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.