Never leave brushes standing tip down in a jar of water or solvent. Within a few minutes the bristles or hairs in the brush will bend and it can be very difficult to straighten them.
But if you do ……..Wash the brush very thoroughly to clean out any residue of paint and squeeze any moisture out of it. While the brush is still damp tear off a strip of kitchen roll, about one centimetre by ten. Roll this tightly round the hairs of the brush and tweak it to give the original brush shape. Leave it to dry and if you are lucky when you unwrap it the brush will be returned to its original shape. If it was very badly bent you may need to do this a couple of times.
The trouble with green
I love green in all its variety but I hear time and again from students it is a difficult colour to manage. I think there may be two reasons for this. Surrounded as we are by green it is the colour we see in greatest variety. In spring there are many nuances of the colour obvious to anyone who cares to look and as artists we are presented with the challenge of mixing them all. There are just as many shades of all the other colours but with green we see the whole range around us in the natural environment. Secondly there is a technical issue in that people try to mix greens from Viridian, Pthalo, Winsor green or even Prussian blue. All of these are wonderful colours but need very careful handling as they are both very blue and incredibly saturated. The minutest touch has a dramatic effect on any amount of yellow and it is difficult to use them to mix the range of warm greens around us in the English landscape. There are three things that might make a difference, firstly use another green for landscape painting such as sap green, it is warmer and much less aggressively intense. And try a range of yellows too, mixing green from ochre or Naples yellow gives much softer colours than using lemon or cadmium. There is also a wonderful range of soft greens to be made by mixing yellows with black. Secondly start with the yellow and add the green rather than the other way round then you have a much better chance of staying in control. And third is to have red or a red brown on the pallette when mixing greens, you can use them to neutralise the greens if they are too saturated.
If you need to draw straight lines parallel to an edge of the page you can use that edge as a guide running a stiffly held little finger down it as you draw the line with the pencil or brush held normally in the other fingers.
When trying to judge the exact nature of a particular colour in order to mix it, try looking for another colour that is similar and make a comparison between them. Although both colours may be subtle and difficult to pin down it will help that yours is, for example, a neutral grey but slightly greener and darker and less dull and this will help you mix it. This is much easier than trying to pin down the subtleties of the colour in isolation.
Colours on the palette
Always lay out the colours on your palette in the same order. In time you will not have to think where they are, you will know instinctively.
After cleaning an oil painting palette with a rag and solvent, finish the job by rubbing a few drops of water over the surface. Any oil left on the palette will be lifted by the film of water leaving it perfectly clean.
Tonking is a method of removing excess paint from the suface of your work without affecting the drawing or colour and tone relationships. It is usefull when making a painting in one sitting. The surface of an oil painting can quickly become sticky and overworked. Tonking can provide a solution by taking off the surface layer of paint without otherwise altering it, making it possible to continue.
Tonking is done by laying a layer of muslin or thin rag on the surface and gently rubbing the back of the cloth to remove the excess paint. Keep the rag still and rub its surface gently. Do not rub the surface with the rag as this will smudge the painting.
It can be made more effective by the use of man size Kleenex tissues! Peel the two layers of a tissue apart and use only one layer for the Tonking. This will be strong and absorbent enough to be effective in removing a layer of paint but you will be able to see through it as you rub and remove very precisely only the areas of paint you need to.
How to put paint back in the tube
You want to save that unused oil paint at the end of a work session.? How can you put clean paint back in the tube? Take the cap off the tube and place a small amount of paint onto the opening using a palette knife. Holding the tube upright gently tap the bottom on a table or other hard surface and the paint will disappear into the tube. Repeat until all the unused paint is replaced.
The colour circle
Everybody seems to know of it but in my experience few seem to know how to use it. As an art student the colour circle was the most useful piece of information I was given. It can tell you how to mix any colour you need. Most students I teach seem to be aware that the colour circle gives ‘opposite’ or ‘complementary’ pairs of colours, red and green, blue and orange, greeny yellow and reddish purple, etc. It is the case that if you mix any pair of truly complementary colours together they will neutralise each other and mixed in the right proportions will make black. Therefore if you want to darken or dull down any colour add small amounts of its opposite colour. If you want a dark blue for example, add orange to it. If you want a dull but pale red add small amounts of green to adjust the saturation (dullness) of the red then add white to adjust the tone. This principle is simple, the challenge comes in learning which colours are truly opposite and mixing only small amounts of the opposite colour at a time. I always tell students it is like salt in soup - add tiny amounts then stir and try it and add more if necessary. It may seem odd that you would add yellow to darken violet, indeed most yellows have white in them and added to violet will make grey. But Indian Yellow has no white in it and makes wonderful dark violets and blacks. The best way to learn all of this is to always have a colour wheel next to your palette when mixing paint. In my experience students who follow this advice are always the ones who learn to mix colour most quickly and effectively. And don’t expect to get the hang of this overnight, as I said, the principle is simple but it takes a little while to put it into practice.
In praise of Indian Yellow
I use a lot of this colour in making browns and blacks. It is said that originally the pigment was made from the urine of cows fed on mango leaves, now it is made synthetically. It is unusual among the yellows because it contains no white. Straight from the tube it is a dark rich golden colour. Add white to it or dilute it with solvent and you produce a clear strong yellow. It is a wonderful colour in its own right but is also very useful used in conjuction with purples and violets. We are told that as yellow is opposite to purple on the colour circle we can use yellow to dull down or darken purple. All the other yellows contain so much white that mixing them with purple produces a grey at best. But add Indian yellow to blue purples and you get a wonderful range of deep rich browns and near blacks. Winsor and Newton produce a particularly good Indian Yellow, some other makes contain white.
Black and white
When is black lighter than white? Whenever you like!
People often tell me that my paintings are very detailed. I am surprised at this as I am aware that I record in paint only a fraction of the visual information that I see. Many artists make an illusion of reality by painstakingly building up layer upon layer of detail. I paint by observing and recording the general visual relationships rather than the details of my subject. I make overall relationships of colour and tone, shape and proportion across the whole canvas rather than focusing upon any one area at a time. It is a constant surprise and delight to find that if this is done with a degree of accuracy then quite quickly an illusion of space and light and form is produced. With only a minimal amount of detail added a convincing realism is achieved. The brain of the viewer fills in much of the detail it thinks it is seeing in the painting.
In still life the circular tops and bottoms of jugs, vases and bottles are seen in perspective and are perceived as ellipses.
They can be tricky to draw. A friend demonstrated a very useful device that helps check the drawing of an ellipse. It is simply a piece of stiff card with a circle cut out of it. If you tilt the card the circular hole appears elliptical, the more you tilt it the thinner the ellipse becomes. With one eye closed hold the card in front of your work so that you can see the ellipse in your drawing through the circle in the card. Move the card backward and forward until the ellipse and card appear the same width. Now tilt the card until the ellipse in the card aligns itself with the ellipse in your drawing. You can now see if you need to make any corrections to you work.
Abuse your rigger
To create the illusion of space
The illusion of space in a two dimensional image relies on just a few
basic principles. Most of them are so obvious that people overlook them,
but used in conjunction with each other they produce powerful illusions
of three dimensional space.
Colour in space
A slight change in viewpoint can have a dramatic effect on a composition. The two paintings below show what I mean. They were painted at Agrigento in Sicily where there is a beautiful limestone ridge with a row of Greek temples set among olive and almond groves.
I spent a couple of days scrambling over the rocks of the ruined city wall searching out interesting compositions and eventually found these two. They are virtually the same view featuring the temple of Apollo, you can see the same rocks and boulders in each.
With one painted from ground level and the other from the top of the ruined wall the resulting compostitions are dramatically different, one emphasising the drama of the rocks and the other featuring the almond grove.
To check that a canvas is a true rectangle measure the diagonals and make sure they are equal as well as checking that the corners are right angles. If you have a tiled floor in your workspace this can be very useful in checking the angles in your canvas. Line up the stretcher with the tiles to check the right angles.
Line of sight
If you are working from a subject in front of you, set up your painting so that it is next to your subject in your line of vision. This will help you transfer angles and proportions to the canvas.
Setting out your paintng equipment
Take the trouble to set out your working materials, easel, palette, etc. in such a way that you can be physically relaxed while working. If you have to bend or strain to reach your paints or to see your subject round the side of your easel then this makes it more difficult to concentrate and will affect the outcome of your work.
When working from the life model, do not do as most students do and stay in one place in the room whatever pose the model takes. Take the trouble to walk round the model until you find the aspect that is most visually interesting for you. It may be that from one viewpoint the light is particularly interesting or the forms are dramatic or subtle, or from another the pose is more clearly understood.
When looking for a subject for a composition, make sure that you are in some way visually excited by it. Your finished work will only interest the viewer if in some way it stimulated you. Look for a subject that has a quality of colour that you like, or wonderful textures, interesting shapes, startling light or space or atmosphere, or an extraordinary image. If you know what excites you about your subject you are far more likely to communicate this to the viewer.
When transferring a composition from a sketch to a larger painting surface it is important to make sure they are the same proportions. There is a simple way to make sure this is the case.
Take the sketch and place it in one corner of the larger surface so that the edges of both painting surfaces extending from the corner are aligned. Place a straight edge from this corner through the opposite corner of the sketch. Extend this diagonal across the larger sheet. A horizontal and vertical line drawn from any point on this diagonal to the edges of the larger surface will enclose a rectangle the same proportions as the sketch.
You can also use this principle to decrease the scale of any rectangle whilst keeping its proportions the same
If you use a solvent such as turpentine or white spirit to clean your brushes when painting in oils, allow the dirty solvent to stand in a container for a week or so. The paint will settle out eventually and the solvent can be poured off and re-used.
Drawing or painting from photos
When working from a photograph turn the photo and the drawing upside down to check your progress. This sounds crazy but really works. In inverting both images you are able to see them as abstract arrangements of shapes and it becomes much easier to spot anything that is out of proportion or wrongly positioned.
Shade your work
When painting outdoors, shade your painting from direct sunlight . When you paint you will intensify the colours to match your subject and when you view the picture indoors it will look bright and fresh. If you paint outdoors with strong light on your work you will tend to use duller colours in the work, and only notice this when you view the picture indoors.
When representing a textured surface pay particular attention to its edges. The quality of an edge carries as much visual information about texture as the surface itself. You can demonstrate this by drawing two patches of an identical texture. If you give one patch a hard jagged edge and the other a soft woolly edge you will find that the identical textures now seem to represent different surfaces.
If you want a fresh view of your painting look at it using a mirror. This reverses the image and you are able see it as though for the first time. It helps you identify anything that needs adjustment.
Choice or colours
I was fortunate to have been taught to mix colour using the colour circle and the principle of opposite colours neutralising each other. For years I used only six pure colours and white to mix most of the colours I needed, proud of the fact that I could mix almost any colour I needed from this simple palette. Then someone pointed out that I was using expensive primary colours to mix browns and greys that could be made from cheaper earth colours. Now I have added a large tube of burnt umber to my palette.