A couple of months ago, I finally took the plunge and bought myself some gouache paints. Although in general I love the delicacy and glazing properties of transparent watercolour, there are some subjects where the opacity and flatter finish of gouache (opaque watercolour) are preferable. I decided to use this opportunity of starting in a new medium to apply what I have learned about colour theory and gamut mapping as well as my own preferences to select only a relatively limited “personal palette” of colours. Continue reading
Working as a primarily watercolour artist, I have heard some frequently repeated myths from customers as well as other artists, which I would like to dispell.
The first myth I hear very frequently is “Doesn’t watercolour fade?”.
The short answer is no, my watercolour paintings will not fade. In fact, most watercolour paintings you buy from professional artists should be just as durable as other media, especially if framed behind conservation glass.
Watercolour, like most other artistic paint media such as acrylic paint, oil paint, etc, is composed of pigments held together with a binder. For oil paint, this is a drying oil such as linseed oil or walnut oil, for acrylic this is an acrylic emulsion (a synthetic plastic product that hardens in contact with air).
The primary binder in watercolour is gum arabic, a resin made from acacia sap, and sometimes honey. Gum arabic and honey are no more prone to discolouration or other long term effects than other binders. In fact, oil-based binders have a tendency to yellow over time, as do acrylics (which as a newer media, have not yet stood the test of time).
Pigments are naturally occuring and synthetic colourful chemical compounds, which paint manufacturers mix with binders to create paint. In modern days, we are spoiled with a wide variety of stable pigments, thanks to global shipping and modern chemistry. With a little bit of care, artists in all media can use a palette of extremely lightfast, durable colours which will not fade or change colour under any circumstances.
In the past, artists had very limited choices in some parts of the colour spectrum. For instance, before modern lightfast synthetic rose colours such as Quinacridone Rose (PV19) became available, artists had no choice but to use less reliable pigments such as Alizarin Crimson (PR83 ) or extremely fugitive genuine carmine (NR4).
Lightfastness is a problem across all media, not just watercolour
Poor lightfastness is by no means unique to watercolours. Oil or acrylic paintings made using carmine or other fugitive pigments will also eventually fade. To the left is a portrait of Charles Churchill. It now looks ghostly, but when it was originally painted, the subject’s cheeks were likely rosy, and the coat a deep red, through the extensive use of carmine and other fugitive pigments, long since gone.
However, in oil paint, the thicker paint film provides a small amount of UV protection, so an oil painting using fugitive paints may last a little longer than an unprotected watercolour framed behind clear glass.
Modern artist-grade paints are generally not made with highly fugitive pigments such as carmine anymore. However, some specialty paints (such as neon paints and some common brands of liquid watercolours) as well as cheap scholastic grade paints, are made with fugitive dyes instead of traditional pigments (again, this is equally true in non-watercolour media). In addition, some pigments with limited lightfastness are still used in artist paint lines (for example, alizarin crimson is still a common pigment which many artists use. While more durable than carmine, alizarin still has a significantly lower lightfastness than similar quinacridone-based pigments)
How much do you really care about lightfastness?
Some artists prefer to use impermanent materials for immediate impact, rather than creating artwork that will last centuries. Most popular mixed-media, collages including newspaper clipping or plant matter, resin etc are prime examples of this. Similarly, some painters use neon paints, which are virtually all fugitive.
There’s nothing wrong with buying and displaying art for your enjoyment that won’t last forever. For example, I purchased the beautiful oil painting shown on the right (by my studio mate Carly Leyburne) as a statement piece for my dining room. The hot pink trees are painted with an oil paint that includes a rhodamine dye, which will eventually fade. I am not concerned. It looks fantastic right now. We’ll cross the fading bridge when we get to it. I may be old and senile by then anyway 😉
If you are unsure of the pigments used in your watercolour paintings, and would like to ensure they stay looking bright for years to come, framing your art behind conservation glass (which offers significant UV protection) and not hanging it in direct sunlight can dramatically slow any fading in both watercolour and other media.
How to ensure you are creating lightfast art
I am happy to buy any art that catches my eye, with little concern for archival qualities. However, as a seller, I do feel compelled to stay one step ahead, and ensure that my artwork will continue to look bright and fresh, regardless of how my customers choose to frame or display it.
If you are an artist looking to produce artwork that will last for centuries, you can ensure the durability of your pieces by eliminating pigments from your palette which do not have an “excellent” or “very good” lightfastness rating.
The most durable pigments should last centuries without discernable change, given proper framing and protection. Below, I’ve listed a few common paints to watch out for, as well as alternatives. This list is by no means exhaustive – do your homework and research the specific paints that you use if lightfastness is a concern for you
“Opera Rose” and other paints containing rhodamine dye (BV10): Probably the least lightfast paint in most modern paint lines, “Opera Rose” is a hot pink, popular with botanical artists looking for the brightest colour. Usually formulated with PR122 (Quinacridone Magenta) and rhodamine B dye. The rhodamine is highly fugitive, if exposed to sunlight, this will lose brightness, fading back to the (still fairly bright, but not neon) PR122. A safer alternative is to just stick with Purple Magenta (PR122) to begin with.
Alizarin Crimson (PR83): An early synthetic and once the most stable “cool” red, Alizarin Crimson is a relatively dull, deep rosy red. It is now considered relatively fugitive compared to the many available permanent red pigments. Many modern paint manufacturers still offer Alizarin Crimson, and it is favoured by portrait artists and traditionalists over the brighter, modern quinacridone rose (PV19) for mixing skintones and rosy lips because it is slightly muted. However, it isn’t very permanent. Many brands offer a “permanent alizarin crimson” formulated with quinacridone red (PR206) or redder shades of quinacridone violet (PV19). I use Quinacridone Rose (PV19) or Purple Magenta (PR122) for most mixing, and Perylene
Hansa Yellow Lemon (PY3 and PY1): The moderately lightfast Hansa Yellow Lemon (PY3) is one of the most common lemon yellow pigments available. It is much more transparent and highly tinting than other pigments in this range. PY3’s close cousin PY1 (also a Hansa Yellow Lemon) is even less lightfast, yet is still available in some paint lines. An increasing number of paint brands have started offering Lemon Yellow paints made with PY175 , an azo lemon yellow with a “very good”lightfastness rating.
Dioxazine Violet(PV23): Present in nearly every watercolour line, dioxazine violet varies in lightfastness depending on manufacturing. It is a deep, saturated, transparent and non-granulating bright cool violet colour, in a portion of the colour wheel with relatively few pigment alternatives. It is also a relatively inexpensive pigment, whcih no doubt contributes to it’s enduring popularity. There is no single pigment replacement for dioxazine violet, however, hues can easily be mixed from a warmer violet shade such as quinacridone purple (PV55) and a splash of a blue.
Rose Madder Genuine: Most brands have discontinued this pigment, but Winsor Newton have made it their flagship colour. The Winsor Newton paint is scented with bergamot – originally to please Queen Victoria. It is a slightly muted, liftable colour similar in hue to Quinacridone Rose (PV19) but lighter and more muted. Just use quinacridones. For a muted pink with some granulation, try Potter’s Pink (PR233)
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On this blog I have mostly focused on my experiences with watercolour, which is my primary medium, but I also do some of my work (about 15-20% of my illustrations) using coloured pencils or combining both.
As with watercolours, I am not strictly brand loyal, however, coloured pencil does lend itself a bit better to keeping full sets from a brand. Although coloured pencils are mixable, they are easier to work with with less mixing and a larger colour selection than watercolours.There are also fewer brands of artist-quality coloured pencils, and each brand has a very unique and different formulation to their lead.
The pencils I use the most are Polychromos, which have a smooth yet relatively hard, oil-based formula, ideal for drawing details and layering without a waxy buildup. Continue reading
This month, I am participating in Inktober.
I am a big fan of month-long challenges. A month is just about long enough to create a lasting habit (such as creating art every day, or keeping my kitchen clean). Last year, I did a “30 Pieces in 30 days” watercolour art challenge in September, where I created 30 6×6 watercolour pieces based on natural science subjects I collected on my way to the studio, all of which were made available for sale.
This was a great challenge for me, as I wanted to practice a variety of watercolour skills and techniques, and I had a strong tendency to get caught up in details and take a very long time finishing work. Having to create a “finished”, sellable piece every single day while working a dayjob and renovating my home, I learned to speed up, and really developed my watercolour skills over the course of the month. The challenge also generated a large body of work, and specifically small, affordable pieces, which have been a big hit at studio tour events.
I’ve been eager to do another month-long challenge. Last month was a little crazy with deadlines and travel, so I decided to participate in Inktober instead this year.
Inktober was started by Jake Parker, a character designer/comic illustrator, who wanted to develop his inking skills using brushes and brush pens. Other artists have adapted the challenge to suit their own priorities, doing everything from sketching in ballpoint pen to painting in coloured inks to digital “inking”. I am drawn to the initial concept behind the challenge, but being in a very different branch of illustration from Jake Parker, I’ve come up with my own set of goals and guidelines for my Inktober entries this year:
My Inktober Goals:
- Create 31 finished, sellable ink pieces by the end of the month, in addition to other scheduled illustration work
- Develop a better understanding and intuition of tonal values
- Develop my skills in monochromatic shading techniques such as cross-hatching, stippling and simplified shapes
- Experiment with textures in ink washes
- Improve my brush handling skills (useful for watercolour as well as ink) by using brush techniques with ink.
- BONUS: Start bridging the gap between my detailed natural science illustration work and my interest in urban sketching, see if I can start to discern a cohesive “look” across both.
My Inktober Rules:
- All pieces must incorporate some form of liquid, black ink (technical pens, brush pens, ink and brush, etc)
- Pieces may be rendered on white or toned paper. White ink and white pencil may be used to develop tonal range on toned paper.
- Pencil or ballpoint pen may be used for initial sketch, but the finished lines and shading should be primarily in liquid ink.
- No coloured drawing media (coloured inks, watercolors, coloured pencils other than white, markers, etc)
- Subjects should be drawn from life/own reference, but no limits on subject matter (natural science, architecture, life drawing, still life, etc)
I’ve done a few pieces for Inktober 2017 already and I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. I will post the complete collection on this site when I am done the challenge, and all pieces will be available for sale. If you would like to see each piece as I complete it, I will be posting them on my Instagram and Facebook Page
I’ve recently started making a very conscious effort to restrict my colour palette (in individual pieces and sketch kits, my overall watercolour studio palette is still a 50+ pigment smorgasbord, my coloured pencil collection is even larger, and I love it).
The goal is both to practice more conscious colour mixing, and to train myself to make more deliberate and informed choices about colour and light interaction. These are more broadly described with the term colour harmony and cohesion, but like many abstract concepts in art, have a strong scientific basis.
Colour harmony is one of these “fuzzy” subjective topics in art that I really didn’t “get” for a long time. Many artists extole the virtues of a limited palette for creating a “cohesive” look within their paintings, but each artist had different and conflicting suggestions for essential pigments. In addition, doesn’t the real world contain all of the visible colours? In a world with all the colours, what is a “cohesive” look anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to have every colour at your disposal?
Reality is quite a bit more complex. The colours we actually see are affected by the colour of light, as well as reflected colour from surrounding objects.
Our eyes play tricks on us – for instance, we know a ripe banana is a bright, middle yellow, but in a dark room, in a fruit bowl surrounded by dark red fruit, the “correct” colour to paint a ripe banana for realism might be a neutralised orange, such as an ochre or Quinacridone Burnt Orange. It took me a while to understand is that in this case, it wouldn’t just be “cohesion” or “harmony” that would be disrupted by painting a bright yellow banana, it would actually not be a realistic depiction of the banana.
Our eyes are actually even tricksier than this – humans actually only have “good” colour accuity in a very narrow cone. We do have a fair bit of peripheral vision outside this cone. Our brain fills in the edges of our vision with colours to match what we see in front of us, then edits our memories to correct any inconsistencies as we look around. Part of the reason a painting with a very bright pop of colour all the way to one side, which doesn’t appear elsewhere, is considered a “bad” or “uncohesive” composition is because this is not how we actually ever see the world.
In a way, choosing a very constrained colour palette is an effective way to mimic real lighting/environmental conditions as we might see them. Take, for example, the limited colour palette above, where I chose a magenta (PR122) and two greens – a cool almost-turquoise PG7 (Winsor Green BS) and a warmer PY129 (Azo Green, or Green Gold). This palette produces a surprising gamut of slightly neutralized warm colours from reds to rusty oranges and plums, as well as some eye-poppingly bright greens. It might be a great colour palette for rendering berries or tomatoes shades by sunlit leaves – in fact, I am planning to paint these very pieces using primarily these colours.
And then, of course, there is the matter of using colour selection to draw attention to a specific element within a composition, or to evoke a mood within a collection or body of work. I’ve recently started taking online courses with the School of Visual Storytelling (SVSLearn), and was struck by the strong focus on manipulating colour and light to help with storytelling.
An illustrator who I think has a really stellar grasp of limited palettes for communicating mood and lighting is Ira Sluyterman van Langerweyde (Iraville). Her studio palette rivals or exceeds mine, but she regularly uses a very limited, and fairly consistent subset to create a cohesive, whimsical, warm and natural-looking collection of playful illustrations.
In the field of botanical and scientific illustration, we are somewhat shielded from all of these concerns. Botanical illustrators draw close-up, isolated subjects under bright, white light, specifically in order to communicate details of the individual subject without influence and distraction from surrounding scenery. We don’t have to worry about the colour of ambient light, because we choose white light. We don’t have to worry as much about competing colours with limited subjects, and can manipulate our composition without worrying about impacts on surrounding elements. We use neutral backgrounds and are specifically discouraged from using cast shadows.
Nonetheless, I have found that the most successful scientific and botanical artists and illustrators, and the ones I admire the most make both deliberate and subconscious choices about lighting, colour, and subject selection which are very helpful in creating eyecatching, striking compositions.
This can play out within individual pieces, where artists choose to highlight the unique characteristics of their subject – in my lichen on elm bark image in my header image, I really loved the stark, graphic white look of the cup fungi, and chose my colour balance in a way that would highlight that graphic, almost comic look, choosing to neutralize most of the greenish-gray crustose lichen and tree bark, but pump up the colour in the pops of green, rust and ochre.
On a broader scale, even realist artists develop a colour “brand” or “colour signature” across their body of work. As an example, Anna Mason’s brightly lit, vibrant fruits and florals have a very different look from Jess Shepherd’s dramatic and earthy leaves and vegetables, although they both make large-scale, realistic botanical paintings.
Inspired by Iraville and other illustrators I admire who I have noticed use similar colour palettes, I thought it would be fun to create an earthy, natural triad to try sketching with or using as a base for some earthier subjects (obviously, this will never be an appropriate palette for very bright citrus or purple flowers I used my new paints from Pruche along with Mayan Blue from Rublev, which is bluer than it appears in this image but still very dark and muted. I generally prefer much brighter, clearer colours, especially greens, but I think this is an interesting jumping off point, in particular urban sketching and simple studies.
I’ve been spending a lot of time poring over James Gurney’s book Color and Light, which is fantastically detailed with loads of visual examples about different lighting situation, how they affect colours within a painting, and how they can be used to communicate mood and focus within a painting. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on gamut mapping. In future posts, I’ll be exploring pieces created with a limited palette, and sharing the gamut mapping for each of them.
I mostly blog about art and art supplies. Today is something a little different, so if you’re here for my rambles about watercolour pigments, come back next week 🙂 If you’d like a tour of my pretty DIY kitchen, keep reading.
On April 15th, 2016, Jordan and I got the keys to our first home. It was perfect, except for the kitchen (and also except for all the floors, and the ugly wallpaper, and all the plumbing and electrical, and *that* washroom, and the structural heating vent…little stuff). Let’s talk about the kitchen. Here’s what the kitchen looked like the day we put in our offer:
Apart from a pantry cabinet squished into the corner behind a window, a spice cabinet in the side hall, and a faux-brick wall facing the dining room, that’s the whole kitchen. Zero counter space. No dishwasher. Barely any storage. Ceilings mysteriously 6 inches lower than surrounding rooms. Aesthetically is wasn’t terrible, but functionally, this was significantly worse than the kitchen in the cheap rental we were living in.
We kept our apartment for 3.5 months after getting our house keys, so that we could DIY gut renovate the kitchen before moving in. The moment we got our keys, we came in with a sledgehammer and crowbar and started demolition. Every day after work we came in and did some work on the kitchen so that it would be done by move-in day. We ….(mostly) succeeded.
By the time we moved in, our new kitchen had new walls and cabinets and counters, a working sink, dishwasher and other appliances. I’ve been happily enjoying my lovely new kitchen for the past 8+ months. However, I didn’t want to share a before and after because …we had construction lights instead of real fixtures for weeks. Drawer hardware took months. We finally put up our backsplash tile and grouted last month. And we finally, FINALLY tackled our trim in the past couple weeks.
Now, a year later, I’d love to share what our kitchen is looking like, and some fun before/during/after shots. First, here’s the tour, as our kitchen looks today
Next, take a look through some before/during/after pics. I’ve tried to get similar lighting and angles. However, although the kitchen stayed more or less in the same footprints, the different window and door positions, as well as changes in available light, made keeping consistent angles throughout a bit tricky.
We swapped two windows, removed a section of (non-structural) wall and moved the doorway into the dining room into a new spot in our centreline wall, where the weird hallway pantry used to be.
The moment we got our keys, we came in with a sledgehammer and crowbar and started demolition. We did the demolition, structural framing, cabinet installation, floor, tiling and trim ourselves. We hired contractors for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, sprayfoam insulation and drywall.
When we first saw the house we fell in love with the wood trim. Originally stained a dark colour when the house was built in the 1920s, then painted white, the previous owners had stripped most of it down to a rich orangey brown patina. We wanted the kitchen to fit in with the character of the rest of the house, but feel light and airy and have modern conveniences.
We rescued as much of the original trim as we could. We used similarly coloured beech butcherblock counters and stained pine millwork, and refinished the original white oak floors we found buried under layers of vinyl and linoleum and 3000 wood cleats
Between excavating the floor and removing the dropped ceiling, we gained 7 inches of ceiling height in the new kitchen, which allowed us to put in 40 inch upper cabinets instead of the standard 30, and also raise them up 4 inches higher on the wall, giving us more visual space at counter level.
Building our kitchen has been a long and difficult journey, but we’re very proud of what we achieved! Next up, finishing up my home studio 🙂
Mark your calendars! I’m thrilled to announce my first solo art exhibit. Boathouse Botanicals will be a selection of my botanical art work, which I will be displaying at The Boathouse in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. The collection will include existing as well as never before seen work.
The Boathouse Botanicals exhibit opens on June 8th, coinciding perfectly with the beginning of patio season. Drop into the Boathouse, browse some vibrant botanical art, and enjoy a cold beer or cider on the Boathouse patio overlooking the pond in Victoria Park.
Better yet, join me at the Boathouse Botanicals opening reception on June 8th for a first crack at purchasing one of the new pieces on display. I will be available to discuss my process and answer any questions you may have about my pieces and their subjects.
I’ve been neglecting the blog this year, but I haven’t stopped painting. Last month, I challenged myself by completing 30 watercolour pieces in 30 days. Each piece was a 6 x 6 watercolour illustration of a natural object found on my way to the studio.
I strongly recommend a daily art challenge as a way to practice techniques, loosen up and get painting. I was able to try a number of new techniques in this challenge which I would be afraid to trial on a larger project, and I learned to paint much faster and more confidently.
I also learned a lot about the watercolour pigments in my collection. I found some pigments surprisingly useful throughout the challenge. DS Amazonite Genuine, a lovely transparent turquoise, was surprisingly useful for delicate veining and shadows on leaves, berries and acorns, and mixed with Titanium Buff, was the perfect colour for lichen. M. Graham Neutral tint was very useful for rendering soft shadows on light subjects such as mushrooms and feathers.
This challenge also generated a number of images perfect for greeting cards. I am printing 12 new greeting card designs in 4.25 x 5.5 format, shown below
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about defining my own personal style in art. I know a few things – I strive for fairly accurate, realistic art. However, I do not like my art to be too delicate or technical. I really like quirky subjects, bold contrasts and colour.
The past few weeks, I’ve been working on painting carrots. Orange carrots are boring, so I’ve added in carrots that are purple, green and yellow to make a spectrum – a literal rainbow of carrots. This was originally intended to be an assignment for the SBA diploma course in coloured pencil, but after some initial sketches and colour swatches, I decided to complete it as a personal project in watercolour instead. I think it will look great on greeting cards for spring.
I’ve been focused on showcasing the things that make heirloom carrots unique. I’ve chosen the most colourful carrots. I’ve been drawing them under a warm light and bumped up the colour saturation and contrast just enough to make the rainbow pop. Carrots are knobbly root vegetables, and I’ve spent time developing all of the bumps and blemishes and hairs to make them extra carroty.
The whole time, the sentence “She drew carrots that look even better than real carrots” has been running through my head. It’s an adaptation of a line from an old favourite children’s book appropriately named Purple, Green, and Yellow, by Robert Munsch. The main character, Bridget, collects hundreds and thousands of markers, which she uses to draw “roses that look even better than real roses, oranges that look even better than real oranges”, until she gets bored and draws all over herself.
I decided I was going to be an illustrator when I was very little. One of the first things to spark my interest in illustration were the wonderful illustrations in the children’s books my parents read to me. Robert Munsch took up much of our library, perhaps because his characters reminded my parents so much of our own family. Michael Martchenko‘s illustrations of Munsch and his kids in Something Good are a comically accurate caricature of my own dad and siblings, from the mannerisms to the eyebrows.
The character who I identified most with was not any of the kids in Something Good, however. I was most like Bridget, the little artist who uses her collection of 500 permanent markers to draw on herself in Purple, Green and Yellow
I’m still that little girl in many ways. I don’t have quite 500 indelible markers (only about 50 Copics) but my collection of coloured pencils might soon exceed 500. I also hoard other art supplies – a few dozen tubes of watercolour paint (including sparkly amethyst coloured paint made from REAL amethysts), pens, watersoluble crayons, ink, graphite…
I don’t often use them to colour on myself anymore, but “carrots that look even better than real carrots” is very much an accurate summary of what I try to achieve with my work. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite hit the mark, but I hope to be able to draw, say, carrots, in a way that makes you want to pick the carrot off the page and bite into it, even more so that a real carrot.