Technical recap of the turkey


IMG_3454.JPGThank 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

The Background:

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.

The Bird:

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.


Goals for a New Watercolor Project of California Route 1. Also, the First Painting–Elephant Seals of San Simeon

In The Art of Fiction John Gardner advocates above all else that a writer must not break the vivid continuous dream of a work of fiction (he exempts meta fiction from this rule). I always liked this idea. So much of writing is about editing, and this idea gives a great rule to follow when reading and revising. Anything that breaks the dream must be removed or fixed. It’s an instinct-based approach that can be honed by practice both in writing and in editing. A good “natural” writer will produce that vivid continuous dream more fluidly, so less re-shaping may be required. Dreams can take many forms and styles, and exist in or across many genres. The writer of the dream need only stick with that dream’s set of norms.

I have been thinking about this idea with my painting. I have done a scattering of subjects, working out techniques and styles. In some I hope that sense of a vivid dream has existed–I think most in my Old San Juan painting–but that dream hasn’t been continuous, and that’s what I want to strive for.

The Brooklyn Museum show of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors brought several dreams into focus.The thematic groupings, coupled with his lively almost magical style, stuck with me, and I have been studying his work closely since. I had a similar experience several years ago when the National Gallery had a Cezanne show. A lot to learn from those two.

So here is my project. I want to create series of paintings in a style that will create and perpetuate that sense of a vivid continuous dream. Like I wrote in my last post, I want to make an album that flows together, that’s both encompassing and varied, but very much unified. The unifying theme of this album will be California’s Route 1.

Two years ago we visited some very close friends in Santa Barbara. The landscape and the feeling of being there were so potent that I dream of living there someday. It was not enough just to visit. We spent a few days going from Santa Barbara to Monterey and back on Route 1, stopping in a few places along the way. I took a lot of photos, which I will filter through memory and paint. I won’t paint them in sequence, but I will approach them in an emerging unified style. On the blog I will post everything, though like with any album, not everything posted here will make the cut. I will arrange the final selection in a proper order, perhaps put them out in a short book if I think they’re good enough.

Below is my first work, shown in sequence as it developed, of elephant seals near San Simeon. The seals gather here to rest and fight–a groan and craning of the neck is about all I saw of it. The fighting is brief because rest seems to be most important to them. The way they arranged themselves while resting was interesting. Generally nestled in with each other but with some outliers. One could be forgiven for mistaking them for rocks.

In painting these I tried to handle the scene roughly, mixing swipes of the brush with some wet-in-wet work to convey an overall materiality. I was generally less precise, focusing on believability and composition over accuracy, though with the main seal in front I put in just enough detail to get it to read as a seal.

Also new in this work, and something I will continue in the rest of the series, is my use of M. Graham white gouache, in some cases mixed with my Maimeri Blu and Sennelier watercolors, to pull out some details and give some more materiality to the works, at least in the focal points. Materiality, roughness, and believability will guide my style through this series. Maybe I need to start thinking through a set of values like Calvino’s Six Memos.

Thanks for reading.





Experimenting on Yupo Paper with a new palette, new paints, and a new style.

Maybe it’s better to experiment with one variable at a time. Today I chose four.

For my birthday I received a new palette, which prompted me to rethink the pigments I’ve been using. I have been using Maimeri Blu paints, which I really like except for the raw and burnt sienna. I like burnt umber because it looks great when charged with ultramarine blue, but the other earth pigments I think I can do without. I want to move away from those for a while. I was also without a real bright opaque red. With the fall coming, I thought I might like one. I got the free sample Sennelier paints in the mail recently and like the Sennelier Yellow Light a lot, and the cinereous blue is a great sketching sky blue, so I thought I’d give them a try. For my new ones, I got yellow lake (nickel azo yellow), cadmium red light, and permanent alizarin crimson deep (really quinacridone pyrrolidine red that looks a lot like alizarin crimson and works great). So far so good. These fill in the gaps very nicely, and the consistency is great. I like to squeeze a little in the palette and let it dry, so having the honey-based paint is nice.

I am trying a smaller standard selection of paints for now that seem to give me a good range. They’re laid out from top left and around with gaps for special colors when the painting requires:

Sennelier Yellow Light
Sennelier Yellow Lake
Maimeri Blu Permanent Yellow Deep
Sennelier Cadmium Red Light
Maimeri Blu Primary Red Magenta
Sennelier Permanent Alizarin Crimson Deep
Maimeri Blu Ultramarine Blue
Daniel Smith Cobalt Blue
Maimeri Blu Prussian Blue
Maimeri Blu Cupric Green Deep (Pthalo Green)
Maimeri Blu Burnt Umber
Maimeri Blu Ivory Black


I really want to try to work quicker and looser, and I have been looking a lot at my catalog from the John Singer Sargent exhibit. I thought I’d try to be a paint more like him on my next one, which will have beekeeping as the subject. To warm up for that I messed around on a free sheet of Yupo paper that came in a magazine. It’s similar to painting in a Moleskine sketchbook. The paint beads up and stays on the surface. It also wipes easily, so layering is difficult. Worth a try, but very strange. The end result feels like a bit like a scratch-and-sniff. Here’s what I came up with today based on a photo I took of my uncle checking on the hive.