Friday, May 13, 2016

Explorations In My Color Journal

Two-color Mixing Chart in my Color Journal
I keep a Color Journal (a 9x12" Aquabee Superdeluxe sketchbook) for when I want to explore the mixing capabilities of my paints. Yesterday I cleaned up my little black portable palette and reevaluated what paints to keep in it. A great way to understand the paints in your palette is to make a color chart.
This is a chart of two-paint mixes and serves as a quick reference for finding a way to make the colors you may be after in your painting. The black diagonal line through the pure single-paint colors is useful for telling you about the transparency of your paint. If you can see color over your black line, the paint is more opaque.
Upper right of the diagonal line are two-paint mixes that are more saturated than the comparable two-paint mixes lower left of the diagonal line. The lighter-valued mixes contain more water.
Charts like this do not tell the whole story of your paints and mixes, but are a great start. The next step would be to do a series of paint swatches that show different ratios of one paint mixed with another. You start with a pure puddle of one paint, mix in a tiny bit of the second paint, make a swatch, mix in a bit more of the second paint, paint a swatch...and continue until you have an almost pure version of the second paint. I will show an example set later in this post.
This palette is also known as a "Split Primary Palette" because as a baseline, I have a "warm" and "cool" version of each primary color. (For those who love CYM, those colors are here too in Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, and Phthalo Blue Green Shade). A warm yellow, for example, is a yellow that leans towards red; a cool yellow leans towards blue. A warm red leans towards yellow, a cool red leans towards blue. A warm blue leans towards red, a cool blue leans towards yellow. In this palette my split primaries are: Hansa Yellow Medium (cool), New Gamboge (warm), Transparent Pyrrol Orange (warm), Quinacridone Rose (cool), Ultramarine (warm), Phthalo Blue Green Shade (cool).
Why have a warm and cool version of each primary? Because they allow you to mix either bright or muted versions of secondary colors (orange, violet, green). Mixing a cool yellow with a cool blue will yield a bright green; mixing a warm yellow with a warm blue will yield a more muted green. And so on.
While you can technically mix what you need from just these colors, I always include other colors for mixing convenience. Two mixing powerhouses are Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Green. When painting in nature, or even on the street, what is the most common colors one encounters? Yes, that's right, browns and greens! Well, when you need browns and greens, these two paints are a quick way to get what you need, mixed with any of your primaries. A standby for soft grays approaching faded blacks is the classic mix of Burnt Sienna plus Ultramarine. Additinally, I can get a deep purplish black with a saturated mixture of Phthalo Green plus Quinacridone Rose.
My other paint choices are also from convenience. Monte Amiata Natural Sienna is a transparent version of raw sienna, and is handy as a base for human skin and desert soil. Cobalt Blue, mixed with Quinacridone Rose, makes nice soft shadow purples, and I also like to use it for the lower portions of a blue sky. It's an expensive pigment, so I don't necessarily advise those starting out to purchase it. Finally, I regard Cobalt Teal Blue as a temporary paint to have in my palette, in anticipation of our Caribbean vacation coming up next month. It's a great color for the waters of the Caribbean near shore. I've also seen it used well for the patina for copper rust.

Graduated Color Mixing Chart
Here is a page in my color journal I just completed. My goal was to explore how to get various gradations of green when mixing two colors. Each row is a unique pairing of two paints.
I paired up my 2 yellow paints with my Phthalo Green and 3 of my most-used blue paints, yielding 8 combinations. I then paired up my Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (my earth yellow) with Phthalo Green and my most greenish blue (Phthalo Blue Green Shade). I then did the same with my Burnt Sienna.
For each row I started with a puddle of the yellow paint first, then gradually added more and more of the green or blue to my puddle, making a swatch in my color journal each time.
As I mentioned above, you can expect to get very bright greens when pairing up a cool yellow (Hansa Yellow Medium) with a cool blue (Phthalo Blue Green Shade), and indeed the color chart bore that out for me. For the most vibrant neon lime green, I can see this is achieved by pairing Hansa Yellow Medium with Phthalo Green Blue Shade.
If I want a more muted or duller green, I do well to pair a cool yellow (Hansa Yellow Medium) with a warm blue (Ultramarine)...or pair a warm yellow (New Gamboge) with a cool blue (Phthalo Green Blue Shade).
For an even more muted green, one can pair a warm yellow (New Gamboge) with a warm blue (Ultramarine). This is actually quite a dull combination therefore I don't often use it.
M. A. Natural Sienna and Burnt Sienna are considered "Earth" colors because they are earthy versions of yellow and orange, respectively. As a result, any greens you produce with these paints can look quite earthy and natural. I love to use the sienna with Phthalo Green for sagebrush-like greens, and for deep forest or olive greens I like the Burnt Sienna plus Phthalo Green mixture.
The greens from M. A. Natural Sienna and Phthalo Blue Green Shade can also be quite nice and natural-looking. But this chart shows me that when I combine Burnt Sienna with Phthalo Blue Green Shade I don't get very much green, but rather a greenish brown.
Note that Phthalo Green and Blue are quite staining and very powerful and dominant in mixtures. It takes a careful hand to only add a tiny bit of these colors in mixture...a little goes a long way!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sea Turtle Painting Finished! Recap of Steps...

Sea Turtle (15 x 22" Ink & Watercolor on Arches 140lb CP)
I declare this painting complete!  I don't have anything in mind that I think I want to add or change, so it must be finished!

It was a good experience to paint something of a larger scale than I'm used to.  I had to use larger brushes, especially in the background (including my big goat hair mop brush, my 1" flat and my 3/4" oval).  It takes courage to work larger when small feels so safe!

So I think it would be a great time to recap the progress to show the steps of the painting's development.

Sea Turtle photo by Steve Jurvetson, CC by 2.0, cropped for composition
The first step was to find a reference photo to paint from.  I have some of my own sea turtle photos but I've already made paintings from them and I wanted something different.  I discovered this one by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr ( and was delighted with the turtle's playful and engaging pose and expression.  Thank you Mr. Jurvetson for offering the photo for use via the Creative Commons CC by 2.0 license!  I cropped his original photo to a composition more to my liking.

Using grid method to create drawing
To draw the sea turtle, I taped together two pieces of 11x14" sketch paper to allow me to make a drawing to fit a half sheet of watercolor paper (15 x 22").  I drew a grid onto the paper and used an app on my tablet to overlay a grid onto the photograph.  The grid method is really useful to help one divide a big drawing into smaller sections, and get more accuracy.

Painting after two layers
I stretched my half sheet of watercolor paper onto a large (full-sheet size) of gatorboard.  My process was to thoroughly wet the paper, staple the paper to the gatorboard using a staple gun and 1/4" staples, then tape over the staples with painter's tape to make a nice clean edge for later once I remove the tape.  It is imperative that the taped area is larger than the window of my mat, so I don't have any white edges showing when I frame the painting.

After the paper dried to a nice tight flat surface, I did a first layer of painting, which was an under-layer of New Gamboge and Quinacridone Rose, both to add a little glow to the sea turtle, which will mostly be green and brown, and some reds to the background for variety in a planned sea of blue.

The second layer was the underpainting for the shell and the body (including the legs and arms), to set the baseline local color for those regions.  I also painted an underlayer for the eyes to create a glow using Quinacridone Gold (darkened with violet towards the outer edges).

Shell and leg/arm segments painted
I completed the eyes by painting the iris and pupils.  I had to look at other reference photos of sea turtles which had a better view of the eyes to get an idea of their nature, since the main reference photo from Jurvetson doesn't show them that well.

I then worked on the shell and body segments.  The paints and process were described in an earlier blog post.

Deepen shadows on body, first background layer

I took a rather long hiatus from this painting while I focused on other things, but when I came back to it the first thing I did was deepen the form shadows on the body under the shell as well as the cast shadows on the legs and arms, using mixes of Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Rose, French Ultramarine and Indanthrone Blue.

Then I took out my big goat hair mop brush and wet the background.  I squeezed out onto a white tray little globs of four of my blue paints:  Cobalt Teal Blue, Manganese Blue Nova, Phthalo Blue GS, and French Ultramarine.  I just started working fast on making washes in the background, using my blues primarily.  I did it in regions naturally divided by the sea turtle into the frame.  While each region of wash was damp I sprinkled in some grains of coarse salt.  In the upper right region I dropped in some Quinacridone Rose.  In the bottom region below the sea turtle I dropped in some rose as well as some Burnt Sienna.

Doing backgrounds like this is always a bit intense for me, made more so because of the sheer area my brushes had to cover this time.  I do not require an even flat background (if I did, I would have masked the turtle and did the background first), but I still would rather not have hard edges in odd places.

When it was dry I like the varied colors and mottled effect due to salt and variations of the pigment-to-water ratios as well as the different blue pigments themselves.  But the background in no way felt finished.  To me, the sea turtle looked cut out and pasted onto a background that was mostly uniform in value.  I felt I should have regions in the background that are at least almost as dark in value as those in the turtle itself so that I could have more cohesion between the subject and background.  I also thought the background here is too psychedelic and needed a glaze of blue to tone it down and unify it more.

Finished painting
So that is what I did.  I squeezed out a bit of my beloved Indanthrone Blue onto my white tray and did a graduated wash on the entire background, making the sea water below the turtle darker in tone.  By the time I got to the region above the sea turtle, the paint was very dilute with water.

Again, because I like the texture, I sprinkled a bit of my coarse salt onto the wet background washes.

I was much happier with the background after that layer.  After removing the salt, I added touches of washes here and there that seemed to need it, both with the Indanthrone blue and Cobalt Teal Blue.  A bit more salt too.

The final step was the ink lines.  I used a 0.3 Rapidograph pen to draw ink lines around all the major shapes and the body and shell segments.  And I signed the painting.

I photographed all these using my Canon SL1 digital SLR, using either my 50mm f/1.8 lens or my 100mm f/2.8 macro lens.  I propped my gatorboard outside in the shade of my porch, sat my butt down on the ground and propped my elbows onto my bent legs for stabilization.  I found that "Shade" white balance was very nice, though for some of these I did a custom white balance using the white backside of the gatorboard as a reference.  I tried to fill the frame as much as possible with the painting, making sure I was squared up on the painting (to avoid distortion such as keystoning).  Set aperture to f/8, and chose an ISO (often 400) to allow a fast enough shutter speed.  I'd take a few photos and pick the most representative.

I hope this recap of my process is informative for you!