, 7″ x 5″

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.

Limited Palette Paintings – Cat and Tree

Siamese Cat
Cat and Wagon Wheel, watercolor on paper, 5.25″ x 6″

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.

Tree on a Windy Hillside
Wind and Rocks, watercolor on printmaking paper, 4.25″ x 6.25″

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.

Front Range Morning

Morning Train
Watercolor and gouache on paper, 6.75″ x 5.75″

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.

Resting Tiger

Relaxed Tiger
Ink and white gouache on tan paper, 7″ x 7.5″

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.

Materials used (Amazon affiliate links)
Leonardt dip pen set
Noodler’s black ink
Winsor & Newton white gouache
Strathmore toned tan sketchbook

Zirconium Blue and Cerulean Comparison

Zirconium cerulean (PB71) watercolor in center, surrounded by similar blues on Arches 140 lb paper.

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.

Winter’s End

Snowy Cliffs
Oil on canvas, 10″ x 8″

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.

Materials used (Amazon affiliates links)-

Stillman and Birn gamma series sketchbook, 8.5×5
Derwent watercolor pencils – not the exact ones I used since mine are old, and also I used a couple of Derwent graphitint pencils.
Kuretake no. 8 brush pen
Platinum ink converter
Daniel Smith walnut ink
Pentel large waterbrush
plus various oil paints and brushes on a Dick Blick canvas board

Highline Deer

Deer Against Blue and Tan.
Graphite and colored pencil on tan paper, 7.5″ x 9.75″

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.