Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is seeing colour similar to wine tasting?

Before we lay down any paint on paper, our brain perceives what we see. However, the brain receives incomplete information from the world through the eyes and does its best to complete that information.

A large part of painting is about learning to see - and hopefully, sharing how we see and what is visually important to us with others. Our main responsibility as artists is as interpreters. We need to be open to the adventure of exploring, visual information. If we accept that what we paint can never be “real”, then we should be able to take our “reality” and see it in new and interesting ways.

Newton observed that color is not inherent in objects. Rather, the surface of an object reflects some colors and absorbs all the others. We perceive only the reflected colors. The human eye and brain together translate light into color. Light receptors within the eye transmit messages to the brain, which produces the familiar sensations of color.

Thus, red is not "in" an apple. The surface of the apple is reflecting the wavelengths we see as red and absorbing all the rest. An object appears white when it reflects all wavelengths and black when it absorbs them all.

Learning to see and compare visual information becomes a process of growth and exploration.

Check out some of the games related to seeing on this National Geographic page: 

Take for example a banana. During the daytime it looks yellow. However if you look at a banana by candlelight (as if we do this all of the time ;-) ) our eyes still identify it as yellow. In each of those situations, the light illuminating the banana differs considerably. Even though a banana produces different compositions of wavelengths in different circumstances, our minds seek to determine the essence of the banana. Our yellow sensation tells us that bananas reflect a lot of yellow, even though depending on the light source, more orange or green might actually reach our eyes. This phenomenon of color constancy is complex, yet central to life.

Our responsibility as artists is to see those additional colours. Learning to see the various colours becomes a process of growth and exploration. Take shadows as examples, what colours do you see? You’d be surprised by the varieties of colours that seasoned artists see.

Seeing colours is very similar to wine tasting. Any wine connoisseur will tell you how they have refined their sense of smell and taste to identify the subtleties found in wine. For example a savory and complex Pinot Noir will have organic flavors as opposed to fruit flavors. Mushrooms, forest, earth, and smoke are some of the flavors you will typically taste and smell in an old world Pinot. Some will also taste hints of incense, sandalwood, and spice in the bouquet in some bottles. 

Some of us have honed the skill of seeing colours. Let’s take a look at a recent portrait study of Feeling Lin by our colleague Neal. Instead of going straight to skin tones, Neal built up the nuance skin tones by applying numerous washes of colours that he sees. The end result is so rich in colours and attractive. This approach illustrates the various colours that Neal sees in the skin.



What do you think of these National Geographic games?  Do you continue to believe that you are seeing everything? or that what you are seeing is the entire "truth"?

Have a great week!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Scam for artists - Artist's Network University

Like many of you, I started my watercolour adventure with Bob Davies' very extensive and comprehensive watercolor course as a series of 9 (count them, nine!) DVD's, each with hours of video demonstrations covering a vast array of techniques and subjects. I was so pleased to have these.  Bob is a very talented, and congenial artist and presents the material in a very friendly and practical manner.

Within a year of purchasing these DVDs, Bob launched “Art Tutor”. I joined this site on day 1 and have never regretted it.  We all know how a wonderful source of information this site represents.

Unfortunately, I was tempted by some of the courses offered by Artist’s Network University. This site claims to be online education program from the publishers of North Light Books and other leading fine art how-to brands housed under The Artist’s Network.

Recently I succumbed to one of these courses. I’ve always admired and follow the work of Joe Cibere. The course that was listed as “How to Paint 3-Dimensional Watercolors – taught by Joe Cibere” seemed interesting. So I signed up at the cost of $180 cdn for the four weeks which advertised that exclusive material would be provided. This is expensive but thought it would be interesting to pick up tips from this master.

It all went downhill from then. This is not an instructor led course as I was expecting and used to with Art Tutor. What students receive is a download of a 10 page document (which I already had from a previous online search) and a link to a youtube video (which I had already seen numerous times). Therefore, the advertisement of exclusive material is false. This is the entire material for this 4 week course at $180. Every week, students are expected to load  their efforts onto the site for comments. Does this seem like a scam to you? It does to me.

I've been trying to contact them to get a refund since the moment I saw the material for the course. I don't see why I would need to pay for material I already had and is available for free on the web.  Unfortunately, Artist’s Network University cannot be reached by phone as their lines are always busy and they have not replied to my daily emails for a refund.

Another plus for Art Tutor - their level of service is stupendous.

I'm posting this blog to inform others who may be tempted as I was by this “professional” looking website. Beware this is a way to scam you out of your money.

The grass is not greener on the on the other side of the fence!  Even if it is to satisfy my curiosity.

Thank you Art Tutor!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why Art Fairs Matter

In the art world, there are galleries that abound, big art fairs where celebrity artists, collectors, and curators flock, and then, on the other end of the gamut, there are smaller local fairs where community artists show local residents their work. These smaller fairs have an importance to their communities.
Art Fairs Support Communities
When you go to local art fairs, you see art in the context of the community that inspired it, and in these times when communities are consistently starting to look more and more like each other, local art can give its city a sense of identity.
University of Pennsylvania researchers demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.
By helping create a unique sense of place for a community, art shows help attract tourists and new residents to a city, and the shows give these residents the opportunity to network and socialize.
Smaller Fairs Help Local Artists
Smaller art fairs allow local artists to show and sell their work without having to travel and transport their goods. This is important, but it is even more important that local art fairs give artists an opportunity to meet each other and get to know what is going on in their local art world.
These shows also give artists an opportunity to build a market for their art, so that they can continue to support their efforts and build their talents.
Picasso said, “The purpose of art is to wash the dust of daily life off our souls.” Local artists and art fairs give their communities a daily opportunity to rediscover beauty, imagination, and deep thought.  
I'm lucky that where I live that there are a number of art fairs. For the past couple of years I have participated and it has helped widen my horizon. It's also very gratifying when total stranger comment on your art and buy it. ;-)

Here is a watercolour by Alan Bain, a local artist who exhibits in small art fairs.
Watercolour by Alan Bain
What do you think about local art fairs?  Do you participate? Leave your comments below.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Outstanding color chart

Many have requested additional information about the color chart I (Roger) posted several days ago so I thought I would provide a few more particulars about the process.


  • Arches #140 cold-pressed paper - full sheet (22" x 30")
  • Ruler, drafting pencil, erasure, long straight edge
  • Watercolor pigments - All of the pigments I used for my chart were Winsor & Newton, artist quality pigments except the following which were Holbein - Royal Blue, Quinacrodone Gold, Raw Sienna, Viridian Green, and Aurolean Yellow   (All of my paints were in a palette and allowed to dry, then reconstituted when needed)
  • 1/4" flat brush (I used a blend of synthetic and sable)


I first decided upon which of my pigments I wanted to have displayed in my chart. I came up with 15 which included both warm and cool versions of each primary color. After deciding upon my colors, I arranged them into yellows, reds, and blues (light to dark) and included two of the greens at the bottom.
While I have 9 additional pigments in my palette (greens, violets, cads) I chose to stick with all transparent or semi-transparent colors concentrating on the primaries. There were 4 that I just had to add to the end of the chart though mainly because curiosity got the best of me! Those 4 were Permanent Magenta, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, and Neutral Tint. I am really glad I added those as they produced some unexpected mixes.
I then decided just how much room I would need to display each mix, knowing I wanted to have 4 "swatches" of varying strengths of each. I determined that a 1" square divided in half each way would give me the area I needed to accomplish the swatches (each 1/2" square).
I then laid out the grid of 1" squares with a 1/4" gap between each one and assigned the pigments to the left hand column and across the top. The pigment names I printed onto 1/2" self-stick labels and used the top half of the box for it while the bottom half was used for the pigment itself. My goal was to do a miniature graded wash (1/2" tall x 1 3/4" long) of each base pigment down the left hand column so I had a record of how the value would change each pigment. Then became the fun/tedious part!
Each base pigment was mixed to a "skim-milk" consistency and then a very small amount of the pigment to be mixed with it was added and painted to fill the upper left quadrant of each 1" square. I then added a bit more of the secondary pigment, filled the lower left quadrant and so on. I worked my way across the top of the chart, completing a color at a time, then moved onto the next row (base color). Word to the do not need to create large puddles of paint to do each quadrant. This is where the moisture control part of the learning really came to fruition. I always had a tissue in hand in an attempt to keep the water-to-pigment ratios as close as I possibly could. I was amazed at how little paint the entire chart actually took. As each quadrant was filled, I was careful to leave a small gap between them so as not to create any "bleeding" between them.


 Once the entire chart was completed, I realized I had a substantial amount of paper (the large diagonal) left white. That's when I came up with the idea of creating the opacity / liftability column.

I placed a dark "X" with waterproof ink in the 1" box, mixed each base color to the same consistency and painted over the "X". I allowed these to dry for about 15-20 minutes and the went back with clean water and attempted to lift, back to white, the paint in the lower right quadrant (see first left column on the chart).
 (notice how effectively the Burnt Sienna lifted and how much the Permanent Rose stained)
Overall, a great learning tool. If you plan on tackling one I would encourage spending as much time at one sitting as possible. I found that this provides a rhythm and makes it easier to maintain consistent water/pigment ratios. The completed chart now hangs next to my drafting table (oops, painting table) and not only gives me pleasure to look at but will be a valuable resource for mixing pigments as well as allowing me to know which are semi-transparent and/or lift easily. Have a go but be patient!

Note: Roger's original article on Art Tutor has additional information such as some interesting combinations that he has found:

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Challenges of large watercolours

Last week I painted a landscape (12” X 16”) that I was proud of. I decided to paint something similar but in a larger size (22” X 24), to be mounted on a wall board, thinking the challenges would be the same as the first one. Well I quickly learned that I was wrong. Painting a larger, almost full sheet of watercolour paper brings some new trials and tribulations.  

I’ve found that most problems which occurred with a larger scale painting had to do with the nature of watercolor paper itself.

It also brought additional pressures. I certainly didn’t want to waste a large 300lb sheet of paper. I soon concluded after starting that I should not stress about wasting art materials because the painting might not turn out right

Washes on large surfaces
I have two sets of brushes that I use regularly: my wonderful Series 7 kolinsky round brushes and some synthetics (rounds and flats). The largest flat brush that I use on occasion is only 1.5”. This brush worked fine for my first painting. However, when it came the larger painting, 1.5” didn’t cover much surface. I pulled out a 2” brush that I had never used before.

Seeing me use this brush for a wash, you would have been sure that this was the first time that I attempted a graded wash before. It surely felt that way to me. The brush felt so foreign. This  synthetic brush didn’t hold enough paint for an even coat of paint across the paper and I had to use many strokes and go over it numerous times to get the even wash we can normally produce in our sleep.

Working on a large surface, any unevenness in the wash seemed to be amplified. This all starts with having equal amount of water across the page. This sounds easier in theory than practice.

It’s important to have bigger brushes than you normally have and that you practice with them. If you use the same brushes that you use from the smaller paintings then you will find that it will take you much longer finish and the painting will not have the effect you are looking for.

A large grade wash is doable, but the first time is certainly a challenge. I’m sure the next time will be easier, but it will take a while to feel as comfortable as a smaller painting.

The paper
Watercolour paper of any brand is relatively soft, and mars easily in a way that often isn’t possible to take back. Just by pushing down too hard when you are drawing, lifting color, or erasing, you can create a low spot that grabs on to more pigment than other areas (because water flows to the lowest point)—and usually this creates an effect that you do not want.

If you’re forced to constantly reach across a large piece of paper, the risk of marring the paper becomes much more frequent. At my height (5’5″) it’s difficult to not lean over a large piece while painting—when working wet-in-wet, or doing washes for instance, I must keep your paper flat or slight incline.

Before you start you need to make sure that you have more paint than you would normal use as bigger paper and brushes mean a lot more paint will be used. Ensure you have large puddles ready.  Re-mixing larger quantities of paint while the paper is drying is a stress we should avoid.

The details of a large painting may appear more prominent or you may be tempted to add a greater amount of details. Be careful, not to let yourself get sucked in by all of the small details that you normally would not worry about on a smaller painting.

Because watercolours paper tends to bleach in the sun, paintings need to be framed under glass or “acrylic glass” to protect the paper from harm, and keep the paint away from water and sun. Framing a large painting would certainly be more expensive than a small one.

Luckily, my intention is to mount the paper to a wall board (less than $20) and protect the paper with a clear acrylic spray as I have recently been experimenting with.

Hopefully I haven’t discouraged anyone from producing large watercolours. Dimensions we choose for our artwork will always have a tremendous impact on the effect it has on viewers. Although much of the art world believed that “bigger is better”, I disagree. Whether you paint large or small depends not only on the subject -- some subjects simply demand a particular scale -- but also the effect you want to create. An enormous landscape will dominate a room in a way a series of small canvases never could.

Additionally, our ability as a painter and our understanding of the medium would improve dramatically with smaller paintings rather than concentrating on a couple large canvases. Practice makes perfect.. or better in my case;-)  That’s assuming that smaller paintings take less time than larger paintings – this isn’t always true. 
"Can you believe it is not at all easier to draw a figure of about a foot high than to draw a small one? On the contrary, it is much more difficult." -- Van Gogh
Lastly, don’t think of your smaller paintings as studies for a larger piece. While it’s true that many small paintings may later be developed into a bigger work, try to think of your smaller paintings as complete and viable works of art on their own.

In the end, I'm satisfied with my larger painting. One thing I forgot to plan for was the difference in proportions - 12" X 16" doesn't translate well into an almost square painting.  Adjustments must be made.
What's your experience with larger watercolours?

 Today's treat is a painting from Tom Lynch