Sunday, 29 May 2011

Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington was a famous war photographer and journalist. I say was because, sadly, he was killed in Libya by a mortar bomb on 20th April. He was also a filmmaker and one of his recent documentaries `Restrepo', about a US Army platoon in an especially dangerous area of Afghanistan, won awards.If you wish to learn more about him go to

Tim Hetherington

I happened to pick up this magazine when at my sisters recently. It struck me as a very evocative study which epitomizes the strain, pressures and danger that war correspondents/photographers, who do these dangerous jobs, are under.

 This was my setup in my study - a converted bedroom

I first of all I made a loose drawing,  as accurate as possible, with the help of a ruler. I did get the Variscaler out but didn't use it. This was to get the proportions right. I do portraits without them and am getting better at doing so but every little helps!

Stage 1 Eyes and Nose

As usual I started with the main features first, beginning as always with the eyes followed by the nose. My brush was the Isabey No 6 retractable. This brush, of which Jacksons sell two sizes ( I think that's all Isabey make), is very slim and pointed, much smaller in diameter than a normal 6. I find it excellent for this purpose. It is also good for small detail.

Stage 3 I completed the mouth and upper lip.

Tim Hetherington -Fontenay 16" x 12" Not

This required a different approach to my other portraits, one reason I tackled it. I used pan paints for the features and .put in some of the darker areas first with Manganese Violet (W & N PV16) heavily diluted. The basic mix then applied was my usual Cadmium Red Light/ Yellow Ochre  mix adding Cobalt or Cerulean Blue where I wished to darken it - round the eye sockets and eyebrows. I then used a toothbrush to spatter darker spots of either Manganese Violet or Burnt Umber to represent the dirt and grime. I also tapped the toothbrush onto the paper when holding diluted amounts of these colours.

Apart from the Isabey, brushes used were the Da Vinci Artissimo 44 No 2 and Rosemary Series 33 No 6.
As you can see from the photograph his face is surrounded by dark areas with no visible detail. I did not want to put a very dark wash all over but tried to create the sense of  him being in a war situation with all the attendant danger. Mostly cool colours Cerulean, Viridian (Rowney PG18) with  Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine, mixed partly on the paper for the dark hair. I added Cadmium Orange (Maimeri PO20) top right and over his left shoulder to suggest the colours of warfare. Overall I'm quite pleased with it. Comments welcome.

 Note Added 1/06/11: To avoid confusion and bearing in mind the comments from Mick and Yvonne (in an e-mail) I have changed the Stage 1 & 2 paintings so they are more accurate. They liked the very strong darks but they were inaccurate and did not represent the real studies correctly. Those now shown are actually a little lighter than the painting but are the nearest I can get. I frequently have trouble getting a fair representation of my paintings on here, probably due to faulty photography, and tinker about with the `auto correction' feature but it has misfired on this occasion. Food for thought for the future.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

May Challenge

This is the latest photograph in the ongoing (fun) competition between Mick Carney and myself .

This is a complicated scene  (I don't know where it is) so the first decision was what to leave in and what to leave out. I decided to omit the canal boat on the left hand side but otherwise follow the basic scene, simplifying as I went. I did a preliminary sketch to see how this would look and then proceeded to do an outline drawing.  If you study the photograph you have two distinct near halfs. The left hand very light side, mainly the building (hostelry?), the largest shape and the dark right hand side, the bridge predominating. I decided not to have such an abrupt separation and deliberately lightened the right hand side, then making the large windows and door of the house as the key elements linking them to the hand rail and the boat under the bridge.

 18 x 15" Waterford High White Not

I painted in stages starting with the top roof and carried on from there linking things up as I proceeded.
Colours used were a mixture of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Carmine, Burnt Umber and Cerulean for the roof, mixing on the paper. I also put these colours in the left hand side of the bridge. Others used were Cobalt Blue and Cerulean for the sky, Raw Umber in various places and for the first time Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97 Daniel Smith) mixed with various blues for the greens, instead of W & N Transparent Yellow (PY150) which I have discarded. I think that's it.

The painting was completed using one brush which was the Da Vinci Artissimo 44 Size 2 Kolinsky mop. This is roughly equivalent in size to something between a 12 and 14 round Kolinsky. A superb brush, one of my favourites even if it is expensive.

Initially I was quite pleased with the result but in the light of the following day have some doubts, which happens all too often. Comments welcome.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Wild Flowers

The other day I wandered along the lane near my home and collected a bunch of wild flowers, both from the verges of the road, down into the farmers field, and beyond into the community forest. I have done two  paintings with flowers collected from my small garden in the last two weeks, but wasn't really that enamoured of them. Recently I have started to question whether I was becoming too focussed on portraits to the detriment of other subjects. What exactly do I want to paint? I like doing portraits in the loose manner but also  still lifes, incorporating flowers and other objects in the manner of Charles Reid. Pure landscapes? Not really as I prefer old buildings with thatched roofs, and small boats on the rivers and canals around here.

 I managed to collect a good mixture of wild flowers, including a dark-coloured geranium from the verges outside one of the very old buildings along the lane, that may have been a garden escapee. Here is the result.

Wild Flowers- Fabriano Artistico Extra White Not 16" x 12"

I used a lot of colours in this painting. Transparent Yellow (W & N PY150), Cadmium Yellow Pale (Rowney PY35)), Indian Yellow (Rowney PY153) plus Green Gold (Rowney PY129). Reds were Permanent Carmine (W & N PR N/A), Opera Rose (W & N), Permanent Rose (W & N PV19). Greens were mixed partly from  yellows and blues except for Hookers Green (Maimeri PO49/PG7)) which was modified with Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna and darkened with  Faience Blue (Maimeri PB60). The geraniums were Permanent Mauve (Rowney PV23) with some Carmine added. Other blues were Cerulean (W & N red shade) and French Ultramarine (Rowney PB29). A lot of the colours were mixed on the paper. The limited palette artists might flinch but flower painters usually have larger palettes and so do I. Opera Rose? A paint with limited lightfastness, although W & N say it is still better than many paints used in the past. I used it sparingly.

Conversely I only used three brushes. All Rosemary, Series 33 Kolinsky rounds in sizes 6 & 8 and Series 44 pure Kolinsky rigger size 7. Although this brush is called a rigger it is quite full bodied compared to most riggers and more like a very long No.6. I have bought a Da Vinci Series 35 No 8 specifically for flower painting but not used it yet. I quite like the result. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Realistic Abstracts by Kees van Aalst

9" x 9" (23cm x 23cm) Paperback 160 pages

Published in 2010 by Search Press, with a reprint in 2011, this is a translation of a book originally published in Holland.  The concept is aptly described by the title `Realistic Abstracts'. I take this to mean an abstract painting with small areas of realism. Some months ago I saw something about this book and read the reviews on Amazon. They were generally positive and may have been the first time I heard about Viktoria Prischedko, who is described as one of the contributing artists. The painting on the cover is by Viktoria.

I find this an interesting book and am intrigued by this concept of realism allied to abstraction. Charles Reid talks about small areas of detail coupled with large areas of generality which isn't that different, although the resulting execution by the artists highlighted in the book is. Including the author twelve artists are listed as contributors, although all the text seems to be by Kees van Aalst. This method of painting seems to be very much in vogue on the Continent, indeed they appear to be pioneering it with many exciting artists painting in  a variety of styles roughly linked with the overall concept.

This isn't a book for beginners but something to encourage more experienced painters to `develop your own way of painting in this exciting style'. It is certainly making me think how I can incorporate some of the ideas and concepts into my current way of painting. The book is mainly illustrative although there is fair amount of text. One of the complaints on Amazon reviews was the lack of text but I don't agree with that.

Of the contributing artists the ones that I liked most are Viktoria and Slawa Prischedko , Cao Bei-An , Piet Lap, Xavier Swolfs   and Helen Vriesendorp . Kees van Aalst's website is

The retail price is £12.99 Uk and US $25.95. I bought mine on Amazon, from one of their partners, for just under £11 including carriage. The SAA are selling it (`a best seller') for £9.99 and are currently out of stock. If you are interested in loose and impressionistic painting then it is certainly well worth obtaining.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

`Permanent' Alizarin Crimson

The impermanence or `fugitive' qualities of the popular Alizarin Crimson PR83 were discussed last week. Actually there is no such thing as a `Permanent' version because all such alternatives are not Alizarin Crimson but different pigments. They ought really to be described as `Alizarin Crimson Hue', the key word being `hue'. Those paints intended as alternatives to the Cadmiums are thus described. Handprint gives a very comprehensive treatise on pigments but my intention is to try and simplify things and not give readers a headache. Actually, although some of these alternatives are described as similar or identical in hue, none quite compare to the original. This is possibly why it remains popular and still widely available. Apart from Daniel Smith no one comes out and says it is fugitive although in the case of Winsor & Newton, Rowney and some others - not all - the star rating is lower. Who reads the small print on the tubes anyway? It is frequently so small that it is difficult to find let alone read.

Generally speaking most basic palettes start with warm and cool versions of yellow, red and blue. This isn't always so but is probably the most popular. With regard to the red Alizarin Crimson was often - but not always - selected as the cool red so this is what we are looking to replace. The basic three paint primary colours, often called `printers colours', are Primary Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. Note this is not just `yellow, red and blue'.

Winsor & Newton recommend Permanent Rose (PV19) as one of the three primary colours, adding Scarlet Lake (PR188) when increased to six. Although they list a `Permanent Alizarin Crimson' it is a mixture of an unlisted pigment, usually written as PR N/A, and PR206 otherwise known as Brown Madder. Bruce McEvoy suggests Permanent Carmine as a better bet, no PR206.

 Some of the pigments/paints mentioned in the text. The top row and the right hand vertical one don't have much variation but note the difference between the Rowney version of Perylene Maroon PR179 (Note added 27/05/11. I am in error here. The Rowney PR179 is called Perylene Maroon and is similar to the Graham hue. The paint shown Quinacridone Magenta, is PR122) and that of Graham next to it. Note also Quinacridone Red PR209 as made by Graham and Daniel Smith. Differences in manufacturing processes, and also variations in the same pigment supplied by different sources,  are the probable cause. Note also the Cotman and Venezia student quality paints. Are they weaker than the artist quality?

What `Permanent Alizarin Crimsons' are there?

Winsor & Newton. Already described, a mix of PR N/A and PR206.

Rowney. Alizarin Crimson , correctly described as a `hue' (the original fugitive version is also still listed). A mixture of PR209 and PR179.

Graham. Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR264), also list the original.

Lukas. Alizarin Crimson (PR176).

Daniel Smith. Permanent Alizarin Crimson a three pigment mix of PR177, PV19 and PR149.

Holbein. Permanent Alizarin Crimson. PR N/A presumably similar to the W & N Permanent Carmine.

Da Vinci. Alizarin Crimson (PV19).

PV19 Quinacridone Rose/Red and Violet - there are three versions - has become one of the most popular pigments and is increasingly appearing in manufacturers ranges, both as single pigment paints and in mixtures. Confusing?

According to Bruce Mc Evoy of Handprint the problem with the reds is that in general his tests show they mostly - even the newer colours - have `marginal' lightfastness.

Many artists won't want to get too involved with this stuff and I can understand that, although personally I find it fascinating as well as informative. IF you are interested then have a look at the Handprint section on paints. Bruce recommends a mixture of Perylene Maroon (PR179) and Quinacridone Magenta (PR122) as a better bet than most of the above.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Alizarin Crimson - Pigment Red 83 (PR83)

We know about `lightfastness' or more commonly `fading' in watercolours. This means that in so-called fugitive paints the original colour changes if exposed to sunlight. The most common effect is the colour just bleaches away. The above book cover is an example of what can happen. Obviously I don't know what the  colour is composed of but it is almost certainly a dye. Paints are not generally offered in watercolour made of or including dyes, although there are a few, Opera by Holbein is one example. The spine of the above book was originally exactly the same colour as the rest. The book has been in my north facing study in a bookcase with only the spine exposed to light, actually facing East. Despite being exposed to very little sun the colour faded in a very short time. This is a perfect example of a fugitive colour and what happens when exposed to light. This is also what happens to Alizarin Crimson PR83, a very popular colour over the years and still offered by such major paint manufacturers as Winsor & Newton, Holbein (Carmine, Rose Madder), Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Graham, Rowney and others.

 Sennelier offer at least four paints with PR83 so do Shin Han. Sennelier claim the paints that have PR83, some included in mixtures, are `moderately lightfast'.  Shin Han claim paints with PR83 are `permanent' or `absolutely permanent'. Sometimes instead of Alizarin Crimson we have names like Carmine or Rose Madder, Madder Lake etc. Holbein claim that their Carmine and Rose Madder, both PR83, are `absolutely permanent' despite what Bruce McEvoy, the ASTM (now known as ASTM International formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), Hilary Page, Michael Wilcox and others have found when testing this pigment. Rowney claim it is `normally permanent' and Winsor & Newton `moderately durable'. Daniel Smith call it like it is and list Alizarin Crimson PR83 as`fugitive'. Charles Reid has used Holbeins Carmine for years and this is pure PR83. He says that he has never had any complaints about fading. I think though he has now switched to the `Permanent' version, possibly from Winsor & Newton.

Read what Bruce McEvoy of Handprint says, having extensively tested this pigment,  with illustrations of what happens when it is exposed to light. His recommendation AVOID. If you use this pigment I urge you follow the link,  read what he says and view the examples he gives. The ASTM, the recognized authority on such things said in 1999 that PR83 was `not sufficiently lightfast to be used in paints' and `poor' to `very poor' in watercolours. If you continue to buy and use it that's a personal decision, but if you sell paintings is it ethical?

 There has been some discussion on Wetcanvas about this pigment and its suggested replacements. The consensus seemed to agree with the ASTM and Handprint findings. How do you avoid it? All the majors put pigment information on the tubes. Very small on many and a magnifying glass may be necessary (!) to read the details but it is there. You can also download pigment charts from virtually all paint manufacturers, although hard to find in some instances.  To their shame the SAA, the `Society for ALL Artists' does not give this information on the SAA range of watercolours, although I did, some time ago, finally receive a sheet giving details after I complained.

I was intending to cover the suggested replacements for Alizarin Crimson PR83 but have decided to do this in a separate piece next week. Interestingly the so-called student makes of Cotman, Van Gogh and Venezia do not offer any paints with PR83 and have switched to more lightfast alternatives.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Flowers ... and Things.

Flowers..and Things.- Canson Fontenay 16" x 12" Rough

The other day I decided that I needed a change of subject and went into my small garden to select some flowers as part of a still life. I added some fruit and two jugs. This isn't a specific flower painting just a painting with flowers in it a la Charles Reid's approach..

I first made a loose drawing and then painted. Not much preparation apart from juggling the still life about and the whole thing was completed in less than two hours. Yes possibly I should have spent more time on planning,  but I have a personal conflict between spontaneity and  deliberation. I should be more deliberate and think more about what I do I realise that, but on this occasion just wanted to get paint on paper with a changed subject after a lot of portrait work in recent months. Hopefully this will open the door to more considered paintings with a similar theme.

Colours used included Cerulean, Cobalt Blue, Indian Yellow (Rowney PY153), Ultramarine Violet (Rowney PV15), Permanent Carmine (W & N PR N/A), Permanent Rose (W & N PV19), Transparent Yellow (W & N PY150) with various blues for the greens. A touch of Greengold (Rowney PY129) and some Burnt Umber for the dark stems and white flower centres. Also touches of Gold Ochre (W & N PY43). I think that's more or less it. Usual brushes with Rosemary Series 33 No 9 prominent.

A word about the paper. I like Canson Fontenay a lot. It has a rough surface on one side and a not on the other. You can choose whichever side you want facing out when you order the blocks. A word of caution. The rough side is not very rough, more like a not on some other makes and the not surface moderately smooth. This suits me but may not suit everyone.  It is also available in sheets. I haven't looked very hard but the only source from the usual suppliers I deal with is Great Art . The other problem is the price has been increased in the last year and it is now more expensive than both Fabriano Artistico and Waterford, the other two makes I use most often. Still it is a very nice paper. Comments welcome.