Monday, January 26

What is Scumbling and How To do it?

Today’s Image

Do you now scumble, or have you ever scumbled in the past? Ever even heard of scumbling? If you’re a beginning artist, the word may be new to you. I think it’s a funny-sounding word and probably not one you use in everyday conversation except possibly with other artists. Today’s Image is a sample of a pastel drawing with a forest green scumbled with bright yellow.

Scumble was new to me a couple of years ago. I ran across the term in my readings and research on pastels, which was my interest at the time. After I started The OrbisPlanis Art Blog, it was the term ‘scumble’ that gave me the idea for the Vocabulary for Artists section in the right-hand column. It was the first entry, and if you scroll down, you’ll see it’s still there.

As a painter I thought that if the term wasn't clear to me, then there were probably others out there who were wondering, too.

First I looked in an online dictionary ( and found this on scumble:

-verb, -bled, -bling, -noun Painting.
–verb (used with object) 1. to soften (the color or tone of a painted area) by overlaying parts with opaque or semiopaque color applied thinly and lightly with an almost dry brush.
–noun 2. the act or technique of scumbling.
3. the effect produced by this technique.
Origin: 1790–1800; perhaps equivalent to scum (v.)
( Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.)

I also wanted to re-visit the term by looking in some of the books in my Art Library. I was able to confirm what I thought it meant with a little more information. I also discovered that scumbling is not just for pastels but is also used in acrylic and oil painting.

Basically, it’s just layering one color over another lightly in such a way that the underlayer is still visible through the top layer. Since pastels are a dry medium, it means dragging the top layer very lightly over the dry, bottom layer.

With acrylics and oils, it’s generally the same technique, although it works best when the underlayer of acrylic or oil is dry or almost dry. That’s because in scumbling, you do not actually mix the colors themselves; that is, you do not physically mix them together. That would result in a third color or a lighter or darker hue depending on the colors, which is not scumbling.

In scumbling the two unmixed colors are, however, optically mixed on your retina so that you perceive the resulting mixture. This technique allows for a wide variety of effects depending on how the colors are laid down, for example, dark color over light or vice versa. The tools you use can also change how the scumbled colors look. Scumbling with a paint brush gives a different effect than scumbling with a sponge or your fingertips. I also read where scumbling works better on rough textures since the top layer sits on ridges of the surface and does not mix with the underlayer at all.

So, I encourage you to try scumbling as a pastel or painting exercise by itself on various kinds of paper or other support with different color combinations using pastels, acrylics, and oils (separately, of course). It can open up new possibilities for your artwork.

Friday, January 23

9 Tips for Painting a Large Canvas (with Acrylics)

Today’s Image
Patio Reflection
30 x 40 in (76 x 101 cm)
Acrylic on stretched canvas
Copyright 2009

Here are my 9 tips on painting a large canvas with acrylics. Today’s Image is a ‘large’ acrylic I recently completed. Painting large can be a different experience, but that’s the fun of creativity.

Exactly what does ‘large’ mean? What is ‘large’ to some may not be ‘large’ to others. For some, large is anything over 16 x 20 in (40.6 x 50.8 cm). Others may not consider a painting large until it’s room-sized, such as Gustave Courbet’s A Burial at Ornans, which is 252 in (640.1 cm) long. Now that is large.

My definition of large is anything bigger than 30 x 40 in (76.2 x101.6 cm). Why that size? Well, it is the largest painting I have done, so it was large to me.

Tip 1 – Choose your motif first

This should always be considered first. This is your whole inspiration for painting, right? So think of how it will look on a large canvas. Will it be life-size or greatly exaggerated? Will the large size help convey your vision for the piece, or will it detract from it?

Tip 2 – Choose a proper support

It can be almost anything that will support your creation, of course, but think about the physical as well as the functional aspects of a large support. Is it easy or difficult (or nearly impossible) to move? Will it require special handling? Being large, possibly very large, will it stand up under its own weight? (I used a lightweight stretched canvas.)

Tip 3 – Choose your medium

Consider the quantity of whatever you’re going to use to render the art. How much will it take? Also consider your color palette so that you have enough of the colors you’ll be using most. (It is hard for me to imagine a large 252-inch (640.1 cm) piece done with pastels, but it’s possible.)

Tip 4 – Decide on the format

By that I mean will your motif or subject be vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) in relation to your support. The large size can ‘play tricks’ with your perception, so think about this ahead of time. You should be able to easily tell which format will work better. If your support is square, then there’s no problem. (Because my painting was a vertical window, I naturally chose a vertical format.)

Tip 5 – Consider how you’re going to sketch the main elements on the canvas beforehand

Unless your painting is intended to be an abstract, you need to sketch the elements large enough and in the correct proportion to the size of your support. I suggest you plan ahead with several smaller sketches first to get the scale right. You should then be able to free-hand it with a light colored pencil or diluted acrylic, for example.

(Some artists photograph the motif, enlarge it, trace it, then trace a mirror image on the support, but this is an entirely different subject for another blog discussion.)

Tip 6 - After you have sketched the main elements, stand back and assess

Take time now to assess if the elements are in the proper proportions, with correct angles and relationships to each other. If you need to make changes, do it now, before you begin painting. A large scale painting may change the way you see color, shadows, settings, or whatever.

Tip 7 – Put enough paint on your palette for the task at hand

This sounds absurd, but it is important. Remember, this is a large painting, and it will take more paint than you’re used to using. Trust me, if you’re mixing colors, make sure you have enough before you start as you won’t be able to match it perfectly later.

If you’re using acrylics, don’t forget to keep the acrylic paint on your palette moist with a spray bottle because it dries very fast. A large glob of acrylic will begin to make a skin within just a few minutes and could be too dry to paint with in 15 minutes.

Tip 8 – Paint normally, but be ready to change a few things
You may need:
  • a different setting or larger room not only because of the larger canvas but also to have enough room to maneuver around
  • a different easel—one that holds the larger canvas or can be adjusted
  • a stand or ladder in order reach the top part of the support
  • larger brushes to be able to cover the canvas more efficiently; your style will dictate whether you need this or not
  • to allow more time to paint; since the canvas is large, it may take you longer than you’re used to, so don’t be surprised
Tip 9 – Relax and enjoy Painting Large!

You may find that painting large becomes your favorite method of artistic expression.


Monday, January 19

Camille Pissarro's Letters

Today’s Image
Le Boulevard Montmartre, Paris
Camille Pissarro 1897

In the Art Library

I’m back in the art library after a month or so to report on an interesting and unexpected book about an artist. It’s Camille Pissarro (pronounced pee-sah-row) Letters to His Son Lucien. As you probably already know, Camille Pissarro is one of the prominent Impressionists during that era that changed the way paintings were rendered and appreciated by the public.
I found this book at a used bookstore in my area, but I don’t think it had ever been opened or, if so, you couldn’t tell it, because it is like new. The book was originally compiled and edited by John Rewald in 1958, and the copyright was renewed in 1978 and 2002. It’s published by MFA Publications.

This is not your typical book about art or artists by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, is a collection of letters from Camille Pissarro to his son Lucien; most are letters to his eldest son, Lucien, but there are also several to Lucien’s wife Esther and Pissarro’s other sons, Lucien’s brothers. The letters cover a period of 20 years from 1883 to 1903, the year of Pissarro’s death.
There are several things which make this book so interesting.

For one, it’s an intimate reading of the relationships within the Pissarro family including not only Pissarro and Lucien but also other family members. That includes Pissarro’s wife, Julie, and several of his other eight children who are also mentioned (Felix, Georges, Rodolphe, Jeanne, Paul-Emile) in addition to Lucien.

You can see the family’s struggles with finances and the social issues of the times over the two decades. Pissarro was a prolific painter who traveled and moved around extensively to find new motifs and locations. Pissarro encouraged his sons Lucien, Georges, and Felix (nicknamed TiTi) to pursue art as a career and even supported them during the early years of their careers, much to the dismay of his wife. Lucien’s career as an engraver during the early years of the graphic arts is noted in the letters. Some of the letters are most touching as they cover the death of one of his sons.

Secondly, and in addition to the interesting internal family relationships, the other thing that stands out is the ongoing discussion of the current (at that time) art world in terms of acceptance of Pissarro’s and other Impressionists’ artwork by the public and art galleries in Europe and America.

Pissarro was acquainted with, if not a friend of, most all the important Impressionists (and post-Impressionists) including Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Van Gogh, and was a mentor to Gauguin. It’s most interesting to read what Pissarro had to say about his contemporaries in these personal letters to his son.

Although not in color, many pieces of his artwork and sketches are included throughout along with several family photos.

The letters provide an in-depth view to the Impressionist era that you rarely or never have gotten from typical art history books or even biographies. If you like to read about the Impressionists, or want to learn more about their life and times, then Camille Pissarro Letters to His Son Lucien is a must-read.


Thursday, January 15

Mood Painting Part 2: Mood of the Painting

Today’s Image
White Stairs
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
Copyright 2009

This is the second blog on Mood Painting. Part 1 talked about the mood of the artist. In Part 2, I talk about the mood of the painting/art. The mood of the painting is the heart and essence of most artist’s work.

While not the same thing, mood and art are so closely related that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. For what reason does one create art other than to evoke a response in either him-or herself or in the viewer of the art?

I think the four mood drivers in a piece of art are: color, technique, genre, and motif, not necessarily, but essentially, in that order. Here’s why.

Color (or lack of color) is the first thing that catches my attention in an art museum, art gallery, private collection, or online artwork. Technically, it’s a physical thing about how we perceive light (its wavelengths) on our retina. But much more than that, it’s the sensation we get when we see a color that excites or relaxes or confuses us. Colors evoke a mood. It’s well known that red creates a feeling of energy and excitement. There’s so much research on the effect of color on people that I won’t attempt to cover it here, other than to say it’s most important in creating the mood of a painting. Perhaps ironically, one of the most striking pieces of art for me was an all-white canvas with a regular, rough texture that evoked a mood of extraordinary peace.

By technique, I mean the method, process, or style in which the art or painting is rendered. For example, is it bold or serene? Is it tight or loose? Is it realistic or abstract? Is it two- or three dimensional? Is it violent or calming? Is it finely detailed? Is it overwhelming? Just what is it about it that makes you feel the way you do?

Genre is, for better or worse, the human name artists have given to types and/or periods of art. When we see one piece, or a whole gallery of similar art, we may experience a feeling of ‘being there’ wherever ‘there’ is. For example, suppose you’re viewing a traveling exhibit of Baroque art (roughly from mid-1500s to mid-1600s). I see it as dark, ornate, a little gory, with references to heavenly things (you, of course, probably see something else). It’s a completely different mood than when I’m looking at art from the Abstract Expressionism period right after World War II (the art of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, and Mark Rothko). See what I mean?

Motif seems obvious. It’s the content, simply “what you’re painting,” as one artist told me. The subject matter, of course, will evoke some mood or feeling that reflects your life experiences and, by that very thing, makes it deeply personal. Think of how differently you feel (or not) when viewing The Scream, which was Today’s Image in the last Orbisplanis Art Blog, as opposed to viewing Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

In the Studio
Finally I'm back in the studio, and will tie in the topic of mood painting with a recent, small painting of mine and Today’s Image. It was from a reference photo in a book that made me think of faraway places on a summer vacation. The mood is one of freedom and light with a hint of the unknown as depicted in the descending stairs. I hope you enjoy it.


Monday, January 12

Mood Painting Part 1: The Artist's Mood

Today’s Image
The Scream
Edvard Munch, 1893

Mood affects artists and their artwork. It’s a fact. I’m talking about the artist's mood and the mood of the painting, and I’ll spend a couple of blogs on the subject. Today’s blog is about the mood of the artist; next blog will discuss the mood captured in paintings.

As artists, your mood (and mine) can and will affect our artwork and is a critical element. In the broader sense it really drives everything we create.

We have both a long-term and short-term mood. Long-term mood is driven by many things, your circumstances being one of them. By circumstances, I mean the things in your life over which you may (or may not) have control.

Money, for one, can drive us to action or inaction. How comfortable we are, financially speaking, is often a precursor to our success or lack thereof. Many artists live and have lived in poverty or near poverty; others not so much. We mostly read and see today the work of the successful artists, those for whom, at some point in their career, money was not a worry. Most others of which you have never heard or read much about relied on meager proceeds from their art for food, shelter, and supplies. Such pressure certainly had an effect on their mood.
Camille Pissarro, a successful Impressionist by any standard, for much of his career lived from painting to painting and often borrowed money from his friend Claude Monet. Frederic Bazille, on the other hand, had the luxury of being from a wealthy family, and often provided assistance to his painter friends. Such financial pressures certainly had (and have) an effect on an artist's mood.

Relationships are a long-term driver of mood. Good ones with lovers, family, and friends don’t necessarily mean success as some “starving artists” leave otherwise happy lives. But ironically, troubled relationships often go hand-in-hand with the most successful painting careers, ala Edward Hopper or Jackson Pollack.

State of mind also affects long-term mood and artistic ability. You are, no doubt, familiar with the life of Vincent Van Gogh and the affect his mental state had on his paintings. His artwork, the colors and movement, intensified the more confused and irrational he became. His paintings never sold until after his death. Go figure.

Short-term mood can be nothing more than how you felt when you got up this morning (or afternoon), how you physically feel (right now), or how you’re reacting to today’s weather . It’s sunny—and you paint a rainbow and don’t know why. Or it could be what someone said or texted to you. That no-good, so-and-so—and you paint a dark, brooding piece and don’t know why.

Well, I’ll tell you—it’s your mood.

Don’t you just wonder what Edvard Munch’s mood was when he painted The Scream, which is Today’s Image?


Friday, January 9

Like Plein Air Painting with Light

Unless you live on or near the Equator, then you experience changing light throughout the year. The farther north or south of the Equator you are, the greater the change. As you know, the light is more intense and brighter during the summer and diminished during the winter no matter the hemisphere in which you reside.

If you are a plein air painter, you have probably learned to live with this and adjusted your painting schedule, if not your personal comfort, to match the seasons. I hope you’re one of the lucky ones who lives in a climate that lends itself to year ‘round plein air painting, such as Southern California or the Mediterranean (lucky you!).

The rest of us have to put up with a changing (or less than ideal) climate and increasing or decreasing amounts of light throughout the year. In my case, living in the northern hemisphere, I have many more hours in which to paint from April to October than I do from November to March. I suppose I’m bringing this up in the Orbisplanis Art Blog since I’m currently in the “dark” period. I suppose I’m relatively lucky to live in the mid-latitudes rather than nearer one of the poles, where you experience total or almost total darkness for some period of time (really lucky, actually).

As I’ve mentioned before, I paint in a space with a large west window for natural light. I know northern light is the ideal, but I’ve got what I’ve got and no plans to re-model. It’s actually better in one respect: the western exposure allows the maximum amount of light in the afternoon especially during the months with diminished lighting. I don’t usually begin painting until after noon when the natural light is finally full strength enough in my opinion. I have about 4 ½ hours of “good” light. By 4:30 p.m., it is too dim to really see the actual colors unless I turn on an incandescent light, which unfortunately change the colors.

What to Do?

Fortunately, there is a solution. It’s artificial natural light. There’s a whole lot of information on this, and here’s a link to an article I found on the subject of full spectrum natural light and color perception, which I found illuminating (ha!).

It’s really very interesting, although a little technical when it goes into the Color Rendering Index (CRI) and such, but it talks about how “full spectrum lighting duplicates the characteristics of daylight in the blue north sky.” One source also said full spectrum means that a light source (lamp) must have a CRI of at least 90, but I can’t verify that. There are several manufacturers of full spectrum lighting and what seems to be called natural spectrum lighting. Even after researching it, I’m not totally clear what the difference is.

Anyway, I must have complained about my dearth of light enough so that I recently received a gift that remedies my poor lighting. It’s a floor lamp with either a full- or natural-spectrum light. Just what I needed. I'm not endorsing any of the manufacturers, so Im not telling you which brand I have. But I will say I am very satisfied with the amount and type of light it emits.

So, in the shank of the afternoon, around 4:00 p.m. or so, I just turn on my lamp and paint until it gets completely dark or I get tired, whichever comes first.

It’s great for productivity, your eyes, and your art!


Tuesday, January 6

Try Something New--Poster Paint (Gouache)

Today’s Image

One of the goals of Orbisplanis Art Blog is to encourage you to try Something New. Whether you like to admit it or not, Something New is the lifeblood of art and artists (and life in general, but that’s another subject altogether). I’m encouraging you to try Something New in your art that you’ve been thinking about or wanting to do for awhile. It’s a great elixir (as “they” say) for what ails you.

Here’s why.
  • It will give you a new outlook
  • It will raise your spirits
  • It will broaden your skills
  • It will help you focus your artistic ability
  • You will learn something new--guaranteed
  • You will surprise yourself
  • It will be humbling
  • It will be fun

That should be enough to spur you on. Here’s what I did.

Over the past several month’s I kept running across the term ‘gouache.’ I even added it to the ‘Artist Factoids’ section of this blog (see the right-hand column) a while back. I did a little research online just to make sure I understood what it was. I looked up several artists who used it as a medium, and found that it was popular during the time of the Impressionists (Camille Pissarro, for one, painted many gouaches), and that interested me. I looked for gouache, etc., at my usual art supply vendors and read all the labeIs and any literature.

I will be the first to tell you I am one of those down-to-earth artists who, as a realist, wants to find what’s good and pleasing to me and not necessarily what others may think. I am mindful and respectful of almost all art forms and pay homage to those artists who have been selected by art historians (and the public, too) as the ‘great ones.’ But I am not a purist.

I believe in being pragmatic in most things including my art. For me, that means trying new art mediums and techniques that interest me. It does not necessarily mean doing it the way the experts say you have to. Otherwise, where’s the creativity?

In my research on gouache, I discovered that it’s not much more than painting with opaque watercolor. Instead of being translucent on your support, it’s opaque and usually with a matt finish.

Turns out, it’s also poster paint!

I can almost see eyes rolling from the serious gouache artists who use only the best gouache paints. Please give the rest of us a break, please. Let us try out something new without having to commit to it as our one true artistic calling.
Anyway, I bought the six basic colors available (that just happened to be on sale at my art supply store--always a plus). I won’t tell you the brand name, but they are each in a 4 fluid-ounce bottle. I will tell you they are called ‘tempera paint poster color. ’ I admit I haven’t researched the technical difference among tempera, poster paint, and gouache, if any. The six colors are so basic, they are not even listed on the labels. They simply are blue, yellow, red, green, black, and white.
To give you some idea, the blue is similar to cobalt blue; yellow is similar to cadmium yellow light; red is similar to cadmium red; green is similar to chromium oxide green; black is similar to Payne’s gray; white is similar to titanium white. (They are non-toxic and conform to ASTM standards.)

Talk about back to basics with a limited palette. You can have all the freedom and fun you want by mixing all other colors from these six. It may help to have a color-wheel or mixing chart nearby in case you can’t remember how to mix a burnt umber, but it’s easily do-able.

Today’s Image is the painting I did using only five of the poster paint colors—no red needed in this composition. I rather like it.

If you are successful or not, you will have accomplished at least some of the eight bullets above. I encourage you to try Something New. If not poster paint, then whatever will stimulate your creativity.


Saturday, January 3

Sketching and Drawing with Colored Pencils

Today’s Image

I recently received a very nice gift for either the aspiring or experienced artist. It’s not that I had forgotten about the medium, although I had not really spent any time with it since renewing my interest in art in 2007. It was more of, “I’ll have to get around to that one of these days and give it a try.”

Well, those days are here since I received a gift set of drawing and colored pencils and assorted supplies. It's Today's Image.

First I’ll tell you about the set of drawing pencils. It’s fairly complete and will meet all of your needs to get you going. The set comes in a nice wooden box with latches and a handle for easy toting around. It includes four graphite pencils, two charcoal pencils, a dozen colored pencils, a torchon, a rubber eraser , a pencil sharpener, and small sand paper sheets for filing points.

The graphite pencils come in several grades of soft to hardness: 2B, B, HB, and H. For more info on pencils grades, here’s a link to my previous blog on the subject. The two charcoal pencils are soft and hard, which will give you a range of effects.

The colored pencils are white, black, gray, burnt umber, purple, ultramarine, sky blue, lemon yellow, yellow, green, forest green, orange, and red. These are really all you’ll need to start as you try out your skills at pencil sketching and drawing.

It had been a while since I had sat down with colored pencils and sketchpad and without much thought beforehand, I drew freehand from a postcard with paintings from an art museum I visited on a recent trip. The motif was a mountain meadow.

First I matched the colors in the painting as close as possible to the ones I had in my set. For the distant mountains I used a mix of ultramarine and gray. I sketched quickly with parallel lines in rapid motion, first with ultramarine and then gray, but with a light touch as the mountains are in the distant. For the closer mountains I used purple with a slightly heavier hand as the near mountains are darker. Over the purple I added strokes of forest green.

For the trees in the mid-ground I used a mixture of burnt umber, forest green, and 2B graphite pencil as the trees are fairly in shadow with not much detail. The meadow itself in the painting is a mixture of light and dark grasses with fields of orange, yellow, and light blue wildflowers. For the grass I used forest green and yellow green. For the flowers, I used orange, lemon yellow, and sky blue. For all these elements I used short, numerous strokes to convey grasses and flowers in the fore- and mid-ground. Finally I sketched in the sky color using sky blue in quick stokes as you might guess.

Other than pastels, colored pencil sketching is one of the most ‘tactile’ mediums and gives you a whole lot of freedom to express what you’re drawing. It’s that open environment for creativity that I like with pencil sketching.

Another plus is that the more you sketch, both with graphite and with colored pencils, the more you increase your skill level. Sketching is an excellent way to enhance many of the skills you use not only for sketching and drawing but for painting as well. Pencil sketching is a very mobile media. It’s easy to carry around a few pencils and a small sketchpad for when you find a scene you want to capture both in drawing and notetaking on the light and atmosphere of the moment.
When you return to the studio you can use your sketch as the reference for your work in colored pencils, or in pastels, or in acrylics or oils.

Just think, all that from a set of drawing pencils