Oil Painting Surfaces – A Cautionary Tale

Two Apples. Michele Clamp. Oil on panel. 5”x7”

Today was supposed to be a set of apple studies with different types of brushwork. It turned into a sorry saga of unsuitable surfaces. With pretty horrible results.

As this was just meant to be some studies I first started with a quarter sheet of Strathmore canvas paper. I’ve used this before with good results but what I forgot was that I gessoed the surface first before painting on it. And this time I didn’t. Ugh! The paint just sinks in, you can’t blend it, and it somehow darkens and goes matte on the paper. After struggling for an hour or so trying to get the paint to cover the surface (it soaks in and in!) I gave up. Here’s the result:

Blergh. Almost no form on that left hand apple even though I was *so* careful with the values.

After a quick stomp around the studio I fished out a small 5”x7” Ampersand gessobord. *Gesso* board so this surface must be ok yes? Hmm. Well it was better but boy so slick! The paint just rides around on the surface as there’s no tooth to speak of. It was definitely better than the paper but only just. Here’s my chunky block-in.

Kinda okay. I had a lot of trouble getting the chroma right on the light side of the apple. Will try and tweak that tomorrow and see if I can get it right. It has a certain charm but nowhere near what I was aiming for.

Finally I blended some of the edges and beefed up the darks a little. And that was it for the day. 4 hours – 2 apples! I have to get back to watercolor.

Munsell Charts – 10YR

Munsell Chart 10YR in oil

Not the most exciting thing today but useful nonetheless. I’ve been thinking about how long it would take to reproduce every chart in the Big Munsell Book in oil. There are 40 charts and around 1600 colors in total. I thought I’d start with the chart that always seems to be present – 10YR. This is a yellow orange hue and has the full range of colors from light to dark and bright to gray. It took me around 4 hours to exactly mix every swatch. Phew! At one a day this would take me 40 days. Hmm.

Here’s the same thing in grayscale (actaully desaturated). Each row should look exactly the same value.

Munsell Chart 10YR Desaturated.

Not too bad. A couple of wobbles here and there but pretty close.

I did this on Strathmore canvas paper and marked out the swatches with 1/4 inch masking tape. I should have waited until tomorrow to take the tape off but couldn’t wait 🙂

Vermont Town – Value Studies

Vermont Town Value Study. Michele Clamp. Watercolor

After the Marlborough at dusk struggle to a triumph I’m spurred on to another New England street scenes. I really enjoy these but they are hard to design and hard to paint. When they come off though they make really good paintings (IMO of course). Today was value study and color study day. Here is the photo reference:

This is from a visit a few years ago and the strong light and tower caught my eye but, as you can see it’s not an obvious choice for a painting. But if we can make a decent value sketch out of it we may have a chance.

First was some noodling on the ipad. I find this great for trying out ideas. You can work in a small range of values and add new layers if you want to try something out. If it doesn’t work just delete the layer. So what did we find?

Yeah I think there’s something there. I added in some of the buildings on the right hand side to give some balance to the left. I also ruthlessly pushed those dark trees to a lighter value both to push them back and to provide some contrast with the foreground tower and car. The thing I like the most is the pattern of light off the roofs and the car which I need to remember to retain in the final painting.

Ok so far so good – onto some paint value studies. Pretty small with minimal drawing and trying to keep to around 4 values throughout the whole thing.

This is the same sketch at different stages. I was in two minds whether to include the dormer window on the left hand roof so took a photo half way through. I’ve compressed the scene widthways a little so things aren’t too stretched out and made the central car a little more prominent. I think we’re still looking good.

Finally I tried out a very rough color sketch. This was just to try out some colors as the photo colors are not very inspiring but I still want to retain a sense of the hard sunlight.

This is teeny – around 2”x4” but I wanted to see if a blue sky would work with some rich browns for the buildings. I’m still in two minds but it looks promising.

Next time – onto a big version!

Marlborough Main Street at Dusk

Marlborough Main Street at Dusk. Michele Clamp. Watercolor on paper. 14”X16”

Well that was a huge saga. I’m just going to leave this one here for now but the struggle to get to this point was filled with disaster and frustration. But I got there in the end and I’m very happy.

Apple Study in Oil

Apple Study in Oil (Paul Foxton Livestream)

Apples today with Paul Foxton. A lot of detailed mixing but the whole thing only came alive when the detail spots and the highlight went in. Could do a lot more on this. I only started to see a lot of the detail towards the end when I was really looking at it. But fun thought.

Marlborough at Night – Value Sketch

Marlborough at Night – Value Sketch

Starting to think about the next ‘big’ painting. This is a night view of Marlborough which is going to be challenging to say the least. I’m working up to it with some studies and starting small (3”x5”) with a sketch. This is to work out the value relationships and how the different areas relate to each other. So far so good.

Last Beginning Watercolor Session – Sunflowers

Progression Photos of a Sunflower Painting Class

Here are few progression shots of today’s class painting. As you can see things always look flat and almost cartoonish until quite a way through the painting. Then the darks go in and everything comes together. It’s one of the most difficult things to do in watercolor – holding back with the detail and getting the basic shapes and values right. It takes faith and a bit of experience but always reaps rewards.

Today was the last zoom class in my Beginning Watercolor Workshop for the Newton NewArts center. It’s been a fun 6 weeks and I always enjoy these classes. It’s good to get back to basics and go slowly through mixing colors, values, washes, and putting them all to use in paintings. However, I’ve decided to rethink this set of lessons. There’s a lot to get through in 6 weeks and I’m going to break it down into shorter 1 or two hour sessions based around techniques. These are going to be available in the next few weeks via YouTube and facebook livestreams. People will be able to buy them one by one depending on what they’re interested in.

I still love doing the whole painting demos and I will be offering these in parallel. This way you can take a technique class or two followed by a painting class or vice versa. I’m hoping this will work well and we had a great discussion in class today about what works when you’re starting out with watercolor that reflects these decisions.