Tuesday 27 December 2011

Watercolour & Colour Mixing

The subject of colour mixing, especially with watercolour, is a great passion of mine and there are many excellent sites which explain it well. I didn't really understand colour until I read "Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green" which is a kind of industry standard. I thought that colour mixing was rather like the additive colours of Red, Blue and Green on a TV screen but in reverse, on paper. Then I realised that the only reason one gets Green by mixing Blue and Yellow is because of the "impurities" (ie Green) in the Blue and Yellow paints. Similarly with the other primaries. I really like the idea of a 6-colour palette because it reinforces this theory really well. One only gets a decent Green by mixing a Blue which "leans" towards Green and a Yellow which does the same.

A cook would tend to use pure materials for preparing dishes rather than ready-made meals (such as I would use!) The same goes for colour. If I were an art teacher, (I think I would be something of a tyrant!) I would tell my students to get to know and love the names of original pigments and use them as a kind of colour toolbox. I would tell them to avoid ready-mixed paints, Sap Green is often used as an example; each manufacturer has its own version. Most of my greens (we're not talking about food now) originate from a powerful green such as Viridian or Winsor Green which is rather too strong and "acid" to be used on its own. But, mixed with various yellows and browns, it produces a marvellous range of greens. Add a little red (the complement of green) to darken the colour. Winsor & Newton Winsor Blue (Green Shade) is another pure pigment to mix with yellows to produce greens.

Also, as my imaginary art teacher, I would tell my students that, since they have saved lots of money by buying only six or so colours, then they can afford to buy Artists' Quality paints. Even if you are starting out, if you can afford it, treat yourself to decent materials and it will inspire you.

I really don't like Cadmium Yellow, it is opaque and produces a chalky finish. So I went on the search for a transparent yellow and came across Azo Yellow Medium from Rembrandt which is superb. I feel the same about Cadmium Red and Cadmium Orange which are also rather opaque. Rembrandt paints are available in the art shops here in Girona but I'm not sure where to buy them in other parts of the world. Rembrandt is the Royal Talens artists' grade, Van Gough is the students' grade.

So, my suggested 6-colour palette would be the following:

Red: (Rembrandt) Permanent Red Light and Quinacridrone Rose or (W&N) Cadmium Red and Magenta. (But I find Cadmium Red tends to be opaque so it's worth looking for a more transparent red).

Yellow: Azo Yellow Medium and Lemon Yellow.

Blue: Cobalt Blue and Cerulean Blue.

But I would cheat and add a green, but only one. I would include Viridian or Winsor Green which I mentioned above. 

But I write this in all humility; this is only what I've found and there are many suggestions by artists and teachers on the internet or in books. In any case, what you find best for you is the most important thing! Anyway, I must own up and say that I have far more than 7 colours in my box (we're talking about watercolours here).

Another favourite book of mine is "Making Color Sing". I usually have blobs of the three primaries of Red, Blue and Yellow arranged in a circle in my paint box tray and use them to create an array of greys by "dragging" bits of each colour into the centre of the circle.
For blacks, I don't use black. I've used Paynes Grey from time to time but it produces images which are just too strong. Instead I start with an empty whole pan and squirt two complementary colours into each end of the plastic pan and mix them in the middle. Blue and Brown aren't exactly complements but they make a nice range of darkness which is similar to Paynes Grey. Quinacridone Red and Viridian make a marvellous deep nothingness! When mixing colours, don't mix them too thoroughly, let a bit of the original colours remain. This makes a much more interesting result.


One problem that I have hit regarding paper is that, sometimes, a paper will become absorbent (or else it was always that way). This is a disaster for watercolours as the paint rapidly gets sucked into the paper as if it were a sponge rather than remaining on the surface for a while (to enable it to be mixed with other colours, for example). The result is a very dull colour. I found some of my expensive papers have done this, whether it's because of a damp environment or for other reasons I don't know. But I always test my paper in all four corners with a blob of dilute paint before starting. I used a paper recently which was ok on the left hand side but it was was absorbent on the right! I reckon my test blobs should remain on the surface for at least a minute. I just tested one of my favourite papers and, after two minutes, the paint is still wet on the surface.

I haven't put any links on this posting as I'm sure you can search for all these things yourself. Good luck!

Tuesday 20 December 2011


Acrylics are my least favourite medium but I have a box full of them so I can't let them go to waste, can I? I reckon they need doctoring to look decent. On their own, they dry too quickly (use a retarder), frequently they form as a blob on the end of the brush, too thick (use a flow enhancer) and they look dull on the resulting painting (use a gloss medium). Ah, that's better!

I do use decent quality paints, I have Liquitex colours which have a creamy consistency and also I have Rembrandt acrylics. But somehow they still fail to inspire me and the resulting painting still ends up looking dull and boring. Add a comment if you know what I'm doing wrong (apart from using them in the first place). Maybe I should be using them in more of a graphic design environment. Colour mixing in watercolours is a joy but, due to their opaque quality, mixing acrylics just doesn't work in the same way.

For a palette, previously I used a piece of 5mm toughened glass which was made to measure to fit a Tupperware container. It sat on top of a white-painted base just below the lip of the container and, below it is a water reservoir to keep the atmosphere humid. The paints stayed liquid for several days but once the lid was opened, you can guess what happened! The water is treated with a mould killer. I use the same type of glass for my oils palette. I went to Vidrieries Girona for the glass and it wasn't expensive.

After... I've changed my acrylic palette. I now use greaseproof paper (papel vegetal in Spanish) instead of glass, in common with many acrylic artists, and lay it on top of a dampened sponge. This keeps the paints moist even when open to the air as the paper allows a limited amount of water to pass through it. So.. forget my glass plate! That was a mistake.

But I will persevere with acrylics because, uniquely, they give me the opportunity to make small changes to a painting which are simply not possible with watercolour and which take too long with oils, with the layers mixing. I've tended to use primed MDF as a surface, which I describe in my oils posting, but I think I will try painting acrylic on watercolour paper instead.

On a shopping trip to Girona, I bought several "squeezy" bottles and loaded them with Liquitex Slo Dry, Flow Aid (diluted 1:20 as in the instructions) and Titan (huge Spanish paint company) Gloss Medium. The water here is very hard, full of calcium, so I used distilled water for my solution. I even pre-mixed Slo Dry and Flow Aid in the same bottle as an experiment! I only use my water container for washing brushes now. You can see the Tupperware container that I use for my palette plus a book for making notes. It's all rather like mixing chemicals in a photographic darkroom - I'm far more optimistic now with my new toolkit!

Thoughts on Oils

I'm relatively new to oil painting, having started with watercolours, a great British tradition. I understand that most artists use a combination of oil medium and solvent but I just can't get on with solvent - I reckon it's ok for cleaning brushes! My fellow students in the art class in Celrà use only solvent and it's horrible (try to imagine the Spanish pronunciation with a long rolled "rr"! The word is written the same in both languages) It's very strong and is normally purchased at hardware shops and I know of one art class where it is forbidden! "Aguarras", it's called (that's probably Spanish for aggravating, it's not good for the skin or the lungs). I recently bought a low-odour solvent (W&N Sansodor) and a jelly-like oil medium (W&N Liquin) from my favourite supplier in the UK (there's a link in my web-site). I rapidly gave up using the solvent but I love the Liquin - the art school teacher has been using it for years. I get there in the end!

My fellow students are not convinced, partly I guess, because they can buy a litre of Aguarras for next to nothing. But a bottle of Liquin lasts for ages so it doesn't work out expensive. I'll keep plugging away. I'll squirt a blob onto their palettes when they're not looking.

On the subject of paint surfaces, canvas is quite expensive in the art shops in Girona and, although much cheaper from the UK, the cost of shipping makes that expensive also. So, for a lot of paintings, I use MDF, either 4 or 5mm. This looks like wood but is actually compressed cardboard, as you probably know. I use 4mm MDF mounted inside my "Profile C" picture frame. It sits slightly behind the glass, making it look like an exhibit. I do the same with acrylics. MDF, the dust that is, has been described as being carcinogenic so I wear a face mask when cutting it.

I know people who paint directly onto MDF but I think a primer is essential - I use W&N Galeria Gesso Primer but there are loads of brands out there. The "tooth" which results is great for paint but not so wonderful for an initial pencil sketch. The surface acts like sandpaper and ends up muddied with graphite which then makes the paint dirty. So, rather defeating the object of the primer, I sand it down a little with fine wet and dry sandpaper - shock, horror! But this makes a superb surface for the pencil and, what's more, I don't use an eraser to make corrections which spreads the graphite around, instead I use water. 

Once I'm fairly happy with the sketch (which is drawn as lightly as possible - I use an HB automatic pencil), I seal it with a light coating of Letracote or something similar. This seals the pencil which prevents it from contaminating the paint (it's not a problem with watercolours on paper, of course). I tried this with acrylic but it tended to be absorbed fairly quickly into the surface which gave a dull finish. But "E&OE" - errors and omissions excepted, as they say. This works for me but this is not really an art class so you must do your own thing. Having been a technical type of person most of my life, I'm fascinated by the "technology" of art: different surfaces, materials, mediums etc. Maybe, one day I'll get back to painting something (just kidding!). I used to go to the beach with my watercolours and just happily mix colours on paper without actually painting anything.

I am the only person that I know who works on a flat surface, even for oils. I have a studio easel but I use it to stack my recent paintings! Certainly all the other students in the art class use easels - I use a table! Maybe it's due to years of assembling small electronic components under the lamps which you can see in the photo. None of this expansive splash of colour for me, it's a precision job. I'm always being told that I should paint bigger but my scanner is only A4 so I can't can I? Actually, the largest painting I've done recently is the cat which you can see on my web-site . It's a 50x50cm canvas and, I have to admit, some of it was painted on a vertical surface. But only for a short while, mind you. I had to photograph it rather than scan it in order to put it on the web-site.


Monday 19 December 2011

Cool Dude

Celrà is just outside Girona and only 10 minutes away by train or 20 minutes by bus - Sarfa is the bus company. They have an excellent service with comfortable coaches. Sometimes I go by train and come back by bus, it's so easy. I don't have a car but I wouldn't drive to Girona anyway.

The Sarfa bus starts out at the bus station in Girona and then makes a stop at the Post Office - Correos - before heading for the hills. Loads of buses stop at Correos, both city buses and other companies heading for various towns around.

So I'm always very conscientious to make myself known to the Sarfa driver, usually by waving like a demented penguin in Frozen Planet, if I'm waiting at Correos, otherwise he has no idea if anyone is waiting for his bus. Everyone else assumes he will stop for them but sometimes he just pauses and then carries on if no one shows any interest. But some of the drivers probably recognise me anyway. Although it's a large company, the drivers tend to be the same and I do stand out rather as not looking terribly Spanish.

The bus then progresses to Celrà which is usually the first stop but, sometimes there is someone waiting at Sarria de Ter which is about half way. On this occasion, about a week ago, there was a chap talking on his mobile phone and not showing much interest in the bus so the driver carried on. "Stop" - "¡para!" - shouted a male passenger, "he's going to Bordils". The bus ground to a halt a little way down the road, in confusion. By this time, I had lost sight of the man but I like to imagine that he finished his call and ambled gently along the (now) 25 metres between the bus stop and where the bus sat fuming. Now that is a cool dude - there's an hour's wait for the next bus.

Starting Out

Here is a view of the ancient houses which overlook the River Onyar in Girona to start off my blog - it's a beautiful city.

I did look at Wordpress for hosting my blog but I already have a web-site, I just wanted a blog! So, this is separate from my web-site which you can find under my Complete Profile.