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"Corrosion": oils on board 12x10 inches

, 16:53

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For a few weeks now, on and off, I have been playing around with my tin of Gamblin cold wax medium. Oils tend to be a medium on their own; there isn't much you can mix with them for experimentation, other than odd things like sand, dirt, twigs, etc. In recent years there has been a bit more available like metallic powders and pigments, for example. I'd never come across cold wax until I saw a few people with it on Youtube. Being forever of an inquisitive mind, I got myself a tin, a few books and began to examine what this stuff was about. I needed to find out whether I could make use of it for my own paintings, or explore a new direction with it.

A lot of artists layer on the paint and wax and then scratch into it, even scraping off layers to show what is underneath. It all seems rather intuitive and without a plan. Abstracted work is created as a result of numerous actions; outside influences, favourite colours, random mark-making, someone else's work, imagination and even actual objects or scenes. I find it quite hard to sit in front of an empty canvas or panel with no subject-matter in front of me.

However...it had to start somewhere, and "Corrosion" began from the examination of a rusty tin from the garden shed. The tin had enough colouring to use as start-point for an underpainting; in this case a bluish-green. The board I chose already had some messy blue-green acrylic paint on it, so another coat of oil with wax and similar toning was sufficient. Once covered, I left it to dry for a day.

On returning to the painting, I added a red-orange on top and immediately saw a good colour contrast. Scraping back revealed the blue-green below; leaving it to dry for another day or so before scraping some more, attempting to emulate the rust and create some kind of composition. The label was added on top after another couple of days, scratched through in places.

So far I have done seven experimental pieces and have learned something different each time. I am beginning to form preferences with regard to the working surface, the paint drying-times and colour combinations. The process is heavy on paint; it is tempting to purchase some student-grade colour and save a few pounds' cost; the alternative is to keep works relatively small. The largest I am working on right now is a 16x16 inches canvas-board, and that's plenty big enough.

Experimenting with Watermedia (2)

, 10:22

My next effort was on a small made-up picture of two pears; again on pale grey PastelMat card. The card was dampened and a yellow, salmon-pink and red-violet stick hatched over the surface in various places and allowed to spread. Once dried, I didn't totally like the colour created so added orange as well. This all dried back to a golden haze.

Now I worked with the sticks dry. I drew a couple of pear shapes, putting one further away from the other. The more distant one was worked on lightly with a pale green and pale mauve, attempting to model the 3D aspect of the fruit. The closer pear was hatched over with yellow, then orange; I wasn't quite happy and decided to add water.....which took off across the sheet and spread the colour beyond the pear. So I reshaped the pear to accommodate the blot and let it dry.

From here, a couple of greens were used to add further variety to the pear's surface, followed by violets. Shadows were put in with deep purple and a dark blue, plus a little white at their outer edges. No more water was added!

A little bit of hatching for a table surface, and that was it. The waxy nature of these sticks can fill the tooth of the paper (not that it has much to start with); pressing hard will fill it faster.

So what do I think of these colours so far? Well, they create some nice effects especially with water; and they hatch over each other well. I have not yet tried them on their sides, like a soft pastel; I think I need a paper with more tooth for that. They are very good for calligraphic line-work on top of washes. Whether they are strong enough to hold their own as a medium, I don't know; I feel they are best used as part of a mixed media work.....like with gouache, or acrylic or collage, for example. I think they are ok for making small paintings/drawings, but they don't do sharp detail (as you might expect).

Their waxy nature might preclude them from certain techniques and, in other work, it may be just as quick to use actual watercolour or coloured inks for a background. I'd like to try something a little larger as a subject, just to test them further....but my box of colours could need supplementing with a few extra purchases and I'm not up for that at the moment.

Tomorrow I'll be getting back to some new "starts" on work, so will post soon.

Experimenting with Watermedia(1)

, 09:59

In my art-drawer I have a number of media that have hardly been used. They were purchased at the time with firm intentions to test them out and include them in my paintings....but as is the way of things, time was taken up with other demands and testing never happened in earnest.

During this busy post-Bank holiday week, I have been unable to get any new paintings started with a degree of commitment; twenty minutes into a lay-out and I get called away to do something else. So instead, I fished out a tin of Caran d'Ache Neocolor 2, which has lain dormant for about three years under a cupboard.

My tin of 30 colours includes, unfortunately, six that are rated one-star or fugitive. More on that later. I decided that although my efforts were not likely to be exhibition-worthy, I would put aside the low-rated colours and focus on the remainder.

Neocolor 2 sticks are water-soluble wax. I hesitate to label them as "crayons" due to the association with children's art...and quite frankly when you consider the price of Caran d'Ache materials, the last person I'd give them to is a small child. But, onward... these sticks can be used wet or dry, and on a variety of surfaces. I chose to use a sheet of very pale grey PastelMat (actually I thought it was white when I extracted it from the paper pile, but I was wrong).

PastelMat surface can take a certain amount of water-wash, something that isn't often advertised. I've used it for coloured pencil, pastel pencil, graphite and watercolour in recent times. The tooth is low-profile but sufficient for all these media (soft pastel goes on well too, but does appreciate a little more tooth than offered by these pale colours).

Without an actual subject to work from, I decided to make small pieces in square or rectangular format. This one below is a misty sunset. Starting with a dry surface, I scribbled colours across the horizon line and further upwards, in a rough hatched manner; working according to the spectrum red, orange, yellow (left the green out) then pale blue. Having done that, I gingerly stroked a wet brush across the red and orange section, from left to right. These colours began to bleed upwards and downwards on the PastelMat. The grainy texture of PastelMat permits some very delicate washed effects to be created; the washes diffuse as if on rough watercolour paper but I think there is a difference in the way those washes move. Having allowed my red and orange sections to settle, I then did the same again, very carefully, with the yellow and blue parts. These were left to dry and mingle without further interference.

Below the darker red band, I then had to work out how to do a supporting shadowy landscape. I picked a dark blue, dark green and worked them dry on the lower section. On top of that I decided to add a deeper purple and a little black. Again, some careful wet-brush was applied. The spreading of wet colour on this surface is pretty fast and tricky to control; it's often best to let it do its own thing and correct it when dried, using a dry colour-stick.

Having left the whole picture for twenty minutes to settle and start drying, I returned to the upper sky area with a little more yellow, plus white. Now, the white stick is really not all that strong in effect....when dry. To get more power into it, it needs to be wetted, or applied to a damp surface. The sky here was still damp, so I pressed the white in, to create some pale lighting effects and try to indicate where the sun might be. The white does dry back to a more subtle appearance, but more can be added.

Eventually I felt enough had been done. I had learned several things from this; that (a) the diffusion of wet wash was very quick on this surface and difficult to control; (b) Colour could be encouraged to spread and mingle with very careful application of a wet brush; (c) wet colour was vibrant but would eventually dry back to a more subtle look.

With these points in mind, I moved on to do another subject, again without any reference; to test out layering the colours in both and wet dry format, in a small still life. Next post shortly.

Caran d'Ache generally claim their colours to be lightfast. However, a few have been pointed out by other artists as being lower-grade; and the company's rating chart apparently states the following to be either one-star rating or "/" (fugitive or similar): Ochre, Raw Umber, Light Olive, Olive, Red Ruby, Saffron, Brown, Russett, Carmine, Pink, Periwinkle Blue, Dark Ultramarine. My tin of 30 contained Ochre, Olive,Brown, Russett, Carmine and Pink. Bit unfortunate, but something to remember when and if I buy any more.

Pear on Plate: pastel 8x11 inches

, 09:36

Local exhibition time approaches, a couple of months' time, so I need to over-view my products from the past six to twelve months and decide what to frame up.

Today's pastel is a very simple one; just a pear on a plate. I had been tempted to add a spoon, or even a lump of cream to the plate, but somehow couldn't bring myself to do it. The surface is a sheet of watercolour paper that has been painted over with white gesso. I started the general drawing of the pear and plate with a Conte stick; once the outlines were in place, I began to lightly fill in colour on the pear using a few Rembrandt pastels. For the plate I put down a few blue-greys, and marked in a darker grey for the pear's shadow.
At this time I have been experimenting with using acrylic polymer medium as a fixative and also as a fluid for "painting" the pastel. Bill Creevy's 1990's book "The Pastel Painting Book" contains a number of examples where he has used acrylic medium as a fixative; and Dawn Emerson also talks about the use of acrylic matt medium as a "painting" fluid in her "Pastel Innovations" book.
The thing to keep in mind is that the medium will dissolve the pastel and muss up any patterning or fine detail that you may have laid in; so it's best not to do too much of that. Bill Creevy's aim was to build up pastel layers; you can add dry pastel on top of the acrylic-medium treated work with little problem, when it is dry.

In my case, I was just playing with the technique to see what would happen. After initial pastel layers were put down, I got a soft-ish brush and painted acrylic medium over the pear and over the plate. Now....at the moment I only have the gloss medium. It does work fine, but tends to leave some shiny areas. I will be getting myself some matt medium in due course. When dry, I continued pastelling. I coloured in the background around the plate; initially it was a red-brown with some deep-blue streaks, but I didn't like it and tried to add another colour on top to change it. As a result I filled the tooth of the surface.

So....after brushing a lot off, I painted over it with acrylic medium and left it to dry. Now, the whole picture had been fixed. A thought of further experimentation seized me and I picked up my pot of clear gesso, covering the whole painting with it and creating more tooth.
The rest of the painting was completed by adding the pear's markings with soft Unison pastels; putting in the plate's gold rim and indicating subtle shadowing on what was actually quite a flat plate; and finally going for a complementary deep blue background. In the end I am glad I added more tooth to the surface; and I also proved to myself that it could be done partway through a work.

"Solar Fire": acrylic 12x12 inches

, 10:45

Back to the acrylic experiments, and this one completed last week on a box canvas. Having followed the books of Rolina van Vliet for a while, I have been trying out some of her technique exercises. It is interesting to add colour to a canvas randomly to start with, and then work at building it up into some sort of balanced image. The canvas on this particular work has rather prominent horizontal lines in its weave, which don't always assist when scratching and scraping paint. The lower section was originally very bright orange, so it was toned down by adding a more brownish mix of cadmium red with ultramarine blue; small highlights were then added back on top. All balanced against a black upper corner (mixed from thalo green and magenta, rather than tube black).

In the process of dabbling with acrylics on paper, I remembered that pastels are a good match with acrylic paint. The poor old pastels have been a little neglected of late, but as I had commented earlier, there seem to be fewer Internet buyers for pastels than "paint". I am, however, working on my own little sideline projects and there will be some pastels up here in due time. I'd like to explore combining acrylic underpainting with pastels on top but have to find suitable subjects close to hand....still life is the most obvious choice.

"Patchwork Jazz": acrylic 24x20 inches

, 13:20


Still working on some abstract ideas at the moment. With a wish to move on from the blue theme of the previous productions, I elected to use a random choice of colours to produce this patchwork. At present I am looking at several potential subjects that contain squares and rectangles....they're a little more realistic than abstract....so for the coming days I'll be working on paper, drawing out various designs in pencil and possibly pastel too. Whether I will create them in acrylic, however, is another matter....I still find this paint tricky to work with, with regard to natural subjects such as flowers and landscape. It'll probably be back to oils, where colours tend to be softer and easier to blend where required. My acrylic box is mainly heavy-bodied paint; whether I should gradually move on to liquid formats is something for me to think about, since I have found acrylic inks, for example, to go well with pastel and other line-work. All part of the great exploration.

Dimensions: acrylic on canvas 24x24 inches

, 18:25

An abstract using overlaid squares and rectangles in shadowy shades of deep purple, blues and black, offset with scatterings of silver and accented with creamy-white. This painting almost didn't happen. It began life as a semi-abstract landscape-style layout, which became too dark and was systematically scraped down then overpainted with deep blue-grey. Using the resulting variations in contrast (black to blue-grey and into a steel grey), a patchwork of rectangles was devised, to create an air of mystery and some hidden "dimensions". Most of these were painted with the edge of a knife, pulling and scraping the paint to create colour overlays and light texture. Blues and mauves were mixed with metallic silver paint and the occasional touch of pearlescence.

Outdoor light levels not brilliant for photographs but look ok for the blog; I may repeat the session to try and get a better shot for online gallery use.