Posts Tagged ‘brush’

A traveling studio

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Traveling-Studio Supplies

As I mentioned in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” I normally prefer to work with moist paints, fresh from the tube. I forego that luxury, however, when I travel. Instead I use a small “piggy back” palette, with a lid of its own, which serves as my mixing tray. This entire tray can snap into the lid of a larger palette, which I leave at home. Squeezing a limited quantity of creamy paint into the tray’s palette cups, I intentionally allow them to dry for several days, uncovered. Each cup is labeled with the color and manufacturer’s name so I can restock it with the same color when I get back home. After the paints have dried in the tray, they are no longer subject to airlines’ “liquids” regulation so can be packed into either my suitcase or a carry-on bag.

My other traveling-studio necessities include a soft drawing pencil, eraser, and a fistful of brushes—a #30 round synthetic (my workhorse), #8 round synthetic, a natural-hair brush somewhere between those two in size, a #0 round or liner for detail, a small scrubber, and (if I intend to use frisket) a small disposable round. An old toothbrush or typewriter eraser brush works fine for spattering paint or water.

I like to tuck in a compressed cellulose sponge or scrap of terrycloth (such as an old washcloth) with which to sop excess water from my brushes and to wipe up spills, in lieu of relying on paper towels or fast-food napkins, which aren’t always absorbent enough for my needs. A quart-sized collapsible water bucket is handy, too, but in a pinch, a jar, can, or even a small disposable cup can be used. (I avoid employing reusable food or serving containers when using any potentially toxic pigments, such as cobalts or cadmiums.)

Watercolor “blocks” of paper, up to quarter-sheet size (about 12 x 18), can be packed in a carry-on suitcase. These have the advantage of providing their own backing and do not require stretching. (I save any covers or backing boards to use as stiffeners for finished paintings to be repacked for my return.) Or a small watercolor journal can easily be slipped into even a mid-sized purse. Paper larger than quarter-sheet size poses more of a problem, since it must be bought at my destination and shipped back separately. I don’t use an easel. Since I prefer to work on a horizontal surface, and watercolor blocks include their own stiff backing, a table, flat rock, or even a lap can suffice when I’m traveling.

Other items are optional, depending on whether I anticipate needing them. Liquid frisket can be bought in small containers, either for packing or as an on-location purchase. Spray bottles (to be carried empty) are available in travel sizes. And drawing pads and graphite paper can also be easily packed if I expect to want them.

But whenever I’m traveling, the most crucial “studio” element of all is my camera, supplemented, of course, with extra batteries and memory cards. I don’t always have time to execute a painting on location, but I can almost always manage to snatch a moment to whip out my camera to record a scene, a mood, or a detail for future reference.

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested also in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” and the upcoming articles, “Selecting Paints” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”

A palette to my taste

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Palette setup

Although my paint drawer includes several tubes of both primary and secondary colors, I find that I tend to actually use far fewer for any given painting. My clutch of most often used tubes includes two of each of the primary colors, three greens, two browns, and a purple. For each of the primaries, I prefer to have one at each end of the warm-cool spectrum, and (especially for blues) some options in between. The greens also include both warm and cool versions, but sap green is the only green I ever use without mixing in some other color to modify it. I rarely incorporate either black or white except when it is premixed into a multi-pigment paint or I need the black to achieve an extremely dark blend.

Whether I start with a warm-slanted palette or a cool-slanted one depends on my anticipated approach to the subject matter.

Occasionally, I include some other color, such as sepia, but most of the time my working palette is limited to only about six colors. Mixtures of these basic hues can create any variation I might need for a given painting. Maintaining a limited palette helps me ensure a sense of color unity throughout the painting.

The palette illustrated above includes, beginning at the lower left and moving clockwise, sepia, burnt sienna, [an unfilled slot available for an additional brown, such as burnt umber or brown madder], alizarin crimson, permanent rose, yellow ochre, [another open slot available for a additional yellow, usually new gamboge], lemon yellow, emerald green [though I might change this on occasion to a Hooker’s green], sap green, Winsor green (blue shade), indigo, Winsor blue (green shade), cobalt blue, French ultramarine blue, Winsor violet, and ivory black [though this spot may be opened up, also, for a different spur-of-the-moment choice].

I have also illustrated my most-used brushes, which include three #8’s (2 rounds—one synthetic, one sable—and a flat synthetic, which I use as a scrubber), a natural-hair sumi-e brush, a #30 synthetic, a toothbrush (for spatter work), a hake (pronounced “hah’-kay”) brush, a #2 Lizard’s Lick, and a #3 liner. The hake brush is used only to apply washes.

I always keep a sponge in the corner of the palette tray, as shown here, where I can wick off excess moisture from my brushes as I work. The same sponge can be used to wipe out the mixing tray after a painting has been completed. I rinse it out carefully and return it, still moist, to the tray. This helps keep the remaining paint in the cups from drying out too badly before my next painting session.

Because I tend to travel frequently and leave this primary palette at home, I do not use it every day and the paints and sponge both tend to dry out in the interim. That is why I don’t fill the cups as many other painters do. I prefer to work with the creamier consistency of fresh-squeezed paint, so I tend to squeeze out only what I expect to use in the next day or so, though I often leave any residue from previous days’ work in the cup. The exception is if the remaining paint in the cup has become contaminated with other colors by my failing to rinse the brushes adequately between colors. At that point I wipe out the offending colors, leaving as much as I can of the unsullied remainder.

If you liked this article, you may be interested also in my upcoming articles “A Traveling Studio,” “Selecting Paints,” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”

Just my style, Part 2

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

In Part 1, two weeks ago, we recognized that one aspect of artistic style depends on the artist’s personality and way of viewing the world, selecting subject matter, and applying an intellectual and emotional approach suited to his or her nature.

Pink Hibiscus with Bud

Another aspect of style depends on mechanics of the craft—the way an artist typically uses both skill and available materials.  Each artist will resolve certain issues inherent in the painting process in a unique way by applying his or her understanding of the mechanics involved and the materials at hand.  For a painter, mastery of materials includes knowing what can be expected of the various types, sizes, and shapes of brushes; pigment characteristics and typical interactions; characteristics of various painting surfaces; supplemental materials such as frisket, screens, sponges, drawing implements and mediums, and so much more).

An artist’s style will reflect her level of mastery of technique and her understanding of the medium.  Understanding and control of those mechanics and the characteristics of the materials being used will influence her decisions when it comes to problem solving.  If she typically wields her brush a certain way, or uses a characteristic selection of colors, or consistently applies certain techniques to her work, these elements will eventually become a trademark of her style.

In Part 3 we will look at the importance of the artist’s personal aesthetic.

Using frisket to reserve the paper’s white

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

In the March 15 entry, I wrote about various methods of reserving the white of watercolor paper.  One of those methods is the use of frisket, or masking fluid.

Arbor Gate, Spring (detail)

The tiny white blossoms at the corner of the fence in this detail from “Arbor Gate” (#090702) were reserved using liquid frisket.

If you want to try using frisket yourself, start with a throw-away brush and wet it thoroughly before dipping it into the frisket fluid, which will dry quickly and tend to glue the bristles together.  Redip the brush in water (or better yet, a solution of dish detergent and water) between dips into the frisket—no more than 20 seconds apart—to keep the bristles from sticking together.  Wash the brush thoroughly as soon as you are finished if you ever want to be able to use it again.

The frisket itself may or may not be tinted.  It’s easier to see its location on the paper if it has a tint, but even if it is not tinted, you will be able to identify areas of dried frisket on your paper because of the slight sheen those areas will have.

Especially if the frisket fluid is tinted and you see a layer of color lying at the bottom of the bottle, you may feel tempted to shake the bottle to mix it up.  Don’t do it! Shaking the frisket bottle will incorporate air into it, which will introduce bubbles into the “juice” your wet brush picks up.  If you spread bubbles onto your paper, the frisket will not go onto the paper smoothly, and the bubbles may pop as the frisket dries, leaving you with uncovered spots in the area you were trying to mask.

As soon as you are finished using the frisket, replace the lid tightly to inhibit evaporation.  You may have to periodically remove long, rubbery strands and globs from both the mouth of the bottle and the bottle cap to be sure they don’t interfere with a secure seal.

Allow the applied frisket to dry completely before painting over it.  When all your paint layers have been applied and the surrounding paint is thoroughly dry—no longer cool when you touch it with the back of your hand—use a “pickup” or white eraser to lightly roll or pluck the frisket off the paper.  (I recommend testing the dryness of the paper only with the back of your hand because your palms and fingertips are more inclined to leave oily deposits on the paper.  Your natural body oils will interfere with any subsequent paint you may wish to lay down onto the surface of the paper.)

Giving it a lift

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Despite my best efforts, watercolor paint, by its very nature, frequently goes where I don’t intend it to.  Sometimes that’s okay and results in a serendipitous event that adds texture and interest to the painting.

But sometimes it spoils the effect I’ve tried to achieve.  In that case, I may try to repair the damage by lifting some of the color back off the paper.  While the paint is still quite wet, I can sometimes remove it by sucking it up with a “thirsty” brush, one that is damp but thoroughly blotted so that it attracts more water to itself than it releases whenever it touches the painting.  After each touch used to lift the wet paint, the brush needs to be thoroughly blotted so it will be ready to pick up more moisture with the next touch.

If the paint is still damp, I can either blot it immediately or add clean water to the misplaced paint and then blot it to remove most of the color.

If the paint has already dried, however, I can use a clean brush, moistened only with clear water, and gently stroke the color away, lifting the paint into the brush.  The brush needs to be rinsed and thoroughly blotted after each lifting stroke to avoid spreading the remaining color further afield.  For me, this method works best with a pointed “round” brush in very small or confined areas, such as when I want to lighten the vein of a leaf.  It can also be done with a mask to create or maintain a hard edge along the side of the lifted area.

This method of lifting is not only used for rectifying mistakes.  It was part of the original creative process when I used a small “liner” brush to lift out pigment to create whiskers on Boots & Bandit (#100305)

Boots & Bandit detail

For larger areas, I sometimes use a specialized “scrubber” brush, shorter and stiffer than a typical round brush, to gently scrub the color off the paper’s surface.  “Scrubbing” must be done very carefully to avoid roughing up or otherwise damaging the surface of the paper.  Referring once again to Boots & Bandit, I used a scrubber to soften many of the hard lines within their fur.  And I applied it again when the cats’ owner asked me to extend the area of white fur on Boot’s chest, more in keeping with his usual appearance (since the groomer had recently trimmed it uncharacteristically short), and to soften and add characteristic tufts to his paws.  (I also added black tips to his ears, which I’d overlooked in the shadows in the reference photos, and darkened the eye linings.)

Boots & Bandit detail, before

Boots & Bandit detail, after

Although all of these methods of lifting paint work well with non-staining colors, none of them works so well with staining pigments.  For this reason I generally prefer to use non-staining paint whenever I can.  The adjustments I made to Boots & Bandit would not have been possible if I had used staining pigments.