Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gustav Doré in Paper Cutout Animation

Lorenzo Papace and Vincent Pianina created this stop-motion animated film of Gustav Doré (1832-1883) climbing a mountain.

The film was made to promote an exhibition of Doré's work at The Musée d'Orsay earlier this year (Link to YouTube video)
via CartoonBrew

Color Corona from a Bright Sky

I'd like to wrap up our extended Watercolor Workshop Week by talking a little more about a light effect that I mentioned on the video "Watercolor in the Wild."

While I was painting this carriage house on location, I tried to convey the feeling that the sky was both very blue and very bright. I wanted to simulate an effect that I have noticed in photography, where a bright sky bleaches out the camera's receptors and then spills over into small forms, making them take on the blue of the sky. (Edit: one aspect of this effect is an axial chromatic aberration called "purple fringing.")

I painted a very light cool wash in the sky, and then laid in the turrets, tree trunks, and branches with a mid-range blue. I also used a blue-gray watercolor pencil for the branches. 

The scene didn't actually look this way to my eye—the sky actually looked like a light to mid-range high-chroma blue, and the branches looked extremely dark. I had to consciously override what I was perceiving and paint an effect that I was imagining. 

While I was painting the picture, I took a photo to see if the camera actually did see it that way, and sure enough, the small forms turned quite blue.

I used the same basic idea of colorizing small forms against a bright sky when I painted "Churchyard," the final demo on the video. This time, though, I wanted the sky to look warm, so I laid down a very light yellow-ochre wash and then drybrushed the branches using a dull orange watercolor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Fig" Newton, Carnival Worker

Yesterday I took my compact watercolor kit "into the wild" to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New York and painted an impromptu portrait of James "Fig" Newton, the oldest carnival worker at the fair.

He was assigned to a ball-toss game in Kiddie Land. A bucket of ping pong balls cost five dollars. The goal was to toss a ball into one of the glass bowls floating by on little rafts in a circular wading pool. 

The game looked impossible and nobody was going for it. 

I asked him if I could sketch him while he waited between customers, and he was glad for the diversion.

Fig is 71 years old. He has been in the carnival business for 48 years, working mostly in New York State. He has saved up money to help his nephew get started in glassblowing, and he just sent his daughter $500 so his grandkids could get outfitted for school.

He said when a family walks by he can tell right away who makes the decisions and who's got the money. Sometimes it's the dad, and sometimes it's the mom. I asked him if he had a good sales pitch to pull people in. "This game's not worth my barking," he said.

Every fifteen minutes or so a family would come up, pay the money, and a kid would toss the balls one by one. 

Ping--Splash.  Plip -- Splash.  Dink, Dink -- Splash. 
As each kid went away disappointed, Fig got up to his feet, leaned over the plastic pool, and scooped out the ping pong balls with a kitchen strainer.

The portrait took about an hour. I used watercolor and colored pencils, with a little gouache for the edge lighting, highlights, teeth and the blue collar. When I showed it to him, he shook my hand and said, "Good. You got my scowl."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your Questions about Gear

Marque Todd says:
"I bought your WC video and have been avidly following all of the posts this week - a couple of things I am still grappling with for my kit and I hope you can answer:

"1) How do you protect your brushes from damage with all the jostling they get in a to-go pack? If they are loose in a container the tips can get damaged and that seems a pity particularly for expensive sable brushes. I am also having a problem finding something big enough for short handle brushes that isn't so long that it is hard to pack - any suggestions?"

Thanks, Marque. I keep my brushes loose in a box. The tips are safe as long as the box stays parallel to the ground, but in my belt pouch the box never tips on end. Sometimes if I'm worried about a delicate brush I keep the plastic protector from when it was new and slip that on. I keep the brushes all facing one end of the box. If one needs a good washing out later, I face it the other way in the box so that I'll recognize it right away.

I'm always on the lookout for a box that's just long enough for most short handled brushes but not too big, and one that opens quietly. If a brush is too long to fit in the box, such as an oil brush, I chop it down.

Jeanette uses a brush holder made of stiffened fabric. The brushes tuck into elastic bands, and the whole thing folds open to display the brushes while you're working. When in transit it rolls up and is held with Velcro. I like it except that it's a little too long for my belt pouch.

"2) If you are holding your sketchbook on your lap (vs. using the stiff board behind) how do you manage that with the landscape format? It is pretty floppy and somewhat of a balancing act. The only thing I could think of was to put a binder clip across the gutter/hinge area to help stabilize it."

Sketching at Yellowstone with friends from the ASAI
I've used the binder-clip-across-the-spine idea, and that works fine. Otherwise I just try to rest the middle of the book's covers on the tops of my thighs to keep it from flopping. If I have to, I steady the book with my left hand.

Glenn wondered about the sketchbook pochade rig, asking if I countersunk the T- nuts (Those are the threaded nuts with a flange that fits through the plywood, holding it to your tripod.)

Glenn, Yes, I countersink the T-nut flange using a 3/4 inch spade bit, then glue the T-nut in with Gorilla Glue, so that it doesn't work its way loose. But since it's getting pulled tight from the back, it holds really well. If I was using 1/4 plywood for the backboard, I probably wouldn't countersink for fear of weakening the wood.

For you scratch builders, here's the pochade laid out flat. The red dots on the paint tray are magnet positions, which hold on the metal mixing trays or watercolor kits.

Here is the underside with two quick release plates attached. My new iteration of the rig has three T-nuts, one just right of center and one on each end. I use the central support point if I only have one tripod, and I use the two on the end if I need two tripods to keep the rig more stable when filming.

Here's how the rig looks set up. Every angle and slope is fully adjustable: diffuser, sketchbook, paint tray, and camera bar. The camera I'm using is a Canon VIXIA HF series. It shoots 1080p to flash memory and has the all the essential features: focus lock, custom white balance, and exposure controls, plus an external microphone jack that yields less noise than my DSLR. For a mike I use the inexpensive corded Audio-Technica lav microphone, sometimes clipping it to the sketchbook itself to pick up the scratchy pencil sound cues.

In this view you can see the two tripods. The diffuser panel, which is covered with white rip-stop Nylon, can slide right or left in its gripper to eliminate the direct sun. On the left is the Mighty Bright HammerHead Book Light, which clips on for night sketching.

And here's the the painting that's on the easel, the one that you can watch being painted in the "Watercolor in the Wild BONUS FEATURES" video, drawn with a brush and sepia watercolor in a museum.

Here are the links to that 28-minute video, available only as a download.
"Plein Air Revolution" by Brad Teare, Thick Paint Blog
"DVD Review: Watercolor in the Wild" by Dan Dos Santos, Muddy Colors

Monday, August 18, 2014

Results of the Watercolor Pigment Poll

Here are the results of the Watercolor Pigment Poll, which closed yesterday. The poll asked you to: "Vote for your 8 Absolutely Indispensable Watercolor Pigments." Thanks for voting. There were 147 votes in all.

Most Indispensable Watercolor Pigments
Antique English inlaid mahogany watercolour box 
made by Winsor & Newton around 1850.

1. Ultramarine Blue—109 votes (74%)
2. Burnt Sienna—76 (51%) 
3. Alizarin Crimson—72 (48%) 
4. Cadmium Red—68 (46%)
5. Cadmium Yellow—66 (44%)
6. Burnt Umber—58 (39%)
7. Yellow Ochre—57 (38%)
8. Lemon Yellow—48 (32%)
9. Cobalt Blue—45 (30%)
10. Paynes Grey—44 (29%)
11. Cerulean Blue—43 (29%)
12. Raw Sienna—35 (23%)
13. Opaque White—34 (23% (tie))
14. Sap Green—34 (23%)
15. Gamboge—30 (20%)
16. Phthalo Blue—28 (19%) 
17. Quinac. Rose—26 (17%)
18. Prussian Blue—23 (15%)
19. Viridian—22 (14%)
20. Raw Umber—20 (13%)
21. Hansa Yellow—17 (11%)
22. Perm. Magenta—17 (11%) (tie)
23. Hooker's Green—16 (10%)
24. Sepia—16 (10%)
25. Bone or Ivory Black—16 (10%)
26. Phthalo Green—11 (7%)
27. Other (in comments)—10 (6%)
Winsor and Newton color chart from 1910

Fewer than 10 votes
Pyrrole Red
Vermilion Red
Carmine Red
Venetian Red
Scarlet Lake
Cobalt Violet
Perm. Violet
Neutral Tint
Indian Red
Terre Verte
Emerald Green
Perm. Green
Manganese Blue

1. No greens made the top ten. Nor did black or white. Perhaps that's as it should be because it's quite easy to mix greens and blacks, and doing so offers the benefit of attractive variegation in the mixtures. And the question of whether, when, and how to use white—well, that's a whole 'nuther topic.

2. Ultramarine was #1 by a wide margin, and for good reason. It's an extraordinary pigment, nowadays synthesized cheaply by modern chemistry. But centuries ago when they had to mine it in Afghanistan as lapis lazuli, it was more valuable than gold. More about ultra's history here.

3. You could make a good palette out of the top 12. It would include a warm and cool red, a warm and cool yellow, three fine blues, and some good earth colors. You could even get by with a palette made of the top five.

4. Alizarin Crimson was #3, but before you buy it, remember that true Alizarin (PR 83) is prone to fading. Read more at this previous GJ post. But if you're painting in sketchbooks, you don't have to worry as much about lightfastness.

5. You can make a great color scheme out of almost any three pigments chosen at random. The limitation encourages harmony. Check out Nathan Fowkes' recent blog post, where he harmonizes lemon yellow, Venetian red, and ultra.

North America? Courtesy Golden Art Supplies
A Note about Cadmiums
Cadmium red and cadmium yellow both appeared in the top ten. The cadmium pigments have been the subject of some controversy, because of the toxicity of the pigments, the regulatory requirements governing the manufacture, and concerns over environmental impacts after disposal. 

Usage has been dropping, and there have been proposed cadmium bans. Those bans have been successfully opposed in most regions, largely due to exemptions of art supplies from banned products lists, but that may change eventually. 

There are worthy modern alternatives, such as pyrrole red and hansa yellow, but they're not as well known. 

Previous Poll
I conducted a similar pigment poll back in 2008, without specifying the medium. Back then, most people probably assumed I meant oil paint. The top ten in that poll did include black and white, which are more commonly used by oil painters, but otherwise the results were fairly similar.

Results of the 2008 Poll (which didn't specify the kind of paint)
1. Ultramarine Blue 180
2. Titanium White 172
3. Yellow Ochre 161
4. Cadmium Red 158
5. Cadmium Yellow 150
6. Burnt Sienna 150
7. Alizarin Crimson 141
8. Burnt Umber 126
9. Black 98
10. Raw Umber 97
11. Raw Sienna 81
12. Cerulean Blue 79
13. Cobalt Blue 73
14. Viridian 64
15. Naples Yellow 60
16. Sap Green 56

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Custom Watercolor Sketch Kits

In the 1830s, J.M.W. Turner carried a watercolor sketch kit in a wallet. "It's a simple leather case with gauze that Turner would have literally stuck the pigments onto," says Julia Beaumont-Jones, Collection Registrar for the Tate Britain.

Some of you have been sharing the amazing sketch kits you've made.

Joe Ongle says: "This is my custom Altoids mini palette, using self-hardening clay and tube watercolors. Half pans work as well."

Chuck Pell says: "My kits are compact for pockets, using custom leatherbound archival sketchbooks and repacked watercolor chips...."

Michelle Spalding made one from a mint tin, "with a retractable cosmetic brush - keychain size with half-pans"

Carlos Huante adapted a cosmetic style brush kit. "I bought this set for 40 bucks back in the day and use it all the time."

Carole Pivarnik made one from a Hello Kitty tin: "It has just three primaries: perm yellow, magenta, and cyan. It uses water bottle caps for pans. They are essentially free, hold a generous amount of paint and with less adjacent edges than rectangular pans, there tends to be less color pollution. A little blue tack holds them in place. I would like to add a dollop of neutral tint in one corner for faster mixing of darks but I can mix just about anything with these three colors. I carry this tin, a mini waterbrush, a mini black Sharpie, and a short HB pencil in a little pouch. Very portable!"

Have you made an unusual watercolor kit? We'd all love to see it. Please share yours with a link in the comments.

Plus: I'm honored that Marc Holmes of Urban Sketchers wrote a review of my DVD "Watercolor in the Wild."