Tuesday, March 30

Using Masonite for Your Painting Support


I learned about a new support for painting today and I wanted to share it with you. You probably already know this, but I had not thought about it before, so it was new to me.

Instead of painting on paper or canvas, try masonite.

Now, I was aware of masonite, of course, sort of. It’s some kind of manufactured board, right? That’s the extent of my knowledge of masonite. Like asphalt, I know what the word asphalt is—don’t we all—but to actually tell you what it’s made of, well, maybe not.

Wikipedia to the rescue. Masonite was invented in Laurel, Mississippi USA, of all places, in 1924. It was first used commercially in the late 1920s. It was used in construction—doors, walls, roofing—as well as for electric guitars, desktops, and canoes, which seems to be an odd combination.

It says it’s not used for these things as much anymore, but it is still used by ‘hobbyists.’ I guess they’re including artists in that category.

Masonite is made using the Mason method, whatever that is. It doesn’t seem to have a trademark, so I guess everyone is supposed to know what the Mason method is. Anyway, it’s made from wood chips, which are extruded into fibers with steam and then formed into boards (or whatever you want).

Okay, other than construction, it does say masonite is used by artists as a support for painting. It is also used in linocut printing in which the masonite is cut or engraved/embossed to form the image to print (I think). As I said, this was all news to me.

One interesting tidbit about masonite that you can drop into a conversation at your next cocktail party is that masonite was used to make automobile license plates for the province of Quebec in Canada in 1944 to preserve metal for the war effort. Bet you didn’t know that.

It was highly recommended as a cost effective support, that is, cheap. It is also better in many respects, than canvas, stretched canvas, and many papers--its smooth painting surface, for one.

It was also recommended that I gesso and sand it a couple of times for a really smooth surface.

It’s good for oil, acrylic, and I don’t know what all. I do know I’m going to use it as the support for my next acrylic painting.

See—you just never know what new thing you’re going to learn about art.


Thursday, March 25

THE Easiest Way to Check the Values in Your Artwork

Today’s Image
Two Dinghies
Pastel on Paper, 2007
Copyright 2007

Just a quick blog today about a quick way to check the values of the colors or tones in your paintings. You really need to check your values when there is not much difference in them. That was especially the case in my pastel and Today's Image, Two Dinghies.

Here are the usual ways, no surprises:

For old-schoolers, use one of those value index cards that can have up to a dozen or so different values numbered from 1, white, to 12, black. You just have to compare the value of tone to your colors. Sometimes the cards have small cut-out circles so you can easily place the card right over the color you want to compare. But you still have to make the jump from a black, white, or somewhere-in-between gray to your red, blue, yellow, etc. to make the comparison.

You can also photograph your work-in-progress in black-and-white and then look at the image and see where you need to darken the whites or lighten the darks. Or you can use Adobe Photoshop Elements (or similar software) and select to view the image as black-and-white onscreen to see what you have.

BUT I use the quickest and easiest way to check the values in my paintings. It’s not a break-through. It’s not new, and there’s no magical solution. It just works very well for me, personally.

Simply TURN YOUR ARTWORK UPSIDE-DOWN on a flat surface, stand back about five feet (152 cm), and gaze at your work. It will immediately become apparent to you where you need to make corrections in your values. It works best if you’re in a subdued light or with the light coming from the side rather than from overhead.

This works especially well if you’re working from a reference photo and place the photo right next to your work. The differences in value immediately pop out.

It's fast, cheap , and easy. What more could you ask for?


Monday, March 22

En Plein Air Painting

Today’s Image
Reference Photo, Cows
Copyright 2010

I have to hand it to those Impressionists, many of whom were known for painting en plein air. That is, they painted outdoors, on site, and up close and personal to their motifs.

I like the idea of painting en plein air. I really do. Getting out there in the open and back to nature with the wind at your back and the sun in your face definitely has an appeal. You can plainly see what you’re painting and that should help to heighten your creative senses.

I can’t imagine what the Impressionists had to go through to pursue their plein air passion for painting outdoors. Well, maybe I can imagine it.

I know the French countryside and its seashores were and are beautiful and were conducive to creating beautiful paintings, but it must have been awful.

They had to gather up all their paints, which back then were stored in pig bladders, and believe it or not, that was the latest thing in paint manufacturing.

They probably had to make their own art boxes and easels sized to fit their own supplies and their personal ability to haul all that out to the countryside.

Traveling in the late 19th century was no picnic, it seems to me. They did have locomotives to get around the country, but they still had to get to their plein air site by wagon, on horseback, or on foot. That can take up most of what little time remained when the light is just right.

Then there was the climate to contend with. I remember reading in one of my books on Monet, how he was almost killed when, painting on a seaside cliff, he was overtaken by a monster wave. Now that’s perseverance.

And, they had no sunscreen, no UV-ray sunglasses, no bug repellant.

So why am I even talking about this? Well, it’s because about twice a year I get the en-plein-air bug. It’s when the weather is mild and sunny and the humidity is relatively low. It’s when I get the urge to find the perfect plein air sites with natural scenery including puffy clouds, rivers, meadows, birds, cows, etc., etc.

So back to nature I went the other day in search of some scenery. And I did find some similar to Today’s Image.

As I’ve said before, I don’t paint with oil for a number of reasons, odor and drying time being two of them. And acrylic paint dries so fast that it's almost unusable out of doors. And for some reason, I can’t picture anyone painting a watercolor en plein air.

So instead of setting up shop with all my paints, easel, and supplies, I simply pulled out my digital camera and photographed my favorite scenes, which I’ll use as reference photos for some future paintings.

As I said, I’ve got to hand it to those Impressionists and their plein air painting.


Friday, March 19

Todays' Art Offering: Bighorns

Today’s Image
Oil Pastel on Paper
Copyright 2008


Today's blog is something different for me—self promotion.

I’m promoting my 2008 painting, Bighorns.

At one time, I lived in New Mexico USA and was immediately drawn to the artwork showing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. I hope you like it as much as I do.

It’s rendered in oil pastel on paper.

It’s 11 x 14in (27.9 x 35.6cm).

It’s unmatted and unframed.

If you like this painting, email me at orbisplanis@gmail.com.

OR send me a tweet on Twitter @orbisplanis.


Monday, March 15

Why I'm a Green Artist

Today’s Image
Courtesy of Microsoft Corp.

It’s the middle of March (already), and that may have you thinking about green, even if you’re not Irish, since it’s almost Spring, too, here in the northern hemisphere.

Ah, green, nature’s universal color. Which color of green comes to mind when you think of green?

There are so many to choose, from the lemony-lime, which always reminds me of the color of a parrot for some reason, to the deep, dark greeny-blacks of a deep forest shadow. And everything in between.

For artists, having such a variety to choose from is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It's great because you can mix paint the exact green you need to capture whatever scene or mood you’re going for. But at the same time, it can be a curse because there is nothing worse than the color green gone wrong; that is, when it’s not quite right. Think pea soup.

The reason there are so many greens is, of course, because there are so many blues and so many yellows. If you ever are bored and want to spend some time on something mindless, pull out all your yellows and all your blues one afternoon see how many different greens you can mix up. You’ll be astounded, and I guarantee you will quit by the time you’ve mixed 50 or so greens.

The oil, watercolor, and acrylic paint manufacturers, along with the pastel makers, want to help you by offering a huge number of pre-mixed greens. They also want to make a buck, but where’s the fun in using pre-mixed greens?

I do use pre-mixed greens, but I try not to over-do it. There are some greens you just can’t mix very well with any old blue and yellow, and that’s where the pre-mixed ones come in handy. For example, Hookers green is a work-horse of a green. I keep it on hand because it’s so versatile and looks natural especially if you mix it with blues, yellows, and other greens.

So is Pthalo green, which has a bluish tone, and I use it when I need an emerald or Kelly green. Sap green is good for trees and foliage as the name implies.

Don’t forget green is also one-half the recipe, along with a red, for making blacks. And turquoise is green and blue.

I do have a good many acrylic greens because I think mixing acrylic, in general, and acrylic greens in particular is no easy task. So I have Chromium Oxide green, Viridian green, Olive green and Olive green light, Green Gold, and Brilliant Yellow Green.

As an artist, going green is good for more than just the environment. It's good for your art.


Thursday, March 11

What Do Vincent VanGogh, J.W. Morrice, and Orangutans Have in Common?

Today’s Image
The Bedroom by Vincent VanGogh, 1888
In the Public Domain

They are all part of today’s art blog. Rather than my usual highly intellectually stimulating, must-read blog on art aspiration/inspiration, today’s blog provides several worthwhile tidbits of unrelated but art-related commentary.

Here goes.

From AP and Google news. If you are a VanGogh fan, and there are so, so many of you, then you’ll be glad to know that not only is one of his most famous paintings being restored, but there is also a blog where you can follow along while it undergoes its refurbish.

It’s his famous The Bedroom, described as one of the public’s most favorite VanGogh paintings, and it’s being restored by Amsterdam’s VanGogh Museum. The painting is of his bedroom in Arles, which he painted in 1888. In addition to being 122 years old, it also had water damage and the colors were fading, so it is about time.

If you’ve had any art education or such, you may remember this is his painting that defies gravity with its fun-house perspective. I would like to think VanGogh did this (odd perspective) for artistic purposes rather than a sketch gone awry, but when I view it, I can't help but think, “Really?”


You may never have heard of the following artist unless you’re a Canadian art historian or maybe you have. I never knew about him until I purchased a book with his work in the art section of a nearby used book store.

It’s J. W. Morrice, which is the title of the book by Lucie Dorais. It was published by the National Gallery of Canada in 1985. Morrice lived from 1865 until 1924 during the Impressionist and post-Impressionist eras and the rise of modernism in art.

As I said, you may have never heard of him but he is described as “Canada’s finest post-Impressionist painter.” He completed his watercolor and oil paintings living alternately in Canada and Europe throughout his career. To let you know how good his work is, he painted alongside Henri Matisse in 1912-13.

I really like his Impressionistic landscapes and city scenes, many of which used tones of pink and gray. I think you’ll be glad OrbisPlanis art blog introduced you to him.


An article in the local newspaper today got my attention. It’s for a great cause, the Clinton Bush Haiti relief fund, so that makes it all OK. But, as an aspiring artist, it was somewhat off-putting. I’m talking about the latest fund-raiser for the local zoo in which paintings, done by orangutans, elephants, pigs, and leopards, are being auctioned off on eBay.

It said the orangutan was a soulful, sensitive artist while the elephant was impetuous. “Each has a different painting style,” some described as sensuous swirls. Cool, but how do you think that makes me feel as an artist?


Monday, March 8

Five Skills You Must Have to Call Yourself an Artist

Today’s Image
Courtesy of Microsoft Corp.

You call yourself an artist? Then you must have at least five basic attributes or skills that allow you to make that claim legitimately.

Art does not magically appear.

Artists do not automatically render renowned works of art.

It takes work—and a lot of it. Although their art may appear to be effortless, it isn’t.

Some artists are graced with the gift of creativity and a good eye. For those who are not graced, the hill to success is an even steeper one. Artists must hone their artistic skills regularly.

What are these skills? Here are my Top Five.

-Excellent drawing ability

-Knowledge of composition and balance

-Impeccable rendering of color and light

-Perfect technique

-Never ever forget the viewer (yes, this is a skill!)

You may disagree, but without these top five, I don’t think artists stand much of a chance.

Of course for some artists, skill is not a factor, rather it’s luck and celebrity that result in surprising success. Sometimes artists’ reputations become bigger than life or they take on a life of their own.

You look and look at their work, and it’s just not that good. And yet over time, they and their work somehow become famous.

How does this happen? I really do think it’s the celebrity effect. An artist’s work is collected by a well know person in just about any field— doctor, financier, head of state, actor. Or a curator at a world famous museum or gallery purchases just one of the artist’s works. That collector’s or institution’s celebrity rubs off on the artist, and their work takes on an aura of greatness.

As you know, many artists who were not well known or whose art was not well regarded in their own time have somehow managed to become art celebrities of today. Alfred Sisley, Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock come to mind.

For the rest of us artists, that would be like winning the lottery. Maybe the era of online social networking will someday allow that to happen for us. In the mean time, we must return to the basics and hone our top five skills regularly.


Thursday, March 4

Finding Your Next Motif

Today’s Image
Eureka! California State Seal

Getting started on today’s blog took me longer than usual, not sure why, but suppose it has to do with the same subject I’m blogging about; that is, finding your next motif.

As I wind down on a current painting, knowing that it’s almost complete (see my last blog on Finishing a Painting), somewhere in the back of my mind, I start to worry.

Now, I don’t mean worry in the sense of impending doom or anything quite so dramatic, but rather a nagging uneasiness. As I near completion on a painting, I have a sense of accomplishment and, I hope, of a job well done. It’s that brief period of time when I can bask, as it were, in the sunshine of my glorious work.

But, back there in my mind, I know I will soon have to start my next “assignment.”

In creating art, any pressure you feel is probably self-imposed. I think that’s good; anyway, you’re in control (mostly). We all hope it drives us to bigger and better outcomes--in theory.

In practice, however, it sometimes makes me jumpy and irritable. I hear my inner voice saying to me with increasing audible volume, “What’s next-- now what are you going to paint?”

Why do I worry? I don’t run my studio or paintings like a business. No one is going to come over and demand that I shorten the schedule, force me to pay up or else, or drive me out of “business.”

The pressure and worry come from feeling (or being?) compelled to start looking for my next motif even before I finish my current one.

I'm pretty sure it comes from years of working on projects driven by deadlines. Old habits die hard.

I repeat, I don’t run my studio like a business. I don’t have a 1-, 3-, or 5-year art plan. I don’t have a spreadsheet that tracks my current painting and/or future motifs from week to week or quarterly. There’s no project-scheduling software that sends me emails or pop-ups when it’s time to start looking for my next motif.

Maybe there should be. It would probably keep me from worrying when I’m in between paintings.

No, on second thought, that would not be good. The tension I feel when I’m between paintings actually helps me to find my next motif. My worry and virtual hand-wringing force me to be single-minded in my pursuit.

I’m challenged to look around both close by and afar to find my next great motif.

Until finally as Archimedes, the ancient Greek scholar, proclaimed, “Eureka, I have found it!”

Monet would be proud.


Monday, March 1

How Do You Know When Your Painting Is Finished? I'll Tell You How...

Today’s Image
"Rehearsal Dinner"
Watercolor on Paper
Copyright 2010

You may think I’m not serious, but I am, about the subject of today’s blog, which is: how do you know when your painting is finished?

I know. You’re thinking, surely he can art blog about something more interesting than this.

However, I have just gone through one week of: starting and stopping, wondering about, looking at again and again, putting away and taking out, being doubtful, generally being in a quandary over whether or not my latest painting was finished.

Has this happened to anyone else? (I hope so.)

Maybe it’s because I have worked on this watercolor (see Today's Image) since the first week in January, that is 2 ½ months, which for me is quite a while. I’m no speed-painter, but I figured it up, and of the paintings I’ve completed during the last year, most were finished within in about five weeks.

I may not be the brightest color on the palette, but even I know time is not the determining factor of when a painting is finished, and it certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the art (eye of the be-holder and all that).

Yet, I wonder still...

Am I over-working this painting?

Does it look finished?

How “perfect” does it have to be?

Does it need something else?

Have I “given it my all?”

Who decides these things anyway? (Oh yeah, that’s my job.)

Finally, on the sixth day, I said, “Enough.”

How did I know it was "enough" and finally finished? What was it that switched it from being incomplete to complete?

It was f-e-a-r.

Yes, fear--that emotion that pours adrenaline into our bloodstreams, that triggers the fight-or-flight response, that motivates us to do SOMETHING, even if it’s nothing, as in my case.

I was fearful and afraid that I would ruin my painting if I added one more brushstroke, changed one more spot, one more shadow, one more color.

That, my fellow artists, is the secret and the fool-proof way to know when your painting is finished.