Saturday, April 25, 2009

From My Sketchbook: Testing Some New Colors

Last week I talked about two new watercolors I tried: Daniel Smith's Transparent Red Oxide and Schmincke's Translucent Orange. (Note the Red Oxide is in tube form, the Translucent Orange is in pan form.) I did several experiments in the field and show some of them here. These pigments used with Cobalt Blue or Indanthrene Blue (PB 60) make some beautiful grays that are really good at capturing the array of grays the deciduous trees and bushes present at this time of the year.
Those of you who know my pastel paintings might wonder why I am trying to portray local color since my paintings are often anything but! Must be from looking at leafless trees so much of the year in Minnesota and wondering how to depict them poetically. This month, while waiting for the leaves to come out, I am simply acknowledging they are simply many, many shades of gray.

These images are from a small 4.5" x 5.5" journal made with Folio paper by Roz Stendahl. It is perfect size for carrying around on walks. I can paint in it and then hold it open while it dries and I am off to the next scene.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Testing a New Daniel Smith Watercolor

Note: Click on the images to view enlargements.

This is an interesting time of the year for a landscape artist: the leaves are not out yet so the structure of the trees is still plain to see. The snow is gone and the marsh grasses are chlorophyll-lacking shades of buff, ochre, khaki—well a zillion shades of brown. For those of you who know my work you know I am not one who is wedded to using local color for my paintings. However, the amazing varities of browns out there have caused me to try to duplicate some of the colors I see.

The solution came in a conversation with my friend Roz Stendahl (famous for, among other things, her galactic knowledge of pigments). The subject of (what else?) pigments came up. We often talk about favorite combinations of this or that pigment with a favorte: PB 60 aka Indanthrene Blue. While she tends toward a more muted result in her paintings I still need those essentail neutrals to show off the intense colors I love. We were discussing the interesting muted colors one sees outside now before the green-up, including the subtle color made by masses of red dogwood. As a suggestion for that pinky-red, Roz mentioned some of the new colors Daniel Smith has introduced, which she had just mentioned on her blog— in particular: Transparent Red Oxide. And soon we were on to the discussion of a great Schmincke color: Translucent Orange.

I made a trip to Wet Paint art supply store, bought my two new colors and the experiments began. The photos show some test spots.

In the first photo above, I have laid down some PB60 and Transparent Orange and mixed them on the paper. To the right (in the little rectangle) are the same pigments mixed on the palette. You can see one gets a much livelier result when the colors let themselves mix on the paper. The swoosh to the right of the rectangle demonstrates how Transparent Orange plays out going from wet to dry brush. I noted a shine indicative of gum arabic when the paint was applied thickly. I don't mind that but will have to keep it in mind so I don't get that effect when I don't want it.

This second photo above shows some experiments with PB 60 and Daniel Smith's transparent Red Oxide (as well as a reference stroke of Burnt Sienna gouache). Next there are two connected swooshes showing Transparent Red Oxide combined with Cobalt Blue! Fabulous grays result from both combinations. The first combo (on the far right) absolutely duplicated the gray basalt rocks found on the north shore of Lake Superior. The second is exactly right for those elusive grass colors.

Just for comparison I laid down a bit of Burnt Sienna gouache. It is a cooler, quieter brown next to the Red Oxide watercolor. (Of course we a dealing with a gouache to watercolor comparison so it is not apples to apples.) The Red Oxide has a kind of snap to it along with a very nice sedimentation. I love the color and will try replacing my Burnt Sienna with it in my watercolor palette. My experiments with the Red Oxide resulted in a bit less of the pinky Pipestone type brown that Roz found but it is a lovely color nonetheless. (She only had a dried paint spot to work from and I was using fresh tube color—that may be part of the difference.)

Next week I will show you some of the little landscape sketches I've done with the new colors. For now I am going outside! 70 degree weather in Minnesota is too good to miss after a long winter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Eggs

It took until last week but I finally got my Easter eggs out. They spend most of the year in the basement swathed in layers of tissue paper. I always hold my breath until I get them all out of their boxes hoping that the ones I consider really special are still intact.

Over the years we have dyed eggs at our house using a variety of methods. Naturally some are simply colored from the drug store tablets of dye, but those don't get the special treatment like the ones hand-painted with acrylics or watercolor or dyed using onion skins or pieces of silk fabric.

The three you see in the photo are some that my mother's sister, Eleanor, painted many years ago. These are the eggs that I hope survive from Easter to Easter. The largest is a goose egg. Norie meticulously painted it with a landscape and a fellow paddling a canoe in what looks like pretty rough water. On this large egg the magic of the forest and rocks along the shore are rendered with that sort of realism that only a true artist can capture. To the left is a quieter scene: a swan swiming in a more placid lake. Above them is my favorite: a snow scene with a group of children skating on a frozen pond. Not that one necessarily wants to be reminded of snow at Easter time, but, every few years there is snow outside the window on the day the bunny delivers his chocolate eggs. If there isn't any snow, we can all be glad it is gone.

Norie painted these eggs using model paint and tiny, tiny brushes. They were sealed with a satin varnish after the egg inside dried out. Like the eggs that I paint or dye, they were hard-boiled and then decorated. Gone are the days that I blew the contents out of the egg shell. The resulting shell is just too weak to stand up to being stored year after year. Over the months the cooked egg inside the shell dries out and becomes like a marble that rolls around inside the shell. A word of caution about painting hardboiled eggs with acrylic or something else that will seal off the shell of the egg and prevent the moisture from evaporating from inside the egg: either let the hardboiled egg dry out before you paint it or paint it with a medium that will allow air to pass through the shell until the egg dries out. Some people just paint the raw egg without boiling the egg first. If anyone has experience doing this, tell me how it worked out. I fear an unpleasant mess.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lake Country Pastel Society Spring Show

The Lake County Pastel Society Show, Pastel Springs, is open now until May 8. I was there on Monday to help check in the entries. Wow! It is going to be a challenge for our judge, Anita Louise West, to choose the winner from over 100 entires. Ms. West, famous for her own pastels, is in the Twin cities for a portrait workshop being held this week by Leslie DeMille. I have been a follower of Ms. West for many years--she is nationally known for her plein air landscapes.

So here is just one good reason to be a member of the Lake Country Pastel Society: Each year the Society sponsors a three to five day workshop lead by a pastel artist of national stature. In conjunction with this year's workshop, Mr. DeMille will give a public demonstration Sunday, April 5 from 5:30 to 8:30 at the New Brighton Family Center, 400 10th St. NW, New Brighton MN. The demonstration is free for members, $15 for non-members.

Come see the show at the Sherburne County Government Center and then check out the Pastel Society. In addition to first-class workshops, we meet six times a year for critiques, demonstrations and guest speakers. Spring and Fall shows are held each year. Dust in the Wind, the Society news letter, is a valuable source of information about materials, workshops, exhibits and grant opportunities.