Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Beginning painting can be frustrating, and unfortunately there are no tricks for becoming a painter overnight. Practicing and experimenting as much as you can, as often as you can, it is the only key to the problem. There are though a few things good to know to make the beginning easier. First of all the quality of the art materials you use is important especially when you are a beginner.

Paints Even if you are on a tight budget you should get at least your primary colors in professional colors and not student quality. There are professional brands that are not so expensive, anyway the lower series, I or II are quite accessible. You can buy only some neutral or basic colors, like white, black, sienna, ochre, in student quality range and your primary in professional ranges. When you buy paints, get two colors in each primary, this means you should get a cold and a warm primary. 

A basic color palette should include the following colors:
White (titanium is more opaque and has better coverage, zinc is more transparent, so better for transparent techniques)
Lemon yellow (cold)
Cadmium yellow (warm)
Alizarin Crimson (cold dark red)
Cadmium red (warm)
Phthalo blue (cold)
or Prussian blue (cold)
Ultramarine blue (warm)
Burnt sienna
Yellow ochre
Burnt Umber

Ivory Black if you want (many artists don't use black, or make their own chromatic black)

Hue means that the color is not pure, but an imitation, try to avoid any hues, they give dull and dark colors in combinations, and this can be a huge disadvantage for a beginner. For practicing with color combinations do the color wheel from this link:   http://magdavacariu.blogspot.com/2011/03/color-wheel.html

Professional paints versus student quality:
-professional colors have a large variety of bright beautiful colors with a good pigment load that last longer in time; if you want your pantings to retain their original color it's better to use professional range.
-professional colors are usually made of one pigment only. This means that they behave better in color combinations than student quality paints which are made of a combination of pigments. 
-student paints have a lower pigment concentration, so you use more paint. I find them harder to clean too.

You can recognize artist quality paints easily from the student quality ones. Professional paints have the name of the pigment written on the tube, and have different prices for different series. They also have the lightfastness and the level of transparency written on the tube.

For studying I recommend in my classes Artisan from Winsor and Newton, which are water mixable oil paints, as they are easier to use in a class room and don't require solvents for cleaning. 

Acrylic paints - any professional quality paints will do no matter the brand. I saw beautiful artworks painted with more expensive brands like Liquitex or Lascaux, but I saw excellent results with Maimeri Brera, Chroma Atelier or Matisse as well. I don't recommend any student quality acrylic colors for the beginner, the student acrylic paint doesn't have enough coverage power and you will use more and more paint with poor results. 

The best professional oil paints are said to be Old Holland and Michael Harding. But any professional oil brands are good. I use Sennelier, LeFranc, Maimeri Puro, Winsor and Newton Artist, etc.

The quality of the support you are using is quite important. Unfortunately, the ready-made stretched canvas you find in the art shops is of low quality. Professional artists either make their own, or order custom made frames. If you buy your frames in the art shops though (try avoiding big warehouse shops like Hornbach which have the lowest quality frames), one thing to do is to prime your canvas with a good primer like Polycolor. Two coats are needed, sand after each coat. 

There are so many paint mediums out there, it can be confusing for the beginner artist. It's good to know that many artists use only some linseed oil to dilute their oil paint. I use safflower or poppy seed oil for my wet on wet technique, as it slows drying and allow me to work longer on a layer. 
There are mediums which speed up drying, the most popular is Liquin Original from Winsor and Newton. I used to like it, now I gave up all mediums and solvents because of their toxicity and I don't have to worry anymore about good ventilation in my studio. 
Mediums improve the flow and the texture of the paint. For example glazing mediums (like Liquin) can be added to paint realist portraits or still lives like the old masters. Glazes makes the paint less opaque, so thin semi-transparent layers can be added one after another. Impasto mediums are used to thicken the paint, if you want that sculptural quality. 

During the years I tried many brands, I stayed in the end with Rosemary which seems to last longer and have a wide variety. But every artist out there has his favourite kind of brush or brand. You have to experiment to see what you like. 

It is true that painting can be very difficult for the beginner, but as my professor said, the experimented artist has the same anxiety in front of the blank canvas as any of the art students. The painting process can be lengthy. Long and precise preparations could be involved. There are many artists who use complete charcoal or pencil studies before they begin painting. George Tooker has many charcoal studies for most of his paintings which look like beautiful complete drawings. Some contemporary artists prefer computer for sketching and experimenting before they actually touch the brushes and paints. Once the painting process is started, other issues could arise. Many great artists like Hannaford or Lucian Freud work for many months at one painting. Here is the story of a portrait which took 16 months for Lucian Freud to complete: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3668104/Lucian-Freud-marathon-man.html

Edgar Degas was one of the artists who worked very hard to complete an artwork. He developed a unique pastel technique and made his own fixing spray for pastel which allowed him to work in layers, and made pastel behave like oil paint. He also used tracing paper, a very difficult medium to fix pastel on, but this allowed him drastic retouches when he needed them. If the last layers didn't come out well, he brought the drawing back to the previous layers and all the hard work of days was erased in minutes.

There is no fast way to master painting techniques, many artists develop their own techniques and style in years and years of experimenting. Here is what artist Kent Williams says about style: "Style (I hate the word really, used in the context of art) is not something one chooses and places upon oneself. Style, or one's artistic language is something that comes about as a by product of sincere effort and sweat equity in the pursuit of something better than you are capable of doing. I hear so often from students about wanting to 'find a style'. But in so many cases these students are not willing to put in what it takes for this to happen – to put in and discover the passion for observation, for drawing, for looking outside of their insular world. To feed and nourish the passion that will ultimately lead to a personal language. They think they can kind of just step in and choose a 'style'. The pursuit shouldn't be to find a style, but to look, to discover, to soak in, and then to transcribe as best you can. And through this most simple and complex WORK, one's look, or language, or style will develop on it's own."
I see many artists out there, after years of using ready made paints and mediums, that they come to make their own art materials. Sometimes other arts can come handy for the painter. Yes, photography was a good aid for many artists, like Degas in his later years or Francis Bacon. A complete album on Picasso's works, also solved for me some mysteries about some of his paintings. I saw some photographic references for some of his famous portraits. Did the great master use photos sometimes? If I compare the photos with the paintings, I see some of the portraits didn't even look like the persons they represented. Maybe something else than the resemblance was much more important for him... He always got the essence of the person right. He is famous for the speed he was working with, and though researching a bit, I found out that the portrait of Gertrude Stein took a very long time to complete even if Picasso was already an experimented painter at that time. After long and exhausting sittings from the model, 90 sittings actually, Picasso completed the portrait alone without Gertrude. Everyone was amazed as it didn't look like her too much, but years and years after, it did.

See also the article on painting techniques: http://magdavacariu.blogspot.com/2010/04/painting-techniques.html

There is light out there and I know you will succeed one day, but it depends on you, and on how much time and effort you put into it. So please do your homework, which is a small composition with a fruit or any other object that inspires you. Pay attention to detail, and try to bring out some beauty. Once you learn the basics and get some experience, painting is the most amazing and rewarding experience.

Happy painting! As Picasso was saying, there is inspiration, but it must find us working.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Excellent post, thank you

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