Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thanks for Listening II

Another year over, wow, is time accelerating? It seems to have gone by so fast and
has certainly been quite a year, one filled with the deepest sorrow and greatest joy.
I guess the ying and yang of life.

I just want to take a moment to express my appreciation to all.
Thank you for your support and interest in my work.

As I look back over the year’s efforts, the paintings that succeeded and those that did not. I ask myself the questions, have I improved? What have I said visually? Do I resonate those qualities I admire in painting/art? What I do know for certain is that the more I learn about painting the more I need to learn. It is the continued ongoing study and observation; of the nature, of the visual world that makes art so fascinating and intriguing.
It has been a great year.

Those of you that purchased work, my sincerest gratitude.

Happy Holidays and have a great New Years.

"If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint."
Edward Hopper

“For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.”
 T. S. Eliot

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Earth Palette

Jim Serrett  Grapes on Block in Box  11"x 14" oil on panel

Like most painters I am fascinated by color palettes, those used by both contemporary artists and the Old Masters. Most artists have a set palette they work with and maybe a hand full of convenience colors they use occasionally. The pigments an artist chooses for their personal palette are an insight into their thinking and creative process. I have always been a real fan of limited palettes for the simple inherent color harmony they produce. I have written about them before on my Pochade Box site. However I find myself continually returning to the first limited palette I was introduced to, a simple four color palette of red, yellow, white and black that is characteristic of the classical color palettes.

With the "Grapes" painting I used a very basic earth toned palette, consisting of the three primaries and black and white.
Yellow Ocher (light yellow)
Raw Sienna (med orange) 
Venetian Red (red-orange) and
Ivory Black (blue)
Mixtures of ivory black and white tend to read as blue.
( You could leave the raw sienna out and  accomplish the same by mixing ocher and red. )

 I developed this little color chart by random mixtures of these earth pigments, notice how “blue” the black mixture reads when next to the warm complementary earth tones.

 These were my core colors and the majority of my mixtures began with them. In the painting I did add other colors to the palette as I worked, mostly other earth tones which I also related to as red, yellow orange – Naples Yellow (yellow), raw umber (dark yellow-green), burnt umber (dark red) alizarin (bluish red). Still a fairly monochromatic warm earth palette. I used the Alizarin Crimson and Naples yellow to punch up a hue, which in relationship to these subtle earth tones was very intense and quickly gave me a new appreciation of the high chroma pigments.

  In this comparison you can clearly see the limited earth color palette in the pixellated image.

Many of the Masters used similar limited palettes, based on a yellow, red, white and black substituted as a blue. Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya certainly used something along the lines of a earth toned primary palette. And of course Anders Zorn’s legendary four color palette of Yellow Ocher, Cadmium Red Medium, Ivory Black plus White. One could argue that many painters before the 19th century just did not have access to many pigments. But after the turn of the century and a whole world of tube colors at the artists reach these pigments remain.

The earth tone palette is perfect for matching the colors of the natural world. Painting from direct observation with a limited palette will force you see the subtleties of each color note you mix. You will pay closer attention to the color bias and its temperature. Using a earth tone palette you can work with color and still emphasize tonal values. This “family” of closely related earth tone colors lend themselves perfectly to producing light and shade and is one of the reasons that great artists, Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, and Hals have produced such a large spectrum of colors from such a small core of pigments.

I see this simple harmonizing core of earth toned primaries inside almost all of the major representational painters I admire.
One of my favorite artists, Winslow Homer's palette was based on a low keyed palette of earth colors augmented with some umber and a blue.

Interesting that Edgar Payne, one of the most noted and misunderstood American landscape painters (this man was not an impressionist no matter what the “plein-air” crowd wants to believe, just look at his theories and practices) used a mixture of red, yellow, and blue as a harmonizer, which he referred to as the “soup” in his paintings. A neutral gray tone that is made from a mixture of Indian red, ultramarine blue, and a bit of yellow.

Why, because Payne knew just like the old masters that the best way to create harmony is by complementary mixtures, being that by each color mix having a bit of the colored "soup", assures a unity and harmony overall in the painting. Painting, especially “color” is about relationships, what happens to one color when next to another, how does it effect hue, value, chroma? Obviously there is a infinite number of colors we see in the world and attempting to match all those color notes let alone harmonies without some type of color “theory” would be overwhelming. Now, before we go off track here, I want to say there are endless books written on color theory. And I highly recommend Michael Wilcox's books on color. There are many other good ones in fact, but trying to understand color and how it works with out pulling out some paints and brushes is like trying to play the piano by looking at it.

 What Edgar Paynes "soup" tells us is that gray is the combination of the three primaries red, yellow and blue, understanding that gray can be warm, cool or neutral is important to understanding its use as an unifying color.
 The method or genius of a limited palette is that the complement of each color is the mixture of the other two colors, no easier way to use and harmonize color than to mix it from the primaries.

As I meander around with this discussion I thought it might be helpful to state what benefits I see in a limited earth palette. First everything we do as painters is directed to developing knowledge about how to manipulate hue, value and chroma.

1.Earth tones are not neutral; they are cool or warm and are the duller and darker; version of yellow, orange and red. (lower chroma)
2.Color must be seen in relationship - you must always look at the effect one color has on another. Verbally saying that, “that is a red apple” is much different than visually saying that.
3.Black is a Color - it can be abused, but no matter what your high school art teacher told you, you can use it as a modifier.
4.Mix Neutrals with Complementary Colors - Mix any two color complements in unequal parts with white and you will create a range of neutral grays. These grays will have an innate harmony and unity.
5. Keep it Simple – a limited palette will force you to do more with less - Mixing paint using only the primaries and gray will force you to look at each color note, and ask what is its hue, value, chroma and temperature

Eugene Delacroix's Palette

I think it boils down to this, as artists/painters we must develop an instinctive understanding of the colors on our palette. By developing a personal color palette with the fewest number of colors, based on core color that we subconsciously understand we can most effectively bring expression to the subject we see.

Virgil Elliot in his book "Traditional Oil Painting" touches on this subject recommending a beginning palette of Ivory black, white, yellow ocher (or raw sienna) and red ocher (or other red earth) saying, “As the student becomes familiar with the palette and more confident in its use, the palette is expanded gradually by the addition of burnt sienna, raw umber, and cadmium red light, or cadmium vermilion. At the appropriate point, ultramarine blue is added, and so on, so that no lesson overwhelms the student with too much new to learn at once.”

One of the most interesting physical palettes that exist is that of Delacroix’s.
It was documented that he would methodically mix dozens of color on his palette.
The arrangement is unique and inundated with beautiful neutrals and earth tones.

  "I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will."
     Eugene Delacroix

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830 Louvre


Great site ran by artist Aaron Miller, about artist palettes.
Fantastic info and demo about the Zorn palette by artist Michael Lynn Adams.
Virgil Elliott
Elliot, Virgil. Traditional Oil Painting. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007
Michael Wilcox, Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Practice, practice, practice

  There is no doubt that the answer to developing as a painter requires a lot of perseverance and practice, practice, practice. Small studies from life are an excellent means to improve painting skills and focus on the simple truthful depiction of the thing observed.


I learn a great deal from repeating subjects, I have no idea how many pears or apple I’ve painted. But each time I paint one I feel I have seen something new and unique and tried to express that in the final image.

An artist must be engaged with the image in front of them. It is that personal direct experience with a subject which will develop the thinking process and aesthetic sense in a artist.

 After nearly twenty years of “wall dogging” advertising art, I am pretty certain that paintings done from nature are at a minimum more interesting and beautiful than those done from photography.  However I am completely certain that painting from life is a thousand times more challenging than painting photorealism.
After all that “is” just paintings of photographs.

I think we forget that this is hard work and a tough road at times.
That only by perfecting our understanding of the craft of painting, learning traditional methods and techniques and pushing our skill level, will an artist develop the language necessary to express themselves.

 We see nothing truly until we understand it. 

 John Constable The Complete Works

                                                                  Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Monday, October 31, 2011

Grapes WIP

Like most artists today I get much of my art “fix” online. I have a multitude of blogs, online magazines, and forums I read, browse and contribute to regularly. I truly enjoy seeing the creative process, and most painters do not have any issues with showing you how they produce work or come to their ideas and concepts.

 In fact through this medium the web-blog, I think artists that share their process and join into the creative commons have helped secure a footing in the contemporary world of art for representational painting.

This painting is still in process, I am focusing on the treatment of edges, attempting to keep every thing very soft and atmospheric. 

Grapes - WIP - oil on panel, 11x14

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

Denis Dutton: a Darwinian Theory of Beauty on TED

I've watched this video from the late Denis Dutton several times.  Dutton has some very unique insights on the aesthetics of beauty and the animation is really entertaining.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy,  Jim

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Red Pear Two

"Anything under the sun is beautiful if you have the vision-it is the seeing of the thing that makes it so." - Charles W. Hawthorne –

 Oil on panel - 8x10

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lucian Freud and John Wayne

My father was deeply moved when John Wayne died back in 1979.
I have to admit I really did not understand why? I mean, you could always tell he was acting and his films were usually very predictable. I think for my Dad it marked the end of an era, somehow knowing that John Wayne was on his horse with  a six-shooter, that everything was right in the world.

 Lucian Freud is like that; his passing definitely marks a period in art history.
Surely one of the most important figurative artists of the 20th Century, he repeatedly pushed the envelope and painted with an intensity that can only be described as uniquely Freudian.  His paintings are often like a car wreck, you really don’t want to look, but when you do you are mesmerized. His work may not appeal to all; his life seemed to be one full of extremes where his eccentric behavior often received as much press as his work.

However this was an artist, as John Wayne would say had True Grit.

The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes, and, ironically, the more real. 
Lucian Freud

New York Times article - Lucian Freud dies at 88.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Three Wise Men

After finishing this alla prima piece I notice the little Magi drama happening between the pears and x-mas bulb.  I chose these object because I liked the colors, shapes and forms together. I really did not see any subliminal narrative in the study until the end.
 Three Wise Men - Oil on Panel - 8x10

And with that let me say that the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
A lot of life (good and bad) has gotten in the way of my posts here.

Three Wise Men (cocktail) Recipe
In a tumbler pour
1 part Scotch Whisky (e.g., Johnnie Walker Red or Black Label).
1 part Tennessee Whiskey (e.g., Jack Daniels).
1 part Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (e.g., Jim Beam White or Black Label).
Serve either neat or on the rocks, according to taste.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy,  Jim

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Underpainting Techniques – Demonstration Four - Copper Pot Video

The Copper Pot painting is another exploration of traditional oil painting techniques.
With a grisaille the artist develops form and value, separate from color.
By glazing color over the grisaille (monochrome underpainting) the shading (values) is already established, creating the correct values essential to realism.

The indirect method or the process of painting in layers allows for a wide range of approaches, techniques and effects, starting with a grisaille. The artist has a full arsenal of painting methods at his disposal, scumbling, sgraffito, frottie, scraping, rubbing, blending, hatching, impasto, velaturas and glazing. A range of painting techniques that makes complete use of the unique characteristics of oil painting.

In two earlier posts I went over the charcoal study and grisaille underpainting which you may want to review.

As I start working with color I establish local colors for each object describing them by (hue and chroma). Hue is a color’s characteristic, where it lies in the color spectrum, and which temperature it leans towards, warm or cool. Chroma is the degree of brilliance a color has, from intense to dull. The first passage of the color lay-in is thin enough so the grey underpainting will show through and modify the hue producing (value).
 The basic values will be established by the underpainting, but unlike direct painting, (alla-prima) the hue and chroma can be modified by any of the techniques listed above. The temperature, chroma and value can continually be manipulated by transparent and semi-transparent passages of color. Thus, what is so interesting in this approach is that the actual color lay-in can be either duller than the final envisioned color and the chroma increased with consecutive layers of glazing or the first color lay-in done in higher chroma and toned down with further layers. Sort of sneaking up on the exact color desired.

The painting was continued by building layers of more opaque passages in the light areas and semi-transparent (velatura) passages in the halftones. Blending and dry brushing (scumbling) those into each other, and then adjusting all those passages with glazes, continuing this process in several layers building the (chiaroscuro) or light and dark modeling.  I finished the final overall layer with glazes and scumbles for more subtlety of color and tone.

Overall I’m pretty content with the end result, certainly there are areas I don’t think work as well as others. But I was at a point where I was tweaking little details and not improving the big picture or relationships. I really wanted to interpret the light effect (chiaroscuro) and interesting relationship within those restrained colors and neutral tones, which I feel read well. I believe the scumbling technique worked wonderfully, but think the halftones transition into shadow could be resolved further. An area that I can learn to improve with practice, the success of this work or any is always the knowledge and experience I gain.
I have begun to see glazing as a much broader and dynamic process, and the subtle and unique difference in the optical effect of glazing, veluatra and scumbling.

But one has to realize as they practice these methods, that the masters approached a painting with a tool box full of techniques, they combined them, modified them and manipulated them at will, like a conductor leading an orchestra. These were not tricks or gimmicks like you find in “how to” books on painting but an instrument they used to interpret form so they could concentrate on the bigger idea, what they where saying with their art.

They understood the language of their craft before they spoke.

Glossary and Terminology of Techniques

 If we look back at what our predecessors did we need to understand the terminology they used if we are to develop an understanding of it and put it to use.

 Modern painters can easily discuss these techniques using simple language about paint, such as dragged, dry brushed, stippled, blended. Clear glazes that are like looking through color glass or semi-opaque glazes that are like fog. But if you rummage around in old dusty art books you’ll find that the terminology was very different from today.

I have tried to make these definitions as simple and clear as possible, but I must admit it was hard to pin down some terms in text. What complicates the effort is that the really good writing on classical techniques usually have no illustrations, and many of the descriptions seem to overlap. So these definitions are the sum of my research and trial and error painting efforts.

Unless you are so fortunate to be studying with a living master, this leaves us with really only two methods to get a handle on these processes, one is to understand what those terms mean in a modern context and translation, and most importantly, go see these works in the real. And two, pull out the paints and try to paint those effects. This is how I arrived at these terms, understanding that all painting approaches are not seen individually but in combination.

Glossary of terms

Alla-prima – Italian expression loosely translated “at first try”. Direct painting (wet into wet), a method which is completed in a single session without previous preparation or latter layers of paint.

Blending – in basic term the smooth transition of one color to another, in broader terms (sfumato) softening edges of paint after they have been applied, usually with a clean brush or finger. Characterize by da Vinci’s practice of blurring the outlines of the model.

Body Tone – or mass tone, designate the value and color of an object that is illuminated by light and part of the light pattern, a color modified by light, or in line with light.

Chroma – is the colors intensity, the degree of brilliance of a color, from intense to dull.

Chiaroscuro – The contrast of light and shade and the distribution of these elements in a painting that form pattern and composition. First and best exemplified in the work of Caravaggio (1569- 1609) and later the Dutch master Rembrandt.

Frottage – Thick paint rubbed or dragged over a dry paint. Generally applied by painting bright colors over darker ones, to complete areas of light, shining parts or highlights. The master Titian used this technique often with great skill, often applying it as a half-impasto in bold strokes to bring high reflection to silk, or metal. Most often seen in the finished layer of a painting.

Frottie - or frottis  Fr. - frotter (to rub) Transparent to semi-transparent glaze rubbed into the ground in the initial phases of painting, generally the first color layer done directly over top of a drawing, in either a single color or as the local color of each passage.
You can produce a complete monochrome in this way, or lay-in all of the ground colors of the picture until it has much of the effect of the complete painting. It quickly covers the white of the canvas with local color or mass tone. A process probably first introduced in the French Academy, eloquently utilized by the master painter William- Adolpe Bouguereau.

Glazing – transparent pigment diluted with medium. It is the application of darker transparent paint flowed over a lighter, opaque dry under layer. Glazes can be worked together and modeled wet into wet, rubbed in, lifted out with a brush, wiped out entirely and left in the crevices of the underpainting or canvas, brushed into with varying degrees of thicker paint “wisps” of color and value, and overlaid in various degrees to modify the underlying paint (like layering veils of glass) to add harmony, depth and luminosity to the surface. A glaze is a dynamic procedure applying paint made of undulating degrees of thickness, opacity and translucency. Not merely a flood of color.

Grisaille – ( griz-eye’) fr.- grey a underpainting done entirely in monochrome shades of gray.

Hatching - strokes or cross-strokes in wet paint that blend at a distance.

Hue - is a color’s characteristic, where it lies in the color spectrum, and which   temperature it leans towards, warm or cool.

Impasto – Italian meaning (paste). Thick opaque paint applied with a brush or knife that stand visibly proud of the surface.

Local Color – The hue of an object, not modified by light, shade or reflected color.

Scumbling – is the complement of glazing. A style of glazing that is scrubbed or dry brushed over top of dry or almost dry paint using a film of opaque or semi opaque color. The scumbled layer is thinly applied using a brush containing very little paint creating a delicate veil which only partially obscures the underlying color producing an optical blending. Generally with light colors over dark it can be used to soften colors or outlines and even model form, modifying the transition from light to dark. Or create a hazy, atmospheric “opalescent” effect.

Value – is the relative degree of grayness, dark to light.

Velaturas – Italian (veiling). A velatura is a glaze with some degree of opacity. A semi- transparent glaze, tinted with a small amount of white that allows the undercoat to appear as though a milky or foggy haze, often referred to as the half-paste or semi-glaze. My understanding is the application of a velatura is sort of the middle ground between a glaze and a scumble, the major difference in the viscosity of the paint film, it being fluid and with more medium. Its effect is to soften and unify the appearance of the underlying layer.

“Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems.”
- Winslow Homer

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim


Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock. Methods and Material’s of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters. (1847) reprinted New York: Dover Publications, 1960

Elliot, Virgil. Traditional Oil Painting. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2007

Palmer, Frederick. Encyclopaedia of Oil Painting Materials and Techniques. Cincinati, Ohio, North Light, 1984

Parkhurst, Daniel Burliegh. The Painter in Oil. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1898

Reprinted Dover Publications: New York, 2006

Ridolfi,Carlo. (1594-1658); The Life of Titian, translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter E. Bondanella, Penn State Press, 1996

Sheppard, Joseph. How to Paint Like the Old Masters.

New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1983

Speed, Harold. The Practice and Science of Oil Painting. London: Seeley, 1924. Reprinted as Oil Painting Techniques and Materials. New York: Dover Publications, 1987