Category Archives: Art

Color Mixing for Acrylic: How to Master Shades of Green

I’m always happy to talk about color, and this past year has taken me on a few colorful adventures. Since I always travel with my camera, I make a point to record things that inspire me.

I spent seven months last year in Northeast Ohio and enjoyed greens I haven’t seen since my many years of living in California. With the West’s dusty, drought-tolerant greens or its deep forest shades, I had forgotten the lively array of colors the warmer Ohio seasons bring.

With spring’s perky, acid-toned bright greens and the soft pale colors of the first leaves to the luscious and full greens during the summer. Each variety brings its own special formula into the picture. And, speaking of formulas, let’s learn about mixing greens in acrylic.

Avoid Being Green with Envy with Other Artists’ Color Mixing

In my book, Acrylic Color Explorations, there’s a lesson on how to get a range of greens using a single color of blue pigment and just changing the yellow pigments. It’s good to start your mixing lessons with transparent pigments so you can see the clarity of the greens created.

Get to know your paints. Scribble on a piece of paper with a pencil. Paint over your scribble. This will tell you how cloudy or clear your color is.

When you look at areas of green in nature, notice how they are not all exactly the same. For a natural look, you want a variation of green to imply where something might be hit by sunlight or hidden in shadow.

When you start mixing greens, take note of the ratio of yellow to blue for the brighter, sharper greens or the ratio of blue to yellow for the deeper ones. Once you have developed a solid range you’re satisfied with, introduce Titanium White to your mixes and see how the paints lighten up.

Your ratio of white to the mixture is also important. Too much white can overwhelm the green mixture and wash it out. Try the same exercise with a little Bone Black added to your green mixtures. This will bring a deepness and richness to your formula.

color-mixing-acrylic-painting-Chris-Cozen-020917The Roads We Traveled (mixed media on canvas, 18×18) by Chris Cozen. This analogous composition builds on the range of colors of yellow-green through blue-green on the color wheel. With the addition of Titan Buff paint and paper elements, this active composition balances the bright and soft tones of these compatible colors and takes advantage of the full range of values possible.The collage elements also add movement and focus to the composition.

Get Your Glaze On

What happens when we go too far one way or the other? That’s where glazing comes in. You can always create a lighter or darker green glaze. Just mix your original formula with glazing medium, and apply the color over your original.

Sheer glazes are built by using a 6:1 ratio of medium to paint. Remember, the more pigment you use the less sheer the glaze will be.

Glazing is an excellent way to play with the surfaces of green areas as well. Want to create a shadow? Add a little glaze layer of Dioxazine Purple or Payne’s Gray over an area and see it shift.

Favorites for Green Color Mixing

AcrylicPainting_Greens_ChrisCozen-768x760Of course, there are plenty of green pigments/paints out there in the marketplace to choose from. I have a few favorites of my own. I use green-gold (Golden), chromium oxide green, and sap green hue as mixers.

Green-gold leans heavily toward yellow. I often substitute it for yellow to mix with my blues when I want a unique green.
Chromium oxide green is a dense opaque pigment, which is a great base color for starting a field of green. Mix loosely with white and Titan Buff, brush on rapidly with lots of movement and you’ll get a lovely “start” for a field.
I turn to sap green hue when I want some quick depth, especially in a glaze. Its formula has some black in it which adds a lot of richness to the glaze.
All in all, mixing greens is pretty fun. You can take any color on the blue to blue-green spectrum and add any yellow to create an array of greens to work with.

Color mixing is an adventure as well as an investment in your painting process. The goal is to get to know the pigments you own and fully explore their potential! You should aim to be fluent in color so you can readily mix any color you may need.

You can find more great ideas in my book as well as in the instructional videos I created as a companion to Acrylic Color Explorations by checking out my bundle at North Light Shop. Each of the DVDs covers techniques for using color in various ways.

Check out the preview trailer below for one such video workshop, Exploring Acrylic: Color Discoveries, which you can stream now on ArtistsNetwork.tv.

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Sketch While You Wait | The Artist’s Answer to Airport Boredom

Tools of the Trade

I like to keep my travel materials simple and small. In the past, I’ve taken wood-cased 6B pencils, a sharpener and any sketchbook that fit in my traveling backpack.

Lately, I’ve taken mechanical pencils so I can leave the sharpener behind. I have two mechanical pencils that I like. One is a Paper Mate ComfortMate Ultra with a 0.5 mm HB lead. It’s great for fine lines and anatomical studies.

My second pencil is a Staedtler Mars Technico Lead Holder with a 2 mm 4B lead. It’s softer and broader, so it’s great for massing in form quickly and making dark marks.

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Since I use soft lead, I need to keep my drawings from smearing. The best way to do this is to use a small sketchbook with a sewn spine, rather than a spiral-bound book.

Moleskine’s Art Plus Collection has some good options. Pages shift easily in a spiral-bound book so, if you do use one, stretch a rubber or elastic hair band around the covers when the sketchbook is closed; this keeps the pages from rubbing together and smearing your work. When you get home, give each page a spray of fixative.

Choose Your Subject

People in airports are typically one of three things:

The runner
The walker
The sitter
The Runner

This is the person hurrying to a gate, running as fast as the carry-on luggage will allow. You may have 30 seconds—or less—to sketch. There’s no time to do a detailed study of form; instead, all you can capture is the gesture.

I like to make quick thumbnail silhouettes. A lot of artists worry about being caught in the act of sketching from life. The scurrier doesn’t have time to pay attention to you, so sketch all you want!

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Pay close attention to posture. I mentally drop a plumb line from the subject’s abdomen (where the center of balance is located), and observe how the arc of the spine and legs relate to this line. I just mass in the form with shading.

Also, note the way carrying luggage changes posture. Often an arm carrying a bag creates a pleasing opposing arc to the figure’s overall gesture. Sometimes I even start the sketch by noting the weight and position of the bag—it can be an anchor around which you can build the figure.

The Walker

This person has plenty of time between connections to stop by shop windows and think about a gift. You, too, have more time—and the opportunity to study physical types, walking styles and the way carry-ons and personal items affect the figure. The stroller probably won’t notice you sketching either.

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I observe the way the walkers carry their weight. If they’re standing still, they’re most likely carrying the center of balance over one leg.

The faster they move, the farther the center of balance will be ahead of the trailing foot. I may drop a plumb line from the center of balance and build the body around that line.

Again, I look for how luggage is carried. Shoulder bags, backpacks and carried bags all affect the body’s posture in different ways.

The Sitter

This person is “shopped out” or maybe patiently waiting for the gate call. If you can work discretely, you can sketch these types for an extended period.

You can study a variety of seated postures as well as the anatomy of the clothed figure. This person also provides a great opportunity for a head study.

Sometimes the sitter is a sleeper so you won’t have to worry about getting caught. You’ll probably even have time to erase and correct the sketch!

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When I’m sketching the sitter, I have a lot of fun. The positions are almost limitless—slouched, perched forward on the seat, sitting upright or leaning with head held in hand. Sitting at a cafe or bar, this person may be eating or drinking; at the gate, the sitter may be reading, texting or watching TV.

Any of these airport personas is worth studying. I observe folds in the shirt or pants and the way clothes hang on the body. If the head is interesting, I sketch it.

***

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What’s Next? Try Your Hand at Urban Sketching

Get excited about drawing and painting your new favorite places with urban sketcher, Marco Taro Holmes. In this preview of Drawing & Painting in a Travel Journal, you’ll get an introduction to Holmes’ three-step process: pencil, to pen, to brush.

Let the pencil capture the composition, the pen provide the fun details, and the watercolor add the harmony and life to your subjects. Happy sketching, artists!

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Understanding the Different Grades of Watercolor Paper

The usage of the term “paper” with regards to watercolor is a misnomer. In a way, this name devalues the price for watercolor paintings in galleries. It suggests the surface is not permanent because the image is painted on paper, and isn’t much different than a print or a poster.

If manufacturers of these materials dispelled the word “paper” and substituted it for “cotton sheets,” watercolor would have more associated formality because oil and acrylic paintings are also painted on cotton surfaces. This will not only add value to watercolor paintings but collectors may also stop viewing their investment as having a short life span.

Be careful when buying watercolor paper. Art stores actually do sell wood pulp paper watercolor blocks. Unless the product says 100% cotton on the cover, you may end up with the wrong product that will terribly hinder your watercolor success. These student watercolor blocks are a waste, in my opinion. I refuse to do any touch-ups on my workshop attendees’ paintings when they bring these.

The surface of professional watercolor paper is real cotton and 100% acid-free, which means the white surface will not turn yellow over the years. Consider cotton baby diapers: Add a gelatin sizing to it, compress it and you have a sheet of compressed cotton that absorbs wet paint. The sizing reduces the sheet’s flexibility when dry and allows a slow seeping of wet paint into the fibers.

watercolor-paper-Johannes-Vloothuis-021616-Flowers

Know Pressure

The amount of pressure during the compression process determines the different kinds of watercolor paper surfaces: hot pressed (very compressed), cold pressed (semi-compressed) and rough (loosely compressed).

The pressure of watercolor paper is important to know because the degree of compression results in the fibers being closer or more separated from one other. This will make the paper behave differently by the sheer absorption process.

As an analogy, it works like this: A kitchen towel sucks more water than a cotton shirt. That’s because a towel has more gaps between the fibers, which allows the water to penetrate deeper into the fabric.

Knowing watercolor pressure will help you make the right choices. Read on for a closer look at the applications and setbacks of each grade.

Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper

Very little pigment penetrates beyond sitting on the surface.
Hot pressed is not adequate for general watercolor painting.
It’s suitable for fine detail, such as pen and ink.
This type of paper works well with gouache.
Wet-on-wet application with diffusion will not work.
Glazing will lift the underlayer.

watercolor-paper-horses-Johannes-Vloothuis-021616

Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

Some pigment penetrates deeper into the fibers.
A painting on this type of paper ends up with a nice velvety look.
Diffused wet-into-wet application can be achieved on cold pressed, but there’s a risk of losing the forms from excessive pigment bleeding. The artist working with this paper must be quite skilled at controlling the degree of fugitive paint.
It works well for scraping out rocks with a credit card when painting landscapes.
Cold pressed is not optimal for glazing because the new layer tends to disturb the first layer.
It’s too smooth to apply the dry brush technique many artists use to create bushes and trees when creating landscapes.
This type of paper makes it easier to spray off an area that needs correction.
It has an excellent surface for combining pastels with watercolor, especially pan pastels.

watercolor-paper-Johannes-Vloothuis-021616

Rough Watercolor Paper

The pigment seeps even deeper into the fibers of rough paper.
The wet-into-wet application works well on this type of surface.
Glazing works better because the paper grips the first layer quite well.
It does not work well for scraping out rocks when painting landscapes.
The rougher surface is conducive to dry brushing, which is great for creating the illusion of foliage.
It’s harder to remove unwanted paint (with water from a spray bottle).
Get Your Weight Know-How Up

Each of the three paper types discussed comes in 22- by 30-inch sheets, which you can cut into various sizes. The stocks are as follows:

90 lb. is not ideal for painting with watercolor, but it is good for printing copies.
140 lb. must be stretched to avoid buckling.
300 lb. does not require stretching but is more expensive. It will still curl like a potato chip if it’s moistened in large areas, so I recommend fastening it to a stiff surface.
Watercolor blocks are handy for plein air painting and transporting to workshops but, with the 140 lb. version, the paper still buckles*, which basically defeats the purpose of paying the extra money.

The 300-lb. blocks are handy, but you’ll pay considerably more for them. If you use 140-lb. sheets, I highly recommend working with a Guerilla Watercolor board, a fantastic product that stretches the paper so it won’t buckle when you rewet it.

Knowing how to prevent buckling is important. When cotton paper is soaking wet, it will expand, creating bumps like hills on an uneven terrain. This makes respecting the contour of a form during wet-into-wet application more difficult because the paint settles into the paper’s grooves.

Stretching the paper before you begin painting is a necessary practice. Wet the paper, fasten it to a stiff surface, then allow it to dry. When you rewet the paper, the expansion will be less, which will reduce the buckling.

How to Choose Your Ideal Paper Grade

Watercolor-painting-by-Johannes-Vloothuis-042616

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of each of these papers, I suggest selecting the grade based on the subject you are planning for your painting. For me, I love painting landscapes. When I paint tons of close-up foliage, I turn to rough paper. Likewise, this paper type works well if there is a lot of edge diffusing that requires some control.

If a scene contains rocks and not many soft edges, I go for cold pressed. This grade of paper also works well when I want to incorporate pastels to create the appearance of mist, add texture or enhance my watercolors. Additionally, the velvety look with cold-pressed paper works well for flower paintings.

Determining Brand Loyalty

When it comes to watercolor, there are several different brands to choose from. Arches is one of the most common, as well as Fabriano.

Recently, I discovered Daler Rowney Langton Rough, which is not as grainy as the other papers but offers an in-between of cold and rough, and has many of the advantages of both. Although there are brands I have not yet tried, I am sticking with Daler Rowney for now.

Stonehenge Aqua is a new paper emerging in the market. If you want to create detailed realism or portraits, this brand works well because it still offers the velvety aspect of cold pressed compared to other brands but has the absorption capabilities of rough paper. This means when you work on top of a pre-existing layer, it won’t disturb the layer underneath as much.

However, choosing the right brand for you will come down to trial and error. If you’re new to watercolor, try experimenting with a few different brands until you find your perfect fit.

And, if you’re also trying to figure out which watercolor paints to use, I review different watercolor pigments and their properties, as well as explain how to control fugitive wet-into-wet application and offer recommendations where these should be present in your artwork in another blog post, which you can find here.

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Inside Out Painting Series: Sydney Opera House

You know the idea of using plants and flowers in a room, bringing the outside in? For years, this concept has been very popular in designing an interior space that would make the occupants feel like they are experiencing being in nature simultaneously. This idea is still in practice and provides for great human experiences.

Continue reading Inside Out Painting Series: Sydney Opera House

“Inside Out” Series Painting: Guggenheim Museum

You know the idea of using plants and flowers in a room, bringing the outside in? For years, this concept has been very popular in designing an interior space that would make the occupants feel like they are experiencing being in nature simultaneously. This idea is still in practice and provides for great human experiences.

Continue reading “Inside Out” Series Painting: Guggenheim Museum

Learnapalooza Art Event: Chicago’s Day Of Learning & Adventure

Learnapalooza is a free festival in Chicago where you choose your own adventure.
The festivals are hosted in three Chicago neighborhoods each summer where you can learn something new, meet your neighbors and explore a corner of the city.
Learn to mix drinks, dance with a stranger, or just master Excel. Classes are taught by people just like you who are passionate, curious, and have something to share. Local businesses offer up their space, and the whole thing is planned by volunteers.
Learnapalooza is free to attend and powered completely by volunteers. This year’s event will be the 6th one. 

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Watercolor Painting Tips

Because of the misunderstanding that watercolor is too hard to control and unpredictable, many people shy away from it. While it is true that watercolor is a medium that is challenging to master, it is very easy and economical. All you really need to begin is paint, water, and a brush.  You can use watercolor as your primary artistic medium or primarily as studies for oil or acrylic paintings. The rewards of this challenging and somewhat unpredictable medium are great. Here are some tips to help you get started:

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Simple Watercolor Techniques

There are two major factors to consider when painting with watercolors: Wet and Dry. As the name suggests, watercolour is a water-based medium. Darkness and saturation of the pigment depends on how much water is added to the painting. For example, for the background or when trying to paint a background a solid color, you can use wet-on-wet technique so your pigment spreads quicker and blends well with it! 

Continue reading Simple Watercolor Techniques