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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So you want to paint? ... cont.

Yesterday I pointed out that there are things you might want to work out before you do a course. (if you decide to do a course). Although this is true, you will in fact have to tackle these questions whether you do a course or not if you're planning on painting.
  • What medium do you want to use. (yes that IS a huge deal)
Deciding on the medium you want to paint with is a big deal. If there is a certain "look" that you are wanting your paintings to achieve you are going to have that somewhat dictate what medium you use (to a degree of course); but there are other things to consider. Let me talk about the three most common painting mediums, oil paints, acrylics and watercolours (There are a BUNCH of others too, but these are the biggies). Each has their own unique properties, their strengths, weaknesses, benefits and difficulties. I'll tell you my feelings about each.

Watercolours are amazing to work with ... they are almost magical in the effects that can be created. They are quick, they are clean and they are VERY unforgiving. My mother is an amazing watercolour painter ... She doesn't have the guts to show her work to the world, but she has what I don't ... the metal to work with the medium.  I have painted with watercolours before and I view it as the artistic equivalent of tightrope walking without a safety net. One mistake and your painting is a pretty much a writeoff ... because of the transparence, permanence and quick drying nature of watercolour there is usually no correcting or covering your mistake. the plus is that the materials are economical, the results instantaneous and, big plus it's easy to clean up afterward. This is not a medium you will master overnight ... be prepared to take it slow. You will need a solid understanding of the science of colour and patience, patience, patience.

Oil paintings (my weapon if choice) is almost the exact opposite of watercolours... an anti-watercolour if you will.  Where watercolours are quick, oils are slow, where watercolours are tranparent, oils are pretty much opaque, where they are unforgiving, oils are almost completely forgiving, almost infinitely reworkable. Almost any effect is doable with oils ... BUT they are generally slooooooooow to work with and an absolute bitch when it comes to cleaning brushes etc. Trust me on this ... a complete and utter pain in the butt. Mineral Turpentine, linseed oil bla bla bla bla bla ... groan! Oil is a demanding mistress, but the rewards are sweet ... it's like having a superpower ... ANYTHING can be achieved with the right skills and knowledge!

Now acrylics are the happy medium (yes, pun intended) between watercolour and oil. No mess, quicker than oils, but slower to dry than watercolours, tranluscent if you like, or completely opaque, used with linseed oil or retarder can be "moulded" in a very oil like fasion, are cheap.  The only downside of oils in my mind is the fact that they somehow lack the soul of oils ... there is something vibrant and alive in oils that acrylics just doesn't seem to muster.
In summary though ... acrylics are a great starting medium, especially if you are going it alone.
  • What you want to paint. (still lives, landscape, portraits, eveything?)
The only reason I say you should consider this before doing a course is that you should pick your chosen master by your subject as well as your preferred medium. Subject types have their own "laws", and if you are going to study under someone, pick someone who is dedicated to the type of painting you want to do its practical and expedient. (Obviously if you want to do it all, pick accordingly too.)
  • Who you want to paint like?(a strange thing to say I know ... but I have my reasons).
We all have our hero's.  I know the artists I aspire to. It changes, as I progress, as my experience moulds me as a painter. If you are going to do a course, go to classes, study, I imagine it would be much more gratifying to learn in the style you aspire to.  To spell it out with an example. You sign up for a class in oils. You want to paint in the style of the dutch masters, but the course teacher you have picked is a abstract artist who focuses on the pallet knife rather than the brush. No doubt you will learn much, but it is not going to speed you on your way to becoming the next Vermeer. I can honestly say I have learned more about the nature of painting from disecting what my painting idols have done than from any book I have read. No doubt the same would apply from a course perspective.

Okay ... next post I go a bit deeper into any actual practical tips I can offer. I'm off to paint.

Carl is:
  • Reading this (just started)
  • Recommending you listen to this special song off this album
  • Wondering if I'll ever sleep again.


C. Marx said...

Thanks. I think I will try the acrylics first.
Just play around till I get the feel of them. I always loved the look of oils but it always seemed so intimidating. Why I don't know. Since you say that they are so forgiving! I'm very excited! Oh and people have asked me how much I would charge them for a charcoal portrait like the one I did! Shocked as I didn't think it was that great and to charge to do someones portrait is totally a different story to just doing stuff for myself! What should I tell them?

Carl said...

Oils are really not as scary as you imagine them to be. I think the art world has hyped oils as the medium to aspire to a little and that many artists perpetuate the myth that they are difficult to use to keep their position on the ivory tower (watch me get crucified for that comment) The truth is that they are no more difficult than acrylics, BUT mastering the medium is where the true challenge lies.
As far as what you should tell people who want to buy your work ... well, THAT is a nice problem to have isn't it?! Far be it for me to tell you what to do. Maybe you don't even WANT to be a commissioned artist and have the responsibility! There is a real freedom in doing what you want when you want to when it comes to art. Being on someones payroll means that it can become a "job", and that can suck a lot of the fun out of it. If that is something you want to avoid, do the portrait, but do it as a gift. (Which will score you much more brownie points in the long run too!).
If however being a hired gun is something you aspire to, then the dilemma is that you run the rist of either underpricing or overpricing yourself. If it were me I would ask them to make me an offer, until you know what your time is worth. Another alternative is to ask for payment in kind ... then it's a no risk transaction where you get to practice your craft but at the same time not be forced into a monetary transaction where their expectations run the risk of not being fully met and payment begrudged.
Hey ... but what do I know? I'm just another struggling artist. ;)

C. Marx said...

Thanks for the advice. Its exactly what I was feeling. Make it a gift! I win on every side. Money can come later when I'm feeling more confident! Luckily I not the bread winner right now and will use the opportunity to practice.
Thanks Carl

Carl said...

My pleasure ... and all the best! At the very least you will be building a good portfolio.

Anonymous said...

read up about oils, bought the oils got the pic, know where to begin but the pressure is getting to me I'm no artist but have the passion to paint so here it goes wish me luck :)

Carl said...

:D Good for YOU!! Good luck! ... Just do it!
Don't forget, "fat over lean" with oils ... keep your under layers well diluted with medium if you are planning on doing multiple layers.
(If you do thin layers over a thick undercoat your paint is going to crack when it dries!)

Carl said...

I wonder if you will show us the result somehow Anon. I really hope so.

Anonymous said...

back to oils focus :)
to get that reflection in water so that it looks like still water... if you basecoat with gray is that like a really thin layer? then when adding the titanium white and paynes gray with indanthrone blue how the heck do you do that, is it layers or basically merging the white into the grey and blue?

Carl said...

Hmmmm ... it's difficult without seeing what you are doing, but I'll give it my best shot.

Firstly, you ask about gray being a thin layer? When we speak about thin layers we are usually talking about the quantity of oil paint being laid on the canvas. My definition of a thin layer is a layer where there is a higher ration of paint medium to paint ... i.e. it is a very "watery" wash versus almost solid paint.

People often make the mistake of painting water blue, like children do, because they "know" that water is blue. Remember that still water in reality has very little colour itself, so what you are painting is largely what the water (a big mirror) is reflecting. If there is no blue sky, lots of cloud, heavy trea reflections etc. there won't be any blue. Often the esiest thing to do it to invert the landscape, strtch it and blur it. I often turn the painting upside down while doing this ... it makes it easier to visualise.
There will be whiter areas where the sun is reflecting off the water, and these areas can be quite large and more intense colour and sharper edges closer to the source of the reflection (eg, if there is a tree on a bank, the trunk and base of the tree will be more distinct than the leaves which are further away from the water.

As for thelayers or mixing part of your question ... you are probably overthinking the process a little. Both methods would work, but the easiest way is going to be wet on wet ... ie. mixing. If you are going to do layers it's a long process of building the layers one by one, with pleanty of drying time in between ... it's going to take weeks. Keep it simple ... mix the colours on the canvas. Try drawing what you want the water to look like first ... no shading but the outlines; then block the colour areas with the colours you want and blend the areas together with a soft brush. You don't want to mix the colours together or paint one wet colour area over another wet colour area or you will end up with a muddy mix. If you mess up, wipe the paint off with a rag and start again.

You talk of background colours ... if you are going to do that ... start with the darkest colour as a base and let it dry ... thoroughly! Only then paint your lighter colours over it ... it doesn't have to be a wash, but keep it light hand make it heavier in the areas that require it.

Sorry, I am sure I haven't answered you the way you need me to, but I hope I've helped in some small measure. Ask more if I have been unclear, or you want more elaboration in areas or if I have misunerstood what you are asking.

BTW: with these ones http://carlverster.blogspot.com/2010/01/thomas-crown-affair.html I used no white at all ... no background colour ... the white is the canvas coming through. I primed the canvas with a rag (i.e. waiped the canvas with a little linseed oil and then wiped it all off again). Used a tiny dab of colour mixed with my medium and then spread it (start in the most colour intense area and dragged it out toward the lighter areas). Is this the type of landscape you are doing or a more traditional type?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info makes sense. a country landscape it is

Carl said...

good luck :)
I hope to see it one day.