Monday, April 27

Why Is It Called Hooker's Green?

Today’s Image
William Jackson Hooker

You may have noticed the Twitter Updates section in the column over there to your right. Twitter is the mini-blog, instant messaging phenomenon that appears to be growing exponentially. I usually provide an update on Twitter a couple of times a day about what’s going on in my art “world, ” which may be of no interest to anyone except me.

Be that as it may, in a recent “tweet” I said mixing Antwerp blue and Hooker’s green watercolors makes for a pleasing turquoise. In jest, one response was, “Hooker’s green—what kind of painting are you doing?”

Since renewing my interest in art a couple of years ago, I remember seeing Hooker’s green named as a color in just about every popular medium—oil, acrylic, watercolor, and pastel.

That “tweet” also got me to thinking again about how certain colors got their names. But, as I often say, what do I know? I didn’t know where the name for Hooker’s green came from, so I thought I'd try to find out. Here’s what I learned:

Hooker’s Green is a music group and is the no.1 download of pop/electronica/indie music on Myspace. Oops--interesting, but nothing to do with the color or painting.

The says it’s simply a mixture of Prussian blue and Gamboge. (I had previously researched Gamboge and posted a definition over to your right under Artists Factoids.) I then wondered why it’s called Prussian blue and could quickly see this becoming enigmatic, like a wheel within a wheel. But back to Hooker’s green.

The site gives a very cold, scientific, chemical definition using the pigment (PG) C.I. number (click to see my blog about that subject) and saying something about four manufacturers mix it like PG7 and PG 36, but most artists prefer one pthalo green, and that it’s heavy staining, dark--blah, blah, blah…

On, finally I’m getting warmer--it says: Hooker’s green, origin 1850-1855, named after W. Hooker (died 1832), English illustrator.

So I then Googled the term "W. Hooker English illustrator."

Both Wikipedia and have nice write-ups on the life of William Jackson Hooker. Both sources said he was a renowned English botanist, an author, and a gifted botanical illustrator. He established a herbarium (whatever that is) in England that held more than a million species of dried plants and drew botanists from around the world. He also wrote and edited botanical journals including Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. But nothing about Hooker's green.

Then, on I finally found information on his artwork and at last what I was really looking for. It says he was the finest English painter of fruit, and “Hooker even compounded a special pigment for the leaves, still sold to artists as ‘Hooker’s Green.’”

There you have it, from the OrbisPlanis!


Thursday, April 23

Bargain Art Books

Today’s Image
Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa
appears in many art books

I recently bought a couple of books about acrylic painting online at Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you know that’s the online retailer for almost everything for sale in the world. This is not an endorsement for Amazon at all, just an acknowledgement that their site has a good inventory of art books for sale.

If you’ve bought art or other kinds of books on Amazon (or any other large online book or retail site), you may have noticed that, in addition to the book you want listed as being “on Amazon” itself, there are usually many more of the same book also available from independent booksellers.

What that means is that even though you’re purchasing the book online through, the book may be coming from an independent bookseller somewhere else rather than from one of Amazon’s distribution centers.

It doesn’t really matter, and that’s not what today’s blog is about anyway.

Today’s blog is about the enjoyment I receive, and I’m guessing you do, too, if you’re an art book lover, from looking through the printed catalog many booksellers send you after buying one of their books.

I am not endorsing this particular bookseller, or any other bookseller, but I received an old-fashioned printed catalog in the U.S. mail from Edward Hamilton Bookseller. The catalog is headlined Bargain Books in at least 72-point type on its cover.

This catalog includes not only art books, but every other kind of book you can think of. All kinds of books from Music Recordings to Television and Radio to Philosophy and African Americans are listed.

All kinds of art books are listed, most accompanied by a postage-size photo of the cover. What I like best is reading the titles and the brief blurb about the book’s content and then deciding if it’s one I want to buy. I counted 193 in all. The Art Books section runs from p. 59 to p. 66, so there's quite a selection.

Here’s one example: “Box Top Air Power: The Aviation Art of Model Airplane Boxes by Thomas Graham; showcases some of the most recognized and dynamic examples of aviation art ever produced having appeared on model airplane kit boxes; illus in color, 175 pages, 8 ½ x 11, paperbound, USD$21.95

And another: “1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die; ed. By Stephen Farthing presents an essential, visually arresting reference for all art lovers; takes an incisive look at the world’s best paintings from ancient Egyptian wall paintings to contemporary Western canvases; illus in color, 960 pages, Universe, USD$23.95.

There are many, many more, and they range in price from USD$3.95 (Greek Art) to USD$289.95 (Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 1800-1950).

This type of catalog is also available online at many booksellers’ sites. However, there’s something special about having the printed catalog in hand and being able to flip among the pages comparing the books that is most satisfying—even though I’ll still buy the book online.

I must stop blogging now and purchase one of these books immediately!

Monday, April 20

Hans Holbein, The Younger

Today’s Image
King Henry VIII, c. 1539-40
By Hans Holbein
In the Public Domain

A recent article in the local newspaper reminded me about something—actually someone—I’ve been wanting to know more about. The story heralded the 500th anniversary this week of the day when Henry Tudor became King Henry VIII. My interest isn’t in Henry, who still gets in the news, and who most everyone agrees was not a very nice person even if he made England a world power.

No, my interest was piqued by the iconic portrait of King Henry VIII, which accompanied the story and is similar to Today’s Image. In the painting, Henry is wearing a red robe with enormous shoulder pads and—is that a beret?—a feathery black and white cap. I think I’ve also seen it in TV ads for beer. The portrait was painted by Hans Holbein, who is the person I’m interested in.

Not having studied art at university, and not having a background in art history or fine art, I admit I did not know who Hans Holbein was.

Since I started art blogging, his name crops up every now and then on the internet in articles on art or painting or art museum sites, for example. From the context, I figured maybe he was an Old Master, or not, or at least a painter who had gained a reputation, but it was a very long time ago.

Also, a friend who’s an artist told me he uses only Holbein’s, referring to Holbein Watercolors. Putting two and two together, I figured this guy must be someone important in the art world, what with his name on a whole line of artist’s paints.

So, I did a little online research. Turns out, there were two Hans Holbeins, who were referred to as the Elder and the Younger. The Younger (c. 1497 – 1543) is reportedly the one who painted the portrait of Henry VIII.

He was a German artist in the religious Renaissance style of the era. After the Reformation, he moved to London in 1526. He must have been good, because he worked for such notables as Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn. In 1535 he became the King’s Painter and rendered portraits of the king and the royal family. He is regarded as a realist for his extremely finely detailed likenesses in his portraits. However, one source said his portraits showed surprising little character and personality--the physiognomy--of his subjects. That's a little nit-picky.

He painted portraits of some of Henry’s wives including Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. I read that after trying to maintain an alliance with Rome with his marriage to Anne, Henry divorced her because she was not as beautiful in person as Holbein’s painting made her appear. It’s an understatement to say that is the risk of taking artist’s license.

Holbein died of a plague that was going around in 1543.

So how did Holbein’s name get on the paint? According to their website, Holbein Art Materials (they make all kinds of products for artists) “is a family owned Japanese Company with head offices in Osaka, Japan. The company was formed just before the turn of the last century [I think they mean the century before last], and took the name of the much revered European artist Hans Holbein in the 1930's.” It says they have 75 percent of the Japanese artist market with more than 300 employees and 12 color chemists. Interesting.
So, now you know at least as much as I do about Hans Holbein.


Friday, April 17

What Is Frisket?

Sometimes the topics for the Orbisplanis Art Blog are about artists that I admire or whose work I have seen in museums or art centers. Sometimes the topic is drawing or painting tips (or even a lesson) that I’d like to share. Sometimes the topic is an art book that I’ve read or bought on an artist or technique.

Sometimes the topic is a bit mundane such as My Twitter Experience . Today's topic, however, is on frisket. If you don’t know what I’m talking about—read on.

Why would I pick a topic such as frisket about which to blog? Well, I recently have been taking watercolor lessons at what I like to call Watercolor School, and we have to use frisket. Although most all watercolor artists are probably familiar with it, it was new to me. So I decided to blog about it.

Just what is this frisket that I refer to? The plastic bottle that I have actually calls it liquid frisket, which I found out was only one of the forms it comes in. It also says, “For All Your Masking Needs.” A little marketing never hurts, right?

When you Google “frisket,” you find there is a lot more information on it than you ever imagined. There are 107,000 hits on frisket—imagine!

Turns out, the term frisket refers to several things, all having to do with separating one thing from another or covering up one thing so it won’t get mixed up or in with another thing.

In Wikipedia there are several descriptions. One is about the old letterpress printing methodology where an oiled sheet—the frisket—is used to keep the ink from touching certain areas of the page to be printed. Another description is about air-brush, which is a spray painting technique in which a plastic sheet—the frisket—is used to mask off certain areas to keep the paint from covering that area. It also mentions using friskets like a template that you use to cut out areas to be painted.

But none of the above descriptions have much to do with the frisket I used for watercolor. For watercolor what you want to do is to apply the frisket, liquid frisket to be exact, on the areas of the painting where you don’t want the watercolor to cover or even touch. If you don’t use frisket, the paint will mix instantly no matter how carefully you try to keep this from happening.

So what exactly is frisket? Without getting into the actual chemical composition, it’s basically natural latex and ammonia. The label on my bottle says do not take internally and avoid contact with the eyes. Based on the odor—strong, with a whiff of ammonia—I will heed the warning.

Natural latex, as I found out with some more Googling, comes from—exudes was the word they used—the Hevea Brasiliensis tree, which, I assume, grows in Brazil. It’s flexible and has "unique molding abilities."

You can apply frisket with a paint brush (not one of your good sable ones, though, as it ruins them) or a nib. A nib is a handy little thing, sort of like a pencil but with plastic rather than lead. Anyway, you can apply frisket with it, too; maybe I’ll blog about it someday.

So, I’ve used frisket on a couple of paintings and it works just as advertised and keeps the watercolor from going where you don’t want it to go. When you’re done, you just peel it off in rubbery strings, and whatever you covered up with the frisket is ready to be painted or left alone.

What will they think of next?


Monday, April 13

Postcards of Small French Paintings

I just ran across a souvenir that had fallen between some art books on my bookshelf where they reside. I had forgotten I bought it on a trip to Washington, D.C. last year, but there it was wedged between a couple of large books I have on the Impressionists.

It’s a group of postcards. You know, the kind with a picture and you write a short phrase like, “wish you were here,” or something, and put a stamp on it and mail it. The postcards were bound together with glue on one end, so it’s more like a little book. But they are actual postcards that you could remove if you wanted to and write “having a great time,” or such on them and send them to someone. Today's Image is one of the postcards.

On the cover it even says in small type-- a book of postcards, and it’s entitled--Small French Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington--and published by Pomegranate Communications.

I remembered buying it at the gift shop, or whatever they called it, at the National Gallery of Art after a full day of viewing room after room of some of the greatest paintings in the world. As I recall the gift shop was not a counter or two tucked in a dark corner of the basement. No, it was a big, bright, well-lighted establishment that would have felt right at home in any high-end shopping district in the country (with prices to match as I also recall).

Anyway to stay within my budget, I found this neat little gift of full-color postcards. There are 30 of them altogether, and they are examples of some of the best small Impressionist paintings. The first page after the title page, and which is not a removable postcard, gives a very brief overview of the Impressionist era from the 1860s until around the turn of the century. The paintings of 20 Impressionists are included, and all are housed at the National Gallery of Art.

I was aware of the work of many of them, such as Corot, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Seurat. Of equal interest to me were the ones with whom I was not so familiar; those include Bonnard, Carolus-Duran, Cazin, Daubigny (although I had heard of him), Fantin-Latour (I’d heard of him, too), Lepine, Redon, Tissot (that one sounded familiar), and Vuillard. These "new" names gave me a whole lot of new art to research.

Small seemed to be the key for getting your painting included in this collection. In this format, they are all postcard-size prints, of course. But of the actual paintings, the largest one included was Berthe Morisot’s The Sisters at 20.5 x 32 in/52 x 81 cm. The smallest was Edouard Manet’s At the Races at 5.1 x 8.6 in/12.6 x 21.9 cm.

By the way, the painting on the cover is Table Set in a Garden by Pierre Bonnard, c. 1908. I think I got a great deal on a collection of some of the best Impressionist paintings in the world that is easy to pick up and enjoy anytime. Thank you Pomegranate and National Gallery of Art. I plan to keep it out on the coffee table, though, so it won’t get lost on the bookshelf again.


Thursday, April 9

About Cold Press and Hot Press Watercolor Paper (and More)

My "First" Watercolor on Arches Cold Press
Watercolor Paper, 300 lb.
After learning a little more about this myself, I thought I’d share information on the subject that many new and aspiring artists may find of interest, too.
What do the terms hot press and cold press refer to and what do they mean?
We’re talking paper here, and while not exclusively related to watercolor, the terms are usually used in the context of choosing a paper for that medium.
I'm no expert on the subject by any means, and there is a whole lot to learn and know about the paper(s) that artists use for their artwork—much more than can be covered in today’s blog. However, if this is something in which you have an interest, there is plenty of information out there in cyberspace for you to Google, so have at it.
First, a brief, brief overview of paper-making, which is summarized from the site, Paper University. Paper is primarily made from trees, which have cellulose fibers that are processed into paper. This is done by making pulp from wood chips, dehydrating the pulp on screens, and then heating and drying it on hot rollers or molds until, voila!, it turns into paper. A lot of fine art paper is also made from cotton, which I assume is a similar process. Paper can also have a coating applied, such as clay or polymer.
That said, here are a few of the hard, cold (and hot) facts on the subject I gleaned from the internet, on such sites as Watercolorist’s Answer Book:
  • There are actually three types: cold press, hot press, and rough.
  • The difference among the three has to do with the resulting texture after the paper-making process.
  • Cold press paper has a good bit of texture (or “tooth”)—a good memory jogger is to think goosebumps for cold press.
  • Hot press paper is relatively smooth—memory jogger-think about melting relative to hot press; a melted substance is smooth.
  • Rough paper is really rough, even compared to cold press paper.
  • Cold press is used for a wide variety of watercolor effects from washes to detail work.
  • Hot press is primarily used for detail work due to its smooth finish.
  • Beware, the texture of paper can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer—what’s considered smooth for one may be toothy by another—so you have to experiment.
  • Paper is categorized and sold by weight (or thickness) in pounds (lb.) or grams/square meter (gsm).
  • I did not know this!--what's referred to as the weight is actually the weight of 500 sheets (aka a ream) of that particular paper—you could drop this into a conversation and actually sound knowledgeable about the subject.
  • The "standard" weight for cold press paper is 140 lb/300 gsm. and 300 lb/640 gsm.
  • The "standard" weight for hot press paper is 140 lb/300 gsm.
  • Paper is sold by the individual sheet or in blocks similar to a tablet but bound together.
  • The "standard" sheet size of watercolor paper is 22 x 30 in/56 x 76 cm.
So there—in a nutshell, everything you need to know about watercolor paper.

Monday, April 6

Creating Harmony in Your Paintings Using Only Primary Colors

Today's Image
The Three Primaries

I made Today's Image of the three primary colors because today’s OrbisPlanis Art Blog is about going back to basics: using only red, blue, and yellow as your palette.

Why am I blogging about this old art subject? Well, as I said in one of last week’s blogs, art blogging is a continual learning experience, and that also, by the way, includes art and painting.
I’m happy to report that I’m open minded enough to keep learning (and trying) new things all the time.

In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned that the limited palette I was using at the time—this is with acrylic paint—was making all my paintings look oddly the same somehow even though the motifs were as varied as beaches and deserts. This was with a palette of about eight or nine basic hues including burnt umber and Payne’s gray.

That was because if you viewed my paintings side by side from a distance (not that far either, maybe 20 feet/6 m), you would think they were almost the same painting because the hues and values were so similar in each painting. At least I thought so. I wondered why, and was pretty sure it was the limited palette that caused it.

It couldn’t possibly be the artist :-)

So instead of learning more about limited palettes, in my infinite wisdom I took the opposite approach and un-limited my palette by buying more acrylics. And with all those acrylic colors available, I was the paint vendors’ favorite customer. It didn’t matter to me if almost every artist says you should use a very limited palette, usually no more than seven or eight colors, especially if you're learning. I, however, was going to use as many colors as I pleased.

But as all mature humans know, things have a way of changing.

Isn’t life funny?

What changed for me was instruction from someone who knows about painting and forced me to use the most limited palette there is. Not forced actually, it was more like, “do it this way, ” and peer pressure.

Currently I am finishing a painting that is the first one I have done using only the three primaries. I am please with the result. The colors, some of which I never thought I could mix myself, actually look good.

I recall from some of my recent studies about how harmonious a painting looks when rendered with a limited palette. I think this is especially true of some of the Impressionists’ work, such as Claude Monet’s Regattas at Argenteuil. See how beautiful the colors are together? That’s harmony from using a limited palette.

I have learned that choosing the correct red, blue, and yellow is key. I’m using Cadmium Red Deep, (French) Ultramarine Blue, and Cadmium Yellow Deep (Gamboge). (Disclaimer--I'm talking here about using acrylics and watercolor on a white support, and not oil, pastels, or any other medium.)

So, we’ll see how it works out using a limited palette and how harmonious my work can become. I know there are some colors that are just not possible to mix using red, blue, and yellow, but I will resist the urge to pull out my Opera Rose!


Thursday, April 2

A Book About Techniques of Paul Cezanne

In the Art Library

I’m back in the OrbisPlanis Art Library for the first time since February. It’s not that I haven’t read any books or periodicals since then, I have, but I just haven’t blogged about it in the Art Library since then. Whatever, today I’m going to tell you about a great book I found a while back at our local used bookstore that I finally got around to reading.

The book is: History and Techniques of the Great Masters—Cezanne by Richard Kendall. It’s a Quantum Book (whatever that is) and published by Chartwell Books. As stated on the back cover, it’s one in a series on artists with which you're probably familiar, from Bruegel to Whistler.

I’m sure I'm not (ever) going to try to paint like Paul Cezanne or any of the other “masters.” Why would I or anyone? Anyone with any art knowledge would be able to see what you’re attempting and probably wonder why, too. Besides Cezanne has already “been there and done that.”
Anyway, I think there are two benefits to reading this book. One, if nothing else, it will greatly increase your knowledge of Cezanne’s art, style, and techniques. Understanding these can’t do anything but help your own understanding of painting. Secondly, I found the paintings in the book to be inspirational, to me anyway; maybe you will, too. So, two benefits: educational and inspirational.

The book is in paperbook, which kept the cost down, especially used, and it’s an easy read—only 64 pages. But there’s a lot in those 64 pages. The introduction gives the highlights of Cezanne’s oeuvre and takes you from his early paintings to his landscapes, his still lifes, and his nudes. There is a page on his painting methods as well as his probable palette. There’s also a Chronology of Cezanne’s life.

The rest of the book is divided into chapters on eleven of his important, if not most famous, paintings. They are not presented in chronological order, and without listing all the paintings, here are a few to whet your appetite: Self Portrait, The House of the Hanged Man, Mountains in Provence, and Woman With A Coffeepot.

Each chapter gives you the context in which the painting was conceived and rendered. It highlights and explains how a couple of specific areas were painted. In Woman With A Coffeepot, for example, it gives details of how her hand was painted, such as “the warmth of the flesh against the blue of the dress.” Each chapter also includes an actual, life-size detail (this is cool) of a section of the painting and discussion so that you get an up-close view of how Cezanne painted it, although I suspect some of the explanation had to be conjecture.

I'm telling you, this is a most interesting book, and well worth your time. It will increase your understanding of one of the great painters of the late 19th century, if not your own technique.