Friday, December 2, 2011

A brush with Greatness

One of the Four Scholarly Treasures of Chinese painting is the brush. For any painter the brush is a basic tool. The humble brush, a tuft of hair on the end of a stick.

Brushes are the source of endless debate, natural or synthetic, what size, what shape, who makes the best?

For my own use I am comfortable with the better quality synthetics. They may not match true Kolinsky sable, but the are clearly better than the cheap brushes. From what I have read today's sable may not be as good as yesterday's sable in any case. The quality of a sable brush depends on the quality of the weasel's winter coat. Sable farms are in warmer climates than the range of the wild sables that were formerly trapped. The result is animals that do not produce quite as thick a coat.

Chinese brushes are another story. The hair they are made of sounds exotic, and in some cases is. Bear, weasel, wolf, rat wisker, baby's first hair cut, sheep, goat, wild horse mane, white cloud, rooster feather, peacock, orchid-bamboo... The best brushes are made individually by hand. In China decent brushes can be had very cheaply compared to prices in the States. The inexpensive brushes I picked up for the equivalent of $5.00 or less were easily the equal of $20-$40 brushes here in the US.

I have found that after trying quality brushes the cheap ones of poor quality are almost impossible to use. A good brush become an extension of the artist. A poor brush must be fought every step of the way.

It is an unfortunate truth that the only true test of quality for a brush is to use it. Most brushes are shipped with size or starch in the hairs to protect them during shipping. This must be soaked out of the brush before the brush can be tried. Some art suppliers are happy to let customers soak and try brushes before buying, others frown on the practice.

Buying brushes of known and reputable makes is the best bet. But, poor brushes can still slip through. The sad thing is that there is no way of knowing it is a poor brush until it is used. Even epert brush makers occasionally get an unepected failure.

A further aspect of brushes is size and shape. I paint very small works, but I am a fan of big brushes. A big brush will hold more paint. This lets you produce longer, firmer strokes. A quality brush, even if large will still come to a needle point. This point is very capable of producing fine lines with a light touch.

My go to brush for painting ATCs is my half-inch flat. That's right, a half inch brush for a painting only 2 1/2 3 1/2 inches! 5 strokes side by side will span the whole width. But using the edge and corners as well as the flat I can get a huge variety of marks. It is far from being the only brush I use, but it is the most versitile for the size I paint.

In Chinese Ink Painting I use a wider variety of brushes on a single painting. I will load different brushes with different tones of ink, different mixtures of tones, and use a variety of sizes to produce varied width strokes. The width of teh stroke is limited by the width of teh brush, so when I want wide, full strokes I reach for a full bodied brush. Fine strokes require only that the brush come to a fine point.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life Drawing again

I have finally been able to join a life drawing group. Once a week I get to join others at the local university for a life drawing course. The instructors are two senior art majors and they do not seem the least intimidated by correcting and instructing a group of their parents' age.

We have been working in charcoal. The last couple of sessions have been working o toned paper, lifting out highlights and drawing in darks. This is a new method of drawing for me, and I find it a great aid to start with the middle value and then work by subtraction back to the lights.

Usually in both ink and watercolour I start from the lightest values and gradually build up the darks, always taking care to preserve the lights. Charcoal is turning that on its head.

I will note that figure drawing has me working considerably larger (18x24 inches) than I am used to. It is also considerably easier for me to draw the figure from photographs than from life.

One Week to go

In one week I leave for a three week sketching and painting tour in China. I am very excited by this. China has long had a hold on my imagination, now I will get the opportunity to spend three weeks sketching and painting on location there.

I will be on a tour lead by Lian Zheng. Highlights include Beijing, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, the Three Gorges and Shanghai. We will be studying both Western style watercolour painting and traditional Chinese ink painting as well as Lian's unique fusion of the two.

Internet access while in China will be limited at best, but I will post the work from the trip here on my return.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Seasons - Work In Progress

Here are the initial stages of an 8x10 study I am doing for a larger work. Acrylic on canvas panel.

Jeffwerx Transplant Fund

A very short entry to request help for my friend Jeff Freels. He is a talented artist facing a need for organ transplant surgery. Please help spread the word. this is a painting I am auctioning for Jeff's Fund.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sumi-e and Chinese Brush Painting

I have begun a six week online class with Henry Li of Blue heron Arts.

Painting in ink can be very relaxing when the mood is right. The energy flowing through the artist to the paper via the ink and brush is very meditative. When it does not go right Ink is the Devil's handmaiden!

Here are three that I have recently done. The inscription on the mood seal is a Confucian saying "To study, then you know you don't know enough" or "We know the deficiency after learning".

The caligraphy is my signature and the title "Orchid".

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Where to find my art

Potsdam SummerFestival is in full swing. I have told a few admirers where to find my paintings for sale and realized I should post it here as well.

I have work at Jernabi Coffee on Maple Street in Potsdam, next to Evans and White Hardware, stop in for the best coffee in town. I also have work for sale and in progress at the World Artisan, 1/2 Main Street, Potsdam, next to Billy's Deli, the best sandwiches in town. A bit further a field I have ten or twelve paintings currently at the Fireside Eatery and Grassroots Community Coop in Waddington. Route 37, just past the village heading towards Massena.

I will be doing a show this fall at the Creperie also in Waddington.

Currently at the World Artisan we are having our "Visions of Potsdam" show, the first of what we hope will become an annual event. The show features works by five talented local artists presenting art inspired by Potsdam.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Heron Finished

Finished the heron. I am really pleased with the way this turned out. Thank you again to Kenneth Allen who took the refernce photo and made it available under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Heron WIP

Here is an acrylic version of the heron in progress. I plan to darken the lower bill, lighten the back. I am undecided about the background. I could keep the darker green, it needs some blending and colour matching to be a unified background, or go much lighter with the background similar to teh reference photo and the watercolour version.

The reference photo was taken in Ireland by Kenneth Allen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Heron I

A heron with a nice brookie. Reference image from Creative Commons. Watercolour, I am currently painting a version in acrylics.

So far acrylics are agreeing with me better than oils, but watercolour is definitely my first choice.

I do have to put in a plug for CC image searches. Lots of great photos out there with attribution licenses. A great boon for those of us who are not professional photographers with unlimited budgets for travel and equipment.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cafe al fresco

Two more minis. The Gazeebo in Ives Park, Potsdam, and a cup of Jernabi's famous coffee.

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's a Small World

A couple of "minis" acrylic on canvas. These are about 2 1/2 inches square and are a lot of fun to do.
The church is a view of Trinity Church in Potsdam, NY,from the park across the street from my studio.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

First Thoughts on First Oils

Well I decided to stretch my artistic wings a bit and try oils. I now have a small panel with a pretty horrible looking start at a painting of a trout. I hope that once this base layer dries a bit I will be able to add some finish to it and salvage the painting.

A couple of things I have realized already, it is a myth that watercolour is the hardest and most unforgiving medium, using a big brush does not always help, and you should indeed "paint like a millionaire".

Maybe it is just that I have been wrestling with watercolour for several years now and have only just picked up oils, but I know my painting would look better if I had started it in watercolour. Oils just do not seem to want to do what I want them too. Some of this may be due to a slower drying time, I wonder if I would like acrylics better in this respect? I seem to pick up a lot of stray paint with oils leading to dulled colours in a way that doesn't happen to me often in watercolours.

I have been using a new half-inch or so angle shader, a brush that will sit up and sing for me in watercolour. With oils it feels crude and clumsy. Stiff when I want it yielding, soft when I want it stiff, and never does the paint behave as I expect. Welcome to the learning curve! I think I may have to invest in some seriously smaller brushes if I am going to continue with small paintings.

Painting like a millionaire is definitely a useful doctrine for oils. I am very much surprised by how much paint it takes to get coverage in oils. No squeezing out a tiny dab of paint, instead it's generous blobs and dollops. Luckily for my sanity I have been told that it will keep in the fridge for a day or two. I hope so. With watercolour it was no problem to load my palette generously. A little spritz of water and it was good as new again.

Oil painting may be the thing to get me painting large. Or even medium. In watercolour anything above about 10x12 feels huge to me. I often work in 4x6. Already in oils I can see and feel that painting on a large canvas and really swinging a brush loaded with paint across the surface could be a great joy. Larger areas of colour could also solve some of the contamination problems from working to small.

There is a lovely smell to oil painting that watercolour doesn't have. That nice resinous pine aroma of turpentine and linseed oil. I do like that, although I keep the ventilation going full out so I don't fumigate my self.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Call for Artists - Visions of Potsdam

Call for Artists:
The World Artisan is pleased to announce an open call for artists for the first annual “Visions of Potsdam” art show. Works in all media reflecting the theme of “Potsdam” are accepted. Artists may submit up to three works each. The World Artisan reserves the right to reject any works that are deemed unsuitable for display. All works must be finished and ready for display. 2D artwork must be framed or gallery wr...apped and wired for hanging. Works on paper must be framed behind glass or plexiglass.

Works may be delivered to the World Artisan, ½ Main Street, Potsdam, NY through July 10th.

Artworks may be for sale. 20% of sale price will be retained by The World Artisan as commission. The World Artisan will collect and remit all NYS sales tax due.

The show will open Thursday, July 14th and will run through the summer. Patrons purchasing art work will be able to take it with them at time of purchase. Artists are requested to pick up artwork by September 1st.

For more information contact the World Artisan, 315-261-4844,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brook Trout

Reference photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service. Here are two paintings of this subject. I did a third but don't seem to have taken a photo.

Frederic Remington Art Musem- Members Juried Show

I am one of the artists featured in the museum's annual juried show of member's artwork. There is a People's Choice Award to be decided by public votes through the summer. You can vote either on-line or at the museum.

If you are in the Ogdensburg, NY area the museum is well worth stopping in. Besides Remington's paintings and bronzes, both Western and Adirondack subjects, there is a fantastic collection of cut glass donated by the former owners of the museum building.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Obligatory introductory post

Welcome to my art blog. This will be mostly paintings in watercolour, especially fish and other Adirondack subjecs.
I will also share links to artists and art work I find interesting, stories about Adirondack life, and other musings.

I paint primarily with Cheap Joe's American Journey watercolours and 140# CP paper.
I find that AJ paints offer great value, nice colour and re-wet well. The latter quality is important to me as my prefered palette is white enamel butchers trays which I leave the paint on between sessions.

I also experiment with Sumi-e and Chinese Brush Painting.

Daily Paintworks Challenge

Yesterday's painting done for the DPW NYC Woman challenge.

An enjoyable reference photo and a bit of a stretch for me as I don't usually paint people.