Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

It’s been 4 years since I’ve completed one, but the Crayola bug has bit me once again! I recently was fortunate enough to be able to make it over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to see the van Gogh exhibit there – it was wonderful, and really, really packed for a Tuesday. I shudder to think what it was like to visit it on a weekend. There were several pieces I’d never seen before and some sketches as well. Seeing these paintings in person is sort of like hitting a ‘reset’ button for me. The daily monotony of working and then painting is pretty tiring sometimes, and seeing others’ art refreshes the well! It’s ecstasy to drink in these pieces in person! The MFAH has an incredible permanent collection as well, and it’s always a treat to visit with some of my favorite paintings in that collection. Last time I was there I was taken in by Georges Daniel de Monfreid’s self portrait, and it was so lovely to be able to visit it again. Another piece that captured me on this visit was František Kupka’s “The Yellow Scale”.

The first is my photo at the museum. In the second, sadly, much of the pinks are washed out.

Sometimes you see a piece of art that simply floors you, that sucks the air right out of your lungs and everything else in the room ceases to exist. You make a beeline for it, as if magnetized. This painting did that to me. Kupka eventually went on to make abstracts, and this self portrait makes me a little sad about that, even though it makes sense as he was primarily interested in color theory. This study of yellow is a commanding portrait. An artist friend of mine said “The sheer arrogance of it almost knocks you over.” It’s well said. You can’t help but to wonder as to what this artist was like in person and what he was thinking as he posed for himself for this piece. It strikes at the heart of what is so compelling about self portraiture – how intimate the self portrait is. While I believe that in its way, every piece of art made is a self portrait of the artist, literal self portraits are brazen and boldly open, honest and revealing. They are exciting and fearless, as personal and daring as an artist can get. To make one and then to share it, to remain in the world past your years as a picture on a wall for countless strangers to connect with you is a compelling act. This painting in particular, with Kupka presenting himself in his robe, holding out his cigarette, staring at you as if to dare you to look at him – this is pure gold, pure connection, an intimate stare into the human condition. He challenges you to accept or deny him, to really see him if you are willing to look. This is why when I copy master paintings, an invaluable tool for learning from those before you, I prefer them to be self portraits. I prefer to spend time with the artist, this allows me to converse with them in a more personal manner, going deeper then their composition, color choices and brushstrokes.

Georges Daniel de Monfreid “Self Portrait” 1905 and Henri Mattise “Self Portrait in a Striped T-Shirt” 1906 (See my earlier post “Painting at the start of the 20th Century” for more on that topic.)

My choice to do the majority of my master copies with crayon is also a deeply personal choice. It’s a challenging medium, an unforgiving medium. It’s hard on my hands, too. Every single one I have done harbors mistakes that can not be covered or hidden from view. They do not aim to create a copy that is indistinguishable – they celebrate their mistakes and differences. I enjoy the challenge of translating the medium, even when thick impasto brushwork must be sacrificed. Color correctness must also be sacrificed, the range of crayola colors is limited and requires extra thought into layering to achieve something that’s sort of similar. I could buy a wide range of fancy, adult artist crayons, ones with more pigment and colors with familiar names, but there is something soothing and reminiscent of the pureness of drawing as a child that I enjoy, the olfaction is a large part of it. The act of drawing with crayons keeps alive that sheer joy of just sitting and exploring with waxy color. Applying the drawing skills I have as an adult to the medium of early childhood is something deeply satisfying, it feels like coming full circle as a celebration.

My aim, over time, is to complete a series of 20 self portrait master copy drawings. On my list for the next drawings are Ludwig Meidner (second attempt), Gwen John, van Gogh (of course), and if I’m feeling extra fancy, Kahlo and Lucien Freud.

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.

grey scale-web
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!