Warm Evening Light

Warm Evening Light

Watercolor on paper, 8″ x 4.75″

I painted this on the back of some paper that I think is from Moulin du Roy. I used the back because it had an interesting texture, different from the front, that left little flecks of white in the black paint and looked like light glistening. Unfortunately that texture just looks more like graininess when I shrink the image to fit here. A closer look-

Warm Evening Light Detail

I used mostly carbon black (self made, pigment from Pebeo) and Venetian red (Rublev), plus some German vine black (also Rublev).

While I was going through my usual struggle to think of a good title, before eventually settling on a plain description as always, I came across a quote about it in the Bible, in which Jesus said “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” (Mat 16:2-3) At certain latitudes a red sky in the evening means the next day will probably have good weather, because of the direction that wind blows, but a red sky in the morning means a storm is probably coming.

Over here is a photo that I was thinking of when I was painting the colors.

Moonlight Tea

Moonlight Tea

Oil on canvas, 8″x 10″

Hot cups of tea enjoyed in the moonlight. I think it’s been many years since I’ve made a still life, unless I’ve forgetting one, but I thought I’d try it again. This is modeled after a cast iron tea pot I have with two iron cups, but I didn’t actually set it in front of me while I worked so the shape is a little different. For me it’s the idea that the painting presents that matters.

I started with an underpainting with a few alkyd paints but then I painted over it with Van Dyke brown (NBr8+PBr7, Williamsburg), indigo (vat blue 1 synthetic indigo, Utrecht), and zinc white (PW4, Daniel Smith). It’s my first time using a paint from Utrecht and I liked it. The photo I took of this seems to be showing the white areas as brighter than they really are.

There’s another still life of fruit I made recently besides this but I think it needs more work.

Anthracite Coal Watercolor

Anthracite Watercolor Swatches

When I was looking for interesting rocks at a local rock shop to grind into pigment I found a piece of anthracite. I knew various forms of coal or related materials could be made into paint, so I thought I’d try it. I don’t know what the lightfastness of this is, but it’s probably not very good. Even so, I really like this slightly brownish black watercolor paint.

The wet on wet swatch is my favorite because it was so inert in the water that it easily retained interesting visual textures. In the light wash you can see that there’s a few very tiny loose particles in the paint. I just wiped one of them off the paper, so maybe I needed to mull the paint longer. The pigment had a little resistance to mixing with the wet ingredients, but not nearly as much as when I tried making viridian watercolor a few weeks ago.

Making Anthracite 1

Here’s the tools I used for making the pigment. The mortar and pestle are stainless steel and I only use it for grinding pigment. This is the second time I’ve used it like this. The first time I was doing this exact process but with some pieces of tiger’s eye a few weeks ago.

The goggles are obviously to protect my eyes, since little pieces of anthracite kept flying everywhere. The steel block that the anthracite is on is meant for making jewelry. I ordered it from Amazon specifically for doing this kind of thing. The hammer is 3 lb because with more weight I can move the hammer more slowly, giving me more control, and still have the same impact force.

Making Anthracite 2

The anthracite has a lot of interesting textures in it. In some places the pattern of the cracks almost looks like wood, and in other places it’s very glossy and looks like obsidian.

Making Anthracite 3

I found that tapping very lightly with the hammer was best, even though it seemed slow, because otherwise the little pieces would fly everywhere. Holding the hammer just below its head gave me more control. I found that holding my hand on one side of the block and tapping with the hammer angled toward that side helped a lot to prevent pieces from flying off the block. It’s not necessary to break it down into a fine powder at this point, a coarse powder is all that’s needed.

Making Anthracite 4

Here’s the finished pigment, ground much finer with the mortar and pestle. It turned out to not be as fine as I thought. When I actually put this under the muller to make paint it still felt pretty coarse, but it smoothed out a bit as I mulled it.

I still have most of the anthracite left, which I may grind up later and use to make oil paint.

Williamsburg Black Paint Assortment, Plus Lemon Ochre

It’s been awhile since I’ve done this, but over the past few months I’ve gotten various new paints from several brands in both oil and watercolor and I thought I’d make some swatches with them over the next few days.

This time I have the 1 ochre and 4 black oil paints I got from Williamsburg over the summer. Each swatch was first spread from a small blob of paint and then mixed in a roughly even mix with M Graham titanium white (PW6 + PW4). I’m pretty sure that’s the white I used. It was actually yesterday that I did these. That mix was then spread to the right of the original paint. A small amount of that was mixed again with an equal amount of white, and then again once more, for a range of increasingly lighter swatches that show the tinting strength of the paint.

All of these photos were taken today in the afternoon during overcast clouds. I can’t guarantee perfect color accuracy.

German Earth (PBk11) is natural black iron oxide. As expected of this pigment, it’s an opaque paint and a strong tinter. Williamsburg’s website describes it as “bluish” when mixed with white, but I’m really not seeing it. I’d say it’s fairly close to neutral.

Slate Black (PBk19) is actually very similar to German Earth, but less opaque. It’s apparently made from slate from Pennsylvania. Just a little bit gritty.

Davy’s Gray Deep (PBk19) is also slate from Pennsylvania but much lighter and with a warmer color. It’s very smooth and spreads surprisingly thin. I think it’d be very good at glazing. The photo doesn’t show it the best, but this was lighter than the first two in masstone. Its tinting strength is pretty low. Apparently slate comes in several colors, and as far as I can tell Williamsburg might be the only paint company that currently makes oil paint with slate. Many other brands all produce a “Davy’s Gray” of their own that is always one of various mixtures of pigments. A very unique paint.

Graphite Gray (PBk10) is made from ground graphite. It’s another unique paint that I’m glad I got. I think it looks a little lighter here than it really is because of how the light was reflecting off the paint, but this is the lightest of the four. It’s just slightly iridescent because of the graphite. I really like this one because it’s easily the bluest black paint I have.

This Lemon Ochre (PY43) is another natural iron oxide and is part of the Native Italian Earths set. I only have this one from the set. It’s a very strong earthy yellow. I really like the color a lot. Kind of gritty though.

As you can see in this closeup the vertical streaks are where tiny particles of grit were dragged along under my palette knife as I spread the paint thin. I had heard that Williamsburg’s earth pigments tended to be gritty, and at it seems least a couple of them are. While I can’t say this is a positive thing, it’s not necessarily a big deal. I mostly notice the grit in any paint from any brand, if it has any, while spreading and mixing it on my palette with a palette knife. When I’m actually brushing the paint onto a canvas I don’t really notice as much because of the different tool and surface texture.

Since I recently got some dry pigments from Natural Pigments and one of them was their version of Lemon Ochre I thought I’d make some paint myself and see how it compared. The color between the two was nearly the same, although the Williamsburg paint on the left was slightly lighter. The paint I made had a little bit higher tinting strength but I don’t have enough experience with making my own paint to know what the best proportions of oil to pigment are and I may have used too much pigment. The paint I made had a tiny bit of grit too, but noticeably much less.

Here I made an earthy green with a mix of Lemon Ochre and Graphite Gray. I really like the subtleness of it. A very natural looking green.

Just to show it, here’s what’s left of the white in the corner of my palette. Each time I get another dab of white I thoroughly wipe off my palette knife first so it doesn’t get the white messy.

Overall I really like all of these paints. My collection of black paint still doesn’t quite have all of the black pigments out there, but I’m now a lot closer to it.


Watercolor on Fabriano soft press paper, 5″x5.5″

A quick landscape painted on a leftover scrap of paper.

I haven’t really felt much like painting lately because it’s been so hot. Recently it’s been anywhere from 104°F (40°C) to 110°F (43.333°C) and I don’t have air conditioning. You know that it’s been hot when you’re glad to see it’s “only” 104. I got some new watercolors from Rublev a few of days ago and I really want to start using them.

Also, I’ve been posting stages of development for some new pixel art on twitter if you guys want to check it out. If not I’ll be posting it all here when it’s done maybe tomorrow.

Misty Mountain Valley

Oil on canvas, 5″x7″

Based on some of the Chinese landscape paintings I’ve been looking at lately.

I made this entirely with Blue Ridge charcoal black oil paint, mixed with various amounts of both liquin and paint thinner. No white was used, and the light areas are where the paint was applied more thinly in a glaze over the white canvas. The fact that charcoal black, which is made from ground up charcoal, is very transparent to begin with made it very well suited for this.

Color Theory Thursday: Black

This time I’m going to show a variety of black oil paints to you guys. I’ll divide this in two sections, first showing my collection of black paints and then I’ll show some mixes with yellow in the second part further down.

A few notes first- I tried my best to get accurate colors in all of these photos, but my lighting and camera skills aren’t the best. I made some minor adjustments in photoshop to get the light and colors to match what I see on my palette, but that’s for my own screen. I can’t guarantee what things will look like on your screen. Unfortunately I don’t have every black pigment out there (yet), but I felt I have enough to give a good idea of what’s available. The white I used for everything here was Charvin Titanium White (PW6), but I wasn’t necessarily exact in the mixing proportions.

Part 1: Not All Black Paints Are Alike

click for full size

M Graham – Ivory Black – PBk9
Along with Lamp Black (PBk6/7) and Mars Black (PBk11) this is one of the three most common black paints. Made from charred animal bones, depending on the brand it will either produce slightly warm greys or cool, bluish greys. I think it’s because this tube is so old that there’s been a little oil separation which you can see running down the side.

Rembrandt – Ivory Black – PBk9 + PB29
I guess in an attempt to mimic the bluishness of some ivory blacks, Rembrandt has decided to add a little ultramarine blue to theirs. They’re not the only brand to do this, but I wish they’d put something in the paint’s name to let you know that the “ivory black” you’re buying isn’t just ivory black.

Blue Ridge – Charcoal Black – PBk8
Slightly lighter and much more transparent than the rest, this is made with ground charcoal. It has lower tinting strength. I’ve found it to be a very attractive pigment in the short time that I’ve been using it and I highly recommend giving it a try.

(self made) – Mars Black – PBk11
An iron oxide. This black is very opaque and a very strong tinter. I don’t actually have this in a tube from any brand but I do have some dry pigment that I mixed with walnut oil. I really need more experience and tools for making paint because I think I made it a little too concentrated, so I wouldn’t expect mars black from a tube to be quite this strong of a tinter. I’ve read that this one dries faster than ones like ivory black.

Gamblin – Black Spinel – PBk28
The most expensive black here, it’s marketed by Gamblin as “the only truly neutral black in masstone and tint.” In the past I criticized this claim because I found the tints to be cool, non-neutral greys. I still find this to be the case, and will show a comparison in a moment. The tinting strength seems to be on the stronger side. This same pigment is available from Mussini (they call it Mineral Black) for a little more than half the price on dickblick.com

Mussini – Atrament Black – PBk31
An unusual greenish black. I only recently got it and haven’t used it a lot, but it makes very muted green greys in tints and is a very dark shadow green in masstone.

Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna – PB29+PBr7
There’s a lot of ways that artists have come up with for mixing their own black. This is one of the more common ones because both paints used are among the cheapest and most commonly available and used. I found that I had to add more of the blue than the brown to get it about right, at least with the Old Holland versions. The end result wasn’t as dark of a black as I expected though. I would recommend staying away from the old favorite of some artists to mix phthalo green with alizarin crimson, as the crimson’s infamous ability to fade greatly after short times will mean that your mixed black will become greener over time.

So here I’ve compared Gamblin’s “neutral” black spinel with Rembrandt’s ivory black, which is mixed with blue, and they both seem to have about the same amount of coolness to me. On the right is Blue Ridge’s charcoal black which I find to actually be very neutral, more so than the black spinel.

Part 2: Black + Yellow = Green

So a very long time ago the Impressionists heard that black was, by definition, “the absence of color.” They therefore exiled it from their palettes so they could instead focus on light and color. While not all artists ever subscribed to this thinking, this has been handed down to us over generations of artists so that today many are taught to have a near phobia of using black paint. I’m going to show you guys just one of the many things that can be accomplished with black by mixing M Graham’s ivory black with some of the various yellows from my collection. In almost all cases I only added a tiny amount of black to the yellow. I’ll note again that on my palette every one of these mixtures is green, even if only a little, but I don’t know for sure if my camera was able to get accurate colors.

The indian yellow is more of an orange than a yellow, but even so the result was a slightly greenish mix. I liked the mix with nickel titanate yellow. I don’t actually have a cobalt green pale (PG19) in oil paint and I only have a small sample in watercolor, but to me this looks similar to the pictures of it I’ve seen.

The nickel azo yellow was really special. A very dark masstone with an almost golden olive green undertone. It looks a little more intense in real life.

The cobalt yellow, also known as aureolin in other brands, is known to not have very good lightfastness so I normally never use it, but the olive green I got from it was interesting. The last two were a little difficult, with the mars yellow overpowering the black until I added more, and neither mix being especially green.

So I have a couple of old tubes of Winsor & Newton olive green. It used to be that they made theirs with a mix of PO49 and black, but in 2001 pigment manufacturers stopped making PO49, so since then everyone who used it to make paint had to switch to different formulas. That is, everyone but Daniel Smith, who apparently bought up all the remaining supply and even still has some left. They refer to it as quinacridone gold (GS). It doesn’t seem like you can get it from them as a single pigment oil paint anymore, unless you want to buy the entire quinacridone set (and I’m not sure that the one named gold in there is the real PO49 or their newer imitation mix), but they do still offer it in watercolor form. To recreate the olive green, I’ve mixed my tube with black, but probably less of it, and got a warmer green with and more golden undertones.

The burnt orange was rather unexpected, because as you can see it’s definitely a reddish orange in its transparency, but yet the mix with black produced a subtly green paint. This is one of the ones that I’m not sure if it’s really showing the colors right in the photo, but in real life it actually is a bit green to me.

So why mix yellow with black to get green when you can do the same with blue? There’s probably a few reasons, but one is this scale above. Starting with the yellow the paint is bright, warm, and very yellow. As I add increasingly more black the paint gradually becomes darker, more neutral, and greener, but never becomes blue. Mixing yellow with blue, at the darkest values, would be much less neutral and much cooler/bluer, but here I have a progression of bright yellow to very dark green that never enters the blue section of colors.

So hopefully after all that you guys might be willing not only to give black a try but maybe even consider some of the less mainstream pigments. As for myself, I’d like to try some slate black (PBk19) and maybe some graphite (PBk10) sometime soon.

Yellow Pine Forest

Yellow Cloud Forest

Lately I’ve been getting busy with various things and projects so I haven’t really made much so far this month and I thought I’d change that by drawing something today. This was made in the beta for Photoshop CS6, using the Watercolor Brush on Dry tool. I’d really like it if photoshop were to have more brushes like this.

I keep meaning to get my oil paints out but for one reason or another I haven’t gotten around to it yet…

Red Landscape

Primitive World Landscape

A mix of watercolor and gouache on board, 7″x5″. Inspired by the pieces of local black and grey myrickite that have bright red streaks of cinnabar running through them. There’s a few pieces of it at the local history museum.

I treated the paint different from how watercolor is normally used. The brush I used was a stiff synthetic one meant for heavy bodied acrylic or oil paint, and the board was also meant for acrylic or oil. One advantage to this is that even after the paint is fully dry I can rewet it and even wipe it all off, as I did on the bottom third of the painting which was originally mostly covered in opaque black gouache.

I made a second painting, but one of the watercolors I used on that has honey mixed into it, which slows drying time, and because the paint is a little thicker than watercolor would normally be in a few spots it still hasn’t fully dried. Maybe in a day or two I can scan it.