Frustrated with getting marks on paper or keeping a journal? Here's one idea to help ease the frustration: crayons!
Yup, wax crayons.
Here's what I noticed this does for me:
It changes my mindset to one more of play time, a child-like mind of exploring and just being and making.
It removes some of the rules.
It gives me permission to take the whole process less seriously.
Then I gave myself an assignment to focus my practice: color studies.
I'm doing color studies, with his permission, of photos by my friend David Ginsberg. His work is very inspiring and a joy to look at. He paints with light and his eye for color and composition is stunning. His range of design is excellent. Some pieces lean to the abstract, some are more narrative. You can find his work at http://thejourneyinlight.com/. He does have prints available so don't be shy in contacting him.
I think doing color studies is helpful in figuring out composition. They offer the opportunity to puzzle out balance, flow, leading the eye, value design, and color design. Doing them in wax crayon forces me to simplify the values, the shapes, and to think more on color relationships and temperatures. I think this is helping me think more in terms of design rather than replicating what I'm seeing and I'm enjoying it.
I've been playing around with Gouache when I can. I think it will be a great help for doing color studies in preparation for an oil painting. Plus I really like the look of it in other people's work. Here are a few small paintings I made using gouache. Both are available for sale from my Square Market online store.
Skull in Leaves $30 SOLD
Sunset Skull $25 SOLD
About my palette
As I mentioned earlier, I think gouache could be a good tool for me to do color studies with in preparation for oil paintings. I tried to match my gouache colors to the Paxton Palette that we use for oil painting at The Atelier. I also mostly use the Paxton Palette in my own oil paintings. My choice of brands were made mainly on what the gouache colors look like compared to the oil paint colors I use, the lightfast rating of the gouache, and what was easily available to me at the time. I've listed the color, brand name, and color index number.
Plus I couldn't find a few of the colors in gouache that I use in oils (Light Red and Indian Red). Here's where knowing the color index number comes in handy. PR101 is used in Light Red and Indian Red so I just looked for that on the gouache labels and then looked at how the color compared to the oil colors. As of June 2015, this is what my larger gouache palette is set up with:
Ivory Black (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBk6)
Raw Umber (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBr7)
Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, PR176)
Red Ochre (Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache, PR101, PV19) - replaces Indian Red because I couldn't find it in gouache
Burnt Sienna (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PBr7, PR101) - replaces Light Red because I couldn't find it in gouache
Vermillion Tone (Schmincke Hodram Gouache, PR255) - replaces Cadmium Red Light
Brilliant Yellow (Winsor & Newton, pigment not on lable) - replaces Cadmium Yellow Light
Naples Yellow (Winsor & Newton, PW6, PBr24)
Yellow Ochre (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PY42, 43)
Viridian Green (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PG18)
Ultramarine Deep (Holbein Artist's Gouache, PB29) - I have M. Graham Ultramarine Blue Gouache but it seems too bright to me compared to my oil paint.
Additional non- Paxton Palette colors
Quinacridone Rose (M. Graham, PV19)
Quinacridone Violet (M. Graham, PV19)
Titanium White (M. Graham, PW6)
Carmine (Schmincke, PV19)
Burnt Sienna (Schmincke, PBr7, PR101, PBr33)
Hansa Yellow (M. Graham, PY3)
Gamboge (M. Graham, PY151, PO62)
Sap Green (M. Graham, PG7, PY101)
Cerulean Blue (M. Graham, PB36)
Indigo (Schmincke, PB60)
I've squeezed a little of each out in a watercolor palette. They aren't as easy to re-wet as the M. Graham gouache but I think it works fine for me. One or two of the dry paint blobs did detach and go wandering around the palette. Unfortunately I don't remember which colors or brand did it, but it wasn't a big deal. I just put the paint back in its spot, wet it enough to create a paint puddle, and it dried in place.
I'm sure this palette will change over time. Right now it allows me to use Paxton Palette colors, or go for the warm and cool color combinations (Alizarin and Vermillion, Gamboge and Brilliant Yellow or Hansa, Cerulean and Ultramarine, Sap Green and Viridian). Does anybody have a color recommendation they think I might like to try?
Instead of using Matte Medium as surface prep for the canvas board, use Matte Varnish (I've been using Liquitex). Using the Matte Varnish was a recommendation from someone else. To see the difference for myself I coated one board with the Matte Medium and one with Matte Varnish. The varnish prevents sinking in much better than the Matte Medium. For this exercise I think it'll be just fine but I don't recommend laying down coat of varnish for an oil painting.
I'm working left to right because I'm right handed. I suspect if you're left handed, working right to left would be easier (less opportunity to drag your hand through paint).
I broke a palette knife. The smallish diamond shaped one at the bottom of this photo. I was applying too much pressure through my arm to incorporate the paint. The longer palette knife is working much better. The flexibility of the blade does most of the work of mixing. I still use a smallish diamond shaped palette knife to apply the mixtures to the squares.
Much less paint is needed than you think, but that varies slightly from paint to paint. Some have MUCH stronger pigment strength than others.
When mixing, first mix the two colors. Next test a tiny little bit with some white to see if the balance of color looks good (if the parent color looks like it's affected by the added color but not overpowered). Then mix the in between values. Test a little of each on the board. Adjust as necessary. Ideally each value should seem like it could be an even mixture of its two neighboring values.
Always wipe down the mixing area with a bit of solvent in between mixing each strip of color/value.
Don't go for perfection. I've decided that I give myself 2 attempts at mixing the color and 7 values. Then I move on. If the color mix and values of a particular string of squares still doesn't look "right" when I'm done with the board, then I'll scrape that string off and try again. Sometimes having the other color/value strings mixed helps in determining the balance for the one that I was struggling with.
I end up with some excess paint every time (I'm hoping to better gauge the amount of paint I need as I go). I tried storing it in a container but there was too much air and the paint dried out. Now I'm storing the excess in a small resealable plastic snack bag (like Ziploc). I use the long palette knife to scrape down the palette and put it in the bag. So far it's all staying juicy. I'm hoping to have an interesting neutral when I'm done that I could use for value studies or something. We'll see.
Based off Richard Schmid's boards as he describes them in his book "Alla Prima Everything I Know About Painting", I'm creating color boards using the Paxton Palette. (We use the Paxton Palette at The Atelier).
Cadmium Red Light (this is a replacement for Vermillion)
Cremnitz White or Flake White which both contain lead (I'm using Winsor & Newton Flake White Hue - a combination of Zinc and Titanium)
Cadmium Yellow Light
Ultramarine Blue (I'm using French Ultramarine Blue)
The board itself is a store bought canvas board covered with a coat of matte medium (ideally to prevent sinking in and dulling of the color and value when the paint finally dries). I've had color theory classes. I've mixed paint. Just not it this methodical way. What I've learned so far:
Raw Umber is an underrated color. It makes such beautiful low chroma colors.
I've been limiting myself in my color mixing and usage. This was completely unintentional. I think the limitations developed though getting comfortable with certain mixes and my own aesthetic. This color mixing is shaking that up.
Each color has a tipping point. It's that point where I finally have added enough white to see a difference. Or that point where I've added enough of one color to alter another.
The more I do, the faster I get. I'm hoping this is because I'm seeing values better.
The mixing exercises can be time consuming but very much worth the effort.