Thursday, April 26

You Take Monet, I'll Have A Merlot

I have noticed in the past year a proliferation of, well, not all that many really, but several anyway, new businesses in the metro area that offer painting lessons while serving glasses, if not carafes, of wine. What?! As John McEnroe famously says, “You cannot be serious!”

Before you think I am one of those who frown on such behavior, drinking that is, not painting, let me assure you I am not. Relaxing with a glass of wine at the end of a long day of painting is, well, relaxing.

And people, including painters, are free, of course, to do whatever they want as long as it’s legal, at least in this part of the world.

In my opinion, the two just don’t go together, and I question the seriousness of either the painters and/or the drinkers in the crowd. Other than making a buck, I don’t know why a business person would consider mixing the two.

I’m guessing the patrons (notice I’m not calling them artists) see it as a social event—a way to meet people and have fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s call it what it is--a cocktail hour event with an unusual twist.

Rather than just bar-hopping tonight, let’s add a little culture to our lives with some fine arts, and, oh by the way, let’s paint us a picture.

However, unbeknownst to many, or so it seems, is the fact that painting takes hard work and concentration.

I cannot imagine anyone doing his or her best work with a paintbrush in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Even if you’ve already done the preliminary planning and have your paper or canvas all ready to go, you still have to be able to put the paint where you want it to go, that is, if you’re serious.

And that brings me back to my original point—this cannot be serious.

Painting takes a clear head and a steady hand. Drinking wine does not.

Keep On Painting

Friday, April 20

What Is A Squirrel Mop?

My "Squirrel Mop"
One thing I try to do in writing the Orbisplanis art blog is to provide useful, if not interesting, information for artists and painters. I attempt to find answers to art questions and topics that are not clear to me for one reason or another.

Recently I have been trying out different types and sizes of paintbrushes, primarily No. 12s and larger.

In looking in books and online sites, such as art blogs and art supply store websites, I kept running across the term “squirrel mop” to describe what I took from the context to be a rather large brush used for whatever you use a large brush for.

I didn’t think much about it at first, other than that it was a funny name for a paintbrush. But as I explored with larger brushes, it seemed to me that this might be the exact brush I was looking for in order to paint larger and looser and more impressionistically.

I looked at my local art supply store, but even with two aisles completely filled with paintbrushes, I didn’t see any called a squirrel mop or similar. There were lots of synthetics, some goat and horse hair, even sables, but no squirrel.

Was I really looking for a brush made from the hair of a squirrel? Time for a Google search.

When I put in the search term, “What is a squirrel mop brush,” I got 544,000 hits. Fortunately Google lists the most relevant ones first. Primarily there were links to online art supply retailers, such as Jerry’s Artarama, Blick, Cheap Joe’s, and Daniel Smith. Also, there were links to a few brush manufacturers, such as Winsor & Newton and Loew Cornell.

These sites talked about the brushes they had in stock and something about Kazan squirrel hair as being the softest and finest. One site called it a quill mop.

There was also a discussion, somewhat humorous, but mostly positive, about squirrel mop brushes on Wet Canvas.

However I still couldn’t find a real definition, at least not in the first 10 pages of hits. So I decided to look in the seemingly ubiquitous online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Under Watercolor Painting>Brushes>Shapes, it said:

 Mops (natural hair only). A round brush, usually of squirrel hair and, decoratively, with a feather quill ferrule that is wrapped with copper wire; these have very high capacity for their size, especially good for wet in wet or wash painting; when moist they can wick up large quantities of paint.

OK, I guess I was expecting more information about the origin and history and uses of a squirrel mop, but at least I did find out they are made of squirrel hair, at least some of them.

I ended up getting a Creative Mark Harmony Quill No. 12. I’m still learning to use it, but I think once I get the hang of it, it will be perfect for what I’m trying to do.

By the way, it supposedly is made of the hair of a blue squirrel. Who knew?

Keep On Painting

Saturday, April 14

Versatile Violet

I Used Violet in My Painting
to Make the
Foreground Appear Closer
to the Viewer
Color and color theory are things most painters have had to learn whether they wanted to or not.  If you didn’t or haven't taken time to learn something about how colors mix, then you probably have wondered why your paintings appear as they do: muddy and with little or no harmony.

On that cheery note, let me add that it’s never too late to learn something new about painting.

One thing I have learned about color—violet is one of the most versatile colors on the color wheel, with cobalt blue being the other (in my opinion).

What it is about violet? Well, as you know it’s a secondary color, the combination of red and blue. I think that’s a more useful combination than, say, yellow and green. You know that very bright yellow-green I'm talking about? That is used primarily for certain types of foliage at certain times of the year, in landscapes anyway, and for not much else.

Violet, however, can be used almost anywhere on your motif at any time. It can be used in the foreground since red tends to bring objects closer to the viewer.
It can be used in shadows. It seems when painters don’t know or can’t tell what color to paint a shadow, they opt for violet, and it’s usually a very good choice.

Don’t forget about violet used in skies for beautiful  sunsets as well as for reflections in clouds.

What's more, there are all those different combinations of reds and blues to make many different violets.  There’s the cool, blu-ey ultramarine violet to the really purple mineral violet to the warm, reddish Mars violet. I think Mars violet is one of the best colors to use in landscape paintings.

Next time you’re stumped over what color to use in your foreground or shadow or sky, try a versatile violet. You will have a friend on your palette.

Keep On Painting

Monday, April 9

We Are What We Paint

You probably have heard the expression, “We are what we eat.” That may be a little simplistic, but probably more true than not.

For painters as a group, I maintain, “We are what we paint.”

Not that I nor anyone could or ever should lump painters, or any group really, into one category. That's stereotyping and narrow minded.
By their nature all painters paint differently and are different.

Sure, we admire and we study and we try to capture or mimic a style or technique of a favorite painter.

I do all of the above. I’m currently trying to paint looser and allow my paintings to look like (or more like) some contemporary award-winning watercolorists whom I admire.

Try as we may otherwise, we can only paint what we see, what we feel, and what we’re able to paint. Because our sight and emotions and natural abilities are our own, are we destined (or doomed?) to keep painting the same way no matter what?
That doesn't mean we can't improve, but, yes, I believe it does.

I’m currently reading a book with paintings and letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Because his style was and is so distinct and unique, I doubt that he could have made his paintings look or feel any different than they do even if he wanted to. But I think you'll agree, in his case that's not a bad thing. 

So, I maintain when all is said and done, a painter simply paints the way he or she innately paints. No matter what.
Times change but painters and their human nature do not.

Keep On Painting.

Monday, April 2

To Draw or Trace, That Is the Question

You don’t read or hear much about this in art books or on artist’s websites. Maybe that’s because artists and painters don’t want to discuss it.

What I’m talking about is how painters draw their subject or motif before they begin to paint. Almost always a drawing or sketch is rendered on canvas or paper before any brushstroke is applied. Of course there are some loose painters in watercolor who tell you not to begin with a drawing or sketch. They say to begin your painting just use your eyeballs and the paintbrush to draw the subject as you paint, but they seem to be in the minority.

Almost every text or website on painting says you first begin with a drawing. But I’ve noticed there is very little discussion on how you should render this. Often it seems the artist simply says something like, “First I drew my subject, then I applied the first wash,” or “Begin by transferring your drawing to the paper (or canvas).” OK. But how?

Some painters are good sketchers, some are not. I’m sure most painters would like to be experts at both drawing and painting. In a perfect world of artists that would be so.

Even for those en plein air painters, a simple sketch of what is before your eyes seems to be required, so for those painting out-of-studio I suppose being able to draw well is somewhat of a must.

However, drawing and painting are two allied skills, I think. Ideally one would be good at both, but they are not dependent upon each other. That is, you can be a good painter and a rather poor sketcher or a good sketcher and a poor painter. They have overlapping as well as exclusive properties; picture a Venn diagram.

This is where the “T” word comes in. “T” stands for Trace. It’s anathema to purists, but I bet it’s more common than you may think.

There are lots of ways to trace. You can enlarge a photo and trace your subject on tissue paper; then apply graphite on the back, turn it right-side up and re-trace the lines on your paper or canvas. You can use Saral paper like carbon paper under an enlarged photo to trace the motif. Or you can use an opaque projector to enlarge and cast an image of your subject on paper or canvas.

All legitimate except in the eyes of purists. My guess is that many painters trace their subjects. They’d much prefer to spend their time painting rather than fiddling with a sketch. I can draw free-hand pretty well, but I still have trouble with perspective and the proper proportion of objects in the foreground versus the mid- or background, so I will trace when I need to.

I will say that almost every painting instructor tells you your drawing must be “correct” or you’re in big trouble from the start.

As to my point on why tracing isn’t discussed much, I suppose it’s pride along with a pinch of prejudice.

Keep On Painting