Sunlit Clearing

Sunlit Clearing

Watercolor on paper, 7″ x 5″

Soon greens like this may start to appear around here. We get most of our rain in the winter and early spring, while the rest of the year is very dry.

I think viridian is one of my favorite greens, but I almost never use it, so I decided to make a painting with it. For this I used Daniel Smith viridian, quinacridone burnt orange, and cobalt green pale.



There’s this one trail that I like to walk on during the winter because it’s very rocky and every rock is covered in moss like this. During the summer it’s dry and doesn’t rain here, but in winter the rains come and the rocks turn green with moss.

Moss Close Up

Here’s a small part at full size. This is very tiny, but even this might be a dense forest to a tinier bug. I want the rain to hurry up and make the moss green again.

The Highlands

The Highlands

Oil on canvas, 8″ x 10″

A couple of days ago I found out about an artist named Arkhip Kuindzhi. He grew up poor in Ukraine in the mid 1800s, was orphaned when he was 6, worked for a living from then on, and eventually moved to Russia and learned art. I’m going to put my painting to shame by showing you guys this, but I saw this painting he made called Snow Tops and I wanted to paint something like that today. Again I wasn’t actually looking at that painting while I worked except a few glances during breaks, and it’s not meant to be an exact copy anyways. He has so many good paintings, I want to make copies or paintings similar to at least 20-28 of them.

This particular canvas is one that I had previously coated in multiple layers of Golden fiber paste mixed with white acrylic paint until the canvas texture was gone and in its place was a sort of stony texture that I like. The paints I used were cobalt blue (PB28, Winsor & Newton), azo green (PY129, M Graham), prussian blue (PB27, M Graham), king’s blue (PB28+PW6, Rembrandt), flake white hue (PW6+PW4, Winsor & Newton), and a little bit of zinc buff yellowish (PW4, Williamsburg). This was my first finished painting using that azo green (known in other brands by names like “green gold”) and I think it may become one of my favorites alongside viridian. It doesn’t show up very well in the photo but I used very thick paint that gets thicker towards the foreground.

I used to live in a place called Highlands Ranch. It sounds romantic, but by the time I moved there nothing was left of the former ranch. Instead there was only suburban sprawl with mountains very far in the distance.

Valley of Waterfalls and Mist

Valley of Mist

Oil on linen, 8″ x 6″

I think I may have once again painted my four favorite things- forest, mountains, mist, and waterfalls.

For this painting I used a 50/50 mix of French Cassel Earth (NBr8 natural bituminous earth, Williamsburg) and Viridian (PG18, M Graham) along with Flake White Hue (PW6+PW4, Winsor & Newton). Of all the paints in my collection the Cassel Earth that I recently got is one of the highlights for its uniqueness. The willingness of Williamsburg to make a non-mainstream paint like this that can’t just be gotten from a dozen other brands (Vasari is the only other brand that makes it) is one of my favorite things about them. It’s not completely lightfast (I’ve read that the brownishness turns grey over time) but it’s a transparent, gritty, blackish brown that feels very real and alive. When mixed with viridian, a semi transparent and cool shadowy green that’s possibly my favorite green, it becomes a highly transparent dull earthy green. Then mixed with white it becomes like jade.

The only brush I used was a Princeton synthetic filbert, 6300 series, size 2, and I didn’t wash it at any time while painting. I only worked with wet paint in two painting sessions during one day. You can see the scratches of the stiff bristles scrapping away some of the paint as I worked which left interesting textures.

I painted this on oil-primed linen that’s fixed to a wood panel, made by SourceTek. I’ve never used one of their products before, but I got this because it was discounted by 50% at the art store I was in and I thought I’d try it. It worked out well.

The colors in this photo might not be completely accurate because I took the photo outside in the shade, but I edited it a little to better match the real painting.

Old Orchard

Old Orchard

Oil on canvas, 10″ x 8″

A few days ago I had put a dab of each of my 8 different paints from Blockx onto my palette intending to do a mini review on their paint, but I’ve been busy so it ended up sitting around for a couple of days. Yesterday I decided to just try painting something with what was on my palette, but I didn’t really know what. After applying dabs of various colors to a canvas I saw that trees were starting to appear and it soon became an orchard. I’ve tried painting in an Impressionist style like this just once before, maybe 10 years ago, so this was a bit of an experiment for me.

The paints I used were-
French ultramarine blue deep, PB29
Turquoise green, PB36
Golden green, PY154+PG36
Titanium white, PW6
Crimson lake, PR264
Cadmium red orange, PO20
Mars yellow orange, PY42
Mars violet, PR101

The first four I used the most of and had to put more of the ultramarine, golden green, and white on my palette, but since I had some of all of them already there I used at least a little of everything.

The only brush I used was a Princeton synthetic round, 6300 series, size 2, and I didn’t clean it at any point while painting so it had all the different colors mixing together on it. I finished this entire painting in one painting session.

My opinion of the Blockx paint is that it’s some of the best, if not the best, that I’ve used. It tends to be a bit expensive though, but I got all of my tubes from various sales on specific colors with huge discounts. If I had to pay their normal prices then I’d be perfectly happy using less expensive brands instead, at least for cadmiums and cobalts. I think their titanium white is the best white that I have for its consistency.

Clouds and Hills

click for larger view
click for larger view

Watercolor on paper, 9.5″ x 6.5″

Earlier this week I went on a 31 hour train ride across the western US. When I was in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which are on the border between the states of California and Nevada, there were a lot of clouds filling the deep valleys and I drew sketches of what I saw. This is a slightly embellished painting made from one of those sketches.

I painted this last night on a “handmade watercolor book” that I bought at Hobby Lobby, a large chain of craft and art stores in the US. It says it’s “100% cotton fiber” made “in the Punjab region of India” from “100% post consumer waste,” so it’s made from some sort of recycled materials. The paper is nice but doesn’t appear to be sized at all (or maybe it’s just on one side?), so when I applied any water or paint it all soaked in immediately. This can be good for some techniques but not for others, like blending. Because of that I decided to use a technique of many little dots of paint that were overlapped to make darker areas.

The paints I used are three of the watercolors I made and tubed myself recently. I mixed together a premixed tube of ultramarine blue green shade and Italian raw umber (in a 1:1 ratio) with a tube of Nicosia green earth and some titanium white in about a total ratio of 1:1:1 of the three tubes or about a 1:1:2:2 ratio of the four pigments involved. The brush I used is a Da Vinci Cosmotop Spin travel brush, size 5, series 1573. It’s a very good brush.

I had messed up on it a bit and I was going to redo it tonight, but I just photographed it in a way that hides the mistake. The light in the photo is really bad though. Tonight I’ll try painting one of the other scenes I sketched on the train.

Last winter I posted some photos of these same mountains from the same train route while they had snow on them.


Self-made watercolors on Fabriano 300lb soft press paper, 3.5″ x 7″

I was recently experimenting with making watercolor paints from the dry pigments I got from Natural Pigments and I made this with a few of them. The white I used in a couple of them is actually an old container of titanium white pigment from Daniel Smith, but the rest are my new pigments.

The sky and clouds are two blues made from different mixes of ultramarine, italian dark ochre, titanium white, and raw umber. The grass is made from a few mixes of ultramarine, yellow ochre light, italian dark ochre, lemon ochre, and a little titanium white.

It was a lot of fun not only using the paints I had previously made but also deciding that I needed a couple of greens that hadn’t been made yet and mixing them together part way through.

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

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.

Painting a Day 5: Green Turtle

Oil on linen, 5″x7″

I wanted to go for a test drive with cobalt green deep (PG50), cobalt green light (also PG50), and cobalt turquoise (PB36), all from Blue Ridge, plus some titanium white from Charvin.

The colors in this photo are probably off since I waited too late in the day before starting so by the time I finished the light for the photo wasn’t good. It’s not this bluish in real life and the greens at the bottom should be a little warmer. Maybe I’ll replace this with a better photo tomorrow.