Friday, July 17, 2009

Some readers questions answered, more or less

Corot, Le torrent Pierreaux image from the worlds largest online museum

I want to open this post by speaking a little about my upcoming critique for readers. About every six weeks or so I have invited readers of this blog to e-mail me images at I will photoshop your name of off your art and I will not disclose who did any of the paintings.

So many questions were posed in the comments today that I will answer some of them tonight in this post.

I know a lot of artists like to underpaint with burnt umber, but I think it is responsible for a lot of "drying in" It occurs to me I have never talked about drying in, so I will do that now. All of you have painted in watercolor and noticed that when the water evaporated the color of your painting changed. The colors seemed less saturated. You may not be as aware of it, but oil paintings do the same thing, perhaps to a lesser extent or more slowly, but it can still be a problem.

Fancy art and fashion magazines are printed on a coated paper. Its real important that they have the best possible images. The scandal sheet newspapers at the grocery store are printed on uncoated newsprint. Newsprint is cheap, but being uncoated, it doesn't produce as colorful or crisp an image. The difference is gloss. A gloss surface reflects more of the light that hits it, hence you get a brighter more colored picture. When a watercolor dries the surface is no longer glossy and so it no longer returns as much light to the viewer as it did when it was glossy and wet.

In an oil painting if the surface loses its gloss in an area, that area will appear dull, that is called "drying in" Usually the oil will have dropped down into the painting leaving less in the top layer to provide gloss and give the rich look it had when you first painted it. Usually this is remedied by varnishing the painting. That restores the gloss to the surface and fixes the problem. At least for a while.

My experience has been that a few colors seem to cause this drying in more than others. Watch out for burnt umber and ivory black. Both of these pigments seem to have an ability to dry out the passage in which they are used. You might find that although you varnish the passage some time later the problem will reappear. Both are traditional colors and artists routinely use them, but I have had drying in problems with both of them.

I was also asked:
I have also heard that one should mix their colors as little as possible. Mix two colors together at most and only three if forced. I think it was Rubens who said (in regards to mixing) "do not torment your color." Have you found this to be true? Or in other words use your color clean and unaltered as possible .

Put the note down and leave it alone. If you don't like it, repaint it, or throw more paint down on to it. You can't worry the paint into a picture once its on the canvas.

That is what is meant by tormenting your color I think. It is also a good idea to keep your colors to mixtures of two pigments, or at the most three. First of all you should be able to get almost any color with a mixture of that few. If you keep adding different pigments they start canceling each other out in complicated ways. I usually don't talk much about mud, ( I like to paint mud ) but that's a recipe for it. Too many pigments in a mixture. You need to watch out for that.

But there is another important reason to keep those color notes simple. You will often need to hit that note again. If it has two colors in it you stand a good chance of matching it. If it contains four, you might never figure out the right combination to make it again. Simply made colors are repeatable.

What are your thoughts on some landscape painters first covering the canvas with a layer of red - as the final painting will be rendered in many greens and the undercoat of red will help with vibration.

I think that a red ground makes sense in the studio. Outside I think it is a liability. Particularly if it is low in value. A low value ground will effect the way you key your painting. It may cause you to misjudge your values. I think mechanical systems such as this for relieving greens are OK occasionally, but quickly become formulaic. Watch out for method driven ways of doing painting. If you want your greens to look some particular way it is best to paint them that way rather than relying on a system to get them there. Someone will now e-mail me an example of a fine outdoor painting that has been underpainted in red. The problem with all of these sorts of systems, is that when they are part of the toolkit of a master painter, who uses them only occasionally, they can do wonderful things. But in the hands of the everyday amateur they quickly become tricks and conventions. Painting is always harder than that. I have known teachers who have given students a cookbook full of methods which promise to cure what are actually far more difficult problems than can be dealt with so simply.

1) how about raw umber? Does that fall in the same category as burnt umber and the idea of dirty color?
No raw umber doesn't seem to be as problematic.

2) what about using quick dry alkyds for an underpainting?
Alkyds are excellent for underpainting. I am an oil alkyd painter myself. I don't buy alkyd paints, but I use an alkyd medium. I think alkyd is great stuff.

3) acrylics as an underpainting and then painting over them with oils? 4) just want to be you mean to suggest spending 40 percent on plein air as well as studio underpainting? So glad to hear your 40 percent idea, I have recently been spending more time on my studio under painting and considering spending more.
Acrylics can be used as an underpainting below oil. But I can't imagine doing it outside. When I spoke about 40% I meant in an outdoor painting session. In the studio with limitless time, you use as much time in the underpainting as is required to do an EXCELLENT job.

5) I have been doing a raw umber, wipe away the lights underpainting for years. Two years ago I started including underpainting white and selectively painting on some of the wiped away light passages. I feel this gives the lights with the underpainting white a more textural and built up start. It also follows the idea of thicker paint in the light and thinner paint in the darks, whereas just a wipe away does the opposite (thicker paint with darks and thinner with the lights). Your thoughts on this?
Again I want to be careful to separate studio practice from the race of trying to get a painting on canvas as the light changes and the tide rises on location outside. In the studio using underpainting white is fine, outside it would be better to go after it in the John Carlson big poster shapes approach, rather than work opaquely.

The whole key to underpainting outdoors is to keep it transparent

You can do a transparent underpainting, and then when you go into it in full color, load your whites and keep the white out of your shadows and you will have achieved the transparent shadow effect. I personally don't work that way. and I think it is too mechanical. Some fine painters did do that, but I think it is more of a studio thing.

Would it be safe to generalize by saying cool underpainting for warm light, warm underpainting for cool light?
No, I think you need to analyze what effect you will get by using a warm or cool underpainting based on what the painting seems to call for. Again I think "how- to systems" are inherently flawed, we all want so much to have open and shut answers but they are crippling. You have to always be thinking and planning.

Also, I am guessing burnt umber is not a problem if it is completely dry?

You guessed wrong. OK maybe if it is bone dry and you varnish over it and we are talking about a studio painting, but I still don't like the stuff. How about trying burnt Sienna and ultramarine?
Those two work real well together and if you want to you can control warm and cool .

The details are being finalized for a workshop to be held the weekend plus one day, either Friday or Monday ( so it will be a three day workshop ) of the 19th of September in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. More on that soon.


willek said...

About a year agao I did a pallet knife painting with lots of green it it. All the areas where I layed in veridian or terra verte (could not tell which one in the confusion) became flat. I coated them with a damar, stand oil, terps medium and even that would flaten after a few days. It got better after 4 or 5 applications over a long time. I have been using Utrecht Burnt Umber and I have not noticed the flattening. But lately, coinciding with my burnt umber wipe out time, I have not been using any meduim and I have been obtaining a more uniform flatness over my pictures. So I have not seen the need for varnishing as much as I used to.

That Inness with the warm pallet that you started off with the other day is really sticking with me. The painting you opened with today is also a honey and it looks like black white red and yellow.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the lifetime of knowledge in 5 minutes!

Gregory Becker said...

Jeremy said it best.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are lucky your paintings don't blow up!(Rockwell)

Stapleton Kearns said...

Your welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, you guys encouragement keeps me motivated. Will work for praise! ...............Stape