New Sketches: At Republic Park

June 13, 2021

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been away for too long again. A thousand pardons! I’ve been busy trying to put money in the pocket. You know how it is. I did manage to get some free time to make a few sketches over the past week that I would like to share with you. I hope you’ll accept them as an apology, and I will try to be more frequent with posts in the near future. These are all done with pencil on 8.5 x 11″ paper stock. Feel free to click through them and comment.


Fixing Tangent Edge Problems in Artwork

April 18, 2021

A criticism that often gets made to the work of an artist is the confusion created by tangent lines or edges in their image (if it’s representaional.) Personally, I think too much is made of this point, like a singer who hits the wrong key in an otherwise flawless performance, which I can excuse. Nobody’s perfect, and sometimes it’s best if they don’t appear to be. However, I can also agree that it can be distracting, and easily avoided.

I recently posted the image above to an illustration art group. It’s a story illustration by one of the great artists of the 20th Century, Coby Whitmore. A friend made a comment that he wished the artist had drawn it so that it didn’t look like her left arm was deformed, or that a hand was growing out of her elbow. This is due to how the edges of the shapes line up, causing a visual confusion of their spatial relationships. I don’t want to presume why a professional artist such as Whitmore made these decisions, so I’ll just show how I would make changes to avoid those tangents, with the benefit of starting from his finished layout.

Firstly, this topic shows the importance of doing sketches and studies before you start painting what will be the final piece. Notice also that this appears to be painted in watercolor and/or thin gouache. Were it in acrylic or oils, painting corrections would be easier. As it is, I would want to make as few repaints as possible. If I start off with simple thumbnail sketches, it makes it easier to catch these tangent problems early, or more specifically to make an image that reads properly. As I said earlier, tangents can be useful in your design, but you have to make them look intentional, and not negatively distracting. In the sketch I made above, I changed her pose slightly by bending her left arm with her hand touching his wrist to avoid the possible tangents there entirely. I also transferred the gesture of her left hand over to her right to keep the same body language. Even after doing small line sketches like this, I would follow the sketches with some quick color studies as well to be sure that the colors and shape patterns were not also making the composition confusing.

Of course hindsight is always a luxury, but perhaps I had gone too far before I caught the problem area – then what? I certainly don’t want to start all over again, especially, if this is an illustration piece that is on a tight deadline, so repainting her pose is not ideal. One simple fix would be to repaint only the problem area of her arm and his wrist. In the image above I broke the curving lines of his knee and the bottom of her arm, and repainted the her sleeve to look like it had been rolled up to her elbow.

Another option would be to just change the color of her blouse. The light pink in the original looks too similar to the flesh tones, adding to the confusion of his hand seeming to be attached to her arm. Giving her blouse a darker value and color change helps separate the shapes more clearly. If I had to deliver the art quickly, this would be the fastest solution, and sometimes speed is necessary. There’s still some tangent issues with that sleeve, but that could be repainted as I did in the previous image.

While we’re talking about the art of Coby Whitmore, here’s one of my favorites by him. You’ll likely spot several more tangent edges and intersecting lines in this one, but they all read clearly due to the patterning of colors and values in the separate shapes.


New Sketches: COVID-19 Waiting Area

April 17, 2021

Okay, sorry again for being away for so long but I’ve been a little distracted with a job project to get some spending money, but that’s all done now, so back to the real important stuff here.

I had to go back for my second dose of COVID vaccine a couple days ago, and they had me waiting afterwards, so I jotted down a few more sketches like last time of people around me. They’re all in regular pencil, but the guy in the cap I added some shading later with a pastel pencil.


New Sketches: COVID-19 Vaccine Shot

March 19, 2021

I finally got my COVID-19 vaccine shot yesterday, the first of two doses. After getting it, I was told to wait for them to see if I had any side effects, so while waiting I made a couple sketches. There were nurses walking around asking us how we were feeling, and chatting us up to keep us calm and relaxed. No problems for me.


Painting with Gouache and Cold Wax

March 6, 2021

Today I wanted to play around a bit with the mixed media of gouache paint and cold wax that I wrote about in the previous post. I wound up with this small landscape of grass and sky, nothing to get too excited about, but it was a fun exercise. The main goal was to learn more about the medium, and try out different tools.

The surface is one of my water putty panels that I wrote about making awhile back. It’s about 7.5 inches square. It has a light tan color that you can still see at the top of the image. I used several different tools to apply the paint: a small brush, a plastic paint knife, and different sizes of silicone tipped “colour shapers.” Those shapers worked very well with this media. I used the 2inch size on the blue sky, and the initial lay-in of the ground, and got much of the texture lines with the smaller ones. I didn’t use any alkyd medium that I wrote about last time to make the paint more fluid, just used paint and cold wax (Gamblin’s brand.)

I found that if I mixed a little of the wax into the dab of paint as soon as I placed it on my palette it would keep the paint workable through the whole session, otherwise the gouache would dry too quickly. While I could add water to keep the paint wet, that wouldn’t react well with the wax. Wax is not fluid in this mixture. I can make it that way with an alkyd medium, like Liquin or Galkyd, but that makes it more transparent. In this way, it’s challenging to get a curved edge that is sharp and opaque. I can, however, make a sharp edge by scraping or incising into the layer with a knife or scraper, and then paint into that removed area. I also discovered that the thinner scraped areas, such as in the blue sky, would harden rather quickly (about an hour,) whereas any thicker areas would take much longer. Adding a new layer over those harder areas would not pick up any paint underneath unless I used more pressure.

I’d like to try this with something more representational, like a portrait, and maybe add in some oil pastels.


Mixing Gouache Paint with Cold Wax

March 5, 2021

I’m finally back with a new post. This one has to do with combining two or three mediums in a manner not commonly though of : gouache paint, cold wax, and alkyd medium. Gouache, as you likely know, is an opaque watercolor paint that uses gum arabic as its binder. Cold wax is a wax paste typically made with just beeswax; although, some other waxes may also be added. The alkyd medium I’m demonstrating here is Winsor & Newton’s Liquin. Gamblin also sells a similar medium called Galkyd.

The most common advice given when painting with gouache is you should never allow the paint to get too thick, since the binder cannot support any more than a few thin layers. This is important advice if you’re using just paint; however, like many art rules there are ways around them. In this case you can add the paint to the cold wax to increase the thickness. I should mention that this is also possible by adding acrylic pastes or gels to gouache. The benefit that wax offers is that once it hardens you can scrape back into the layers to achieve interesting effects or textures that can’t be done in dry acrylic. Acrylic will dry fast, whereas the wax will take several hours to harden before it is stiff enough to add another layer, which can be an advantage if you’re working at a large size.

For this demonstration I used Gamblin’s Cold Wax Medium. It’s made with beeswax, their mineral spirit solvent called “Gamsol”, and Galkyd. There are other brands on the market as well. It’s also not too difficult to make it yourself from raw materials. Some brands use damar crystals as the resin instead of alkyd. Some also use turpentine as the solvent instead of mineral spirits. Dorland’s Cold Wax adds paraffin and microcrystalline wax along with beeswax, and it has been the smoothest brand I’ve tested. To make cold wax myself, I’ve used 11 parts melted wax, 1 part alkyd resin, and 11 parts spirits. Add more or less of each to adjust the consistency to your liking.

In application, I mix in equal amounts of paint to wax. For more transparent pigments, such as most yellows, you’ll likely want to use less wax, but I would recommend keeping the amount above @ 25%. The more gouache paint you have in your mix, the thinner your layer should be. All of your paint layers should have at least 25% or more wax, since the water content of gouache will not allow it to adhere to the waxy surface without that.

In the image above you can see how thick the paint and wax mixture is. The blue swatch on the left was laid down on this illustration board surface using a brush. I smoothed it out some by rubbing it with a paper towel. This thin layer took about 4 hours until the wax was hard enough to paint over. For the pink layer on top of it I first diluted the paint some with water, and when mixed in the wax, the water caused a sort of resist where the paint bubbled up in an interesting texture. The blue swatch on the right was applied with a paint knife, much thicker as you can see. This took about twice as long to harden as the other swatch. The yellow ochre was applied with paint that had been thinned more with Liquin, and I was still able to get some thick peaks of paint shown on the right. These Liquin layers also dry slowly, in about a day.

There’s more experimenting to be done with this gouache and wax combination. I should mention that casein paint can be mixed this way, and oil paint, of course. Oil pastels can also be used in combination with this, anything that has a soft wax binder. Acrylic paint I’m unsure about, since I’ve always read that it doesn’t mix properly with wax. I’ve made a successful wax paste by melting the wax and adding borax and no solvent, which I’ve written about before. I should do some more experiments with that as well. There are many cold wax paintings on youtube you may want to browse through if you’re curious.


Golden’s New Paint Tube Caps

February 1, 2021

In my previous post I wrote that Golden Paints was starting a program where you can have them send you replacement caps for their acrylic tube paints. I’ll repeat the link to their site here. My new caps arrived today, the black ones above.

Of the 10 tubes of their brand that I have, only 6 caps were damaged, but I requested 10, and that’s what they sent. For that large 5oz. tube of zinc white, I had previously borrowed a cap from a tube that had dried out, but it later cracked also. The new caps are nice, and fit perfectly. I’m happy to see the large size. In my comments to them on the form to get these caps I mentioned that a larger size would be an improvement, similar to those on Liquitex tubes that I’ve never had a problem with. Looks like they figured that out too.

In my picture above I brightened the image around a couple of the caps so you could better see the details. The top of the cap pops open on a plastic hinge to show a small spout where you can squeeze out paint rather than unscrewing the whole cap. Squirting the paint out should be better, since it will keep the threads of the tube from getting paint on them when you unscrew the cap. The large size of these doesn’t match the size of the small 2oz. tube, but the threads inside do fit. It’s interesting to note in the article on their site that they say the new caps look just like the current ones, and that the new color will be grey. The only caps I’ve seen at stores for their paints are the older “T” shaped design. I suggest you keep an eye out for these larger cylindrical caps, since they look like they will hold up much better.


Golden Paint Replaces Acrylic Tube Caps

January 21, 2021

I just heard that Golden Paints is offering a program where they will send people replacement caps that have cracked at no cost. Below is a link to the press release. At the bottom of that page is another link that opens a form you can fill out to tell them how many caps to send you. They claim to have found a new material for better caps, but it will take awhile for them to be available at stores. It’s not clear in the press release if the new caps are made of this material. I’ll find out in a few days when I get mine.



New Drawing: Buzzard Roadkill

December 28, 2020

Hello, I’m Back! All this Coronavirus lockdown has sapped my creative motivation, I think. It’s time to get back on the horse, so to speak, or in this case, buzzard. This scene was playing out in front of me a few days ago as I sat at my window preparing lunch. I looked out to the street, and saw this feathered fellow making a meal out of a former squirrel. I took a few photos, and today worked up this drawing.

The figures were made with a grease pencil. I scrubbed in some black around it with an oil pastel bar I had made, and then laid down the white with a sponge dipped into shellac paint. It’s on 8.5 x 11 inch paper.


Painting Update 3: Fire Hydrant Repair

November 30, 2020

Well, I think this is mostly finished. I may do some more work on the background, and tweak a few things. If I make any major changes, I’ll post it.

By the way, this is what I use to store my acrylic paints between sessions. It’s a deviled egg tray I found at the grocery store. I took a styrofoam plate that’s covered with a removable sheet of plastic wrap, trimmed it so it fits inside the clear top, and snap it shut with the egg tray. This keeps most of the air out. It works rather well for regular acrylics, and even longer for these slower drying paints. The plate is used just for mixing. I use that metal dish to hold the fresh dabs of paint from the tubes, and move the color to the plate with a palette knife. I can keep the dish in the tray also.


Painting Update 2: Fire Hydrant Repair

November 22, 2020

A little more progress on the new painting to show, now with the kneeling figure added. Next I’ll work on the hydrant and bottom foreground area.

I’m reminded of an article I once read long ago by an art critic describing several paintings by Edouard Manet in that they looked as though the figures were standing on a stage in front of a painted scrim. It’s an approach that has always stuck with me, and an idea I’ve often toyed with. What gave his paintings that effect was having the figures in tighter detail than the background, still somewhat loose, perhaps, but with sharper edges or outlined shapes. It made the paintings have an illusion of theatrical artifice.


Painting Update: Fire Hydrant Repair

November 17, 2020

Here’s an update to the new painting I started. I’ve added some tone to the street in the background, and worked out most of the details on the figure to the left.

I am gradually getting familiar with these Open Acrylic paints. The limited color range of this “Landscape” set is forcing me to do a lot of mixing to get the colors right, so I’ve resorted to an old method of mine of working sort of alla prima on the surface without mixing too much on the palette first. The slow drying is handy, and this paint feels a bit more fluid than the heavy body acrylics I’m more familiar with.