Behold a Pale Orange Cat & super-mini studio setup

I’ve got a few new cat head paintings to post, but first, the latest news:

“Pale Orange Cat,” 5″ x 7″ oil on Pintura Painting Panel

Another painting completed tonight! This time, I finished this little painting at a most unusual working space: my computer desk!

As I mentioned in a previous post, these are desperate times for me (studio-wise) because now I am fulfilling my duties as a part-time caregiver for a family member. Gone are the days when I can gallivant away to my lovely studio and paint until the wee hours. I must stay homebound and be a caregiver. (And that’s okay. It’s family, after all!) I finally developed a workaround (a small studio area) to allow me to work in a very cramped space, but tonight, I decided to go even smaller.

I hope that my situation (and my solution for it) might be useful for other artists out there. Surely I’m not the only one who is dealing with a desperate need to paint, but only with cramped spaces available to work!

My very small

My very small “studio area.”

I did my painting on a computer table. Not even a “real” computer table, just some table that I’ve been using for my 20″ iMac. 

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My micro-mini studio space, with some cat heads.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I thought I’d add a little more information about my itty-bitty, microscopic studio “area.” Perhaps all the information I share here will help someone else set up a small studio too.

Cat Head work in progress, on its

Cat Head work in progress, on its “easel,” a Guerilla Painter Thumb Box (5×7″).

I only have a super-cramped area in which to work. I use overhead light as my light source. (So far, so good.) Right now all I’ve been  working on are smaller paintings that can fit in the “easel” part of my small Pocket Box (maximum size, 5×7″). Very soon I’ll be using another table easel type thing that should accommodate slightly larger panels (hopefully up to at least 12×12″).

A wider view of the whole

A wider view of the whole “studio” area, crammed onto a small foldable table.

Here’s a wider view of the studio layout:

I’m using an inexpensive 26″ x 18″ foldable table (bought from Amazon.com). On the left is the tablet (a 10-inch Android-based Lenovo) which displays my reference photo (a cat head picture from Flickr!).

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Working with a tablet; FABULOUSLY ORANGE cat head

Using a Kindle Fire tablet for drawing reference (Work in Progress pencil sketch). Click on picture to see larger version. (Reference photo is from posespace.com.)

I thought I’d write a little bit about a common tool used by artists: A digital tablet.

Many artists report that tablets are superior for displaying reference photos. Tablets are not limited by the resolution of a print on paper. You can zoom in on an image to see far more detail. The colors are often more accurate and with a wider range.

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About Student vs. Artist Grade Oil Paints—Products & Brands

My web stats tell me that my page “A word about student paint” gets plenty of visitors. I think there’s a lot of curiosity about which products to buy, which ones are “best,” and which are rip-offs.

Well, before I start giving my opinions, bear in mind that it is just, like, my opinion, man. But, I think most of what I say here will be not too far off the beaten path, or in other words, will not conflict too much with popular opinion.

A small portion of my paint collection.

SUMMARY OF STUDENT VS. ARTIST GRADE OIL PAINTS:

You’ll see “Student” paint sold alongside “Artist” grade paint, but at a lower price. For instance, Winsor & Newton’s Artist and Student line are as follows: Winsor & Newton Artist Oil Color and Winton.  Winton is the student grade. Maimeri Puro is (one of the) artist grade brands from Maimeri, while Classico is their student grade (though actually Classico isn’t that bad). Some brands (like Blockx or Old Holland) only sell artist grade. Other brands (like Soho, sold through Jerry’s Artarama) are only student grade. (And Soho is very low-end, by the way. Just saying.)

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An experiment in acrylics & limited palette

“Jason in Acrylics,” 4×5″ acrylic on canvas panel. Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca (model) and Portia Shao (photographer) for the stock photo used as reference!

Another experiment with student paint (sort of) as well as an attempt to get better at acrylics! I dabbled with some acrylics recently, and was so abysmal at it, that I have now decided to try to improve my skills. I don’t recall having such dire issues with acrylics when I was much younger, but I paint differently now, I guess.

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A word about student paint

“Jorge – Zorn Palette” approx. 4×6″ oil on unstretched canvas. (From a canvas pad.) If loving Jorge Salinas is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

So… I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to do a review, or perhaps a treatise, on the subject of student-quality paints.

Lately I’ve had reason to shop at the North-American-based chain craft/art supply stores, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. I realized that for many people, these types of stores are their only access to art materials, at least hands-on. So, I thought I’d explore what it would be like for a new artist to try to select paints (oils or acrylics) from one of these stores, while also being budget-minded.

So I purchased some oil and acrylic sets from both stores (haven’t finished collecting my samples yet) with the intent of trying them out and reporting back what I experienced.

An overview of chain craft store brand paints.

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Mini-Tutorial: Experiments in Water Mixable Oils

WORK IN PROGRESS, 6×6″ water-mixable oil on stretched canvas.

Oy. My current schedule has not been conducive to painting and it’s very frustrating. But hopefully it will be back to “normal” (what qualifies as that for me!) soon.

I haven’t been able to spend much time at my studio, so I set up a very humble corner at home where I could paint. But painting with solvents (like paint thinner) was a no-go, so I thought I’d break out some water mixable oils I had, and see what I could do. I’ve done two paintings so far, neither finished, and I post the more “finished” looking of the two. It’s just a simple oil sketch of one of my made-up people (no model or photo reference). It needs more tweaking, which I’ll do as soon as it dries.

MY IMPRESSION OF WATER MIXABLE OILS:

Right now the main advantage I see with water-mixables (also known as “WMOs”)

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A bit about alkyds… (overview/tutorial)

I’m going to add a brief entry to my “tutorials” section. It’s not much, but I feel badly that I haven’t been updating the blog as frequently. (It’s summer, what can I say? I went on another road trip last week.)

I’ve dabbled in alkyds (fast-drying oils) for a long time now. I first tried it in art school, many moons ago. I think that at the time we only had Winsor & Newton brand. The first impression I had of alkyds (back then) was that they weren’t as opaque as regular oils, and they had a kind of “waxy” texture. But they were quite workable, and I loved the fast drying time!

"Jason in Shadow," 5x7" alkyd on Gessobord. Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca (model) and Portia Shao (photographer) for the use of the stock reference photo.

“Jason in Shadow,” 5×7″ alkyd on Gessobord. Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca (model) and Portia Shao (photographer) for the use of the stock reference photo.

Here’s an alkyd study I did recently. Now we have several brands of alkyds to choose from, and they don’t seem as “waxy” as they used to, way back. But they are still quick-drying!

I typically use Liquin (an alkyd medium) when I paint in alkyds. This should help speed drying time more. I find that usually in less than a day (depending on the paint thickness) the painting is dry enough, and ready to be worked on again.

Here’s another recent alkyd painting (WORK IN PROGRESS!).

“Blue Hair,” 12×12″ oil (alkyds) on canvas panel. WORK IN PROGRESS!!!! Thanks to Cathleen Tarawhiti on DeviantArt for the stock photo I used as reference.

With “Blue Hair,” the painting was dry to the touch later the same day, so I was able to do some work in the morning/noonish, and do a little more later on in the day. Amazing! I love my alkyds.

Even though we have several brands of alkyds to choose from (as opposed to just W&N’s alkyds, back in the day), I wish there were even more brands and colors available. Winsor & Newton’s “Griffin” brand has recently discontinued all cadmium colors. I understand that they have probably made this decision because cadmiums have some toxicity, but cadmium “hues” aren’t the same—cadmiums have an opacity and denseness that cannot be replicated in “hues.” Fortunately, the other alkyd brands (C.A.S., DaVinci, and Gamblin) do still carry cadmiums.

Each brand of alkyd has their own properties. I think DaVincis tend to be very thick and stiff. (Kind of like Old Holland in that respect.) I will still use them, am very grateful for DaVinci’s line of alkyds, but given a choice, I prefer something a little more buttery. Gamblin’s “FastMatte” alkyds are pretty good, soft and buttery, though I wish they carried more colors. CAS is a good quality brand, but sometimes their customer service sucks if you order from their site. (Long, long story there. For another time!) Griffins have a good consistency and I think a decent pigment load, but I miss the cadmium colors.

Alkyds have, in some form or another, been around for many decades. I’ve heard that studies indicate that they are “stable” and I am comfortable using them. My old paintings done in art school still seem rich and vibrant as ever. As long as we use pigments that are strong and light-fast, I think they’re an awesome alternative to regular oils. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to mix alkyds with regular oils. (Many artists use an alkyd white with their regular oils, which tends to speed up drying time on all the paints.) Some manufacturers of regular oils sell a “fast drying” white, which is often made with alkyds, for artists who enjoy the fast-drying properties of alkyds but don’t want to use a whole set of alkyd colors.

This page has a good overview of alkyds.

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Mini Tutorial: A bit about paints

I have “Tutorials” listed as a menu item in this blog, but I barely have any tutorials! So I thought I’d do a quick one on one of my favorite subjects: Art materials. I’ll cover some of my favorite products and give a few recommendations as well.

PAINT: Oil and Acrylics, which are better?

Some people who haven’t done a lot of painting get a little confused about which is “better,” oils or acrylics? The answer is, there really isn’t any “better,” these are different types of paints and will fulfill different needs.

Oils are my favorite, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like acrylics as well. I like oils because they’re so forgiving—mess up and you have time to fix it, wipe it off and blend it away . . . not as easy to do with acrylics.

Acrylics are great too, no fuss, just thin with water, easy to clean, don’t have to wait to dry! What’s not to love?

Each will appeal in their own way.

OIL PAINTS

Oil paint myths, or things you may have heard about oils that are not actually true.

They really don’t cost that much more. Oils are more dense (you can tell this when you pick up a tube, they are often heavier!). Less goes farther. That’s why tubes of acrylics are larger, to compensate for the relative ‘fluffiness’ they have compared to oils.

They are not so deadly toxic, so don’t be afraid of them!  In some cases they are no more toxic than acrylics (depending on which pigments you choose). Cadmium is cadmium (toxic pigment that you don’t want to breathe in or ingest). It doesn’t matter if it’s cadmium in oils or acrylics, it’s still cadmium, right? Don’t assume that all acrylic colors are non-toxic and won’t hurt you. Check the health warning labels on both acrylic or oil colors to see what the risks are. (And remember, just because some of these pigments are classified as toxic, it doesn’t mean anyone who paints with them is immediately going to drop dead. Don’t bring food to your painting area, don’t breathe dried paint dust, wash your hands and change dirty clothes after painting: all these things reduce your risks significantly.)

It’s the solvent (thinner) you use, not the paint itself, that has more potential to be harmful. If you paint in oils but remain “solvent-free” (don’t use paint thinner, turpentine, mineral spirits) then basically all you’re breathing in is the oils (which for most people is not a problem) and whatever additives are in the paint, most which are not going to cause problems. You can get around painting with solvents by either thinning everything with an oil like linseed, safflower oil, etc., or using a non-toxic thinner like Weber Turpenoid Natural. (I use a lot of this stuff myself, but don’t mix it too heavily into my paints—mostly use it to clean my brushes between mixing colors.)

They don’t have to take forever to dry: I use an alkyd-based medium like Winsor & Newton Liquin which speeds up the drying time by a lot. Often my painting is dry to the touch after about 12-24 hours. If you paint thicker, the drying time will be longer, but not weeks and weeks!

You don’t always save money by buying student paint. It depends on which pigments you use, and where you go to shop. If you shop at your local Michael’s or other chain craft store, you might be paying almost as much for student grade paint as you could pay for artist grade through mail order. For example, wait until there’s a coupon or code and you can get some very nice cadmium colors for very affordable prices from Utrecht. Utrecht Oil colors, 37ml tube. I get a lot of my paints from Utrecht (always during a sale, always!). Many other brands of artist grade are on the “lower end range” (but still artist grade) and will do better for you (and be as cheap or cheaper) than student grade. Such brands include Lefranc & Bourgeois Artists’ Oils and Richeson Oils The Shiva Series. Wait for the sale, the discount coupon, something, and get a higher quality paint for a student grade price! (By the way, some friends have reported that some of the Utrecht colors “gum up” [start to dry] faster than other brands, so if you are concerned about that, either use some sort of covered palette [like this one, I love this one], or only place down enough paint for one or two days, so you don’t waste paint.)

Recommended oil colors (some of my favorites):

WHITE is the most important of all. If you can’t afford any other artist grade paint, at least get an artist grade white. Some nice quality whites are:

You can also choose the “Titanium White” variation on any of these brands (except Permalba, only get “Permalba White”). I just like the Titanium-Zinc mixtures best. Utrecht’s “Utrecht White” (Titanium-Zinc) is also good, but I was too lazy to put it on the list! Either Titanium-Zinc or Titanium will do you fine!

If you want to go up a little higher on the paint food chain, here are some pricier (but fabulous) whites:

What about other whites, like ones that contain lead?

I like lead white (aka Flemish White, Flake White, Cremnitz White). You don’t have to use them, but they are nice for portraits. Just take care, because you know, the lead thing. For an affordable (and in plentiful supply) lead white, I recommend Utrecht Flemish or Flake White (when on sale, the 150 mL tubes are very affordable!). You’ll have to do a quick search on Utrecht’s site for their Flemish or Flake whites.

OTHER OIL COLORS:

I spend so much time obsessing about white, I neglect the other colors! Here’s my current short list of favorite oil colors that are must-haves for my palette:

  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson: (Currently I’m using Blick’s Permanent Alizarin Crimson, but Winsor & Newton and Gamblin’s Alizarin Permanent are excellent too. By the way, the great Richard Schmid recommends the Winsor & Newton and Gamblin! So there you go!) BE SURE TO GET THE “PERMANENT” variant of Alizarin Crimson. The regular Alizarin Crimson will fade over time and is considered “fugitive.”
  • Cadmium Red Light:  Right now my favorite is Holbein but many other brands are fine. Utrecht is also good. (Watch out for it gumming up early, but for the lower price, it’s worth the risk!) I’m also very partial to Blue Ridge Artist colors—very high quality, and surprisingly affordable prices for Cadmiums!
  • Yellow Ochre: Many brands are fine. I don’t have a strong preference in brand right now.
  • Cadmium Yellow Lemon (or Light): It’s got to be a cool, cool yellow. Lemon is best if you can get it. Right now I’m using Richeson Oils The Shiva Series brand, but again Utrecht’s version is good too.
  • Ultramarine Blue: There are so many good Ultramarines! Lefranc & Bourgeois is a good but affordable blue (anything that says “Ultramarine Blue” in it will work) but I admit that I find Blockx’s Ultramarines to be soooo fine!
  • “Bright Blue”, Prussian Blue or Phthalo Blue: Another richer, stronger blue. Both Prussian Blue and Phthalo are super-strong blues, a little goes a long way. They can easily overpower a mixture, but they are great for mixing blacks and other strong, dark colors. Most brands will do, because both Prussian and Phthalo are so strong that even the cheaper brands still pack a punch. Another variation that I like a lot is Utrecht’s Bright Blue. It’s a mix of Phthalo and Ultramarine and is a nice, nice blue. (You’ll have to do a bit of hunting on the Utrecht page to find Bright Blue, as I can’t seem to link to it directly.)
  • Transparent Red Oxide: Lefranc & Bourgeois has a good version of this, as well as Blockx’s Transparent Mars Red. Sublime! I consider Transparent Red Oxide as a must-have, even more important than other earths (like Burnt Sienna). They are great in mixtures as well as for tinting the entire canvas in preparation for starting a new painting.
  • Burnt Sienna, English Red, Mars Red or other “earth”: Most earth pigments are fairly affordable, so even the cheaper brands should be okay. But some are better than others! Blick Artists’ Oil Color have some good colors.

Save money, and learn color control by using limited palettes:

This works for both oils and acrylics.

If you are trying to trim down how many paints you use, or are afraid to invest in a lot of oil paints for fear you won’t like them, try a limited palette. The most obvious first choice is the Zorn Palette:

Painting done with Zorn Palette. (Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca and Portia Shao for the stock photo I used as reference!)

The Zorn Palette consists of only four pigments: White, Black, Vermillion, and Yellow Ochre. (Read more about it in this post.) There’s so many colors you can get from just these four colors. For doing a painting like the one I show above, I recommend a Cadmium Red Light (which is more vibrant and a bit “cooler” than other vermillions). An Ivory Black is “cooler” than other blacks, so that’s a good way to go.

Okay, that’s enough about oil paints for today!

Please note: I’m an “affiliate” with the online stores, whose links I give above. That means that I may get a small commission for any sale that results from visitors visiting these links. I shop at these stores all the time and would link to these stores regardless of whether I would get a commission or not! 🙂

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TUTORIAL: Evolution of a painting “Suspicion.” Step by step in oils

I thought I’d show my process of painting, as well as demonstrate how digital tools like Photoshop can be a time-saver and life-saver for an artist. Sure, I’m an old-school traditional painter, but that doesn’t mean I’ll turn my back on new technology completely!

(Click on the thumbnail to see a bigger picture.) Some progress paintings for “Suspicion,” oil on 8×8″ linen panel.

  1. Probably 3/4 done. Eyes are too high up on the face. (Checking in Photoshop helped me see this.) Highlights (on cheek and chin) are too bright and harsh. He’s got a wall eye (on our right side, the eye is looking off in a different direction.)
  2. Much better. Eyes a bit too big (but I didn’t really mind that). “Muzzle” of face (mouth, chin, under nose) is pushed out too much. Makes him look slightly ape-like. That will not do!
  3. Almost done. Eye on our right still strays a bit too much. Area around the mouth not quite to my liking. Creases above eyebrows not quite correct.
  4. A few more tweaks. Fixed highlight above upper lip. Reshaped the lower lip a bit. Tiny bit of adjustment to eye direction.

I don’t usually photograph my paintings when I’m in the middle of working on them. (I will have to do that sometime in the future for tutorial purposes.) So unfortunately I don’t have a picture of this painting in its beginning stages. So this is the best I can do—to show how I can go off the rails with details and proportions, and how eventually I get things set to order in the end. It’s almost always a gradual, ongoing process.

Part of my “problem” is that I paint (“draw”) freehand. 😉 By that I mean, no grids, no tracing a photograph. I like to draw and paint from life (the model sitting in front of me) when my schedule allows, and without reasonable freehand drawing skills, that simply wouldn’t be possible. So being overly dependent on drawing aids was never much of an option. I find that my drawing speed is reasonably efficient and it only gets better, the more I practice.

Some artists (particularly portrait artists) are very accomplished and can produce something fabulous-looking within a short amount of time. But I’m not one of those artists. 😉 Yes, I can paint relatively fast(ish) and can produce something okay-looking in an hour or so. But those little details and flaws that can break a painting—they afflict me! Rarely do I paint something “perfect” in one sitting. I wish it were so . . . oh how I wish it were so!

My primary drawing aid of choice is the computer and Adobe Photoshop. If I see problems with a painting-in-progress (and I always do), I make notes of what needs to be corrected and keep these notes with me for when I work on the painting again. This helps me keep out a sharper eye for areas where I tend to have difficulties. If I traced (or used a grid with lots of tight little squares) every time I painted something, how would I learn where my problem areas in drawing were?

So, I have to let a painting sit for a day or two, let it simmer on my brain’s back burner, and then I can see where I’m going wrong. The computer helps me find problem areas. Sizing the artwork down to thumbnail size helps me see how it would look from a distance. (This is vital!) Flopping it (mirror image) in Photoshop helps me see where things are off-center or slanting to one side or the other. (They always are. Always.) Before I had Photoshop I would hold up the painting to a mirror. I sometimes still do this if I’m in the midst of working on it and sense something is off. Some artists have a mirror with them in their studio at all times, just for this purpose.

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