Posts Tagged ‘winsor & newton’

After all these years, I can still make an awful painting

February 23, 2014
Quiet Moments in the Studio

Quiet Moments in the Studio

After seventy-three years, I can still make an awful picture.  After seventy-three years, I am just beginning to learn the rudiments of painting.  I would like to live long enough, but I think it would take till the 21st century to have something of a sense that I know how to paint.

Robert Motherwell

Good evening.  This blog post is in response to Corey Aber, an artist-writer-blogger who commands my highest respect.  You can check out his work at

Corey recently asked me to post information concerning the equipment I use in my art making.  I’m always glad to share this information.

1. My paper is D’Arches cold press.  I buy sheets of 300-lb. to cut to whatever size I choose.  I also buy the blocks in 140 lb. measuring 10 1/4 x 14 1/8″.   I don’t like the price, and also don’t like the way the paper starts pulling away from the block by the time I get to the last five or so sheets.  But it is a convenient tool for packing about when I’m working en plein air.  When I am ambitious, I love to soak 140 lb. sheets and stretch them on canvas stretchers, using a staple gun.  I love the tight drum-like quality of the dried out paper, the springing sensation I get when I brush on the surface, and how fast it dries when I’m working wet-on-wet.  But it is a pretty good chore stretching it, and I have to be in the mood.

2. My pigments are Winsor & Newton.  They are all I use.  And my palette is extremely limited now.  I use three blues–Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade) and Phthalo Turquoise.  I use only one yellow, Transparent Yellow.  And I use three reds–Winsor Red, Quinachridone Red, and Permanent Rose.   Occasionally I use Winsor Violet, to tone down the Transparent Yellow.  And I use Winsor Green and Alizarin Crimson to mix my blacks.  That’s it.  The reason for the colors mentioned above is the transparent, clean quality they have when mixing.  I can get the best greens, oranges and violets from those combinations.  And all my neutrals come from these colors.  I ceased using colors such as Sepia, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, etc. years ago.

3. My favorite all-around brush is a Winsor & Newton size 12 Sable Round.  It holds a great deal of water, and the tip can be made razor sharp for grasses, detail lines, etc., and I don’t have to keep reloading the brush because of the quantity of water it holds.  I also use a couple of flat brushes, sable, Winsor & Newton.  1/4″ and 1/2″.  From Bob Cook, I learned to make an “ugly brush” for foliage and drybrush rendering of weathered wood and tree trunks.  This is a quality 1/2″ flat brush (Winsor & Newton) that I cut diagonally with an X-acto knife, then shredded out plenty of bristles to create a jagged, ragged brush.  This makes very, very fast work of foliage and textures in drybrush fashion.

4. I use a few watercolor pencils that I keep sharpened, and drag a wet brush along them to dissolve the hard line.  These are Albrecht Durer pencils manufacted by Faber-Castell.  I like to use Dark Sepia, Warm Gray VI and Cool Gray VI.  I also keep sharpened HB pencils around, as well as water-soluble graphite pencils in HB and 8B.

That’s about it.  Thanks for reading.  And thank you, Corey, for asking.



Second Plein Air Watercolor Sketch on a Rainy Day from the Man Cave

October 9, 2011

View from the Man Cave 2 of 3

This is my second of three attempts to do a plein air watercolor sketch of my neighbor’s trees and bushes during a heavy rain storm here in Texas.  I made heavy use of Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils and Winsor & Newton watercolors with this particular piece.  I also returned to my D’Arches watercolor block with 140 lb. cold-pressed watercolor paper.  The other two studies made use of a new product I picked up a couple of weeks ago: Fluid Watercolor Paper, the Easy Block.  The Fluid Paper is considerably cheaper than D’Arches, and seems to hold up O.K. on quick plein air sketches.  I like the way it receives the Prismacolor Pencils as well.

The cool breezes created a spectacular ambiance for painting in the “man cave” today.  While sketching, I felt my soul flooded with deep feelings as I listened to a production of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Mystic Fire Video.  It wasn’t necessary for me to be reared as an Irish Catholic to identify with much of what happened to him in his formative years.  The film sent me back to a book I haven’t read in over a decade, but have decided to give it another look: Anthony Storr’s Solitude.  I find it hard to experience a genuine, sustained solitude with my packed teaching schedule and weekly art festivals.  But there are those profound moments of being alone that I find myself working on some issues I haven’t faced in many years.  I keep hoping that some of this will translate into my painting.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Thanks for reading.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketching from the Man Cave on a Rainy Day

October 9, 2011

View from the Man Cave 1 of 3

It has been days since the last blog.  Too much work demanded from school and upcoming festivals.  I got a reprieve from yesterday’s festival due to a scheduling snafu.  My name was not on the master list.  They offered me a booth in the food section, and I decided “No thanks.”  It was nice to be home for a Saturday.

Today it rained cats and dogs all day in Texas.  I re-opened my “man cave” in the garage, with cooling temperatures caressing the environment.  The cool rains made the morning very pleasant, so I stared out at the trees and bushes of my neighbor’s front yard and began work on a series of small watercolors I’ll insert into pre-cut 8 x 10″ mats.  This is the first of the series of three.  I relied on Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils and Winsor & Newton colors from my field box.  I found the sketching to be a nice “loosening up” exercise, and therefore very enjoyable.

Thanks for reading.

Watercoloring during the Slow Moments of the Art Festival

September 15, 2011

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch during Grapefest Art Festival

This first eleven-hour day of a four-day art festival is rough on a guy who only had two hours of sleep.  The crowds have been O.K., conversations sporadic, and sales super-slow.  I’m glad I brought along my Winsor & Newton watercolor field box along with some basic supplies.  While sitting in a lawn chair, I’ve had a long and steady look at the shops across the street, facing my art booth.  Finally, I took out the supplies and began work on this sketch.  I first sketched the brick edifice with pencil in my sketchbook, then growing dissatisfied with the lack of color, decided to get out my D’Arches block and begin a watercolor sketch.  It has certainly helped the time pass a little better.

Thanks for reading.  I wonder if I should bring additional resources for painting again tomorrow?

Watercoloring in the rain, June 25, 2010

June 25, 2010

Drybrush of overturned pale of pinecones

The morning rains brought the temperatures down to a cool 84 degrees this morning.  I managed to find enough tree shade and use of my broad-brimmed hat to keep the light drizzle from interfering with this piece.  I had a delightful hour-and-twenty-minute period of focusing on this subject, thinking of Andrew Wyeth, and trying really hard to concentrate on the details and drawing skills.

I apologize in advance for a long and probably tedious blog.  But I had plenty on my mind as I worked through this piece, and wish to share:

1. I’m delighted to return to some of the muted, earth tones that marked my signature style during my earlier body of work (2001-2009), but this time managed to get those colors on the page by using primary colors only (with the exception of one green).  I have completely stopped using ivory black, burnt umber, sepia, yellow ochre, naples yellow, raw umber–pigments which were my staple during the last decade.  Now I’m using only Winsor Green, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Medium and Alizarin Crimson.  I’m delighted to get muted, natural earthy colors from these pigments.

2.  I have gone “minimalist” on the supplies I haul with me in extreme situations.  Tomorrow I fly out to Lake Tahoe for a four-day International Baccalaureate conference.  I am scheduled to begin teaching the Theory of Knowledge course at Martin High School beginning fall 2011.  Our afternoons will be free, so my intention is to get to Squaw Valley, then take a tram or nature trails up to where I can capture some mountain range vistas.  For the trekking, I have managed now to get all my watercolor supplies (Winsor & Newton field box, Watercolor block, Brush tube, Water bottle) inside a small leather pack I purchased off a hot dusty street in the shadow of the Acropolis in Athens back in 2001.  I’m very pleased now that I can complete a painting with just those essential elements in a light pack about 1/3 the size of a popular school backpack.

3. I’m happy to complete a plein air 9 x 12″ painting in under two hours now.  I’m still working on speed, accuracy and painting more directly.

4. I enjoy the kinship and communion I feel with Andrew Wyeth, who left his home around 8:30 every morning, returned around 5:00 and laid out a body of work he had completed in the field.  If I complete one painting in the field, then I’m very happy and satisfied.

5. Having worked exclusively in landscape settings over the years, I had grown fearful of close up still life studies and the discipline they seem to require.  I’m happy now to have settled into that genre, outside my comfort zone.  I have now done two watercolor drybrush studies and one pencil drawing of this pail and pine cones.

6. I save the best for last–at any point of my painting activity, all I had to do was look up to see my beautiful wife and soul mate, Sandi Jones, riding Andante and leading him over jumps out in the arena.  I cannot explain the depth of satisfaction that I feel when working en plein air and having her nearby.  Our journey to and from this location at Lyndon Acres is always satisfying, and the communion I feel with her as I paint goes too deep for words.

I hope I will find the technology to blog from Lake Tahoe.  Unfortunately, I still do not have a laptop with Internet access.  And I’m not sure if I’ll have computer access in the lodgings where I’ll be staying the next several days.  If I don’t blog from California, then I’ll certainly catch up the blog when I return home next week.

Thanks for reading.

Watercolor Thicket, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010

Watercolor Thicket in the Evening

My alternative 9 x 12″ watercolor of the train structure took a lousy turn.  Composition collapsed.   Don’t have the courage to show it, and wonder now if it can be rescued.  Probably will lay it aside a few days minimum.  Did not get to paint yet today–helped an artist friend from Boston move into his new apartment here in Arlington, Texas.  Pretty exhausted now, having run several necessary errands after the furniture hauling.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be rested enough for a fresh start.

At any rate, from my archives now I pull this old watercolor from 1988–one of my first attempts at using Winsor & Newton  masking fluid, so I could make the tree limbs and leaves of a thicket stand out white against a night sky.  Also an early attempt at dry brush on the ground cover.

Thanks for looking . . .

A Little More Accomplished on Railroad Site, February 26, 2010

February 26, 2010

Abandoned Railroad Facility

I cannot believe I posted such a bad, out-of-focus photograph earlier today (just after midnight–maybe that had something to do with it!).  At any rate, I worked some more on this watercolor, and this time managed a more focused, balanced shot of it.  Everything from the prior post applies here.  I’m still loving it, enjoying the exploration of color, and hope it turns out O.K.

I started another, smaller composition of this same watercolor today as well (a 9 x 12″) and inserted a green 3-bay hopper partially emerged from the building.  The sky on the smaller one is much more wintery (like today’s sky was).  I’ll post it when there is more to show (maybe later today/tonight).

Thank you for reading.

Quick Draw, February 4, 2010

February 4, 2010

Waxahachie, Texas--a Quick Draw event

The 2009 “Paint Historic Waxahachie” event (a plein air 8-day experience) kicked off on a Saturday morning at the courthouse square.  Over fifty painters had registered for the Quick Draw phenomenon–a 90-minute time limit to complete a painting on the courthouse lawn of any scene visible from that location.  I had arrived the afternoon before and spent 2-3 hours doing my first painting in plein air, choosing the opposite side of the courthouse from this scene posted.

The morning was beautiful, sunny and cool.  Throngs were all over the downtown area.  I arrived about an hour early so I could park, unload, and go look for a spot under the trees.  Every angle of vision was so attractive that I must have walked the perimeter of the square four or five times.  When my wife called on the cell phone, I laughingly told her I must look like a dog nosing around for a place to pee, I had poked around the place for so long.

Finally I chose this location.  When the contest began, I immediately wondered how I was going to get a wet watercolor composition to “behave” so that I could call it “finished” in 90 minutes.  But I stuck to it.  The funny thing was–onlookers kept coming around and engaging all of us in conversation, and it was great conversation.  But I probably worked less than an hour on it for all the talking I did.  But it was fun, and we all laughed over the time constraints and the “social networking.”

When the deadline arrived, I looked at this piece, concluded that it was crap, and submitted a starting bid of $20 (the rules to the contest stated that all Fast Draw entries would be auctioned at the courthouse steps).  What a crowd!  Photographers crowded around, taking photos of the scores of paintings lining the sidewalks and steps, drying in the sun.  I went ahead and photographed my own painting as it lay in the grass, before putting it out for bid.   Surprisingly, this watercolor fetched $75 in the bidding.

I’m looking forward to the event coming up again in June.  Hopefully I won’t be as nervous, having done it once already.  And maybe I’ll paint instead of talk!

Lavender Evening, February 2, 2010

February 2, 2010

Lavender Evening

I’m posting one of my early works (1988), where I experimented with light prismacolor highlighting dark tree branches.  I was fascinated one winter evening as the sky turned lavender, the breezes stirred, and the air was filled with debris.  So I tried some splatter technique to fill the sky and atmosphere with that sensation.  I guess I can chalk this up to one of my early “mood” watercolor sketches, but the experiments would pay off in later works.

Old Towne Burleson, Texas January 13, 2010

January 13, 2010

Old Towne Burleson, Texas

I would have identified this as my first plein air watercolor, but as it turned out I only sketched in the composition and laid in a few basic washes, and then got cold feet.  It was my first attempt to paint on location, and I was feeling pretty insecure with it.  Moreover, I had arrived early in the morning when there was an empty parking lot between this subject and me.  By and by, as cars began to fill the lot, the bottom third of the composition was no longer visible to me.  I had taken a picture earlier with my digital camera, so I took it home, and returned to this piece weeks later, completing it in my studio.

I usually make many compositional changes as I put my watercolor together, rather than copying my subject in toto. The only change I made here was the dark red building–the actual one was metal and just blended in with the rest of the composition.  I needed to put an accent somewhere to give this some kind of pop.  This location is in Burleson, Texas, at 108 S. Main Street.  There is a cute renovated business district there that includes Babes (fried chicken), J. J. Mocha’s, gift shops and other fine restaurants.  I was seated beneath the awning of a now-defunct Barbecue place, and looking east toward I-35.

I never was completely satisfied with the outcome of this.  However, I did sell it at the very next art festival in which I participated, so I guess someone liked it.  At any rate, the experience confirmed for me that I did want to get used to painting on location.  And I did about two weeks later at the “Paint Historic Waxahachie” Plein Air event.  So, as it turns out, this watercolor marks an important place in my personal history and development.  One more note–this was the first watercolor where I made use of my new Winsor & Newton watercolor field box, a complete watercolor kit and palette that fits in the palm of my hand.  That remains one of the finest tools I have ever purchased in the way of art supplies.  I wish I had known of it ten years ago.