Colour harmony, limited palettes and realism

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).

Mixing Surface, Studio Watercolor Palette and corner of Gladiolus painting
My usual studio setup – 52+ pigments in my studio palette, about 3-5 paints make it onto my mixing surface

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.

Magenta and Two Greens
Two Greens and a Magenta – An effective colour palette for tomato plants?

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.

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Instagram Feed by Iraville

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.

Lichen and Cup Fungi on Elm Branch by Lee Angold
Cup Fungi and Lichen on Elm Branch – Coloured Pencil and Micron Pen by Lee Angold

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.

Muted Primaries
Muted, earthy triad – Spanish Gold Ochre, Salmon and Mayan Blue

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.

Kitchen Reveal : 1 Year Before and After

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.

Sky Kitchen

 

 

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:

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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 🙂

 

Boathouse Botanicals

 

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.

Boathouse Botanicals
Boathouse Botanicals – Selected works by Lee Angold, opens June 8th at The Boathouse

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.

September Challenge

Daily Art Watercolour Challenge Sep 4th - October 4th 2016
Daily Art Watercolour Challenge Sep 4th – October 4th 2016

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

From 30 pieces in 30 days challenge
Greeting Cards

 

 

Drawing carrots that look even better than real carrots

Carrots that look even better than real carrots

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.

Carrots that look even better than real carrots
Taste the (Heirloom Carrot) Rainbow – Work in progress

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.

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You can juuust see the edge of a real carrot I am using for reference in this shot, how am I doing?

Throwback Thursday: A year in studios

2015 was a very eventful year for me.  On reflection, the story of my year can be told through my workspaces.

I started the year working off my living room table.   I was just emerging from a year of depression, chronic anxiety and unemployment where getting up from the couch was a trial.  Sitting up and drawing was massive progress, and a huge help in my recovery.

Partway through January, I decided to make use of my free time while I was still unemployed.  I bought the cheapest plane tickets I could find to Mexico City.  I set up a very makeshift studio on my friend Miguel‘s rooftop.

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A rooftop in a residential subdivision on the outskirts of Mexico City in the middle of winter makes for a very unique studio, surrounded by sounds and smells of roaming street vendors hawking everything from tamales to water tanks.  The weather varies between pleasantly warm and freezing cold with gusting dry, dusty wind.  Urban wildlife and neighbour children stare quizzically.

With every passing hour spent drawing on that rooftop, the world seems just a little bit brighter. When one particularly filthy feral kitten adopts me as his mom, and spends several days curled up by my side or trying to “help” me draw, it’s like the whole world is breaking open again.

On my return to Canada, I am delighted to discover a new art studio will be opening across the street from home, and renting small, affordable workspaces.

I am the first to sign up to rent a teeny little studio desk at the Bright Blue Door, just hours after interviewing for a part-time job at Miovision.  On studio-opening day, April 1st, I arrive with all my stuff, and transform my tiny desk in the corner into the coziest workspace.

studio

Within just a few weeks, though, I’ve outgrown my tiny desk.  I’ve also gotten a quick promotion at my dayjob, so it’s easy to justify a jump to a small booth space with a bit of extra storage. Over the summer,  I settle into a comfortable routine – alternating days working on illustrations at the studio with days testing software at Miovision.

However, calm and happy times rarely last forever.  In October, just as I was taking some extra responsibilities on at work, I am told that the studio I was renting from will be closing.

Finally, I decided to take a very large gamble. In November, I took over renting the entire 1500 square foot studio I used to rent a desk in.  I’ve carved out a large 140 square foot corner of the studio for myself, and am sharing costs with a small group of other artists.  Together, we are the KW Artists Co-op.  I’ve been working very hard to create a successful and sustainable co-op.  We have a lovely little library/snack station/kitchenette, and I have vibrant colour charts hanging over my workspace.

I’ve had to make significant sacrifices to my plans and lifestyle, but I am able to support not only my own rent, but also the remainder of the studio until we can find enough other members for our co-op.

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I’m excited to see the changes that 2016 will bring.  I hope my studio situation will be more stable in the coming year, but I can’t wait for this year’s adventures.

 

 

 

 

Artwork feature on Kijani Grows garden kits

Kijani Grows 2

Earlier this month, I was contacted by Eric Maundu of Kijani Grows.  Kijani Grows in an Oakland based smart aquaponics startup.  They make Arduino-controlled aquarium-fed gardens for businesses, schools and individuals.

Eric had found one of my early pen doodles online, and thought the style would be well suited to a pyrograph image on some of their new garden kits for schools.

I recently received pictures of a prototype kit printed with my Jellyfish I sketch.  The completed prototype came even nicer than I had hoped!

Kijani Grows 1

I was also very pleased to see the pictures of the kit itself.  It is flat-packed for shipping, and includes easy to follow assembly instructions, which are burned into the wood alongside my illustration and the Kijani Grows logo.  Overall, it is a very clever design, which I expect will be very educational in schools.

Kijani Grows 3

I look forward to working with Kijani Grows to complete a series of commissions of other sea-life pen illustrations for other units.  I have also been promised a kit of my own once they go into production – very useful to grow my own subjects for botanical illustration, as well as some of my own food

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This collaboration has been a particularly creative example of how my illustrations can be applied to commercial products.  Most of my existing pieces are available in multiple formats to be licenced for commercial use, and I am eager to work with others to develop creative custom product art.

 

 

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Launching the KW Artists Co-op

 

Over the course ofIMG_20151018_151817 the past several months, I’ve been very fortunate to rent a studio space at the The Bright Blue Door.  The Bright Blue Door offered me a wonderful opportunity to work in a spacious, bright and sunny shared studio space centrally located in midtown KW, right across the street from home. Working in a shared studio with other artists has been transformative for me.

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I found out that the Bright Blue Door was moving to a different space to focus on their marketing activities and I would have to find studio space.

After an emotional rollercoaster ride, I have decided to team up with some of the artists from the studio.  Together, we are thrilled to announce we are launching the KW Artists Co-op, a co-operative working studio located within the same space.

Our renters are all co-op members, with a share of the responsibiliy, steering and profits of our co-op studio.   We have rearranged the space into fewer, larger rental spots surrounding a common lounge/library/meeting area. We are excited to be working together to promote the space, paint unique signage, source furniture and shared equipment and build a shared studio library.

Although at this time we are a working studio and do not organize shows or events as a co-op, we encourage members to hang their work up on the gallery walls and make use of our shared facilities for events and classes.

I am excited for this new adventure, and eager to meet more artists to join me on it 🙂