Saturday, January 31, 2009

Value scale

Above you see my value scale. It is 14 inches high, and made from a scrap of left over painting panel (Masonite). Its a sort of "yardstick" I can hold up against my paintings or often against a picture of a painting in a book in order to analyze the value structure of a painting reproduced there. I ruled out the little squares, and using ivory black and white, I painted the top square just a little less than black. That represents the darkest dark I am likely ever to run into in nature or a painting. I painted the bottom square white with just a little black added, as I am unlikely to deal with anything pure white either. I used plenty of Liquin in my paint so it dried quickly. When it was dry I numbered the squares one to ten with a big felt tip marker. Then I used the four inch wide cellophane tape on my packaging dispenser to put a protective film over the whole show. You will notice to the right I also enclosed a couple of paintings by whose key I would like to be influenced, there are two Metcalfs, one high key and the other a little lower and an Edward Seago. The Seago (Yeah, I know you don't know who he is, but I will do a post on him later, I have to get all this technical stuff out of the way first) displayed a full range of values from light to dark. This is a very handy thing to have around, I even take it into the field in my backpack some times

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mountains of Maine

Here's a new painting. I started this near Bethel Maine, a couple of miles above Sunday River. The canvas is 24 x 30. That's a standard size for me to work on outside. I am real concerned with brushstroke and handling, so working this size allows me to use big brushes. That gives better handling almost automatically. Here's a rule for you, DO EVERYTHING WITH THE LARGEST BRUSH POSSIBLE. I have of course pecked away at it with some small brushes too, but I am careful not to lose that broad look.
This is the painting that is on my easel in the post" Welcome to my new blog", I worked on it a lot in the studio, I changed the sky completely, and defined the darks across the middleground. There are dozens of small changes over the entire image. That's why I really don't bill myself as a plein air painter. I think most people define plein air painting as doing the whole painting on location. There are plein air painting organizations that try to define a percentage of how much of the painting must be outside. I spend a lot of time working outside so I call what I do......painting outside! When I started doing this in the mid 1970s we knew the phrase plein air but didn't use it. It came into enormous usage maybe ten years ago. I guess it accurately describes an approach, but its not my operating method.
I will now send the painting to a show put on by Banks gallery in Portsmouth New Hampshire. They are located on the campus of Strawberry Banke, the historically recreated village in the center of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. If you have never been there its a very fine way io spend an afternoon.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mouth atomizer appendix

Here I am again , I have finished blowing my varnish onto the painting. I blow just enough on there to bring it up from being dried in. Next I blow through the longer leg to clear any varnish which may have remained inside. I don't need to actually put my mouth onto the tube to do this , I blow from an inch or so away.
If I need to, I can clear any obstructions with an E string from my guitar, the wound one, not the thin one on the bottom. Florists wire works , particularly if you send it through there after a little turps. Or you can soak a pipe cleaner in turps, that works too.
I suppose I should stress you want to step back each time you take a breath to blow more varnish. Just like from a spray can you get a certain amount lingering in the air before it settles. All of this is really simple compared to drawing feet.

Spraying varnish

I often spray varnish in the studio with the aid of a mouth atomizer, it is
a small metal device, two metal tubes hinged together. I thin the dammar varnish by about half with turpentine in a small bottle, then I stick the long end of the atomizer into the bottle and blow through the short end. This works like the old perfume bottles with a squeeze bulb. It really lays down the varnish, it works far better than a spray can, This does a much better job, and costs a tenth as much to use. There is no way you can inhale or suck the varnish into your mouth through the tube. I step back, take a big breath and give it another shot. I learned to do this in the studios of R.H.Ives Gammell and it was forgotten technology then. This is how I do my retouch varnish and how I spray varnish on any painting that is not bone dry. You can buy a mouth atomizer from one of the big national mail order houses for a couple of dollars. I don't think your local art supply store will have one. I know this looks kind of intimidating in the photos but its really very easy, I am sure you can do it. You should probably avoid having your children photograph you doing this, with your cheeks blown out you will look like one of those putti that fly around in baroque religious paintings. Or maybe satchmo.
Tomorrow I will post a new painting I have finished.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

About varnish 1

Painters used to use mastic, a softer varnish that is more prone to bloom, a white discoloration caused by humidity, mastics use is now limited to the making of mediums. Copal varnish, usually made from now scarce fossil amber has become rare and in any event formed a brittle film prone to cracking. Today copal is mostly replaced by synthetic resins like alkyd. I learned to paint with Taubes copal medium and used to love it, the formula has changed and it is no longer made with genuine copal. There are new and expensive final picture varnishes. I don't use them.
Dammar is the standard artists varnish today, it is a resin from a number of different trees found in the far east, mixed with turpentine to make it liquid. Dammar is the only varnish in my studio. I either buy a liter bottle from Winsor Newton or I buy it from Utrecht. Utrecht will sell you dammar tears in a cloth bag closed up in a quart can. You open the can, pull out the bag, fill the can with turpentine ( remember dammar thins with turpentine, mineral spirits won't do) drop the bag back in, retaining the end of the string that trails from the bag. Just like making tea. If you buy those little tiny bottles at the art store you will pay many times as much as if you buy it in quantity. The markup on those little bottles is astronomical. Sometimes I also stock a can or two of spray varnish in a can. They have a crazy markup too, but they are convenient.
Matt varnish is an abomination before God! Here's why. Lets look at the pictures in magazines for a moment, if you look at American Art Review, The American Magazine of Antiques, Fine Arts Connoisseur, American Art Collector (some of these magazines have been friends and supporters to me over the years so I try to list them all, ) or other high end magazine where top quality reproduction is important. They use a coated paper. Its shiny. That means that a lot of the light hitting the ink on that page is returned to your eye, giving you...brilliant color. Tabloids from the grocery store, or what we once called pulp publications are printed on cheap paper that has a matt finish, like newsprint. It returns less of the light that hits it to your eye and the result is dull color. When you put varnish on a painting one of the things you are doing is making the surface shiny like it was when it was wet. It returns more light to the viewers eye.......and you get the idea. Matt varnish robs your colors of their brilliance by interfering with the return of the light to your eye, So matt varnish absolutely KILLS your color. Also matt varnish is usually made by adding wax to the formula, which weakens its protective film as well.
When a painting dries, sometimes the oil drops down into the substrate particularly in the darks, and areas of the painting go matt. This is called drying in. Restoring the shine to these areas is done with a can of spray retouching varnish. At least these days. In the next post I will tell you how the old guys did it. I will return tomorrow with a blog about how they sprayed varnish in the 19th century and how you can do it yourself, saving a little money and amazing your friends with a bit of cool and nearly forgotten technology.
My wife is telling me I need to break these posts up into smaller pieces, she says blog readers won't read long entries. I will try to comply.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Some thoughts on painting and its teaching

The triumph of death over hope, digital painting by Stapleton Kearns
-used drop cloth and photoshop

I think it must be harder for people to "get" painting than music. Most people can hear a song like Help me Rhonda and not be too concerned if the Beachboys actually knew a girl named Rhonda, most would understand it probably just fit nicely into the lyric. They might say,"I don't give a damn whether Rhonda helps him out or not, I just like the tune". They know at some level the song is not about some possibly helpful chick named Rhonda. They know that the tune is the thing and Rhonda is not really what its about. They do not understand the same idea when it comes to painting.


Most people don't see the art part at all and only see what its a picture of, or not a picture of, as the case may be. This is a painting of a dog that's a painting of a horse.That's how some art students and art instructors (at least in my youth) dismissed all of representational painting. They saw the representational painter as a sort of camera made out of meat. If that was all there was to painting, it would truly have been supplanted by photography long ago, and deservedly so. Damien Hirst and a lot of contemporary artists do not care what the painting, or object looks like. Their concern is what can be said about it. Tom Wolfe wrote a brilliant, little, easily read and understood book on this, called The Painted Word. I highly recommend you read it.
Back when I owned my gallery in Rockport I had the benefit of hearing what thousands of almost randomly selected people had to say about painting when they came into my shop. When they liked something, I heard one of several phrases,"it looks just like a picture" or "its reawy , reawy detaiyoed" These folks meant well , they had just never been introduced to any of the things artists think about, like design, form, color, rhythm etc. That the painting contained anything other than representation was lost on them. I blame that on the art instruction given in the state owned schools. They had "art" twice a week for twelve years and knew nothing about it. How did that happen? The answer is that art instructors could teach cut and paste but not art history or appreciation. Can you imagine you and I having a discussion on rock and roll and when I bring up Chuck Berry, you say "who?" I can tell you know nothing about rock and roll. How then can we imagine students can know art without knowing the players in its history? I used to on occasion be invited to speak in art classes. I would hold up a twenty dollar bill in a full classroom and say"this goes to the first person who can name me five American painters who died before 1930. I never lost that twenty, the teachers would try to avoid my gaze, because they didn't know the answer either. Often someone would ask, Monet?,
If you tried to put your students through what it takes to really be a painter you couldn't fill your classrooms with the hundreds of wannabe artists necessary to run an art school.


I am aware that the situation is improving and there are a few places that do produce better trained young painters. I also know there are some fine teachers out there who do lead their young charges through a fine course of instruction. Now I know that over in the graphics department students learn useful skills. But I feel these fine instructers are still very much the exception, if you take a walk through the studios of most art schools, colleges and Universities the work is appalling. Most of the art schools out there are foisting a deceit on their pupils. By making their students believe that all they need to know is already within them, if they just have the self awareness to find it, the student is taught, its all about them. That, for many young scholars today is an attractive idea, they do like being told how special and individual they are. In many art schools today the teachers will tell a student that there is no way to even teach art, and they will be contaminated by studying works by another artist with the end of improving their own. The contemporary art school changes the educational event from really wicked difficult, to one of self admiring introspection that any student can do. Now they can fill those classrooms! The art schools of America graduate more students in a year than there have been artists in the history of our nation. If the hairdressing schools of America produced as few hairdressers they would be shut down for robbing their students. It can be argued that art is subjective and shouldnt be measured for its results the same way as say, engineering, but isnt hairstyling kind of subjective as well?
Often enough in the fine arts department the students are coddled for four or more years, and then released into the real world where the are served a harsh awakening that it's not just about them out there. I have often seen young would be artists confronted with this reality go back for a masters degree, to get more of the training that didn't make artists out of them in the first place. If you really unpack this with them, you find out they intend to teach. The best of them will, and the best of their students will be teachers as well . There are plenty of teachers out there who have never made a living as artists and their teachers and their teachers' teachers didn't either. They have in fact only contempt for those of us out here who actually do it as a vocation. The sudden rise of popularity of the new ateliers across the country and in Italy is a response to a small but growing number of students who would like to make a living painting and have figured out they will need to know a lot about painting in order to do it. I believe that small but growing atelier movement probably holds the promise of a new American art..

Sunday, January 25, 2009


The best medium is no medium. If you are happy making your paintings from paint directly out of the tube or having just a thimbleful of stand oil on your palette that is ideal. However if you are using lots of turpentine to thin your paint, that's not good at all. You need to use a medium.
Mediums are used to make the paint flow, control drying and surface gloss and sometimes to level brushstrokes. Here are the three mediums I commonly use.
The first two are alkyd mediums. Alkyd is a paint additive that promotes quick drying and makes for a tough paint film. I use Galkyd most of the time, I thin it by 1/3 with mineral spirits. It seems too thick and dries too fast as it comes out of the bottle. Galkyd is a Gamblin product and I order it from Jerrys' Artarama or ASW. The good thing about Galkyd is that it has a shine, like a varnish medium. The bad thing about Galkyd is that it will dry up in the bottle, so buy a big bottle and decant it into two smaller bottles and fill the one you are storing all the way to the top of the neck including as little air as you can.
Liquin made by Winsor & Newton is the other well known Alkyd medium. It handles well right out of the bottle but you can thin it to make it last longer. It is a thixotropic gel, that is, it is a gel till you push it with your brush, then it liquefies, when you take your brush away it gels again. Liquin has a somewhat matt finish, so it needs to be varnished to look as good later as when you painted it, and some people find it irritates their nasal membranes.
One thixotropic gel is Marogers medium. I do not recommend you use Marogers, there is a group of artists from New York that use the stuff. Jaques Maroger was a curator of painting at the Louvre in about 1900 who believed he had found the secret of the old masters , He cooked what is called litharge and black oil. It involoves heating lead, and is extremely poisonous, I have no problem painting with lead. I do have a problem with cooking it. Marogers is by most accounts impermanent, although it does impart a beautiful transparent body to the paint, and gives a silky sort of handling. Gamblin makes a substitute. I believe they call it neo-meglip. Meglip is another name for the sort of gel that Maroger popularized. Marogers users have a cult like devotion to the stuff and should never be confronted about its use. There are some painters out there doing great work with the stuff though. If you are already using Marogers and wish to continue, hey, I warned you.
While I think alkyd is great medium and use it most of the time it is the product of modern chemistry and is not a traditional medium.
The most common traditional medium is usually referred to as VTO. It is a mixture of equal parts damar varnish and stand oil (sometimes linseed oil) and 3 to 7 parts TURPENTINE. I stress turpentine because mineral spirits is not a good thinner for damar varnish, I f you use damar in your process, your thinner must be turpentine. Every artist who uses this medium seems to tweak it to their own liking. If you use too much oil it can give you a surface that is sticky like flypaper.
I have used turpentine from the hardware store for years, however finding quality turpentine has become difficult. Much of it no longer smells sweetly of pine, but has a dreadful odor. It still says gum turpentine on the outside but I don't know if it really is. There are still some brands that are right. I take it to the counter and say something like "does this turpentine smell like death?" They will usually let me open the can, (including its little inner metal hymen) and smell it, if it doesn't smell like pine I let them smell it and refuse to buy it. If the clerk is a totally uninformed and unconcerned high school kid I can't pull this, so I try to deal with the manager or the old guy who runs the paint department.
There are times when you want your paint to stay open for a long time (dry slowly) poppy oil works nicely for that.
Years ago I used Taubes copal medium. Then one day I went to the art store and bought some that was totally different I quit buying it. The quality of most of these materials is constantly changing and you have to watch out for that. If you want that enamel like copal finish you can still get copal tears from Pearl paint, along with most other exotic vanishes like mastic etc. that I really don't have a use for, but you may.
Most of the time I use deodorized mineral spirits from the hardware store. Gamblin makes a nice one called Gamsol. Double rectified, English or artists grade turps can be had from online suppliers and is a really fine product. As oil paint is phased out in house painting we may have to buy this when we use turpentine. It is of course much more expensive.
I guess a word on permanence is required here. I have known plenty of artists, who grind their own paint and use only copal tears cut with turpentine made by Benedictine monks in their underwear. These artists make paintings which will last forever but should never been made in the first place. Its like some guys I knew in the 70s who had these incredibly expensive stereos , but only had six albums, two of which were by Kansas. They were so hung up on the technology that they forgot it was about the music. I had a very ordinary stereo but I had a LOT of music. The point I am making here is that, it is about the pictures more than the process. You can make yourself really crazy over materials, and plenty of folks do. My guess is that alkyd paintings will outlast just about anything else anyway. My paintings are bulletproof. I will return to the subject of materials again as I have addressed only the basics here. I hope though I have told you enough for you to have a general understanding. I am trying not to be overly technical this early in the blog.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some things I have seen

Here is a photo from my high school yearbook, that's me below the arrow!
I have been lucky enough to have known most of the professional landscape painters in this area and I have had the opportunity to paint alongside a good number of them. Many of them were a lot older than I was and I remember their kindness in allowing me to tag along. Outdoor landscape painters often work together and in groups, which makes it a little more social occupation than the more cloistered life of a studio painter.
I often feel like I am collecting butterfly's as I so enjoy meeting and painting with other artists. I photograph them and keep a file, someday it may be of use to some historian or will illustrate my memoirs.
I have spent much of my life as the proverbial fly on the wall and wandered through the last 35 years of New England's traditional painting world like those scenes from the movie Forrest Gump that drop him into all that archival footage. Unless you are a an art dealer or a keen student of New England painting you won't know all these names, but you will know some of them, come along and let me tell you about some things I have seen.
I have known for instance two students of Wlliam Merrit Chase (one who spoke of painting with Monet) and several students of Frank Vincent Dumond. I have known students of Raphael Soyer ( I found his summer home on an island off the coast of Maine), Robert Brachman, and Lester Stevens.
Besides the Ives Gammell era I was also present for the end of the Rockport art colony in the 80s and in the mid 70s saw for a summer. what I think was the last of the Provincetown art colony. Hans Hoffman had taken over Fredrick Waughs old house and was teaching there. Henry Hensche was then at the end of his long career. I saw Hensche do a demo of a head outside in sunlight.It was like watching him chop it out of a rainbow with an axe.. I painted that summer on the dunes with Robert Douglas Hunter. I slept each night in the studio once owned by Charles Hawthorne. Hunter and I sometimes drank adult beverages late into the night with"The Green Dolman", perhaps Paxtons finest portrait above the mantle looking down on us. There was a great Enneking of a woodland pool that is now in the Boston museum in that room as well. I took a seascape workshop from Charles Vickery,. what magic he could do, my wife made a carved and gilt sign about 8 feet long for him in return for a painting. What a lovely, kind and deeply religious man, he has been dead many years now. I remember him coming into the little gallery I had in Rockport in the early eighties and painting seascape demos for me at my own easel. He didn't say too much as he did it, but I kept telling myself, "remember this".
I helped the late Sam Rose find a William Kaula in an attic in the slums of Roxbury hidden behind a dusty old still life I think was a Harnett. I was given the left over frames from the Reynolds Beale estate, by his son. I have sat and drawn with the sculptor Walker Hancock in his studio and painted alongside Bernard Corey on numerous painting trips. I have stood in Harrison Cadys round studio and I have shuffled through Frank Beattys' illustrations for Popular Mechanics from the 1950s with the daughter of Tod Lindenmuth in the attic of a tavern from the early 1800s, the Anthony Cirino estate was up there too. I knew Helen Van Wyk, who taught so many about painting on her P.B.S.television show ,Welcome to my studio.
I have known Aldro T. Hibbards daughter and held Paul Manships' sons' hand as he lay dieing. and I was the punk who was along to hold up the paintings when Phillip Vose and Robert Hunter first opened the storeroom where the Paxton estate had lain unexamined for decades I was given a signed drawing by Paxton and later sold it for 100 dollars to buy groceries when I was starving. I have sat on a painting jury with Harry Ballinger, who was 100 years old and shown wet paintings against the wheel of my car to Neil Welliver out in the snowy woods of Maine.. I moved out of an apartment once and accidentally left behind a portfolio of 19th century academic figure drawings done at the Academie Julien by Charles Allen Winter. I have sat at a dinner table and listened to Alden Bryan reminisce about painting with Gruppe and Hibbard during the depression. I had breakfast with Ken Gore. I had lunch once with the late Charles Sovek.
I was the studio boy who unloaded the truck bearing the A. Laselle Ripley estate at the Guild of Boston artists in the mid 70s. I have had Winslow Homers watercolor kit in my hands. I have also painted with chrome colors from a paintbox unopened like a time capsule since the nineteen twenties. I studied with R.H. Gammell who met John Singer Sargent at the opera when introduced to him by Isabella Stewart Gardner. I have listened to Loring Coleman describe being entertained by the singing of John Carlson on cold winter evenings after he had spent the day painting in the mountains of Vermont with Chauncy Rider
I was taught to paint with real vermilon by a student of Fredrick Vinton in a studio once used by Tarbell and hung with Paxton paintings worth a fortune today and valueless then. I had drawing lessons from Richard Lack. I briefly attended the Art Students League when you could still smoke on the stairways. I met Gardner Cox in his studio. when he was painting the Kissinger portrait.
I visited Caproni, the cast makers when they were still making plaster casts from iron molds, in a warehouse in a frightening neighborhood under the elevated transit tracks on Washington street, in Boston. That was near where Simon and Aaron Willard made their banjo clocks. I have shaken the hand of Albert Sack. I have sat in an idling Plymouth Fury on a cabstand overtop the location of the Boston Massacre wearing a black leather jacket with a 12 inch crescent wrench in the pocket. I was wearing the high heeled boots of that era which made me six foot six, and I weighed one hundred and fifty two pounds, including the wrench.
I have copied Ingres drawings with the originals sitting on the table beside me. I have found painting locations all over New England used by Metcalf, Hibbard, Thieme, Gruppe and Luigi Lucionne, Carl Peters (I shuffled through the paintings in that estate as well) and Childe Hassam. I drove down a muddy rutted farm road to find the studio of Jay Conaway in Vermont. I have mourned at the grave of Charles Woodbury and held a dazzle painted wooden model battleship made by the artist Alfred Thayer when he invented camouflage during World War One. I have carried Theresa Bernstein in her wheelchair and learned how to precut rolls of canvas on a power saw from Paul Strisik.
I introduced myself to Tom Kinkaid at Art Expo who invited me to a party in Connecticut where I met James Gurney. I met Wayne Thiebaud once too, Benjamen Spock and Leo Kottke as well. I knew a man who was in a fistfight with Pietro Annigoni and another who studied with the great American sculptor Bella Pratt.
I saw Hendrix and Count Basie. I heard the Who, the Airplane, Spirit and Led Zeppelin play , and once had Herold Melvin and the Bluenotes smoke a joint in the cab I was driving. I saw Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner , Phil Woods, Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.I heard Marty Robbins sing El Paso and walked out on Bob Dylan. Twice.
I was both the janitor and the president of the Rockport Art Association and the janitor of the Guild of Boston Artists as well. I have sat at the gate leg table used in Marguerite Pearsons paintings and discussed the silver leafing techniques of Max Keuhne with his son Bill. I wrote the forward to the Thieme book and helped stage a show of his work.
I have struggled to keep the mortgage paid and the car from being repossessed while putting two children through private school. I was a hippie and I went to a Military Academy.
Ives Gammells studio was now so long ago as to have taken on the glow of legend. I noticed a blog speaking of the dearth of technical information given in I believe, the Gerome atelier. I can assure you that Paxton and Gammell passed on that dearth of information to me , which I have carefully maintained till present. When people ask me if I teach I always reply ;" I don't know anything". What I did hear from Ives was how men like Paxton, Tarbell and Vinton, Enneking or Benson thought about what they did. These are some of the things I have seen along the way.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My palette 2

Here is a picture I painted this last fall in Jefforsonville,Vermont . I made this picture outside on a rainy day using only yellow ochre, ivory black, Indian red and white. That's an odd sort of a palette for an outdoor painter but I was trying to respond to the grayness of the day in a way that might give me a more interesting painting, its a 16x20.
In the last post I mentioned the chromatic versus earth color palette ideas and I have chosen to show this picture to illustrate an extreme opposite of the currently popular three color chromatic palettes. I actually worked on a three color chromatic palette for several years about 10 years ago, and there's a good story there too. It seems like everything I write, reminds me of something else I must write.
Onwards with the palette presentation continuing from the last post. You may want to refer back to My palette 1 for its' picture again.
Starting below the white on the left side of the palette is;

Gold ochre, another earth color, this is a slightly more yellow version of yellow ochre. You probably want yellow ochre here. but you might check out the golden version, Some companies make a yellow ocher light and deep as well. Raw sienna and mars yellow both fit into this slot on the palette. Like other earth colors this is a dependable workhorse of a color and I could mix nearly the same hue from chromatic colors but its nice to have it there and ready to use, and there is a nice sort of "acoustic" look to the earth colors. I once bought a tube of Sennelier yellow ochre and it was dirty and weak. I realized that I was so used to our modern lab made versions of this color I was unaware of what the real earth color of the old masters was like. Rembrandt would be very impressed with my palette, I am not so sure he would be that impressed with my paintings though.

Ultramarine blue. I use a lot of this, after white its the color of which I use the most. Sometimes I take it off my palette just for disciplines sake. It is a slightly reddish blue. My palette has a warm and a cool version of each hue. Ultramarine is my warm blue, Prussian is my cool blue. I prefer the ultramarine deep or the French ultramarine when a manufacturer gives me a choice. Good ultramarine has clarity, cheap ultramarine is dirty. Quality ultramarine is like butter and cheap ultramarine is slimy.

Viridian green is a lovely bluish green that has become very expensive in the last few years. Its quality has also dropped, it seems to me that it goes gritty on the palette much more quickly than it used to or should. RGH makes one and though they aren't giving it away it is still affordable. Viridian mixed with a lot of white is good in skies and a tolerable replacement for cerulean blue which has also become very expensive. Lately I have been experimenting with Thalo green deep, I am not sure if I can live with it as an inexpensive substitute for viridian or not. It is of course much more powerful.

Quinacridone red, I was taught to paint with alizirin crimson and in those days it was a standard artists pigment. It had many faults, it had a bloody, blacky sort of a color and was impermanent and handled poorly. Some years ago manufacturers began selling Permanent Alizirin which was of course not alizirin at all. It is usually quinacridone. The ideal color for this slot is probably genuine rose madder. That is a wonderful color, rather than being bloody like alizirin, it has an organic roseate hue that is warm, clear and lovely like roses themselves. When I was on a three color palette this was my red. It is about 35 dollars for a 37 ml. tube. This is, in my estimation, the best argument for being rich. Sometime when you feel flush, treat yourself to a tube of Winsor and Newtons' genuine rose madder, it is like a good box pressed maduro from the Dominican Republic, one of life's' finest experiences. I should mention I suppose that it is not entirely permanant.
Quinacridone isn't cheap either but it is roseate in hue, permanent and dependable. If you buy a tube of permanent rose this is what you will get. It wont stomp on your mixtures like some of the other cool red pigments, delicacy is the" pearl of great price" in the cool reds.

Lastly, Ivory black.. A lot of outdoor painters eschew the use of black and there's a good reason for that. In the hands of tyros (now there's an antique word) it brings on disaster. It is not to be used to make the shadow note by adding it to the color of an object in the light. THE SHADOW IS A SEPARATE COLOR FROM THE LIGHT, AND NOT THE COLOR OF THE LIGHT PLUS BLACK! It is virtually always better to add the compliment of a color to any note to reduce it. Black is only useful when perceived as a color of its own. Sometimes painters talk about painting clean, for them black is an anathema. Another philosophy thinks of putting the right color of mud in the right place. I fall into the latter camp. If a color is too red I add green, if it's to yellow I add purple, etc. That's sort of like the difference between playing a fretted instrument and playing a violin (which has no frets) I play across the colors rather than clearly hitting only the separate notes in each octave. See what I mean? Now I have to write a post on compound color vs. simple color. I will label that post inominate color. I sometimes do small black and white studies for larger paintings.
Well its bedtime and I'd better throw my palette out in the trunk of the car to keep it from drying out overnight! My wife and kids hate it when I put it in the refrigerator on top of the leftover pizza.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Palette 1

Here's my palette. The colors don't photograph very accurately and your monitor throws in another variable. On my monitor the ultramarine blue is way too electric for instance. I have shown you this view of my palette to let you see how I arrange it. Here's a usual palette for me. It seems like every time I look down, it's different. Actually the core of the palette remains the same and I experiment with a few additions and variations . These are of course, oil paints. When I look at a great historical painting in the museum and wonder "why can't I do that" I want to know the difference between that work and mine is my ability, and not my materials. If the problem is my materials, that's easy to fix. If the problem is my ability, I can work on that too, if I have the right materials. As I have said in a previous post , all of my colors are from RGH artists oils. Here's what I've got on there.

starting from the top going across to the right:
Titanium white
cadmium yellow light
cadmium yellow medium
cadmium red light
burnt sienna
cobalt violet
Prussian blue

and on the left descending;
Golden, or yellow ochre
ultramarine blue
Viridian, or sometimes pthalo green
Quinacridone red
Ivory black

I will go through this list and write briefly about each of these colors;

Titanium white, the standard artists white these days, opaque and nonpoisonous, that white stuff on your lifeguards nose is titanium. Lefranc and Bourgeois makes a really nice titanium that's very reasonably priced. Some artists like zinc white because it's more transparent and they feel it doesn't overwhelm their colors making them chalky. Some brands of paint are a mixture of titanium and zinc and try to get the best qualities of both. Lead white is somewhat transparent as well, it dries more quickly than the others and handles better than the others. It gives a nice surface and is the white in all the old paintings in the museum. It is poisonous and is becoming harder to find.

Cadmium yellow light, or pale. Never buy a tube that says hue on it! A hue is some unknown pigments mixed up to look like the color you actually want. If you want azo yellow (or French's mustard) buy tubes labeled that way. Manufacturers sell these to students and hobbyists who don't know the difference. They won't handle reliably in your mixtures and lack pigmenting strength. Student grades of paint often are hues. Painting well is hard enough to do with the best of materials.

Cadmium yellow medium, more orange and warmer than the cadmium yellow light. I can live without this by feeding a little cadmium red light into my cadmium yellow light, but it is convenient having it and it helps me to get greater variety when mixing greens. There is a lot of variation between makers and some makers' cadmium yellow medium may be the same color as another makers' cadmium yellow deep.

Cadmium red light, this is an expensive pigment, but a tube will last you a long time. All the cadmiums are poisonous . Don't eat or smoke while they are on your hands. Never put these in a spray gun, and I would recommend you never work with this pigment in a powdered form (such as grinding your own paint, let the pros do that). Used responsibly they are safe. Most of the things in an artists' studio are poisonous to one degree or another. I was taught to paint with real vermilion in this slot on the palette, that is mercuric sulphide and is really, really poisonous and nearly impossible to get these days however it was a lovely color. When you see the blush in the cheek of a woman painted by John Sargent, that's vermilion. Often your red is going to be used to "step on " ie. modify another color slightly and vermilion did that nicely. There are some nice proprietary reds that are possibles in this spot on the palette. Sennelier red is a nice one. Rembrandt also makes a nice red in this range. I don't see a good replacement for the cadmium yellows but you may decide to choose a substitute for cadmium red light. The important thing is that this is a warm red, you will have a cool red on the other side of the palette.

Burnt sienna, is an absolutely wonderful color! It is inexpensive. Earth colors are (or rather were) colored dirt dug up in various places in Italy, and are mostly forms of iron oxide. They are made in the lab today and are, I think, far better than the real earth pigments. These are reliable, permanent and well behaved colors.They dry relatively quickly. I like to sketch paintings in with burnt sienna. Some artists who choose to use limited palettes and work on a chromatic palette don't use earth colors. Some of the western painters have popularized this approach lately. I will talk about limited palettes in another post. Oddly enough the old masters had just the opposite sort of palette and worked with three color earth palettes. There's a lot of different ways to skin the same cat, each has its limitations and advantages. My palette has both an earth color palette and a chromatic palette within it. Winsor and Newton makes a nice burnt sienna. Since burnt sienna is a relatively inexpensive color buy a good one.

Cobalt violet, an extremely expensive color. I love it, but I can't say you really need to have it. Its got a lovely sort of glow that no other violet has. Dioxizine has far more tinting strength. I feel dioxizine has too much in fact, and will actually stain the hairs in your brushes. Most of the proprietary violets on the market are dioxizine, often toned down to make them more manageable. You can mix your violets over on the other side of the palette with ultramarine and quinacridone or alizirin. Gamblin makes a less expensive cobalt violet and it is fine.

Prussian blue, This blue leans slightly towards green. It is not a real popular color these days having been largely replaced with thalo blue. I use Prussian because it is more manageable, thalo blue being so much more powerful than the other pigments on your palette that it can be over assertive in mixtures. Many fine painters have relied on it though. Emile Gruppe used it extensively as the blue in his chromatic palette. Most of the proprietary blues labeled with the makers name are thalo.
Neither of these colors is particularly expensive so you may want to try a small tube of both. Like cobalt violet you may decide you don't need this color either.

Thats it for today. I will talk about the other half of the palette in the next post.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tubing paint

Today's entry is a little more grad school level than the last, however it may come in handy to know how to do this and it can save you a good deal on paint, if that becomes important to you. It also is useful to know if you want to premix certain colors that you may be routinely cooking up on your palette. Blogger doesn't seem to allow me to embed photos in the text very easily or drag them around much. Perhaps I just haven't figured it out yet. I feel the page layout on this one is a little clunky, and I suppose I will have to return to the paragraph, centered photo, paragraph layout that seems so common in other blogs I have seen. I will blog next about what I have on my palette and my mediums and thinners. I will also do an entry on brushes soon. Glad to have you following along. Put on your smock this is going to be a messy ride! Here we go!

My shipment of paint arrived from my colormaker today and I think I will show you how I get it into the tubes. When you read this and look at the pictures it looks like a lot of trouble but with a little practice it goes very quickly and I enjoy tubing it up. I get about 6 or 7 big tubes out of a quart of paint. I try to keep enough paint on hand to last for months. I start to feel insecure when I don't have a big store of paint in my taboret. It is probably a hold over from the old days when I often didn't have enough money for both food and paint and hard choices had to be made. If it hadn't been for the kindness of my various girlfriends I would surely have starved to death. Girls loved me when I was young. They imagined I was sensitive.
Most of you are not going to tube your own paint. Unless you use LOTS of it . There's plenty of good paint available from the many suppliers online and for most of you, of course, that's the answer.
I buy the empty tubes from Jerrys Artarama or Pearl Paint.
I order my paint from RGH Artists Oils. They sell 65 ml. and 250 ml.,jars, pint, quart, half gallon and gallon quantities of a very wide selection of different colors. Check them out at;
I think they make excellent quality paints and I particularly like their cadmiums. They are extremely affordable as you can see on their web site. You can buy a HALF GALLON of titanium white for $72.00. I use a whole lot of paint so it makes sense for me to buy in quantity.These are not student grade paints. RGH is a small artist owned company in Buffalo, New York. Tell them I sent you, please.
I buy boxes of nitrile gloves from a nearby auto parts store because this is a messy business. I use nitrile gloves a lot. They don't seem to be as clammy as the plastic sort. They are cheap and disposable. I shovel the paint into the open end of the tube with a flat palette knife. I try to put the knife well into the tube and scrape the paint off on its lip. I inevitably get paint on the outside of the tube, but that's OK, I can clean it off later with mineral spirits.

I repeatedly rap the cap end of the tube sharply on my palette to get the paint to the front of the tube and eliminate any voids. Only fill the tube about four fifths of the way so as to leave room to close it up. I am using 175 ml. tubes in these pictures but you can buy small tubes as well. I use so much paint that I almost never buy small tubes. I do put up a few small tubes for use with my pochade box. I don't use pochade boxes very often though, as I like my big Gloucester easel and I am willing to put up with carrying the weight of a heavy paintbox because I often work on larger canvasses outside than most painters.
Next I close up the end of the tube squeezing out any extra paint that is there.
I then lay the tube on my palette and press the side of my palette knife down firmly on the tube about
3/8 of an inch from the end.

I lift the tube to vertical putting a nice clean fold in the end. It works like a box brake bending sheet metal, as shown below left. Then the next step is to crimp the folded over end with a canvas pliers. My canvas pliers are from the late 19th cent. or perhaps the early 20th century, a friend of mine found them in a junk shop more than 30 years ago and made a present of them to me.They are a far better design than the new ones They have a ordinary coiled spring unlike the new ones which have a sort of leaf spring, consequently they open when the pressure on their handles is released.
They are however not chromed, they have that old timey drop forged look. I really squeeze those pliers hard to crimp that end, and sometimes I will turn it over in one more fold and crimp it again. Below you can see the finished result.

After cleaning any excess paint off the outside of the tube with a paper towel dipped in mineral spirits I label the tube using a permanent marker. You may want to paint a stripe of the color mixed with varnish or liquin to make it dry more quickly, around the top of your tube. Then it will look like a tube of Old Holland paint or like its from one of those fancy boutique manufacturers all the thoracic surgeons' wives use. I like the way my paint box looks, open on location. When other artists look in there, all they see are my hand labeled tubes . Looks tough as hell.

The studio

Here I am. I took this photo myself in my studio mirror which is behind me as I work at the easel. I can easily turn and see my canvas in the mirror. That's important. As you work on a painting you become used to seeing it and its mistakes. The mirror gives you a "fresh eye". Often a problem in a painting will jump out at you when seen in reverse. If you don't have a mirror in your studio , I suggest that you get one. Even a ladies compact will work nicely and can be had at the 5 and 10. I actually don't know if there are still 5 and 10s or whether ladies still carry compacts, I will assume there are still ladies. This small mirror, I can hold against my forehead, so that looking up into it, I can see my painting on the easel both upside down and backwards.
Here's a shot of my studio, with its north light windows. I have a 14 foot high ceiling, but my studio is only 11 feet wide. It is 20 feet long. That's not very large but it does give me room to back up and see my work . My traditional artists studio faces north because the sun goes over the building to the south. I get consistent, cool light and if I set up an object to paint, it's shadow doesn't move throughout the day. Ideally I would have the easel on the opposite side of the room so the shadow from my hand ( I am right handed ) would not be thrown across the area on which I am working , but my studio is actually oriented slightly northwest and part of the year I get direct sunlight coming in through my windows on one side of the room. The sun shining in on the painting sitting on the easel would make it nearly impossible to work. The basic design is borrowed from the historic Fenway studios in Boston, where I was trained .

My studio is a tool for someone who paints every day. You probably don't have a custom built studio and may have to work in a room with windows that do not face north , that can often be dealt with by putting an inexpensive sheer curtain over the window next to your easel. You may even have to work in your basement under artificial light. I will address artificial lighting for studios in a following post. I have painted in every conceivable sort of space over the years, and almost any room can be made to work. A small corner of a room actually used for another purpose will suffice. The great French
painter Leon Gerome created his masterpiece "The Cockfight" in a tiny garret studio.
If you are a reader of this blog I would urge you to forward any questions that you have, through comments, as I am trying to guess what you will need to know and I would be delighted to hear about the things I have certainly forgotten to include.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!

Thanks for stopping in. I am a professional landscape painter. I mean by that, I paint for a living. I want to paint good pictures and get paid well to do it. I work both outside and in the studio. I have lived and worked on the coast of Maine, in Boston and Rockport, Massachusetts and now in Derry, New Hampshire. I am originally from Minnesota , and no, I don't sound like those people in the movie Fargo.
Above you see a picture of me painting two weeks ago in the mountains of western Maine. I like painting outside in the winter better than any other time of the year.
I have been painting full time for over thirty years, and made my first outdoor painting in 1975. I still have it and perhaps I will show it to you in a later post. It is absolutely dreadful.
In this blog I will offer some of the techniques, ideas and methods I have learned over the years, and talk about how to make a living as an artist.I will present some essays on painting, art, and hopefully amuse you some at the same time. I will also tell you about some of the fine painters I have known over the years and some who died long ago. I will talk about my training in the studios of R.H.Ives Gammell and about the many artists who have mentored me along the way. I will try to explain what I THINK makes a good painting, and how to go about making one.
I guess it would be ideal to update this blog every day, in order to always have something new for you to see when you visit. I should go to the gym every day too. I will do my best to keep this blog fresh and we will see how it goes. I do enjoy writing and feel I have a lot to share with those of you who also have an interest in landscape painting and art in general.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lodging in and around Jaffrey New Hampshire

Here are some links to lodging for my workshop this month.

B&B's in Jaffrey:
(Woodbound also has some tiny cabins for rent, and some motel like rooms, besides the Inn itself)

In Fitzwilliam:

In Dublin - probably 15 or so minutes away.

In Peterborough - 7-8 miles up the road..(all the good restaurants and two art supply stores are here too) (actually in Sharon, about 15 min. away from here)

In Hancock (beautiful village center here)

And, for cheaper (probably) motel type lodging that is a little further, but still at most 35 min. away, there is Keene: