Friday, April 18, 2014

Making lots of starts.

"Put off finish as it takes a lifetime - wait until later to try to finish things - make a lot of starts." ~Charles Hawthorne
 Demo about simple shapes from my resent  Scottsdale Artists' School workshop.
Many times I don't get very far in my demos during workshops,
as I always encourage dialog between myself and my students.


One of the main ideas I teach in my workshops is not to be concerned with finishing any of the studies we do. It is in these little studies of the art principles that we as artists learn and grow. By doing these exercises it helps to break us out of habits that we have developed over many years which can cloud our vision.

I thought I would share a resent email I sent to a student interested in taking one of my upcoming workshops.

My response:

First off, I very much appreciate your comments and questions.

When I first set up my curriculum for workshops I decided to approach it from two different directions. The first is to insure that the students understand the basic elements of painting/art via short studies focusing on single elements--example the limited palette. This is by far the best way for artists (including myself) to learn and grow. The second is to allow students more time to work on one piece/pose, so they may take something home that gives them a sense of accomplishment--a more finished piece.

That being said, I have found that the students learn so much more through the shorter studies that I have found myself reducing the time spent on the longer paintings. I have always said, I would rather students take home knowledge than product. This knowledge always finds its way into our work and leads to faster improvement. I do encourage students to take photos of the model as we go, and so when the students get home they can use the studies and the photos in combination to make a larger, more complete painting.

As for the longer pose, I have to be flexible in workshops because of the model's availability. Sometimes we can't get the same model for the entire day. So I approach the longer sessions in one of two ways. Either one long pose on the last day (morning/afternoon)  or splitting the long poses up in two or more afternoon slots. One advantage of this approach is it allows me to teach my methods of working back into a dry painting.

Hope this helps.


 Upcoming workshops:

Fredericksburg Artists' School
May 5-9 2014
Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio
July 21-25 2014
360.637.4690 / 206.571.0442

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Painting Demo at Scottsdale Artist's School

Getting a likeness with no features

This is a demo I did during my week long workshop at the Scottsdale Artists' School, April, 2014.

As you can see I didn't get very far, but believe it or not I accomplished my goal. The main principle I wanted to impart was that features are not really what makes a portrait look like a specific person--it's the big shapes. During the week, this study was seen by many people and everyone who saw it knew instantly who the model was.

Students: So think about that the next time you're painting a face. Try to paint it with no features then step back and ask yourself if it looks like the person you're painting. 

 "...If you work on a head for a week
without indicating the features you will have learnt
something about the modeling of the head." --J.S. Sargent

My second goal was to work with temperature to turn the form because there was a very tight value range in the face. Meaning, other than the darks in the eyes and hair and the highlights on the skin there were only two values. So that gave me a lot of room to play with color variations that were in the same value range. Sorry the photo really doesn't show those little variations- it's a bit blurry.

The other major principle I discussed during this demo were edges and how powerful they can be in drawing the viewer's eye to the center of interest.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Upcoming Workshops

~Workshops for 2014~

~Scottsdale Artist School~
March 31st - April 4th

3720 North Marshall Way
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
(480) 990-1422  / (800) 333-5707

~Sign up page~

~Fredericksburg Artists' School~
May 5-9 2014
503 E. Schubert 

Fredericksburg, Texas 78624

~Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio~
July 21-25 2014

813 Edgecliff Drive
Langley, Washington 98260
360.637.4690 / 206.571.0442
~Course Gallery and Atelier~
October 10th - 13th  2014

4144 Herschel St.
Jacksonville, FL 32210
(904) 388-8205
Toll Free (877) 386-8205

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Materials and Components: Flake White- a little knowledge goes a long way?

Is painting with lead white worth it?  Is it so dangerous that we artists shouldn't use it?

I often hear students and artists propagating exaggerated and untrue information about this indispensable pigment. I feel compelled to clarify some of the misconceptions and even paranoia about one of the greatest pigments for artists of all time! With just a few simple precautions everyone can learn to enjoy the unique properties of lead white.

Before we begin, let me ask you a question.
Do you think Sargent used titanium white to paint this sumptuous portrait?

How about Rembrandt?



How about Waterhouse?
  The answer to all of the above is NO!

They used flake white, cremnitz white or perhaps flemish white.Yes folks, those are all lead whites.
 Let me throw out a few other names that used lead white as their white: Velasquez, Vermeer,  Rubens, Titan, Caravaggio, Reynolds, Repin, Courbet, Zorn, Fechin, Inness...the list is endless. In fact lead white has been used for thousands of years and its history goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. 

Now don't get me wrong, titanium white is a fantastic pigment, and is a perfectly good white to use for many artists in many situations. I simply want to point out some of the unique properties of lead white.

Note: In this article I will just use the generic term lead white to describe artist pigments such as flake white, cremnitz white, flemish white and a few other not so common names. The base pigment used in all these paints is either basic lead carbonate PW1 or lead sulfide PW3 (in flemish white). Typically cremnitz white is PW1, and flake white is PW1 mixed with some PW4(zinc oxide).  I've noticed companies will change that around sometimes and in some cases will even add titanium PW6 to their flake white. I'm sorry it has to be so confusing.

Second Note: Most titanium whites are mixed with PW4 (zinc oxide). In my opinion this is the only usable titanium. Titanium by itself is best used for painting your house.


 First off let me talk about the handling properties of lead white vs titanium white. 

 1-Titanium white is a very strong white with a high tinting strength.Coupled with its opaqueness it can over take many of the other colors you have on your palette. For example, have you ever painted a face (or other objects for that matter) and stepped back to realize it's all too chalky? What happened? Well, there are many reasons for this but the overpowering strength and opaqueness of titanium white cannot be over- looked.

2-Lead white, on the other hand, is semi-opaque and the pigment tinting strength is lower. In fact, because of the lower tinting strength you don't have to use as much of your other colors for your mixtures, especially those very expensive cadmiums and cobalts. When using lead white I find it much easier to change the color temperatures in my paint mixtures without changing the values. I also find it easier to bulk up my paint layers simply because I'm using more of the lead white in my mixtures.

3-Lead white is a warmer white than titanium. This warm softness of tone lends itself beautifully to painting flesh tones. It also has a soft creamy, yet stiff consistency which I love. It's sorta like painting with butter and it retains brush strokes easily. Works great for those impasto areas.

Note: I need to point out that flemish white PW3 has a different handling characteristic to flake PW1,PW4 or cremnitz white PW1, in that it has a long ropey consistency (kind of stringy) and has a leveling effect, meaning your brush strokes will tend to level off and lose their brush marks. It takes a little getting use to.

 4- Lead white dries faster than titanium, which might be a good characteristic for you plein air painters. 

5- Lead white has a lower oil absorption than titanium white. Which means it takes less oil to make it into an oil paint. This makes it a fantastic paint for anyone doing layers or under-painting. It fits the fat over lean rule of painting.


 Now let me address the toxic aspects of the lead pigments. First off I want to point out there are really only three ways that lead might be introduced into your system as an artist.

1. Inhalation (you breathe it in)
2. Skin absorption
3. Through your mouth, tongue, eyes and nose.

1. Inhalation: lead white is in it's most dangerous state as a dry pigment. It becomes easily inhaled into the lungs and introduced directly into the blood stream. Bad! But let me ask all the artists out there, do you use lead white dry pigment? Some do, but the vast majority do not. We use it in a premixed tube of paint. One other way it might be inhaled is through sanding. That is, sanding down the surface of your dry painting. But regardless of what pigments you've used, it would make sense to take all precautions available when doing this. There are several pigments I wouldn't want to inhale such as all the cadmiums, cobalts, cerulean and a few others. So lead white is no different.

2. Absorption through the skin: This is not generally true. The lead pigment particle is actually quite large and is not readily able to be absorbed directly through healthy skin. However, If you have open sores and cracks on your hands it would allow the particles to get down through your skin. Again, Bad! But a simple solution for that is to wear gloves. Besides, gloves aren't a bad idea in general, I use them just to make clean up easier.

3. In through your mouth, eyes and nose: Okay, my rule-- DON'T eat while painting. Don't smoke while painting, (well there's a myriad of unhealthy things going on there, maybe just don't smoke PERIOD!). And basically just be aware of where your hands and your brushes are going. I mean not in your mouth! Just simply keep your face out of the painting process. Not too hard right?! Nicoli Fechin's liberal use of his saliva in his paint led to lead poisoning and I believe it killed him. This is also the primary cause of children getting lead poisoning from flaking exterior paint on old buildings. The old (apparently sweet tasting)dry paint flakes off and falls in the soil. The children play in the dirt and as all children do, they put the dirt and things that have been in the dirt, in their mouths. Voila--lead poisoning. And we all know young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead. Anyway I digress. After you're done painting,  simply wash your hands. Then go get that snack you've been craving.


So bottom line, yes it is toxic, but I really think a little knowledge goes a long way and always supersedes any form of ignorance or paranoia. As a painter it's your responsibility to know about all of the components you're using and how they work together. Being a painter means you're also a chemist! Always look to see what pigments are in your tubes of paint regardless of the color. If they don't state what they're made of, don't buy them. 

I highly recommend a book every artists should have at his/her disposal:
The Painters Handbook by Mark David Gottsegan 

There is just so much to discuss about white that I couldn't get to all of it here. But remember, white is the most important color we artists use. It goes into nearly every mixture we make.

I've included a few links below to companies that still make lead white. I believe all the major art paint manufacturers have stopped production entirely.

Michael Harding

This site is a great resource regarding pigments and their corresponding chemical names.

Color of Art Pigment Database

If you'd like to know more about lead white, I discuss it in more depth in my workshops. And remember if we, as artists, allow lead white to be villianized,  are cadmiums next? How about cobalts or cerulean? In all of these cases there is no suitable replacement. We are allowing our hands to be tied.

My Upcoming Workshops: