Decreasing the cost of one's painting surface allows for more experimentation. To make the surface less costly, you can purchase a large piece of hardboard or masonite at your local hardware or home improvement store ( a full size piece is 4 feet x 8 feet). Full size will require a truck to transport it home. You could have it delivered or most stores will at least cut the full size board down to size to fit in your car. Some stores will custom cut the pieces for you. In calculating the sizes of the painting boards, the loss of approximately 1/4 " for the saw blade needs to be considered for each cut.
Recently David Gray (link) and (teaching/information link) posted his method to prepare his hardboard panels on instagram. I added a PVA size (link) step to my preparation after reading this post. David Gray uses cradled baltic birch (from Trekell) as his support. Here is his prep from that post: "I forgot to mention that prior to step one I typically will "size" the panel with something. I usually use one coat of shellac but there are other fancier and maybe better products such as a PVA size. ------ My rather involved (sorta) process of how I prime my panels. This panel from Trekell is a beautiful 1.75" cradled Baltic Birch 12x12 inch. I first just brush on acrylic "gesso" with an ordinary house painters brush. Second, I spray a bit of water on the surface. Third, I brush it out smooth with a haki brush. The water helps to brush the primer out smooth and decreases raking marks from the brush. Let dry and lightly sand with 400 grit sand paper. I repeat these steps 3 or 4 times brushing in a different direction each time. The resulting surface does have some very subtle lines from the brush, but they are only noticeable in extreme raking light. I love this surface for my small works".
I use a soft, inexpensive brush to coat my boards with gesso and make sure that I wash the brush immediately in water to be able to use it again. I have tested several brands of gesso and am pretty convinced that I can't tell a great deal of difference in them. I am not great at sanding and I don't find it help me smooth my surface very much. Therefore, I have recently experimented with spreading the gesso on the board with a small bowl scraper (link). I am finding that to achieve a smooth surface, I need some practice with this tool. However, already it is superior to the brush marks I get with my inexpensive brush application. It is also way better for clean up.
Recently, I found Gamblin Ground (link). I will experiment with this and discuss it in a later post. It is beautifully smooth to touch. However, it takes a week to dry, unlike the 30 minutes or so for gesso.to be ready to use.
Despite the value of completing color charts, most of us don't make time to do these.
In our 30 minute exercise this week, we explored one series of colors that we each had. We chose two reds (as different from each other as possible: one that had more yellow or orange in it and one that appeared more purplish), two blues (one that was close to a turquoise (one student chose a greyed down ice blue instead) and one that was more purple) and two yellows (one that was more orange and one that was very lemony). We set up these primaries so that the red-orange was in line with the yellow-orange, the yellow-lemony was in line with the blue-turquoise, the blue-purple was in line with the red-purple.
We mixed each of the primaries first with themselves (eg. the two reds were mixed together) and placed the new color onto our practice piece. Then we mixed the “in order” (above) secondaries which would give the cleanest, most vibrant secondaries. We placed these on the outside of our color circle. Next, we mixed the alternative secondaries (eg. the red-purple was mixed with the yellow-lemony. This results in a greyed or neutralized orange.) (Why? Because we are adding a blue contained in the both the red primary and in the yellow primary to our new mixed orange (blue will grey down an orange).
In ” A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art” by Dan McCaw (link), Dan suggests that you let your colors modulate on your palette, just like this created color exercise to give all the “subtleties, varieties, intensities and grays. Then these colors are all ready to be added to your painting. Otherwise, you tend to change the color on the canvas and deaden your color”. Below is an image from his book illustrating this.
Here are some creative examples of framing of paintings on boards.
This is a traditional frame that laps over about 1/8-1/4” of the board.
Here, three small paintings are grouped and floated onto a black backing board. None of the painting edges are covered or lost in float framing.
In my blog, I have been writing out the exercises that I use with my students each week. I thought I would explain the “how” (and perhaps the “why”) of these exercises.
Children are fairly forgiving as learners. If something is a hot mess when a child is done, she remains content as long as the experience was fun. In contrast, the majority of both younger and older adults are driven to complete a finished piece, from the very start. The feeling of pressure to have something to “hang on the wall” is often palpable in the classroom atmosphere. The sense of personal failure when something doesn't work seems absolute. Occasionally. when a beginning class fails to produce an immediate success, one’s personal disappointment is so complete that an adult student quits (deciding that the teacher didn't meet their particular needs).
While I was “desperately” trying to learn to paint, I spent a fascinating day in a workshop lead by an artist employed by a gallery a couple of hours away. I was a last minute addition to the class (I filled a late cancellation). The format was that the gallery sent out a notice with a date for an upcoming workshop accompanied by a photograph of the painting that would be demonstrated and painted in that particular workshop. The class often filled quickly if the subject of the painting was appealing (good color, accessible subject). A gallery representative accompanied this artist teacher for the one day workshop and was “available to frame the completed paintings at the end of the workshop day for the added cost of the frame”.
How I remember that day.
Each student was supplied with a canvas, a refillable palette of colors, a cup containing solvent and a brush. This was an “arrive as you are, paint, and leave with a completed painting day”. I am very type A. In addition, for me, this was a “large cost” day. Therefore, I arrived very early (actually before the door was unlocked). (My other excuse for arriving way early is that I have a visual handicap, so I always want to get a place where I can see). When the teacher arrived, he invited me to join him as he set each prepped stretched canvas at each student’s place, put the completed painting up front so that it was visible to all, and set about putting out his paints and his unpainted canvas for the demo. I was surprised to see that every canvas had the exact same cow drawn on the canvas in the exact same location. The same cow was also ready on the teacher’s demo canvas. I asked him about the cow drawings. He explained that most adult learners that he taught using this format (he also taught in other surrounding towns) were uncomfortable with their drawing abilities. He had found that too much time was wasted as his students struggled with “worrying” about the drawing. Furthermore, he found when he helped individuals with their drawings that some students remained unhappy: comparing their drawn demo subject with his or another in the class: unhappy that their drawing wasn't exactly the same size: unhappy that theirs was placed differently etc. Therefore, he developed his template and predawn idea. Every subject for each painting was now marked precisely onto the same place on each canvas and traced by a template.
When class started, our teacher demonstrated the color mix that he would use for a particular passage, wait while we mixed it, place his color onto the appropriate spot on the painting and wait while we each did the same. He went canvas to canvas once or twice in the morning, corrected paintings that were way off the mark, and suggested improvements (without touching paintings) to students who were not is as much trouble. As the day ended, he visited each student’s canvas and corrected the cows that had stretched the templated legs into the shapes of giraffes or gazelles, or had trotted across the canvas (I couldn’t figure this out. Despite “color in the lines outlines”, it happened). He fixed the color mixes that turned a sunny day into foggy overcast skies. He talked through each correction as he painted it back into place on each canvas. At one student's place, this student insisted that their painting have “thick brush strokes” (“Impasto” he replied. “This is not a painting done with “impasto” brushwork” he explained. Until it was. She persisted. He finally took out a palette knife and repainted her entire painting, masterfully, with impasto palette knife work (this is how I learned that you can paint over a thin underpainting completely with thick paint). Meanwhile, the gallery lady was ringing up frames and clipping the paintings into place after the teacher had visited each painting.
This workshop day was not a complete “wine and design” day. I learned to mix colors. However, I mostly learned about the expectations of adult learners.
Later, in my learning quest, I attended a workshop lead by Dreama Tolle Perry. I discovered that she deals with “results-orientated” pressure by spending time doing some modified mindfulness exercises with her students. She asks her students to tap into painting as an experience, a process and a joy. She acknowledges and asks her students to quiet the critical voices in our adult learning minds. Her students appear to love this and find this resetting of expectations almost as important as the" learning to paint like Dreama" piece..
Me, I am a scientist. I want to know the “whys’ and the “hows” not just “recipes”. I believe that even while supporting someone scared to draw, there must be ways to make drawing accessible until that learning piece happens. While I can understand and identify with the desire to complete a finished piece, I am more excited to teach my students to see the world with new eyes. I want them to understand how the illusion of painting might work. I hope they learn how painting can become a complete obsession with endless questions. Lots (most) of my paintings are scraped, wiped,, overpainted or just thrown out. I also hope that my students learn to be able to toss out at least a few of their own. Was this an interesting blog topic or just too personal?
In our beginning paintings, we want to create depth and distance. We know that we need to modify large areas of color so that an entire area does not appear flattened (for example, the ocean color as it stretches into the distance). We learn quickly that adding white changes color intensity (dulls it) which makes , in this example, the blue "go back" but it also lightens (changes the value) of our color. Our exercise this week explores how to change the intensity of a color without a changing its value.
You might enjoy this beginning book on oil painting which was one of my references for this exercise: “The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists “ By Kathleen Lochen Staiger (link)
How to Decrease Color Intensity without Changing Value
1. Find the complement of the color that you need to make less bright
2. Change the value of this complement to match the value of the color you are making less intense: (eg. lighten or darken the complement with white or black). Check the value by putting this new color directly beside the starting color
3. Add a small amount (10%) of this value-corrected complement to the original color to make it less intense. (Adding too much will make a grey or neutral color). You will easily see that the original color “comes forward” and the new mixed color “goes back”.
Top: red is modified with a small amount of the same value green (the green used is shown below). This results in an equal value, less intense red. When more of this green is added, to the original red, the red is greyed down to a brown.
Below: a small amount of the same value red is added to the green. This results in a less intense, but equal value green.
Note: Burnt Sienna is the orange used to make deeper blues greyer
Earth yellows (yellow ochre, burnt umber) use ultramarine blue instead of violet (violet makes these earth yellows too warm (ie brown))
Greying a violet is easier with a grey than with its yellow complement.
Add a grey of the same value to the color you want to make less bright
Here red is modified by an equal value grey. The grey used is seen below)
Here red is modified with a lighter value grey. Therefore the resulting greyed red is lighter in value.
From: “A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art” by Dan McCaw (link)
To lower the intensity of a color in addition to changing by adding the complement (example A), add the two adjacent colors on the color wheel
This will cause the least shift in color and value, while retaining some of the pigment’s luminosity
Using this same red, the colors on either side of it on the color wheel are orange and purple. Orange and purple are mixed together resulting in the brown color shown. This brown color mixture is value corrected to the original red. A small amount of it is then added to the starting red. This newly mixed red, is less intense than the original red color. However, it is brighter (more luminous) then the less intense reds created in either Method A or B.
Perhaps my favorite image in the wonderful book "Daily Painting" by Carol Marine (link) is that of the ten minute apple studies by Carol Marine. She describes her exercise in the text . She also describes it in one of the art challenges on the Daily Paintworks site (link),
This Ten Minute Challenge was our class exercise this week.
The classes were asked to bring a simple object to paint. Once seated, they were told to ready their paints and draw approximately 3 inch squares onto a piece of practice canvas. The timer was set for 10 minutes. They were instructed to paint their object using a minimum of brush strokes, to not over blend their colors and to paint shapes, colors and values. (not named objects). They were told to expect that their first attempt would be bad.
At the end of ten minutes they had to stop.
Then a second 10 minute painting of the same object was done. The object could be moved for the second study.
The class was surprised at how long 10 minutes actually was, how lovely and fresh their little ten minute paintings actually were and how much they enjoyed doing this exercise.
If you paint regularly, you know the "zone". This can be the "zone" where a painting is coming together beautifully and you are loving every every painting moment. Most of the time, however, stepping away from the "wonderful" painting that was in your mind's eye allows you to see that what you are painting just isn't "doing it". This is illustrated top left. My intention was to paint an orange slice that glowed from the backlighting. I worked and reworked the glowing shadows until they were muddy ("Muddy" is often a result of the wrong color temperature). I wondered whether the background was the problem. I took a paper towel soaked in gamsol and wiped back the background. Note that this painting was left for almost 24 hours and it was still pretty easy to wipe the painting back. Without the background, the little orange slice still didn't have the glow I wanted. I believe the problems causing this included color transitions that were not small enough (yellow to yellow orange to orange to red orange) and none of the transitions moved into greyed/neutralized oranges.
I wiped the rest of the canvas.
I had to check my helper's head to see whether she was also "gamsol ed" as she bumped about under the board.
Mom, Wife, Former Pediatrician, One who LOVES color, creativity, paint, and lifelong learning.