argos: (snowy argos)
2010-03-21 07:25 am
Entry tags:

Technical details again

Fox Blues for Aerofox
Prismacolor artist pens, watercolor wash
Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor postcard 6x4 in. cold press

"Am I blue? Am I blue?
Ain't these tears in my eyes tellin' you?"

Aerofox is down, and we all feel for him. I started thinking about that old 1929 standard, first recorded by Ethel Waters but since covered by dozens and dozens of singers. Possibly you think of Billie Holiday, or Cher, or even Batman singing it.

It took me about two weeks to firm up the ideas that are smooshed into this tiny postcard. Aero collects and restores old radios, especially Zenith. His prize is a 1936 Stratosphere, which fits perfectly timewise with that song. I went digging for reference photos of the Stratosphere, which turned out to be easy to find on the web. The actual drawing was sketched out in pencil and only took about 40 minutes or so since the postcard format limits detail.

I then inked it comic book style using artist pens by Prismacolor and Faber Castell. The Prismacolors I have go down to finer sizes, but the Faber Castell Pitt has blacker ink and I'll probably get some finer Pitts eventually. I admit these are an improvement over the old dip pen and India ink bottle I used to use. Sharp, clear lines, and no splatter or drips can't be beat. Copic makes some similar pens that take ink cartridges and should last even longer...

After inking I let it dry for a few minutes before cleaning off the pencil remnants with a vinyl eraser. That's another improvement over the old standby ArtGum I think. Fewer crumbs and less prone to leave any grease on the paper (that will resist the watercolor if present.)

I used only three brushes: a no. 6 for the broad washes, a no. 4 for details, and a very fine liner for fur textures. The paints were an inexpensive set of dry cake watercolor (Reeves) that I plan to try for outdoor sketching once the weather stabilizes.

I'd originally intended to include the lyrics of the song, but it was going to make the image too cluttered. I'll probably quote them on the back of the postcard before mailing it (in a sturdy envelope of course.) A fun little project for a snowy day. Hope it helps to cheer my friend a bit.

"Am I blue? You'd be too,
If each plan
With your man
Done fell through."

For those of you who have somehow avoided hearing this old song by Harry Akst and Grant Clarke, I urge you to look it up. Billie Holiday has the classic performance everyone should hear, but several renditions are readily obtainable on the net.
argos: (forest wuff)
2010-03-17 04:41 pm

Autumn Afternoon

This is the limited palette study I mentioned in the last entry. For a larger view, click the thumbnail here.

The object of the study was to work with just three primary colors and produce an entire image. Different artists approached it in various ways, some using just those three colors right out of the tube, and others mixing and blending them to get a fuller range. The specification was pretty precise. We were to use a green-biased yellow (Lemon or Hansa are the commonly used names,) a violet-biased red (Rose or Crimson,) and a green-biased blue (Winsor or Phthalo/Thalo.) The slightly "off center" nature of each primary makes unexpected things happen when they are mixed, and can produce browns or even grays where you'd expect a secondary color to appear. It is still possible to get most of the spectrum, but you often have to mix two different hues and then combine those to get the desired result. In doing this, most colors become somewhat muted and can, if not handled carefully, look muddy or dull.

The three specific pigments required here, called PY3 (a yellow,) PR83 (a violet-rose,) and PB15 (an intense blue) by paint makers, are all synthetic colors and tend to be bright and harsh or garish. If you look closely at the full sized image, I left samples of each in the lower right-hand corner. The scanner has dulled the red a bit, but you can see why you might not want to use these colors by themselves.

It was an interesting challenge to begin with, and I complicated it by choosing a subject with a wide variety of colors in it. Reference photo is here, an actual photo of my own barns. I changed the view angle and simplified the background somewhat because I thought it would be too busy in a 9 x 6 inch painting.

The drawing, as mentioned earlier, offered some challenges in terms of perspective, especially since I changed the angle of view from what is in the photo, and that had to be overcome before painting could begin. Soon I discovered that I was spending at least twice as much time mixing and testing colors as I was in actually painting. The whole process took three days, partly because of the many layers of color that had to dry between applications and partly because I can only work at this sort of thing for an hour or so at a time before I grow fatigued by the concentration and posture. It could be better, and if I were to expand this little sketch to a full sized painting at 33 x 20 in. or so, it would get much better because so much more detail could be supplied. It would also take a heck of a lot longer if it were done with just those three paints. ;p

I learned that I really can mix earth tones and bright hues from just three primaries, including Payne's grey and something that passes for black but is really a very dark blueish gray. I found that I could create the illusion of detail by using a very fine brush, though the texture of the paper and the limits of water's surface tension impose physical restrictions. The horses might have been better detailed by using watercolor pencil, for instance, but that would have violated the palette requirement. On a larger scale, the tiny brush would be adequate, I'm sure.

On the whole, I think this was indeed an educational experience, and I'm satisfied with the results.
argos: (white!)
2010-02-21 10:29 pm
Entry tags:

Fox sketch in progress

Vixen preliminary sketch
by ~altivo on deviantART
4H pencil on watercolor paper

The next painting is started, or at least the basic sketch is laid down. This will be a vixen running ahead of an oncoming snowstorm, trying to go to ground before the heavy wind and snow hits. The sketch is based on several reference photos of my own, with pose taken from an excellent color photo by Bryan F. Collver. I'd like to call it "The Hounds of Aeolus" but I dunno if anyone will get that. More likely it will be "Before the Snow Storm" or something like that.

Anyway, here's the pencil sketch (click thumbnail for larger view) and it's a bit hard to see because the lines are very light. I was going to ink it comic book style before coloring, but I think I've changed my mind and will paint it directly the way the wolves in "Ice Run" were done.
argos: (snowy argos)
2010-02-19 04:28 am
Entry tags:

Ice Run

Ice Run
by ~altivo on deviantART

Ice Run (February 14, 2010)
12x9 in. 80 lb. cold pressed paper
Traditional watercolor

I promised a brief technical discussion of this painting so here it is. (Click thumbnail for larger view.)

The setting is Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior. Though I've visited there in person, it was nearly 30 years ago. This is an amalgam of several reference photos and my own recollections. The island is a wilderness of great scenic beauty and has a resident population of wolves and moose that have been studied for decades. Here we see three wolves crossing the ice on Siskiwit Bay in late winter, when the snowpack has melted and refrozen repeatedly at the surface and become crusty and hard.

After a very rough preliminary pencil sketch I applied some masking fluid to the cloud formation, snow on the promontory rocks, and white highlights on the wolves. Then I laid down flat washes for the sky and ice areas and allowed those to dry almost completely before filling in the sky, rocks, and pine forest in the background. The pines were the most interesting, as they began wet into wet (or at least damp) and were detailed as the painting dried which helps to give more depth to the image as the more distant trees are outlined and the foreground trees are laid over the top.

Then I removed the masking from the clouds and snow and added features and detailing to the white areas. This completed the background, which I allowed to dry for a day or so before continuing.

Next the wolves were finished: Each started with generalized color washes, different for the individual wolf as their base colors vary. Fur details and features were added after the base washes had nearly dried, using no. 4 and no. 0 round brushes. Masked areas were unmasked after these details had dried, and final touches could be added to the remaining whites. At this point the entire painting was allowed to dry overnight again.

The final details were the flying snowflakes in the foreground, kicked up by running paws. These were scratched with the corner of a razor blade, making the fine white trails that cross in front of the wolves, particularly the dark leader.

This was a fun painting, but amounts to little more than a sketch of what I wanted. Note to self: Repeat this on a larger scale, taking longer to get more detail into the image.
argos: (forest wuff)
2010-02-05 08:06 pm
Entry tags:

Plush Painting

Plush foal & SheepdogAnd here is that painting from last night. (Click thumbnail for larger version.) Not a masterpiece, certainly, but I had fun playing with different brushes and colors. I haven't forgotten everything as I'd feared, and just need practice again even though it has been probably 35 years since I tried to do anything serious with watercolor.

As for the stretched paper, it stayed stretched as intended even under the onslaught of water. As it dried (and shrank a bit) overnight, it tried to pull the drafting tape off the board but didn't quite get any of it loose, so it remains quite flat. That much is ideal. Removing the tape was easy and left no residue but did roughen the paper around the boarders. That's probably a non-issue for anything that will be matted and framed.

I rate the first experiment a qualified success.
argos: (white!)
2010-02-04 08:04 pm
Entry tags:

It's a stretch!

The paper, that is. Early this morning, before going to work, I finally got to sit down with my new art toys and experiment. Using a piece of 80 lb paper that was not quite properly stretched, I fiddled around with a set of Derwent water soluble colored pencils to see just how they work, and did find it interesting. I don't think such things existed the last time I was seriously trying to produce art.

I did various tricks to see how the pencils work when wet, dry, and on both wet and dry surfaces, and how they blend when stroked with a wet brush. I don't think I'll be throwing away my regular watercolors, but I see some potential for quick and easy fun with these. On one corner I did a color sketch of the pepper mill, since I was sitting at the dining room table and it was handy. With some judicious brush work, it turned out quite acceptably.

As for the paper, well, it needs better stretching. I did find and order some of the old water-activated gummed paper tape and it should be here in a week or so. A 600 foot roll is probably a lifetime supply if this is all I use it for.

I decided to try again this afternoon, this time using the pressure sensitive "drafting tape" that Gary picked up at the office supply. This looks like ordinary masking tape or freezer tape, though perhaps a bit thicker. I was dubious, but soaked a sheet of 80 lb. paper in the sink for a few minutes, then shook it out and patted it down with a paper towel to remove surface liquid. Laid it on the board and let it dry for a couple more minutes, then taped the edges down with strips of the drafting tape. I didn't think it would stick to the wet paper but it did. I stood by, pressing the edges down repeatedly for ten minutes or so. Then I let it dry for ten minutes and came back to check. Two of the tapes seemed to be loosening, so I pressed them down again hard. Then I took some push pins and skewered both tape and the edges of the paper to the board. Leaving the whole mess to dry for a couple of hours. It seems to have worked. The paper is now dry and tight as a drum. The tape is still stuck to the paper and the board. I plan to try drawing and painting on it yet tonight, and then in the morning will find out if the tape comes off cleanly.

If not, I think I'll move to some 140 lb. paper for now. That's thick enough not to require stretching to avoid buckling when wet.
argos: (snowy argos)
2010-01-31 08:48 pm
Entry tags:

Stretching things

Well, as if I didn't have enough to do, the art bug is chewing on me again. Instead of reaching for the flea soap I pulled out my box of art supplies and considered my options.

I have most everything I need to do a little fooling around. We'll see how it turns out before deciding whether to allocate regular time to it. The craving is familiar to me.

I've always loved painting in watercolor. Some consider this a most difficult medium, while others treat it as something suited only to children's play. I'm somewhere in the middle on it. What I really like about it though is that you can do whatever you like because there is no "orthodox" way of working with watercolor. Wet, dry, over pencil or ink or by itself, all are legit. Abstract or representational, as sharp and photographic as architectural drawing or as loose and fantastical as Vincent Van Gogh, watercolor does it all. It needs less equipment and is easily portable and easy to clean up after. I'm starting to sound like a commercial, eh?

Anyway, This afternoon I dusted off my drawing board and "stretched" a piece of 80 lb. cold press paper so I could do some remedial exercises to remind myself of various techniques. Stretching is the process of anchoring the edges of a soaking wet sheet of watercolor paper so that as it dries it will pull down flat and taut like a drum head. This keeps it from wrinkling and buckling when uneven moisture is applied during the painting. A slight hitch appeared immediately.

I've always used gummed brown paper package tape to anchor the wet paper. It does the job, comes off cleanly when moistened again with a sponge, and is cheap. Turns out we have none in the house because what they sell now for wrapping packages to mail is that thin plastic stuff. That probably won't work. I tried using it just the same, but it doesn't stick well to wet surfaces. I'm going to have to find some of the old stuff, if it's still made.

Anyway, the paper is [mostly] stretched and drying. Tomorrow, perhaps, the brushes get wet again for the first time in years.