Drawing board upgrade

Inspired by the pinboard on the wall, I upgraded my drawing board by gluing a piece of pinboard on it. There will be no more bulldog clips to get in the way of the painting at this easel!

drawing board using pins instead of clips

The softboard/firebreboard/whatever glues down with PVA and can be cut with a Stanley knife. I glued first, weighed it down with books overnight and trimmed it once fully dry. A quick sanding of the edges to tidy up. No more tape, blutack or bulldog clips and it’s a very nice surface under both paper and unstretched canvas. (And I can still turn it around and use the MDF side anyway.)

I’m attaching canvas or paper with the simplest dressmaking pins, like so, because I paint right in around them.

drawing board pins closeup

Painting Diana in different light

Another go at the plaster cast. Bigger. And with different lighting. It is all in the light – artists don’t paint objects, we paint effect of the light on objects. Just saying.  (Without light there would be no objects anyway!)

paint Diana plaster bust in the light
Diana in the light, oil on panel, 40x30cm

Charcoal and pinboard

A couple of things to see here – one is that Diana is still hanging around the easel – this time getting more expressive with a bit of charcoal.

The other is the pinboard. It’s a huge piece, salvaged from an office, that is now attached to the studio wall. Lately, I’ve been painting studies and exercises on unstretched canvas because it’s easier to store in a folio than a panel. (No big deal to mount on panel later if I wanted to frame them anway.) Another advantage with this pinboard is that I can stick them on the pinboard and see all the work from the current project together.

charcoal drawings on studio pinboard

Painting Diana again

Painting of Diana plaster bust
Diana turning from the light, oil on canvas, 30x20cm

Sorry about the glare. Black paint is often difficult to photograph. Wet black oil paint is impossible… a small painting of a favourite object, a plaster bust of Diana, set up against a dark fabric to show off her profile. A painting is never quite that simple, of course.

This plaster cast of Diana arrived in the studio with Apollo. I saw them both in a Perth curio shop, just north of the old William Street horseshow bridge back in the days when it was a one way street going into the city. I was on a bus and, happily for me, sitting on the right side  to be able to see them in the shop window when we stopped at the lights. It seemed a very long way to the next stop… I ran back to the shop to peer through the glass, fingers crossed, to see if could afford what it said on the price tag. I couldn’t, but I bought them anyway. Whatever it was that I had come to the city for that day could wait. (And there are so many ways to prepare pasta… ) I would be painting portaits of this pair long after the family stopped glaring at me for my inconsiderate squandering of the grocery allotment. And I have, here she is again.


Home made plywood palette

I took a little time off painting to make something. This is shaped to fit me and be both bigger and lighter than anything I could buy (that I could afford, anyway). I had forgotten how much I enjoy making. See, all that time studying sculpture wasn’t totally wasted.

homemade plywood palette
Home made palette

It’s made from two pieces of 3ply laminated together to prevent it warping, so it should last a long time (or until I can find even thinner plywood to make an even lighter one.) The most difficult part was making a cardboard template that felt just right. Then cutting and sanding to make sure there are no sharp edges. I gave mine a coating of linseed oil to get it started but that isn’t strictly necessary because it will develop a patina from the oil paints as it is used. It is almost dry… I am feeling like a kid on Xmas eve. Kudos to Ron Francis for the instructions.

My first go with it felt strange but good. Untethered from my the glass tabletop palette, plus no underdrawing and no pre-mixed colours – such unaccustomed freedom. All I need now is a beret.

Painting of a plaster bust
Diana, oil on unstretched canvas, 30x40cm

Apollo Dorian’s values #2

Still not quite convinced by the calculated values for the bevelled cube I did the only sensible thing I could think of and made some to test. (Very simple, just bits of wood cut to shape with a bandsaw and painted with acrylics.)

Then painted a picture of them under ordinary studio light taking care to match the values I was seeing:

Painted blocks exercise using Apollo Dorian values
Bevelled cube study in acrylics

It doesn’t work with Apollo’s values because I am seeing the effect of two light sources (the overhead light which lights my easel plus the one set up for the subject.) My mistake. Tried again with a shadow box to exclude the top light.

Painting study of cubes in controlled light
Bevelled cube studies in controlled light

I actually tried many lights and setups but could not recreate Dorian’s values for light and shade. The darkest I could get the white in shadow was V7 – a long way short of his V4.

Also the value for the light side of the black cube measured at V4. I found it impossible to replicate the rule-of-thumb taught everywhere that “a black cube in the light is the same value as a white cube in shadow”.

This exercise for me has highlighted the value (couldn’t resist the pun) of actually recreating examples rather than merely accepting something read in a book. Any book.

Apollo Dorian’s values

It is too stinking hot to paint outside or in the studio during the day so I’ve begun a study project that I can do using my plein air kit and small panels in bad light. (The coolest rooms in the house have the worst light…) One gets very spoiled working outside where the light on panel and subject is either plentiful or controllable.

Apollo Dorian’s book Values for Pictures Worth a Thousand Words is a step by step explanation of American teacher Frank J. Reilly’s lessons. (Another great resource for that is John Ennis’ website The Reilly Papers.) It’s all about knowing how to manipulate values to express a lighting situation when painting realistically from imagination. Very useful for days like this when it 47°C outside (and even hotter in the shed studio).

I have read Apollo’s book several times but I confess that reading for me is not the same as doing, so for the next month I’m going to paint his examples myself. I expect in painting them, with my own materials and limitations, to get a more useful outcome than merely nodding at the page and thinking I got it.

I can do these in poor light because I am painting the values Apollo specifies with the Munsell neutrals I have already mixed and stored in syringes. Kept in the fridge like this they last just fine. (This an old pic from an earlier post – the only difference since then is that I cut the block down to fit just the set of greys and use the other bit for other colours).

Storing oil paint in syringes

Step one is some bevelled cubes. Painted according to this diagram from the book:


Apollo Dorian painting exercise

Painted, it looks like this. Not convincing at all. I realised that what I took to be values for a plane 45° to the light is actually intended to be a suggested halftone value. The half-tone on a sphere would only be this dark for a tiny band close to the terminator. The point would have been clearer if the diagram showed a sphere rather than a bevelled cube! (My mistake, but that’s why I am doing this.)

Keen to know what that plane should be I asked Ron Francis (the modern master of painting reality from imagination). He agreed “Even without our eyes adjusting the brightness, the amount of radiated energy would be close to 71%, (value 7.1), and if we take perceived brightness into account, it would appear to be 87% (value 8.7)”. He also pointed to the page on Dr David Brigg’s ‘Dimension of Colour’ website about the Effect of Inclination to Light. Perfect.

Painting exercise cubes with Apollo Dorian's values



No more sticky acrylic lids!

Someone asked about coping with the lids of acrylic jars that stick. It’s not surprising that they do that since the basic stuff does promise to stick anything… read about it on any jar of acrylic gel medium!

My solution is cling wrap (Saran wrap in the US?) – just a small length folded in half so it’s a couple of layers – put it over the jar then screw the lid on. Works a treat, lasts a long time.

Cling wrap to prevent sticky acrylic lids on jars of paint

Car portraits in acrylics

Two car portraits this week – both acrylic on panel – which is absolute madness in this heat: it’s 45°C outside and over 50°C in the studio. I tried to work early and late to avoid the worst but it never really cooled down. The useless air-conditioner (which sounds like a jet backed into the roof and drives me crazy) was blowing hot air over paint that was already drying too fast. There ain’t no blending on these babies.

Stress levels are running high because these are both Christmas gifts and time is running out. (One of those times when I wish I had a proper job and could just buy gift vouchers like a normal person. The recipients would probably prefer that too.) Yes, I did begin early with oils, but, yes, life got in the way, so I began again with acrylics. At least there won’t be any issue about them not being dry enough to frame… and I already made the frames.

Painting of a car

Painting of two cars

Last one in a series of car studies

This is the last of the grey car studies since this month and it’s project is over. The next step would be to take them to finished work but I am not sure what that might look like, perhaps more of a scene than individual portraits? And they are portraits. All my cars are anthromorphic. In the long hours of their painting great tales begin to be imagined about their thoughts and feelings. This one is lonely and wistful. What is significant about that river? (I do wonder if all paintings become self portraits.)

To finish up I’ll show some of my process. This one was just three layers (the first was a crazy scrub-in to get the basic shapes and positions, which I forgot to photograph, but can still be seen in the trees). The second layer, shown here, has some refinement. Decisions are beginning to be made, but it is still rough and optional.

Last one in a series of car studies - painting process

Next layer is about narrowing down the options and making up my mind where things will be. I decided the river was more important – so made it wider and shaped up the shrubbery to let more be seen. With each decision like that there are more to be made. (My personal take on Murphy’s Law is that ‘Every problem solved, creates two more!’) In this case the brightness of the water needed to be balanced by darkness. The shadow should be the darkest, but the car is already dark. So the car must go lighter, so the shadow can go darker. Etc. Etc. That’s why they take so long.

last one in a series of car studies in acrylic paint
Car study, acrylic on panel, 30 x 40cm