Friday, April 4, 2014

Pre-mixing oil paints before painting session

For the last few years, I've been pre-mixing my paints when I am about to work on a portrait or other complex painting. I find it saves me time in the long run, and even though I may not use all the colors during the painting session, I was wasting a lot more paint mixing up large quantities of mystery colors before I started this practice.

And let me give credit to artist Daniel Greene for starting me on this path. He teaches this approach in his workshops, and it has made my whole process more efficient. The paint colors I use are based largely on his recommendations, with alterations depending on what I am painting.


(Click image for a larger view)

The palette consists of:

White (usually Flake White)
Ivory Black
Blue (Prussian, Ultramarine or Cobalt)
Raw Sienna
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Cadmium Red Light
Venetian Red
Alizarin Crimson
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Sap Green

And from this I mix:

Cadmium Red Light + Raw Sienna, + white to make a series of tints
Venetian Red + white
Yellow Ochre + white
Yellow Ochre + Burnt Sienna + white
Burnt Sienna + White

Then two greys, made from:

Raw Umber + white
Black + Raw Sienna + white

Two browns, made from:

Alizarin Crimson + Sap Green, + Cadmium Yellow
Sap Green + Alizarin Crimson, + cadmium Yellow

And some cool neutrals:

Raw Umber + Yellow Ochre, with varying amounts of Burnt Sienna added.

This takes me about 20 minutes to mix these, a good warm up while I drink my coffee and decide what to paint first!


(Click image for a larger view)

This is how I mix the paint, adding a bit of white to some of the previous tint for that color combination until I have 4-6 tints in a row.

I will put the whole palette in the freezer overnight and that way get a few days out of the paint before having to put out more. These shades cover a variety of skin tones, and get my portraits going quickly in the right direction.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Elizabeth's essential painting supplies

The studio where I usually paint is not insulated, so in the depths of winter -- and it was a cold one this year -- I moved into a very small but sunny room with one of my easels, and set up a card table with the essentials. 

The room is south-facing, which causes havoc with glare off the canvas and I am forever moving my easel to keep the light neutral, but it’s quite warm and inviting! I’ll take that any winters day.

I call these these items below 'essentials' although most are actually 'nice-to-have's. See my notes below for descriptions.


  • Pencil sharpener, eraser, pencils including white and black charcoal pencils in a jar behind the paper towels, tape, clamp (I often mount reference material on cardboard, then clamp it to the easel.)
  • Paper towels, the kind that tears off in small sheets.
  • A paint tube squeezer! This is a ‘must-have’ for the frugal artist.
  • My tube of white stays out on the table. If I am premixing skin tones, I'll need more white paint than is shown here.
  • The palette, ready to go! See my post about pre-mixing paint for more info about colors I use.
  • I sometimes use retouch varnish at the start of a painting session if my darks have ‘sunk in’.
  • An assortment of palette knives and scrapers, and a tool for getting the tops off the paint tubes!
  • Medium (2 part stand oil to 1 parts distilled turpentine), and odorless mineral spirits as a thinner, used sparingly. I also use OMS as a brush cleaner.
  • Brushes: this is a collection I’ve amassed over time, but I typically only use a few at each painting session. They are mostly cat’s tongue sable, natural bristle filberts, and natural bristle brights.

And just so you know, even when I am painting the table stays about like this, and as clean! I am just not one of those messy painters. If I do think I am going to splatter paint I put down newspapers and a drop cloth under the easel! One visitor told me that my studio was 'unnaturally tidy', which I take to be quite a compliment! But it's really not as pristine as that sounds, just uncluttered.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A small portrait can still convey a sense of place

I've been paintin' rather than postin', hence the sound of silence on the blog! Not at all what I recommend to my clients who are seeking social media advice, so I'd better step up my game!

However I've the best excuse, having been in the studio with 11 unfinished paintings ranging from page sized to wall sized. Here's one project recently completed, a 14" x 10" oil on canvas titled 'Lost in Thought'.


(click on painting for a larger view)

I experimented with some ways to differentiate between textures using a variety of brush types and sizes, as well as a palette knife, to apply the paint.

A small canvas can still provide a sense of locale, even with a central dominant figure, and I prefer some specifics in a figurative painting to give a scene additional interest.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oil sketch for Stina Sayre's portrait

Here's a recent work in progress, which will take me some time to complete. It's LARGE, 40" wide x 60" high, and the subject is the very talented clothing designer Stina Sayre, whose shop and studio is on Main St. in Vineyard Haven, on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Here's the first stage, the oil sketch.

When I was working on roughs for composition, I had no lack of concepts; Stina is a wonderful subject and model and I had almost too many ideas! In the end I decided to show her engrossed in her work, with the dressmaker's form and her hands at the painting's center.

You may have noticed that hands are an interest of mine -- I featured jewelry designer Sarah Young's in a similar manner. I like to highlight these incredible tools, all the fabulous things they can do and make. Artisans, craftspeople, musicians, designers, artists, carpenters, mechanics, farmers, working with their hands with extraordinary results. What a bonus feature opposable thumbs turned out to be!

But I digress! Back to the painting. I do a very rough pencil sketch, then a rough oil sketch that is a little raw sienna and black, then a tighter oil sketch that is a bit darker. Although I am trying to be accurate I am also drawing in lots of extra information such as lines where shadows will begin and end. Also the lines are thick, and not done as if this were a finished drawing. Paint will be covering up these lines and I won't be filling in spaces like a coloring book.


(Click on picture for a larger view)

In fact, edges will move back and forth as I paint neighboring shapes of color. This leads to a feeling of finding, losing, and finding again the likeness of an individual, the shape of a hand, the folds of fabric, etc., during the painting process. It all seems to work out in the end, however, thank goodness!

As color is added, areas will take on dimension and form. Some artists prefer to paint directly without drawing in paint first, but I've always liked the drawing process and working out the values in advance.

I haven't quite decided what to do with the reflection in the mirror. A regular reflection seems a bit ordinary, I'd like to actually change the image to show the completed draping or something, but I will need to work that out in sketch form first. Stay tuned!


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Step dancer portrait in the final phases

What a fun summer! I felt it come to an end just yesterday as the cool winds blew in and now I am once again be-sweatered and looking for my moccasins. So it's back to the studio with a vengeance.

Lots of paintings in the works right now -- I'll update the blog with a sampling over the next few days so that you can see what's going on. I've had some wonderful people visiting my studio recently, and I thank them all for their encouragement and support!

Here's our young dancer again, and this portrait in oil is at the 75% completion point. I've got this canvas back on the easel with the goal of completing it by week's end. This painting is 24"w x 36"h.


(Click on picture for a larger view)

I'll be building up the background elements to the same level as the subject, and then do a final pass over the entire painting. This part is the most fun, the icing on the cake!

Here's a link to the previous post showing this painting at a much earlier stage:

Portrait of an Irish Stepdancer

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Garden seed packet illustrations

A busy spring! Which is all good, and now I can finally start to post some of the projects I have been working on. Here's the most recent, a trio of seed packet illustrations painted digitally, using traditional methods (underpainting, grisaille, etc.)

Being a gardener myself, you can imagine that I really enjoyed this assignment! Click on any image to see a larger view.




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recommended: Early Advertising Art, Typographical Volume

This book gave birth to my love for ornate fonts, weird typography, and hand drawn lettering and by that I mean the old-school stuff! This collection was compiled by Charles Hornung and although it's called Advertising Art, it is about half type with the other pages being devoted to borders and ornaments.














Handbook of Early Advertising Art: Typographical Volume (Dover Pictorial Archive)

But it's not just pages of alphabets! The page layouts show the collected fonts in different sizes and weights and make for great reading -- the designer must have had fun putting this together. Here are a couple of examples (click on the images to see them at a legible size):


Fun to page through, and a great reference in general. I can imagine steampunk aficionadi would appreciate this volume. I also love some instructions in the middle of the book that give very specific instructions for copperplate handwriting -- beautiful!

(I do recommend getting a used, and therefore more affordable, copy.)