Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

It’s not easy painting green

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy painting green.”  Not because it’s a boring color but because there are so many permutations of it, and most green paint pigments do not simulate the most common variations found in nature.  But greens are also difficult to avoid because they are so prevalent in most landscapes.

Unfortunately, the most common (single) green pigments, such as terre verte, viridian, and the phthalocyanine greens may mislead us into thinking that, because they are “green,” they are automatically right for the job.  That is rarely the case.  So what’s an artist to do?

Phthalo green (PG7, the somewhat bluer version, or PG36, the slightly yellower version) is an extremely strong stain, with a cool bias, and a hue not normally found in natural foliage, though it could prove useful in depicting the strong, deep greens of stones like malachite or emeralds.  Because the staining power is so strong, very little is needed to blend with most other colors. But because of that, it can be difficult to control, especially for inexperienced artists.

Viridian (PG18) is also a cool green, with a similar hue, but it has a weaker strength so is easier to control.  It can prove useful for some blue-green foliage or for sky-lit reflections off warmer foliage greens.  (Be careful–paints labeled “viridian” or “viridian hue” are sometimes actually made with the less expensive PG7, phthalo green. Check the pigment number on the packaging.)

Terre verte (PG23, also called green earth) is one of the weakest green pigments, with a somewhat warmer temperature bias than viridian.  Because it is an earth pigment rather than a stain, it is one of the few green pigments that can easily be lifted off a painted surface.  But it may be difficult to obtain a dark value with this pigment.

Additional single green pigments include the cool cobalt green (PG19) and the warmer but dull chromium oxide green (PG17).  Fortunately, any of these pigments may be mixed with other hues to vary the color.  And they frequently are, to create more usable “convenience” green paints, such as Sap green, Emerald green, and Hookers green.  But why limit ourselves to those?

It will help if we recognize that “green” is a secondary hue, derived from a combination of some variation of the primary hues yellow and blue.  So if we begin with those primary pigments instead of with a single green pigment, we may have better success finding a version of green that we really want.  Or we can blend one of the green pigments we already have with one of those primary pigments to change its temperature bias, making the green appear either warmer (yellower) or cooler (bluer) than the original green pigment, and moderating the chroma as well.  (It’s usually easier to dull a color down than to brighten it up.)

I will not attempt to reproduce a color wheel here because the colors may not show accurately on every screen anyway.  I recommend obtaining a color wheel if you don’t already have one to refer to (preferably a Munsell-based color wheel as the color positioning is more accurate for color mixing than on the more familiar triadic color wheel).  Although printed wheels might show hues as discrete blocks of balanced color, the color wheel is actually a continuum of hues, flowing from one into another, each balanced hue also having both warmer and cooler variations.

Hues close to each other are called “analogous.”  Hues across from each other on the wheel are called “complementary.”  The more analogous two hues are, the less radically they will change each other when they are mixed.  The more complementary (distant on the wheel) they are, the more the color will change and the grayer or more muted they will become.

The amount you use of each hue will depend on the degree to which you want to adjust the colors.  If you want just a little change in temperature bias, look for an analogous hue.  If you don’t want to change the temperature at all but do want to mute it, choose a little of the complementary hue.  If you want to change both the temperature bias and lower the chroma (gray it down), select a hue that’s analogous to the complement.

The method is to find the wheel location of the hue with which you’re beginning the mixture, decide whether you want to warm it or cool it, and how much you may want to gray it down.  Then locate a hue you think might be appropriate to mix it with to create the desired color.  Test it and see.  If it’s too warm or cool, or too gray or not grayed enough, try again.  It may take several tries before you find the variation you want, but don’t get discouraged.  With practice, you’ll soon develop a knack for being able to guess more accurately the first time.

However, you will need to be aware that blending is not a question of the amounts of the colors but balancing the strengths of the colors being blended.  For instance, you would need a LOT of yellow (which tends to be weak) to change a LITTLE phthalo green (which is extremely strong).  Try to start with the weaker color and add the stronger color to it, a little at a time, to find the desired balance.  (If you start with the stronger color and add the weaker one to find the desired variation, you could waste a lot of paint, winding up with a lake instead of a puddle before you achieve the color you want!)

Try blending each of your green paints with small amounts of your other colors to see what results you get.  Then try blending all your yellows and blues (yes, all the variations of them) in various proportions to see even more results.

Chart-of-yellow-blue-blends

Here’s part of a chart I made to explore some of the greens available to me in my existing watercolor palette, using just various blues and yellows.  But the technique isn’t limited to watercolors, nor to those hues alone.

You, too, can create reference charts using the colors in your own palette.  Be sure to make note of the name of each pigment so you can recreate the blend as needed in the future. Don’t forget to experiment with combinations of your existing green pigments with browns, oranges, reds, and purples as well as with yellows and blues.  You may be surprised at the usable outcome.

Mixing it up

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

I’m sure you know how easy it is to fall into a rut.  That can happen with painting, too.  So sometimes it’s a good idea to mix things up.  It even happens in how we mix colors.  If we always mix them the same way, we may be missing out on special effects we could get by trying alternative methods.

It’s easiest to judge the outcome of a blend by mixing it on the palette and adjusting it there as needed.  Is the new color warm enough, cool enough, dark enough, or the optimal chroma?  But palette-mixed colors often appear over-blended or muddy, and they may look flat when applied to the painting.

Shell---1---palette-blend-f Flat, premixed color – In this example, I used a palette mixture of burnt umber and indigo to block in the shadow shape on the shell.  The resulting color is a flat, intentional but uninteresting gray, which will be used only as an underlayment for subsequent washes.

One way to overcome that flatness is to mix colors directly on the paper, wet into wet.  Of course, watercolor runs more freely than oils can, so the outcome in watercolor is less predictable.  Watercolor pigments respond to one another in a variety of ways:  some seem drawn to each other, blending readily and somewhat evenly; others blend only partially or unevenly; others may shoot off wildly in all directions when they contact one another while maintaining their individuality within the “mixed” area.  The proportion of water to its pigment load also affects how the colors may flow—running, swirling, or shooting.  And the type of pigment itself will contribute to how it behaves–settling smoothly like a stain, for instance, or granulating and clustering in clumps.

Shell-2---underwash-mix-on- Blending on paper – Here I used a mixture of burnt sienna and brown madder to apply a light overlay color over the entire shell, reserving only the highlights.  The portion of the wash that extends over the shaded area would be considered a glaze, but we’ll talk about that later.  The two colors in the new layer are both comparatively weak, so most of the transitions between the them are not very apparent.  I have also applied darker color spots (also blended wet into wet) for the shell’s major markings).  Additional examples of blending directly on the paper will follow.

(Painting oil colors wet into wet tends to produce a different effect.  Oil colors may be blended as thoroughly on the canvas as on a palette; or the individual colors may remain separate but often remain in place, as laid down by the brush, in such close proximity to another color that they appear to blend. This is termed “broken color” or “optical color mixing.”  This is a useful technique to maintain an effect of bright light or color, particularly when using complementary colors, which would turn gray if physically blended.)

In watercolor, optical mixing can be achieved by allowing an initial wash of color to dry and then applying another color over it, using a dry-brush technique.  Dry brush applies broken color over underlying layers, allowing the color(s) of the underneath layers to show through.  This technique tends to be most effective when opaque or semi-opaque pigments are used in the top, dry-brushed layer; if transparent color is used, it acts as a “glaze” of broken color over the underlying layers. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Shell---3---dry-brush-plus Optical watercolor mixing – In order to create more variation of color, I used dry-brush applications of both the original shadow blend and of transparent brown madder to suggest subtle striations in the shell’s surface. Revisiting previous techniques, I also applied the golden internal color (new gamboge and burnt sienna) in the shell’s fold, using the wet-into-wet technique.

Glazing is another valid method of color mixing.  For this technique, the underlying layer of color is allowed to completely dry before a wash of a second color is applied over it.  The upper layer of a glaze must be transparent to allow the underlying color to show through to create the blended color effect.  The effect is similar to layering several variously colored sheets of glass over white paper.  An opaque or semi-opaque glaze may be used to camouflage a previous application, though few watercolor pigments are completely opaque, and the opacity interferes with the luminosity for which watercolor is valued, often creating a muddy appearance. So opaque glazes should be used with discretion.

Shell---4---glazing-and-lifGlazing – I deepened portions of the shadow area with a variation of my original shadow mixture.  I also added a glaze of brown madder to the left side of the shell, intentionally lifting out some of the underlying shadow color in the process, to enhance the sense of the shell’s form. The irregular right-hand edge of that glaze is harder than I had intended and could have been softened by stroking a clean, damp brush from the dry area into the fresh glaze while the paint was still wet. Once again using the wet-into-wet blending technique, I also added the background of indigo, burnt umber, and brown madder. Notice the granulations and clustering of the background pigments around the two most prominent horns of the shell.

Shell---5---revised-backgro Revisions – The warm upper portion and the cooler lower portion of the composition refuted any sense of atmospheric perspective, so I reglazed the background with another wet-into-wet application, cooling and desaturating the upper portion with a wash of indigo, and warming the lower section with multiple glazes of brown madder and new gamboge. 

It’s important to note that when glazing, the underlying color must be completely dry.  Otherwise, the subsequent wash may lift some of the underlying pigment that has not yet entirely settled.  This displaced pigment will have a tendency to flow outward and will settle unpredictably as the new layer dries, creating an irregular ring (sometimes called a blossom or cauliflower) within the rewetted area, or it may create a hard edge at its perimeter, where the pigment is forced to stop its outward flow.  It may not be noticeable until the paint is dry, and although it can sometimes be softened or worked into the motif to appear intentional, as a cloud or shrub, for instance, it is very difficult to completely eradicate once it has formed.

Cauliflower – In this painting, because I applied multiple glazes to the background in too rapid succession, you can observe in the final, revised image that a hard edge was formed between the background and the lower edges of the shell.

As you can see, each of these mixing techniques produces its own results, which may be used separately or in combination with alternative techniques.  When we fall into a rut of using only one or two mixing methods, we limit ourselves unnecessarily.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up!

Hungry for feedback

Monday, July 15th, 2019

It’s mid-summer and time to get some feedback from my loyal readers about what you would like to see in my blogs in the coming months.

"Feeding the Gulls," by Charlotte Mertz (8"x10" watercolor, #190603w)

“Feeding the Gulls,” by Charlotte Mertz
(8″x10″ watercolor, #190603w)

Which blogs have you most enjoyed or benefitted from?  What would you like to see more of?  Now is your chance to speak up.  I’d love to hear it directly from you!

Copy and paste the following forms into the email form on my contact page to send your responses.  Use the subject line Blog Feedback.

 

Which categories do you most enjoy?

__ Travel

__ News

__ My way of seeing things

__ My way of doing it

__ Plein air

__ School of Oops

 

Which topics do you prefer?

__ Techniques and practices

__ Materials and equipment

__ Creative struggles

__ Works in the works

__ News from my studio

__ Other ___________

 

Which media are you most interested in reading about?

 

Is there anything else you would particularly like to see or read about?  Let me know in your email.

 

Please remember to use the subject line Blog Feedback.

Thanks!  I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Scaling the heights

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

As I began planning some studio paintings of our most recent trip to the western U.S., I was drawn repeatedly to a scene from Zion National Park, in Utah.  At the beginning of our riverside walk along the Virgin River, the sun and shadows had crept slowly across the canyon walls towering overhead.  Heavy snows over the past winter led to a heavier-than-normal runoff this spring, resulting in a fine-line waterfall over the precipice, further feeding the swelling river, and rendering the Narrows (a twisting, normally wadable section of the stream) impassable on foot.  So although we were unable to hike the Narrows on this trip, we were treated to this rare view of the falls.  I thought it was worth commemorating in paint.

Hoping to capture the early morning light on the majestic stone walls, my first effort was in oils. I realized how critical it would be to include figures within the composition:  Something was needed to provide a sense of scale to the scene.  Without including any figures in the image, the trees in the foreground might be assumed to be roughly the height of a person, which would minimize the apparent height of the canyon walls.  With the figures in place, however, the viewer realizes how comparatively tall the trees, in fact, are, which in turn provides a more accurate scale for the towering walls of the canyon.

"Springtime Fall, Zion National Park" by Charlotte Mertz, 12"x9" oil on panel.  190501

“Springtime Fall, Zion National Park” by Charlotte Mertz, 12″ x 9″ oil on panel

But despite this preplanning, for several reasons I still wasn’t entirely happy with the resulting composition.  So I rethought the concept and reconsidered how to more effectively express it, ultimately placing more emphasis on the towering height than on the sunlight’s influence on the stone.  This time I chose an elongated format in watercolor to emphasize the verticality of the scene.  Another technique I used was to emphasize the vertical fissures and de-emphasize many of the curving and horizontal cracks, except where they were needed to describe the broken character of the wall and the interrupted fall of water. Once again, it was critical to include figures in the foreground to provide a sense of scale.

"From the Heights," by Charlotte Mertz (12"x6" watercolor, #190502w)

“From the Heights,” by Charlotte Mertz
(12″x6″ watercolor, #190502w)

The resulting composition much more closely approximates the overwhelming sensations I experienced at the site.  Ironically, the sense of light improved in the second composition, as well, due primarily to my choice of a warmer dominant color to describe the hue of the sunlit stone.

Pursuing possibilities — Watercolor pencils

Friday, March 15th, 2019

As I look ahead to our spring and summer “seeing America” travels, I’m trying a different approach to quick, plein-air watercolor sketching–exploring the potential of watercolor pencils in lieu of using a full watercolor or oil setup.

I began by practicing with watercolor pencils in my studio, working from photos I had already used for previous paintings, just to get a feel for the process.  After creating the sketch and massing in the colors with the pencils, I used a moist brush to blend the colors to give the sketch a more traditional “watercolor” appearance.

From there, I graduated to doing some simplified sketches from life.  And now I take a small kit of pencils with me when I go out in the car so I can stop along the way to do a little plein air work without having to to get out an entire painting setup.  It’s also easy to use at our kitchen table or on our lanai for a spur-of-the-moment sketch to catch the atmosphere over the pond behind our house.

"Still Water and Riffles" by Charlotte Mertz  (5.5"x5.5" watercolor pencil, #190215wcp)

“Still Water and Riffles” by Charlotte Mertz
(5.5″x5.5″ watercolor pencil, #190215wcp)

My kit, which is roughly the size and form of a book (adapted from another less useful, commercial colored-pencil kit), includes a set of 16 (my own selection) of Derwent watercolor pencils, sharpener, Pentel waterbrush (with a reservoir in the handle), small piece of toweling, and either a 6″x6″ or a 4″x6″ cold-press watercolor pad. (Though hot-press paper would probably be better to use with the pencils, it is difficult to find HP in such small pads.) The pencils are held in place in groups of three with an elastic band and a fabric pocket to protect the tips.  Another piece of toweling wraps over the outside edge and top of the pencils to keep them from slipping out when the kit is being carried.

My watercolor-pencil travel kit

My watercolor-pencil travel kit

I may or may not use the brush on location, depending on how much time is available to complete the sketch.  If I haven’t time to use the brush, that part can be completed later.  The important parts are getting the sketch on paper and massing in the critical colors, either singly or layered, keeping in mind that they will blend more fully once they are moistened.  The resulting study may be a not-yet-ready-for-primetime sketch but is certainly sufficient for reference purposes or even personal souvenirs of a trip.

Learning the comparative strengths of the different colors and how much to apply of each pigment, particularly when layering, is my greatest current challenge and I expect it will become an ongoing study.

So far the process seems to be working well, providing a viable limited-fuss painting alternative for our upcoming travels.