Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010

I have been very absent from the blog this month for many reasons, namely that I haven't been making any art. There has been a lot of introspection and figuring out what I want to do with my art, portfolio, and career. So art was put on hold. I finished up a few commissions that have been lingering in my studio for a while and I've done a few sketches here and there but nothing major except for the charcoal drawing from the last post, which I'm reposting with a better quality image with revisions. So for the last day of 2010 I'm posting the finished pencil portrait I did of a family friend's baby and the charcoal nude. There'll be a lot of interesting things going on in 2011, so I hope at least. I wish everyone a Happy New Year. Party hard, but be safe :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Charcoal experimentation

Last week I got the urge to just stop painting and start drawing up a storm. Like, make finished pieces using only drawing media. So with that in mind, I browsed the wealth of stock photos on deviantart for something that would pique my interest. I found an image by Marcus Ranum, of mjranum_stock (I strongly suggest looking him up on deviantart) and created this quick study.

It's actually a horizontally orientated photo, since it would be rather uncomfortable to sit like that. But for my purposes, I just turned the photo. This is done on gray charcoal paper with graphite and colored pencil. Originally I was intending to transfer this to canvas and do a color pencil/ink wash finish since I really want to try and explore that medium a bit more. I created this charcoal abstract, I guess you can call it, based on Richard Schmid's old figure painting book. It was intended for a different photo by the same artist. All I did was sprinkle powdered charcoal on the surface, wet it, brush it around, added matte medium to create a cool gray tone and make the surface non-absorbent. Then I sprinkle some more powder and sprayed heavier concentrations of water and tilted the board letting it drip here and there. Voila! I noticed that some of the gestures within the charcoal mimicked the photo I had already used, so went ahead and started drawing it again. Perhaps colored pencil might work on the charcoal surface? Nope, so I quickly erased what I could. After looking at it today, I noticed some trouble areas that I will address tonight after work, but here's the process so far. Bear with me, most of them are cell phone pics.

After I finish it up and fix what I don't like, I'll post a better picture of the final image. All in all though, I love the process. It has been years since I used charcoal. I couldn't stand it because it would get all on my hands and in turn all over my paper. Since the surface is already toned and non-absorbent, the charcoal is easily erased or brushed off and any marks I may make by accident are barely noticeable. But the reality is I hate getting my hands dirty. I ended up using charcoal pencils, which on the matte medium surface erases completely off like magic with virtually no residual marks left. Needless to say, I'll be playing with this much more. Enjoy!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not a whole lot

So this weekend I spent a good portion of my time medicated, fighting off a dastardly cold that decided to infiltrate my body at the worst possible time. Despite it's best efforts though, I still managed to get a lot of work done. I finished up a smaller painting, brought my cigar self-portrait to the final stage, and put the finishing touches on my final colored pencil/ink wash drawing. I'll keep it short and simple today, let the art do the talking.

This is the final for my colored pencil and ink wash piece. It has been an incredibly fascinating learning experience. Once I get my portfolio done, I'm going to explore this technique a bit more and personalize it to fit my stylistic needs.

Hands have always been a weak point, so this is a personal victory. Also learned that in painting my arm hair it is simpler to do it wet-in-wet as opposed to painting the skin first and then dry brushing the hair on. It feels more natural.

I know this is cheating, but I had no time or success (I really tried) in doing a small self-portrait this weekend to make up for first-friday self portraits. But I thought this would make an interesting replacement. A bit of a throwback to freshman year. The assignment was to appropriate a master work and make it our own. This drawing is based on Leo Da Vinci's "five grotesque heads" ink drawing. And it's five self-portraits in one. Huzzah!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Palette: Fin

So I have woken up sick and it took every last bit of energy and motivation to bring my laptop up from my studio to make this final post. I woke up 2 hours later than I anticipated, sleeping through both alarms, and I justified a 40 minute nap just half an hour after I got up. Suffice it to say, I don't think I can work up the mojo to start a whole new painting for First Friday Self-Portrait... today at least. But I will finish my lengthy discussion on palettes and close off with a few helpful tips.

Having explored the palettes of four exceptional painters I think it is safe to make the following recommendations:

1. As a start, try having at least a warm and a cool of each color. You can split this so you only focus on the primaries and have a few secondaries on the palette, or you can have a warm and cool of all of them. It comes down to preference. Plus temperature is relative. Cadmium Red will appear warm next to Viridian, but next to Cadmium Orange it will appear slightly cooler. Donato exemplifies this with his use of Mud.

2. For some reason the red/orange/yellow colors have more opaque/transparent variety than the green/blue/violet colors, which tend towards the transparent. Having a good balance of transparent warm and cools is important. As far as the latter range of colors are concerned, they work best as transparent pigments in my opinion. I replaced Greenish Yellow with Cinnabar Green Light because it is opaque and just as warm. So the browns I mix with it are very similar and they have the added benefit of being opaque. I try to have an opaque or semi-opaque and transparent of each color except for orange, yellow, and violet. Cad Orange is enough orange, plus Transparent Red Oxide and Burnt Sienna are pretty orangey. Aureolin is a good transparent yellow, but I have no need for it. Magenta is the only violet range color I use and it is transparent. I can mix my own opaque violet since I don't use it in large quantities. Fun fact: all oil colors are inherently transparent given the nature of the medium. Titanium White is the most opaque pigment.

3. Try to use only permanent pigments that are lightfast. There are a couple systems that determine how lightfast a pigment is when you look at the labeling. If you see I through V that is the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials). The lower the numeral, the higher the permanence. So if you have a tube of color with a V, chuck it. It's not worth the money you paid since in all likelihood it will fade in a couple of years. There is also the Blue Woolscale system that uses a regular number system from 1 to 8. The higher the number, the better the pigment. For more info go here:

4. It is good to experiment with a lot of colors first and see which ones you use more often. Yes, it costs a lot of money immediately. But in the long run you end up saving since hopefully by then you'll know how much and how often you use each color. Titanium White is the one color you should always buy in the largest tube possible since you go through it pretty fast.

5. Figure out what kind of painter you are. Are you the type of artist who uses a limited palette of a handful of colors, or do you roll with half table-top sized palettes with more pigments than you have fingers, toes, and other appendages if you really want to get crazy? Do you paint using thin glazes of color like Maxfield Parrish? Perhaps you build up subtle tones, gradually increasing the viscosity of your paint in the light areas and keep the darks transparent like pretty much every other painter in history? Or maybe you paint opaquely all over with juicy impasto, focusing more on color and value relationships a la Impressionists? Maybe you don't really care about form and tradition, opting for the immediacy of abstraction in evoking responses from the viewer. Regardless, take the time to find out how you paint as it will greatly affect your color decisions.

6. Don't be cheap. I've heard a lot of people say it doesn't really matter what paint you use. They're right to a certain extent since it isn't the material that makes bad art, but poorly trained and delusional artists. If Leonardo had only Winton or Van Gogh oil paints, I'm sure he could still paint the Mona Lisa. But most tube paints are made with crappy oil anyway, nowhere near the same quality oil that painters would purify and cleanse on their own in their studios 100s of years ago. Ideally, grinding your own pigments is the way to go, and I know of a few painters who do that. But who has that kind of time? A dab of of Old Holland or Williamsburg Cad Red goes farther than a giant glop of the same color in the Winton brand. Make the extra investment, you won't regret it and the difference is noticeable.

7. Lay out your palette in an arrangement that suits your needs. I lay mine out ROYGBIV because no one ever told me how to arrange my colors. So naturally I was inclined to use the rainbow. Richard Schmid lays his colors out from lightest value to darkest (not including white). You can put two piles of white in the middle and on either side of that arrange your warms and cools. But please, do not just place them at random. My young teen students learned the hard way that placing them wherever makes a mess. I trained em well :)

8. This isn't really a big trend, but some people find it important to use colors that are safe. This applies especially to anyone who grinds their own pigment. A lot of colors are poisonous, but when proper care is taken you don't have to worry about it.

9. Learn how each color mixes with another color. The color charts are a great exercise, but so is trial and error with a touch of intuition. If you're a disciplined enough person with the patience of a saint, I STRONGLY encourage you to make the color charts. It's a long standing exercise in the education of classically trained painters. If you're a free spirit, just go with it. But keep a mental note of which mixtures look like poop and which ones glow like gems.

I would add a 10th, but odd numbers are more appealing to me. Especially anything related to the number three. Three three's is just downright beautiful. I hope you enjoyed these posts. They were a labor of love, which I think came across. Stay tuned next week for the belated self-portrait as well as some other progress shots and informational tid-bits. Have a great weekend everyone. And try not to get sick!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Palette: Part 4 - Contemporary Masters

I want to take the first few lines of this post to commend those dedicated bloggers who post something everyday, whether it be a simple drawing or an academic undertaking. James Gurney and Stapleton Kearns come to mind, among others. I don't know how you do it, but I thank you!

To keep things rolling, lets just jump right into the first artist I want to talk about, Richard Schmid. Anyone working representationally knows his name since by this point in his long career it is synonymous with the likes of Sargent, Serov, Fechin, etc. If you don't know who he is, I strongly suggest you visit his website. Why he isn't in art history books is beyond me. This is my opinion but I think that of the many artists who came out of the 1950s art school scene where abstract expressionism predominated, he most successfully bridged it with realism. If you take a look at his earlier work you'll notice just how abstract his compositions are. His paint dances across a heavily textured surface, shapes of colors melt together to form a human figure placed in a believable but heavily abstracted setting. His landscapes were a tour de force in paint handling, some of them being so laden with paint and vitality you'd just as soon be convinced Monet was still alive and well. His recent work is where one truly sees a master at work. While it is evident that he had confidence as a young artist, employing only the necessary marks to achieve his end, there was a timidity and reliance on heavy paint given the trends of the times. It was just as much about the surface as it was about the painted image. This is not to criticize him in anyway since those paintings made a lasting impression on me and right now I too like playing with the physicality of the surface and paint. But when looked at side-by-side to his current portfolio, there is no comparison. Richard Schmid has become a living master in the truest sense. He transcends fame and success, and I'm sure many who read this blog will agree that he belongs in the pantheon of artists that include the previously discussed Bouguereau and Rembrandt, as well as Raphael, Michelangelo, Sargent, Sorolla, and many more.

Images descend chronologically, starting with recent work to a painting from the 60s. All images copyright of Richard Schmid

So as to get the meat of this story, I'll simply mention that I own both his out-of-print "RIchard Schmid Paints the FIgure: Advanded Techniques in Oil" as well as his newer "Alla Prima: Everything I know About Painting." These two books offer a lot of information on how to paint and why to paint, especially the latter. A thorough review of that book requires its own post. One thing that both books do mention, and the Alla Prima one goes even further in showing examples, are creating color charts. By that I mean create a chart on canvas or sturdier support, one inch squares all across (however many colors are in your palette) and five down. Start with your whole palette and place it straight from the tube in the first square. Add varying levels of white to each color and work your way down the five vertical squares until you have five values for each color. Once this is done, make a chart with one predominant color mixed with each other color and do the same with the white. Sounds tedious? It is. I made one chart, successfully at least, and it took me about four hours or so to complete.

This beast of a man completed one for every color on his palette. And when he adds a new color to his palette, he makes a chart for that one as well. Speaking of, his current palette is as follows in this order:
Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Yellow Deep
Yellow Ochre Light
Cadmium Red
Terra Rosa
Alizarin Crimson (the permanent variety, he mentions Gamblin)
Transparent Red Oxide (replaces burnt sienna because it is permanent, darker, and more transparent)
Cobalt Blue Light
Ultramarine Blue Deep
Titanium White

Looks kind of familiar, eh? A lot of similar colors appear on my palette as well, or at least similar values and pigments. I actually used his palette for a while. It made sense to emulate him and then branch out on my own. But this was a huge step in the direction I wanted to go as a painter. I want to get my palette down to a minimal amount of colors again, but until I exhaust the possibilities of mixtures and preferences, I'll keep with my current large monstrosity. In a later post I will thoroughly do justice to his art literary masterpiece "Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting." But now we move onto...

Donato Giancola. If ever there was an artist who has inspired me, whose work gives me goosebumps, makes me think, fills my brain with images of fantastical beings so real you can just touch them, its this guy. Whenever I describe Donato to students and friends, I frantically fight to control the urge to frolic as every painting he has created floods my conscience. It isn't like me to have a "favorite" artist since my tastes and preferences change so much that it seems almost childish. But for about five years now, ever since I was introduced to his work, Donato Giancola has remained my favorite living artist. I can go months without looking at his website (hypothetical, I'm on it daily) and I can scour the web looking at impressionistic realism, but as sure as the ocean is deep I can always return to his works and stare for hours. He creates works of art in a market that requires quick turnarounds to sell a product. Did I mention he's a fantasy illustrator? Must have slipped my mind! Donato seamlessly blends fantasy and science fiction with the aesthetic qualities of Renaissance masters. He names people like Hans Holbein, Jan Van Eyck, Bouguereau, and Richard Scarry (I'm serious too) as some of his biggest influences. He turned me on to John William Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites. His knowledge of art history is staggering, and you can see it in his work. He doesn't just paint dragons and creatures, he creates pictorial masterpieces filled with narrative qualities that would make Rubens jealous. And one thing is for sure: the man has no qualms about filling a painting with figures. I don't know if he picks a random number out of a hat, but I won't be surprised that one day he'll bust out a painting with over 100 figures. If anyone can do it, it's him.

All images copyright of Donato Giancola

Like any good illustrator, his palette is extensive. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride:
Titanium White, Payne's Gray, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Terre Verte, Cadmium Red Deep, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cad Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Green, Manganese/Dioxazine Purple, Greenish Umber, Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, Pthalocyanine Blue, Pthalo Green, Cobalt Blue, Turquoise Blue, Cad Red Scarlet, Cad Yellow Pale, Raw Sienna, Sepia, Lamp Black, Cad Red Light, Magenta, Naples Yellow, Brilliant Yellow, Indian Yellow, Mars Violet, Brown Pink, Chinese Red Vermillion, Emerald Green, Manganese Blue, Davey's Gray.

No, he doesn't lay that whole list out at the same time. That's just silly. And he doesn't use every color in any one painting either. They're just there when he needs it. It is an honor to call Donato a friend and just as great an honor to have had the opportunity to study with him at the Illustration Master Class for the first two years it has run. I have seen him paint in his studio and at live demos countless times. The most fascinating aspect of how he paints is his "mud" pile. He mixes a large puddle of what he refers to as mud in the middle of his palette and begins adding other colors to create the desired tones he needs. His modeling of flesh is based heavily on his love for Bouguereau, and that is very evident. But if you look at his mixed colors on the palette, you're left thinking "how on earth are his paintings so vibrant?" To finish today's post I'll let the man himself explain. He and a number of other brilliant illustrators have joined forces to create a Super Blog where they share their insights on art making with us humble fans and aspiring artists. It is certainly a treat and I recommend everyone visit on a regular basis to see what these titans of the field are up to. Tomorrow I'll end with some tips on choosing colors for your palette based on my own experiences and finish off with December's first friday self-portrait. I'll also outline intended future posts. Have a wonderful day, and make sure to read Donato's mud post here:

And because I have forgotten to do so in the other posts, here are a number of links relevant to what I've been discussing as well as a number of other blogs worth reading:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Palette: Part 3 - Old Masters

Today's palette post will deal with two artists from the past who, more than any other artists, influenced me in my art. First off I'll talk about a French bourgeois gentleman by the name of William-Adolphe Bouguereau. He was born November 30, 1825 and died on August 19, 1905. In his day, he was much sought after by wealthy patrons for his idealized depictions of mythological and biblical imagery as well as peasant children and portraiture. In a time when Impressionism was becoming the popular form of art and gaining speed in its own right, Bouguereau stood out like a sore thumb with his highly refined, traditionally executed paintings. They negatively portrayed him as antiquated, describing his work as plastic and too slick. Despite this, however, his fame never slowed down and his paintings demanded high prices throughout his life. Just a note: I have nothing against Impressionism. On the contrary, artists like Monet and Degas are among my favorites.

The 20th century art world did everything in it's power to bring his good name down. Bouguereau was relegated to the lowest form of art and disappeared into obscurity until recent decades. Good art was created by the likes of Pollock and Rothko. Master technicians of the traditional craft of oil painting were simply footnotes in the long history of art leading up to the 20th century art explosion of breaking from tradition. I appreciate the break from the old, but aesthetically it isn't my cup of tea. That art doesn't move my soul, doesn't stimulate me to think, nor does it give me goosebumps when seen in person. It simply is what it is. It would be in bad taste for me to belittle the accomplishments of those same artists who spoke negatively about Bouguereau and brought realism down to "low art."

Fast forward to the present day and you will find that realism is alive and thriving. I know a lot of young, avant-garde contemporary artists who have told me realism is dead. It never died. There was a closed-off intersection on the highway of art history to allow the parade of modern art to cross. That is all. Interest in the French Academics has boomed and artists like Bouguereau and many others (Gerome, Waterhouse, Tadema, just to name a few) are rising to their deserved status. In his day, Bouguereau was considered one of, if not the greatest painter of all time. That's a hefty title for someone whose art is considered low.

Bouguereau Palette (courtesy of, “Bouguereau at Work” by Mark Walker¬

According to Moreau-Vauthier, a student of Bouguereau, his preferred working palette consisted of the following:
Naples Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Chrome Yellow
Cobalt Blue
White Lead
Light Vermillion
Chinese Vermillion
Mars Brown
Van Dyck Brown
Burnt Sienna
Ivory Black
Genuine Rose Madder

He also had a large collection of other colors that he would use sparingly if a passage of a piece required it:
Minium, Vermillion, Brown Madder, Cassius Red, Iodine Scarlet, Purple Red, Madder Lake, Mineral Yellow, Charred Massicot, Orange Minium, Chrome, Orpiment, Indian Yellow, Prussian Blue, Mineral Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Smalt, Ash Blue, Indigo, Violet, Verdigris, Scheele Green, Mountain Green, Chrome Blue, Terre Verte, Sap Green, Cassel Earth, Cologne Earth, Prussian Brown, Asphaltum, Mummy, Yellow Lake, Cadmiums
Azure, or smalt

Needless to say, he was not at a loss of colors at any given moment. Bouguereau, more than any other of the classical painters, influenced my work in art school. It resonated with me profoundly and I will defend his work till the day I drop. His mastery of the human form, single and multi-figure compositions, narrative, and emotion are unparalleled in his time. It was his flesh tones, however, that really drew me in. I dabbled with a lot of his colors and for a long time my palette was very similar to his own. But as with all artistic endeavors, I changed gears and began looking towards other 19th century painters in the vein of Sargent and Fechin.

From them I didn't really care about their palettes but took more from their stylistic handling of paint. I went further back, to a 17th century Dutch man named Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. What a guy! My fascination with Rembrandt started in high school. Inexplicably I was drawn to his work, even though it wasn't realistic in the sense that I liked it. It wasn't till I began developing my style that his work began infiltrating my conscience again.

Rembrandt is considered by most, regardless of tastes, to be one of the greats. Not just a master, but an innovator, a genius if you will. Some even call him THE greatest artist of all time. His life is heavily romanticized to the point of being mythical. In another post I'll discuss him a bit more in depth but for now I'll just go into his palette.

As mentioned in the first post, the idea of artists using a minimal number of colors to paint really changed my perspective on things. Ironic because there are 29 colors on my palette, hehe. But using less colors produces cleaner paintings. Rembrandt was the master of that concept. His palette is as follows (it varies from source to source):
Lead White
Yellow Ochre
Red Ochre
Bone Black
Red Lake
Terre Verte
Lead-tin yellow

A very simple palette. But given that in that time period artist's (or their apprentices) would grind their own pigments, all of those colors were never on the palette at the same time. We take for granted the modern tube of paint, allowing us to quickly squeeze out fresh paint and have a full palette of colors at our disposal to play with. Rembrandt, like many artists of his day, would grind just the colors he needed for that day's work. It saved money and paint, since a full palette of colors would have to be discarded at the end of the day. And there were formulas to paint specific things like gold, horses, and flesh. If he were going to spend the day painting a horse, he would only grind the necessary pigments (lead white, black, and yellow ochre to be exact). He kept his mixtures to a minimum, usually using only 3 or 4 colors tops in any given mixture. Only in the flesh do we see (in cross section x-rays at least)that there are up to six pigments mixed.

Now, what does this all mean? My palette is not dominated by earth tones at all, so color-wise Rembrandt's palette didn't really influence me. But ever since I started griding my own binding medium (sun-thickened linseed oil + calcium carbonate) I have been conscious of not laying out my full palette if I don't need it. Since I use way more colors than Rembrandt did, even in my smaller palette, money vanishes quickly when I have to buy new tubes of paint. And while it isn't unique to Rembrandt to mix only what he needed, it was in studying Rembrandt that I really appreciated the practice of pigment frugality. It also lessens the amount of muddiness of colors. Too many colors all over a painting actually makes it less appealing.

So now I mix only the colors I need for the task that needs to be accomplished. It was a difficult habit to break since for years I was taught to have the full color range on my palette, but it has saved me a lot of money and has made my color mixing that much better. When I paint alla prima I lay out a full palette since the nature of alla prima allows for wonderful happy accidents with color, which I then store in my technical memory bank to use in my studio work.

Tomorrow I'll talk about Richard Schmid and Donato Giancola, two contemporary artists whose palettes have influenced me greatly.

All images were taken from, an amazing website dedicated to raising awareness of classical art and putting it in it's rightful place.

Ernst Va De Wetering's amazing book Rembrandt: The Painter at Work has provided me with a wealth of knowledge into the world of not only Rembrandt himself, but Dutch painting in the 1600s.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Palette: Part 2

So to finish off what I started yesterday leading up to my palette, I'll list off the colors in the in which they appear. Here's the image again as a reference:

I'll list them and explain certain groupings as I go. Initially my palette was just all the colors on the outer edges starting with white + yellow ocher (a color that no longer appears on my palette). The reason for the ridiculous amount of pigments you see piled on here is because once at Dorian's house for life drawing, Chris Pugliese made a guest appearance and he brought along his palette. That guy has a lot of paint on his palette, probably double what I have. So I went ahead and busted out paint tubes I hadn't used in years, and in some cases that I never even opened. In my ignorance, I would buy tubes of colors that appeared pretty in my eyes. "Oh look! Egyptian Violet, what a lovely color. I'm sure I'll use it!" sucker cost a lot of money. Never used it. While using this mini-beast of a pigment confetti fiesta I learned, or rather I RE-learned, why it is using less colors is somewhat better. For me at least. With so many colors to choose from, the amount of mud I create is staggering. Mud is good, yes, but maintaining a proper color harmony gets tricky when there's more than four or five pigments in any given color mixture. So now it has pretty much served as a major experiment in determining which colors I use the most and which ones I can remove.

So that I don't repeat myself in every color, I strive for the highest lightfastness level in my colors. Lightfastness is a color's endurance to light exposure as well as its inherent fading properties. Certain pigments fade after several years with or without any exposure to light. Those colors do not appear on my palette if I can help it.

1 and 2: Blue Black and Mars Black. Yes, I added black to my palette because sometimes I need a really dark value and mixing it myself doesn't always cut it. As is the case with the majority of my colors, they are a cool and warm of the color. Blue Black as replaced Ivory Black because it is more permanent and won't crack as much with age. Mars Black is the warmer black, and a really lovely color to use actually. Winsor & Newton and Williamsburg brand, respectively.

3: Titanium White (right now experimenting with Permalba white), and sometimes mixed with genuine Old Holland Flake White and made brighter by grinding Titanium White pigment into the mix. I do the latter when I want a super opaque, blindingly bright white. White is probably the most important color on any realist palette.

4 and 5: Burnt Sienna and Transparent Red Oxide. I reintroduced burnt sienna because its just an awesome warm color. I don't use it as often as the red oxide, so I prepare a smaller pile of it. The red oxide is more transparent than the sienna, so it's great for making luminous glazes. I haven't quite settled on a brand for burnt sienna, but Rembrandt for the red oxide.

6: Cadmium Red or Vermillion, depending on what I need. Both are permanent, but cad red has much more covering power. Vermillion is slightly warmer and perfect when you want subtle temperature shifts. Holbein for vermillion, not settled on cad red but using Winsor & Newton at the moment.

7 and 8: Quinacridone Red and Permanent Rose. These two reds are very transparent and more importantly completely permanent. I started using these two after reading James Gurney's post on pure Alizarin Crimson's instability I may give the color itself another try in its permanent or hue form, but for now these two make me happy. Quinacridone red, when mixed with certain greens, makes luscious browns and amazing flesh tones. Haven't settled on any brand.

9 and 10: Cad Yellow Light and Lemon Yellow. Slowly finding little use for the first color, but lemon yellow is wonderful! Holbein.

11 and 12: Cinnabar Green Light and Viridian. The first is a opaque, warm green that makes beautiful browns when mixed with transparent reds. Viridian is a gorgeous cool green that lends to some beautiful mixtures when used. It doesn't overpower the other pigments, but it has presence. Holbein and Rembrandt, respectively

13 and 14: Cobalt Blue and Manganese Pthalo Blue. I used to hate Cobalt, now I can't live without it. All purpose blue pretty much. Makes great flesh tones, blacks, browns, you name it! Manganese pthalo blue is a ridiculously transparent color. Since it is a pthalocyanine pigment it tends towards the greenish side. Low tinting strength, but easily shifts to warm or cool. Holbein and Rembrandt

15: Magenta. This is regular magenta, so it isn't permanent but it will soon be replaced by permanent magenta or perhaps quinacridone magenta. Its a beautiful warm color, great for flesh tones. Also a very transparent color so it makes great glazes. No brand preference.

So that's my original palette. Now all the add ons...

16: Brilliant Pink. I think I saw it on Chris Pugliese's palette, or at least some similar color. I hate it. Not gonna use it anymore. No tinting strength even though it is semi-opaque. Even though it is bright and festive, it muddies my mixtures.

17: Golden Ocher: Haven't really given this color a fair run yet.

18: Cadmium Yellow: Possible replacement for Cad Yellow Light. It's warmer and I've found myself dipping the brush in there a whole lot more. No brand yet.

19: Yellow Ochre Light: new permanent addition to my palette, replacing traditional yellow ochre. It is lighter in tone, which I personally like a lot more. Mixes easily, permanent, and great covering power. Rembrandt.

20: Naples Yellow or Jaune Brilliant, or occasionally a mix of both: I have a lot of naples yellow leftover from art school, so I thought I'd give it another chance. Still don't like it.

21: Greenish Yellow: This little gem... oh man how I love it. Beautiful transparent green, when mixed with quinacridone red makes a heavenly golden brown glaze. Nuff said! However, I don't know if it is permanent since Holbein colors are hard to read since they're in a different language and there's no visible markings for lightfastness. Cinnabar Green Pigment is it's permanent (in the color sense) replacement until I find out.

22: Turquoise: Gorgeous color, but not very useful in regular painting. Nice accent color though. Holbein

23: Pthalo Turquoise: Same as above. Rembrandt

24: Pthalo Blue: The mother of all tinting colors. This mofo will get into every other color even if you don't put any on your palette. But my Lord it is a beautiful color. Warmish blue, superior tinting strength, beautifully transparent, and photographs like a champ according to Donato. I don't use it often, but it does make occasional appearances when I need a blue that wants to be noticed. Williamsburg

25: Ultramarine: It was on my palette in place of cobalt for a while and has found its way back. I love this blue. Transparent, warm but can be cooled easily (temperature is really all relative anyway), makes beautiful darks and great glazes. Williamsburg and Rembrandt

26: Egyptian Violet: I have absolutely no use for this color as of now, but its a Williamsburg color.

A and B: MUD! At the end of every painting session, I scrape up and mix all the mixtures I used. It it is dark, I put it in the A area, if its lighter it goes in B. This mud gets used constantly to alter and knock down the chroma of a certain mixture. Or I can use as is in many cases. I don't like wasting paint.

C: Transparent Red Oxide + White. Its just a tint. I use it so often with white mixed that I figured why not save myself the time and just mix a pile of it to start with and run with it.

So that is my palette right now. I plan on downsizing it to a more manageable number of colors, but this'll do for the time being.

As far as brands are concerned I don't attach myself to one. Each brand has their own pros and cons. If I could afford Old Holland paints, I would buy them since they are ground in natural cold pressed linseed oil and not alkali refined oil, tothe best of my knowledge. But they are no where near my price range. Until then I PREFER transparent colors from Winsor & Newton and Rembrandt and opaques from Holbein. I also use Williamsburg which is a step down from Old Holland. They're not as expensive, and their colors don't always mix nicely, but they do have some gems like Ultramarine Blue and the Cadmiums.

Tomorrow I'll discuss the Old Master palettes that influenced me the most; Rembrandt and especially Bouguereau. Thursday will be devoted to the contemporary masters who really got me thinking about color in a different way. And Friday will be first friday self-portrait day :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Palette: Part 1

Hello all! It has been over two weeks since I last posted, but things have been pretty busy on my end. This week I'd like to delve into matters pertaining to the artist's palette. Every aspiring, and even professional artist is drawn to the color choices used by masters past and present. Our curiosity leads us to experiment with various pigments and over time this develops into a very personal, unique set of colors comprising that individual artist's palette. It becomes as personal as one's style. To start this whole shebang off, I'd like to give a little history of the evolution of my palette along with the trials and tribulations of my paintings that led to where I am today. If anything the examples I show of my old work will hopefully make you laugh, not because they are funny, but because they're quite horrendous :)

I've been painting in oils for about four years now, roughly since second semester of my junior year. For those who knew me then, you'll recall how miserably awful my work was. Maybe I was too slow in making the transition from strictly graphic design to traditional, or perhaps (and this is most likely the case) I really just had no freakin' clue how to use color. My fellow illustrator friends were already leaps and bounds ahead of me, completing projects with ease and creating magnificent pieces of art, all the while I struggled in every medium to catch up and at the very least have my assignments look presentable enough in their block-in stage to please my instructors. It was a pretty demoralizing affair, truth be told.

Fairy Tale in a different time period assignment. I did the Frog Prince influenced by Aztec civilization. You can tell right....

Final project for illustration painting class where we could do what we wanted, creating it for the market we wished to be a part of. In my case it was fantasy. This painting was a valuable lesson to not use Crystal Clear as an in between speed drying medium for oils. Ignorance is bliss, but that was just plain stupid!
A note on that grayish border: I currently use this painting to place smaller masonite boards on top of when I gray gesso them. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle everyone :)

Book cover assignment. "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman. I did absolutely no justice to his story whatsoever. Sorry Neil!

In all these you can see the state in which I brought my pieces for critique. In some cases I had more than a week to finish the paintings. Yup, not so much.

But for some inexplicable reason I persisted. Something about colors mixing, happy accidents occurring while I painted (none of which I could replicate at the time), warm and cool harmonies dancing on the surface tempting me ever so gently to carry on. "Go man! Go!" my paintings would egg me on in a very British, Eddie Izzard voice. Suffice it to say, I did not complete a single painting until my last semester in art school, right about when my brain said "Hey dickhead! You need to graduate so get your shit together pronto!"

So I took an oil painting technique class with the awesome Anthony Apesos, whose anatomy book I wrote a review of in a very early post here:
But anyway, I took his class and learned about the history of oil painting and all that jazz, as well as various techniques. I will go in depth with such information in a later post. For now I will only mention his introducing us to the palette of legendary Greek painter Apelles. You can google or wikipedia the artist, but long story short this was the beginning of my long and continuing research into artist palettes in the hopes of finding my own personal palette. Apelles, according to Tony and his sources, used a palette of four colors (very similar to the palette of Anders Zorn actually) consisting of, for our modern purposes: titanium white, lamp black, yellow ochre, and light red (pigment PR101 or 102 depending on manufacturer, also called Venetian Red). According to legend, Apelles was able to paint just about anything with those four pigments. So that was our first big assignment. And golly gee let me tell you, I learned more using just those four colors than being swamped with the full color palettes from previous classes. All the colors that you can mix are optical approximations of the intended color. Everything is relative. When you mix white and black, yes you get gray (Duh!). But when you place that gray next to a really warm mixture of yellow ochre, light red, and white it reads as a blueish tone.

Magic! Literally, in my eyes that was magic. I couldn't believe that such a simple arrangements of earthy pigments could lead to such brilliant results. And to think that a lot of the Old Masters used such limited palettes to create their masterpieces, that just flat out blew my mind! So here is my first big painting ever executed with the palette of Apelles. After the whole thing was pretty much worked out with that palette we were allowed to introduce accent colors (such as Sap Green and Cadmiums).

It's about 18" by 30" I believe. I show this here for the first and final time. It will be painted over with something better, I hope at least.

So I graduated art school, got my BFA in illustration, did a few jobs here and there, got a job, all that stuff. But my urge to know more about colors continued to boil within me. My very first palette was the one suggested to us by teachers. It included Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Orange, Cad Yellow Light, Yellow OChre, Permanent Green Light, Sap Green, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxyzine Purple, Burnt and Raw Umber, Burnt and Raw Sienna, Ivory Black,and Titanium White. A strong palette, but it didn't resonate with me. It was a helluva great starting point though. I began to pay closer attention to the artists I admired, namely Bouguereau and Donato Giancola. The French Academic maestro of sheer awesomeness and the fantastical, narrative driven contemporary master of pure amazingness! Just look them up and you'll see why they require their titles.

But as my tastes in art matured, I began looking further back. Rembrandt, Velasquez, and Rubens are my top three of all time. But there are others like Sargent and Sorolla, Repin and Fechin, Normal Rockwell and other great illustrators who I looked to. The modern masters of figurative arts like Richard Schmid, Dorian Vallejo, Jeremy Lipking, and Robert Liberace all came into my peripheral moreso than when I was a bumbling art student. Needless to say, I have spent a fortune on paints (five finger discount came in handy when I was a broke art student. Don't judge me, I'm not proud). After years of experimenting and dabbling with different colors I have recently come upon a palette that suits my needs as an artist. I present to you the most recent incarnation of my color palette:

Twenty-nine colors in all; 26 straight from the tube + 1 tint + 2 mud piles. In the second part of my palette posts I'll elaborate on why I use these colors, why there are so many, and who influenced me in my decisions. For now I leave you with these last two images done in gouache, when Tony DiTerlizzi was my idol (these two are epic failures as well)

Friday, November 12, 2010


Today's post will have a few images in lieu of my lack of posts throughout the week. First I'll show a drawing I did at Dorian's house a couple weeks ago. It was done with Pan Pastel and graphite on hot press watercolor paper, about 12" x 16."

Second, and most importantly, I finally finished a painting that I had started in August. You can see it in the early stages in a previous post along with a couple other pieces I'll be showing in this post. I'm really happy with how it came out and all thats left to do is frame that bad larry. I'm thinking of getting an oval matte for it too, it'll look nice.

Third is an experimental self-portrait I did a while back. I was playing a lot with thick applications of paint and how they mix on the surface. There's a lot of things I liked and learned that I apply to my work now. Conversely there are a lot of things I will never do again. The palette of colors is the actual palette I used. It has since grown significantly to about 30 some odd colors. Starting from the right: Titanium White, Yellow Ochre (has since replaced by Rembrandt yellow ochre light), Transparent Red Oxide, Cadmium Red, Quinacridone Red ( I replaced alizarin crimson with quinacridone after reading this, and several other, posts by James Gurney), Cadmium Orange, Winsor Yellow (Cadmium Yellow Light is a good equivalent), Lemon Yellow, Greenish Yellow (a color I picked up after reading about Dan Dos Santos's favorite colors. Love/hate relationship with this one), Viridian, Cobalt Blue, Manganese Pthalo Blue, and Magenta.

Finally I have a self-portrait started over the summer. I had begun the painting using the CSO painting medium I discussed in a previous post (the skull 3 hour study) but at the time I didn't really know how to use it. Because I wanted to execute the painting entirely with the CSO mixed paints, I set it aside until I could grasp how to use it successfully. It was a trip to my friend Dorian Vallejo's house one evening to show him some of my paintings that got me excited to jump back into this one. He loved it, and I was more confident about the CSO. And thus, I put it on my easel again and began working. Anatomy was completely off from my initial work on it, so I began fixing it and I'm still working to make it look believable. This is what I have so far and I'm incredibly happy with it. Enjoy!

My plan (wishful thinking) is to finish the cigar self-portrait as well as a commissioned portrait that I'll show when completed, all by November 15. I can definitely put a major dent in my work this weekend since I took today off and have the whole weekend to just paint. After all the work is done, I'll have about 10 pieces for my portfolio for grad school and it will free up about 2 months to work on a couple more ambitious paintings that'll really raise the bar for me as a painter. I'll post sketches for one of them next week. Any and all feedback is welcome. Have a great weekend everyone

Friday, November 5, 2010

First Friday Self-Portraits

So I decided that every first friday of every month, I'm going to post a self-portrait. It may be in the form of a fully realized painting, a one day oil painting, a quick sketch, drawing, whatever. So to kick start this whole thing, I painted myself yesterday over a previous failed self-portrait. I blocked it in quickly the night before after finishing up the day's work on a portrait commission and then worked on it yesterday. All told, it took about 7 hours give or take. Its oil on canvas mounted on masonite. Looking at it now there's a few areas that could have been approached better, so I may go back into it once its dry later on in the day and touch up some areas. This was officially the first time I used my new palette of colors, inspired by Chris Pugliese's beast of a palette after watching him paint at Dorian's. I don't know which colors he uses exactly, I failed to ask. But Brilliant Pink, Turquoise Blue, and Cinnabar Green are my new best friends. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pan Pastel experiment 2

Sorry for the delayed post. I'm behind two, hehe. This is my second stab at Pan Pastels. Love this stuff! Model is Marisa who I have used before and is probably the most recognizable face in my work. Good friend, great model! Enjoy!

Here I lightly mark in her gesture and proportions

Blocking in larger masses

Continuing to refine, did her face in pretty much one shot no looking back

Close up of her face

Almost done

Not the best picture, but this is the finished result. I left it in my studio for a few days without looking at it saying I'd come back to it. When I did go back to it, I realized there wasn't much I should do, so I'm calling it done. Very happy with the results.

For your viewing pleasure, a bonus image of Marisa. This is a small 5x7 inch study I did as part of a class I'm taking at work. THe instructor is Robert Kogge and he developed a fascinating technique using colored pencil on raw canvas. Here's my first attempt at it, only I went ahead and added oils. The softness of the colored pencil on canvas is completely lost when I applied the matte medium to seal the surface. But I tell you what... it makes for one helluva great underpainting. I was able to bring all the color back and some in no more than 45 minutes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Representational Painting class

To keep with my proposed plan of updating the blog three times a week, here is my Wednesday post. Alex Piccirillo is an art instructor at the Yard School of Art where I work (part of the museum) and has been there since before the museum took it over. He is also a celebrated Master Pastelist and all around amazing individual. You can see some of his work here:

He's a self-proclaimed student of the Ashcan School, specializing in images of normal, everyday people doing what they do. Having been a trained boxer in his youth, he is also an authority on boxing history and creates powerful images using the subject matter.

Thats the man himself. I mention him because the class I teach was started by and taught by Alex for many years. Throughout the year he's had a series of surgeries to heal an open wound left over from an earlier procedure to remove ankle hardware. Him and I being good friends, he made sure I took over his spot. So without any more yapping, here are some images from last week's class. It was the last night with our lovely model Melinda. Hope you enjoy.

These were some shots of them working in progress. They're a very strong group, many have years of painting experience under their belt while a couple are young aspiring artists. Some take the class because they like making art for fun (don't we all) and it is their hobby, others want to further their skills and pursue it professionally. To those who have never painted or have very minimal painting experience I suggest using the Zorn palette. While it takes a thorough knowledge of color theory and painting in general to master using just the four colors, it eliminates the clutter of having too many colors to choose from forcing them to make calculated decisions about value and tones. Fellow artist and friend Aaron Miller has started a great blog where he posts information on the individual palettes of artists, living and long gone. Here is a link to his post on Zorn, which in turn has more links to info on the artist:

And here are their finished images. Colleen did a painting but was away having fun at the Rose Frantzen workshop the previous week, so for her last day with this pose she decided to start a very nicely executed charcoal drawing. Ronnie, always pushing herself, finished her oil portrait and then did a smaller study (which we both decided in the end had more life and character). Unfortunately a few of the students were not available on that day to photograph their finished pieces.