Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Birge Harrison, part 3

The quotable Birge.

Grand Central And The Biltmore In Hazy Twilight

I have taken notes from some of the passages from Landscape Painting that reveal how Mr. Harrison went about his painting, and his thoughts on art-making in general.

I find the below to be some of the most revealing.
(These are all from chapters 3 & 4)

On technique in the service of individualism:

"... one of the chief delights of the art of painting lies in the fact that each artist does, and of necessity must, invent his own technique; for his personal technique is an inalienable part of the personal vision which makes his art his own."

I take this to mean in practice that one should learn and try many techniques from the masters of the past and your teachers of the present. Some technique, or combination of techniques, is the way forward for you on your path to an individual creative style. The only way to find out which is to work and experiment. A lot.

On vibration:

"The whole picture in all its exact values can and should be built up in this preliminary covering of the canvas, for the value of the overtone must in every case exactly match the value of the undertone."

"While we wish to secure broken color, we must avoid broken values, for they utterly destroy atmosphere."

" The undertone must be warmer than the overtone, and second it must never be brown;  and this for the excellent reason that out-of-door nature abhors brown, and never uses it."

So... broken color was Birge's thing.
There's more than one way to go about that. Birge's way was to lay down a warm underpainting of shapes and values, and then work on top of that with a cool color, not completely obscuring the undertone.
He was after vibration through contrast of hue, not value.

His whole negative reaction to brown may stem from an over-use of it in the generations preceding him. Earlier artists - and many, if not most of them did not paint outside much - tended to lay down a brown underpainting and/or have brown shadows in their landscape paintings. Shadows outside tend to be cooler, blue or blue-grey, often reflecting some of the blue of the sky. And tree trunks and branches are more often grey, or grey-green than the commonly thought of brown. I myself would never say that there is zero brown out in nature, but there is not as much as people often think.


On Refraction:

(I take Mr. Harrison to mean "edges" when he says "refraction.")

"no picture in its extreme corners should be painted with quite the same vigor of technique or strength of color or of value as in its natural focal centre."

A pretty obvious concept, but a good one to keep in mind when painting or drawing.
One can become obsessed with rendering detail and over-refining over the whole of an image, but end up doing so at the expense of clarity and focus.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Birge Harrison, part 2

Soaring Clouds

Back to Birge

Lovell Birge Harrison

(I notice many sites have his first name as Lowell. It is actually Lovell, but many have mistakenly assumed the more common Lowell.)

His elder brother Alexander was also a very accomplished painter.

The Wave
Alexander Harrison

They exhibited together at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1913.
The catalog from that show can be seen/downloaded here:
What a show that would have been to see...

Hidden Moon

At one point in Landscape Painting Birge outlines the 4 distinct ways (as he saw it in 1909) to make an oil painting.

They are:

1. The classical approach of making a monochromatic underpainting and then glazing color on top, as Renaissance painters did.

2. Laying unbroken color in "smooth flat masses" as a house painter does

3. Painting dabs of differing colors like an Impressionist. The "spot and dash method," as Birge calls it.

4. Doing what Birge himself advocates (and presumably other Tonalists did?) and painting cool colors on top of a still-wet warm underpainting. "Care being taken not to mix or blend the two coats and not to cover up completely the undertone, rather letting it show through brokenly all over the canvas...." The visual interaction of the cool and warm giving the painting "vibration."
I plan to try this method. It seems to me that it might be tricky to do as he says and not inadvertently mix or blend the warm and cool.

I think this detail are from Fifth Avenue at Twilight shows the kind of vibration he went after in his work. The turquoise and violet in the distant building contrast and vibrate with their differing hues, but their values are very similar:

Fifth Avenue at Twilight (detail)

More to come....

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Birge Harrison, part 1

Sometimes it can really pay to go back and reread something.

In my case, Birge Harrison's 1910 book Landscape Painting.

Fifth Avenue at Twilight, ca. 1910
Detroit Institute of Arts
One of his most (rightly) famous works and they do not have it on display!

I got it a while back and read it. Liked it, but wasn't particularly bowled over. A recent Facebook mention of it got me to start rereading it, and I'm very glad I did.

Having made a certain number of paintings, and logged many more miles of brushwork in the interim, his concepts now really resonate with me.

Oh, and his work? Amazingly beautiful. Gorgeous. Rich with atmosphere. I long to see one of his paintings in person.

Sunburst at Sea

I made this post a "part 1" as I have not read through the whole thing again and yet feel I have enough for a worthwhile post. There will be a part 2 and maybe more...

Here are some of his points that really clicked with me:

on Art:
"...this is the test of the highest form of art - that it should stimulate the imagination and suggest more than it expresses."

on Values:
"the best we can do is to translate the infinite value scale of nature into our sadly finite scale of pigments, and endeavor' by most careful balance, to adjust our means to our ends."

"...the most important thing to consider is the value-key of our picture. Assuming the whole scale of values from the deepest black to the purest white to be represented by the number 100, the question arises as to what proportion of this number we shall use in the particular work which we are proposing to execute.. In this matter the golden rule is reserve. We lose rather than gain in power by forcing the note, and a picture in which the whole scale from black to white should be employed would be absolutely without atmosphere, and without charm."

Sunrise from Quebec
sold at auction in 2016 for $26,000

For me, his paintings really seem to make color (and value) count by his using less of it.

You can purchase a reprint of Harrison's book combined with A. Durand's in one volume for $15
buy from Amazon

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"White Ink"

My understanding is that white ink isn't really a true ink, as inks are always transparent and so white ink must have something added to it to make it opaque. Like acrylic binder.
With that out of the way:

I add light values to pen & ink drawings in a number of ways: colored pencil, gouache with a brush, and lately I have been trying some white gel pens.

I want a white I can use with a dip pen and brush, and so have been hunting for something that clicks with me. (Gouache out of a tube won't work well with a dip pen nib.)

The top "clouds" were applied with a No. 2 Robert Simmons Expression synthetic round brush.

The linear marks were made with one of my all-time favorite and most-used nibs, an Esterbrook 988:

Esterbrook 988 in a Koh-I-Noor holder.

My conclusion?
They all felt serviceable with brush and dip pen. I could make do with any of them if I had to. I think the Daler-Rowney flowed the best in the dip pen, And the cloud it produced has the most subtleties.

This drawing shows the effect of a dip pen putting in the light value lines:
 (I think the dark lines were a fine line marker)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Decoding Pigment Codes

limited palette painting demo in chromium oxide green and pyrrole red

     In the process of working on materials for my limited palette workshop at Evanston Art Center, I came across a number of interesting things in the world of colors and pigments and oil paints.

Now, I always assumed that a paint's pigment code (such as PB29 for Ultramarine Blue) was absolute. Not so much, really. It is pretty specific yes, but 2 paints from 2 different manufacturers can vary quite a bit even if they have the same pigment code. Also, 2 different-looking paint colors can be made from the same pigment, by varying the grind and including additives.

This whole labyrinth came to my attention when I realized that Cadmium Lemon and Cadmium Yellow Deep oil paints (both from Williamsburg) are each composed solely of PY35 pigment. Now, Cad Lemon is a lighter, cooler yellow and Cad Yellow Deep is more like an orangey yellow and darker in value. Pretty different while both obviously still being "yellow." How can they both be the same pigment? I emailed both Williamsburg and Gamblin these sort of questions and got helpful responses from both.

From Scott Bennett at Williamsburg/Golden:

"There are many examples of paint colors that have the same pigment ID number but exhibit different colors. Iron Oxides in general have a wide variety of colors due to little tweaks in trace elements and pigment size. Phthalo Blues and Quinacridone Reds can have the same number but with a color and a sub number indicating a variation. How the pigment is ground during paint making will change the color. PR 108,..the various Cadmium Reds, is similar but the differences have to do with the addition of selenium.

Differing hues of Cadmium reds, orange and yellow are made by increasing the percentage of selenium, zinc or sulfur during one stage of production. The range of cadmium pigments, yellow, orange, red are basically cadmium yellow (cadmium sulfide) with some selenium added in place of sulfur (cadmium selenide). Therefore cadmium sulfide can be made in various shades ranging from yellow, orange to red. Mineral pigment produced from cadmium sulphide when heated with selenium becomes red.

So it is not just one variable but a range of variables depending on the pigment. And the same pigment in different binders can look very different."

Another thing I found is that in researching colors, you really have to go to the manufacturer's site's to get accurate information on pigment content. It can seem handy to just look on the Blick site (or some other retailer), but they tend to just assume pigment content based on the name and I have found numerous errors.

Below, see Blick's pigment info on the left, and Michael Harding's on the R:

If you want to read info on specific pigments read up on:
The Color of Art Pigment Database

Friday, October 13, 2017

Two-color Painting Explorations | Confounding Expectations pt. 1

I recently taught a workshop called "Limited Palette Painting" at Evanston Art Center. Teaching a class (my first time) was a wonderful experience and I hope to do it again soon.

The goal of the class was trying to concern ourselves with pigment and paint in a deeper way by pushing a small number of colors to do as much as possible.

To work along with my students, I did a painting and mixing grid for Burnt Umber (Blick) and Indian Yellow (Liquitex Heavy Body) acrylic paint.  Working somewhat backwards (it's more ideal to do the mixing grid first), I first made a painting (using a black & white photograph for reference) using just these 2-colors:

I was rather surprised to find green tones appearing, especially in the upper right. (BTW, I tweaked the photos to look as they do in real life as much as possible. Some subtleties and colors will inevitably be off.)

I wasn't expecting any greens from 2 warm colors like these. Possibly if I had used raw umber (a cooler color), then maybe yes.

So to prove that I wasn't seeing things, I then made a matrix of possible mixtures of burnt umber and indian yellow and tinted them:

If you look at the center square and some of the ones around it, sure enough, it appears greenish.

And because I had originally started using Indian Yellow in oils, I made this comparison between the 2 versions of Indian Yellow I own in oil and acrylic:

It may be hard to see here, but in person, the Williamsburg oil version (left column) maintains a richer color as it gets tinted. Out of the tube it is more orangey and Liquitex  is more like yellow ochre.

The real point here is not so much why unexpected results can occur with pigments, but that you should explore and get to know what your pigments can do!

Pigment codes only tell part of the story, but it is important to be aware of them.

The acrylic colors I used were:
Blick Raw Umber PBr7
Liquitex Indian Yellow PY139

And my oil versions:
Williamsburg Burnt Umber PBr7
Williamsburg Indian Yellow PY83 (Diarylide Yellow)

Given that the Williamsburg Indian Yellow uses a different pigment, you would expect a slightly different result. (BTW, originally Indian Yellow supposedly came from feeding cows a diet of nothing but mango leaves and then collecting and drying their urine to get the pigment.)

Well, at least Burnt Umber is consistent. Or is it? I also have a tube of Michael Harding Burnt Umber which I haven't used yet, and it lists the pigment as PBr6. I would think that a common earth tone like that would be consistent.

Be aware.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Limited palette & a swatch exercise

Lately I have been thinking a lot about painting with a limited palette, and the value of doing mixing exercises and making swatch sheets. Also, I have wanted to expand this blog from entries soley focusing on showing my own work, and more into musings on things I have learned as an artist (or are currently coming to grips with). This entry will get those balls rolling, so to speak.

Using an Amazon gift card I got for my birthday, I got Juliette Aristides' latest book Lessons in Classical Painting. It is really well done with a lot of practical information (I have spent time with her other books and they are all worth a look). It's one of those books that I wish had been around when I started painting.

On page 115, she shows a sample exercise of mixing a grid of 2 colors (a warm and a cool) into each other to create a neutral, and then tinting the results. I have been working on a few paintings lately using transparent iron oxide red and prussian blue, so I decided to try it with those 2 colors.

Upper left below you see out-of-the-tube transparent iron oxide red and upper right you see prussian blue in the same state. Along the top row are the results of mixing them together, with the top middle square being as close to a neutral as I could get. Moving down are each of those mixes with progressively more and more white added to them.

I did the 5x5 grid (the book also shows a 9x9 one) on a piece of canvas paper.

There's a lot to be learned by doing this. When mixing, right away you get a feel for the tinting strengths and transparencies of the 2 colors. Not surprisingly, iron oxide red was more transparent and has far less tinting power than prussian blue. You also learn of the possibilities available with just these 2 colors. For example, there is possible a nice neutral very much like raw umber there right down the middle. Not really good greens for foliage, but the 2nd from the right column shows some blue-greens kind of like a slightly neutralized viridian green. This combo could certainly make some nice flesh colors and browns.
Obviously, one misses a true yellow but the variety possible with just 2 colors (the "right" 2 colors) can be pretty impressive.

I have the idea to next try a 3 color matrix with the 3 colors radiating out from a center neutral area. Stay tuned.