6 (Surprising!) Ways Denise Got her Groove Back…with Knives

My snazzy, talented and oh-so-GROOVY workshop classmates:

Again, if you haven’t read my post on how I lost my groove, it might help to read it first, because it explains why these things I’m about to tell you helped me. (You might also want to see my post about how I got the BRUSH part of my groove back.)

Here are the 6 Surprises I came away with from the KNIFE side of my workshop experience:

1. I have always LOVED the fact that no solvents or mediums are needed when painting with knives; the paint is used full strength, straight from the tube. But Leslie blocks in her paintings with full-strength paint from the very start of her paintings! I had never done that. I had always brushed on mineral-spirits-thinned paint first; then started in with my knives. Doing it Leslie’s way saves me one stinky step!!!

Leslie starting her painting.

2 .  Leslie uses water-soluble oil paints (yes, there actually is such a thing!). Read about them here. I had heard of them over the years and, in fact, I’d had a few tubes of them for years but had never known how to use them nor how they differ from regular oil paints. Answer: you use them interchangeably, and along with, regular oil paints. One of the benefits is that the paints don’t have that oil-paint smell that permeates a room. And they clean up with soap and water, rather than with solvents. One more stinky step eliminated!!!

3. Leslie premixes her paints on her palette. At first I thought I’d never bother with this, but I have already seen myself evolving into doing a bit of premixing. Never say never, right?

Leslie's palette of pre-mixed colors.

4. I already had several painting knives, but I ordered the knives that Leslie wanted for the class (3 of the first 4 on the left). I wanted to make sure I had the right sizes for painting small, which was going to be a new experience for me. When the knives came, I was happy that they were thin and flexible. I knew that my flexible ones were the most maneuverable and, hence, the ones I used the most. I also discovered that my favorites are the teardrop shape with a pointy tip.

3 of these were bought for the class.

5. Before this workshop, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would need to start painting with acrylics. So, I was poised to spend loads of money on a new batch of paints: namely, Golden Open acrylics, because they “feel” and act like oils. I would probably still ruin lots of brushes, probably even more of them, but at least I wouldn’t need to use solvents anymore. Or fill the house with the smell of linseed-oil based paints. I’m so happy that I can stay with oils now!!!

6. Leslie and Dreama both sign their paintings by “drawing” their signatures into their paintings. They each grab a pointy utensil (Dreama uses a rubber tool; Leslie uses a wooden skewer) and sign into the wet paint. This is so fabulous! It’s pretty much impossible to sign a dried knife painting, over all the hills and valleys and ridges of paint. I’ve always said that it takes me as long to sign my paintings as it took to paint them! Now, if I can just remember to do this while the painting is still wet.

One of Leslie’s thought gems that hit home with me was when she reminded us to enjoy the process. “If you pre-plan your painting, you’ll never get there. You’ll worry and fret and try to paint it now the way you envision it as the final painting.” She is right on.

So, overall, I feel like I’ve been launched into the stratosphere with my art. The planets have aligned. I feel free! The shackles have been removed. I’m Michael Jordan with a brush!

Onward and upward – Buzz Lightyear, eat your heart out! Or hold on tight.

What am I forgetting? What other things make the whole painting experience easy and fun and streamlined? And un-smelly?

Paint Green!

This will be my “Paint the Color Green” entry. I have things to say about the Earth-safety type green, but that will be on a later post. For now, I want to talk about the difficulty/fear, that many people have of painting the color green. I admit, I was really bad at it when I first started in watercolors. I had no clue what to do, and it was always a hit or miss (usually miss) proposition. Either I headed straight for my Sap Green or my Viridian. Sap Green was usually pretty good, but the Viridian was almost always disastrous.

What finally helped me was – well, actually, there were two things. One, I found watercolor artist Jeanne Dobie‘s fabulous book Making Color Sing.  On page 25 she had a much-needed chart for mixing greens. Two, I decided to make an exercise of painting a “green” painting. I looked out our sunroom windows and painted all the greens I saw. To this day, I still call this my “green painting.”

My Green Painting, watercolor by Denise Bellon West

That being said, it wasn’t until I discovered Daniel Smith‘s Quinachrodone Gold (I’ll call it QG) that I finally found true happiness. You cannot go wrong mixing greens once you have this color. Here’s a quote from Danial Smith’s website:

Everyone’s favorite, Quinacridone Gold replaces Raw Sienna and adds versatility with its glazing and mixing capabilities. It is an excellent low-staining golden yellow pigment that can enhance any mixture.

Try glazing an old “failure” with Quinacridone Gold to begin a rescue operation.

Highly durable and extremely transparent, all the Quinacridone colors excel in vivid clarity and intensity.

It can be mixed with any of the blues with gorgeous results, resembling real-life greens. But it really shines when added to greens, those greens that were never quite right on their own. Mixed with Veridian, that difficult color, it finally looks realistic. My favorite blue, Phthalo Blue, when mixed with QG, becomes a vivid, WOW green!

A friend told me a couple of years ago that there is a shortage of Quin Gold now, because of those new metallic orange-y colored cars that are so popular. I think they have caught up with the demand now. Give it a try and let me know how you like it.

New Set of Brushes – No Problem

A friend was commenting recently that she desperately needed a new set of paint brushes. She was dreading the huge cost. I told her that I have all new brushes and it didn’t cost me much at all. Here’s my trick:

Look in the Sunday paper for the crafts-store ads – Hobby Lobby, Michaels, etc. At least here in the Denver area, these places have a 40% off coupon for one regularly priced item every week. I take my coupon to the store and buy the most expensive brush that I need. The next week I do the same thing, and so on and so on. Before long, I have a brand-new set of brushes for very little money!

Yesterday’s paper here in Denver had a 50% off coupon for Michael’s.  Woohoo! I might buy a big canvas this time.

Oil Paints, Staying Soft

It was finally warm enough yesterday to open windows and ventilate my studio while I worked on an oil painting. I opened my stay-at-home oil palette (see my January 30, 2008 blog entry to see my oil palette) and poured off the water. It had been sitting there unused for several months, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Pleasant surprise. There was only a thin skin on each of the paints, but it was very soft and very easy to remove. And, like I say, it was thin!

Normally, before I got the brainy idea to cover my oil paints with water after each painting session (I now do this even if it’s just overnight), I would come back and find that my paints got a little thicker each time. And if I left them sit for a couple of days they would start to get a skin on them. If I left them for a week, there was a thick skin on most of the paints that I had to remove, and then I had very little wet paint left from my original blob. I wasted so much paint!

Website Almost, Almost Finished

Now that my website is almost finished, I can continue with a feature that I started a couple of years ago, before my website and blog were deleted by my previous web designer. I had started to talk about some of my paintings – how I did them, what my thinking was, etc. If there are any of my paintings that you’d like to have explained, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just pick some at random.

Since spring is finally here, I’ll start with my painting Spring Fling, originally titled “In Celebration of Drips.”
Copyright Denise Bellon West

This was done on a full-size sheet of Arches 140-pound watercolor paper. I wet the entire sheet first with fresh water, using a brush. Working horizontally, I laid in light washes of turquoise, then gold, then pink.

I let that dry, and then I wet the paper again. This time I started laying paint on vertically. I mixed my colors with lots of pigment (not much water) and ran them down the paper in stem-type motions. When I did the last one, on the right side, I finished it with a horizontal stroke across the bottom, toward the left. This gave all the other paints a place to flow. I had the painting on an easel, so everything wanted to flow down.

Once all of that dried, and working now on dry paper, I took some more paint and a fairly dry brush and painted on some stylized flowers from my imagination. I put extra water on the ends of my stems and let them drip off the page.

Toning Your Canvas

I was asked what it means to tone my canvas and why I do it. The mechanics of toning a canvas are to take some paint and mix it with huge amounts of paint thinner, and then brush it all over your canvas. This should be very thin. In fact, I often take a paper towel and wipe the entire canvas to make sure that there is no thickness of paint when I’m done. Now, the why:

There are two reasons that I do it: 1) it takes the fear out of starting a painting on a new, stark-white canvas; and 2) it leaves a color that will show through if your paint doesn’t entirely cover the canvas in spots. I sometimes deliberately leave holes in my paint so that the “underpainting” will show through. This unifies the painting, visually.

Then the question arises, “What color should the underpainting be?” Well, it’s mainly personal preference. However, here are things I think about when I am deciding what color to use.

- What is the overall color or “feel” that I want to emit from my painting when I’m finished?

- What is a color that would look good if it accidentally showed through in my painting?

- What color would look cool if I deliberately left flecks of it showing throughout my painting?

Here’s one where I toned my canvas with a pink underpainting and let the pink show throughout the painting:

Copyright Denise Bellon West

Sometimes the color I choose is a neutral cool or warm color. Sometimes it’s a contrast color. For landscapes, I have often used a yellow ochre wash, with maybe a tint of another color here and there.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what color you choose. Try a color that makes you feel good inside!

Softening Edges

My “Walking Midnight” oil painting is finished, but… The one thing I still want to do is soften some edges. I took it downtown with me last week and thought I’d accomplish that by painting a gray on the edges of my horse, thereby creating a soft transition. Wrong. I suppose that would work if I kept adding lighter and lighter grays until I reached the “edge” of the next color, but I didn’t feel like it.

There’s one other thing I might try, if I’m still feeling rebellious and don’t want to do it the right way yet. I can “drag” a new brushload of some of the dark color over the light, or vice versa, so that it skips over and doesn’t make a solid line. That will result in a soft, scattered edge, but I don’t think it will look as nice.

In the end, I’m probably going to have to break down and do what I know works: repaint both colors with fresh paint, and then take a clean brush and sort of “fan” over them lightly where they meet.

And next time, I’ll remember to do it while the painting is still wet! Any other ideas?

Those Darn Digital Memory Cards

I downloaded my camera pictures last week and then tried to take more pictures that afternoon. My camera said, “Card not usable.” It made me glad that I had just downloaded my pictures…

It reminded me of a bad experience I had last year. I had a week-long painting trip with friends in Hawaii, during which I took gobs and gobs of pictures. From that trip, I went straight to St. George, Utah, to see the Parade of Homes (out of this world fabulous!), then a week in Sedona. Gobs and gobs and gobs more pictures. Oh, I didn’t mention that the pictures I wanted most of all were from Hawaii, where I met Jim Nabors and also Lord Waterford from Ireland.

Although I had brought all my downloading cords, I was having so much fun on my trips that I never got around to downloading my card. But, hey, it was a brand new 1-gig card, so no worries, right? I looked at the pictures on my camera when I got home, then started the download. Long story short, the download never happened. The card was corrupted somehow and I lost all of my pictures…

Moral of the story: ALWAYS download your pictures every 200 to 300 pictures (I had well over a thousand in all!).

Mega Tubes of Oil Paint!

I paint big, so I need lots of paint. I go through tubes like crazy, so I buy my paint in caulk tubes. Caulk tubes! I look like a construction dude when I’m loading my palette, caulk gun in hand. But, hey, it saves time and money, and the paints stay fresher longer. I buy my paints from Triangle Coatings and have been using them for years. Try it out, it’s good stuff!

Triangle Coatings’ Oil Paints

Keep Your Oil Paints Soft Indefinitely

I wrote about this last year, but since it was deleted I will repeat. I was tired of having my paints dry up on my palette between painting sessions, so I devised a system that works beautifully for me. Using this system, I left my paints for a month last year, and they were still fresh when I returned!

In a nutshell, here’s my system. I bought a cheap plastic bead-storage case at the hobby store (about $2 at Hobby Lobby or Michael’s). I filled the wells with my oil paints, and this became my new “palette.” Now, when I’m done painting for the day, I cover each well of paint with water. The oil and water don’t mix, so the water stays on top and provides a barrier to the air. When I’m ready to paint again, I simply pour off the water and start to paint. Super easy! Here’s what it looks like:

Bead Case for Oil Palette

Bead Case for Oil Palette

Just flip the lid back while you paint.

Bead Case for Oil Palette

If just taking my paints out for the day I would skip the water, because these cases are not watertight (that’s my invention that I’m hereby claiming the rights to!).