Inspiration in Unlikely Places.

An artists’ guide to finding brilliant ideas in a pizza delivery box – or wherever else you least expect it.

Big Night. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30″.

This painting, and this post, are inspired by a photo of our three vizslas lined up and waiting for pizza scraps to be shared with them. But let’s back up a little bit. Our dogs are always hungry. They love to eat so much. This association with food and love and nurturing is all tied together in our relationship with them. It’s the basis for nicknames, inside jokes, and showing love.

Teelo dreams of beef.

We take a lot of care in feeding our dogs nutritious and tasty-to-them meals. Each morning they have dog food with a side of berry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie. Maybe some apple slices and peppers thrown in for good measure, leftover from lunch prep. Dinners are usually a variation of dog food with one of their favorites – sweet potato, scrambled eggs, leftover roast beef, steamed carrots. “What’s for dinner?” is a question that applies to the dogs as much as it applies to us when we open the fridge to figure out the evening meal.

Work in progress – December 2018.

That all three dogs are such food fanatics is a little surprising, especially for Teelo, who has reversed course in a huge way. From years one through three, Teelo was so busy, and such a picky eater. He was all dog ribs and long skinny teenager legs. We could not tempt with anything. And he could go days with only a few bites of food. To be honest, it was super annoying. The tides have certainly turned and Teelo has spent many years making up for lost time. We lovingly refer to him as, “The Beef Man,” (pretty self-explanatory – he loves it and looks like a pot roast). That Teelo is able to maintain a healthy weight is really only due to our extreme efforts to save him from himself. Teelo even eats a special “satiety blend” dog food to try to keep him sated – it turns out, he cannot be. He’s so clever and dexterous, that in his older (no filter) age he has taken to unzipping my bag packed with food for work, selecting a few snacks, and popping open the Ziploc bags to enjoy. This past January I came in one morning from cleaning snow off the cars to find Teelo in the middle of the living room, finishing off a peanut butter sandwich and carrot sticks (but not the celery, he left that littered around the carpet for me). There was no shame in his eyes for stealing my lunch. What a guy.

In comparison, our gruesome twosome Clicquot and Riggs are a lot less devious, but certainly are no slouches in the begging department and suffer from significant treat FOMO.

Good behavior is all an illusion.

And pizza – Pizza trumps all (except roast beef). It is king in the vizsla snack world.

Reminiscing about warm deck dinners in July.

This painting was inspired by our vizslas who love pizza so much that we lovingly refer to them as The Crust Dogs. Example of this used in a sentence: “Make sure you save your crust for The Crust Dogs”.

Clicquot.

The Crust Dogs do not discriminate – homemade or delivery. One summer we invested in a pizza oven for our BBQ and literally ate pizza for two months straight. As a hobby my husband set out to perfect his pizza dough-making technique a few years ago and in our house humans and dogs have enjoyed the benefits of this immensely.

At the same time, the dogs have granted the pizza delivery man a stranger-danger exemption – he is not to be scared off, but instead he is a stranger to be trusted, wagged at, toys offered to – and he is welcome to knock on our door in the dark at 10 pm on any random Saturday night – I can’t say that luxury is afforded to anyone else who visits us.

Just a typical Saturday evening in.

The reference for this painting was a picture I took of all three dogs lined up in front of me, good as gold, my three little angels, waiting for their share of my pizza crust one evening. They are never better behaved than when they are waiting for a valuable handout. This is why, “Dogs waiting for food,” is a standard pose for all dog moms. Other fail safes include, “Dogs sleeping,” and, “Dogs sun-tanning,” (the latter of two sometimes being one and the same – there’s often some overlap there).

This was such a great photo and I knew right away that I had to paint it.

Teelo.

Bringing this painting to life took a long time – the reference photo was taken last summer but I waited until I had transitioned to oils and then waited some more to think on this composition of all three dogs.

A single portrait is a big task, multiple figures poses many more challenges and I spent many months working on other paintings while the reference sketch of three vizslas hung in my art room. Sometimes even if I’m not physically working on a project, having it around to think about is like a type of work. And then when I sat down to finally get started – all those months of pondering it made the painting come together really easily. It was also painted against a backdrop of a lot of personal stuff – I was painting this piece when the email invitation to interview for my new job dinged through on my phone, and I completed the painting over the ensuing weeks of huge life decisions, serious conversations with my husband about what we wanted our future to look like, and the resulting upheaval that a big life decision brings. This painting was one of the very last items packed for storage before our move.

My paintings often play double duty – They capture a moment in time on the surface, but they are also closely tied to the time when I created them and everything I was feeling. While begging for pizza was the comical inspiration for this painting (picture me, I’m behind the lens probably with a slice in one hand, camera phone in the other), what is serious about this piece is how accurately it captures each dog. I love portraiture. I love capturing these moments in time and working through my feelings about my subject matter as I paint. In this case studying their sweet features and ruminating on my love for them.

Clicquot.

In this work, each dog looks just like their unique self. Teelo is Big Teelo, standing firm and gazing right at me, looking straight into my soul. Clicquot looks a bit like, hey, how did I end up here? Which is basically her standard. Always late to the party but never left out. The girl with the big, brown eyes. And that is a classic Riggs pose. There he is, with all of his middle-child narrative that we’ve created for him. He’s first in line, continuously inching his bottom forward with his head cocked in a pose that is at once inquisitive, but non-committal, eyes half closed but really fully alert, gaze partially diverted but still totally aware… ready to pounce if pizza is offered (deliberately or by accident).

Clicquot and Riggs.

I love these simple moments with the dogs, with my family. I love remembering them forever through my art. More and more I see my style evolving to remember people, places, memories frozen in time in my work. I find endless inspiration in this idea. A painting is really so much more than what you see. With so much change and uncertainty in my life right now, it’s comforting to reflect on a time and a place when I was at peace. I miss the routine of our quiet Saturday nights with The Crust Dogs. And I look forward to getting that familiar feeling back again. Soon.

Thank you for reading!

My Muse, Miss Clicquot.

To love her is to paint her. ❤️

Oh Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Sweet girl with the biggest brown eyes. She joined our family when she was two years old. Clicquot is the younger sister to Teelo and Riggs. I did worry about her blending into our animal menagerie at first, and how that would go. I remember letting her out of the car her first night in our home and she trotted into the house like she owned the joint. She spent the next 48 hours chasing Beesa everywhere and she placed herself firmly and unwaveringly at the top of our animal hierarchy. Since then, she has ruled over our home like the Princess and the Pea with all of her delicate sensibilities and constant demands.

Like clockwork, every night at 9 pm she cries and grunts until you cover her with a blanket. Hers is a pushy, aggressive type of love. Clicquot thinks nothing of climbing up on an already crowded couch and camping out on top of one of her brothers until they make the sensible choice and leave, vacating their spot for her. Or body-checking her grandmother when she comes to visit (sorry mom!). Or head-butting everyone in sight when she knows it’s “walk time”.

She loves the fireplace in the winter, and sun- tanning on the warm deck in the summer. Sometimes you have to save her from her love of heat – turn the fireplace off or bring her in from the sun when it seems like any sane animal or human would’ve had enough. It is impossible to get mad at her, and that is how Clicquot gets away with it all. Really, all she wants is to be warm, and to be loved, and she is not shy to demand either when her meter is running low. And we – we are so happy to supply her with all the cuddles, blankets, and love she could possibly need.

With her almost cartoon-like features, and that face, Clicquot has been a huge source of inspiration for my art. She’s my little vizsla muse.

I realized I’ve done quite a few portraits of Clicquot and I thought I’d share them with you. Miss Monkey Bananas, below, represented a real level up for me. The solitary figure, vibrant colours, and solid background cutting in with confident lines around my subject – this is a style I returned to and experimented with many times in the latter half of 2018.

Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. August 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 12 x 12″.

My husband and I took Clicquot for an epic 35 km backcountry hike at Algonquin Park the summer she came to live with us. We planned it as a bonding experience for just the three of us (the boys stayed with their grandparents and were thoroughly spoiled). Clicquot was such a good little hiker. She stayed right beside me even when we was off-leash, and she was NOT interested in meeting any other hikers, human or canine. We hiked about 17 km the first day and when we arrived at our campsite at Hart Lake we spent the rest of the summer afternoon chilling on the rocky shore. Clicquot was our little lookout dog. This painting makes me want to take her back to the backcountry… such happy memories.

Clicquot at Heart Lake. February 2018. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 18 x 24″.

And finally, this painting was inspired entirely by Edward Hopper’s Pensive Lady in Pink, replaced by our own little pensive lady in red. I went through a bit of a Hopper tribute phase in the first half of 2018, covered in this post. Every time I finished a Clicquot painting, I would think of another painting idea, or take another perfect photo of her that was just begging to be painted.

Pensive Lady in Red. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Clicquot 3 x 3

The Clicquot 3 x 3. I love this. This is an ongoing Clicquot project that I started about a year ago and which I would really like to return to and finally complete. My recent sketchbook tour sent me looking through other sketchbooks for fun and I was reminded of this series. This was inspired by a sweet book my husband gave to me many, many years ago: Arty Dogs. In it, dogs are added to famous paintings accompanied by a short story that explains how they ended up there, and it’s just really whimsical and great. It gave me the idea to feature sweet Clicquot in nine different scenes inspired by nine of my favourite artists. Whenever I don’t have another project going on, I try to finish a Clicquot sketch. Lately – that hasn’t been very often and this project needs some attention. I envision finishing all of these on hot press drawing board, with white frames, and hanging on a wall in a 3 x 3 formation (obviously).

This first sketch is inspired by Salvador Dali’s melty clocks and the Persistence of Memory. I absolutely love this quick sketch that I did in about five minutes during lunch at work one day. I hesitate to try to create a more polished, final drawing from this sketch because I think it might be difficult to reproduce the spontaneity.

The Persistence of Clicquot.

This is Clicquot standing outside looking into the old Apollo Grill at Hunter and George Streets. Inspired by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks it puts a local spin on the classic painting. This makes me think of an independent little Clicquot who took a stroll downtown to get herself a hotdog only to find out, “No Dogs Allowed” inside the diner.

Nighthawks Clicquot

This is Clicquot starring in Edvard Munch’s The Scream and reimagined as, what else? The Howl. Clicquot doesn’t howl much. None of the dogs do. Teelo is the only one who ever really has, but the conditions need to be exactly right. He used to howl when we lived in Downtown Toronto, and he was still Downtown Brown. Sometimes when we were out for a walk, a firetruck would pass us with the sirens wailing. If the firetruck approached us from an adequate distance, so that the sirens were going for awhile, Teelo would sit down, throw his dog head back, and hoooooooooowl along with the sirens. Everyone on the sidewalk would turn to look. It was kind of his thing. This sketch reminds me of that, even though Clicquot is the subject.

The Howl.

Oh this is one of my favourites. I made many drafts of this sketch to get it just right. It is inspired by Roy Lichtenstein. We have three Lichtenstein prints hanging in our house. We spent many months trying to source that perfect trio of prints that explore domestic un-bliss and melodrama. I love pop art, I love Lichtenstein’s primary colour, dot-matrix portraits, and this is a combination of the “I don’t care…” sentimentality of Drowning Girl, and Kim Carnes’ song, “Bette Davis Eyes.” I always think of the line, She’s ferocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. I’m pretty sure that Teelo and Riggs think Clicquot is a spy sent from outer space, or from our breeder’s house. Hence the title. 😉

All the Boys Think She’s a Spy.

I recycled this title for my Beesa painting, This is a Cat. I sketched this with Magritte’s pipe in mind – The Treachery of Images. I like it. It’s cheeky, just like Clicquot.

Another Magritte, another surrealist painting, another portrait of Clicquot. A cross between Magritte’s Green Apple and Decalcomania. I like how it pays tribute to three Magritte works in one. This will be the final composition for the Magritte drawing.

Ceci n’est pas un chien.

Below is a rough sketch of my Andy Warhol Clicquot Portrait. I think we all know the silk-screen Warhol Monroes on repeat, and the Campbell Soup Cans. This would be neat as a sketch but also as a mixed-media kind of decoupage that combines a black and white photocopy of Clicquot with multiple contrasting colours. I’ll have to think on its final execution a little more. I remember going to see the Warhol exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario on a wintery weekend with my MOM back in grade 10. I wore high heel boots that really hurt my feet and she insisted on taking the subway. After living downtown for ten plus years, taking the subway is no thing at all now but I was quite concerned for our safety on that first roundtrip into the big city. Anyway, the whole exhibit focused on Warhol’s work as a graphic designer. I loved it – I was really interested in graphic design as a career for myself back then and it was so interesting to see it elevated to fine art at the AGO. The exhibit was partly Warhol’s work interwoven with snapshots and pieces of his life. There was even a little display within the exhibit that featured a bottle of Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion that Warhol used. I used the same lotion then, and I use it now! And I’ve been a fan of Warhol since way back then too.

Candle in the Wind Clicquot.

My husband’s favourite artist is William Blake, the British Romantic painter unwittingly responsible for so much of the imagery in the Red Dragon movie (of Hannibal Lecter infamy). Unbelievably, he was a watercolour painter – I think his works are amazing. This is Clicquot howling along with the dragon in a sketch appropriately title, The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun. Not sure if I’ll take my chances and paint the final work as a watercolour too… it’s not always guaranteed to be a success for me.

The Great Red Vizsla and the Dragon Clothed in Sun.

And that’s the entirety of my works inspired by Clicquot. Now that I’ve had a chance to return to the Clicquot 3 x 3 I hope I’ll be able to make it a priority to finish in the next few months and finally get it framed and on display. I counted and it looks like I’m two sketches shy of having all of my ideas. Kandinsky? Cezanne? Picasso? Seurat? We will see.

Representing my loved ones and my own memories through painting is a huge theme for my work. This is a subject I hope to explore more deeply through portraiture for the rest of 2019. I think it’s interesting to kind of push my own idea of a portrait a bit, paint my subjects from unconventional viewpoints, play with the colour and background and contrast. I have a number of paintings already lined up.

Clicquot has such an easy face to paint – I’m in the middle of a portrait of her and her brothers right now, and as soon as I filled in the darkest parts of her eyes I sat back and thought, I’ve got it! Those expressive features, and her fierce and pushy and lovey personality – we are just so lucky to have Clicquot in our family. I always call her my sweet girl. I feel like she’s been my little girl forever. There was no warming-up period, it was just an instant bond. That first weekend with her in our home my husband had to work. So I ventured out for a solo walk with all.the.dogs. It was unusually hot and when we got home it was quiet in the house. I lay down for a rest after the triple-dog-walk excitement (um, mayhem) and I remember distinctly that Clicquot just jumped right up beside me on the bed and curled close in next to me. It was love. It’s been her spot ever since (not counting her first few nights here when she was crated to stop her from hunting Beesa while we slept 🙄).

And there you have it – Little Miss Monkey Bananas Clicquot. Thank you for reading everyone and happy Monday!

Paint-along still life apple.

Acrylic painting for absolute beginners. Everything you need to know ☺️

If you missed Parts 1 and 2 of my Absolute Beginners painting series, you can check them out here and here.

So, you’ve chosen to paint with acrylics! Excellent choice! Or maybe you’re just reading this post for the heck of it – also excellent! Thank you so much. If you’ve never painted with acrylics before, please, let me be your guide.

Today we are going to paint this (if you want to):

First up, let me explain the basic of acrylic paints in this video below:

Notes

What exactly are acrylic paints. Well, as we covered in Part 1, all paint is made up of a binder or vehicle (the stuff that keeps the paint together, sticks to your painting surface, and holds the colour in place once the paint is dry). The pigment is mixed with the binder – this is what gives your paint its colour. Acrylic paint has a similar consistency to oil paint – both are generally pretty-heavy bodied and thick. The binder in acrylic paint is acrylic polymer emulsion. Straight out of the tube acrylic paint is water soluble. So all you really need to thin your paint and work with them is basic water. If you like you can buy a product called retarder which is an additive for increasing the working (drying) time of your acrylic paint. Once acrylic paint dries it is water impermeable and permanent. It is a great paint for beginners.

Basic acrylic painting shopping list

Yay, you get to go shopping! Here’s what you’ll need to get started with acrylics:

  • Acrylic paint, 60 ml tubes (I recommend TriArt or Golden paints): Alizarin crimson, cadmium red medium, cadmium yellow medium, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, raw sienna, chrome oxide green (optional), Payne’s grey, titanium white
  • Brushes: Round #6, flat 1/2″ thick, filbert #2 or #4 – short handle if you’ll be working at a table, long handle if working at an easel (I prefer synthetic soft bristles, other option is hog hair, see what you like) – inexpensive is ok, but I don’t recommend dollar store paintbrushes – you would regret it
  • Pre-stretched canvases – you can buy a bulk pack for a volume discount (12 x 12″ is a good size to go with) and/or pad of inexpensive canvas sheets for practice
  • Retarder (optional) – Golden makes a good one
  • Palette: Disposable palette sheets (optional, looks like a pad of paper) – or a piece of plywood or Masonite board – it is up to you
A bunch of well-loved brushes. From the top: Hogs hair filbert, synthetic soft bristle filbert, flat synthetic soft 1/2″, round synthetic soft #6.

Paint-Along: Still Life With Apple

Here’s what you’ll need for our paint-along:

  • Titanium white
  • Cadmium yellow medium
  • Naphthol red medium (or cadmium red medium from basic palette0
  • Alizarin crimson
  • Payne’s grey
  • Chrome oxide green (optional)

Click below to watch me paint. You can paint along with me! I recommend you get all your supplies assembled, a nice cozy tea, and then press play! You can follow me, skip around to the parts you need. You’ll have your first painted masterpiece in no time. I’m no Bob Ross but I really try to break it down for viewers. And I apologize for the length! This is my first kind of “paint-with-me” video and there’s definitely a learning curve. But I thought, ah, I’ve got to start somewhere so here we are.

Our apple palette!
Today’s subject.
Reference drawing.
All the colours – before.
All the colours – after.
Remember to paint your canvas edge to finish everything like a star!
Don’t forget to sign your work!

I hope you all enjoyed this little how-to and tutorial. The best way to learn how to paint, is to paint – as much as possible. If you painted along, please please please share your work in the comments below! Any comments? Questions? I love to hear from you!

Thank you everyone for reading and watching!

Week in Review.

Sunday, January 20th, 2019.

It’s been awhile since I did a week in review! I think a lot of people start the New Year with big plans for how it’s going to be the best.year.ever. While I’m cautious to make too many grand plans, I know I’m usually as excited as the next person to get a fresh start and plan out my time. Unfortunately Christmas and New Year were a little rough around here this year and it caught up with me in the past few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time at home, cuddling with the dogs. I haven’t had the feeling of wanting to start any big projects for a couple weeks, and I had a bit of writer’s block. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back, but also sometimes I personally need a bit of a kick in the pants to get back to it when the step back goes on for too long. For anyone out there whose New Years are not going as shiny and sparkly and positive as your favourite celebrity Instagram feeds – I hear you!

Now let’s get to it and on to the week that was. We’re hunkered down this weekend, in the middle of a snowstorm and avoiding the extreme cold temperatures as much as possible. We did venture out for an extremely refreshing run on Saturday afternoon and the three little vizslas were total troopers. Everyone is happier after a little bit of exercise, dogs included.

Teelo, showing extreme caution about our impending cold weather adventure.

And away we go! Quickly dogs because it’s cold AF.

The vizslas are genetically programmed to lie in front of fireplaces when the temperatures dip 🙂

The gruesome twosome.

I kind of waded back into painting and writing this week after taking a bit of a break from both. I did my favourite combination of personal and art instruction posts. In case you missed something:

  • I talked about my favourite artist Edward Hopper and my painting Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room here.
  • I finally published a massive post all about colour mixing and colour theory – it’s the second post in my Painting for Absolute Beginners series.
  • I finished a sketchbook and gave a tour of my favourite drawings and paintings.
Starting a new oil painting! Step one: Transfer sketch to canvas.

I also spent some time early this week transferring this sketch to a prepped canvas for an oil painting I hope to get to this weekend. You can see the time-lapse video of me working here above!

I always love watching these and I hope you do too! They are definitely fun to film and edit.

And to round things out, I did get some painting done, just nothing too serious. A bit of a fear of commitment right now, lol. Felt good to shake the cobwebs off – they gather quickly (actually, painting is a LOT like exercise in that it requires the same level of routine to make progress – if you workout every single day, you’re more likely to keep working out everyday. And eating healthy. Miss one workout and I’m a ball on the couch eating an endless stream of Jalapeno Cheetos. Same for painting lol).

This week’s work:

Oh, and lastly I started a Pinterest account for evachristensenart – I’ve never used Pinterest before, ever (apparently that’s weird?) but it seemed like a good idea for getting my ideas out there, especially my how-to posts. Please check me out on Pinterest and let me know how I’m doing. I’m not sure how things are supposed to look, or how I avoided knowing about Pinterest for so long (I swear I don’t live under a rock!), but I definitely feel totally out of the loop now. Thank you to my Pinterest-loving sister-in-law for checking it out for me and helping me to navigate 🙂

Next week is all about getting back on track – exercise, painting, life (hopefully).

Hope you all had a great weekend. Any big plans for next week, art-related or otherwise? Comment away below. Thank you for visiting!

One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish.

Or, colour theory for absolute beginners.

Palette
My watercolour palette with all the colours!

I was writing what I thought was the second post of my Painting for Absolute Beginners series (you can check out the first post, How to Paint for Absolute Beginners Part 1, here) when I digressed into colour theory, and I realized – this really deserves its own post. So, may I present to you Painting for Absolute Beginners – Part 2. Colour Theory.

To begin with, regardless of which type of paint you choose to paint with, the “rules” of colour mixing are pretty universal. Whether you’re working with watercolour or acrylic or oil – red plus yellow generally makes some sort of orange. And blue plus red makes some sort of purple. There are just a few finer details you might want to consider and that’s what I’m going to discuss here.

Coloured markers
I love to surround myself with colour in my art room 🌈

Colour theory – so boring right? Wrong! Unless you’re just planning on throwing some paint, any old paint, at a canvas – this is the stuff that all painting is made of. Realists and abstract expressionists can finally find common ground here. Colour is everything (well, design, technical ability, narrative quality are good too – but for today’s post – let’s agree that colour is everything). Colour theory is very intuitive, and heavily studied, but there’s a little information that can help you out if you are starting from scratch.

Side note: For any scientists (mainly physicists) out there – this is strictly a bit of artist’s colour theory, ,and a little bit of advice from what works well for me. We’re certainly not talking about how your eyes perceive different wavelengths of light and the physics of optics. That was way too out there in Grade 12 and we’re not going back there now. Just had to get that out there…

Colour chart
High school watercolour colour chart.

Traditional colour theory: Red + Blue = ?

Traditional colour theory dates to around the 18th century when there was a push to kind of formalize the painting process and the canon of art instruction. A good first step in this colour theory is that there are three primary pigment colours – red, yellow, and blue. These colours are special because they can’t be mixed from any other colours.

Red yellow and blue
The primary colours: Red, yellow, and blue.

In theory, the primary colours can’t be mixed from any other colours. If you take even one physics course that covers the science of optics, your mind will be blown because that’s not technically how it works in the science world, but it IS essentially how it works on your paint palette. When you mix two primary colours together, you get… a secondary colour. There are three basic secondary colours made from the three possible pairs above. These are orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (blue + red):

Secondary colours
The secondary colours: Orange, green, and purple.

When you mix two primary colours together, the resulting secondary colour lacks a little… oomph. In general these mixed colours are a little less bright, a little less intense – they are less colourful. Sometimes you will have to adjust for this in your mixtures to get just the right amount of colour and tone and hue. In fact, these less colourful mixes make sense as they’re one step closer to neutral grey which we will discuss later.

Colours
All together now.

You will often see colours arranged in a colour wheel. Here are the primary colours, and the shared secondary colours appear between them.

Colour wheel with primary colours.
Colour wheel with primary and secondary colours.


When paint-makers make paint, they usually try to find a natural or “pure” source for a pigment, versus relying on a mixture. As we discussed, mixtures tend to be a little less brilliant, a little more muddy. So if there is a pure or primary pigment they will tend to pick that for their paint. Some pigments are naturally occurring – like a lot of the earth tones. The pigment in raw umber is natural raw umber. Alizarin lake contains naturally- occurring quinacridone pigment. Ultramarine blue was very expensive because it originally used ground lapis lazuli powder mined in Afghanistan. Today, synthetic ultramarine pigment is used which costs a lot less. Many synthetic pigments are used in modern paint which is often more economical and also safer in some cases (historical colours see to have an abundance of lead, cadmium, and other toxins and carcinogens). For some colours, like green, there are very few pigments that are found naturally. In these cases, paint-makers will turn to mixtures or chemically-derived compounds.

I want to point out something about colour permanence. When you shop for paint colours, you may notice that, in addition to other info, the tubes may be labelled with the word “permanence” or “lightfastness”. Lightfastness is a property of colourants like paint. It describes how resistant a specific colour (pigment) is to fading when exposed to light. You may have noticed that old paintings look light and faded. This is because exposure to sunlight breaks down the chemical bonds in pigments. You can see this in an old watercolour chart (above) that’s been hanging on my bulletin board by the window since 2015. The burnt sienna isn’t looking too great these days but the ultramarine blue is holding on nicely. Lightfastness doesn’t necessarily have to do with paint quality. There are some colours that contain volatile pigments. In general you want paints with a lightfastness of ASTM I. Oil paints tend to be more lightfast than watercolour – the oil binder encapsulates the pigment better and has a bit of a protective quality. Just wanted to point that out. 😉

All the primary and secondary colours…

You’re hot then you’re cold: Warm versus cool colours.

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as looking at something orange, and mixing any old yellow plus any old red to paint it. Colours do in fact have a “temperature” – you may have heard of colours being described as warm or cool before. Think of a snowy, cold painting – probably lots of ultramarine blue in the shadows cast on the snow. Or a warm sunset painting – probably lots of reds, oranges, and yellows in the tropical sky. Part of this is psychological – how a colour or colour scheme makes you feel. A painting of a crackling orange camp fire will probably look warm, while a painting of a stormy, grey sea will probably appear cool. For the same colour, a warmer hue will tend towards being more red, while the cooler hue will tend towards more blue.

When you’re mixing colours, this can be an issue. There are cool yellows (think lemons) and warm blues (think turquoise beaches). If you are looking at an object, you need to determine if it is warm or cool or somewhere in between and mix colours accordingly. When you mix a warm colour with a cool colour and vice versa, that tends to produce a muddy mix. It’s best to stay within like “temperatures” when colour mixing. Here are some examples of warm AND cool primary colours:

Examples of warm and cool primary colours. Warm colours are painted along the top row, corresponding cool colours are painted along the bottom. Part of it is psychological perception, part of it is the hue itself. This is definitely not an exact science.

This idea of warm and cool colours can also be illustrated with phone filters:

Colours with “Nashville” warm colour filter applied. Note the white paper background is changed to a warm, reddish white and the warm elements of the colours are more prominent – you pick up more red. This is an example of how you would perceive a warm palette.
Cool colour palette

Colours with Clarendon “cool” filter added. Note that the paper background has a blue tint. The colours are more blue, especially the purple. This is an example of how we would perceive a cool palette.
#Nofilter.

You… Complete me… Complementary colours.

Colours that are located directly across from each other in the colour wheel are called complementary colours. These are special pairs of colours that, when placed directly next to each other, create the strongest visual contrast. For any horoscope buffs out there, it’s like astrological signs – opposites attract! The shadow cast by an object often contains some of its complementary colour.

In the colour wheel, colours directly across from each other, like orange and blue, are called complementary.
Complementary colour pairs. Note that in each pair there is a primary colour and a secondary colour.

More examples:

Circa Grade 10. My version of Lawren Harris’s Miner’s Houses (I absolutely love the original painting). This was done for art history class – recreating a historical work of art as a means to study that artist’s methods. Note the blue-orange complementary colour scheme. It makes the cold landscape warm and inviting and is incredibly appealing.
Another example of a complementary colour scheme. I often gravitate towards a variation of blue-orange. There is just something so appealing about it to me.
Red-green complementary colour scheme. Birdhouse art by my sister, circa 2014 when she was in her “Painted decorative wooden birdhouse” phase.
Purple-yellow complementary colour scheme.

Not so boring neutrals

Neutral grey is created by mixing complementary colours together: Yellow plus purple, red plus green, blue plus orange.

When you mix two complementary colours together, you get what is called neutral grey. This is an excellent way to mix shadows. I know people tend to think you can just use black in place of a cast shadow, but strictly-speaking that’s not necessarily true. The impressionists really celebrated the rainbow of colours present in all levels of light in their paintings. Shadows contain all sorts of colours and neutral grey in varying mixes is a great place to start.

Paint it black!

No don’t. Everyone should use black sparingly, but you may need it from time-to-time. On the opposite end, watercolourists will use the white of their paper, but acrylic and oil painters will arm themselves with their favourite white, and probably use a lot of it! As I mentioned, there is a tendency to darken colours with black, but that’s not always the best way for representational painting. You can mix colours with neutral grey to darken them. Whenever you mix colours, you may shift the hue – you may unexpectedly make the colour more warm or more cool which may require subsequent mixing and adjustments. For example, yellow plus black can result in a greenish-blue tint because of the interactions between the different pigments and how your eyes perceive them. In colour theory, a tint is a mixture with white, and a shade is a mixture with black as illustrated below:

Paintings with an example of a monochromatic tint colour scheme. Browns and blacks with varying degrees of white.

Putting it all together – A basic painter’s palette for absolute beginners 😉

For a basic painter’s palette, I would recommend the following colours (and this list is tried and true, going way back to my very first watercolour palette – it still works well!)

  • Alizarin crimson
  • Cadmium red
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Ultramarine blue
  • Burnt sienna
  • Burnt umber
  • Raw sienna
  • Payne’s grey**

**I’ve added Payne’s grey as a staple colour over the years because it is just so great for adding depth and shadows – it’s a mix of blue and black and incredibly useful. Payne’s grey and burnt umber are always my most used paints regardless of the type of paint I’m using.

Teelo helping out.
This is my oil painting palette. It’s a bit expanded from my basic list. I have extra browns, and a warm and cool of blue, red, and yellow.

I think it’s best to start with less in terms of colour. You can get a reasonable approximation of many observed colours with the list provided here and as you learn more you can add judiciously to your palette. Sometimes there may be a modern colour that you observe that you will not be able to mix no matter how hard you try (fluorescent orange would be an extreme example). In this case you would have to purchase.

Note – you don’t need black to start! Try to work around it. Use your complementary colours, neutral grey, even Payne’s grey. Acrylic and oil painters will also want to add titanium white to your shopping list (or your favourite white – there are a few with different properties, I personally like titanium for its strong tinting strength and opacity).

A note on green and black.

Green is not a primary colour and there are not a lot of naturally-occurring green pigments. The picture above shows some examples of green. You can always mix green yourself with the palette I suggested. Sap green is a dark, earthy green with beautiful yellow undertones that you can purchase. It’s a favourite of mine. Turquoise and permanent green are a little less natural looking for painting landscapes but have their uses – always use green carefully. Especially with oil painting it can kind of infiltrate and infect and tint your whole palette if you’re not careful, you can easily cast everything in a sickly glow.

Black was one of the first pigments used by prehistoric artists – charcoal was one of the first drawing tools after fire was invented. 😝 We’ve touched on black a few times but this is important so here we are again. If you don’t have black in your palette, one work-around mix is ultramarine blue plus burnt umber as shown above – it gives you a really rich, earthy black colour. Some examples of blacks you can purchase are lamp black and ivory lack. Every line of good quality paint will offer a few blacks and these all have different properties (much likes whites). You can see the lamp black above is more transparent than the ivory black which has better covering power. Ivory black is a good, all-purpose black. Note my personal favourite, Payne’s grey on the end which can be used as a kind of black-alternative. It’s a cool black, and is a mix of ultramarine blue and ivory black.

Putting it all together.

I created this very quick painting as an exercise to show a little colour theory in practice. I used gouache paints. I started with lemon yellow, which is both fitting name-wise and colour wise. It’s a coolish yellow. I went back in with a lemon yellow darkened with some purple. I started with a more yellow mixture that I progressively darkened with more purple until I achieved a neutral grey for the most shaded areas. I used a light purple background to make the yellow lemons pop, and amplified that effect with a bright purple tabletop. I darkened the shaded areas of the table with a little more purple toned with corresponding neutral grey. I highlighted the lemon with some opaque white. No black used but representational highlights and shading achieved. The colour scheme is pleasing because it makes use of complementary colours.

Summary

This was a long post to write, but in fact this has been a very, very quick discussion of colour theory in a really tiny nutshell. If you look up colour theory online there are so many useful resources and so much has been written about this topic. For beginner painters reading this: When you go to mix colours, try not to get too lost in the details. It really is something that is learned with time, it does become intuitive, and you will kind of memorize your go-tos. It is truly more of an art than a science. I’ve tried to give you some guiding principles to follow, but there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules.

I do recommend that you try to take a more holistic approach when you’re trying to figure out how to paint something, and how to mix your colours. Really study what you are painting. Say you’re painting a portrait of a brunette. The brown in her hair – are there blonde (yellow) highlights? Is there a red undertone? Is it dark brown, veering more towards black and more towards cool undertones (like raw umber and Payne’s grey?).

When you study the world around you, when you really look at it, you’ll notice that there are all sorts of colours in someone’s hair, in the petals of a flower, in the dark of the shadows cast by a building on a sunny day. The more you can perceive those, and suggest these colours and transitions between colours in your work, the closer you will get to representing the world as you see it, through your painting.

And that’s it!

For those of you starting out, I hope this helps! For all of you who have taken the time to read this, I thank you! Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below.

Week in Review.

On Sundays we let sleeping dogs lie…

We laid low this weekend. A few family runs with the little red dogs, some boardgames with friends on Saturday night with their cute, pushy puppy ❤️❤️❤️. I feel like hygge is a really overused word but I’m also Danish on my father’s side so I maybe that gives me some license to use it – I actually love cold and cloudy (but NOT snowy!) weekends because they are so cozy and perfect for hygge painting in the art room with the sleeping dogs 🙂

I’m teaching again as a university instructor this semester. I had to spend some time setting up and updating my online course and getting things in order. I was such a nerd in school and the start of a new term is still exciting for me. My work is in healthcare, and my teaching has so far focused mainly on science and clinical applications. It definitely feels like I am a different person when I am in that role compared with my artist side which I am trying to grow now.

And speaking of art, it was a really busy art week! I finished Downtown Brown at the start of the week:

Oil paint on canvas.
Downtown Brown. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24”.

And I completed a few pieces for my East Coast series:

Watercolour and ink painting.
Halifax Harbour at Night.
Watercolour and ink painting.
Dartmouth Ferry as Seen From the Halifax Harbour.

I enjoy all types of painting. The transition to oil painting has been awesome, and I just love it. But I always, always love paintings in watercolours too, I just don’t take it as seriously?

I’ve been checking out a lot of other artists’ blogs and the watercolour artists out there make me wish I could paint like that. I have a big block of Arches paper and I think I may try my hand at a few more “serious” watercolours next week.

This week I made my most polished time-lapse painting video yet! I’m so proud of this and if you haven’t seen it you can check it our here!

I also wrote about my 2019 goals here. For this website I would really like to regularly add educational content and how-to videos in addition to my more personal blog essays. The website is still a work in progress but I’m hoping it will all crystallize in 2019.

Thank you for reading!

Back to the Grind.

Teelo stole Riggs’ Christmas toy and is so proud.

Hi everyone! Happy Wednesday. Missed any holiday posts? You can catch up here:

Running Free in Rusagonis

The Story of Downtown Brown

Christmas Commissions Round-Up

and Unpacking Boxing Day

I’m back to work, back to the gym, and back to regular life. Thank you to everyone who reached out about my New Year’s goals. It’s exciting to put myself out there!

I spent New Year’s morning watching Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and taking down our Christmas tree. Relief at last! Totally random fact: I discovered the KonMarie method for folding clothes a few years ago and for anyone with 2019 home organization resolutions let me tell you it.was.a.life-changer. I think I spent like a week re-folding all of our clothing when I discovered this, and I still use this method now.

Another random thought: Today I learned that if you delete images from your WordPress media library that are linked to a post – you will also delete the linked images in your post! Oops! Well that was a giant fail!

I have This is a Cat, Big Beesa, and Downtown Brown drying around the art room now. I’m looking forward to varnishing these soon! I’ve read so much that varnishing really brings out the colours of your oil painting and I’m really excited to see this. I’ve noticed that the Old Holland Scheveningen black that I use dries pretty matte. This has the effect of making my deep, dark, black backgrounds on the Beesa paintings appear kind of dull. I have the Gamvar High Gloss Varnish and just need to pick up a new, clean flat paintbrush before I give it a try.

Also, kind of out of nowhere but I wanted to share: I’ve been painting a lot and losing a record number of paintbrushes. I was finding that even with careful cleaning, my brushes must have had a film of oil paint that hardened when dry. It rendered a few brushes totally useless. I picked up some Master’s Brush Cleaner on a recent trip to my local art store. We also used to sell this when I worked at Curry’s Art Store and I always thought it looked like some old-timey weird product from the packaging. But given the number of paintbrushes that had been lost (and the cost to replace) I thought, oh just add it to the pile. Well, it works great!

For my brush clean-up I follow these steps: 1. Use a paper towel to remove any excess paint. 2. Swish my paintbrushes around in my jar of Gamsol. 3. Run the brush under warm water. 4. Lather up the brushes with the Masters Brush Cleaner Soap (you just rub the brush against the hardened soap bar in the container. 5. Rinse the brushes. 6. Reshape bristles and lay flat to dry… And, voila!

Totally clean brushes, no more film! And I was actually able to restore a few paintbrushes that I thought were garbage. This method works great so I really wanted to share!

I started working on some more east coast pen and watercolor paintings yesterday which carried over into today. I got a few rough sketches done last night and started painting today. I started this project last summer when we got back from a trip to the east coast and I just loved those little paintings. The first set focused a lot on Prince Edward Island. I’m really looking forward to working on these new ones more this week. This particular series is focused on Halifax at night and I’m hoping to play with my gouache paints for these.

And just to keep up the productivity moving along because I’ve been feeling so motivated art-wise, tonight I set up Wiggis on one easel and prepped a second canvas on my other easel for tomorrow night. Now I can kind of travel back and forth between easels on my rolling chair (Ha! if only I were so efficient!). Both of these paintings have kind of been queued in my brain for awhile now. I’ve kind of moved ahead of these paintings with some other ideas but I think it’s important to finish these – have to practice a little bit of diligence in 2019.

I’m looking forward to Thursday evening – long dog run with my spiky shoes and then an evening of painting with sleeping dogs lying around my feet.

Thank you for reading everyone! Time to watch Friends (turns out it’s still good!) and eat homemade oatmeal cookies. We’re almost to the weekend 🙂