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.

An Evening at the Boatyard

This painting was a little difficult to photograph due to the contrast in the subject and the thick texture in the paint. But I ultimately succeeded in capturing a good shot on a flat and cloudy day when it wasn’t too dark or too blaringly bright outside. Hopefully the energy I felt in returning to the easel shines through in the piece.

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

I have been looking at a lot of art lately and painting a few lemons in between (both literally and figuratively😅.) As a result I feel compelled to express myself in a way that is not so literal. I don’t know how far out into the world of abstraction I want to venture, but I do feel the pull to simplify in the very least. What’s enough but not too much? That’s the question. I haven’t found the answer yet, at least not in my own work, but it’s something very much on my mind. It will probably take many more paintings (and quite a few more lemons) before I even come close to an answer.

Life in the Meadow; Start to Finish

Today I thought I'd share the  progressive steps for my newest painting of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. (My usual disclaimers and apologies about the quality of these in-progress photos apply due to lighting conditions in my temporary work space.) This view is near the little B&B where we have stayed on a couple of occasions while visiting Bedford, Virginia.

I'm starting as usual with a sepia-toned sketch thinned with Gamsol to work out the main elements of my composition. This is very loose and general, but it helps me to determine placement. At this early stage I am not overly obsessed with exactness of the forms. Unlike with watercolor, in oil painting I like to carve and refine shapes as I go along. 

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In the next steps I concentrate on massing in areas in the shadow family. This doesn't take too long because in contrast to my prior painting of the Blue Ridge which was predominantly in shadow, this new painting is predominantly sunlit, with a light source that is nearly overhead.

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Next steps are massing in the meadow and the rest of the tree shapes, as well as the distant mountains

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Followed by the sky

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With the canvas nearly covered I work out the finer details of my primary focal area (the horses). 

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At the final stages I add some suggestions of wildflowers to the field. I also add highlights and soften edges here and there, until I achieve the illusion of depth and light I'm after. 

Voila! The final: 

"Life in the Meadow", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer Young

"Life in the Meadow", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer Young

Rassawek Vineyard (plein air to studio)

There have been a number of occasions where my plein air paintings get stashed away for a while, only to be discovered when I can't stand the mess of my studio space any longer and (finally!) decide to instill some order. Such was the case with this little plein air study I did this past May at Rassawek Vineyard during its annual Spring Jubilee:

"Rassawek Vineyard, Study", oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Rassawek Vineyard, Study", oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

It was a challenging session, as I recall, because those clouds kept morphing and changing the light and becoming more ominous as time advanced. In fact, I had to close up before I intended, in order to make a dash for my car before the sky opened up (and indeed, it WAS just in time.)

Nevertheless, there was something nice about this that I wanted to explore further, as it was such a lovely setting. For the larger painting I was planning however, I wanted to zoom out a bit to show the expansiveness of the landscape. So I searched my photo archives to see if I could find the view I had in mind. Voila! I found what I was looking for, which also  included the roses marking the end of each row on the vineyard, (something I failed to note in the study.) I didn't get any progress shots of this painting because it has (ironically) been raining non-stop here for over a week, making the lighting insufficient for photography. In any event, I took a shot of the final studio piece outside during an all-too-brief pause in the rainfall.

"Rassawek Vineyard", Oil on linen, 30x40". ©Jennifer E Young

"Rassawek Vineyard", Oil on linen, 30x40". ©Jennifer E Young

Make it Last

I thought I would again attempt another little slideshow progression of my most recent painting, to show you my process (in brief) from start to finish. I am definitely a novice at this kind of thing, so I hope you will bear with me. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so these  six would make it about 6000 for you, without having to endure my usual long-winded banter. ;-) 

"Make it Last", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer Young

I wanted to think of a title that would evoke the feeling I had witnessing this moment in time, one beautiful evening on Ocracoke Island. I happily got to relive those feelings as I was painting this piece in my studio on a series of cold February days. Click on the slideshow for additional info. *Note: If you are viewing this in email you will need to visit my blog in a browser to see the progression in a slideshow.