Making things lighter by making the darks darker first
which gets me to my current conundrum.
This oil painting is darker than most of my watercolors. That’s not just because oils are more opaque than watercolors. It has to do with the fact that I chose a subject that had a dark background (which I normally wouldn’t try in watercolors because it’s hard to find good greys in watercolor) and my oil painting technique relied on a mid tone foundation with layered glazes ….without really ever using the color white. Whereas in watercolor, the white of the paper shines through and keeps things bright.
So this oil painting is not only extremely hard to photograph- hello glare- compared to my watercolors. It also feels dull and heavy in normal inside light, while under a nice bright lightbulb or in the sun you can see this amazing luminosity and the feeling of glowing from within that drew me to using oils in the first place.
So I don’t have any Rembrandts in person to compare, but is this just how it is for oils? Do you need like museum quality lighting to fully view them and normally they are just meh? I don’t know if i I buy that…
If so that’s another debate. Watercolors feel flimsy (on paper) and they need matting and glass to protect them which gets expensive and cumbersome. Whereas oils don’t really need to even be framed, but are they just ghosts without strong light?
When I first came across it on Google, I was intrigued. I had been to Crater Lake, which was of course amazing, and I wondered what was Little Crater Lake. I asked a few of my native Oregonian friends- they had never heard of it. It turns out Little Crater Lake is aptly named…it’s much, much smaller than Crater Lake in diameter, but also very deep at around 45 feet deep. Yes that’s feet, not inches. And it is freezing cold. I think they said the water was 34 degrees…brrrr! I actually thought Little Crater Lake felt colder than the water at Crater Lake.
The depth gives Little Crater Lake this amazing turquoise blue color, none of my iphone photos really could do the color justice.
From most of the photos (including mine) that I’ve seen of it, Little Crater Lake looks like a small, ordinary lake. But up close, you see shallow water that immediately veers off into an abyss. There were a few fallen trees, but you really cannot see the bottom.
I am proud to say that I jumped into this freezing water. And one must jump in Little Crater Lake to experience it. You can’t ease into it, your body just won’t let you.
Even a few seconds of dipping my feet into the water, when the weather was a horrid 100 degrees back in Portland and most of Oregon was scorching, left me running back to shore. The water was cold, but man it felt so clean.
The other cool thing about this campground?
There’s a trail, about 1/2 mile from Little Crater Lake that takes you to the head of Timothy Lake where it looks more like a river than a lake. The water there is also pretty cold.
And yes, I accidentally hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, in my bathing suit and wet shoes.
In speaking with the great Nancy Cuevas, we were discussing the remarkable thing about oil paints, how many colors are transparent but overall the medium is opaque (when compared to watercolor).
She advocates the approach of building glow slowly from dark to light, starting with umber and then using the transparent shades to work your way up in value. What are transparent shades. Look I found them on Google.
This was an interesting technical discussion but it kinda hurt my head:
Here’s my palette starting with basic, transparent colors: ultramarine, alizarin crimson, sap green, and yellow ochre. I guess the ochre and ultramarine are technically semi – transparent.
So every time you want to go light, wait. Just pick three shades in the darker tones (Ansel Adams would say below a 5 on the Zone scale). Then let that layer dry. And then work your way up. And when you’re repeating layers, keep starting with the darks. They make the lighter values pop and lighten them for you.
Also she reminded me to keep my brushes separate, to use a brush for my darks and one for mid tones etc to keep them from muddying each other up. I’ve heard this kind of advice before. I’ve read interviews by artists who say to always keep a clean water jar or a watercolor artist who said to keep a water jar for cleaning the brush all your cool shades and a water jar for cleaning the brush that you use all your warm shades. Probably all good advice, especially since my water jar usually looks like a toxic mess. I don’t think you can paint with too much of an overly constrictive approach, but it is good to understand and be mindful.
My palette near the end of my “session”. Lots of grays and muted intermediary tones!
La la la. We also talked about all of the pretty colors, like these and these. If I hit the mid tone straight up with these colors straight out of the tube, I can glaze over them with darker, but thin, transparent colors. She said there’s a word for this technique. It’s basically how I’m doing watercolors now. So I’m going to try this watercolor way of working oils. Stay posted.
I’m sitting in this mess of a room, looking at piles of artwork from the past year and half or so… and I’m thinking what was I thinking. So much of it is cringe worthy and I want to throw them in the trash/recycling right now. In the spirit of Big Magic, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself, that all of that time and effort was part of the process of learning watercolor…which is seductively expressive and hard to control.
Meanwhile, as I have just started to get a grasp on watercolors, of course I’m back to trying to figure out acrylics. I have a huge tub of heavy body (Golden made up that term, not me, at least they didn’t call it hard body) acrylics in all sorts of fun colors. How much money I surely have wasted on different brands and types of paints… it never ends. Now though, I want to know more about the fluid types of acrylics that Golden produces, as well as all of the fun mediums that you can add to acrylic. They also produce a new line of “modern” watercolors, called Qor watercolors that of course I need to try. Sigh. As a side note, I have to give a kudos to all of the paint companies, their product specialists surprisingly will respond to emails pretty much the same day with informative advice. Comcast and Frontier, this is customer service!
But, after all of that, I came to this conclusion. The softer, more absorbent ground is better for acrylic, it kind of counteracts the plasticy shininess that acrylic has when it is dried. So something like printmaking paper, like Rives BFK, is terrible for watercolors. In fact I even think most of the Arches is too absorbent for watercolors, it feels like painting on a paper towel. But they seem to do well with acrylic. Scott from Golden recommended I try their specially formulated Absorbent Ground.
The less absorbent the ground, like adding matte medium to your gesso or using papers that I like, are better for watercolors.
I’m still undecided as to how this works when you have a super slick ground like vellum or yupo…and you have acrylic, watercolor, and gouache. Also not sure what how rice papers rate on this “scale” of absorbent grounds. And oils man. OK my head hurts.
I was invited to go to a wedding in Maine a couple of years ago. It was my first time visiting that part of the country ( I had lived in New England but never been to Maine). It was beautiful. I am biased and I believe the Northwest dwarfs even Maine, but make no mistake Maine is quite pretty.
During the summer in the late evening, after the golden hour and before dusk, there is the light that is divine- it is still slightly warm and golden to give everything a glowing look but it’s not harsh and more open shady than the rest of the day to again give everything a glowing look. It starts to get more of the cooler shades of dusk but it is all blended together perfectly together.
Look at these snapshots of the happy couple. While the pictures are fuzzy due to operator error, the colors are perfection. They’re glowing and balanced (warm + cools).
This type of lighting and color will never go out of style.
I remembered another example of classic lighting, from the time when I went to Cooper Mountain with Marilyn and her daughter.
Laura Letinsky may be the queen of color because she pushes the low light to a glowing saturation, but John Dolan is also a master of color and much of his work showcases this kind of wonderful classic light.
I haven’t been to Hood River in over a year- it had been too long! We love going to this English pub called Oak Street Pub, although I was bummed that they no longer serve St Peter’s English Ale that comes in the great green glass bottle. This time we found this amazing playground on the waterfront. They just make playgrounds way cooler these days. There was a mini climbing wall which I made a fool of myself in front of little kids who were much more adept at scaling the structure. The colors of the foliage reminded me of Colorado: silvers,yellows, and burnt orange.
As I walked along the water towards the Columbia Gorge windsurfing association rental spot, I spied a snow cap peering over the gorge. Does anyone know what mountain or butte that could be?
I’m so glad I had my water shoes on. There were several paths down to the water and I walked in the river hugging the bank. The most beautiful glowing light filtered through the red twig dogwood and other river flowers.
I love the way the light shimmers across the water and how it illuminates the rolling layers of hills that make up the Columbia Gorge.
Back when I had a flip phone, I used a fuji finepix digital point and shoot to capture snapshots. It was definitely a much clunkier process than the brilliant iphone. Buried on my desktop were pictures from maybe eight years ago. It’s interesting to see what random things I took pictures of, and what I found inspiring and still do: flowers, textures, patterns, shadows.
A pigeon in Italy. One of my few travels abroad. I dearly wish I could do more traveling.
The patina on this diner/storefront somewhere in DC. I don’t even remember where this is or if I have even been inside.
Brick pattern in Italy:
Wall texture and water stains in Italy:
Martin Puryear’s spackle? and nail holes texture on plywood:
from one of the best arts exhibits I’ve ever seen. His sculptures at the National Gallery of Art. I wish Portland had a museum of the same caliber.
I’m sure I thought I was being so surreptitious in taking this picture from some exhibit, possibly the National Gallery of Art. Does anyone know who did this watercolor?
Ink stains. Maybe a Rauschenberg? I really have no idea.
Bright colors in what to me looks like part of Matisse?
I used to use my point and shoot to take visual notes even from books and magazines. This was before Pinterest. Look at this divine Giacometti drawing.
Pavement crack patterns near Van Ness in DC:
The most bizarre marbled pattern on this fabric chair. And what is that plant in the sea of green it’s sitting in?
I love watercolor washes. Probably since I used to make my ballpoint pen ink bleed.
Art, Photography, Flowers- all images are my own unless specified