Monday, September 30, 2013

The Drawer Box

My brother the Guitar maker has added a second plein air paint box to his offerings.  The box is similar to the travel mate with the addition of a front opening drawer to hold paint or other items of choice.  The drawer is mounted with stops to keep it in position as you angle the box to your preferred position.

One Drawer Mounted, Travel Mate in Background

The new model offers the same rugged construction, ease of operation, flexibility of design, adjustability etc as the Travel Mate.  Its advantage is a single location for your supplies.  Of course the added material adds a bit of weight.

Goodies in the Front Drawer

The front drawer has a removable lid that can act as a palette extension.  I like the front mount because it keeps me from getting close to the painting surface where I might be tempted to niggle and pick instead of painting.  I use this approach with my studio easel.

With Panel and Side Wing

Here the box is shown with a panel mounted and an optional side wing.  A wide variety of panel sizes can be accommodated.  The side wing can be used on either side.  The panel can be raised easily to your line of site minimizing your eye travel.  Very important when you are painting what you see.

Should you be interested in more information, or in acquiring either model of box, email me at and I will put you in touch with my brother.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Contemporary or Old School

Recently people have been asking "What's the difference between contemporary and traditional representative art?"  Or as my buddy calls it "old school".

I ran across this on Underpaintings today.

As many of you are probably aware, Arcadia Gallery in SoHo is no more.  This is not to say that it is gone completely;  it has instead changed its focus and its name.  Arcadia Gallery is now Arcadia Contemporary.

I would not go so far as to say this change has "upset" many people, but I will say that the change has made many people "concerned," including myself.  Arcadia has been a great place to see well-crafted representational work, in a city where the shocking, the grotesque, and the skill-less in art still rule - and still command top dollar.  Arcadia Gallery was an oasis, and when you tell wanderers in a desert that the oasis will be changing, there is bound to be some trepidation.

Henrik Uldalen
31 X 43 in.

Mary Jane Ansell
Girl in a Shako
oil on panel
12 X 17 in.

As part of this change at Arcadia, there are several artists who will no longer be exhibiting with the gallery.  Michael Klein amicably parted company with the gallery earlier this year, before any announcement of changes were made, and more recently it was released that Robert Liberace and Ron Hicks will also no longer be exhibiting there.  Dorian Vallejo, whose first solo show with Arcadia was set for this autumn, was also let go, just last month.  It is the gallery's view that these artists are, without doubt, extremely talented, but that their work is too much mired in the past, and not "forward-looking" enough.

You can look at the work of the departing artists to get a feel for what is said to be more traditional.  The tools and methods are the same.  Seems that contemporary has more to do with subject and how it is presented.  That may explain why fantasy painting is so popular in some galleries I visited in Quebec.

It will be interesting to see the wheel turn yet again.  Paint on.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Comfort Zone II

Around 10 years ago John Hartman suggested that I narrow my scope.  Go deeper, understand more, see where it goes.  That was great advice at the time.  I had been hound dogging everything I encountered.  I needed focus and deep knowledge.  About two years ago I ventured out to townscapes.  I had done a few before, but the new version was much richer, more interesting.  I brought new insights from my days on a narrower path.

Now I am venturing out again.  Interiors with figures.  I have done some before but this is a fresh challenge.  I talked with a chef in his kitchen, gained permission, did some sketching.

One of Many Sketches

Hard to stop the motion, but that is part of what I am after - motion.  Have to be careful not to go rigid using photos.

Wash, A Few Darks, Wipe Away

Continuing to add darks to indicate structure.  Drawing errors float up.  Edge work critical.  memory strained.

Back to Back, 12x12, Oil on Canvas

There are currently 5 in the series.  I am off to Ottawa, Montebello, and Montreal for a few days.  Hopefully there will be gobs of interesting reference material to continue with.  These will show in early October.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Comfort Zone

Avoid becoming stale.  Get out of your comfort zone.  This helps you improve your art making and keeps you from being a one trick pony.

The dreaded green helped me avoid another greenie when painting on the Pine River meadow.  The wild flowers were out.  So I picked a good handful from a few feet away and threw them randomly as a bunch on the beach.  "You came all this way and you're doing a still life?"  Whatever, and what an environment to do it.  Standard palette and all.

On the Beach, 12x16, Oil on Canvas on Board

The caveat to this suggestion is that one should narrow their tendency to paint differently every time in search of the secret.  That is disabling as is painting a a seller over and over.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Flexible Travel Easel

My brother is a guitar maker.  So he has made a pochade box that I am finding very useful.  It is small for travel, but it is also durable, light, flexible, adjustable, and fast to set up.

Panel and Palette Holder Version

When I travel by air I pack very light.  I only take the box, no tripod.  Then I paint with the box on my lap, on a table, on a fence, or whatever.

Small Feet

The feet allow for setup on rocks and such.  The tripod mount is visible here as well.

Mounting a Small Panel

The box opens to any position you wish and there are no wing nuts and struts to frustrate you.  The top holder slides out so the board (or canvas) can be mounted.  Just seconds.

To Eye Height

In a few seconds you can move the bottom panel holder into position for your eye height.  I really like this feature because I like to paint from below the bottom of the panel to facilitate creative brush strokes.

A 12x16 Panel

This thing is very flexible.  Here is a larger panel.  But you can also mount it 16x12.  This allows for painting 16x20 or wider.  For me this covers most of my plein air needs regarding size.

16x12 or 16x20

So I have found this box satisfies my plein air needs unless I go to a larger painting than 16x 20 or 16x24.  I can use this arrangement pretty much every day.  For that I add the palette extension wing.

Ready to Paint

There you have it.  Since I am in the habit of carrying a compact back pack, I find carrying my paint, medium, cleaner, sketch book etc. in small light containers is not a problem.

My brother has been supplying these to other painters now.  So, if you are interested in obtaining one of these, you can email me at and I will put you in contact.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Portable Easel Evaluation

Painting on site is an animal very different from the sterile studio experience.  Not that the studio is a bad place.  There is not much in the out of doors that is controllable including the weather, the light, the people, or the bugs.  But the rewards, infinite.  So, I have collected a number of easels for my development in the great out of doors.  If I could only have one easel for that purpose I would choose my old French Jullian Easel shown on the left below.

Some of My Easels

I have used this easel for twenty years.  I'm familiar with her to the point where it takes me about two minutes to set up.  Others seem never to master this type of easel.  She has been all over with me.  We have painted in storms, with large canvas, in the water, in the snow, and even in the studio.  She is versatile and I have never been blown down.  Everything in one package.  However, you can see I have quite a collection of other easels.

open and Ready

A few years back while hiking the Chickenishing Trail at 35C I came to realize that my French Easel was both heavy and awkward.  So began the hunt for something light.  The second from the left is an all in one pochade box.  Yup, lighter that the French, but it requires a tripod.  And that gets blown down.  She is a beautiful box, well thought out.  The next easel is a palette and board holder.  You bring everything else in a separate container. This is also a popular product, simple and rugged.  Needs a tripod.  I have found that I take all sorts of things in a back pack no matter which easel I use - pencil, view finder, paper towels, garbage bag, sketch book, camera and so forth.  So only having a palette and board holder is fine with me.  The box on the right is a home made super light piece.  Maybe a pound.  But doesn't do much.  For example I have to hold the painting surface in position.  It is held on the lap or a stone fence or whatever is handy.  Now I could spend some more time and make it more substantial, but I'd rather paint.  For you information, I have been blown down with each of these smaller boxes.  That incidence could be reduced by a tripod upgrade.  I have one in mind that is simple, light and rugged.

So my brother, a guitar maker, had a look at this collection and has made me a box to aid me in my light travels.  I'll show it next time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Habits and Changing Them

It is always interesting when I teach.  I get to observe others painting.  I learn a lot.  And I see numerous bad habits brought along from previous experiences.  I have found that these are hard to change.  My teacher was very truthful and forceful regarding habits that lead to better painting.  Today everything is deemed beautiful, great, wonderful.

A Guest Student

Here is a short list of my observations.  These pertain to objective painting.

Drawing versus painting.
A dive in start without ability to draw.
Ditto without perspective.
Ditto without regard to concept including design.
Ditto with regard to value.
Formulaic approach.
Trial and error approach.
Inability to mix colours.
Inability to mix grey.
Painting what one thinks, not what one sees.
Incessant dabbing without even looking at the subject.
Licking the canvas while trying to determine what to do next.
Changing direction in mid course.
Aversion to some pigments on hearsay.
Inability to manoeuvre the brush, knife etc.

The list goes on.

Yesterday I heard the excuse "I haven't got time to learn to draw (do perspective, mix colours etc.)  Of course that same person has the time to use trial and error over and over again in search of a better painting.  Slow way to make progress.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mulmur Red, Making Oil Paint

We recently visited a spot in the Mulmur Hills.  It was down a "No Exit" road on the southern brim of the Pine River Valley.  Sunny.  Cool.  Quiet.  We arrived early.  The road disappeared over the valley brim in and interesting setting.  It was clearly the opportunity to paint a red - green painting.

Painting in Process

Some friends said "I don't get it, where was the red?"  I had anticipated this question and gathered some of the mud from alongside the road.  It was showing through all over the place.

Mud Dried Out

Then I thought, "why not make some paint from it?"  So I ground up the dry mud on a tile using a flat stone.  Now I wasn't going to get serious enough to get the particle size into the microns.  Just an experiment.

Ground, then Sifted Through wire Strainer

This is finer than sand but pretty course.  So I went to my only in house resource and begged an old stocking from my wife.  She frowned as usual.  What the hell....

Sifting Sand #2

A black stocking yet!  It cut about half of the product out.  You can see the colour intensity increase as the particle size decreased.

Red vs Gray

I turned to the Kama Pigments web site to look at their paint making demo.  Here is how I proceeded.

Linseed into the "Pigment"

You are right in thinking that this is a poor substitute for production pigment.  But my raw material is from the target painting spot.  And I'm not about to go and buy grinders and rollers.

Before Tubing

This stuff is about like putty.  You add oil and or extenders etc.  (a whole new world of paint chemistry) to get the consistency you think you want.  You should grind with a muller here.  Then tube away.

Back End Tube Filling

Not a difficult task, but it can be messy until you get the feel for it.  Fill a bit, tap a bit.

So I did a few 8x10s primed with oil.  Just to see how it felt as a ground.

Two Mulmur Red Coloured Grounds

The colour is warm somewhere between a burnt sienna (Italian mud) and a transparent red oxide.  Makes marks, drips and sags.  I painted on one of these today.  The larger particles felt like scratchy pebbles.  However, where the fines were deposited and dry, the board felt OK to paint on.  I wiped off the rough spots and painted without incident.

Next time I make my own, I'll use proper pigment.  Pretty easy to do.  High quality low cost paint.  Then again, I'd rather paint.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Brush Review

During my last painting course many students expressed the need for some good brushes.  Most in the class were painting in oil so I set up an order from Rosemary Brushes in the UK.  I found one student who was ordering some brushes for some reason I didn't understand.  She assured me she had thought her order through.  Still I couldn't find the"Classic" type brushes in my catalogue.  So I went on line.  Sure enough they were in the electronic catalogue.  They are a blend of hogs bristle and synthetic.  They were said to hold their shape longer than the Chungking bristle and to wear longer.  So I added a few #6 and #8 to my order ( I don't often use a size less than a #6).  The other type of brush in that mixed order was Masters Choice, a soft mongoose used for precision drawing by many.

The Classics and Chunkings arrived and I couldn't tell them apart.  Both have long black handles.  So I added a dab of red acrylic to the Classics.

  Top to Bottom, Chungking flat, Classic flat, Masters Choice Flat, Chungking filbert

No, the handles are not curved!  That's just my clumsy wide angle camera work.

The next step was to paint with them and make observations.  After a few hours on the easel I found the claims to seem true regarding the shape of the brushes.

Left to Right, Masters, Chungking, Classic.  All #6

The image shows the brushes after drying in their clean state, after a painting session.

The Classic feels "tighter" than the Chungkings.  More stiff.  They make sharper marks, at least when new.  The Chungking holds more paint and seems to help when applying a "loose" passage.  The classics tend to leave a more hard-edged look.  I worked the Classics a second time and found basically the same things held true.  However I was able to obtain a bigger paint load as the brushes were broken in.  So now I don't find myself reaching for either type.  I may or may not find myself with a red blobbed brush in my hand.  I do look for one if I need more precision - not often.  It will take more time to judge the wear rate.

On this same order I took possession of a #16 Chungking.  A beautiful brush.  It was my third order from Rosemary.  So you can tell I like her brushes.  The company is a pleasure to deal with and the response is amazingly fast.  5 days to my doorstep all the way from England. Great brushes at a reasonable price.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Separating Light and Shadow

In sun conditions there are obvious shadows.  If your concept is to show them, then you need to show separation (light and shadow painting).  Every brush stroke must be in the light or in the shadow.  No in betweens.

Without a monotone value underpainting many people lose the separation as they struggle to tell the value of colour passages.

Upstream, In Process, Finishing to Follow

In order to emphasize the separation I sometimes resort to more than just painting the lights in a hi value and the shadows in a low value.

I might;

Paint lights in one base pigment and the shadows in another pigment of the same family.  (Here I used Naples Yellow Deep in the light and Yellow Orange in the shadow)

Paint the lights in semi neutral and the shadows in high chroma.  Or reverse this.

Paint the lights warm and the shadows cool.  Or reverse this.

Paint the lights opaque and the shadows transparent.  Or reverse this.

Paint hard edges in the light and soft in the shadows for a more vague look.

Paint lights with cool reflected light and shadows with hot reflect light.  Or reverse this.

Paint the lights with texture and the shadows without texture.  Or reverse this.

Paint gradations in the light and not in the shadow.  Or reverse this.

The most important thing is to be able to answer the question "Is this stroke in the light or in the shadow", and then "Is the value right?"

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Algonquin Trip III

With the passage from snow to mud and stick and all the way past the delicate greens Algonquin is fading from memory.  But one last instalment.   On one morning we actually did paint inside the park.  After paying tribute to Tom Thomson at the Canoe lake put in we decided to move on.  That lead us quickly to Smoke lake.  Here the ice was rotting aroung the perimeter of the lake.

Smoke Lake - Distorted Water Colour.....

The sun actually appeared and tempted me to chase it from my setup.

Start Under Gray Sky

But no, it didn't last long.  I stayed with my double complements of Viridian + Alizarin and Yellow and Violet.  Beautiful Grays.  Then the problem is how to make the image interesting.  

Smoke Lake Breakup

Here she waits for an energized eye and some final paint, and a composition change.

All the paintings from the trip have been in the studio receiving attention and getting closer to finished.  Happens this way on a trip filled with painting.  The exception is the quick 8x10s.  They are immediate.  Can't take that from them.  The most difficult painting is based on the falls on Hollow River.  There is a lot of drawing involved and ditto for simplification.  I thought I was further along in the painting.  Now the memory is fading.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Algonquin Trip II

We had a special treat provided by Ron M. the owner of the local art shop.  He 4 wheeled us in to the Oxtongue River Rapids.  The morning was misty and heavy overcast.

AY Jackson site on the Oxtongue River Rapids

So, close values, no shadows, not much vibrant colour.  The birches and other trees had a certain Group of 7 mystique.

A bit of foreground colour

I set up here.  A lot of mist but changing fairly quickly.

A Start

I used a pair of complements, alizarin and viridian (cool greys), and Ultramarine and Orange.  The others were deep into it.

John's Perspective

The mist was rising so I had to paint from memory.  Keeping the values close with some foreground clarity, I took this back to the studio.

Wolf Tracks, 16x20, Oil on Canvas on Board

Notice how clear the subject looked in this photo.  The mist and light had changed considerably.  Less mystery.

Studio Touches, Studio Light

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Back from Algonquin

We had a great trip to Algonquin.  Ground still snow covered, beginning to rot the ice around the shore of some lakes.  Spring melt in progress.  It was around 4C most days.  We got back before all the flooding and apparently we had better weather than at home in the south.

Oxtongue River Bend

We were told by local artists that this was the site of Tom Thomson's iconic Norther River.  So we had to paint it upon arrival our first day.

Grey Day Version

Here is my effort part way through the session.  John Presseault swears he stood in Tom's very tracks.  

Site Overgrown

Now most of our time in the area was under overcast skies.  Challenging to paint, values close, colours subdued.  How to make this interesting?  Chroma control, subtle greys, interesting composition.  That requires a lot of design and installation of elements.

From this site we hit the Oxtongue Rapids.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Putting Canvas on Board

Just a week left before our journey to Algonquin for early spring painting.  I enjoy taking boards and canvas on board on these ventures.  They are light, compact, and sturdy.  I make my own.  This trip will see 6x8, 8x10, 11x14, 12x16, and 16x20 along with a few stretched canvases in 12x20 etc.  I expect to work most on 12x16 and 16x20 with a few 8x10s in honour of Tom Thomson.  We will be along the Oxtongue River where he painted Northern River (sketch for).

Here is what I do to make my boards.  First, I cut hardboard or Baltic Birch to the sizes I wish.  Next, I cut canvas (primed from a roll)  or linen to the same sizes but about one half inch oversize on both dimensions.  Then I apply zero ph glue to the board.

Board, Glue, Roller, Plastic Trowel In Water

After you do some of these you figure out how much glue to use.  With the hardboard this application worked with the trowel.

Glue Spread Out

Canvas Rolled On

It is important to roll the canvas to eliminate air bubbles.  Primed side up.  This particular canvas is cotton from the local art source.  I prefer oil primed linen and use it on the larger boards.

Weighted Boards

I flip the boards canvas side down and then apply a heavy weight to keep them flat.  Here I used granite.

Trim Operation

Next day after a walk but before I squeeze out I trim the canvas to size.  If there happens to be an unglued corner etc. I apply some glue and put a clothes peg on the repair.  To this stage the cost of a 12x16 canvas on board is about $0.75 whereas linen would be more than double or triple that.

After this I apply an oil ground to my preferred smoothness.  I have tried quite a number of oil grounds.  My favourite is lead white but I also enjoy, Gamblin Oil ground and flake white replacement.  For me this final stage is quite messy so I go at these in batches.  Then I wait before going out to paint.  At least a week.  More is better.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Split Complements, Structured Colour

Most of the time I paint with a regular palette based on the primaries and secondaries.  Once in a while I like to revisit colour schemes that are more simple.  Recently I decided to paint in a split complement.  I was outside in strong sun, facing into it.  I chose Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange, and Cad Red Light along with Ultramarine Blue Deep.  Titanium white to lighten.

Outdoor Palette

You can see where my regular palette pigments usually go.  The clear space is my mixing area.  I try to keep it clean.  Without the other colours on the palette I was restricted to what you see.  This forces you to determine what basic hues will go where as opposed to what you see.  Hence a structured approach.  Forces design decisions.

Split Complement on the Pigment Wheel

Here you can see the colour gamut available.  Along the side of the wheel is the value scale.  So with this choice of pigments I can get a dark and I have white to lighten (and the canvas if I choose).  If I happen to choose a split complement scheme that does not allow me to get a dark value I can darken with Black or I can mix a black and use that to darken.  Interesting options.  Try them.  I can mix the true complements Ultramarine Blue and Cad Orange and get colours both warm and cool.  A great array of warm and cool greys are also available.  In this case I chose not to show the red and yellow tilted towards blue.  Here is what I mean.

Analogous colours plus a Discord - Another Name

The application gets interesting.  On my shape and value thumbnail I made a note of what colour and value goes where, making sure to vary the amounts.  Here is the painting that came into the studio from the morning painting session.

Over My Head, 12x16, Oil on Canvas on Board

This image is very red on my screen.  The camera had a hard time with this one!  The value intensity scale is off what is really there.  In any event the question I am now facing is how far to take this one, and how to proceed.  This is good training.  Another option is complementary painting and yet another is monochromatic.