Tag Archives: transparent

My glowing blue oil painting experiment


In my mood/concept mapping, I wrote down the words:

subtle, profound
fragile, ephemeral

not really sure where this is going but that’s the experience/aesthetic I’m working towards.

It is partially inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s tonalism paintings (there’s a great book by the Clark Art Museum) and I also saw his work in the National Gallery of Art in DC years ago.

I’m playing with all sorts of oil painting goop- gamsol, stand oil, cold wax, linseed oil. I am eyeing this strangely named medium, Neo-Megilp, although I am really trying to resist buying it to satisfy  my curiousity.  Artists of Portland…let’s meet up and try each other’s art supplies for the sake of our wallets!

I started with a dark transparent color, ultramarine. And wow is it glowing In fact, the painting actually really reminds me of a lot of the digital painting work that is coming out of ipads. Not sure if that’s a good thing, but I do like the texture, layering, and softness that is happening. I think I just need to ground the next one in a less artificial feeling color than ultramarine.

Also, this painting looks awesome in direct sunlight, but not as good in inferior lighting. I’m a little worried that all of my oil paintings are going in that direction…

Oh and I painted this on a prestretched oil primed linen panel that was on a major clearance at Blick. Boy could I get spoiled with this material!


Exploring Color with botanical watercolors

I have mentioned before on this blog how I am always looking for great shades of grey. I have found one from a mix of transparent maroon and an emerald green.


In this painting of silhouetted quince leaves I played around mixing the grey on the palette and allowing the colors to mix directly on the paper. What do you think would be a good background color to complement them? The green turns this crazy bright teal color. It’s a little too psychedelic for me, but I really enjoy the shades of grays that are produced when blended with the maroon.


I tried this same color scheme in my painting of an ornamental plum tree branch, using a background of coral colored paint because coral and grey go well together. Again this is also feeling a little too garish. I think if I can get just the right amount of understated greys , it will look really nicely against a coral colored background.

What was interesting while I was painting this were the muted shades of maroon and green on top of the more tangerine colored background…together they started to make this brown color…too much of it and the painting would look muddy but just enough of it helps offset some of the bright saturated colors used elsewhere. It’s kind of like cooking (not that I can cook) where you seek to have just the right balance of acid…too much and the dish is bitter/sour…too little and the dish is too salty/sweet…with the right amount you achieve a superb balance of flavors. That’s what I’m going for this balance…I haven’t hit it yet but hopefully with the same colors I can get it in my next painting!



Lake oil painting study

I’m working on an oil painting landscape of Lake George at sunset. My goal was to use more vivid colors instead of the classic burnt umber understudy as the first layer in the hopes of capturing more glow and reflection. I also wanted to use darker transparent colors that I have not yet used before to ‘bridge’ the midtone, similar to the sweet pea study that I did a couple weeks ago.

Purple sweet pea oil on paper 12x16 framed

There I painted the flower petals a bright lavender first. Then I glazed with a darker transparent color over it to build the mid tone bridge. This process is different than the slow build of dark to light. We’ll see how it turns out for this landscape.

In the first layer I used montserrat orange by Williamsburg mixed with naples yellow.  Even though the trees are going to be this fabulous green orange dusky color, I used this amazing purple called dioxazine purple as the base color, it’s dark, transparent, and fairly balanced between red and blue. It’s like the sap green of purples.

In my second layer I brought out the sap green and a darker green mix made of sap green, burnt umber,  and ultramarine blue.

At this point I was really hesitant to go over with paint for the fear of overworking what I already liked going on. But as I ‘ve been listening to inspirational words over the past year, you can’t be afraid to ruin it and I just need to treat this as a study, not as a masterpiece. If it’s ruined oh well I’ll just paint over it.

Being bold with the darks really helped ground the painting and I’m glad I did that. I also was lent this amazing maroon dark purple shade- not really sure what color it is but I’ll have to find a way to mix that. I love using dark maroons and purples in watercolors too.

For the orangey glow of dusk kissing the leaves I started mixing the transparent red oxide and the brown madder in with my sap green.



Transparent oil paint colors

oil painting in progress

Today, I had a color breakthrough. Maybe.

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:

from the artistsnetwork.com
from artistsnetwork.com

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.