Monday, November 24

Try Watercolor Paper As Your Support

Distant Hills
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
I don't always paint on canvas (or linen) or on a board. On occasion I paint with acrylics on watercolor paper.

Today's image was one of those occasions. For this painting I used Royal Talens watecolo(u)r paper, 90 lb or 200 gr/m2.  I completed it a couple of weeks ago from a reference photo obtained with permission online. The subject is a hazy landscape somewhere in the mountains. I liked the changes in value from foreground to background, the lost and found edges, and the depth of the receding mountains in the flat light.

When I paint with acrylics on paper I use a little water as a medium to thin the paint, although not so much that the acrylics become like watercolor. No, just enough to help them blend a little better, which is required in a painting like this one. A little water also helps the paper to absorb the paint, which doesn't happen when painting acrylic on canvas or board.

As I've said before, try something different--like acrylics on watercolor paper. You may find it's your new favorite.

Monday, November 17

What's Your "Go To" Palette?

Jornada del Muerto
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
I have discussed palette colors on several previous occasions and have sounded so sure of myself. And by "go to" palette I mean the one you find yourself using every time for every painting for at least the last six months.

However, I think I have finally figured out two things. First, it takes a while (at least six months) to figure out what your own personal "go to" palette is. Second, even when you think you have figured it out, it will change over time.

Such is the life of a painter.

I also know that pretty much all painters start out using someone else's palette, and that someone else is usually your favorite painter either living or dead (such as Van Gogh or Hopper or whichever current painter). In addition, painters usually use too many of the colors on those painter's palettes when they should be using fewer.

That said, I'm finding my current "go to" palette to be:


Ultramarine Blue

Pthalo Blue (green shade)

Cadmium Red Light

Alizarin Crimson

Camium Yellow Light

Raw Sienna or Yellow Oxide (whichever I have)

Titanium White (of course)


Naples Yellow

Cadmium Orange

Burnt Sienna

Raw Umber

Off White ( the actual name depends on the manufacturer; my current favorite is Milky White, but it could be called Bleached Titanium or Ecru or some such; very useful)

That's my "go to" palette until it changes over time ; - )

Monday, November 10

Paint What You Paint Well

High and Windy Hill
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm 
If the headline of today's blog sounds confusing, sorry, I don't mean it to be. What I am simply trying to say is to paint what you're good at painting.

I'm all for art education and continuing education and learning new skills and trying out new ways to paint and new materials to use.

That said, here's what I'm talking about. In my humble and somewhat limited experience, I have found that I paint best what I paint well. That is, I find I am much happier with my painting, my painting experience, and myself in general, when the painting I am working on looks good to me.

If I think, or know, I have painted a good painting, then I am happy and a happy painter.

I have found after painting hundreds of different paintings in watercolor, acrylic, and some oil, that I paint much better paintings when I paint what I paint well, which is land- and seascapes in acrylic. That doesn't mean I'll never, ever paint a cityscape in oil or a still life in watercolor, but it may mean I won't think I painted them as well as one of my acrylic land/seascapes.

(And don't hold your breath for a portrait in pastel from me either.)

Monday, November 3

What Is the Difference Between Value and Chroma?

Mar Vista
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Unless you are a painter and an artist you may not get the title of today's blog post. But understanding the meaning and the difference in those terms is more than important if you want to know how to paint better or at least paint better informed.

The term value, a term that is frequently discussed and which 'throws" many new painters, means simply how light or dark--from white to black--a color progressively becomes on a scale of 0 to 10 with white being 0 (zero) and black being 10.

OK, stop. If you don't get the preceding paragraph, just stop and think about it for however long it takes you to understand what that means.

Think of the value of any color in comparison to white, black, or in-between grays. A handy tool available is a small card numbered 0 (white) to 10 (black) with grays numbered 2 to 9 that lets you hold it next to your color and easily make a comparison. Also, what's confusing is that some colors (yellows) will never have really dark values while other colors (reds) will never have really light values. (Just to confuse you further, many artists also refer to value as tone, but don't let it.)

Chroma is simply the intensity or brightness of a color. One way I remember this is to think of a watercolor. If you mix the watercolor with a lot of water, it lowers the intensity of the paint pigment when it's painted on paper. Conversely, the less water you add, the more intense or bright the paint pigment of the color when painted. Or if that is still confusing, look at the difference between Naples Yellow and Lemon Yellow. Naples Yellow has a lot of white, and a little red, in it,  which lowers its intensity or brightness. Lemon Yellow doesn't have white, so it's a much more intense or brighter yellow.

Now you've got it. Sometime, we'll talk warm vs. cool colors.

Sunday, October 26

Why Is It Called Payne's Grey?

Well, I'm sure you can look up information on Payne's grey yourself, but I'm happy to provide some information here that you may find interesting if not useful.

Payne's grey is the bluish-black very dark grey color that probably isn't on your palette, and you may never think to use it either. However, occasionally I have found it very useful in mixing cool dark neutrals or for cool shadows.

Anyway, I suppose I also wanted to do a blog on this to complete my "trilogy" of blogs about where several paint colors got their names, the other two colors being Hooker's green and Davy's grey. Here are links to those blogs: Why Is It Called Hooker's Green? and Why Is It Called Davy's Grey (Who Was Davy?) 

From About.com, Marion Boddy-Evans tells us that "The color Payne's Grey is named after a British watercolorist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760--1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. In Artist's Pigments: c.1600-1835 Payne's grey is stipulated to originally have been "a mixture of (crimson) lake, raw sienna and indigo."1 (When referring to the original, remember "grey" will be spelt the British way with an 'e', not the American way with an 'a'.)"

In addition, a very complete discussion on Wikipedia about William Payne tells us "but the invention by which he is best known is a neutral tint composed of indigo, raw sienna, and (crimson) lake called Payne's grey. His methods were regarded as tricky by the old-fashioned practicians of the day. but there is no doubt that he did much to advance the technique of watercolour painting, and was one of the first 'draughtsmen' to abandon mere topography for a more poetical treatment of landscape scenery."

Now you know as much as I about these three painters from the mists of history and how they came to be immortalized in paint colors.

Tuesday, October 21

Painting is Not a Business

Beach Day
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
9 x 12 in/22.9 x 30.5 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
(OK, it is a business if you're a gallery owner.)

But if you are a painter, it's not really a business, is it? It's a passion, or it should be; otherwise, are you really a painter? It's an unpleasant truth, maybe, or at least a conundrum.

What's a painter to do? You've got to eat, and you may have other mouths to feed as well. As you know, only a tiny fraction of a very, very few painters become rich and famous strictly from their paintings (or anything else) while they are still living.

There are painters who are able make a living by selling their paintings from a gallery or galleries and/or website. I wish you the greatest success. Often, however, painting is the step-child to an alternative way to make ends meets. Life is hard, as we all know, especially for painters.

What painters usually do is either teach art or hold (a lot of) workshops or some combination of those.

I hold art teachers in the highest esteem because they are about the only people around today who actually contribute anything relating to the arts to most students. To them I say, there is no higher calling.

For those who paint and also hold (a lot of) workshops, you fill a great niche for those who want to learn to paint or to improve their skills. Keep up the good work; may your classes and easels always be full.

Come to think of it, there are other painters. There are the true-believer, "starving artists" who somehow manage to paint full-time and not starve, May the force be with you. Then there are the dilettantes who really don't have to work, so they decide to paint. To you I say, really!?

Whatever station you fit into in the world of painting, remember it's not a business. It's a passion, or it should be.

Tuesday, October 14

Do Not Overwork Your Painting!

Autumn House
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Yikes. I did it again last week. I overworked the painting I was working on for a couple of days.

Not today's image; I painted this one immediately after discarding the overworked painting, so as not to lose confidence. It's like getting back up on the horse that threw you.

I'm not showing the painting I overworked, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it was overworked.

How do you know when you've overworked your painting? Unfortunately, there's no line of demarcation to let you know you've gone too far. That's why it's difficult to know when to stop.

Here are a few tell-tale signs that I'm going, or have already gone, too far. Maybe these signs will help you realize it as well:

- A general overall  feeling of uneasiness about the painting

- Wanting it to be more of a painting than it can possibly be

- Painting over or scraping off perfectly good areas of the painting

- Thinking that adding more detail will help, and then adding totally unnecessary details

- Saying to yourself, "What else does this need?"

- No idea when it will be finished

- Adding just one additional brush stroke to make it perfect

Knowing when to quit is often as important as other aspects of painting, sometimes even more than the planning, composition, color, or value.

Stop it! Do not overwork your painting!

Monday, October 6

I Love Flats and Filberts

Paradise Found
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
Think about the letter F next time you're painting.

I have discovered that almost all of the paintings I like to paint (and/or aspire to paint) are painted using Flats and Filberts. If you can't remember those names, then at least remember the letter F to jog your memory.

I'm speaking of two types and shapes of paint brushes, of course.

Flats are just what you'd expect from the name. They are broad, almost square in shape, with a horizontal ferrule giving them their flat shape. They come in all sizes from 02 up to large house-painting brushes five or more inches across that can be used for painting paintings as well as houses

Flats have squared-off corners that allow you to apply paint in broad, flat slabs of color. They are great because they let you leave out all those unnecessary detail strokes while still maintaining absolute control. I love them.

Filberts are similar to flats in shape, although they are generally somewhat narrower. The big difference, of course, is that their corners are not at 90-degree angles but gently rounded off. This allows you to apply broad flat slabs of color like flats, but since they are rounded off, you can more easily blend the paint when two or more colors or values meet (even with acrylics). They come in all sizes, too, although I haven't ever seen any Filbert house-painting brushes. I love them.

You may not know this, but from Wikipedia I learned:"The filbert paintbrush derives from the shape it resembles, that of a hazelnut with its namesake. This word comes from the Old French filbert, coming from noix de (nut of) Philibert. Philibert was a saint, (who died in 684), whereby the ripening of the nut in August coincides with his feast day." Try dropping that into the conversation at your next cocktail party...

So, think about the letter F next time you're painting. I love Flats and Filberts.

Monday, September 29

Some Advice for Painting with Acrylics

Country Hillside
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
There's an old saying, "do as I say not as I do." I always hated that because it is so patently hypocritical and self-serving. There is no place for that in art. In that spirit, I'm telling you what  I actually do regarding painting with acrylic paint. Here goes.

No. 1 - They're not oil; they're not watercolor or gouache, either; they're acrylic, get over it. That means you have to forget what you've learned about painting with those other media. You have to learn how acrylics actually work when you personally paint with them as opposed to reading or watching how someone else paints with them.

No. 2 - You have to learn how not to dally with acrylics. Dally is the perfect word, which has a couple of meanings, both of which apply.

One means to treat something in a way that is not serious enough. To paint successfully with acrylics you must treat them with the respect they deserve as a bona fide medium, no matter what other painters think or say about them.

The other meaning is to waste time idly, dawdle. As you will quickly learn, you can't dawdle (or dally) with acrylics, they dry too fast. You have to paint deliberately and purposefully. For many, however, that is their no. 1 attribute.

No. 3 - Find the brand or brands of acrylic paint that work best for YOU. That doesn't mean it has to be the most expensive or "the best" as described or endorsed by other painters or manufacturers. It does mean that you have, for whatever reason(s), found the paint that best suits the way you paint and gives you the look and feel of painting you desire. That simple.

Well, I do believe I have more advice, but I think I'll save that for another blog.


Monday, September 22

Natural Style is the No. 1 Goal

Lookout Point
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
16 x 20 in/ 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2014
I've blogged about this in previous blogs, but I believe one of the most difficult things for painters to do is to find their natural style and ability to paint.

It's so easy to look at famous paintings and painters as well as current paintings and painters and think, "I want my paintings to look just like that."

I do that myself, way more than I should, I'm sure. It's because you see either a style of painting or a palette of colors or certain motifs, or all three, and you wish to emulate that type of work.

The thing is, your paintings never look like the ones you admire. Of course, one way to learn how to paint is to paint an exact copy of a painting you admire. Many students are taught that method as a way to learn. I remember one visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. where several students were standing before some of the world's great masterpieces with their easels and oil paints painting exact copies.

Not a bad way to study, I suppose, but then it's not your own work is it?

I believe you have to be comfortable in your own painter's skin, so to speak, and let your natural style show throughout your work and let this be the no. 1 goal. In addition, once you have found your style, all your work will have an identifiable character, and that's what collectors like.

And another thing, isn't it great that we all paint differently? Because if we all painted alike what a boring art world it would be.