Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

Plein air odds and ends

In this post I thought I'd share a little about some of the tools I carry with me in my plein air pack. Some are specifically designed for the plein air artist, and some I have co-opted for my own nefarious purposes. ;-) This first photo shows a picture of my current setup: 

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My paint box is one I have mentioned before, but I love it so much I will say it again! It's the Coulter Easel. It is so quick to set up and simple to use. It has lots of work space for color mixing as well. Mine is the Compact model. Coulter's site offers other sizes as well, but I felt that this model was the most versatile for me as while it is lightweight, it doesn't compromise valuable workspace. As for the other items in this photo, I will list them in a clockwise manner. 

  • A mini sun shield that closes up flat into a small circle. I use this to cast a shade on my palette so that I don't get the glare of sunlight on it. I do have an umbrella, but many times depending on how I position myself, this little shade is all I need. When I do find the need for an umbrella, the model I use is Bestbrella. It works great for me.  
  • An envelope-style brush holder.  Called a "brush wallet", this style brush holder comes with a loop at the top, which I loop onto my tripod handle. I like this brush holder because I can tuck this in behind my palette and have my brushes handy without taking up space on my paint box. (*Note- I couldn't find a source for my brush holder. I bought it a number of years ago and I am thinking I bought it from
  • A couple of zip-up pencil bags to carry my paints. In one I carry my large tube of white, my mediums (more about that in a minute) my paint scraper, and palette knife. In another I carry all of my other oil colors.  
  • A bungee cord to hold my paper towels. The hooks on the bungee loop right over the lip of the paint box.  
  • A mini trash can. This is something I picked up in the automotive section of a big box store. Like the sun shield it also twists down into a little circle. It stays closed with an elastic band that is attached to the plastic rim. A plastic shopping bag will work in a pinch, but I prefer this style holder over the plastic bag because it doesn't blow around in the wind and remains open as I'm working. This little model came with a plastic loop on the top that I used to thread the bungee cord through, eliminating the need for clips or clamps.
  • Protective gloves for my hands. As you can see, by my brush handles, I'm not the neatest painter around, so gloves are a must for me. I became allergic to both latex and nitrile gloves, so the gloves I use are actually food grade gloves by Platex. They are the only semi-sturdy gloves that I don't react to. They actually hold up great. One benefit to these gloves is that I can get them in the grocery store when I'm grocery shopping, so I don't have to make a special trip to the hardware store when I run out. 
  • A small cat food can. I use this little can to hold a small amount of  Gamsol that I use to thin my paint in the very beginning stages of painting. I just pour in a little amount at a time, so when I'm done painting for the day I can just wipe out the can and pack it away.
  • A small eyedropper for holding the Gamsol. I'm using an eye dropper because it's small and it's what I had on hand, but any small solvent-safe container will do. Gone are my days of carrying around those heavy metal turp containers.  Check the next photo to find out why. 

 

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  • Gamblin Solvent-free Gel. Okay, I am not painting completely solvent-free, as I prefer a thinned-down , lean application in the beginning for my preliminary drawing. I use Gamblin's Solvent-free Fluid in the studio, but I prefer the gel in my plein air pack as the fewer liquids I have to worry about spilling the better. You can even use this stuff to clean off your brushes between colors and just wash them all up with soap and water back home in the studio. 
  • A view finder. There are various offerings on the market, but I prefer this simple model. The little lever moves up and down to change the proportions. Several popular sizes are marked on the view finder (9x12, 8x10, 12x16, Etc.) The little holes in the view finder also serve as color isolators as well. 

This is not a comprehensive list but it covers most things. There may be a few other odds and ends to discuss, and if I come across them I will definitely share them here on the blog. 

James River plein air

Oh happy day! Oh cold morning; but nevertheless, happy day. This week I finally managed to get back outside, to visit one of my favorite painting muses, the James River. The James River Park system in Richmond, VA, continues to fascinate me and remains one of my all-time favorite plein air painting sites.

* SO LD*  Autumn Morning on the James River", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

*SOLD* Autumn Morning on the James River", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

I painted this at Pony Pasture, where I stood wedged between some boulders.

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Pony Pasture is on the south side of the river, in Richmond VA. I've always wondered where this part of the park got its name, but only today did I think to look it up. According to Richmond.com, "The name came from the 1960s when the area was suburban and people who were into housing their horses near the river," said Ralph White, who is the (now retired)  manager of the James River Park.

While there are no ponies today (though what a cool sight that would be) there are plenty of other creatures to observe, including Canadian geese and herons, as well as dogs and their owners, fishermen, kayakers and canoers. Oh, and you might occasionally see the odd painter too. ;-)

Venetian market demo, continued

Today before I continue with my painting demo, I thought I would mention the colors I'm using on my palette. For many years I stuck with a fairly limited palette of about 5 or six colors (cad. yellow light, cadmium red, alizarin, ultramarine blue, pthalo green and white.) This was great for me as it really pushed me to learn how to mix color and not become reliant on pre-mixed colors from the tube. It also really helps lighten the load when I am packing my gear to take my studio outside and paint en plein air.

But these days in the studio, my time is more limited. I have a finite amount of hours each week to paint, blog, frame, ship, not to mention cook, eat, sleep, and care for my family. So I have allowed myself the luxury of an expanded palette to speed things along in certain areas. For instance, while I know how to mix secondary colors and some decent earth tones with a limited palette, things can move a bit faster if I have some premixed secondary colors (a.k.a. "convenience colors")  in my toolkit. So, for instance, red+yellow= orange., but cadmium orange is still a nice color to have both for it's purity and intensity and its convenience. In any case, whether I am using primaries or secondaries or pre-mixed earth colors, there is still plenty of color-mixing along the way, and  I don't ever use any color straight from the tube on my canvas.

Aside from the convenience, I am just enjoying playing with new colors. I've had less time to get out to doplein air painting, and I have missed it. So adding something new to experiment with in the studio keeps things fresh for me. On the palette I'm using right now I've introduced a few earth colors, plus some colors from Gamblin's radiant line. Aside from the colors listed with the asterisk *, I may not keep all of these colors out on my palette every time. But they have made an appearance in the studio often enough over the last few months that they are worth mentioning. All of these colors are Gamblin unless otherwise noted:

  • *Titanium white (Gamblin or Winsor Newton)
  • *Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep
  • Indian Yellow (Winsor Newton)
  • *Cadmium Orange Deep
  • *Napthol Red
  • Radiant Red
  • *Quinacridone Violet
  • *Ultramarine Blue
  • Severes Blue-sometimes (Rembrandt)
  • *Radiant Turquoise
  • *Pthalo Green
  • Permanent Green Light
  • *Payne's Gray
  • *Brown Pink
  • Gold Ochre (Rembrandt)

 Now that I've gotten that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let's get back to painting! I spent my last post addressing the "shadow family" in this scene. In this picture you can see that much of the busy market scene is now at least suggested. But light is needed to delineate the forms and bring the scene alive.

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These images are a bit dark as I did not take the time to color correct the in-progress shots. But hopefully you can see that my approach has been to just focus on the general shapes of things without getting too bogged down in details. There are basically three large shapes of light spilling over this painting: the sky, the pavers, and the white awning, with lesser highlights on the figures.

Here is the final stage. I have kept things fairly loose because I wanted to keep the focus on the foreground figure, while still maintaining unity throughout the painting. Notice the difference in the color of the final piece below, taken under better lighting conditions to show the true nature of the colors in the painting.

"Il Mercato Veneziano", Oil on linen, 14x11" ©Jennifer E Young

"Il Mercato Veneziano", Oil on linen, 14x11" ©Jennifer E Young

Thanks for following along on my little painting journey to Venice! This piece is heading to City Art Gallery in Greenville, NC for their 30th Anniversary Celebration September 22nd. 30 years! Wow! Come join us for the party and see this painting (and yours truly)  in person! :-)