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…

color, creativity, painting

So…I did start painting, again.

It’s nothing much, and I don’t have photos to share at this time (nor am I rushing to photograph things this late at night); but I wanted to note that I actually have started watercolor painting, again. Yesterday, I broke back in with a number of semi-random color gradients and one of the Neptune round brushes I bought months and months ago, and didn’t prioritize time to try out.

The upshot is that the Neptune brushes are actually pretty sweet. Today I went and bought a number of specialty brushes from this line (bulk discount of over 50%) — by that I mean, not flats or rounds. It’s interesting to see how they perform. In particular, I’m interested in a 3/4″ wash brush which makes painting in watercolor almost feel like painting in acrylic, and a “dagger” brush which is cut at an angle, making it capable of tiny fine lines and broad swaths in the same stroke, while carrying and slowly releasing a heavy paint load.

My largest watercolor brush before having gotten the 3/4″ Neptune flat today, has been an ox-hair 1″ flat (I believe this was a Utrecht brush, from before the time at which Utrecht was acquired by Blick). The ox-hair holds a lot of water, so it’s great for wetting down sheets of paper; but it also holds way too much paint to be able to easily use for anything other than washes. It also…to the best of my memory, doesn’t have as much snap as any of my other brushes. It’s more like the soft, natural-hair rounds I used as a kid, that had no real point to their tips, and little recovery. (I believe these are called “camel-hair” brushes…but realistically, I have no idea what type of filament those were, other than natural hair: I could feel the one-directional nap of the hair’s scales.)

Of course, then, the most I was doing were little watercolors of fish with Prangs, and those little paint-by-number things that activate with water. :)

I actually had a conversation with M about her frustration that I haven’t gone as quickly back to painting as she would have hoped. It has been seven months since the work for my Master’s degree concluded. I find it not out of the realm of possibility that I’ve been slow to get back to this, in part, because I’m having to accelerate from zero.

I did not do any drawing or painting while I was working on my degree…and it’s tough to restart a creative practice, from nothing. It’s especially not reasonable to expect someone to return to the level they were at before they were forced away from their work, immediately upon concluding the thing that took up all their time (and which they are used to taking up all their time).

Anyhow…what I’ve been doing is largely trying to figure out how my brushes work, again, and how my paints work, again — and, you know, which paints I used where in my palette, as I stupidly did not make a palette sheet that was exactly correct and notated, during all the times at which I was painting out samples. So, for example, I had to color-match new swatches with Holbein Isoindolinone Yellow Deep, to know that it wasn’t Winsor Yellow Deep; or Winsor & Newton, “Indian Yellow;” or Daniel Smith Permanent Yellow Deep.

(I’ve gone to efforts to procure warm tones that are less toxic than cadmium pigments, so that’s why you’ll see me refer to various yellows and oranges, in particular, such as the Pyrrole colors and Hansa Yellows. I have not yet made my way into the duller colors such as the Perinones…I’m thinking it’s easy enough to dull down a color, though I’ve seen beautiful mixes made with colors like Perinone Violet and Transparent Red Oxide.)

I am also realizing the inefficacy of Sap Green as used unmixed, and the beautiful mix I was able to make with Prussian Blue (a muted greenish blue) plus Green Gold plus a bit of Viridian. It’s as close as I’ve been able to come to a deep, jewel-tone green…and I love it. It’s so weird, because Green Gold is a very distasteful color (to me) on its own, but it renders gorgeous greens when added on top of either another green, or blue; maybe with a yellow added in at the end (granted there are different yellows). This outcome is the reason why I’m willing to try (in the future) the Perinones, and other colors I wouldn’t use on their own.

It’s also kind of funny how Cobalt Turquoise Light (the color of a tropical lagoon) makes a violet, together with Magenta. I’ve looked at other people’s mixing charts, but I don’t think I’ll be making one, as each mix really…is variable, depending on the ratios of two pigments to each other, and it only gets more complicated when you start mixing three or more colors. I can’t seriously suggest (even to myself) that one color is the final outcome of a mixture of any two paints.

Of course, though, unless I had practiced just straight color mixing (in a watercolor class, at the time), I wouldn’t have known that Phthalo Green with Permanent Rose made such a stunning array of colors!

And yes, I do feel silly for having so many different pigments when I could do with just three primaries; but I’m seriously really into color, and I find it one of the most interesting aspects of image-making. M kind of doesn’t understand this…I have a habit of collecting different colors in pretty much every art and craft medium I’ve used, with the exception of ceramics. I know it’s annoying.

It’s late for me here; I should really get some rest. I didn’t intend to sit here writing, all night…I just got into the color topic. :) I can kind of go on and on about color…so I’ll stop myself here.

I just want to add, as possible fodder for a future post, the way that painting can grow organically out of drawing…I know what I mean by that, and have some clue as to how it happened, for me. It’s tough to start back into painting, having been out of practice at even (!) drawing, for months or years…

calligraphy, drawing, sequential art

crochet and playing with brushes

So I suppose it’s the time of year when I start thinking about what I’ll make or buy for people for Christmas.

I wanted to note that the crochet scarf pattern that I’ve named “dark waves” over on another website, could be good for someone’s Christmas present.  I don’t know if I would actually be able to finish it before Christmas, though — at least, working with a fine gauge, I’m unsure.  Basically I was thinking that I’d be able to work on this and it didn’t matter if I liked dark purple anymore or not, because it would be going to someone else.  ;)

Anyhow.  Also to update on the playing around with watercolors, ink and brushes:

I’ve “recently” (as in within the past two or three months…I think) obtained a set of watercolor brushes that I’m really happy with.  I’m using the Winsor & Newton Cotman brushes, primarily.  These have been mixed with some other brands; though I can’t recall the specific brands offhand, besides Princeton Art & Brush…which works differently because the bristles are of a different degree of stiffness than the Cotmans.

I basically have a bunch of small round brushes and a small flat…the Cotmans I like, because they come to a reasonably fine point, at least in my judgment, and the larger sizes have bristles long enough to contain a good ink load.  (Only complaint I have is that the bristles on my smallest — an older brush — have splayed a little, causing random additional lines; and the bristles aren’t very long.)

Last time I was experimenting with them, I was using a jar which contained some Yasutomo Sumi ink (I know, pre-ground ink is not the best way to go about things, but it’s available).  The jar…last time I used it, it had a skin of dried ink that fell into the bottom that I had to pull out so it wouldn’t gunk up my brush.  I need to remember to clean the jar out.

I have a couple of pads of Bristol now to work with — I’m using the 300 series until I want to do something serious, then I can use the 400.

I’ve eased off of attempting the Japanese calligraphy, once I saw that I had a difficult enough time writing basic phonemes in ballpoint so that they look right…

…yeeeah.  The Japanese study hasn’t been coming along well, because I keep forgetting about it.  Reading books on Japanese calligraphy and Chinese brush painting, however, has been good to show different ways to *hold* and *use* a brush.  The grip one uses on a brush drastically changes the quality of mark one can obtain from it.

But yes; I did find that the entire Oriental calligraphy thing would require a different set-up than I have; and in that field, I’m working uphill because of my limited knowledge of how to write in the language anyway.  But the information of learning different ways to *use* what you have (and as I’ve read, Chinese brush painting, at least, draws off of calligraphic strokes in order to create an image) — that’s actually really valuable, even if you’re illiterate in all Asian languages.  :)

As for what I’m doing artistically, otherwise: most recently I did a series of sketches while trying to get to sleep.  Don’t know if that counts.  ^_-  But I did find that the Staedtler fiber-tipped pen I was using (.3) can create a variety of line widths, depending just on how hard it’s pressed, and how slowly or quickly one moves it.  I should try that with the Microns and see how it works…

The art get-together I’ve been trying to plan with a friend just isn’t happening.  Not entirely sure why, other than that maybe they just aren’t into it anymore.  Or I intimidate them or something.  I don’t know.

As regards ink and quality of ink — I have now tried Higgins Eternal, and I prefer Higgins Calligraphy.  Eternal is not a very dark black, it’s more of a very dark bluish grey — which probably doesn’t matter if you’re making work for graphic reproduction, as the blacks can be digitally darkened.

The Higgins Calligraphy ink is the black that I personally prefer — in pens, the closest thing I can find to it happen to be the Pitt fiber-tipped and brush pens.  I haven’t tried Copic or many of the other fineliners, though, so that should be taken with a grain of salt.


errata re: Winsor colors

I really, genuinely need sleep right now, but I’ve been browsing looking at paint colors…and I need to say that my impression of the Winsor colors (Winsor Blue, etc.) was based on an old formulation and with aged paint.  I’ve taken a look at the current Winsor colors (noting there is now a “Green Shade” and “Red Shade” of Winsor Blue, for example), and they do look very nice.

I should be able to put together a basic pack of fresh paints for under $30…I’m guessing it would be best not to try and save too much money on paints and brushes, given that the result is drastically different depending on the quality of the materials.

And my Yasutomo brush does have a good amount of spring, which I found on testing it today.  I also found, though, that there is a very different method to working with the “Oriental” brushes that I was unaware of until today.  So it looks like I should aim for watercolor brushes in the near future.

drawing, fine arts, painting

Books, and finding more stashed paints

Last night I remembered the location of my stash of gouache which I used in my color class.  I went and dug it up, and along with the gouache I found a good little stash of more watercolors.  These are Utrecht brand.

I intended to try out the Utrecht stuff this morning, but personal story aside, I wasn’t able to.  What I do know is that I have some (more) Viridian and a supply of Cadmium Red and Yellow, plus Cobalt Blue.  Thing is that I don’t really want to touch either the cadmium formulations or the cobalt formulations — both of them are toxic and can be absorbed through the skin (as I said before, “Cadmium Yellow Hue“, for example, is not the same thing as “Cadmium Yellow”, and is less toxic).  I had enough of a concern when the water splashed me last time, and the paint was labeled “non-toxic”; I don’t need to be worrying about cadmium or cobalt poisoning.  Especially when I use my hands to clean out my brushes.

But from the base that I have now, I can look at filling out a range of colors.  The paints are, at the moment, somewhere away from the computer, and I’d rather not dirty my hands with them right now…I believe we have a Quinacridone Red (violet-leaning) and I think there was a Permanent Rose in there somewhere.  That gives me two cool tone reds.  The warm tone I’ll have to purchase, because I don’t want to use Cadmium Red.

I believe the pair of reds I was supposed to get for my class were Scarlet (orange overtone) and Crimson (violet overtone).  I’ll need to look at how Quinacridone Red and Perm. Rose compare to Crimson.

There was a Gamboge (yellow) lying around here, but the color is too muted for my purposes — it looks ocher-ish.  I think I’m looking for a Golden Yellow and a Lemon Yellow, in place of either the Gamboge or the Winsor Yellow.  Keeping in mind that the Reeves Lemon Yellow is accessible.

Then there are the blues — and I know for a fact that we have a usable Ultramarine…I’d still have to buy a Phthalo Blue.

So, in order of necessity:

  1. Phthalo Blue
  2. Scarlet
  3. Golden Yellow
  4. Lemon Yellow

So those are mostly warm-leaning tones.

And yes, I did intend to try out the other Reeves colors in addition to the Utrecht colors (which I was reminded of on recalling the Phthalo Blue).

I think that the only other colors I am on the fence about are Sap Green and the earth tones.  Or, tones to mix with other tones to dull them down in a reasonably-controlled manner.  I think Raw Umber was key in that (a mix of Raw Umber and Ultramarine?), though my memory on that point is foggy; I’d need to see the hue to know if that’s the right name.  Mostly I believe we were mixing complementary hues to make chromatic greys.

Today I’ve been reading through a book that someone bought for me called Watercolor 101.  It looks easy enough.  I think that the reason it’s been sitting unused on my shelf so long is that it looked easy enough to be boring.  But it allows the play that I’ve been doing with the watercolors anyway; it just gives more ideas and techniques that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred to me.  What it does say is that I need to find a high-quality cotton rag paper (which won’t fall apart when fully saturated) to play with…and I would not have guessed that I’d need a rag paper to play on.

At dinner I was also looking through a book I bought a year or two ago called Art of Drawing:  The Complete Course.  I think when I was reading this book before, I stopped a page or two before the end of the dry techniques section.  It reminded me of how much I like to play in soft pastels (which, I read, are used to introduce painting to art students).

The major reason I haven’t used soft pastels or chalk since my days in drawing classes is that they’re messy, and once the pigment is breathed in, it stays in one’s lungs instead of breaking down like charcoal (says my old drawing instructor).  So it’s really not a good thing to inhale the dust, and when you’re working, it’s best to tap the dust off of your drawing board and wet-mop the dust up after you’re done.  Of course, though, drawing class was full of people blowing the dust off of their drawing boards…particle masks help, in that situation.  Otherwise, it can get difficult and anxiety-inducing (if you’re like me) to breathe.

In the sense of Prismacolor NuPastels, as well (which may qualify more as “chalk” than “soft pastel”), they’re staining.  I can clearly remember blending colors with my fingers and my fingers being stained blue for a good while after that — no amount of scrubbing would get the blue out.  Everything else washed out.  Not that.  :)

Yes, it made me all proud to be wearing stained fingertips like I was a “real” artist (^_-), but it’s a little worrisome to me as well — because I assume that anything which stains me will be absorbed into me.  Though I do think that NuPastels are supposed to be non-toxic (or as the case may well be, “less toxic”).

Of course, that’s not necessarily the case for the higher grades of soft pastel or chalk.  I would be extremely wary, for example, of a malachite pigment in a soft pastel.  Not to say I don’t think it would be beautiful.  It would be very beautiful.  But that doesn’t mean I want to be rubbing it into my skin.  (Malachite is a soft, intensely green mineral which I’ve been told, contains asbestos fibers…)

I want to pick up a book on painting so that I can see the difference between the mindsets of painting and drawing.  Because pastels can be used to paint, and inks and watercolor can be used to draw (with brushes, even!).  So what then distinguishes painting from drawing, if not the medium?  Art of Drawing acknowledges that drawing is different from painting in a way that is not medium-dependent, but so far as I’ve read, they never go deeply enough into painting to really elucidate what the difference is between painting and drawing.  They simply define “drawing,” without defining “painting.”

So far as I can tell, the use of line (or markmaking), value gradations (as in wash or chiaroscuro), and monochrome distinguishes drawing.  I know now that I want to use color — it makes things come alive.  But you can draw with color as well, so again things become blurred.

I want to know whether I want to pursue painting or drawing, and it’s hard to know that when you don’t know the definition of one of the two categories.  I suppose it did take me a while, though, to learn just what made an image “graphic” (as in “graphic design”), and that just took a lot of exposure and absorption and experience…

The last part of this entry is just to note that I’ve realized the use of “springiness” in a given brush.  The Richeson synthetic flat brush that I mentioned yesterday has a good amount of spring to it.  The Chinese and Japanese brushes that I have used, which are natural-hair, not so much.  So it can be harder to get a good amount of line variation out of them.

I have a high-quality round synthetic brush here which is very springy.  Though I didn’t use it last time I was playing around with watercolors (it is one of those brushes which is so nice you don’t want to use it, for risk of messing it up), I’m sure that I’d be easily able to achieve a wide range of line variation with it.  It’s something to try next time.