Tag Archives: Lake_Como_Paintings

Lake Como W.I.P./Demo (continued)

Well I promised color in my last post, so let’s get started! I don’t know if I mentioned it lately, but I have been experimenting with expanded palettes for my latest paintings, and that exploration continues with this one. Regular readers may remember that I have for a long while used a limited palette of red, yellow, and blue, plus white (like this one). For this painting, my palette is (as I lay it out from left to right) Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Golden Ochre (Rembrandt), Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Permanent (Gamblin), Cobalt Blue, and Ultramarine Blue. (I’ve specified brands where color names are specific to a particular brand.)   I haven’t used any pre-mixed greens, as you can really mix a zillion different greens with this palette. I have used most of these colors off and on, with the exception of Cobalt Blue. To be honest, I was really hoping that I wouldn’t like it, because it is a terribly expensive tube of paint. Of course, I love it!  It is a cooler blue than Ultramarine, which has more red in it. I still love Ultramarine, but Cobalt has some really wonderful possibilites.

Any way, back to the painting…I start by painting in the sky, which contains the light source and is also the farthest in distance. The sky is Cobalt blue plus white, with cad yellow lt. added as it nears the horizon. For the clouds I’ve mixed a combination of blues and cads red and orange + white for the shadows, and Cad orange and red + white for the highlights.

20120921-150523.jpg

Working from back to front, I next paint in the distant cliffs, which have a beautiful shadow casting down over them from low-lying clouds. The photo is a bit dark here (apologies) but I will try to get some more accurate photos in subsequent blog posts so you can get a better idea of the colors.

The distant mountains complete, I block in the buildings that jut out into the harbor, as they will serve as my area of interest in the painting, and everything will kind of flow to lead the eye towards them. I also decide to lay down my pattern of darks, to restate the plan I made in my notan sketch. Again, this photo just blackens everything out, but I had to make a choice between using my time blogging or photo editing, and at this point, I’ve chosen blogging.

20120921-150612.jpg

Next, I work on the terraced hillside in the middle distance. What a joy it is to paint…all of those shadows and varied greens! A nice round bristle brush is great for painting in those cypress trees, which have always struck me as distinctive punctuation marks in the Italian landscape. .

20120921-150639.jpg

 A mahl stick (shown in the next photo  on my easel below the painting) is a handy tool to have to steady the hand without smudging the painting, when painting details like architecture and tall skinny cypress trees.

20120921-150656.jpg

I have yet to paint in the highlights on the cypresses, but once I’ve done that I will be ready to move on to the middle distant water and boats, and finally the boats in the foreground. All that will be left after that point will be fine tuning  wherever’s needed.

Varenna painting complete

Just a quick post to share the final version of the Lake Como painting I wrote about in my last post:

Landscape painting of Varenna Italy

“La Passarella, Varenna”
Oil on Linen, 24″x 20″

20120826-120134.jpg

This view shows small fishing and leisure boats in front of the arched foot path called “La Passarella”  that winds its way around Varenna.Known  as “the pearl of the lake”, Varenna is one of the most beautiful towns on Lake Como. A great place to leisurely wander and get lost!

I also really enjoyed this version of the limited palette I wrote about in my last post. I can see myself using this one again (as soon as I buy more Cad. Red Medium!) One of these days I will find time to update my website. In the meantime, please contact me for additional details about the painting and/or to purchase.

On the easel -Varenna (Lake Como) W.I.P

Just a quick post to share what’s been on my easel of late. It’s been so blazing hot this week that I have not found an opportunity to get back outside and have pretty much retreated to the studio to work. I’m still keeping things relatively small for the time being, though 20×24″ isn’t, for me, exactly tiny:

Lake Como, Italy landscape painting by Jennifer Young

Yet again I thought I’d experiment with another limited palette, using the “big three” primaries of red, yellow blue. In this case the red is Cadmium red medium, the yellow, cad. yellow pale, and my ol’ friend ultramarine. The main difference for me is using cad. red medium. I almost never use this red but found some in my bins and thought, why not? At first I felt like I was shooting myself in the foot with this palette on this subject, as it is a bit more muted than when I use my usual gem-like transparent red of alizarin crimson. But having gotten used to it, I am quite liking it. I think I should be finished with this piece in another session or two, which will hopefully be this week, providing I have the studio time.

Bellagio from above; more oil painting w/out solvents

Following up from my prior WIP, here is the final painting. This is a view of Bellagio from a hike we took up to Villa Serbelloni. The villa is now maintained by the Rockefeller Foundation, who uses it as a retreat for  the Bellagio Study and Conference Center for artists and writers (wouldn’t that be nice?) For this reason, we couldn’t go inside the villa when we visited, but we could tour the grounds, which offers gorgeous views over Bellagio.

Oil painting of Bellagio, Italy

“Bellagio From Above”
Oil on Linen, 20×16″

SOLD!

Both this piece and my previous Lake Como painting, were done without the use of solvents or any other medium other than small amounts of walnut oil to clean brushes and thin paint when necessary. But even when used judiciously, the walnut oil served to slow drying considerably. At present this is not a huge problem, as I am spending most of my time painting/renovating/preparing home and life for the new baby! But it does change the nature of things and the overall result became more impressionistic due both to the behavior of the paint, and probably also the gaps in my working sessions.

I know that an oil painting requires a certain length of time for all of the layers to fully dry (sometimes as much as 6 months or a year.) But normally the top layers will dry to the touch in about a week’s time.  Not so with the walnut oil method, which seems to require at least an additional week to my usual handling time.

Maybe it’s just that my painting habits are not particularly suited for this method, or maybe I just need to get used to new ways of doing things. Overall, except at the very beginning stage, I don’t paint in thin layers. In fact, while I don’t lay it on with a palette knife, I do paint passages that are relatively thick and juicy. But oddly, I experience the most difficulty in the lay-in, (early stage) which I am used to having set up rather quickly.

First of all, in order to follow the “fat over lean” rule, I have been trying not to make the paint too “fat”, too soon. So I keep the walnut oil I use in my initial lay-in stage very spare. The result is that instead of a thinly painted initial sketch and color block-in, I find myself with trying to move paint around that has a definite drag and is less fluid. The lay-in becomes more often a “rub-in” with a rag or a “scrub-in” with an old brush, and the edits and corrections are very hard to lift off the canvas.

On the other hand, if I use more walnut oil at this stage, the paint can get too smeary and unmanageable for successive layers, not to mention less stable (with any medium you use, you should only use no more than 20% total volume when mixed directly into the paint, and I usually err on the side of caution and use rather less than that.)

One solution may be to use a runnier paint in the lay-in stage. M. Graham walnut oil paints are such a paint. I do have a few tubes on hand, as I’ve tried them in the past. As much as I wanted to like them, I normally prefer more body to my paints. But they might just work for my purposes now–but still probably just in the initial stage only. (Incidentally, it’s perfectly okay to mix walnut oil with linseed oil based paint, so even if you want to paint solvent-free, you do not need to buy their paints exclusively.)

Aside from walnut oil to thin,  there are other oils to try. Linseed oil is commonly used by artists, both in mixtures of ground paint and in various mediums. And while both linseed and walnut oils are considered to be “drying oils”, linseed tends to be the faster-drying of the two.  However, I seem to read a lot about how linseed oil tends to yellow over time. Maybe this is an exaggerated worry, but a quick look at experiments like this one swayed me to first try the walnut oil over linseed.

So, to sum up from this layperson’s perspective, some of the pros of using walnut oil to thin/clean are:

  • Non-yellowing
  • Non-toxic/ solvent-free painting (though other oils can also serve to achieve the same thing.)
  • Odorless
  • Does not evaporate like solvents, so it seems fairly long-lasting
  • Conditions brushes nicely

Cons:

  • Walnut oil is expensive! (If you are only using oil to clean your brushes, you could probably get by with a less expensive oil.)
  • Slows drying considerably (this could actually be a “pro”, depending on your painting technique.)
  • Compared to solvent, it requires using more brushes and/or more wiping of brushes between colors in order to keep the color clean.
  • Walnut oil is expensive!

A WIP and oil painting without solvents

After a couple of wipers, I finally have at least a work-in-progress to post. I’ve continued with the Bellagio theme, this time with an ariel view. I guess I’d call this a color block-in:

bellagio painting work in progress

Why the wipers? Well, I’ve been oil painting without solvents, and it’s taking some practice to get the hang of things. Now as a fairly long-time an oil painter, I’m quite used to being around solvents. I do try to be conscientious of the risks and precautions, so I minimize odor (through ventilation and the use of a high quality OMS) and contact (wearing nitrile gloves) when handling my paints. But otherwise I admit I haven’t thought too much about what potential hazards might be involved.

I guess I’ve been fortunate, in that I haven’t experienced some of the allergies that other artists have suffered. But allergies or not, now that I am in the midst of  pregnancy, taking the utmost care in the studio has taken on a new significance. So I decided to do a little investigating….

* Warning, this post is rather long…it’s the first in a series of postings about what I’ve learned on alternatives to my usual oil painting method, presented in my usual rather rambling way. It’s certainly not the definitive source on the topic, but may hopefully provide some insight or a jumping off point for other painters who may be wondering about some of this stuff.

Pigments

When considering alternatives to my usual method of painting, I first took a look at the  pigments I was using, simply because they are essentially the same substance found in oils, watercolors, acrylics, casein, etc.  Pigments are the ground powder, either natural or synthetic, that comprises the “colored part” of the paint.

From what I can gather, due to the risk of inhalation, pigments seem to be most hazardous when in their ground, dry form. Some folks using manufactured paints from the tube are rather indifferent in their attitude about pigments in paints, saying, “Well, as long as you don’t snort or eat your paints you’ll be fine.”  Nevertheless, some pigments do contain toxins and heavy metals, which could potentially be ingested or absorbed through the skin on surface contact. So for this reason it’s always a good idea to wear gloves when handling them, and avoid eating, smoking, etc., around them, at least not without thoroughly scrubbing with soap before hand.

I put the question of hazards in manufactured artist oils to the maker of the oil paints I use most frequently- Winsor Newton. The technician, Amy Faris, was extremely helpful and very quickly responsive to my queries. Here’s an excerpt of some of what she wrote about pigments:

“Depending on the color, our oil paints contain either linseed oil or safflower oil, with the possible addition of a drier, again depending on the color.  Other than than, I am unable to give you any specific recipes regarding the oils, because that information falls under the category of proprietary, and they won’t even share it with me.” (*Jen’s note: this last sentence is one I heard over and over from the manufacturers of artist’s materials that I queried directly.)”

“What I can tell you is that all of our products are tested and labeled for health and safety by an independent toxicologist at the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI).  An AP label – or a non-toxic label signifies that the toxicologist has not found anything in the product that can cause you harm, as long as you are using the product in the manner for which it was created – in other words, you are not eating it, applying it to your friend’s body, etc.  A CL warning label signifies that the toxicologist has found something in the product that can potentially cause harm.  This CL label is usually followed by a statement on how to use the product safely.”

“All health labeling can be found right on the back of every tube of paint we manufacture and on every container of medium, solvent etc.  If you would like more information on the toxicologist or on health and safety in general, please visit the ACMI website at:  http://www.acminet.org/

“In terms of pigments:  some mineral or metallic based pigments can be hazardous to your health if they build up in your system over time. Lead, cadmium,cobalt  and chromium are some problematic pigments that spring to mind. Generally, the biggest hazard comes in to play if you are working with these pigments in their dry, powder form and are breathing the pigment dust into your lungs.  In terms of the pigment while it is contained in a vehicle (contained in the paint form we are all used to working with) as long as you are not spraying the paint (cadmiums breathed into the lungs prove to be cancer-causing), or ingesting it in large quantities over time ( I sometimes joke about eating it, but if you point your brush in your mouth or eat or drink in the studio with paint covered hands you run the risk of ingesting the paint)  you should be okay.  Paint that contains lead (usually whites such as flake or cremnitz white)  needs to be handled with great care – the lead can be carried through your skin layer if the paint has been diluted with a thinner – you never want to clean your brushes by rubbing them in the palm of your hand – doing so can drive pigments directly into your skin.  Cobalt can be a skin irritant to some people.”

…And the vehicles?

So basically, since I don’t grind my own paints, I can take care in handling and just make note of the labels (and manufacturers that use such labeling) to make my choice of paint. But what about the vehicles used to suspend the pigment in the paints and give them their characteristics? In many cases it is nothing more than a seed or nut oil (linseed oil, walnut, poppy, etc.) But in other cases, there are other additives, and they seem to be both more mysterious and potentially more hazardous to me (and my unborn baby) since they can be inhaled as they float about in the air. Paint manufacturers are, as I said, pretty hush-hush about the specific additives used in their formulas.  As artists, even with the labeling, it’s often difficult to impossible to derive specific information on which elements beyond the pigments in the paint are potentially toxic. But through a very cursory look around the web, I learned that  some of the potential additives to common artist paints (oils, acrylics, etc.) could be various solvents and resins that are volatile organic compounds (toxic inhalants), formaldehyde, preservatives, and mercury. Yikes!

And contrary to popular belief, in terms of tubes of paint, it doesn’t seem to me that oil paints are necessarily any more toxic than say, acrylics. In fact, while acrylics clean up with water, many acrylics use vehicles that contain ammonia and formaldehyde that off-gas as they dry.

So, being at best a dabbler in watercolors, not having enjoyed my past experience with water soluble oils, and seeing no compelling reason to jump over to acrylics, it looked like oil painting without solvents was still worth pursuing for me. It would require some changes in my work habits, but if I could use precautions and avoid both the use of solvents to clean my brushes, as well as solvents, driers, and other potentially noxious fumes that come from various painting mediums , it could be done.

And that has been my aim. The W.I.P. pictured above, as well as and the one from my prior post were both done without the use of solvents. I’m using my usual paint brands–just using walnut oil instead of OMS to clean my brushes and a very tiny bit to thin my paint if needed. But it’s slow going. This old dog is still having some trouble with her new tricks, and it’s taking some getting used to. I’ll write more about those challenges in a future post.