Exploring Color

Exploring Color

I just posted a new color chart on my Instagram @linda.wandt.art and it got some comments from people saying they wanted to do the same! That makes me so happy, so here’s a new technical post.

I paint with oil because I adore what can be achieved with them, and I’m sort of addicted to the tactile sensations of working with oil paint. Beyond that, the colors are vibrant and luscious – if you are working with professional grade paints. Color is such a crucial part of painting, and I’d like to go into that a bit by talking about some of my favorite color charts and explorations into color theory – the caveat of this is understanding that I still have A LOT to learn about color theory, but I do want to share some of what I’ve explored so far.

The charts I’ve found to be most informative as a starting point are from the book “Portrait Painting Atelier” by Suzanne Brooker. I can not recommend it highly enough. For more detail, check the book out!

Taking a good look at your colors and understanding them by Hue (color family), Value (light or dark) and Chroma (intensity) will help you a ton and facilitate the choices you make. If you have never made your own color wheel (as an adult), I recommend doing that before this. For value, you can buy a grey-scale chart, but I recommend creating your own for the experience and deepening your understanding.

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My grey scale and blacks chart. Mine has a mistake! I recommend your scale goes to 11, so your mid-value is actually, you know, mid.

For this exercise you need a 16 x 20 sheet of canvas paper or canvas, which you grid out with pencil and ruler into 1 1/2 inch squares, seven across and about 9 blocks down. I like to add a block at the end (making 8) for notes – the pigment number, it’s opacity rating, and what I used to neutralize it. I also label the hue and brand. This chart takes time – be prepared for that, this is a labor of love! I also recommend you date your chart on the back, for more information about the colors you are using over time. I use a 3/4” flat synthetic brush. The first square is the color straight from the tube, the second is the tint (mixed with white). Next is tone (mixed with mid-value grey), then Shade (mixed with black.) Next you Warm the color, and in the next square you want to cool it. Finally, create a neutral by mixing the color with its compliment. This chart can now serve as a reference and builds your memory of altering your colors. If the colors being mixed are too dark, I sometimes add a teeny tiny bit of white to the mix to show its properties better.

New Blue Chart-web
New Blue Chart I just made. Compare it to the old one below, and you can see the advancement of my understanding about creating neutrals – here, the color in hue remains, it’s still blue in the first neutral column. The second neutral column is a sometimes a chromatic black, since I used orange, the compliment of blue to neutralize my mixes.
Old Blue Chart-web
This is my blue chart from years ago. I wanted to revisit my charts for the experience and with the paints I am currently using. Notice how green some of those “neutrals” are!

Here is a chart I just made from Al Gury’s “Alla Prima” – (another book I can’t recommend highly enough.) tint chart_webIt’s basically a tint chart with some color interactions to show how one color can affect another by being next to it. It also starts to show the properties of earth reds that can be selected as flesh recipe bases, but I’m working on a more thorough chart of that and it’s not done yet. Want even more? Make charts like the value scale, but with the colors’ compliments ranging from (for example) alizarin crimson to viridian green with the chromatic black in the center. Play with other color interactions! It’s fun and hands-on learning!

Check out this link for Munsell color information.

Let’s talk real quick about creating form and the two ways to do so – through value, or temperature. We are all familiar I think with value change, but a really important aspect is temperature change. Remembering that warm colors pop forward in space and cool colors recede is invaluable for creating the illusion of forms in space, in addition to neutralizing colors to look farther away.

What are your favorite color theory books? I’m waiting for a classic Joseph Albers (this link is great!) to arrive by mail, and would love to hear what other people have found most informative! Thanks for reading, and don’t be shy, keep in touch!

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Sandra as Chronos – “Get to it!”

Sandra as Chronos

Something I think about constantly – and you likely do as well, is time. It doesn’t feel like there is ever enough of it to accomplish what I’d like. This is definitely because I went back to working a day job and paint around that now, which is why my production slowed so much the past 6 months. One the one hand, working a day job is great, obviously for the financial security that being an artist doesn’t always provide, but also because it makes me appreciate the time I do have to paint more, and forces me to be more productive with that time. I had started back full time, and now getting ready for a bunch of shows, I’ve gone to four days a week, so I can focus more on painting again. It’s also great because it takes so much pressure off of what I do make. I don’t need the sale to pay the utilities, I’m free to make what I want, for myself, and then just put it out there and see what happens. If it stays with me for a time, that’s okay. I made it for me anyway.

This painting is definitely for me, I made it while ruminating over time, what I’m doing with mine, how I spend my nights after work, and it’s really just a little kick in the butt – a painting about getting back to the work of painting. I don’t have forever.  None of us do. The urge to paint for me is a compulsion, but if I don’t have the energy, I can’t always force it. If I go too long without painting however, I start to feel… itchy. Unsatisfied, lazy even. I feel unfulfilled. Once I get back to work, all feels right again, I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing with my time. The precious little I may have, and there are so many paintings I want to make! I struggle a great deal with maintaining balance in my life – work, painting, family and friends, and simple alone downtime, those things all need to happen, and they need to be balanced. Too much of any one thing, and everything begins to feel a little claustrophobic.

So this is my good friend Sandra, personified as time. It’s okay for her to tell me to get off my ass, because we support each other a lot. She’s never actually said anything like that, but it felt right for her to be the subject in this one. I had envisioned it as a female Chronos, the keeper of the ticking moments, though definitely sans the whole child eating thing. She’s staring hard at me, goading me, saying  “Hey, quit wasting time. Get to it.” The original reference photo has black lace draped over the chair, but I decided to leave it out because it didn’t need the extra reminder of death, it keeps it a little lighter,  more positive and I can’t bring myself to cover the peacock chair. Man, I love that chair.

Sandra in progressThe experience of painting this feels like a bridge in a strange way – I’m happy with the painting, I’m proud of it, but there are a few things about it that vexed me throughout and still do – it’s best to be seen as a learning experience for sure. Proportional issues and edge work, brushstrokes and all. I love painting large hands, because I love hands, but it really bugged me here once I got there. If slightly larger hands are a mark of my work, I’m for it, usually. I was working on it last night and listening to an artist interview podcast, and the artist said something that really struck me as being exactly how I felt at that very moment – the reason I’ve been so frustrated is because I’m learning and growing. All the things I see that are wrong with this painting are because I can now see what could be better about it. All my successes with it are points to be proud of, for sure, but the problems are glaring at me like a neon sign. The hand placements was different at first. I got over a week behind schedule dealing with it. Here’s a peak at what it was like, I felt it was unnatural looking and the entire arm was moved!

Wood vs Muscle

Wood vs Muscle

I posted before about one of my favorite pieces suffering an impact crack and how it broke my heart. I decided to paint the same image again, on a sturdy Ampersand panel, with a lovey 2 inch cradle that I stained cherry red. I’ll go ahead and say this was a really good choice on my part. The second piece turned out so much better then the first. I was able to apply all the new things I’ve learned in the 4 year span since making the original, and on a rigid substrate. Phew!

wood v muscle '16_web
Wood vs Muscle, 24 x 24”, 2016

I had mixed feelings about repainting a piece, it felt kind of strange, but the experience really was so different from the first time because I was so much more proficient in craft this time. The first painting was a plodding struggle spanning months. The second version was still a struggle, sure, but I had so many more tools at my disposal – a better eye and more experience. I also got to fix a couple of issues that really bugged me about the first painting.

 

I’m still working this formula – first layer verdaccio, second layer to refine. Then glazing flesh tones, but I admit some areas get too opaque, I’m still struggling with adding too much color over the shadows, where the paint is supposed to remain the thinnest to show the underpainting. My understanding is that the midtones are where the shadows blend into upper layers.

If you’ve been following along on this journey of self taught glazing, you might see that each time I attempt a piece like this they get closer and closer to what I’m aiming for. I’m not there yet, and I waffle between thinking this knowledge is finite or limitless. I’m slowing down though, a recent break of painting a landscape during sunset was a refreshing change of pace that I wish to repeat! It was so freeing and loose after these years of tightly controlled detail painting. As to whether or not I’m changing my subject matter, well, that’s what series are for, right?

 

Process and creative flow

Many people ask me questions about my artistic process, and sometimes I find myself a little stumped. They want a peek into how and why artists make what they make, and if the person asking doesn’t make art, it turns out that usually what they want to hear is less technical and more abstract. I started this blog because I wanted a forum for discussing the more technical aspects of oil painting. That’s why it’s called what it’s called. As I go through the process of teaching myself how to glaze flesh tones over verdaccio and grisaille, as I go back and forth between indirect and wet on wet pieces, and as I explore the possibilities of the medium that I love so dearly, it would be great to have a public place to share all these things with other people who are also learning or interested.  But I’m realizing that actually, I also want to use the blog as a forum to tell my story and to explain to a degree why I make what I make. Talking to people directly about my work is absolutely something I must learn to do with ease and grace, but like many artists, I am heavily introverted, and am more comfortable alone in the studio.

I get asked often where my ideas come from. The honest truth is, they come from everywhere. They come from articles I read, people I know, from conversations I have, and they come from my personal writing practice as well. When I become very stumped for ideas, I take strange photos of myself. That is how quite a few of my paintings have been born. I greatly admire those artists who start with what they want to say, and build a piece around it. I have only successfully managed that a few times. Very often, I start with a basic idea or image, and I allow it to grow organically. I may allow a piece to sit in my head for a year or more before I decide it’s ready to be developed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dream before Sleep, 2009

Sometimes the images finalize themselves in that space just before sleep, when the conscious and subconscious are brushing up against each other. That’s where this old painting comes from. The butterflies are ideas being born. The figure is illustratively cartoonish, because I jumped out of bed and made it.

I will admit something personal – sometimes I make a painting and I don’t understand it until I’ve stared at it for a really long time – days, weeks, even months. Sometimes I paint what I admire, things I want to do, but don’t because learning the skill seems intimidating, and I’d rather paint. I’ve been playing guitar on and off for about two decades, and will likely never get that good at it, but the desire to play guitar has never left me, so I continue to play it maybe once a week or once a month, but that’s not enough to steadily improve. Instead, I made paintings about women with guitar necks, and then spines.

I imagined vertebra morphing into tuning keys, and these two paintings are the outcome of this imagining. And yes, of course I am fully aware of Man Ray’s’ Le Violon D’Angres. There was a procession of images that lead to the guitar spines however. It started with the Guitar Neck Woman, a painting from around 2010 that I wish were more technically proficient, but hey, we all start out somewhere. I strive to always grow and improve, hopefully for the rest of my days. If you think that’s strange, you should know the Guitar Neck Women I used to doodle evolved into Guitar Neck Peacock Women. Then the necks became like vacuum hoses. That got really weird.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
We all start somewhere. Gosh, this is strange.

 

It’s fun to see the progress though, and I hope that by showing older works it might inspire one of the many people I meet who tell me they tried to make art, but it wasn’t any good so they gave up. Don’t give up. That’s what it takes if you feel discouraged about making art. The saying for poems is the same for making art. Write one hundred poems. Throw them out. Write one hundred more. Some of those will be good poems. So maybe don’t actually throw out your paintings – maybe just paint over them. I’ve made scores of paintings that don’t exist anymore, because they were bad. I’ve even burned a few, and out of all of those destroyed pieces, I only regret destroying three of them. So be careful about what you destroy, but if you need the canvas to make another painting, just do it. You need to make a lot of bad paintings to figure out how to make a good painting, and man, those bad paintings take up so much space.

(Note – I wrote a post today for the first time in forever, and then found this half finished draft saved and forgotten, so I went ahead and finished it.)

 

Writing Bios makes me question everything. Which is great.

I’ve written a million bios at this point. Well, maybe 50 to be really honest, but it seems like it’s taken me ten years and 48 different versions of it to finally start chipping away the extra stuff and get down to the heart of describing proficiently who I am, and what I am doing with painting. I wrote my 50th or so Bio today for a show and it finally seems to be a cohesive message with clear meaning. I hope. I’m still wish-washing between the third person and first person battle though. We all agree, I think – writing about yourself in the third person is weird, uncomfortable and feels stifled. Let’s face it as well, most people hate writing their bios. It’s so crucial to defining your practice though, that if I was teaching painting to third year college students I would make them write a new one every other week. They would despise me for this, unquestionably, but the ones who continued on to a daily art practice after graduating would thank me for it. I think.

After years of the same over poetic, long-winded bio, I started getting critical of it finally. The procrastination of this process is pretty amazing. I’m impressed it’s taken me so long to realize how valuable it actually is. Not just for describing who I am to others so they can place me in whatever box is needed as per human categorization and processing goes, but really more so for myself and gaining a deeper understanding of what my mission statement is a painter. Naturally as the years pass, your statement should be changing and growing with you. Here’s the new one I wrote today, which is not perfect whatsoever, but a heck of a lot better then previous attempts.

“Linda Wandt is an Austin based oil painter who primarily creates surreal portraiture and figurative works. Originally from Long Island, NY, she moved to Texas in 2000 and attended UT Austin from 2003-2006 where she obtained a BA in Studio Art while also focusing on literature and philosophy. Through painting, Linda is trying to explore the topics of forging identity, what it means to be female in the present as well as in the past, and examining the subconscious and how it interacts with the conscious mind. The narratives and characters in her pieces which often involve flora and fauna as well, invite the viewer to question these topics in their own way.”

Writing this bio today made me excited. My work has jumped all over the place over the years in both style and direction. I don’t view that as bad, I’ve just been painting whatever the heck I’ve wanted, which is what anyone should be doing. I paint a lot of models from life, but I’ve also been painting bees, owls, venus fly traps and llamas and my favorite musicians or authors or other painters and I’ve been painting the conceptual pieces that represent what I’m *actually* trying to convey. The thing is, these things are all connected in some way. It’s just not possible to see that sometimes, not until years later. I’m starting to connect the dots now, and my paintings don’t feel as random anymore. A teacher once said “You don’t reinvent the wheel with each painting. Each piece should lead you to the next”. I’d make a painting in 2007 and then have the idea for the next in that “series” 7 years later. In present time, I can start making the pieces I want with a closer technical skill to what I desire from what I produce, but those older pieces still hold space with me, and contribute to what I make now.

Today’s bio is succinct for the purpose of the show, it’s cohesive enough to get the basic point across, but I found myself still wanting to write when it was done. Those three topics I described in the bio break it down into easily digestible snippets. It’s more complex then that though, and again comes the questions I’ve been dodging for years – Am I a feminist painter? Yes if you count how I ultimately want to depict my female subjects, as minds in clothed bodies with thoughts and dreams and daring to brush up against the edges of reality in their quests for greater understanding of themselves and their places in the universe. What I just wrote leads me to understand that the pieces are surreal, sure, but also existential. Some of the pieces are not strictly about a female experience though, and within that context could be interpreted far from what was intended. Smokescreen and Instinct vs Intellect especially, those pieces portray women representing humanity, outside of the gender bias. Microcosm as well, the figure in that piece represents all of us. I feel so strongly about that, and have found no other place to express it then here. I used female figures for them merely because that is the filter though which I understand everything around me. These paintings are societal commentaries. The first two reflect American problems, to be even more specific, the first is political protest, the latter a comment on our relationship with nature. Microcosm reflects on possibility, that we are but one consciousness amid the multiple possibilities, the universes at the ends of the forks in the horns and the keys and locks representing what we do along our paths, and that is not to speak of one gender. We are a micro in a macro. I couldn’t find the room to express this in the bio,  while there was a strong sense of satisfaction from it, it prompted the need to keep typing.

The pieces are not random, not at all. I need the bio and statement writing to keep myself on track sometimes though. A family member once looked at one of my earlier paintings (The Queen of Bones to be specific, a nearly disturbing painting, true) and they just shook their head, and said “I could never look so deeply within myself. I’d be afraid too.” We as painters get to do this, if we choose to. It’s important that we do this. It’s important that we go to the scary places, that we search the depths of our psyches. It’s important that we perform this function for society as well, and reflect back to it what we see in it.

So before I digress more here’s the idea – if you make paintings and haven’t really been focusing on bios/statements, write one. Then write it again. Then again. It’s like burning your first 100 poems before you write a good poem. I’ve burned several of my paintings at this point, and I’m really glad I have. I’ve painted over many more then I’ve burned. My catalogue at this point is just over 100 (I realize that is not a lot), and I’ve destroyed or sanded off and covered the same amount or more I’d wager. This applies to the entire process of refining what you do, to growing over time. Don’t change the bio or statement you’ve already written, a mistake I’ve made so many times. Start it over again from scratch. Over and over again.

p.s. I’m sorry there were no images in this post. I’ll do better next time! I haven’t gotten around the Zorn palette like I said I would in the last post, which was a long time ago, but more about color to come!

 

Adventures in flesh tones!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here, and a lot of great things have gone on since “Microcosm”was completed! I took a 6 session figure painting class with a fabulous local painter, and she had us work with a limited palette that I’m still using and really enjoying. The more I work with it, the more levels I unlock, and it’s really exciting! It took a little while for me to start mixing greens out of it, I admit, and it was awkward at first since I’ve been using a ton of colors, but now that I’m past the hump of initially feeling limited,  it’s not limiting at all. These colors are the following – Titanium white, yellow ocher, Winsor Red, Winsor Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Red Oxide and Raw Umber. It took me a bit to mix the red oxide and umber together for a warmer brown, which I am embarrassed by. That took me several uses to figure out. Burnt Sienna is really important to me, but you can totally make, no it problem! For flesh tones, it’s still a little strange for me still not having Viridian Green available for neutralizing colors, but I’m getting the hang of the new green, and getting into some lovely greys as well.

Another school of thought on the limited palette is that it’s great to have both a warm and a cool version of the primaries, and with this palette, you just do the work yourself. Yup. No Alizarin Crimson. No Cerulean Blue. MIND BLOWN. The conclusion I’ve reached is that I LOVE THIS PALETTE and I’m going to keep using it for a good while longer and keep learning new things from it. I’ve been mixing paint for a long time now, but I’m getting a lot from this exercise, and wish I had started using it years ago. The great thing about painting? You keep learning FOREVER. I love that.

Here’s two of my latest with this palette. The first one is titled “Communication No. 1 (Bells, Birds and Pistons)”.  I originally was going to put pistons in there, and then agonized over the meaning. I wanted to lighten it up, and went with a bell. Now Pistons still need to happen, and ta-da! A series is born about the different ways we communicate vocally. The pirate painting is totally in progress here, and not finished yet. I’m calling it “Trophy”. See what I did there? It makes me happy. That peacock print chair that she’s sitting on makes me really happy too. Don’t mess with this lady, or she’ll take over your ship. I really love the possible narratives this piece offers.  I’ll get more into it once it’s finished. I am in a serious rush to get it done for drop off for a show and will likely make a larger version I can take my time with. The model has amazing 3/4 sleeve tattoos on her arms, and I’ll paint the whole thing over again just so get those in there. I’ll probably make the background wooden slats too, for a boat feel.

I have to admit a secret, which is that I’m addicted to monochrome under paintings now. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know! I have a wee bit of an issue with proportion at times, so the two layer underpainting process really helps me get that settled while only concerning myself with value. I can refine where things go and then once stuff looks correct, I can move into the glorious world of color. I’ve been hoping to break the tedious underpainting thing and work quicker with more wet on wet, but the transition is looking slow. The downside is I don’t always see things until it’s too late if I’m working thin, and then I’m stuck with the issue. That’s really bad!

Then I threw a wrench in the works completely, and took a three day workshop with a super famous dude in portrait painting. Everything about it was different from what I’ve been doing. It was really useful, and kind of overwhelming. He uses a huge palette and doesn’t premix. It’s madness! Sometimes I spend as long as 30-45 minutes mixing those fleshies. Why? I DON’T KNOW! Most importantly, I got from it this nougat of wisdom – keep the features loose for as long as possible. Get into the details once every thing else is looking correct. Sure, this seems obvious, but in practice, personally, it’s actually difficult to do. It’s also a totally different approach, since I have been working with the monochromatic underpainting for so long, but then I realized the gem – IT STILL APPLIES.  *Getting into details too fast is why my proportions wind up biting me on the butt all the time.* Bad habits are hard to break, but this is my new mantra, and I’m excited about it.

So now I’m in a space in my practice where I’m trying to adopt new stuff from both methods of working, and it’s a little confusing. The best way to sort it out is to just keep painting and keep those key concepts in mind. Next experiment when I get a chance – the famed Zorn Palette! Stay tuned!

Microcosm

I’ve completed another painting, and another experiment in flesh tones. During my blog about creating “Smokescreen” I discussed the palette I’ve been developing over a verdaccio underpainting, I said I was going to try the same palette over a grisialle painting so that I could see the difference in how the paint mixes optically. Welp, it was a total failure, just as I expected! That likely sounds moronic to some people, but to me it’s merely a science experiment. The failure went exactly how I expected it to go, and that gives me a great deal of information about the process of what colors work well over what monochrome underpaintings.

Grisaille Underpainting Linda Wandt
Grisaille Underpainting by Linda Wandt

This piece served to show me how and why the warm flesh tones I was using don’t work in a transparent manner over a grey underpainting. The colors together work great over a green-grey underpainting, because the cool greenish hue neutralizes the warm flesh hues over it. When I started laying the color on, everything was really peachy and not natural looking. I knew this could be that the layering process is complex, and would require more then one layer to look natural. Unfortunately, I was working with a very pale skinned model, and I had to alter my recipes to work with the skin tone. I switched from a warm red flesh tone base (transparent red oxide) to a cool red – genuine rose madder – an expensive color I use rarely and sparingly that interestingly is somewhat fugitive so it was replaced greatly by Alizarin Crimson, and then by the synthetic Quinacridone family of pigments. I find Rose Madder creates such a gorgeous color that is different from both more modern alternatives however. This does not mean I recommend using the pigment, but I do have some and love it greatly. With this recipe, things began working out much better, but it still required several layers and a lot of guess work to get things where I wanted them. I got so lost for a bit, I had to even ask for an outside opinion to help with the issues I was having from working from a photograph of a fair skinned person sitting in the shade. Le Sigh. Working from life really is better. It’s so absolutely true that you loose so much color in the shadows when working from photographs. What I really needed to do was simply keep plugging away at it, slowly adding color layers to create form. Here is what I ended up with.

Macrocosm Linda Wandt
Detail of “Microcosm” Linda Wandt

So camera phone photos are not all that for reproduction. The skin is pinker in reality. Also keep in mind, I’m learning, and on top of that mostly teaching myself. I’m leaving out the meaning of the piece altogether, and focusing on the technical aspects, and I’m still honestly tweaking some of the details around the figure, so I’m only showing a detail at this point. Sorry about that. I’ll have it photographed all pretty and nicely lit and put that on my website in the next week or so. But the journey toward the flesh tones in this painting was important. Neutralizing the skin with blue in some spots and green mixed in others into the base flesh tone and then adding other colors has been a huge step in the right direction for me, and I’m really excited about the results as I do this more. I’d love to streamline this process in future paintings, but I feel like a few more with this method are merited before I get real crazy and start attempting my flesh tones in a single layer, like I see some people doing. I’m really curious though, and feel like if I can gain these principles in transparent colors, trying it all in one shot will be an easier process for me. There are so many possibilities for flesh recipes, it gets really overwhelming sometimes, and it’s very easy to get lost in the realm of possibility. A smarter painter then myself recently told me that limiting your palette is really wise, and I think she is absolutely correct. I also think that would make a fine subject for the next entry.