Take me to the river

The fall weather and colors  have been pretty spectacular this year for plein air painting, so I have a little backlog of images to post as a result. The first two paintings were done last week at a paint out with the Virginia Plein Air Painters group. This is a great group that gathers once a month (sometimes more) from spring through fall to paint together en plein air. The great thing about this group is that members will organize unique locations within about an hour of Richmond. Some sites are public, but others are on private property that can't be accessed ordinarily. Such was the case with this location.

The owner of the property happened to be a Zen garden and landscape designer who allowed us to paint on her sprawling property fronting the South Anna River. There were so many beautiful compositions to be made that it was really hard deciding what to paint. But since I wanted to take advantage of the autumn foliage and the play of light across the sparkling water, I was most drawn to the natural settings along the river bank.

This was my morning effort:

"Autumn on the South Anna River", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Autumn on the South Anna River", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

I had such a great time with that one that after a quick brown bag lunch I decided to try another river painting a little further upstream:

A few days went by when I couldn't get back outside, but I kept thinking about how satisfying it was to be painting down by the river. Especially in the fall, where the vibrancy of the light is at an all time high. This has to do with both the lower angle of the light at this time of year, and the way coolness of the blues and purples in the shadows so naturally play compliment to the autumn hues of gold, orange and red.

Yesterday was my next opportunity to revel in all of that beautiful light and color. I couldn't finagle my way back onto the South Anna River property without a proper invitation, so I decided to return to Pony Pasture, the same section of the James River Park system that I visited in my prior blog post.

"Sun-kissed", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

"Sun-kissed", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

As lovely as it is, the autumn light tends to move faster than the spring and summer, and I only had time to do a small one this time before making the trek back to Ashland.  But at least I got my fix. I can't promise I'm done, though; the weather's supposed to be pretty nice for the next few days, and winter lurks just around the corner.

Painting solvent-free with traditional oils

Readers who have followed my blog for any length of time may know that I have been in pursuit of solvent-free painting methods for some time. My reasons are two-fold; it's better for my health and I simply don't like the mess of dealing with solvents on a regular basis.

So for the last 10 months or so, I have been painting pretty exclusively with Cobra water miscible oil paints by Royal Talens for my studio work, though I still used traditional oils outdoors for plein air painting. This worked fine, though I still struggled with certain aspects of my chosen materials. In the studio, while the Cobra paints worked really well and complemented my working methods, in other respects I missed the depth and richness that certain colors in my traditional oils  provided to me. On the flip side, I still really hated having to carry around solvents when plein air painting. Both the weight of the liquid and especially the mess of pouring and emptying the solvents really bothered me.

So, after listening to artist Leslie Saeta's excellent Artists Helping Artists podcast featuring an interview with Robert Gamblin, (of Gamblin Artist Colors) I took special note of their discussion surrounding Gamblin's relatively new line of solvent-free gels and mediums. I will admit I have known about these mediums for a while, and even have some of them in my studio. But in truth I haven't done much with them, because other than thinning my oils in the beginning stage and cleaning my brushes between strokes, I don't use painting mediums and so I really wasn't sure how they would benefit me.

But in this podcast, when I learned that you can actually use solvent free gel to clean your brushes during the painting session, well, that got my attention. I can use my beloved traditional oils without a can of messy solvents in my backpack? Now you're talking!

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

To experiment with the working properties of the method discussed, I executed the above painting in the studio. I did use a small amount of Gamsol in the beginning stages of my painting to adhere to the fat-over-lean principle of painting in oils. But I can carry this in a small container (a repurposed bottle no larger than an eyedropper that it once held my Argan face oil)  to squirt out a just little onto my palette for whatever small amount of thin washes I may need.  After that point, though, I paint with mostly just paint, maybe using the solvent free gel to get a little bit of slip in my stroke when needed, but mostly for cleaning off my brushes between strokes.

For clean-up on site, I wipe my brushes clean with the medium, maybe with one last squirt of Gamsol from my little bottle, before packing everything up . The final clean up takes place back in the studio. Different artists use different things to wash their brushes, from Murphy's Oil Soap to baby oil to plain old soap and water. I've used these too, but my favorite is Master's Brush Cleaner. This stuff comes in a tub and lasts forever. I can't even remember when I bought my current tub and I'm only about 1/3 of the way through. I just wet my brushes, swish them around in the tub, and the remaining paint is easily washed out under water. Something about this stuff seems to really get the oil residue off of the bristles and condition them at the same time. I don't know what's in that magic tub, and I'm not sure I want to know. But it seems pretty innocuous, though I always wear my gloves now when handling my art materials.

I'm really happy to be reunited with my traditional oil paints. I still like the water miscible oils, but it's hard to shake that first love, and now, it seems, I don't have to.

Sunset Sail

Ever since my last blog posting, we have had rain, rain, rain. Needless to say, it thwarted many of my open days where I would have otherwise painted outside. The up side is that I finished the large 30x40" sunset painting I had started a while back, the progress of which I present to you now:

Pasture in Evening Light, and pros/cons of WM oil paints

This painting had quite a few interruptions, so it took a while to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. But now that it is done, I feel pretty satisfied. This is another painting reflecting on my trip to Floyd County, Virginia this past fall:

"Pasture in Evening Light", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Pasture in Evening Light", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

As with all of my recent studio paintings, this piece was done in water miscible oil paints. I haven't said much about these paints lately, but since I have been working with them for a while now I feel I have enough experience with them to comment.

The main reason I decided to experiment with these paints is because of health. I have become more sensitive to a lot of things, and I've suspected for a while that painting with solvents has been giving me problems; especially when painting indoors. While it is possible to paint in traditional oils solvent -free (in the past I have used walnut oil, and now Gamblin has some good solvent-free products) creating initial washes is a challenge without solvents. I am also currently renting a studio space and I am sensitive to any possible odors that the other business might sense. Plus, cleanup is so, so much easier using just water.

Water miscible oils behave a lot like traditional oils, though there are some exceptions/ differences. There was a bit of a learning curve in that not only did I have to learn the properties of the paints, but the colors differed, sometimes significantly, from my go-to traditional oils that I had become accustomed to working with for nearly 20 years. In many ways, however, I actually prefer the water miscible oils. Below I will attempt to outline some benefits and possible disadvantages. 

Pros:

  •  Simple easy clean up with water! (This is really, really hard to overstate!)
  •  Combined with a medium formulated for this type of paint, creates luscious, buttery brushwork similar to and perhaps even exceeding ( depending on the application method) traditional oils.
  • For myself, personally, I am finding that these paints retain their luster from wet to dry and I do not get the "sunken-in" effect that can sometimes happen with thinner passages in traditional oils. (As far as medium goes, the same rules apply as those for traditional paints; fat over lean, no more than around 20 % medium to paint, etc.)
  • Most brands offer a varnish formulated specifically for water miscible oils, but so far I have found varnishing unnecessary. This is pretty big as it eliminates a considerable step from the finish.
  •  Odorless
  •  No or low VOC's and off-gassing, which means a much lower risk of toxicity for the artist.

Cons:

  •  As for appropriate painting surfaces, there are not as many options as there are for traditional oil paints. My understanding is that acrylic gesso grounds are best for water miscible oils. Oil grounds and shellac on wood may be more problematic.
  • Traditional bristle brushes tend to turn into soggy mops if too much water is present (I do limit the water, but I also use synthetic bristle brushes by Rosemary Brushes with my WM oils now. They behave like bristle brushes. They keep their shape well and have a great spring, but don't turn to mops. They are great for traditional oil paints too. (In short, they.are.awesome!!!)
  • Too much water can also cause the paint to become cloudy or sticky,
  • While these oils can be mixed/interchanged up to 25% with traditional oils, I have received little technical response regarding the interchangeability of the WM paints among other WM brands. Early indications recommended against this practice, given the different compounds used by different brands. I am still a little unclear about this, so out of caution I paint with Royal Talens Cobra  exclusively right now.  I like them very much and have been wary to  mix with a different brand like WN Artisan paints.
  • So far, there has been zero support from the manufacturer of these paints when I have written them about technical properties, though I have sent in at least three questions through their online channels requesting technical support. I like this paint overall, but. I find this highly unusual, especially in comparison to Gamblin whose support has always been stellar, and Winsor Newton's, whose is also very good.
  • Due to the fact that these paints will react to water while they are wet, they can be a problem in a sudden rain storm. Not that painting without cover in the rain is good for any painting, but it sometimes happens unexpectedly when painting en plein air.  For this reason, I still use traditional oils for plein air painting, either minimally using OMS or painting solvent free with safflower oil and the Gamblin solvent free gel. Plus, I still have quite a supply of traditional oils, so I will probably keep using them to some extent.  

Pro/Con:

Slightly longer dry time. This may prove to be a con if you are up against the deadline, but since I am using these for my larger studio paintings I love, love, love this aspect. My schedule has been fairly erratic this year and It is so much easier to go back into a larger painting and rework it than it is with traditional oils. Even after a couple of days, the edges can still be manipulated somewhat and I don't get that "lip" of built-up texture that I would have to sometimes have to scrape down with a traditional oil painting that I let sit too long. I'd say given the way I paint, it takes a good 5 days for the water soluble oils to dry to the touch, as compared to about 3 days for the traditional oils.

How about you? Have you tried water miscible oil paints? Which brands did you try and what did you think? 

 

A W.I.P in the midst of a blizzard!

Here on the east coast we have been experiencing a significant snow storm.  We've been pretty much home bound this weekend, only venturing out into the back yard to get blasted with wind and snow right in the kisser. It's been far too windy outside to try and paint Plein Air, so I have attempted a couple of "Plein Kitchens" instead. I'm still noodling with those, but if they happen to turn out I will post them here on the blog. Once the wind dies down and the sun comes out (as it's supposed to tomorrow) I intend to will venture out and brave the cold to paint the winter wonderland. Here's what I was working on Friday, though, before my van got buried under a giant snow drift:

WIP (title TBD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

WIP (title TBD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

I still have quite a bit of work to do on it but I have been enjoying the way it has unfolded so far. This is another piece inspired by my trip in the fall to Floyd, VA for the Plein Air Crush event. It was pretty crazy weather there too much of the time, with lots of threatening rain clouds and wind (oh the wind!) But here and there I saw breaks, and whenever I did I tried to take lots of reference photos of this beautiful area. I'm not sure how soon I can dig myself out of the house and make it back over to the studio, but I will post an update when I do.