I made some more progress on this 5×7 sunset sketch from my drive home a few days ago. If I put in more of the trees, they’ll obscure the sky too much. This wasn’t for any other purpose than fun, so I think I will leave it here.
Thanks for reading.
Thank you for all the great comments on this painting. This was a real learning effort for me, and I think it helped me push myself further in the right direction, and quickly too. I feel much more confident about my painting with the new year barely underway. Based on some comments, and with a thanks to David Tripp for asking specifically about the background, here’s a rundown of what paints I used and how I approached this.
Cobalt Blue (PB28)–Daniel Smith
Prussian Blue (PB27)–MaimeriBlu
Verzino VIolet (PR122)–MaimeriBlu
Perylene Maroon (PR179)–Daniel Smith
Yellow Lake, aka, Nickel Azo Yellow or Transparent Yellow (PY150)–Sennelier
Lemon Yellow (PY175)–Daniel Smith
Viridian Green (PG18+PG7)–Sennelier
Titanium White Gouache– M. Graham
Escoda Optimo #12 Kolinsky Sable (Just on the background)
Princeton Neptune #12 (just on the background)
W&N Series 7 #4 and #2 on the bird
Isabey Pocket Red Sable #6 (softer than the Series 7, and slighly bigger than the #4) on the bird
I used all the above colors except lemon yellow, in roughly this order.
Step 1: Wash of Yellow Lake
Step 2: Mix Prussian Blue and Verzino Violet to make a very dark, rich purple, and lay that on top.
Step 3: Unevenly applied Viridian
Step 4: Unevenly applied Perylene Maroon
Step 5: To bring out darks I layered a mix of Prussian Blue and Perylene Maroon.
Steps 6-8: Some more Yellow Lake, Cobalt, and Viridian applied separately. I did this just to make sure I would have spots of colors in the background I would return to on the bird.
Because those are mixes of staining and granulating paints, with each application there was some mild removal or displacement of some earlier layers. This is why I switch to the Neptune brush later on, and also why some color variation came through pretty well.
The darkest darks were mixed with Prussian Blue and Perylene Maroon as the core colors, but had a few others mixed in to shift the mix.
I tried to channel John Singer Sargent’s watercolor portrait work for the use of brushstrokes and color variations.
For colors, I primarily used Perylene Maroon, Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, and Verzino Violet, accented with the other colors. I honestly can’t remember much about how I did this because I just had a few palette spaces going where I would just mix various colors in to shift the colors, so even if I say I mixed Cobalt Blue and Verzino Violet, there was other stuff in there toning down all the mixes and giving them harmony. The turkey is pretty incredible for all the little color variations, and I tried to bring them out here. Throwing in spots of green and yellow was an important realization that I think make a big difference. This is essentially a “primary” color painting, with red, yellow, and blue factoring strongly. Adding some of the “fourth primary” (green) helped to balance it and add interest. At the very end I used some Titanium White gouache to bring out some highlights in the eye and on the feathers. Another nod to Sargent.
For the marks on the paper, I wanted this to have the texture that would come from a mix of small washes and brush strokes. For the most part, I washed, removed with a towel, washed again to get some basic tones right (like the warm light under the chin), and then worked with brush strokes and little dabs and micro-washes of color on top. I had to decide on the most important areas to focus (around the eye, the warmth under the chin), and then make sure the rest worked with that.
Thanks again for following along with me on this one. I have a few ideas to get started on for more paintings this week, so I hope to get at least some preliminary drawings up over the next few days.
“For the ancient Egyptians, exactitude was symbolized by a feather that served as a weight on scales used for the weighing of souls. This light feather was called Maat, goddess of the scales. The hieroglyph for Maat also stood for a unit of length–the 33 centimeters of the standard brick–and for the fundamental note of the flute.”
Italo Calvino, Exactitude, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium
In the goddess Maat, the ancient Egyptians tie together self/soul, architecture, and art. I like this intersection because it gets at some of the different ways we try to understand (and shape) our place in the world (individually and culturally). Maybe I’m assigning a little too much to the idea, but I’ve looked to this feather concept as important to me, and the intersection of all sorts of things (art, architecture, self being only some of the points to consider) is a fundamental tenet of my approach to thought/work/whatever (think about/do a lot at once, let the intersections reveal themselves, recognize when they do, and build off of that, which is probably just a long-winded way of saying divergent thought). I’m just now getting this in painting by working simultaneously on several watercolors, though that list of simultaneous works has dwindled now that I finished this one, posted above, and the Pavese sketch last week.
I recall a debate in one of my writing classes when I was in a masters program–I imagine this debate a very common one–about types of truth in writing. I don’t think anyone really posited the right terms for it in class, but the basic sides for the sake of argument were between accuracy and truth, the idea being you could be accurate, but untrue, accurate, but missing the point. I wasn’t too keen on the discussion in class because it seemed to be poorly cast, and perhaps needed to be worked out in writing over time. But I’ve thought about it in different ways over the years, and another way of looking at it might be in terms of accuracy by the wrong measure, like using ounces instead of feathers. Perhaps you could say that art is about understanding and conveying truth as measured by feathers. Or maybe better, about the pursuit of understanding and conveyance of truth as measured by feathers. Or, even simpler (but with the same meaning?): Art is the pursuit of truth as measured by feathers.
I guess this leaves the how part of this line of thought to technique and style, which I am (and will be for a long time) still working through. As my skill improves, so too should my ability to measure with feathers.
As for this work, I did it in two sessions, laying in the sky and buildings with french ultramarine, burnt sienna, cerulean blue, and nickel azo yellow. Today I put some broken clouds/fog on top of the sky laid in last weekend, then finished with the trees, blotting out paint to get the fog and steam effects. The trees were done with perylene maroon, viridian, french ultramarine, burnt sienna, and nickel azo yellow. I could probably have done this with fewer pigments, but it worked out pretty well
I did whole painting with my Escoda Versatil #10 round. I like that brush because it allows for precision work, expressive brush strokes (the trees are mostly with the tip), and broken effects with the side of the brush. It’s not so good for washes, but I wet the paper first and used the brush to its best advantage but having broken applications of paint blend with the wet paper. It’s been fun getting to know my tools better so I can take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses.
I will likely be back at the turkey painting next, but I also want to get a few more new paintings started. Just not sure what yet.
Thanks for reading.
Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 10.1.1944
Narrating incredible things as though they were real–the old system. Narrating realities as though they were incredible–the new.
Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 11.11.1943
I’m closing out this Pavese watercolor sketch with two quotes from his diary that sum up his writing pretty well. The latter point especially is one that resonates with me, as it informed my writing style (if you’re curious, you can see it here).
To finish this sketch, I researched some Wyeth watercolors to help figure out the table color (Cerulean blue, cobalt teal blue, ivory black, cobalt blue over a mix of a light, bland reddish brown). This seems to bring out some extra interest in the arrangement and feels suitable for Pavese’s melancholy brilliance. After laying in the base of cerulean and cobalt teal I sanded it down to make it look more aged, then painted the shadow. I also scraped out the edges of the book where the cover was wearing out.
I’m wondering if I should exagerate some white highlights for more interest, but I will leave it as it for now. This is a very small work–5×7–and I’ve probably overworked it enough already.
And by an odd coincidence, Pantone’s color if the year is Marsala, which is strikingly similar to the dominant color in this sketch. How trendy.
Thanks for reading.
First I did a few concept sketches before settling to the final design (you can see the winner on the sketchook Page in the picture below. Then I got some watercolor paper and splattered three paints on-cobalt teal (pg50), quinacridone magenta, and lemon yellow (py175). Then I splattered water on top. Whatever happened happened. Here was the post painting stage:
Thanks for reading.
While my wife and 6 year old are off at dress rehearsals for the Nutcracker, my younger daughter and I spent some time painting together. Not wanting to get into anything too involved, I did another 5×7 tree study out the back dining room window. It’s a grey, rainy day, so to add some interest, I punched up the color on the tree to the right with some pops of pure perylene maroon.
This was made up of:
Nickel Azo Yellow
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Cerulean Blue (just in the sky a bit)
Come to think of it, those are the pigments I use most, though my favorite blue on its own is cobalt, which I’m adding back into my palette along with the W&N limited edition Titanate Yellow, which is a Turner like chrome yellow. I am still experimenting with what’s right for me, what’s right for the feel of a painting I can produce, what to apply to some big pieces, to something with a thesis or a question. Nothing better than sorting that out with my daughter doing Turner inspired color studies beside me.
I am finished with this window study. I found a way to fit some energy into this small piece by jamming my princeton neptune #8brush into my palette, drying it out then jamming it and scraping it into the paper. That brush is great for that sort of thing. I also splattered and dabbed paint on the siding and added more and more paint throughout unevenly, dropping different colors into way paper, dabbing and dipping more in. I like how this one turned out. Might be worth a bigger sheet of paper. I am looking forward to doing some 20×30 paintings this winter. For now I am experimenting with smaller and atypical compositions to work out pieces and ideas.
Here’s a close up. Thanks for reading.
I took the risk and put the trees in. I started with a lower stroke of nickel azo yellow to capture the light, then quickly laid some perylene maroon over that, followed by Prussian blue. I was working on the assumption that things would get bluer at the top, and I think I overworked it a bit. Maybe next time I will use a smaller brush, or at least be a little more careful. But I think it came out pretty well with the powerful sunset coming through the trees. The effect worked. A little more precision on the execution next time.
As I was doing this I thought it might be cool to do a similar scene but with cranes instead of trees to make it an industrial urban version. Until then, here’s the finished painting more close up. Thanks to everyone who liked the work in progress and the vertical format. I think I will do at least a few more like this.
On Monday my dad and I took lunch at the National Gallery to see the Andrew Wyeth Exhibit, “Looking Out, Looking In.” The National Gallery had recently acquired “Wind From the Sea,” so they built an exhibit around his paintings of windows. The reviews appeared mixed, but that wasn’t the point at all for me. This exhibit was mostly watercolors, with very little attention paid to his tempera works. Fine with me. His watercolors, especially when viewed up close, are truly incredible. It’s hard from prints to get a full understanding of just how rough and aggressive his watercolor painting style was, how much he paint he laid on in the dark areas, how thick his abstract applications were, even though they were always well structured. This gave me a greater appreciation of his work.
Looking back to my commentary a few posts ago on the Jamie Wyeth exhibit at the MFA in Boston, I used Andrew Wyeth as a bit of a counterpoint for Jamie, saying I prefered the range in Jamie’s work. The National Gallery show, by nature of its subject, stuck within a narrow range, but that hardly mattered when looking at the works up close. There was so much to admire, so much to learn from. I’ve been fortune to be able to see Sargent last summer and both Wyeth’s this year. They’ve all really helped with my painting.
Coming out of the museum, we could see the Washington Monument enshrouded in clouds and steam on a cold rainy day. Really perfect to see Wyeth’s work on a day that used his color palette, and perfect inspiration for a quick vertical painting.
Thanks for reading.