project – acrylic portrait of uncle harry

with the passing of my uncle harry, several years ago, my mother is now the oldest member of her family, and so we decided to paint a portrait of uncle harry for my mom’s 80th birthday.  uncle harry was an old fashioned patriarch, and a pillar of his community, a healer and innovative physician who lived his life in honor of the queen of heaven.  we visited him several years before he passed, and got the setup shots, from which we painted the first portrait, and gave it to him.  now we would paint another.

jim started with the drawing, which i don’t have a picture of.  after he drew it on a panel in charcoal, i went in and corrected it to my liking.  then he spray fixed the drawing, and made this subdued, restricted-palette painting.


at this point i realized that the shadow side of his face was very different, and that i had misdrawn the whole shadowed side of his head.  which meant that i needed to shadow down that side so the discrepancy wouldn’t be too great.  there was also something wrong with the ear, which is no surprise because the reference photo is so washed out on the right.


this is the severely restricted palette i’m working with.  ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, white.  with thick acrylic medium slathered in the bottom cups diluting various color mixtures.


at first all i did was to put on the red – burnt sienna.  it’s on the left side of his face and his ear.


then i got bolder, put in some burnt umber to shade down the shadows, and a little white on the shirt, over his ear, in his hair.  and some yellow ochre on the lit side of his face.  i have come in several times with the burnt umber, and finally i worked up enough courage to mix some burnt umber and ultramarine blue for my darkest dark, and put it over the entire left side.

it’s still not enough, and jim has pronounced the transition from light to dark to be too awkward.  his neck needs to recede some, and it’s still not dark enough in the shadows.


this is the portrait as it sits now, photographed outside instead of under artificial light in the studio.


and in the frame, in bright outdoor light, it looks pretty ghastly.  so there’ll be a second attempt at getting this picture finished in time for my trip to mom’s house.  hopefully it’ll be presentable after i mess with it another time.  stay tuned.

and here’s the final painting.  jim came back in with some buff titanium and blended out the harsh line down his brow, and now he looks much better.  so all i have to do is varnish the painting and nail it into the frame.


happy birthday, mom.


encaustic painting – water 2

i’m continuing with my series of encaustic painting of the seascape in kerry.  i was there last fall, at cill rialaig, on the edge of nowhere, studying the sea, the clouds and the rain for a better understanding of the elements.  six months later, i’m working on a way of imaging the very subtle things i’ve been thinking about.

for the record, i’m using a homemade cold wax application on gessoed board, using citrus oil as a solvent, and burning it in with a heat lamp. we’ll call this unorthodox encaustic painting, but since it’s being burned in, it’s actual real encaustic, even tho some fundamentalist artists insist it’s not.  that’s another issue.

here’s the reference photo first, so you know what you’re looking at.

view from cill rialaig

i was using a digital camera that made all the decisions for me when i took all my photos in kerry, so most of my photos of clouds are unfocused.  the camera didn’t know how to focus on soft clouds, and did some funny compromise, and in most of my reference photos, i’ve got a blurry picture of grays doing rain and lowering type things.  consequently, these pictures of clouds, rain, and sea are way atmospheric.  i mean some of them fucking blurry.

so i got out one of my larger panels (i’ve got ten stacked up and ready to go) and cut it into three, grabbed a resulting 12×24 gessoed panel, and started with dark blue on the sea, and light gray on the sky.  pretty simple, eh?  the variations you can see in the sky are the patterns made by the heat lamp as i burned in the wax.  it’s all one color, tho.  as is the water, which is transparent in this first layer, and shows the board very well.

a layer of the darkest gray over the ocean, and then i used the three (or four) midrange grays i had left over from the first painting, and delineated the basic colors.  not at all subtle; almost cartoonish, especially on the lower right, where the rain hits the ocean.

then the darkest gray over the nearest (topmost) cloud, left.  and the three grays in the middle again, restating the few value changes.  note how i’m dipping the light gray over top of the dark gray of the sea and letting it blend in.

and now some darker purple gray.  i might have just mixed this up special, and not enough, because i’ve just mixed a big batch of purple gray for the third painting in this series.  at this point i’m using the very bottom of the grays i’ve been saving in little plastic cups for weeks and months.  some of the grays are very hard and dried out, and they don’t blend very well until they’re flat melted.  and even then they don’t respond to heat very easily.

at this point i got tired of all the darkness, and started in with my lightest grays.  these are green grays, but nobody’s going to notice.  they were left over from another painting, the origin of which is now lost in time.  it doesn’t really look like the same painting, but there’s enough left of the layer underneath that i can tell it’s the next photo in the sequence.  only one coat of wax between these two photos.

and now this is too white, and there’s too much contrast, so i hit the entire rest of the sky with a darker light gray, and melted it all in for a much softer and more subtle appearance.

and now, of course, it’s too much the same all over, so i’m going to lose my patience now and hit it with bold strokes of really white white, the white i started with bleached beeswax for.

beneath the painting below is the reference photo.  you can see how little i have to work with.  and slashing all this white on top of the carefully homogenized board takes a little courage.

the wax on the board below is unmelted, by the way.  the marks are made by palette knife, and often i’m grinding the paint around with the knife, trying to put it on the wavy and pocked surface smoothly.  hahahahaha.

but once burned in, below, it’s not so bad.  it’s starting to get very textural here.  when these paintings come on, they work fast.  the first half, however, is excruciatingly ugly.  all paintings are ugly in the middle of painting them, but it’s particularly bad with wax paintings.

after this stage, there’s not much left.  i restated the dark cloud on the upper left, and burned the white in a bit better.  some of the whiteness is too opaque and still hasn’t melded with its surroundings.

when you look up advice on how far to melt your painting to get it properly burned in, you get a lot of different advice.  a lot of this advice is based on heating your painting with a blow torch, or some other very fast heating device.  i use a lightbulb, so the heating process is slower and more controlled.

sometimes i’ve seen people advising others to fuse their wax until the top layer is shiny; that’s enough.  when it is left merely shiny, then okay it’s a safe bet that the layers of wax are melted to each other, at least the whole body of wax has gotten to that slushy stage where it’s not really solid and it’s not really liquid.  when it’s left shiny and then you take the heat source away and stop melting it,  then there’s lots of texture left in the wax.  there are lumps and bumps, and the really thick lumps of wax aren’t melted all the way.  they’re still solid enough to stick together and make lumps; that’s how you tell.

i tend to melt my wax until the entire field is molten, which is mainly what they recommend, or even insist on, depending.  that means a large shiny lake around the lightbulb, of absolutely even, bumpless liquid wax that is transparent down to the gesso when it’s molten.  there are stages of melted.  depending on the pigment, the wax runs when melted.  if it’s a dark pigment, then it melts readily and flows all over the place in a spreading pool.  if it’s a light pigment, then it melts only after awhile shining the light on it.  if there’s a light patch of wax next to a dark patch of wax, then the dark stuff will melt first, and the light stuff will all at once break down and flow into the dark stuff, or else the dark stuff will spread over the light stuff like a flood.  if it’s light pigment over a previously burned in dark layer, then the dark layer melts before the light one on top, and the light layer breaks up into tiny fragments as it floats away on top of the dark wax, and finally melts and starts churning into the dark wax, so that you get a dull gray, homogenous section of wax if you let it get to this.

and, just as you’re getting used to constant flow, after a while of adding new wax and melting it in, and adding more wax and melting it in, the older pigment stops moving.  what flowed alarmingly when first melted is no longer even moving, never mind blending with the newer stuff, and if something’s really stubborn and just won’t break up, i have to put a fingertip in there and remove it.  owie.

the main trick is to move the heat/light away the moment the wax starts flowing.  that’s if you want a sharpish edge.  if you want a thoroughly blended edge, you have to sit there with the light until it starts to flow, and then hover over it until the edge completely breaks down and floods over the wax next to it.

and the more layers you do this, the more interesting the wax surface becomes, building up such a rich texture, with such depth, that you wonder how you could ever have loved flat acrylic paint.

the painting is almost done.  after looking at it for some time, i brought it back to the studio this morning and added a smear of light gray on the dark water in the  middle, some lighter gray over the darkest part of the cloud, and i think that’s it.  next, yet another painting of rainclouds over the ocean.

elements – water 2

new project – encaustic painting series

okay, i’m doing another encaustic demo.  this blog is full of encaustic painting demos.  and i never get tired of doing them, either.  so here’s yet another one.

while i was on residency in the west of ireland last year, at cill rialaig, i was very taken with the idea of a series of paintings exploring the elements.  things like paintings of only rocks, paintings of only skies, only water.  i dreamed of painting the air, but that’s just about as difficult a thing to paint as you can think of.  painting nothing would be harder, but only just.

i spent my studio time a lot more prosaically, painting tourist pictures and gifts for people who don’t like my more experimental experiments with art.  there was one artist there who liked me right up until the moment she saw the paintings i was working on.  this was an artist whose name is being made right this second by inscrutable museum-quality art involving springs and piano wires.  she was so upset that she told me about her disappointment as if she was talking about another artist altogether, but her heartfelt looks when she confessed that this artist’s work was awful gave her away.  and i’ve never heard from her again, of course, but this is the way it goes on residency; you make instant friends that you never hear from afterwards.  artists pissing in the night.

anyway, on to the work.  you can see the reference photo on the left of the pastel outline.  it was one of those cloudy days were all the color is in the sky.  the light comes peering thru the cloud in vast beams, and there’s nothing as bright as that silvery gleam where the light is hitting the water.  you can only barely see the peninsula just a mile or two across the bay, and there are places were the water comes out of the clouds and fogs the space between cloud and ocean with rain that’s more like thick smoke.

so i’m into the elements.  in this case, it’s water.  i guess water and air.  but the clouds are water, and the sea is water, and the rain is water, and the air blocking the view of the peninsula is water.

the trouble with water being the entire picture is that there’s no real difference between water in its various states.  just varying shades of visibility, really.

there happened to be a roughly 1:2 board all ready to go, so i took it off the stack and started in.  there’s a stack of boards all gessoed up, all sorts of sizes.  this one is 12″x24″ gessoed masonite (or whatever they’re calling it now) and i’ve dragged pastel all over it as merely placemarks.  my method for transferring the image from the reference photo to the board is to stand about 5′ back and hold the photo up in front of my face, covering the board as much as possible.  then i focus my eyes on a detail and whip the paper aside, noting where it falls on the board.  then i rush to the board and swipe a line right there with my pastel, and go back to my position and pick another spot to focus on.  easy.

there are good points and bad about this method.  using a projector also has its good and bad points.  in general, i prefer the distortions of my own eyes to the distortions of a projection lens, so i usually go with that.  and abstracting my marks to only the most obvious and important ones is usually the best way for me to go, lest i get caught up in the details before i’ve even established the general marks.

in sketching out the painting, i’ve used only black, or dark gray, pastel.  and a touch of blue for the sky.  the light gray stuff is the first layer of wax.  i thought i’d get a picture before going too far.  it looks to me as if i’ve already burned in this first layer.  you can tell that i’m not fixing the pastel before starting in on the underpainting.  i don’t really care if i get pastel all over my underpainting.  there’s going to be so many layers of wax that nobody’s going to know much about the first layers.

here’s a closeup of the next layer (inverted), a darker gray filling in the areas around the light gray.  the blue is still pastel.  ad the black you can see, that’s also pastel.  again, i’m pretty sure i’ve burned this in.  but i’ll let you know if i have some ‘raw’ wax in any of the shots.

this is the far shot.  i’ve got dark gray in the ocean and the peninsula, and a little in the top part of the clouds.

and at this point i’ve started taking the painting outside to shoot progress photos, so it’s a little better picture.  sorry about the quality before.  i’ve added a little more black to the clouds, and more white to the sky and water.  you can only tell i’m doing anything to the water by the progressive breaking up of the thin black line in the middle of the white part of the sea.  i really shouldn’t have bothered putting in that detail so soon, and it will haunt me.

for this one i’ve finally put in some blue paint, but it’s old blue dug out from a hardened lump in cup, and there’s green in it.  oops, so what.  i took the same gray i was using in the clouds, which has a bunch of purple and blue in it, and put it over the peninsula, where it’s now way dark.

so i took a bunch more of the gray with the purple, and slathered it all over the clouds.  i’m burning everything in before shooting it at this stage, just so you know, and in many cases there’s more than one layer being put on and burned in before i take the next process shot.  else i’d be running outside every half hour with the board and the camera.

now i’ve gone in and put the same gray in the sea and the shiny area.  and come in with some dark gray and emphasized the peninsula and the darkest of the waves in the foreground.

now there’s more darker gray on top of the clouds.  i’ve added some raw umber into the gray mix.  basically my grays are black and white, dioxazine purple, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, a little green, and whatever else i think of.

now there’s darker grays over the lowest clouds.  and i’ve begun to come back in with lighter gray underneath that cloud, partially obscuring the peninsula.

and now some less-than-terribly dark grays over the sea.  at this point i have white, made with bleached beeswax and titanium white pigment, and i have cream, made with regular beeswax and titanium.  and then i have four or five grays, going from very nice bluish dove gray to angry greasy looking toxic sludgy gray and mostly running along the purple edge.

and now the whole thing looks too dark and brooding, so i basically go over the entire thing with light purply gray, and lighten the whole thing up.  the light ocean is gotten a bit polluted by the dark gray thin line, so i add more white and burn the hell out of it.

and then it was getting dark, and i stopped work, brought the painting up to the front porch, and sat out and looked at it while the light went.  it was painfully purple, but almost done.  a funny thing happened.  as the natural light faded and the incandescent porch light took over, the painting got less and less purple, and finally less and less detailed, and flatter, and finally it looked very photographic, almost like the reference photo, which my paintings never turn out looking like the photos.

i was intrigued by this, and wondered what i’d have to do to the painting under natural light in order to get it to look like it did at night under a 40 watt bulb.

this led to a conversation about george beattie, who painted some of his paintings with that would show up when someone flicked on the paintsblacklight that was installed to provide alternate lighting.  seems a little tacky now, maybe, but i’ll bet now people are coming up with high tech ways to do the same thing.


now the white of the ocean is blue, because of that dark line finally disappearing into a churn of white wax.  so i  am going to have to add more white and start again.

and now i add more black.  i’m messing a little with the cream in the clouds, also.

and now the peninsula was too dark, so i’ve obscured that with some more medium gray atmosphere, and added little dark touches to the upper clouds.

and i guess i’m done.  it needs a thin black frame, an some nice buffing to bring out the shine of the wax, and i’m ready to move on to my next painting.  the series will be called elements – water, or maybe kerry water, tho that sounds like a brand.  or maybe just water and air.  anyway, this is number 1.  now i just need a place to show it.

next painting – clouds raining on the ocean, with a barely visible peninsula in the background.  part 2.

watercolor on clayboard

another experiment with my art materials.  this time jim did me up some homemade clayboard, which means mixing kaolin clay with rabbit skin glue (instead of using marble dust) and painting it on like gesso.  he made one of my new luan panels into a clayboard surface, and i just sat down and made a watercolor out of it.  7 3/4 by 8 inches.  so it’s basically life size.

watercolor not on paper?  watercolor on board?  i scoffed when they had the samples of clayboard out at binders.  it reminded me of watercolor on bristol board, which i think sucks.

but since jim had made the clayboard by hand, and it turned out so smooth and shiny, i couldn’t resist, and so sat down to paint the front porch, as a present for my sister.  which sister, since i’ve promised both of them, and my daughter, one of my watercolors?  the sister who just was sitting there soaking up the 90 degree heat a couple of weeks ago.  it’s going to be consolation for my giving her the marie’s fountain painting (below) to keep only as long as it takes me to get over there and take it away from her to give to its rightful owner.

well, one painting is 20-something inches high, and the other barely rounds out 8 inches.  but she’ll like the one of the porch and too bad about the other one.

clayboard is very absorbent.  jim put 7 coats of kaolin gesso on it, and then scraped it with the edge of a razor blade to smooth it down.  i hit it with a piece of fine wet-dry sandpaper, and then started drawing on it with a pencil.

clayboard is very smooth.  it’s delightful to run my fingers over.  the clay settles down into the surface even better than calcium carbonate – chalk, marble dust – and makes s smoother and more luxurious surface.

it’s highly absorbent.  run a sopping brush over it, and it’ll leave a puddle of water, but then watch the surface suck it in.  it doesn’t evaporate, it gets drawn into the surface of the gesso.  so your brushstroke stays where you put it, and a lot of the usual softening strokes you do with watercolor won’t exactly work here.

i can soften an edge with clear water, but i have to soften and then loosen and then spread the edge, because the edge is somewhere beneath the surface of the clayboard.  that’s how it seems.

at any rate, clayboard is excellent when you want to do detail.  it won’t work for large, wet-in-wet expressions of color and movement, unless you aren’t going to want to rework the stroke or do a lot of adjustments while it’s still wet, because it stays wet about as long as chinese shrimp crackers do.  (ever put your tongue on a shrimp cracker?  those fried pork rind-looking things in chinese restaurants?  don’t.  they’re like some tree mushrooms, and will suck all the moisture out of your tongue and keep sucking.

detail.  clayboard is great for detail.  because it’s so absorbent, i don’t know why because, just because, the strokes you put down stay down, stay sharp and beautiful and pointy.  it’s the reworking that causes trouble.  because with clayboard, everything you put on it will lift.  even staining pigments.  the trick is not to overwork it.

it’s a bit like egg tempera, so jim tells me.  they both dry really quickly, allowing for almost no fucking with.  they’re both really good for persnickety paintings.  you can do a million glazes, but you’ve got to be careful not to lift colors that are down.

another thing that happens differently on clayboard than on paper is that the colors go on in actual layers.  with watercolor, every time you put on a glaze of some color, you’re dissolving all the colors beneath it back into the mix.  apparently not so with clayboard.

this means that the painting remains transparent as long as you’re using transparent pigments.  this gives the painting remarkable snap and depth.

normally in watercolor, ultramarine is my strongest dark, and if i mix it with raw umber it approaches black in strength but doesn’t deaden and overpower like black does on paper.  all this is after years learning how to make strong darks without creating mud.

but on clayboard, something about how it absorbs the pigments, but the colors don’t turn to mud the way they do on paper.  i can put on a layer of blue to shadow the glider seat, but it won’t darken.  it just turns blue.  so i tried to put on a wash of raw umber, and it turned dusty and opaque on me.  umber is not an opaque color.  neither is ultramarine.  but on clayboard they don’t darken the way they do on paper.  they don’t seem to mix, or something.

on clayboard, if i want a clear dark, i have to use black.

this is anathema in watercolor.  but it’s the rule with silk dyes.  if i want a shade of a color, i have to add black in silk work.  if i don’t use black, i won’t get a dark color.  period.  so you learn to use black in silk.  but you leave the whites, just like in watercolor, and many of the techniques are the same.

watercolor on clayboard is supersaturated.  the blues were intense blues, like on silk.  not muted blues as in an oil painting.  the whole thing looked garish.

so the next morning, to finish the painting, i intended to merely glaze a bunch of neutral darks over most of the painting, and sign it.

it took all afternoon.  and what a lovely afternoon it was, all cool and drizzly, with a fine breeze to dry the sweat off my brow as i sat out on the porch and painted my picture.

i noticed as i was washing an earth green over the cobalt wall, trying to tone down all those bright colors, that the lines of the siding were fading.  this happened even more with the next wash.  now, i wasn’t exactly letting the board dry before putting on the next wash, just putting it aside until the pools absorbed in.  so i guess the surface was still wet when i went over it with another wash.  and i guess that made it lift.

so, if you get the surface wet, you can lift anything.  even if you don’t want to.  the lesson here is to leave out the lining and details like that until the surface is the way you want it, don’t outline shit before you’ve finished messing with it.

that’s why the right hand side of the painting looks so rough.  jim disagrees with me on this point, tho.  he says that the scratchy effect is from the underlying gesso not being smooth enough, while i think i’ve gone and raised the grain of the wood underneath.  we have yet to ask the relevant archive questions from our favorite website of art experts.

altogether, i’m very happy watercolor painting on luan plywood clayboard.  it’s cheap as dirt when you make it yourself, and the results are bright and snappy.  i think i’m going to paint a few watercolors with it.  and that’ll get me back painting watercolors, which everyone keeps telling me to do.

another silk scarf

i really do love to paint on silk.  the whole staying inside the lines thing that i get to violate to my heart’s content.  the brilliant colors, the way the whole thing is made out of light, rather than darkness, as with pigments on paper.

this is the composite scarf.  there’s a lot of white in it, but not for very long.  i did the usual outlining of all the flowers, and started painting on them with various greens and flower colors.  that’s going to be the easy part.  the difficult part will be the fairies.  i don’t want them too strong, but i dislike pastel colors, so it gave me a few fits before i figured out what i need to do.

sugar syrup.  karo syrup.  in a squeeze bottle.  it does interesting and strange things to dyes.

so i put sugar syrup around the fairies’ clothes and wings.  i’m leaving them under the fan all night to dry (hopefully, as it’s quite humid here), and then tomorrow i’m going to hit them with some fairly strong dark dye on top of the sugar syrup.  and when i hit them with water later on, they’ll do very interesting things.   the ephemeral touch i’m looking for on the fairies.

* * *

in other news, i’ve just started a test watercolor on a piece of clayboard, and it’s producing nice results.  more later.

more different progress

i consider this finished.  in addition to the blue, i stuck on some more burnt umber on the trees, made the stripes on the palms by scraping some paint away, and took some of the light greens i used on the barn painting and put highlights on the plants.  then i made some van gogh stars to show how full of humidity the horizon was, and put in a couple of vague breaking waves, darkened the porch railing, and that’s it.  i’ll sign the back, and give it to the little kid who suggested it as a painting.

this is the amsterdam boat pastel underpainting, covered in wax paste prior to burning in.  the wax is very goopy because of the orange oil, more than i usually put in so that it would be goopy.  jim makes it up a lot stiffer than i need, so i just add orange oil on the top and come back in a few days to stir it all up as it dissolves.  the reason the wax is so damned opaque is that it hasn’t been burned in yet.

you can see how much clearer the wax is once it’s been melted and allowed to cool once more.  the idea behind the melting is to fuse all the layers of wax together.  this is partly unnecessary when you’re working with wax and citrus solvent mixed together to form a wax paste, because it’s not in layers when you do that, it’s got a solvent in it so the layers dissolve together.  or would, if i didn’t burn them in.  i like the burning in.

some painters use wax paste instead of molten wax (which they call ‘real encaustic TM’).  these soft wax painters come from an artist name of joel reeves who taught this in the late ’50s and early ’60s.  back then, everyone, from karl zerbe to jasper johns used solvents in their wax, but the solvent was turpentine, which is horribly toxic when inhaled as a heated fume.  so nobody does this anymore.  the proponents of ‘real encaustic TM‘ insist that all solvents are bad bad bad, and concentrate on using molten wax.  this means that the wax is heated constantly, and repeatedly, which does bad things to the wax (shortens the molecule chain every time) and puts beeswax and damar fumes into the air.  so the ‘real TM’ crowd hyperventilate their studios using industrial strength fume hoods and osha face masks.  this is a ridiculous overreaction to fumes, you can ask any oil painter who uses solvents.

anyway, we don’t take the safe-at-all-costs stance, and think the ‘real encaustic TM’ crowd are a little off the deep end.  we were taught to use solvents and paste wax, and avoid overheating the beeswax, and so when we discovered orange oil, we were delighted.  it’s mostly nontoxic.  you can eat it.  it makes me hungry to work with it.  the smell is highly pleasant, and i’ve got asthma and so should know if it’s harmful when inhaled.  and it’s not harmful to me.  the msds says it’s gras – generally recognized as safe, but others warn of liver toxicity, so it’s a good idea to have a fan going so the fumes don’t concentrate.  but it’s not going to kill either of us, and the effects you can get with paste wax burned in are tremendous – i can do details.

i’m not sure if i’ll be continuing with the boat and reflections painting, as i’m running out of time to experiment, and this painting isn’t an experiment but a real painting.

note on the luan panels.  i’ve been trying to cut the sheet down into boards, and am having trouble.  the circular saw is too rough and will tear the delicate wood up, so we’re not even trying that.  we tried the hand saw, but it was slow.  i tried a mat knife and it took for fucking ever, and i went out and got cutting blades for my dremel tool, but it would only cut halfway thru, and when i tried to score and snap it, the plywood broke at different places.  so we asked jim’s son michael, a professional woodworker, to cut it for me.  that way i don’t ruin all my panels, just the first four i tried to cut myself.

furthering the progress

today it’s progress on the oil paintings, both on panel and on linen, and starting an encaustic on the new luan panels i cut from a big lumber-store sheet ($1.42 per 16×20 1/4″ panel, can’t beat it).

continuing the oil on panel painting of the beach at night from our cabin, i mixed up a very small amount of phthalo green and put it over the plants.  this will need some toning down, obviously, but i wanted a transparent wash to work from.

then i scraped up some ultramarine blue and mixed some of my white into it, and added some linseed oil, which is the first time i’ve done that.  so far, i’ve been using the calcium carbonate and sun-thickened linseed oil in a tube that jim made up some years ago, and if it needed thinning, i added some orange oil.  but this time i thinned the tube stuff with oil, probably going way too far with the fat over lean rule.  i mean, from orange oil thinner, which is like turpentine in that it evaporates immediately, to a way oily veil of blue and white – there have to be several steps of oilinity that i’ve passed over at once.

after that i mixed up some raw umber, another transparent color, and stuck it over the green, hoping to make it look like proper plants in the almost-darkness.

yesterday i mixed up some chrome green, and some ultramarine green into separate pools, and used each in different parts of the painting to represent the actual things that you can see are green.  there are lots of the painting where what you see isn’t really green, but reads that way.  these are actual green things because they’re either out in full sun, or are catching and reflecting the light while in the shade.  i also mixed up the smallest bit of cadmium red dark and after awhile a little white too, and put it on the barn and in the trees.

when i’d finished putting the sky in on the beach painting, i still had a bit of blue paint left, so i washed it over the sky and the house, and in fact made it stretch over all the background trees.  the result is mainly so spectacular because i let photoshop do the correction automatically, which is usually not the way i do it.  the photo above was done by hand, and you can see there the colors just aren’t right.  the automatic value correction is actually too garish, but at least the colors seem more true.

when i got done with the paintings i’d been working on, i turned my attention to my new luan panels.  this one is 16×20, which is large for the modern encaustic painting, but actually quite small for me.  the reason it’s the size it is is because it’s going in my luggage with me to ireland, and that’s as large a standard size as i can fit into my bag.  will i take all 14 with me?   stay tuned.

this one got a coat of clear acrylic gel medium, my ideas about sealing and priming my surfaces having changed after i lost a goodly amount of wax to the underneath side of my fabric during the previous attempt at encaustic.  i would still be working on panels jim made years ago and stacked against the wall if i weren’t gearing up to go on an artist’s residency, and going cold turkey on my reliance on commercially prepared paint.

at this stage the painting looks like a francis bacon.  i started with charcoal, and quickly ran into trouble, because i didn’t know which lines to mark down.  i was actually trying to represent the white lines by using the black charcoal.  so i got out my pastels, which jim gave me for xmas one year, and started in with the real colors.

and thank god.  there are white lines, and gray ones, sienna walls and prussian glass in the windows, black and brown shadows, and they all follow their own paths in all directions.  it’s a nightmare trying to get all the lines right, because you actually have to draw a web, working in all directions and making all the edges meet.

working in pastel is maybe not the greatest idea, since it’s really hard to rub it out and start over, especially when you’re working with a board that has an incredible amount of tooth once it’s been coated out with acrylic.

i was surprised how quickly i finished the pastel underpainting.  i noticed yesterday, when i was just starting the drawing, that i had an enormous amount of artistic resistance.  looking at the reference photo overwhelmed me immediately, especially when i was trying to draw it in with charcoal.  the complexity is maddening, but the distortions all have a rhythm, and all match up with another distortion in another part of the painting.  it all fits together, and if the proportions aren’t right, it looks awkward.

except you don’t notice, because you don’t have the reference photo to judge by, and one distortion looks like another when it comes to water.  so you won’t notice that the middle-left of the painting is squinched up too much, and i had to compensate by stretching it on the left side.  water could well do that, especially if there was some other disturbance interfering with the interference.

this isn’t the first time i’ve painted this image.  the first was several years ago, in oil on canvas, and 30×40, and hangs in my studio.  so i’ve been looking at it and wanting to do it in wax.  for an exercise painting, to see how well it’s going to work in the field, i really shouldn’t have chosen such a complex painting, one that will take weeks to finish and be every bit as complex in wax as it in in any other medium.

but i had to paint it again, and so i started on in.  it takes pastel really well, and i can see no reason why it won’t take wax even better, so i can stop now, and leave this painting until i get back from europe (or else take it and the reference photo and complete it at the residency).

jim actually painted the image first.  he did it up with acrylic on canvas, 30×40, and i remembered wanting to paint it when i took the photo, so the minute he was done, i grabbed the photo and started my own painting.  for awhile his hung on the studio wall, but then we switched out and now it’s my painting, but we take his back out for comparison when people want to see our work.

jim’s is different from mine.  he took great care rendering the walls and the moss and the boat, and was kind of slapdash about the reflections, whereas i’m not too good at rendering moss and boats and walls, but i get way into reflections and distortions, and mine are much more accurate than his.

after awhile of working on the impossible reflections, i began to notice that they looked like animals, or faces.  that’s our human tendency to make sense our of chaos, and i’ve always done this – after working on a jigsaw puzzle all day i’d go out for a breath of air, look up at the trees, and see giant jigsaw pieces in the treetops where i would normally see treetops, leaves and branches.

i thought last time i did this painting that this time i would paint the animals and never mind making lines out of them.  the eye will do that at a distance anyway.

i may not proceed with this painting, as i only have 3 weeks left to come up to speed with my materials.  i may stick it aside, but i’ll link back to this post if i do.