First cube paintings

Finally, the first paintings of the cubes. This exercise was started with the cutting of the wood for the cubes on the 29th March… all I can say is that college, entries for three exhibitions, umpteen attendances at life drawing sessions and just plain life got in the way.
I’m on holidays again now. I have a month. I have plans…

The first painting is the mid grey (value 5 on the Munsell scale). I figured this would be the easiest and therefore number one. I just measured each tone against my Munsell chips and painted what was there. A slightly wonky cube but it is the first and these are exercises not masterpieces.

Grey cube

Grey cube

Next the black cube. A little more difficult because the dark cloth is making the cast shadow very dark. Cast shadows always depend on surface they are on NOT the object doing the casting.

The shadow side of the black cube is darker than the cast shadow – black in shadow vs dark grey in cast shadow – but when I measure with my Munsell chips the black chip is a good match for the cast shadow. Obviously I’m not going to be able to match the dark side of the cube. Problem? Not really, that’s what these exercises are about – measuring what’s there and then mapping that to the available paint. It’s the relationship between the tones not the tones themselves.

So I figure I have two ways to paint this – use the black for both the cast shadow and the shadow side of the cube since they’re so close – or use the black for the darker one and the next value up for the others to preserve the relationship.

I painted both versions. The one shown here is the first option: paint both black. I was dubious as to whether this would give a convincing cube on a dark grey cloth. I think it worked.

Black cube, oil on panel

Black cube

The next exercise was the white cube which had similar issues to the black one but at the other end of the scale. The light side of the cube looked lighter than my white chip. There was also a white highlight on the top edge of the light side that looked even lighter.

Two options again. My first version uses white for the light highlight on the edge and then my next lightest value – N9 in Munsell notation – for the light side. The other tones are as measured with the chips but painted one shade darker to compensate for the N9 on the light side. Amazingly it still looks like a white cube even though none of the sides are actually painted with white paint.

White cube

White cube 1

The second white cube is done differently. This time I have ignored the highlight and painted the lightest side with the white. The effect is still a white cube but it looks like it’s catching a brighter reflection. You can tell that’s Australian sun shining on that cube – definitely an effect I have a use for!

White cube 2

White cube 2

That’s it for today…

Munsell greys

I’ve started painting the still lives of the cubes. Just the cubes at this stage – the spheres and cones can wait until I better understand what I’m about. While I had some left over paint I also made these little chips to use for measuring.

Munsell Student book

It’s an improved version of an exercise suggested in the Munsell Student Set – theirs call for painted cardboard – these are MDF. I didn’t like the cardboard idea from the beginning – too easy to lose one.

I had made a chart on a small piece of masonite – it was a bit cumbersome to use. Paul at Learning to See made what he called dog tags – MDF with the hole for viewing – I have blatantly copied… (I’m really, really hoping that I can contribute something new to this experiment instead of just tagging along). His are still nicer than mine. I’m struggling to get the paint smooth.

Munsell chart with chips

Munsell chart with chips

Life drawing – a struggle

Life drawing portrait sketch

Life drawing portrait sketch

This week’s effort at life drawing group showed little improvement in my figures but yet again an acceptable portrait sketch. I even managed a likeness. Obviously I have no photo to show to prove that since cameras are a no-no. You’ll have to take my word for it.

I have to wonder about this, why faces are fine but I still struggle with everything else. I’ve drawn more faces. Maybe. I’ve certainly seen more faces than unclothed bodies. Absolutely. Measuring. Anatomy study – or the lack thereof. I really do think that is where the problem lies.

I’ve read and copied the drawings in Bridgman’s Life Drawing. I started working through Loomis’ Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth during the last holiday break. I should finish that. I also have Stephen Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist on the shelf. Maybe I need to read it again? The truth is the books don’t seem to be helping that much.

Thinking about it, I realise that I’ve never actually had any instruction in anatomy or drawing for that matter. Yes I’ve been in art college for two years. Drawing though isn’t actually taught. We have a class called Formal Drawing which entails a still life, or on three occasions per semester a model, and we just draw. No instruction.

We were encouraged to buy a book on anatomy. With no suggested title, I (in my utter ignorance) looking over the offerings at Borders chose Dynamic Anatomy by Burne Hogarth. Big mistake. It has inspiring drawings but no instruction. It’s much too stylised for a beginner. The teacher wasn’t offering any praise for my choice, but still no indication as to what would be better. How would I know? I wasn’t even sure how to use it. Copy the drawings?

Under guidance from internet friends (who really can draw…) I did eventually end up with the Stephen Peck book, which is the one to get. Plus during this past year I have bought or borrowed Bridgman, Loomis, Vanderpoel and absolutely everything from the library on the topic. And for the most part read them carefully. And copied the drawings. Something is still not sinking in. What to do? More books isn’t the answer.

Maybe I need to find a teacher. When? I’m already studying full time, spending 16 hours a week commuting, caring for a couple of kids and a small farm. What do I do?


Munsell madness

Munsell cubes

Munsell cubes, cones and spheres

My UK friend Paul Foxton is working through the tonal experiments too. Excep

t he’s doing a much better job of it than I am. If you want to know more about it you can check my archives to see what I’m doing. Or even better check out Paul’s blog.

Paul recently put up a post showing the cubes and spheres he made for the exercises. I couldn’t resist sending a photo of mine.

And being something of a pedantic fool I had decided that cubes and spheres alone wouldn’t make a balanced composition when it came time to paint the pictures. So, I found some styrofoam cones at a craft store and painted those in the Munsell greys too, just to round it out. Think about it… Since when should composition matter in an exercise in painting tonal values? I figured Paul would get the joke.

I think he did, ‘cos next thing I find he wants to put it on his website and share my lunacy with the world. Is that OK with me? Fine, but I’d better’ fess up here first… so here you have it: Munsell madness.


Sheep linocut

Another linocut – this time one of my sheepish friends. He’s named Victa – after an Australian brand of lawnmowers – his only duty in life is to keep the grass down a bit, which he actually finds to be a bit of a chore since he prefers roses. My roses.

Victa, 30cm x 30, Graphic Supplies oil-based ink on Stonehenge paper


Life – drawing in colour

I’m hoping for a little fun at life drawing this week. I work mostly in pencil sometimes charcoal. I quite like the woodless graphite pencils too – except I dropped my new one. Oops. Warning: those things are really brittle and once broken into small pieces are useless.

This week I’ll be trying some Faber Castell Polychromos pastels. They’re harder than a normal pastel but not really hard like I had imagined. More like a Conte crayon with colour. Lots of colour. A whole rack of colour. I didn’t buy a box but rather went through the rack and selected ten more muted colours: ochres, pinks and grey blues and green. The sort of colours I imagined I would use for a life drawing. Then bought a cheap little plastic box to keep them organised and voila – a beginning.

Polychromos pastels in a plastic box

Polychromos pastels

Why so good you ask? Alright you didn’t ask but this is my blog so I’m going to tell you anyway. Most sane people don’t get so excited over a few fairly dull pastels.

One of the problems I have with colour is that I love the bright colours but don’t actually use them. I mean I have a veritable box full of lovely media like Pitt pens, pastel pencils, watercolour pencils and even a small box of soft pastels. Some I chose myself, others were gifts. All collected up over time. Mostly untouched. I really love the colours but when it comes down to it I don’t use them.

Time and again I take something different along to Life Drawing but reach for the charcoal or the stumps of my Conte pencils instead. Dull colours like black, grey or sanguine. What gives? It’s happened too many times to be forgetfulness. I think. I can’t remember.

I don’t think I’m afraid of colour. Not with sculpture or paint anyway. Just drawing. I thought about it and figured that maybe everything I have is just too bright. Too unlife-life. So on the recommendation of a friend I headed off to the art shop (any excuse) to look at Polychromos. This time, I showed great restraint and chose only the more muted colours. Just ten. Enough to experiment, not too many to get scary.

I can hardly wait until Life Drawing this week. I think I’m on to something.


Those presky greys

The next step in my tonal exercises was to paint the cubes in the greys. I also needed to make a chart that I could hold up to the still life setup to measure the tonal values.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to match the greys on the grey scale. Mixing the paints took hours even then I wasn’t happy with them. I’ve left the cubes to dry – the oils are going to take a few days – they look like they’ll need a second coat anyway.

The chart wasn’t any easier. I mixed another set of greys and tried again. Still not happy. I kept going on this exercise until I felt competent. It has taken weeks.

The upside is that I can now mix those greys in about 45 minutes!

Grey scale

Another problem came up with the grey scale I was using. The more I worked with it the more I was convinced that it too geared to the light end – the differences between the lightest colours was too subtle compared to the mid tones.

I had been dithering for weeks about whether to send away for the Munsell Student Set. This issue did it. I knew the Student Set had a value scale, I also knew that the whole basis for the Munsell Theory was value steps that are spaced visually even. It’s scientifically done and tested. In short a scale I could trust. I sent away for it.

When the Munsell set arrived I started over. More charts. The one here is the latest. Not very elegant but the greys are good.

And I’ve finally put the second coat of paint on those cubes, sphere and cones.

Rules to exhibit by…

Maquette for artist's book

Maquette for artist’s book

I recently entered some of my art in the WA Printmaker’s Association Annual Awards. Not that I was expecting any awards since I was a brand new member without a clue, but there was the thought that the best way to learn about exhibiting in the real world would be to submit something and see what happened. What I got was a crash course in what not to do…

When I visited the exhibition I couldn’t find my prints. Why? Because they were hidden down the back, around the corner, in the dark. Why? Because they were printed on cartridge paper. Oops… I was taken quietly aside by several members, on both occasions I was near the place and lectured about paper. I was told quietly that they were only included at all because the images were so strong. At least that’s something. Still embarrassing.

Rule No.1 Cartridge paper isn’t good enough for the real world.

The second mistake I made was submitting three prints as a triptych rather than individuals. I thought this would mean they would be hung side by side. Wrong this means they were all put in one extra long frame, one above the other, like a totem pole. Yuk. Probably helped them get hidden.

Rule No. 2 Ask how things are done.

The other piece I submitted was an artist’s book. It wasn’t hidden down the back but had a lovely plinth with a perspex box over the top. Wow. It would have looked wonderful, except it was the wrong way up. The person looking after the exhibition couldn’t help me change it – we couldn’t get the lid off. Apparently I should have submitted a diagram showing what it should look like. At least it wasn’t cartridge paper…

Rule No. 3 Assume nothing. Document and label carefully.

My last faux pas (that I know of…) was the catalogue. The association decided during the exhibition to put together a photo catalogue and make it available on CD. An email went out requesting photos. How on earth? My stuff was in the exhibition several hours away. Not fancying the drive – I remembered I had other copies of the prints and a maquette of the book. Beaut. Unfortunately my photos weren’t very good. Especially after emailing them. Oops. Someone rescued me (or rather they wanted their CD to look good) and re-shot my stuff for me…

Rule No. 4. Take decent photos with good lighting. No snapshots.


Painting Big

A colourful new look to the rainwater tank at a Chidlow park in Western Australia



A colourful new look to the rainwater tank at a Chidlow park in Western Australia

A fellow artist needed an extra brush or two this week – when her commission to paint a mural on a water tank coincided with recovering from foot surgery.

Never one to miss a bit of fun, I volunteered with no idea that the project was going to take the best part of a week or that the acrylic paints would come in litre tins rather than my customary tubes or pots.

I needed a long soak for the aching muscles each night and plenty of band aides for the brush holding blisters – goodness knows how she kept it up! My previous mural painting exploits were years ago and indoor. Nothing like this.

We ended up with a picture in the local newspaper and an article in the local arts centre magazine. Which is about where the whole thing became unstuck.

Unstuck? Publicity is good? Yes? Well sometimes. Most of the article focussed on the fellow artist, which is as it should be. After all, it was her project. Then somewhere in the middle of it there’s this “The project provided an opportunity for the fellow artist to mentor Amanda in the process of creating a public art… bla bla.” Now I don’t know where that came from, or why. What I do know is that I didn’t sign up for mentoring. Grrr…

At least the painting part was fun. What did I learn? Never trust what gets said to reporters out of ear shot.

Greyscales and cubes

As a first step toward getting control of tonal values I’ve swapped the white ceramic platter I’ve been using as a palette for a piece of glass. Under it there’s a sheet of masonite cut to the same size and painted mid grey. To be absolutely sure the grey was correct I used Liquidtex Grey No.5. Also sitting under the glass is a greyscale – showing the values from white to black. What next?

Jeffrey Freedner suggested I buy or make ten wooden cubes and spheres and paint them from white through the grey scales to black, then paint small still lives of them. This exercise was recommended by Graydon Parrish and he reckons it is a great exercise to do no matter what level you are at.

Another similar idea was to find objects around the house to represent the same simple shapes: cube, sphere, cone, cylinder. Then set them up, separately and together, with a good strong light source at a 45-degree angle. Look for the value steps in the objects and draw them. This suggestion looked easier because it would be easier than trying to make the wooden cubes and spheres.

In fact I’m going to do all of the above…


Wooden cubes ready for painting

The styrofoam spheres and cones came from the craft store. Cones? Why cones? Well I had this thought that if I’m painting still lives of these things then a little attention to composition wouldn’t hurt. Three items grouped would work. (Since when should composition matter in a tonal exercise… nuts!)

Now for the gesso.