Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Plein Air Painting at Discover Park Last Summer

Last Summer was awesome, in which I did a lot of painting outdoors at various locations around Seattle. It was the most productive Summer I've had since I started painting outdoors in Summer 2016. I painted around Snoqualmie Pass, North Bend, Snohomish, and Discovery Park. Discovery Park is one of my favorite places to paint within Seattle. A year ago I wrote a post on that. In addition I painted with other local painters- some experienced in plein air painting and others getting started. It was great making new friends to paint with and I enjoyed their company in what is often a solitary activity for me.

Here are photos of paintings I made at Discovery Park from July through September. I mostly painted in the early evening through sunset. There were a few times I painted in the morning to afternoon. For most sessions I would make at least two paintings. One was usually a quick sunset study painted rapidly within a 10 minute period.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Willem's Kat at the 39th Annual Arts of the Terrace Show

I am excited to announce that "Willem's Kat and Pieter's Salt Cellar" has won First Place in Paintings, Drawings, and Prints at the 39th Annual Arts of the Terrace in Mountlake Terrace, WA. The painting also won Best of Show. In addition it sold soon after the show's opening. This is painting is one of my favorite pet and still life pieces from the past couple of years and I am happy that it found a good home.

I also have my rabbit painting there which is still available for sale. The show is at Mountlake Terrace Library through October 8. Please stop by to see my paintings and all of the wonderful art on display.

In the near future I will be adding posts on plein air paintings, a yellow pigment oil study, and plein air tips.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Learning Watercolor Painting through studying the British Masters

Nearly everybody has painted with watercolors at some point in their life. For the majority of people their experience had been as a pre schooler, equipped with a pan of Crayola watercolors and some sort of paper.

Here I am in 1984 at age 2-3 with some watercolors!

My prior experience with watercolor painting

When I was 13 in August 1994 my Mom had signed up my sister and I in a week long watercolor class instructed by Kathy Moore at Weston Manor in Hopewell, Virginia. I learned a lot about watercolor painting from Kathy ranging from techniques, materials, stretching paper, and still life and landscape painting. I had a great time and I would take classes with her at Weston Manor in the Summers of 1995 and 1996. Kathy had given me a solid foundation in watercolors and I used these skills in high school art class.

The majority of my watercolor work was done during high school when I was painting Civil War soldiers. I was inspired and influence by Don Troiani's gouache painting and I sought to emulate his technique. One day I discovered how I could Chinese White to create opaque passages in my paintings to create flesh tones, highlights on clothing, and glistening highlights on rifles, bayonets, and the accouterments of my soldiers. My peers viewed my work and could not believe I was using watercolors. 

In the Summer before I entered college I began painting with gouache depicting soldiers from World War I through Vietnam. I enjoyed it's opacity and the ability to take my paints anywhere along with a block of hot pressed watercolor paper. Later in college my gouache paintings became less meticulous and I used it mostly for quick studies and sketches. Tube egg tempera replaced my gouache and I used that for several years before starting to make my own paint.

A renewed interest in watercolor painting

Last year I decided to pick up watercolor painting again and I discussed that in a blog post. In recent months I started to study watercolor painting intensely and I had done a handful of outdoor studies in Virginia and here around Seattle. I also began to focus on 18th and 19th Century British Watercolor painting to hone my skills. 

I bought a watercolor pad of 400 Strathmore Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper to document my studies. One of my exercises was to study tree painting techniques by various artists. In particular I looked at work by John Varley, Paul Sandby, and J.M.W. Turner. 

Studies in Moleskine watercolor journal from last April

Here is the sheet of tree studies. I will make a blog post in the future breaking down several tree studies step by step.

In addition to my independent studies I purchased The Tate Watercolor Manual and How to Paint Like Turner, both published by the Tate. I wanted to get these books to have several books on watercolors in my library, brush up on basic watercolor techniques, and I was interested in the perspective on watercolor painting from the Tate. I found both books very useful and the exercises have been helpful. I recommend these books for beginners and those at intermediate level.

Creating a composition from color beginnings

While reading both books, several exercises mentioned Turner's use of color beginnings. I made several pages of color beginnings and composition studies in my studio pad of Two Rivers handmade paper which I bought from Rosemary brushes. One recurring composition was trees in a pastoral landscape. These quick studies were inspired by my trip to Virginia last April.

Studies, testing Two Rivers Flecks Paper

Composition/ color beginnings- I used the upper three studies to create the bottom one. You can see how in the second and third studies I began to enlarge the tree to right so that it extended past the upper part of the composition.

Two color beginnings playing around with light coming from behind the large tree.

Finally I used my composition from the exercises above and I created the painting below. I retained elements from one of the studies but I brought the tree further into the foreground. The lower horizon is something new I'm working with in this painting.  Here are some detail photos.

Pastoral Landscape, watercolor on Arches Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper, 9" x 12", 2017

Here are some detail photos.

Currently I'm working on another watercolor which I plan to finish this week. In addition a future post will cover 18th-19th British Watercolor tree painting studies.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Plein Air Travel Supplies

Several weeks ago I visited my parents in Prince George, Virginia. While I was out there I wanted to make plein air studies of the countryside, trees, and the James River. I would have preferred to bring oil colors but I didn't want to pay for a checked bag. Instead I decided to focus on watercolor painting. It's an ideal, lightweight medium to take on trips long and short. J.M.W. Turner made a huge amount of watercolor and gouache sketches during his lifetime. He traveled to many places across Great Britain and Europe, taking his watercolors with him.

Here's all the stuff I brought with me in my backpack. 
This is also what I would carry on a long hike rated as hard.

I carried a sketch kit and watercolor kit. I brought several different items in each kit to provide options from which to work. For long hikes I would actually only carry a few things from each kit, keeping my load as light as possible.

My sketch Kit

I keep my sketch kit together using an elastic band. This helps keep my supplies together in one bundle so I can pull it out of my pack without looking for them.

Here it is broken down- Pencil pouch, watercolor pencils, toned 8 1/2 " x 5 1/2" hardcover sketch book, and  9" x 6" Bee Paper Aquabee Super Deluxe Sketchbook. 

The pouch I use for my pencils is something one of my students gave me two years ago. In the pouch I carry three black pens for note taking and sketching, four sepia Pitt Pens, Tombow Mono Pencils (2H, HB, 2B, and 4B), eraser, kneaded rubber eraser, and two pencils sharpeners with ziplock bag for shavings. Among the pencils I rely on the 2H the most for sketching. I like it because the of the lower chance of smearing in my sketchbook, less sharpening, and the ability to draw fine details.

I tried watercolor pencils for the first time. I borrowed Cheryl's kit which she bought several years ago. It was fun to work with but so far I'm not sure how I feel about the pencils. I'd prefer straight watercolor instead of the pencils but I need to work with these more to get a better appreciation for them.

These are the two small sketchbooks I carry, a toned paper one and white paper. The white paper sketchbook is made by Bee Paper and is made for "wet or dry media." The weight of the paper is 93 lbs/ 150 gsm which I like for pen and pencil. I have used watercolor in this and I find the paper to be somewhat unsuitable for such purposes. A dryer approach works best and it looks like the paper will not tolerate much working while still wet.

My Watercolor Kit

Like my sketch kit I keep my watercolor supplies in a bundle. However I have been using a bungee cord to hold everything together. I started doing this before using elastic bands. I do prefer the elastic bands for safety reasons but the bungee cord has a firmer hold on my watercolor kit. 

This is my kit at it's fullest and it consists of my watercolor pochade box, brush case, 5" x 8 1/4" Moleskine Watercolor journal, block of Fluid Cold Pressed 4" x 8" watercolor paper, pad of 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" Strathmore 400 Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper (inside the box) , and two plastic jars for water. If I wanted to be truly minimal I'd limit my supplies to pochade box, size 8 red sable brush, the water jars and one of my three watercolor pads/ blocks.

These are all of my water media brushes I use for watercolors, gouache, casein, and egg tempera. I have labeled my casein brushes with green tape. I don't use all these brushes in the field. The case just happens to be where I keep them all. The vinyl pocket is pretty tight and I don't see much practical use for it especially since it's opposite the brush bristles. Putting stuff in this tight pocket can actually smash the bristles which I'm not happy about. I'd actually prefer a small bamboo brush roll for practicality and saving space. What I might do in the future is get a travel brush from Rosemary Brush Company and carry that in my pochade box.

In the brush case I have a small Altoid mint tin which I fitted with three full watercolor pans- zinc white, violet hematite, and Van Dyck Brown. I made this kit specifically for tone drawing/ painting in my toned paper sketch book.

I've shown my watercolor pochade box before but here it is again. I enjoy carrying my watercolors in this and it has worked well in the field. I usually sit and paint out of this but I have also painted standing up, holding the box in my left arm. The Strathmore 400 watercolor pad is seen here along with a quick sunset light on trees study I made at my parent's house the second day I was in Virginia.

Here's the box with the 4" x 8" Fluid block.

My Moleskine journal also fits in the box. Here is a James River panorama I had painted at Westover Plantation during my trip to Virginia. 

Here's all my stuff in my pack! TSA had no problem with it. I'm happy the empty jars, bungee cord, and pochade box didn't look unusual to them.

I'm still working on blog posts about oil painting plein air supplies. Check back in the future because I will be adding posts on oil paints and plein air accessories. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Plein Air Painting for Beginners, Part 2- Panels and Wet Panel Carriers

Panels toned and ready for plein air painting!

When painting outdoors most plein air painters use panels. These can be hardboard panels, aluminum composite material panels, linen/canvas covered panels, or Ampersand Gessobord. Some artists will use stretched canvas but this is usually for large paintings used in combination with a French Easel. For most plein air painting, panels are the support of choice.

Sizes can range anywhere from 4" x 6" to 11" x 14". This depends on your preference but my advice is to go no larger than 10" x 12". 8" x 10" panels are a good choice to start out with and you can increase the size of your panels in the future. Smaller panels such as 4" x 6" and 5" x 7" can be used to create nice, small studies especially sunset and sky/cloud sketches. These would be perfect for a cigar box pochade box.

When selecting a panel size to work with there are several things to consider. Make sure that your pochade box can handle the size of your panel. Even the smallest boxes except cigar boxes can hold panels up to 15 to 16 inches. Second, your panels should fit the your wet panel carrier. Some panel carriers can be adjusted or inserts added to accommodate smaller sizes but most only accept a specific size.

Types of Panels
Many panels can be purchased, ready to paint on. If you want control over the ground used you can prime a panel yourself. Here are some of the options for panels.

Ampersand Gessobord- Ready made, acrylic primed panels. I use these for 5" x 7" and 6" x 8" studies. These sizes come in packs of three. It does have a texture to it which I'm not crazy about. The texture reminds me of a paint roller. Regardless I am content with panels and they are not expensive to have as a supply for studies.

Speedball Gessoed Hardboard Panels- I recently discovered these while shopping for supplies for students I was teaching during Experiential Learning Week. They are cheaper than the Ampersand Gessobord and the surface is not comparable. It has more of a texture and the ground is weird, slick, and shiny. I'm not sure how that would work with oil colors. However I think they would be useable with several extra coats of acrylic or oil ground. I'm a currently experimenting with them. What I did was lightly sand the board's primer with 150 sand paper. I did this gently, scuffing the surface. The purpose of this is to provide some tooth for the next acrylic ground layer. I used Golden Acrylic Gesso.

Raymar Panels- These panels are MDF and covered with primed cotton canvas or linen of various textures. They are primed either with acrylic or oil ground. They are available in standard 1/8" or lightweight 1/16" thickness. I have tried 6 samples at 9" x 12" and they are a pretty good product. If you like to work on canvas or linen these panels are a nice choice. Myself, I prefer smoother panels especially for smaller plein air studies. In my opinion the canvas texture combined with a smaller scale is distracting. Overall I'm happy with the quality and I like the oil primed linen-

Cotton and Linen Raymar Panels

1/8" Panel in the front, 1/16" in the back

Make your own panels- This option is economical but labor intensive. If you are familiar with priming your own panels this should be no problem. Various articles on the internet and in artist's materials manuals cover this topic. Choices of substrates include MDF, hardboard, birch, oak, and any other suitable wood. Options for grounds are oil grounds, true gesso, and acrylic "gesso."

Aluminum Composite Material Panels-This is my choice for larger studio paintings but I do have a few 9" x 12"s and 6" x 8"s among my supply I have reserved for plein air painting. These panels are superior to any other substrate. They will not warp and priming them is easy. Check out Painting Stuff to Look Like Stuff. This material is not available in most hardware stores or art stores and must be bought from a sign supply company. In the Seattle area I buy my panels from Sun Supply. You can either purchase a an entire 48" x 96" sheet and have the supplier cut it down for you ( at an additional cost) or get scraps if they are in stock. The last supply of panels I bought a month ago cost me $128 which included tax and the cutting fee. I did give the guy who cut them for me a $10 tip because I appreciate his service every time I buy panels.

Lots of ACM Panels- 4" x 6" and larger

I now have a supply of panels for landscape paintings in the following sizes and quantities-

  • 4- 4" x 6" 
  • 6- 6" x 8"
  • 4- 10" x 16"
  • 2- 12" x 16"
  • 1- 12" x 20"
  • 4- 14" x 24"
  • 2- 17" x 20"
  • 1- 18" x 24"
If I was to buy these panels or equivalent sized wood panels from an art supply company I would have spent three two to three times as much. If you've never tried ACM panels there are several suppliers who have them ready cut- Natural Pigments and Amanda's Panels. Amanda's Panels is owned by Seattle Artist realist painter Amanda Teicher. She's a proponent of ACM panels and she often beats me to the scraps from Sun Supply when I go there looking for some.

Wet Panel Carriers
Once you figure out what size panels you want to work with you will need a wet panel carrier. There are wood versions available on the market. These look nice but the panel sizes they hold are limited. The bulk of the boxes limits their use in the car or very short walks. Hiking with them would be out the question.

My recommendation for a wet panel carrier is Raymar. I have a 10" x 12" and 6" x 8" carrier along with an insert to carry smaller panels in each. They are lightweight and durable and cost a fraction of the wood carriers. I like these a lot and I have hiked with the 10" x 12" strapped to the back of my pack.
 At Lake 22

10" x 12" Carrier

 6" x 8" Carrier
This can also carry 4" x 6" Panels

6" x 8" carrier with insert to accommodate 5" x 7" panels

Making your life easier while handling wet panels
A wet canvas is easy to pick up if it's stretched on stretcher bars. Panels can be a bit awkward because there is nothing to grip. What I do is make a tabs out of Gorilla Tape (any duct tape will work) and stick it onto the back of my panels. This will make inserting a wet painting into a panel carrier much easier. Of course removing the painting from the carrier will be easy too. No need to worry about paint on your hands or smudging the edges of your painting.

My next post will cover the colors I use for plein air painting.