art, art media, painting, self care

“Actually having painted”

Today, I did something personally significant. I worked on a painting. Even though I had intended it to just be tinted test paper, on top of which, I’d draw…it turned into way more than that. I’m not sure if it’s going to stay in one piece, either: I have a mind to cut it into strips and rearrange it in a staggered manner. I’ll try and photograph it before I do, though; it’s almost midnight, so my lighting leaves something to be desired, right now.

Judgments aside, this was the first time I had allowed myself to work with my paints again, in months (if not years). There are some things I did learn…one of which is that I actually do love color, and have more fun with color, even though it’s more risky than doing everything extremely muted. Another is to be careful when trying to mix green with an opaque-leaning dull yellow (Isoindolinone Deep? I hate having so many similar yellows) and Prussian Blue, which is a dull greenish blue. (HAHA mud, HAHA.)

I was trying to make a deep, rich green, but there was too much orange in the yellow and it turned more Olive. A little more Prussian Blue and I got a nice coniferous tone (basically Prussian Blue with a hint of yellow — there wasn’t enough orange to ruin it in that mixture), but it wasn’t quite what I was going for.

Okay, but seriously, it was a lot of fun. I did stay away from Aureolin because I still have some paranoia about pigment toxicity, and Aureolin can be absorbed through the skin (acute transdermal exposure can cause itching; as for what else it does, it doesn’t matter for me, because I can’t undo my exposure — all I can do is prevent more exposure). Aureolin is also apparently severely toxic when ingested, but I make sure I don’t have paint on my hands when I eat or floss or touch mucous membranes. Yes, that means to wash your hands before you use the toilet (as well as after).

I also learned quite a bit about hard and soft edges, and what happens when you drop a color into another, currently-wet color. And how hard brushstrokes can look out of place in a diffuse composition with a lot of wet-in-wet work.

For all of my session today, I was using natural-hair, Yasutomo sumi-e brushes. Only two; and the second one initially happened because I was trying to mix green without dirtying the blue, or washing all the yellow off of my main brush.

That…that says something good, that I didn’t need a lot of brushes. Sumi-e brushes can be used on the side as well as with the tip, and I did really like the dry-brush effects I got on the edges of areas of color. (These round brushes have a core of stiff hair and a ring of softer hair around the outside.) I like using these because they’re relatively absorbent — it’s easier for me to control the amount of paint dropped onto the paper (or to suck up extra paint, if I dry the bristles first).

I do have other brushes to experiment with, but with the exception of other sumi-e brushes (including a hake in two pieces), they’re all synthetic.

I’ve found the Princeton Neptune line to be particularly nice (and the one Neptune Flat I have to be…exemplary, at least in comparison to the old 1/2″ flat intended for acrylics which I had been using), but I haven’t really played around with any of the three major brands I’ve gotten long enough to definitively state qualities, here. (The other two are Robert Simmons’ Sapphire, and Princeton Heritage 4050R.) I also have a couple of Princeton Lauren 4350R brushes, and one Robert Simmons White Sable which is…incredibly soft. I used it for makeup before I used it for painting (but don’t use it for makeup after it’s been exposed to professional-quality paint — again, many pigments are toxic).

Right now, I’m not sure whether to geek out about paintbrushes. I should practice more, first, so I can know (and not just speculate on) what I’m talking about.

Mostly, I had been depending on my Winsor & Newton Cotman flats at the time of my last experimentation, but I don’t think I’d opt for them, if I had to buy new ones. I used them for the most part because it’s just been exploratory practice, they make crisp shapes, they do hold paint, I like the way the flats feel on the page, and they’re familiar and cheap and easily replaceable in case of a loose ferrule.

Loose ferrules, in turn…mean the brush was in the rinse water too long, or too deep (with the water level resting above the end of the ferrule), and the handle got wet and expanded. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the brush comes apart. (This could be an argument for acrylic handles, instead of wood.)

The drawback to Cotman brushes — particularly the flats, I’ve never been drawn to the rounds — is that they drop paint in a way that can be difficult to control (synthetics have this problem as a group, but some newer designs — like the Neptunes — are better at preventing this), and the ferrules loosen easily. Or maybe I’ve just been working them to death. In either case, it’s nice that they’re cheap and easily replaceable. It lowers the barrier of being afraid of destroying a really nice, expensive, brush.

So maybe these are great when you’re just starting out, and learning how long you can keep the brush in the water, and how high you can keep the water in your water cup. There’s generally a trade-off between having to change your rinse water frequently, and keeping your brushes safe. Unless, that is, you never let your brush sit in the water. No brush was left in standing water tonight, as I was only using two.

It also helps to have two rinse-water cups: one for the initial gross rinse of your paintbrush; the second to rinse out the (eventually contaminated) rinse water from the first cup!

Natural-hair sumi-e round and hake brushes — the ones you can get at Western art stores, at least, which are generally either Yasutomo brand or generic/store brands (Utrecht, Blick, etc.) — are also mostly inexpensive. I have seen some Chinese brands off and on in small art supply stores, but that was short-lived.

My Chinese ink-painting brush died sometime in 2016 or before (the bamboo housing cracked, so that the brush tip was held to the handle with glue and string). It was sad. But I used it.

Yeah, I guess I have been concerned about ruining nice things, haven’t I?

I did open a small hot-press Arches block, tonight. It’s the first time I can recall ever having painted on Arches (watercolorists know that this brand of paper is super-expensive, but also recommended, even [or especially] for novices), and…I’ve got to say, it was pretty nice. I was concerned about the pigment balling up on the surface of the paper, but that turned out not to be an issue (even though it looked like it would be — possibly because Ultramarine is a granulating pigment).

I have two other hot-press watercolor paper brands to try out; I believe they’re Fluid 100, and Fabriano. I started in on one of them tonight, but ended up pouring all my energy into the painting on the Arches, which quickly grew to the point that I realized I might have wanted to plan it out better (and not to have ever used black, even though I did so in the expectation of drawing with black and white pen, on top of it).

There’s also the possibility here of using gouache (opaque watercolor) instead of acrylic marker or gel pen. I’ve found I have enough gouache to last a while.

After having used Arches, I also have a little bit of an idea of what to expect…tomorrow, or as literalists would put it, later this morning…

And, note to self: don’t wear your computer (anti-blue-light) lenses when you’re painting; they change the color cast of everything you see…

art, comics, craft, creative writing, drawing, illustration, sequential art

Needing to focus…

“Focus,” that is, on which projects I want to work on, now. There is the issue of where to put my resources so as not to overwhelm myself. It wasn’t long ago that I was looking at embroidery (I still am)…and then at quilting and sewing. A helper at a quilt store nearby introduced me to English Paper Piecing (EPP), which I’ve been browsing about, tonight.

If I did work with EPP…I would either be using a trapezoidal (EDIT: wait, no, just quadrilateral) pattern I made up myself (though I’ve seen something like it [along with a bunch of other stuff] called “Whirligig” [“Whirlygig?”] online), or hexagons with trapezoid borders. The latter might be…well…more systematic and predictable. I know a place where I can get whole hexagonal pattern pieces and then cut them up to make a modularly-edited quilt. (Is that a term?)

The Whirligig pattern that I’m thinking of, by the way — if I’m remembering it correctly — is made of an origami-paper square which is folded so one corner meets the midpoint of the side it’s folding towards. Unfold it, then turn the paper 1/4 turn and fold the other three sides in the same manner, turning it in the same direction each time. When you unfold it, you’ll have a cross in the center of the paper marking the midlines (which you can ignore), and four other lines which — if you cut across all of them — will give you the pattern I have.

If you, instead, fold the paper so that the parallel lines touch (it helps to mark the midpoint on one side before going to fold the other), you’ll get a Whirligig without a center square. If you then arrange these symmetrically, you should get a repeating, borderless hourglass motif.

Right now when I look at my quilt square that I did — likely years ago (time flies when you’re not a kid anymore) — there’s a cross going by the interior borders, and a square in the center. So when these pieces are placed as I placed them, you get a lozenge border contrasting with an hourglass border — I think (depending on color placement and where you focus; it’s easier to visualize with the little colored paper pieces here) — which are filled in with solid blocks.

Of course…it’s easier to envision when you have the pattern pieces in front of you. I don’t have the original pattern next to me right now. I had to go and get a paper to fold so that I could report accurately what I did. Something in me remembers, but it’s not the part of me that is good at writing. :)

But I’m curious as to whether I should do this project, now, just because it’s mine. I do have plastic sheeting to make templates (from the paper prototypes). I got it for this. I just left off of the project, I think, because of the whole demand for precision (flatness requires precision) and the question as to why I was hand-quilting it instead of machine-quilting it. (There are lots of straight lines.) I’d either have to mark or eyeball a lot of pieces…whereas if I were machine-piecing this, I’d have a built-in guide in the plate below the needle.

The helper at the quilt store encouraged me to make a pillow cover as a starter project. I can, seriously, do a pillow cover. I can do lots of friggen’ pillow covers. In different colors, for different moods. :)

I guess I can also make pillows.

So, then, there is also the issue of embroidery. I picked up some more stuff for it, thinking that I’d use a new book I’ve bought (Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches), which…I haven’t used, so far. I’ve been flipping through it, a lot. But this…from what I can see, it’s a serious embroidery book. So when I’ve just relatively recently taught myself how to do Feather Stitch (which required deciphering what each pierce of the needle and wrap of thread would do), it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I was able to find some more beginner-level stuff at the Library, one of which includes a pattern for a needle case. Which…I could use.

So we have that.

Otherwise, what am I working on? There’s the ‘zine thing, and the development for it. I’m probably still waiting to get back around to scanning, optimizing, and uploading my images of those tests with the black drawing inks, and the Ecoline “watercolors”. However…what I’ve learned is that bottled dip-pen drawing inks labeled “India Ink” are more likely to be waterproof. Just as a blanket statement. I am not entirely sure why; I just observed it as a pattern.

I’ve also really got to see whether I can use a dip pen on Marker paper (I’m thinking more along terms of Bienfang Graphics 360 Marker or Borden & Riley Layout [which is translucent], as versus Aqua Bee or Deleter paper [which is opaque; and that is if the Bee paper I’m speaking of is even still made]), or if I’ll need to use fineliners for the lineart, and markers otherwise. This matters because if the paper can take liquid media and dip pen, I can use everything I’ve got: ink and brush, pens, watercolor, etc. If it can’t, I’m limited to markers and fineliners (the latter of which I would also, actually, consider a type of marker).

The alternative is to work the art out entirely on a wet media paper: something like a smooth Bristol, or hot-press Watercolor paper, being my first thoughts, though “Mixed Media” paper might also be okay. I need to test it out. I should also remember that as long as the drawing is to scale, I can always digitally shrink it to fit (though the lines will also shrink).

A night or two ago, as well, I made a prototype model of the book binding I might be using. It kind of matters to know this, so I can size the images correctly as I make them. Right now I’m aiming for a 5″x7″ booklet, which opens up to 9.5″x7″. Since I don’t yet know how to bookbind with an awl and needle yet, it may (unfortunately) end up being stapled. But that assumes that I won’t learn the skill. (I do think I have cork board around here…)

There’s also the possibility of not worrying about the image alignment and sewing the volumes the normal way (Coptic binding?), which might be easier. Because of this, I’m going to want to print across all 5″ of each page (to give me leeway if I change my methods). It’s just that no critical data can go in the inner 1/4″, next to the spine. And the page order will take some rearranging, if I go the Coptic route. I can’t remember how many pages a “magazine” (a internal section) in Coptic binding is supposed to hold, but I can look it up. (Ah: 8, 16, or 32 pages.)

And then we also have…that script I’m working on, which is somewhat fun, even if somewhat disturbing. When I get into a flow state, though, it’s really easy. Editing the script and composing the images, will be different.

I kind of think that’s enough on my plate, for now.

art media, organization, painting

Seeking myself out

Today was spent eliminating excess — and organizing remaining — art materials. I also finally made it into the office to view and organize the altar area; this led to looking over the bookshelves and attempting to see what parts of those shelves I used, and what I didn’t. Like, things I would read, as versus things that were taking up space. Did I know I had so many craft books? (No. No, I did not.)

I’m still not sure what to do about the books I’ve made extensive notes within. Do I just keep them for the rest of my life?

There are a lot of books I want to read, that I just haven’t. I haven’t had time to, or I haven’t included the memory of them in the floor plan in my head. :) I also have almost a full shelf of books for studying nihongo, to read.

My big fear is that I’m going to end up talking like Siri because of learning mostly from books. There is a pitch/intonation thing going on in Japanese language which it doesn’t seem people think is very relevant; basically you learn it by listening and mimicking. One of my undergrad textbooks tried to demarcate intonation with symbols…but that wasn’t easy to decipher.

My fear is that I’m going to have to travel to the City to take classes so that I can learn the correct way to speak. That’s at least 45 minutes away, several days a week. But, I should remember, there is also the option of a Japanese Cultural Center. No, I didn’t intend to rhyme.

I know I keep going back and forth between Japanese and Spanish. Basically, Spanish would be a lot easier for me because I took four years of it as a youth. It would also be more useful, where I currently live. But there are significant and personal cultural reasons for me to learn Japanese, despite functionality being much more distant than facility in Spanish. It’s kind of like questioning whether to do the easy and useful thing which I have personal (post-colonial) psychological barriers to; as versus the hard thing that connects me with a deeper understanding of my cultural heritage, which I’ve wanted to do since I was a child.

Today I was cleaning out my art stuff. We’re basically getting rid of what we no longer use. I’ve marked most of my pastels for the Center for Re-Use, though I kept some of the collection…the ones that didn’t seem too dried out, and which I knew were relatively safe. These are Conté, Carré, and Prismacolor NuPastels where it comes to the hard pastels; and Rembrandt soft pastels, plus a couple of open-stock Blick soft pastels.

When I say, “dried-out,” I mean that I’ve had a pastel stop being able to draw, incise the paper instead, and literally shatter like a plate on being dropped, before. It’s likely because the pastel I’m thinking of (a Rembrandt, which I consider a less-risky company, though some may differ; there are issues of potential contamination of carbon black, and the ever-present Titanium White scare) is kaolin-based; kaolin is a form of clay. It would explain why those pastels were so incredibly soft when I got them (touching them would make them draw on you), and why they eventually stopped working. I did find today, though, that if they’ve been stored inside a plastic bag, they’re less likely to die.

There are also some charcoals and General’s White Charcoal in my “Dusties” kit (they make dust), though I’m still paranoid about not knowing what “General’s White Charcoal” is made of. I don’t think it’s charcoal. So far as I know, it’s a trade secret. It doesn’t help the paranoia to know that Flake White (lead-based) is still in use as a pigment in oil painting. So far as I know, though, Flake White would be a warmer shade of white than is the White Charcoal.

I also let that Blue Pumpkin nib which I used to test black inks (and a white ink), the other day, soak in pen cleaning solution. I wasn’t prepared to see all the stuff that came off of it! (I put it in one of the little clear polystyrene vials I got for bead storage.) But I do know now that the white India Ink I have (Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay) is basically the most suitable thing in my present arsenal where it comes to white highlights or corrections over marker.

Beyond that, it’s the most useful thing I have to draw in white, with high detail, on a dark surface (I used Strathmore Artagain black paper). I just haven’t tried it on translucent marker paper yet. The paper or board used as a surface for those potential marker (or ink) drawings, will likely limit my options.

I also have Daler-Rowney Pro (Process) White, but that stuff is so thick (basically a paste) that it needs to be stirred and diluted before use. I’m thinking maybe that was intentional (as regards monetary value and compact packaging), but I wasn’t expecting it not to work out of the package with either a dip pen or a brush. Of course, maybe I should just treat it as a watercolor paint, scoop some out to work with, and then work water into it with a paintbrush. That seems to be the most logical next option, if I’m trying to test all my white inks and paints for opacity (other than known Zinc White, because I know Zinc isn’t opaque).

That, in turn, is happening because I’ve realized that white acrylic ink markers lack precision and opacity where it comes to being used as correcting pens. I still haven’t tried the needle-tip Posca that I’ve seen, but…well, markers. They aren’t as versatile as paints or inks used with brushes or dip nibs; at least, not without blending.

I’ve also found that a size 0 round paintbrush isn’t that small. At least, sometimes. But my 2/0 (two sizes below 0) is freakishly small. No, I don’t know if paintbrush sizes are standardized.

Anyhow…I’m still not certain what’s happening with the acrylic colors. I could paint in acrylic; it’s just that I’m not driven to do so, relatively. The fact also remains that I don’t have a wide variety of brushes to use with acrylics (a lot of long, narrow flats, some fans, and some filberts, plus the gesso brushes)…though I do like hog-bristle better than most of the synthetics I’ve used (some of which I outright hate — I mean, they squeak and chatter across the surface).

The problem in my case is that I don’t like using stiff (or blunt) brushes…and stiff brushes are needed to stand up to heavy-body paints. Most of our acrylics are heavy-body, whereas I’m known for using even heavy-body acrylics so that they appear to be transparent watercolors. I guess that should tell me something.

The question for me is whether or not getting a wider variety of brushes would help me transition back to canvas and acrylics. I’m leaning towards, “no.” At the same time, M and I have accumulated a lot of acrylic paint over the years. On top of that, I have no way of knowing which of those tubes are structurally sound, without trying to open them and potentially having a chemical spill on my hands — literally. (Liquitex tube paints, in particular, I know to have lids and necks that will sometimes fail. Like the cap unit will peel away from the rest of the tube. Then again, I have no idea how old those tubes were, individually.) That means that I have no idea how much usable paint I actually have.

If there were anything which could draw me back to painting in acrylics, it would probably be the chance to work with opaque colors, in large scale, and to work out an underdrawing and underpainting before ever beginning — and to edit, in-process. There’s also the chance to save a canvas by just gessoing over the whole thing if I don’t like what I have.

But I can work with opaque colors by using gouache; I can use large brushes (and large papers) in watercolor. The rest of it seems particular to working with canvas or panel, gesso, charcoal/pastel, easel, and acrylic glazing medium. I know the process.

I guess that — like learning Spanish language (I had a choice of Spanish or French; I would rather have had a choice between Japanese, Cantonese, or Mandarin, the latter two of which, I could actually use) — is another one of the things that I did because I had to, not because I particularly had a great desire to. It was a learning experience.

The thing that really bothered me when I was taking painting classes was the fact that the act of painting would basically grind down my hog-bristle brushes. I’m thinking this was from the marble dust in the gesso, or from painting on rough plywood panel. It’s something I haven’t experienced with any other type of paint — though granted, I’ve only worked with water-based paints, not oils.

I was told to save the good brushes for oils, because oils don’t do the same thing. The wear on the brushes could also have been from the fact that I was using student-grade gesso. I don’t think I’ve ever used professional-level gesso. I’ve seen it. I just don’t think I’ve ever bought any — with the possible exception of once purchasing Golden. Not sure.

The other thing about getting rid of a lot of this stuff…a lot of it is about prioritization and considering who I actually am, and what I actually want. Not in an abstract way, and maybe not even in a way that compromises anything to the vicissitudes of present reality…though I’m getting abstract.

What I mean is that I’m fairly certain I know what I want. I also know where wanting those things gets inconvenient. From age, I know that I’m unlikely to stop wanting what it is that I want, just because it’s inconvenient; rather, I’ll likely end up halfway chasing those inconvenient things for years on end (like buying book after book on learning Japanese, as a symbol to myself, and not reading them), while I waste time and energy and brain space paying lip service to what the world tells me I should want, instead.

So I should just do what I want, and be who I am. That’s the fastest route to attainment.

Right?

art, art media, color, illustration, painting

Watercolors and testing and pigments and inks

I’ve been doing experiments with watercolors…and, I think, I’m on the right track where it comes to what I want to be doing. I’m much happier with inks and wet media than with pencils (I still haven’t been brave enough to break back into the pastels, due to the dust factor). I’ve also been experimenting with inks and “transparent watercolors” (specifically the Ecoline brand, which I had been lusting after, probably for over a year).

The Ecoline stuff hasn’t been going wonderfully, but it’s good that I know that there are more suitable materials than this (for me) out there. I’ve been looking at transparent liquid watercolor (which I assume are aniline dyes) as a sort of middle ground between markers and painting. Right now, I think that’s pretty accurate, and is likely the reason why there are so many pre-mixed colors. I still haven’t extensively tested Dr. Ph. Martin’s Radiant Liquid Watercolor, or their Hydrus. At this point, I’m not entirely certain I will. These liquid things, I’ve read, tend to fade more easily than pigmented paints. Of course, that doesn’t matter if you’re working for reproduction.

If I do get back into comic, or, more pointedly: illustration work, the Ecoline is suited. It’s reliably transparent (at least, with the six colors I’ve been using), so any dark line work won’t become clouded by overpainting. (I also have tried Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Hi-Carb India Ink with this, which I can get into later. Long story short: it works better with Ecoline than Blick Black Cat, due to the fact that Black Cat repels water and the Ecoline.) However, when using the Ecoline colors like regular watercolors, they are incredibly thin. I believe this is due to the amount of water carried in my brush — I didn’t dry it after rinsing and before dipping it into the dye on my palette, so the color became diluted.

I would probably want to use one of those palettes with tons of tiny wells (I should photograph this if I still have mine; I’m not sure if my meaning is coming across) if I used this for illustration work, as well: the “liquid” part of this means that the dyes really…they really get messed up if one is dipping around and mixing colors, and rinsing the paintbrush and not drying it off afterward. Worse so, than regular tube or pan watercolors. There’s just no going back once you get cyan in your magenta. It just isn’t happening. :) Just kiss that magenta goodbye and say hello to violet. Seriously.

That may, in fact, be why the Ecoline watercolors are so varied as to the formulations in their bottles: they may be more of a pain to mix than bargained for. I am, however, now curious about their effect if used as drawing inks…I have a couple of old bamboo drawing pens which I can try. Of course, though…at least one is stained with sepia. I’d probably want to separate out what I dip that pen into.

So, right now, the back-to-school sales are in effect; I used the opportunity to purchase a high-end palette (which I’ve wanted since at least 2016) at something like 60% off, which…I mean, it’s nice, but do I need it in addition? I’ve been using a Mijello palette recently — it’s where all my dried paints are — and have found that the position of the paints may not matter as much as I thought it did (so long as I know what went, where). It’s also nice to have a well that is at least 3/4″ wide, as I can fit a wide wash brush in there. Comparatively, I’d have to get an empty full-size pan to do the same, and I’m not convinced the experience would be similar, due to the corners and depth of standard pans.

Have I just grown to appreciate the Mijello’s pan design over the organization of my colors? Possibly. It helps that I haven’t painted en plein air in a very, very long time. However: the design of the Mijello also keeps it from being convenient as a plein air palette, so it’s like a, “chicken or egg,” thing.

Of course, if I take out the Winsor & Newton (W&N) Burnt Umber rock which keeps knocking around in there and getting dried-up Burnt Umber pieces in my precious clean yellows…it is likely to be more appealing to use. W&N Burnt Umber separates from its well after it has dried and rattles around inside the closed palette, hence why I call it a “rock.” I hear that Viridian does the same thing (which is why I have four different versions), though I can’t remember if it has yet happened to me. It would have been in a very old palette, like my Mijello Silver Nano. I discovered that having wells on the roof of a palette which is bordering on non-stick (it’s anti-microbial, hence “Silver Nano”), doesn’t work that well.

Recently, I was able to obtain a Da Vinci Cobalt Blue which disperses much better (to my tastes) than the Winsor & Newton Cobalt Blue I had before, which had basically made me not want to use the pigment. Like at all. Or ever again.

The Da Vinci Cobalt Blue, though…when mixed with Ultramarine Violet or Ultramarine Pink, it makes really lovely soft violets (and I rarely use the word, “lovely”). These violets are much softer than Dioxazine Violet, which is so powerful that it can be difficult for me to use.

I’ve just now discovered the Da Vinci paints. I’ve actually…just recently realized that it isn’t to my benefit to have brand loyalty where it comes to any one tube watercolor manufacturer. Paints vary in quality, but they vary within paint brands — like M. Graham & Co. Ultramarine Pink vs M. Graham & Co. Viridian; not to mention between lines within brands — like W&N Cotman (student grade) vs. W&N Professional; as well as between paint brands, like Sennelier vs. Daniel Smith vs. Da Vinci.

So Da Vinci and Daniel Smith could both put out their own versions of Viridian and Prussian Blue, and one may judge the Daniel Smith Prussian Blue to be far superior to the Da Vinci (or indeed, any other Prussian Blue one has tried), while the Da Vinci Viridian is far superior to the Daniel Smith Viridian (or any other Viridian one has tried). I don’t know exactly why this happens; I just know that it does. But one of my artist friends did tell me a while back, that paint consistencies differed, depending on the pigments in them.

So…I am not certain there is any way to really tell what paints one likes, other than trying them out. I did go and buy like four different types of Prussian Blue and Viridian from different lines, so I indeed can (and likely should) show you my results. Viewing that may save the reader here money in the long run, though unfortunately, I didn’t check for blogger reviews of these paints, before going out to try them. So now I have like three extra tubes of each color, having picked out the paint that I love the most.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know how to record and upload video, so I can’t show you how the colors race away from the brush (wet-in-wet) with each of the colors I like. That doesn’t happen, with the others. It’s something I look for, which doesn’t happen predictably; and I’m not even certain yet if it happens repeatably, with the exact same pigment, manufacturer, and paint line.

I should send the other paints on for re-use. After I record my experiments, and make sure I have all my names in order. I’m sure that someone is going to appreciate the fact that they’ll be able to at least try out the paints for free. It’s not like they’re awful or unusable; they just aren’t things that I prefer. Having good paints just greatly enhances the experience of painting, for me.

I’m also getting more relaxed around the toxin factor of working with these paints. I just need to keep myself clean, and I’ll be OK. Today I went and replaced an Aureolin (Cobalt Yellow) despite the fact that I know it’s very toxic, because nothing else I’ve tried, mixes greens quite like it. Of course, I know there must be at least 9 or so different commonly used chemical formulations for yellows in watercolors. I assume they all have their own different mixing properties (and precautions…which is why I don’t use Nickel Azo Yellow — I’m already sensitized to Nickel).

There is also the fact that I’m using Chromium colors as well as other Cobalt salts, in other places in my palette. Both Chromium and Cobalt are heavy metals, and toxic. I have historically stayed away from the Cadmiums (generally red through yellow, though I’ve seen “Cadmium Green”), though at this point I might be getting a little less paranoid about them. Basically, any heavy metal salt I can absorb through my skin (that is, any water-soluble salt with a heavy metal component) is something I don’t want to deal with. Something I have to ingest to be poisoned by, though? I am a clean person to the point of dysfunction. And I have at least one nail brush. I’ll be fine.

I also spent years trying to find suitable replacements for the Cadmium family of pigments, which led me to the Pyrrole colors (these can be genuinely awesome, though inconsistently named [“Pyrrol Scarlet” and “Scarlet Pyrrol” are two different pigments — and two different hues — in two different brands]) and the Hansa colors (M. Graham’s Hansa Yellow is still one of my favorite paints). But I’ve spent, literally, years talking about Cadmium-based paints…right now, though, I feel like I should do more research before getting back into the whole paranoia thing I had before.

It’s kind of like, if you know what it does and how it gets into you, then just don’t do things that would let it get into you. This is why I have been wary of the pastels: it’s much harder to contain dust. I think it’s also why I’m getting better with the paints: at least with the paints, nothing gets airborne or ground into my skin. Also: paints are mixable. And the essence of paint, for me at least, is color. As someone who is enamored with color and has been frustrated with contact points which I can’t change, it seems to be a good medium.

I mentioned the Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Hi-Carb ink, earlier in this post. It’s…really, pretty great. Waterproof, doesn’t move under water or Ecoline. (I didn’t care enough to try Copics.) It also doesn’t repel Ecoline, which is what the Black Cat, did. I haven’t yet tried it with the tube watercolors, and I’m seriously not even sure that I should…but if the goal is to do my own thing with the art (and stop deprecating myself for not being like other artists), I might try it.

In the coming days, I’m hoping to get some of this stuff photographed or scanned so that you can see what I’m talking about; just words, can’t get everything across. In particular, I should show you those Viridian and Prussian Blue tests, though I’m going to do them over again. And no, it will not be on Arches paper. ;) Though I have some, now. I have some, and I have realized that it’s worth working with correctly, so I got some kraft tape and a soaking vat and some sponges and an impermeable board, to properly stretch the paper. Time to get serious.

Disclaimer: No one paid or otherwise compensated me to write this. I got nothing free. What you do with this information is your responsibility, and I gain nothing personally from it.

art, art media, drawing

Testing black drawing ink

I started writing this post on the 1st of January, but was too wiped out from the day to be able to do much more than type an apology for no pictures, and leave the draft until the next day. Well, it’s the 4th, now, about to be the 5th, in several hours. I still haven’t taken scans or photos, but if I wait until I do that, it may well be a week or so more until I get around to it.

I do have the energy to write, today; actually, I’ve just gotten through cleaning and vacuuming both my room and my bathroom (not yet including the shower). This has brought my attention (again) to the need to actually organize both my desk and nightstand, as I’ve just reorganized the vanity. The materials in my desk, that is, are likely over a decade old. The materials in my nightstand…a lot of that stuff can go somewhere else, because I’m not using it.

Anyhow — on the 1st, I reminded myself to check notes I had made prior, while meditating on wanting to do art, but not particularly being enamored with the graphite-pencil medium which I’ve overlearned. One of the most basic things I could have done (and did do) would be to singe a nib or more, and test out a number of black inks I have, for waterproofness and Copic-proofness. (Copics are a brand of marker used in illustration, particularly in comics…which mattered more before I abandoned the effort to make comics, and turned back more towards waterbased painting, in combination with ink work.)

Just to let you know, a lot of these inks I have are super-old, possibly from before the year 2000. The ink formulations have likely changed since that time. I’ve used them since then, but because of not entirely knowing what to do with the dip pen nibs (they have to have the anti-rust coating eaten or boiled or burned off of them somehow, or they do not hold ink [I learned this later — for some reason, Speedball seems to assume one knows this already]), my development has been stalled.

It would likely help if I got a non-food-safe pot to boil them within, en masse — like the non-food-safe butter knives for separating sheets of watercolor paper, or the non-food-safe spoon(s) for transferring block prints. I just haven’t really been committed enough to buy something like that.

To be short, three inks went immediately in the garbage because of failed performance (strong feathering, non-black color). These may have just been too old, but in any case, they were useless. These were Higgins Black Magic and regular Higgins Black. The third — I forget the brand (it may have been Pelikan) — I got from a relative. In any case, it wasn’t ink anymore, and it was so old that I believe I know what art store it came from (the price tag is distinctive). That art store is no longer in existence, and hasn’t been since the early 2000’s, if I’m recalling correctly.

For all of the tests, I was using a freshly-singed Blue Pumpkin nib, which is basically a flexible steel spoon-shaped nib which has been treated to turn blue. Of course, you also need a nib holder. I really have no recollection of the brand of the nib holder I used (it has a wooden handle and metal clutch); I just know it fits that nib, and it works.

There were three inks I tried which were not waterproof at all. These were Higgins Eternal, Higgins Calligraphy (“waterproof”), and Parker Super Quink. Of the three, the Parker dissolved most readily in water once dry. Interestingly enough, it was totally Copic-proof, and didn’t smudge under a Copic blending marker. I’m thinking that the solvent in Copics is majorly alcohol (which makes covalent bonds instead of ionic), but I haven’t checked the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to be sure. Higgins Eternal was the next most water-soluble, followed by Higgins Calligraphy (“waterproof”) ink. Higgins Eternal is Copic-proof. Higgins Calligraphy is not.

That being said, if I were going to have an ink which I wanted to smudge under water, or if I had an application where I wouldn’t be using either water or marker on top, the three inks actually flow well and have a nice consistency and depth. The Parker ink leans more blue when dissolved than the Eternal, which is more brownish. I wouldn’t really use the Higgins Calligraphy in an ink-and-wash application, though, as it dissolves so weakly that it looks more like a mistake.

This leaves three inks: Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink, Speedball Super Black India Ink (of which I have both ultra-old and newer-but-still-old formulations), and Blick Black Cat Waterproof India Ink. Of the three, I was surprised to find that the Black Cat was the clear winner in both waterproofness and Copic-proofness, refusing to budge under either, after drying for about eight minutes. There’s not much more I can say, than that. It was thinner than all of my other functioning inks — the ones I tested, that is — which I didn’t totally love, but I realize that my other inks may only be thicker because they’re older and have lost fluid to evaporation.

Ph. Martin’s Bombay also performed decently, but was fairly thick (almost the consistency of acrylic ink), and left my pen more prone to “railroading” (where the tines of the nib split and made two fine lines rather than one wide line). Granted, this could be due to my skill level with dip pens — possibly the angle at which I held the pen — as things stand, now.

Also, a note: because the Ph. Martin’s Bombay (distinct from their “Hydrus”, which looks similar) was in a dropper-style bottle, I had to drip the ink over the nib, as versus dipping it into the inkwell (which had a narrow mouth, to boot). I’m not certain, but I think the Bombay is meant more for brushwork than for dip pens; the bottle was certainly designed that way.

Both Speedball Super Black formulations had either fixed to noticeable dispersion under both water and Copic, in a manner that makes me think that maybe the ink just didn’t dry long enough, or I gouged out my Bristol board with my nib in a way that made the ink take longer to dry. I did one test on Fabriano Mixed Media paper; another on Strathmore 300-Series Smooth Bristol board. On the Fabriano, the new formulation smudged under water after 30 minutes of drying, while the old formulation was fixed under water, after 10 minutes. On the Bristol, the old formulation smudged under Copic (but not water) after 45 minutes, while the newer bottle was fine with both Copic and water, after 45 minutes.

The paper does make a difference. With a sharp-tipped tool like the Blue Pumpkin nib, outcomes are more predictable when drawing on Smooth-finish Bristol board, as versus the Vellum-finish Bristol board I also tried (this was a 400-Series), or the Fabriano Mixed Media paper. The latter two just have so much texture that the tip of the nib tends to get bumped around while you’re trying to make a line. There’s also the feeling, on more textured papers, that you’re making an incision into some soft, pillowy top. It’s not always pleasant.

I tried all three because I would try these for mixed-media projects which may include ink and watercolor. I do know, however, that gouache in particular has a hard time sticking to Bristol board (from one of my first Art classes) — I don’t remember right now which series that was (300-Series is cheaper than 400-Series), but I remember the paper feeling kind of smooth. I did just go and check, and it feels like it was probably a smooth finish (and cheap, for a Bristol board).

The hangup with using a smooth and absorbent board like that is that the gouache forms a skin on top of the board which can be accidentally lifted if too much water is applied later — which I experienced as a very entry-level painting student. I haven’t found a way to come back from that, yet. I also haven’t tried transparent watercolors on Bristol, mostly because it seems sacrilegious. I do have actual watercolor paper for those things, though I haven’t tried the Arches I’ve gotten — mostly due to fear of messing it up.

But it does seem counterproductive to buy good art supplies and then not use them because I’m scared I’ll make mistakes. Mistakes are the essence of learning — not to make mistakes is to avoid learning.

Getting back to that pencil vs. liquid media thing: I did find it kind of refreshing to be able to use pen and ink. There’s just something about the slipperiness of an HB pencil which is a real turn-off for me, these days. The scratchiness plus density plus liquid quality of a dip pen does remind me of the fountain pens I’ve been using for journaling; it’s just that I can use actual pigmented inks with dip pens. Fountain-pen inks are mostly dye-based, as pigments can clog up fountain pens very easily.

One of the exceptions to the rule is Platinum Carbon Black, which I haven’t tried — mostly because it’s a high-maintenance ink, requiring weekly cleanings to keep the pen in a functioning condition. I suppose I could put it in a Pilot Kakuno fountain pen and see where that leads, given that the Kakuno is notoriously inexpensive…and also that I do now have a bottle of Pen Flush. Then again, the Kakuno is one of those things where a person can experiment with things like nib tuning (my current Extra-Fine Kakuno scratches the paper much like a dip pen would, and it’s a little annoying), without losing too much on, “learning experiences.”

It’s also possible that the Kakuno only works with Pilot inks. I read the fine print in my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen instructions the other day and did find that clause in there. I’m like, seriously? Seriously, Pilot? But then, my first Metropolitan still writes like a dream. I just happened to get a really nice ink the first time; different inks from the same line, feel differently on the page depending on I-don’t-know-what. One Metropolitan filled with Chiku-Rin (a yellow-green), that is, behaves differently (it’s more annoyingly slippery [to me, that is]) than the same nib size of Metropolitan filled with Ku-Jaku (a dark green-blue).

I’m just starting to get to the point where I’m identifying inks I actually like, and would voluntarily continue to use, over the long term. I’m also beginning to branch out into brands other than Pilot, which enable me to use inks other than Pilot’s.

Then, there’s the issue of whether I dislike graphite now because I know what charcoal feels like, and can do…the only drawback to charcoal is having to spray one’s drawings with fixative. That is a drawback; I’m just not sure how much it matters, in the long run.