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Formula: 1/4 cup bleached beeswax pellets, 2 tablespoons raw umber oil paint, 1 teaspoon alkyd gel, 1/2 teaspoon linseed oil, 1/2 teaspoon d-Limonene

This formula was the result of some experimentation. I think the softness is just right.

The wax is melted in a double boiler, at which point it is removed from the heat and the rest of the ingredients are added. After stirring thoroughly, the mixture is poured into a mold lined with wax paper. After cooling, the stick can be removed from the mold and is ready for use.

The hardest part is actually making the mold - I created one from some pieces of wood that were clamped together. It was a little fiddly, but the results were OK - I will make a better, purpose built form next time.

As with all processes that involve, wax, oil and heat. Please take great care when melting the wax and mixing the ingredients. And never do this on an open flame stove top.

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Shire Horse Charcoal Sketch (WIP). 14x20, charcoal on paper. 2017

As I've done for the past few years, I decided to start the year with an animal painting. I've had a horse that I saw at Ayrshire Farm in VA in my mind for a while and thought this might be a good time to see what I could do with him.

In this first step I've started with a full-size preparatory sketch in charcoal. I played around with the design a little before settling on some kind of abstract background, with an emphasis on the white sock.

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

I started the block in as a gestural sketch in raw umber, although many of the initial brush strokes were lost as I started to separate the light from the shadows.

After letting that dry overnight I spent a couple of hours the next day refining the block in, making corrections and adding the beginnings of a background.

After letting the paint dry for a couple of days I revisited the block-in one final time. At this point I've corrected all the mistakes I could find. I also have a good sense of where I want the hard/soft and lost/found edge to be.

When the block-in was dry I put down the first layer of opaque paint in one session. In order to prevent myself getting lost in the details I used the same size brush (a number 4 flat) throughout.

A few days later I added in some background color with thin paint, letting the block-in show through in a few places. I didn't think there was any need to have a complex setting, so I I kept things simple. My final act before signing was to paint around the outline of the horse's body with a small brush to touch up the edges.

Of course, like any self-respecting artist, I couldn't let it end there. Over the next two days I made a couple of tweaks with smaller sized brushes, adding a little more definition in places. At this point I forced myself to stop because I know from experience that I'm very close to the tipping point. I'm likely to ruin it if I continue.

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Carkeek Shore 2.0 (plein air/studio). 8x10, oil on linen panel. 2016.

Back in May of this year I painted on location at Carkeek Park in Seattle. Although the day was really pleasant and there was no time pressure, I wasn't able to get the painting to a place where I was truly happy with it. After a few hours of effort on the sand I took the sketch home and promptly left it for dead in the studio.

With most plein air paintings that would be that; the painting would be placed on a shelf to dry, passed over, and finally consigned to the reject pile. The very bad ones go straight in the trash can. But for some reason I was not able to let this one go; over the past six months I've occasionally taken it from the scrap pile, dusted it off, and toyed with changes. This week I finally managed to finish it.

Most of the changes I made back in the studio were meant to transform what was a pedestrian painting into something more artistic. One of the main ways I tried to do this was to break down the dividing lines between individual masses to create a better feeling of unity (the shoreline, for example).

As I've done with other paintings, the actual colors of Puget Sound have been translated into something that's more manageable in paint. This geographical area is impossibly blue and I've never been able to capture the chroma faithfully. The rendering of the beach, too, is an interpretation of the texture of pebbles and sand that defies realistic painting in its natural state.

See the original painting here.

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Rain Over Winslow. 6x10, oil on linen panel. 2016.

As the pile of sketches in my studio can attest, trying to paint the Puget Sound in winter is a recipe for failure. Studio or plein air, it's especially hard to do because there's so little to actually build a painting around. The only thing that breaks the monotony of this vast expanse is a break in the clouds or a hint of light showing though. When that happens it feels like magic.

Down at the beach the other day I was drawn to the rain in the distance and the big swirl of dark clouds from which it came. The edge of the rain looked like it was right over the town of Winslow on Bainbridge Island. There was a lighter patch to the right which made a nice contrast. I made a charcoal sketch on location then worked on this back in the studio.

The viridian/red/cad yellow light palette is fairly difficult to use (in terms of getting the colors right), but it's very effective at allowing for temperature shifts in the big masses. I decided to paint the sea as a series of patches of different value and temperature because there wasn't much room on this small panel to suggest waves. I'm glad that I did it this way: it gives a hint of interesting possibilities for future work.

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Sunset Over the Olympic Peninsula. 12x12, oil on linen panel. 2016.

There are some beautiful light shows to be had in autumn if you're prepared to get out in the early evening. This painting came about from a walk just before sunset, armed with a camera.

A mix of simplification, mood, and light can be used to produce an effect called tonal impressionism. That's a fancy way of saying that it's mainly about the dark/light shapes and also has some color. This style of painting works best when it's done into the light (because it enhances the value contrasts) and when there aren't strong color contrasts in the sky (because the light unifies the colors). All of which makes a fairly easy recipe for turning almost any landscape into a more dramatic painting.

The thing I particularly wanted to go after here was the contrast between the orange light and the mass of blue shadows; this painting isn't about much else other than that. I used the trees as visual props to make the painting more interesting, the third one from the right took the lead role as center of interest, but any other object might have served equally as well for this purpose.

I revisited the painting a few times to make changes in the foreground - mostly these were just small tweaks to the temperature contrasts - until it started to come together as a whole.

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Dancing With the Light. 6x10, oil on linen panel. 2016

There is something particularly special about the light in winter in the Pacific Northwest. There are many days when the sky is completely overcast and the day is totally gray, yet sometimes the air is clear and the clouds race across the sky. Then there are those brief moments in between the two, when the heavy overcast and the light appear at the same time. That's when a kind of visual magic starts to happen as the light and clouds get locked into a dance.

As I walked on the beach yesterday I got treated to one of these displays. Sheltering from the weather behind a pile of driftwood I made a sketch and some notes in charcoal, then came back to the studio and painted from my recollection of the scene.

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Impressions of the Sunset. 5x7, oil on linen panel. 2016

Despite the obvious challenges, I really enjoy painting from less-than-perfect references. Having to bring something extra to the easel makes the result feel more like a personal statement than a slavish copy of an image.

Here, I filled in the blanks in a grainy cellphone photo with my memory of the experience of a walk on the clifftops at Discovery Park. I'm always amazed at the feeling of the vast sky over Puget Sound, and the sunsets viewed from the cliff tops are extraordinary.

A useful tip on technique: when painting against the light, don't paint the clouds as things, paint the light instead. What I mean is that it's better to put down some kind of flat, thin gray for the clouds, then paint the blue and orange light directly on top with thick paint. It gives you much more control over the edges and automatically lends a flow to the light.

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I've used Liquin as a medium for many years, but sometimes I miss the smell of linseed oil and the way that it feels under the brush. But I don't want to give up the drying qualities and the overall toughness of an alkyd-reinforced paint film. What are my options?

The answer, of course, is to either buy a ready made alkyd-oil medium or create your own. This post is about how to do that. It's really easy and anyone can do it.

I mix and store my home-made formulations in those empty TSA-approved travel bottles that you can find at most pharmacies. You can draw some lines on the outside with a marker pen to give you an idea of the proportions and take the guesswork out of measuring (see the image above). The contents can easily be mixed by shaking the bottle a few times. I write the type of medium on the lid (G for glaze in this case) and the proportions are also written on the side of the bottle.

Before I continue, a note about studio safety. Any rags or paper towels that have linseed, walnut or any other type of drying oil on them are at risk of spontaneous combustion and should be disposed of properly. In the studio that means that they belong in a steel trash can with a lid on, and they should be taken outside the building and put in a closed trash can at the end of every day. Rags that are saturated with oil should never be wadded up together: soak them in water and lay them out flat to dry outdoors.

Basic oil painting medium

50% linseed or walnut oil, 50% Liquin

This results in a nice medium, a good balance between the drying properties of Liquin and the flow of oil. You only need to add a small amount to your paint - a drop for every large splodge. If you substitute a solvent free alkyd for the Liquin you may need to add a few drops of solvent (although I thought it worked fine without any). Note that I often add a little odorless mineral spirits (OMS) to my paint as I put the first layers on the canvas, and I always do when laying down a block-in. It would be perfectly OK to add this OMS directly to the medium instead - you would just need to pre-mix a range of mediums with varying amounts of solvent to use in subsequent layers of the painting.

Glazing medium

25% stand oil, 25% Liquin, 50% odorless mineral spirits or equivalent.

Liquin isn't so nice when used for glazing as it tends to bead, but the long polymer chains of the stand oil seem to care of that problem. The recipe is derived from that given in Ralph Meyer's "The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques"; the Liquin is a substitute for both the dammar and the cobalt drier, and I find that it needs about half of the OMS of the original formula. As the Liquin starts to dry it takes the stand oil along with it, and drying time is about 24 hours at room temperature.

For glazing and scumbling purposes it's possible to vary the ratio of paint to medium until the right transparency is achieved. I use this for creating most of the layered abstract effects in my landscape work.

Cold wax medium

1/4 cup bleached beeswax, 1/2 cup odorless mineral spirits or equivalent, 1 tablespoon alkyd medium

Making this medium is a bit trickier (and potentially more hazardous than the previous two. Here are a couple of links to recipes for making your own:

http://www.coldwaxpainting.com/recipes.html

https://marygarouttefineart.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/recipe-for-cold-wax-medium/

I used bleached beeswax pellets which made it somewhat difficult to judge the volume correctly. Although the wax medium turned out a little softer than I expected, it actually worked very well.

The alkyd medium adds strength to the wax medium and prevents crumbling, but it's not an essential ingredient. I used Gamblin solvent free alkyd gel.

Never use solvent, linseed oil or any other oil painting medium anywhere near an open flame or heating element. The solvent should be added outside because it gives off a lot of fumes when it's warmed by the hot wax.

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Fall Study I. 5x10, oil on linen panel. 2016

Fall Study 2. 5x10, oil on linen panel. 2016

These are a couple of studies I've done to explore some ideas for a new painting. I'm trying to create something that will fit a frame that's currently on an older, unsold work.

Since I had some opportunity to play around, I made the most of it by putting some lesser-used colors on the palette. The first was painted with cad scarlet, cad yellow deep, Holbein violet gray and Gamblin's torritt gray. The second was done with ultramarine, alizarin, cad scarlet and cad yellow medium.

Fall Study 3. 5x7, oil on linen panel. 2016

Fall Study 4. 5x7, oil on linen panel. 2016

The second pair are further variations on the same theme, but done on standard size panels.

As I worked on these it became very clear why I don't use cad yellow deep in my standard palette; it doesn't mix well with blues. It seems to be happy in a palette of analogous colors, mixing well with cad scarlet and cad yellow medium, but it has difficulty playing nicely with friends from the other side of the color wheel. Slime-green mud? Yes, we can do that.

My other problem with cad yellow deep is that when it's used to mix greens the resulting color varies under different light sources. I've made a perfectly good mixed green under the studio lights which looked brown under natural light. That's not something you want to have happen because you never know where a customer will hang a painting.

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Blue Pacific (study). about 6x10, oil on linen. 2016

The Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle is potential goldmine of artistic opportunity but the imagery is hard to capture when working on location. A painting partner described it as "the black diamond slope of plein air painting". 

The problem is really the amount of clutter that you see in any one view - boats overlapping each other, row upon row of them. That, together with the edges...loads and loads of edges. And the light...a binary choice between dull gray overcast or dazzling blue sky.

In the studio I've been trying to figure out an approach to painting all those wonderful boats at the terminal. In this study I'm looking to make the painting less about the boat and more about the atmosphere. I had to move the light around in the sky until I found a place where it worked. Then I had to lose all the detail in the boat and break up most of the edges. After doing all that, it seemed to come together into something that might be possible to do from life.

I've done studies of other fishing boats in the studio and they haven't always been a success - I've always tried to make the boat too central to the image so that it ends up looking like a portrait. Here it's just a jumble of organized shapes, messy and a little indistinct, which means I can tackle it in a more painterly way with a loose application of paint and lots of painting knife work.

Blue Pacific (WIP). 16x24, oil on linen. 2017

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