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.

Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room.

Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room. May 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.

Today I wanted to tell you the story of this painting, Viszla and the Sun in an Empty Room. It’s from the spring of 2018 and while I like the actual painting just fine, it’s the title that makes it one of my favourites. I posted this on Instagram back when I finished it, but I’m not sure that everyone (anyone???) picked up on the reference so I thought I would explain. Did you get it? It’s a big time nod to Edward Hopper, my favourite artist, and his painting, Sun in an Empty Room. Actually, it’s entirely inspired by that painting (and of course Riggs who loves to stretch so gracefully).

I love Edward Hopper’s art. Everything. Not just Nighthawks – I know you know this painting, everyone knows it. Corner view of three people sitting in the nearly empty diner, scene from outside looking in? So famous it’s been parodied in multiple episodes of The Simpson’s? It’s a good one. I like it so much I did my own little parody last year, featuring Clicquot (this was during my Clicquot-as-a-muse phase last winter):

Clicquot and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. 2018. Ink on paper. From sketchbook.

I like all Edward Hopper paintings. Chop Suey,  Pensive Lady in Red,  Summer Evening. For my birthday one year, my husband surprised me with a print of Summer Evening printed on a gallery-wrapped canvas. I see it everyday and I always think, What on earth is going on here? How can something so simple be so narrative? It’s awesome! (yes, that’s my technical art critique :)).

Edward Hopper, Summer Evening, 1947 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

My interest in Edward Hopper goes way back to high school. I discovered his work when I was doing research for my OAC art thesis which focused on realism and architecture (and considering my subject matter it’s not really a surprise that I discovered him). Along with favourites like Lawren Harris and Andrew Wyeth, there stood out the work of Edward Hopper – quiet scenes of post-WWII American suburbanism, people lost in thought or just not talking on purpose (what were they thinking? what??), the contrast of lightest lights and darkest darks, the play of colours, and shadows cast with absolute geometrical precision. He had me at geometric precision.

My Grade 13 art journal:

I love reading what 17-year-old me had to say. There is some pretty angst-y stuff in here.
Edward Hopper journal entry.  He’s been inspiring my art for 20 yeras!

So as I said, MY painting is inspired by Sun in an Empty Room, another classic Hopper work. This is one of his later paintings and he totally forgoes any lonely-looking people in favour of just a totally empty, lonely room. Note the shadows – so, so, so great. And note the view outside the window – anyone else think that those trees look totally foreboding in spite of the sunshine? This is a great one – really begs the question, What is going on here? 

Edward Hopper, Sun in an Empty Room, 1963 courtesy of http://www.edwardhopper.net

Back to my painting – The vizsla is not any old vizsla – it’s sweet Baby Riggs and if you knew him you would know this is Riggs, because THAT is a Baby Riggs classic stretch pose and he is always stretching :). The house is our house, I took a ton of reference photos, and the shadows and highlights are all done in the style of Hopper.

The painting is on a 16 x 20″ gallery-wrapped canvas. I completed it in May 2018. It was painted with acrylics – a mix of TriArt and Golden paints.

Some progress pictures (always my favourite!):

Why, why, WHY did I used to do my acrylic under-drawing in black Sharpie marker???
Reference picture.

This painting took me forever to finish. I think I started it in March and I finished it in mid-May. Yikes. That doesn’t happen too often anymore. I swear I listened to The Weakerthans song, Sun in an Empty Room (so cool!) the entire time. If there was a way to infuse this blog post with that song – oh who am I kidding, there probably is, but I’m so technically-challenged I feel lucky that I was even able to create this website in the first place. Anyway, if I could embed that beautiful song to play over this post, it would really set the tone of this painting for you. I’ve given you the link instead ;).

I went through a real Edward Hopper phase from March 2018 onwards. I painted Vizsla and the Sun in an Empty Room, and then I painted sweet Clicquot in Pensive Vizsla in Red (yet another cheeky Hopper reference):

Pensive Vizsla in Red. June 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20″.
Clicquot critiquing her portrait. Serious stuff.

And some more Hopper-esque sketches from the same time period:

Riggs and Clicquot, on the couch. Riggs is the one looking out the windows. It’s always Riggs. Ultimately I decided one vizsla and the sun in an empty room was enough. 2018. From my sketchbook.

My intention for this post was just to discuss the one painting. But in so doing I have summarized a nice little period in my personal art history – the time represented by these drawings and paintings has a really positive feeling around it. When I think back to it, it’s kind of cast in a warm and sunshine-y glow of late spring-early summer (as seen through the rose-coloured glasses of my mid-January perspective :)).

These paintings and sketches were completed at a time when I had just started painting again after the longest dry spell ever. For these months I felt super inspired to just study my favourite Edward Hopper paintings and allowed myself to kind of learn from him. It was a really freeing little art experiment. It seems kind of counter-intuitive because it was the opposite of easy-going, laissez-faire, let’s just see what happens! kind of painting. I learned a lot and that was really motivating.

I made some significant changes to my style and brushwork that have really stayed with me. Specifically, I simplified the forms in my sketches and paintings, and I tried as much as possible to keep.it.simple. Nothing fussy. I learned restraint. I learned to plan more in advance – especially my treatment of my light source. And that has kind of followed me through up to now, where I’m in a place where I’m becoming happier and happier with my painting.

Looking out my backdoor. March 2018. From my sketchbook.

I always loved the sketch shown above. It was inspired by a photo of my husband and Teelo and Riggs barbecuing in late winter. On the one hand it unfortunately led to my largest unfinished painting ever. I could never get it right. In fact, I’m looking at all 30 x 40″ of its unfinished glory leaning against the wall by my desk as I write this. But on the other hand, this sketch led to this portrait of Teelo, which was a real game-changer for me in terms of how I approach acrylic painting, and marked the start of my most prolific and productive period of 2018.

I once read that Edward Hopper spent a really long time working out each painting. I think it’s important to practice your craft a lot. But I also think it’s important to take a step back and really think about what you’re doing. I always see my productivity as kind of a wave function (yes, I’m referring to math :)). It goes up, it goes down. I feel inspired and invincible, then I’ll have a week (or two, or more) when I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to “do art.” But every time there’s a down, there seems to be an up that is better than ever before. And it’s neat to look back and link everything together in a post like this. It’s important for me to follow the process, take the time to work everything out in my brain, and think about what inspires me most 🙂

Who’s your favourite artist? What inspires you?

Thanks for reading everyone!

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!

What I Painted – Halifax Harbour.

Dartmouth Ferry from Halifax Harbour. January 2019. Watercolour and Ink on Canson Artboard. 9 x 12″.

Last summer we took a road trip around the East Coast starting out from our vacation home-base of Fredericton, up and east to Prince Edward Island (hitting Charlottetown, Cavendish, Summerside), looping down through Halifax (and Dartmouth then back to Halifax) and back to Fredericton. I took as many pictures as I could and I have been loving painting these in pen and ink and watercolour ever since.

My first set of paintings focused primarily on PEI. I picked up this series again on New Year’s Day as a little break from my oil paintings. This time I’m focusing on a few great shots from Halifax harbour, from our first night in the city. This was also a great excuse to give my new Neewer light kit a try for filming. Watch me paint the Halifax Harbour at Night below then keep reading for more work from tonight and more details!

We arrived in Halifax on the August long weekend. We walked through the Harbour – the air smelled like the ocean and even though there was record-breaking heat during the day (it was seriously horrendously hot) the evenings were downright cold. Here’s my reference picture. Across the water you can see Dartmouth :).


Every time I look at this picture I hear Joel Plaskett singing, I took the Dartmouth Ferry into the town… 

Some painting close-ups:

I used my artist quality Winsor & Newton watercolour paints combined with my new set of Winsor & Newton gouache paints – the opacity was key for adding details in the night scene.

And painted on Canson Watercolour Artboard:

My painting set-up with Neewer light! Awesome! Ignore my cluttered table. It’s pretty multi-purpose these days.

I’m loving the Neewer light kit. I have to play with the angle and height a bit more for my video set-up but it’s a huge step-up from my previous arrangement of children’s alphabet blocks, wood board, and playing cards for leveling. Thank you to my sweet husband for the fancy Christmas light kit and to my in-laws for the Christmas gouache paints and artboard that made this painting possible 🙂 xoxo

It was so much fun to make this video tonight. Thanks for reading and watching everyone!

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 🙂

January 1, 2019.

Happy New Year everyone!

From Teelo!

I didn’t have much time off for the Christmas holidays but I’m definitely ready to get back to normal. I’ve single-handedly eaten my way through nearly two bags of my sister-in-law’s famous peanut butter balls while binge-watching the entire series of Friends on Netflix (again). I can tolerate the Christmas tree for about two weeks but it will be thrown to the curb later this morning. I’ve definitely had enough bonding time with the tree but I know it’s not totally gone – I’ll be finding needles until June I’m sure. And even though I always start December loving all the holiday treats I’ve been living in stretch pants for a little too long now. There’s nothing I love more this time of year than throwing out all of the leftover excess and moving on – literally and figuratively.   

Riggs!

I love the spirit of New Year. I love the idea of starting over. I love packing up everything after Christmas, and getting back to a routine. My goals for 2019 involve all of the usual: Eat better, exercise more, be a nicer person. But I’m also hoping 2019 will be a year of big change, especially artistically.

and… our New Year’s Eve Birthday Girl 🙂

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Paint more.

I would really like to focus on my personal artwork in 2019. I have a mental list of paintings that need to be completed. I started painting for the first time in a million years in January 2018 and since then I have just felt so much pent up creative energy, ideas, and a desire to make something. It hasn’t really let up, and if anything, the more I paint the more I want to paint. I’ve seen so much growth in the past year and I’m crossing my fingers this continues into 2019. Just like exercise and training, I need to make space for creating everyday. I do believe that the most growth happens when I’m drawing and painting a lot so I’m really excited to produce a lot of finished work this year. Do I have a theme? Yes, I can see one emerging, and I’ll talk about that more in an upcoming post as my ideas around it sort of crystallize. This unifying theme for my painting is something I’d really like to use to work towards…

First painting of 2018.

My first art show.

I would really like to mount my own art exhibition in 2019. I would like to rent a space and send out invites and create a program and display my work for the public and serve champagne in chic champagne flutes and buy a new dress for the occasion (of course!). Not a lot to say about this yet except that I think it’s really important to work towards publicly displaying my art and I need to make that happen. I’m aiming for September/October of 2019.

And last but certainly not least…

Grow my blog!

I want to spend as much time as I can on evachristensenart.com. I have been loving all of the work I do for my little website and I would love to be able to grow it as much as possible and reach as many people as I possibly can with my work. I wish this could be a job! I love writing and planning posts and telling the story behind each painting that I do and exploring how that makes me feel – and then hearing how it makes other people feel. I see this site as a mix of art diary, art teaching, and personal art gallery. I love, love, love getting feedback from my readers, and having conversations. That has been such a great, unanticipated bonus of starting my site – getting to know the online artistic community and discovering other artists and their work. Blogging has been such a valuable way to feel connected with other artists who I can identify with! I work alone but I love to know that my art has touched others, and to be able to speak with other artists and also be inspired by them. I absolutely loved Judith’s post to mark her milestone of 1,000 followers!! – She drew a pile of rocks like a trail-marker to mark the occasion, which I thought was so simple and so clever. It got me thinking about my own blog goals and I really hope that I too will be able to mark some milestone(s) in the year(s) ahead.

I would love feedback from any art bloggers reading! In the meantime, I’ll keep posting regularly and we will see where it goes!

Last painting of 2018.

And those are my 2019 goals. I am hoping 2019 will be a year of big change. Mostly I want to be happy, and I want my family and my fur babies to be happy, and I also want to see where I can take my art. Looking forward to revisiting this post 365 days from now 🙂

Thanks for reading everyone! Any goals you’d care to share?

The Story of Downtown Brown.

Oil on canvas painting
Downtown Brown. December 2018. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24″.

Should we get a dog? My husband asked me. Back then he was my boyfriend and we had been living together in the big city for nearly five years. We were sitting in Queen’s park with a picnic, drinking the “good” soy chocolate milk, back when I was still a pseudo-vegetarian. At this point we had Beesa and Wiggis, the cats, and we had been living a pretty carefree life. We were both graduate students living together in a cozy one-bedroom condo in an old converted building, aptly called, The Gallery.

So, should we get a dog? Sitting on that park bench I thought, it would be pretty nice to have a little dog here with us. Of course the scene I pictured was of the two of us and an angel dog waiting patiently for us while we enjoyed a quiet afternoon at the park – and I can tell you that the peaceful scene I pictured has a never, ever played out in real life.

Should we get a dog? It was a question we would go back and forth about for a few weeks. And while we are now in a place where adding another animal to the brood seems like literally no problem at all, back then, this was a big question. There was a time in our lives, years before this chat in the park, that we had discussed getting a lab. But by the time we started to seriously discuss getting a puppy, vizslas were the only breed we ever really considered. We don’t really remember why. There was a neighborhood vizsla that we would see sometimes. My husband loved how she looked. And then my Runner’s World magazine did a piece on the top dog breeds to run with and – you guessed it – the vizsla was heavily favored (here’s a reprint from 2018). Not a lot to go on I suppose but all of a sudden this sweet, goofy, skinny red sporting dog was at the top of our list.

Vizsla puppy waterfront
Teelo inspecting Queen’s Quay.

My husband really took the lead on getting our first dog. I think he really wanted a little buddy. I continued to protest, it’s what I do. I hate change, even good change. I had a list of concerns. What about the extra responsibility? What about the added expense? What about the shedding? I pictured balls of dog hair rolling like Wild West tumbleweeds around the condo. My husband persisted, he showed me pictures of vizsla puppies and suggested I could have a running partner. I relented and we started contacting breeders.

Now, when you enter the world of purebred animals there’s quite a process involved in actually obtaining a pet. I actually really appreciate the sentiment of these proverbial hoops you have to jump through because I am a huge proponent of responsible pet ownership and I love how much a good breeder cares about where her puppies are placed. We had gone through this with the cats already – attending several mandatory introductory sessions at the breeders house and passing a screening test before we could take sweet Beesa and Wiggis home.

Teelo napping at Yonge and Charles.

After contacting vizsla breeders for a few weeks we found out about puppy Teelo (then known as “green boy”) on a cold call. His breeder actually had two vizsla puppies – Teelo and his sister, Pippin. We drove out the following weekend to meet him. After an hour of chatting with the breeder and meeting puppy Teelo – we were sold. His breeder? Unfortunately she was not so sold on us. Over the years we became good friends. She eventually told us that she lost sleep thinking of Teelo living in an apartment in the city. Where would he run and stretch his little vizsla legs? Would he be ok??? So really, we were incredibly lucky that she didn’t change her mind and allowed Teelo to go home with us in August 2010. We are so grateful she took a chance on us.

Teelo brunching in the Beaches.

Perhaps sensing that we would have to make extra effort to give Teelo the best life experience possible as a downtown dog, we did everything with him. He had the requisite dog walks everyday, visits to the dog park, and then many visits to the vet to treat ear, eye, and GI infections picked up at said dog parks 🙄. We also took him on all sorts of fun adventures while he was a single child. He was the Prince of Downtown: High Park, Riverdale Park, Queen’s Park, Rosedale Park, Allan Gardens. Every single beautiful corner and side street of the University campus (back in the good old days, before dogs were banned). We signed him up for city-specific dog obedience which found us putting him in a sit-stay outside St. Lawrence Market and practicing his recall on the tennis courts at Kew Gardens.

And all these trips, all these adventures involved taking little Teelo on the TTC subway and streetcar like it was no thing at all. And so, half-inspired by little Teelo’s travels around the city, and half-inspired by Amsterdam Brewing Co.’s beer of the same name (note the awesome streetcar illustration on the can!), Teelo became affectionately known as Downtown Brown (even though Downtown Red would have been more accurate, strictly speaking).

Oops.

This particular painting was inspired by a series of pictures from a trip we took with baby Teelo to The Pawsway back in 2010. He was probably about five months old here. I had a day off from work and my husband had a day off from school. This photo was taken on the College Street 506 streetcar heading eastbound. We would get off at Spadina and transfer to the 510 southbound, en route to The Pawsway at Queen’s Quay. We were always trying to think of creative ways to socialize Teelo and get him some exercise. The Pawsway was an indoor dog play area with a dog-friendly restaurant where your pup could sit at your table with you. So this was our field trip for the day and it is such a wonderful memory from our first few months as newbie dog parents. Normally packed during rush hour, at midday the 506 eastbound was empty, and Teelo hopped up to sit half on the iconic red fabric TTC seat, half on my husband’s lap.

I remember this trip, this simple day off with our new puppy, like it was yesterday. Now that we have three dogs, all around fifty pounds of muscle, and all on high alert to bark at anything askew in their immediate environments, field trips like this don’t happen the same way anymore. And certainly, many of our city travels were not as peaceful as this picture. Teelo isn’t Downtown Brown in the literal sense anymore He has a backyard now and he likes to inspect the perimeter several times a day, and he runs with me in the suburbs. But, he will always be little Downtown Brown in our hearts. This was a special day (what is it about simple days that just unexpectedly turn out to be the best days ever??) with my husband and the original Downtown Brown. It was really nice to be able to spend some time reflecting on it through painting it, and now it can be remembered forever with this painting. I’m really glad I persevered.

Painting Details

This painting took nearly two weeks to complete. The canvas is 18 x 24″. I wish it was bigger. I will never attempt a portrait with this much detail with a canvas this small again. It was really difficult to paint, I felt really confined. I wish it had been something like 30 x 40″ instead. I also just had horrible misgivings about this painting after my first evening working on it.

Painting my husband’s portrait was very difficult at first, I felt a lot of internal pressure to get it right. I went back with a transparency sheet with an outline of my reference drawing two times. Just taking a step back, allowing the painting to dry when I had these misgivings, and do this check was really critical.

I always have to remind myself that fussing never helps me. Once I had my husband’s face “right”, and my mother-in-law confirmed that I had got it, everything else seemed to come together quite easy in comparison.

The underpainting was done in Payne’s Grey because of all the black and cool tones in the reference photo. I transferred the sketch with Saral white transfer paper as per usual. This was the first painting I got to paint with my Neewer light gifted to me this past Christmas and it was soooooo nice being able to paint with good light regardless of the time of day I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful light 🙂

Colours used (all Old Holland):

Despite my initial misgivings, I absolutely love this painting now. I am so happy that I stuck with it. I particularly enjoyed painting the scenery outside the streetcar – it makes me feel like an Impressionist, so loose and carefree compared to my usual – and the repeating pattern of the streetcar seats behind my husband, and of course the bright pops of red in the streetcar seats. It just ended up being a really great colour scheme and I stayed pretty true to the reference photo. I don’t know what quality it is of oil paints but I find that they really lend themselves to realism. The blendability (not a real word), the softness and texture of the paint – I’m so happy I transitioned to oil painting this year.

I love painting from old photos. I love capturing and meditating on these moments in time, captured on film and then explored on my canvas. I’m looking forward to exploring this subject matter – the important moments, people, and animals – more in 2019 (in oil on canvas of course). Looking forward to posting about my 2019 art and life goals soon 🙂 so stay tuned for that.

And THAT is the story of Downtown Brown. And so to answer the question, Should we get a dog? Now I can’t even imagine having to ask myself that. Bringing home sweet baby Teelo, then Riggs, and then Clicquot – best life decisions ever. They make our family a family.

Downtown Brown is on the case!

Thank you for reading!

Christmas Commissions Round-Up

I was very busy this fall and worked my way through a number of commissions for Christmas presents. It was definitely hard keeping these paintings a secret – the urge to share my work is strong!

I wrote about one commission especially close to my heart in this post. Now that Christmas 2018 has come and gone, here is a round-up of the rest of my Christmas work! All of my commissions can be viewed here :).

A few things to note:

All commissions are done in acrylic unless requested otherwise because of the quick drying time and ease of use. This was especially important when Christmas deadlines were a concern.

The total time for each commission usually ranged from one week to two weeks. Usually a day to sketch from the reference picture(s) provided. Then the drawing was enlarged to fit the chosen canvas size, and transferred to the canvas with graphite transfer paper. One day for the under-painting usually, then two to three more days for main painting and filling in details. This usually got spread out over a week or two because of my real-life full-time job, dog-stuff, and life in general.

Each finished painting received three layers of acrylic gloss varnish and the sides of the canvasses were painted in the background color, so no framing was required.

I sent pics for approval after the initial sketch, once the drawing was transferred to the canvas, when I estimated the painting to be 95% complete, and when the final painting was done.

Tri-Art and Golden artist quality acrylic paints were used for all paintings.

My work on these Christmas commissions was interspersed with my own personal paintings. It was really refreshing to go back and forth between different projects. The art room was a busy place! September to December of this year was a hugely busy time creatively. I loved it. I honestly wish I could do this full-time. A little bit of painting, a little bit of art-blogging, a little bit of teaching, a little bit of dog-running – lol. And I really, really feel that creating so many paintings in such a short period of time improved my skills exponentially. It was a great experience for me and I feel like my technical skill has levelled up in a big way.

I am so appreciative to everyone who asked me for a commission this year. Every painting starts the same way – with me nervous to see that it is turning out “right”. It’s so important when doing a commission of someone’s treasured pet that you capture what makes that sweet animal unique. I hope these paintings do that :).

Elf, Sammy, and Roxy

Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″.

These sweet rescue pups are loved by my friend’s sister. He provided me with one main reference photo and a few supplementary pics. The biggest challenge was sketching all three dogs separately and then combining in the right proportions on the canvas. That took a bit of doing and we definitely went back and forth a bit to make sure the sizing was correct. I like how the shadows and dark areas in each dog are picked up by the dark black background. In order to get the black that black I usually apply three to four layers of paint.

Marley

Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″.

Marley is a chocolate Labrador retriever absolutely adored by her owners. This was a Christmas surprise for the commissioner’s husband. She and I worked together on this commission, and a separate one of her son’s two golden retrievers somewhat simultaneously. We exchanged many texts going back and forth about the reference pics and initial sketches and then just talking about the painting progress. It was really nice to work so closely with someone who cared so much about the final painting – it honestly felt like a joint project and it was a great experience.

Chloe

Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 20″

The Chloe commission was referred to me through a friend. Chloe is a little, itsy bitsy dog and early on we discussed playing up her little size with a big painting, hence the 20 x 20″ size. I love how the dark, mono-black background really makes her pop. In order to play up her the contrast between her dark fur and the dark background I really focused on her highlights and the light reflecting off her curls.

Sheba and Sophie

Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″

This was one of my last Christmas commissions. I loved this project – both the process and how it turned out. Sheba and Sophie are sisters, both a lab-mastiff mix. I loved painting them because with their short fur, expressive faces, and muscular frames they remind me very much of my own dogs who I love to paint. They were already really well-positioned in the reference photo given to me and I was just really looking forward to working with their unique colouring and capturing their expressive faces on canvas.
And that’s it for my Christmas work!

Thank you for reading!!!

Running Free in Rusagonis

My dogs grew up running with a pack of labs on our annual trip to New Brunswick. Painting two of these boys, Guinness and Ronan, was a labor of love for me.

It’s been difficult but I’ve had to keep my Christmas commissions under wraps until now. Today I wanted to share with you a project that was especially close to my heart.

My sister-in-law asked me to paint two labs, Guinness and Ronan, for her husband’s family. They passed over the Rainbow Bridge earlier this year. Even though winter officially started on December 21st, thinking about these sweet boys reminds me of summer trips to New Brunswick with our own dogs.

Whenever we take the dogs on the crazy long drive out east, one of our first stops upon reaching Fredericton has always been to meet up in Rusagonis. Every time we pass through Woodstock on the last leg of our journey I can feel myself gripping the wheel a little tighter and speeding up towards Fredericton, trying to ignore the whines of the bored dogs about to lose their marbles on the backseat. Once in, “The Gornish” the vizslas would run through the woods and burn off all their pent-up energy with an enormous pack of labs owned and loved by my brother-in-law’s various family members. After navigating through big city traffic and driving for sixteen plus hours, arriving to the peace and solitude of the New Brunswick wilderness for this rejuvenating walk has always been such an amazing feeling. Freedom.

First it was just single child Teelo joining us on these hikes, then a few years later we were a two-dog family and we introduced Baby Riggs to the crew. Every year the same – once reacquainted with bums sniffed, growls exchanged, and alpha-status re-established, we would head out with this motley dog troop. We picked our way through a long field before entering the woods and zig-zagging down to the river’s edge than runs through the property. Teelo, being the kind-of jerk dog that he can be would always grab the biggest stick that he could find and taunt all of the other dogs with it, despite being the smallest dog there. You’d want to tell him, dude, read the room! What a guy. And Riggs, always scared to swim would bark at all the other dogs from the shore, all the while leaning precipitously close to the water, but never allowing himself to touch it. There would always be a ton of east coast mosquitoes and I’d complain and run around because they always attacked me – not the native New Brunswickers who seem to have some sort of genetic repellent against them in their blood. It was fun. It was funny. It was a relief. These memories are all wrapped up for me in the misty rose-coloured hue of nostalgia.

I knew these portraits of Guinness and Ronan had to be perfect to be a perfect tribute to their memories. But, the process was a bit of a challenge from the start because my sister-in-law only had one picture of Guinness and Ronan, shown below. She also asked that I create two separate portraits of them. As you can see, the dogs are fairly far away in this candid reference picture, and as a result their features aren’t very detailed. They are also a bit cut-off. Since the dogs have passed and this was meant to be a surprise for Christmas I had to make this work and I assured my SIL that I could. And then my work began.

I have developed a little bit of a trick for working with photos that do not have a lot of detail. Here’s my little method. I took the reference picture and cropped it separately around Guinness and Ronan because they were meant to be separate portraits. Then I edited both photos – I maximized the structure, and sharpening, and also increased the brightness while decreasing the shadows as much as possible. This results in edited pictures where the major lines are most predominant and it makes it easier to sketch the likeness and capture the most important qualities:

And the resulting sketches sent to my sister-in-law for her approval:

Another “trick” that I employed for these paintings – just like I’ve been doing for my oil paintings, I under-painted both canvases with the colour the was to be predominantly featured in each final portrait – burnt umber for Guinness, and Payne’s grey for Ronan.

With both drawings enlarged and sized about equally, I transferred the reference sketches with Saral white transfer paper to the prepared canvases. After finishing some larger commissions and working in larger sizes for my personal works, the 12 x 12″ canvases did seem a little cramped. Heck, my current 18 x 24″ streetcar painting has been challenging for this reason – I feel like I’m moving towards only working on gigantic canvases which is going to fill our walls at home up way too fast.

Progress pics:

And the finished paintings (both completed with Tri-Art and Golden Acrylic paints):

I worked on these paintings over the course of about two weeks in November. I had to balance my time with finishing up some other Christmas commissions and my Beesa projects. I really like the minimalist quality of these paintings – no erroneous brushstrokes, everything is kind of pared down and is important to the final works.

Working on these paintings and knowing that Guinness and Ronan have passed on really made me reflect on my bond with my own dogs, all of our animals actually, and all of our happy memories.

When I look at these photos it feels like yesterday we were in the woods together, hiking with all.the.dogs. In some ways, these old pics remind me of simpler times. We were all on the cusp of being real adults with real jobs and real responsibilities.

Clicquot hasn’t hiked with the Rusagonis crew. Our own little family is a little less mobile now. It’s hard to road trip with three dogs but I hope we will be able to initiate her into this little group one day. It would be funny to watch our little queen push and shove her way to the top of the pack. She has no shame.

These beautiful animals come into our lives and enrich us a million-fold. They all have a piece of my heart. I wish I could freeze time, just like in these pictures, and keep them young forever. I wish they could stay with us longer. Forever. It will never be enough. In the very least, I hope my paintings can capture a moment that lets them live on in our hearts, always happy and healthy, and always here with us. xoxo.

Thanks for reading everyone.