Continuing my series of faded tulips in the garden, today I focused on greens — warm, cool and dark. At this time of year, as the trees start to leaf out, my mind swirls with recipes for mixing greens. I try to avoid the one-dimensional Sap Green and instead combine yellows and blues to create a wider range of hues that go from yellowish to deep blue/green. When the green is too bright I add in a bit of the complementary colour (red) to dull it down, or sometimes Burnt Sienna to give it warmth. For the darkest greens, instead of using a convenience pigment like Deep Sap, I have been experimenting with a mix of Viridian, Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. One word of warning when using Viridian: this isn’t a colour you often find in nature. I usually tame it with some yellow or blue so that I don’t end up with patches of Astroturf in my sketches.
In preparation for painting this year at the Plein Air Invitational at the New York Botanical Gardens, Marc Holmes and I spent the day at our local Jardin Botanique in Montreal. It was a perfect day for some plein air painting — just the right temperature and no wind — so we started in the perennial garden where the tulips were just starting to fade. It was a good warmup for painting in New York, where the featured event will be Chihuly in the Garden. If you are visiting the gardens on Sunday, June 11, drop by to say hello. Over 20 painters will be spread out all around the site, and I’m not sure where I’ll be, but there’s usually a map at the garden entrance so you can find us. Hope to see you there!
This is an excerpt that I love from the first page of David Hockney’s Dog Days, a book that is well worth taking a look at if you are interested in any of these: the work of Hockney, working in a series, or painting dogs.
“I painted and drew my dogs.
This took a certain amount of planning, since dogs are generally not interested in art. (I say generally only because I have now come across a singing dog.) Food and love dominate their lives.
In order to draw them I had to leave large sheets of paper all over the house and studio to catch them sitting or sleeping without disturbance. For the same reason, I kept canvases and a fresh palette ready for times when I thought I could work. Everything was made from observation, so speed of execution was important. (They don’t stay long in one position and one knock on the door is enough to make them leap up; not very good models.)”
For years it’s been a running joke in the comments area of this blog that all I do is sketch my wheelbarrow but never use it to haul stuff in the garden. Not true. I move it around, occasionally. Yesterday I put it to good use to move some river rocks from one place to another, but it was so rusty and squeaky that it quickly went back to its corner, albeit to a new spot leaning up against the shed instead of the oak tree.
We’ve had so much rain and cold weather this week in Montreal but the sun made an appearance today and I was SO happy to be outdoors that I just kept sketching outward from the wheelbarrow, right across two pages of my sketchbook. Looking at this scene with sharp and quite dark shadow areas, I was more interested in capturing values than colour so I worked in a limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Hansa Yellow Medium. It’s amazing that with only these three primary pigments, I can obtain the secondary colours that I want — the bright greens of the spring trees, the orangey rust of the wheelbarrow and the purple of the shadows on the shed. I’ll be giving a demo of this primary triad at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Chicago this July.
A while back I bought one of those bamboo pens. You know the ones — a fat tube of bamboo with a carved nib that you dip in an ink bottle. I tried it out today on some watercolour paper and really like the effects you get with it. The thick line has varied widths and ends up being nicely textured as it goes over the hills and valleys of the paper (in this case Fluid paper). You can’t get very far with the line before it runs dry, so I ended up stopping and starting quite frequently but I think that makes you more observant about changes in direction and edges. Of course there’s no hiding mistakes with this pen, so you have to live with what you get. When it dried I painted over it in watercolour. Worth trying again for sure.
“What can I dig up in my studio to draw with?” was what I was thinking as I watched the snow falling outside this morning. Yes, snow. In May. But I’m not complaining about the temperature because with the flooding around Montreal things could be worse. Anyway, I looked around a bit and found my brush pen, which I love using but often forget to pack. It’s in a need of a new cartridge, so the ink had to be coaxed out a bit but in some ways that makes it more interesting to use. I can get line and tone at the same time and fill in the black areas pretty quickly too. Sketched in a Stillman & Birn Beta softcover sketchbook.
Last week a friend gave me a few sets of Viviva Colorsheets to try. If you haven’t seen these posted yet by sketchers on Facebook or Instagram, have a look at the crowdfunding site where they are advertised. They’re pretty cool. These are small booklets each containing sixteen highly pigmented squares that you wet with a brush to release the intensely bright colours. The idea behind them is portability — throw them in your bag or pocket and go. It’s a bit hard to tell what they colours look like from the swatches — Peacock Blue and Viridian both look purplish in their dry state so I thought I’d make a swatch sheet and see what turned up.
It was interesting to see the results and here are a few observations. First of all, don’t go by the names of the colours to judge them. For example, “Flesh” is a warm, yellowish orange. Even diluted quite a bit it is nowhere close to a flesh colour. Secondly, several of the colours are quite similar — compare Crimson and Deep Pink, or Light Green and Sap Green. Thirdly, when you start to paint with these you realize that they are more like dyes than watercolours. Using them make me think of my days in Illustration class in university when we used Dr. Martin’s inks. The colours are amazingly beautiful and intense but because this is pure pigment, don’t expect any granulation. The only thing I noticed was that the Gold Ochre and Magenta are a little sparkly.
After creating the swatches, I thought I’d go on a little trip to see how these reacted in the field. I found a magnolia that was just starting to open, so I pencilled that into my sketchbook and started to paint. I think these pigments are meant to be used with a water brush, but I don’t use that so I brought along water and a travel brush. The first challenge that I found with these was that there is no mixing area, so if I wanted a lighter version of one of the colours, I had to dilute it on a separate sheet. The second problem was that if I wanted to combine colours — for example the burnt sienna and the blue — I couldn’t do that either. I suppose if you are painting a large area you can do that on the paper but I was trying to paint the fine branches. The third thing I noticed was that touching a dry colour with water caused it to bleed into a neighbouring area, like the green that bled into the sky at the top left corner.
In my sketchbook I also had a drawing from earlier in the week that had ink lines but no colour on it and I thought it might be fun to add colour to that. As you can see below, the colours are very bright and intense but it was hard for me to obtain any neutrals or anything nearing subtle.
So moving forward, how would I use these? I won’t give up my daily travel palette, but I think they would be a great ADDITION to my sketch kit. For example, if I am drawing a colourful market scene or a flower garden, I could certainly see using these colours as accents. There is nothing in my regular palette that can match the intensity of these pigments.
And because I couldn’t come back home with a sketch I wasn’t happy with, I had to paint the magnolias again with my regular palette of colours.