Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whitaker Day One: A Couple More Tidbits

The Sturdy and Economical Shipping Crate:
After wrapping the painting in thin foam (can find in Home Depot--I think he said in the carpet aisle?), then measure the precise dimensions and cut accordingly. Whitaker measures in mm since it's so easy to get messed up by tiny inch fractions. If you get the measurements right, there will be no jostling of the painting, so this is all that is really needed for proper protection and you're ready to go with just that! Here's the simple construction for a shipping crate (sides are 1/4-inch plywood, tops/bottoms are 1/8-inch). :

Oiling Out the Dull Spots in a Painting:
Most people use WAY too much oil for oiling out. Use only a little--Whitaker mixes his by making a 50/50 split with Oleogel and linseed oil. He puts a tiny amount on his fingers and rubs it in (he says it's like oiling a gun, but I've never done that so it didn't help me much--but I add it here in case it will help someone else). It should dry in a day:

Whitaker Day One: Mulling Lead (Flake) White

Whitaker uses 50/50 linseed and walnut oil. Walnut oil, he says, is harder to mull but makes the paint flow better off the brush (how it should flow is personal taste, though, so do your own experimenting):

Be careful not to raise any dust as you slowly mix it in:

It will look gritty:

If you're doing just a small batch, you can mull it with the knife, but the mull itself works much better for large batches. You'll notice, too, the rather worn-looking glass. This is done by adding carborundum powder to the glass (there are different grits, but they're all the same for this purpose), which must be repeated or the mulling will make the glass smooth again. The rougher glass is helpful in aiding the mulling process:

Simply move the mull in circular motion until the paint takes on a smooth consistency. With Whitaker's proportions of linseed and walnut oils, his ends up with a wonderful, stringy, smooth consistency:

To save time, Whitaker will often use a commercial Titanium white for mixes and darker areas. However, this white is the truest white of all whites so if you really need to nail those highlights, this is the way to do it! Another great thing about true Flake White is that it's a more transparent white, which creates some wonderful effects.

Happy mulling!

Whitaker Day One: The Perfect Palette

If you want a great palette, just go down to a local craft store and buy some birch plywood. It's light and thin (only about 1/8-inch thick). Be sure to get the one that is the least warped and has the best grain. Before you actually cut the wood, however, be sure to make a mock up in cardboard.

The trick is to put the thumb hole on the opposite side of the palette in order to make it balance on your arm without having to hold it (commercial palettes put the thumb hole on the near end of the surface so your thumb is under constant strain to hold it up).

Make sure that it matches the length of your arm and sits comfortably on your forearm. And lastly, make sure the thumb hole is big enough to go around the base joint so that the pressure is on your entire index finger and hand instead of just your thumb knuckle.

When it's all worked out in cardboard, and you're ready to cut the real thing, simply use a dremel tool or 1/2-round file for the edges. Taper the thumb hole to match the angles of your hand.

Stain with a simple mixture of whatever oil paint you want (Whitaker uses burnt and raw sienna mixed at about 50/50). Then do a lot of sanding to get it perfect.

To finish it off, buy a can of spray shellac because it's only soluble in alcohol rather than artists' oil paint solvents. Over time, the palette will still build up and become rather grey; but that just makes it even better.

So take it for what you will, but this is coming from a guy who has been through a lot of palettes (you'll notice many of them had hole placements that caused thumb strain over the years):

Whitaker Notes

Almost three years ago, I was fortunate enough to study with William Whitaker. He allowed me to come for an entire week in his studio, and then again for a few days the following summer. Shortly afterward, however, he announced he wouldn't be taking any more students--perhaps because I had convinced him teaching was a drag! :)

So you can imagine how excited I am now. Since I have recently moved to Utah, I live only 30 minutes from his studio. To my surprise, he was cordial enough to invite me back on a more regular basis. This means I will have the incredible opportunity to study under him 1-2 times a month! What an undeserved honor.

Since Whitaker is always talking about the importance of following your heart, we had a good laugh when we went to Chinese for lunch and got these fortunes (mine on top, his beneath):

Hopefully I can be the artist he seems to think I'm capable of being.

Anyway, in the next couple posts, I'll detail my notes from Day One.

Then, when I get time, I'll go back and post the notes from my first two visits from a couple years ago. Enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Color Charts: Major AHA

So now that I'm done with the last commission I plan to take on for a while, I finally got around to the project I've been really excited to do: the Color Charts in Richard Schmid's Alla Prima. I know, I'm weird, but really--tedious technical tasks actually do get me pumped up.

However, here's a quiz for you to do if you try to do these charts. Not passing this quiz cost me at least three boards' worth of scraping off and starting over.

In the following charts, the first and last square are the same: 1% and 100% saturation. But which of the two has perfectly distributed value changes in the middle three value ranges?

I wasn’t measuring or using formulas to mix my colors, but I was doing my mixing by doing the 5th value, 1st value, and then the 3rd value--trying my best to get it in the perfect middle. But even though I’d get the 3rd value correct, it just kept looking so wrong after I'd fill in the 2nd and 4th values because when I’d squint to check, they just didn’t seem to “flow” from dark to light.

Now that I’ve taken the time to do these grids in Illustrator where I can control the math and see for myself what is happening, I realize I actually WAS getting my charts pretty darn near 1%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%. But the jump from 1%-25%, especially, seemed like an enormous value change compared to everything else because of the way the eye works.

When I took a different approach that looks more even to the eye (especially when squinting), I realized it actually operates on properties of thirds with the exception of the second-lightest value, which ends up being almost a third-step between the lightest and middle value. The calculation in Illustrator ended up like this: 1%, 7%, 33%, 66%, 100%.

Now I’ve realized that the darker the value, the more difficult it is for the eye to distinguish between value changes. So the first one--perfectly, mathematically split--appears to the eye to have much bigger value jumps between the 1% and 25% square than the 75% and 100% square. But if I make the middle square 33% of the fully saturated value instead of 50%, it looks more like an even value split! Weird but true.

Gotta trust the eyes, Natalie. Trust the eyes.

I feel much better about my mixes now; and will finally be able to go forward with my eyes and brain in agreement. I’ve noticed most of Schmid’s charts are closer to the gradations of almost-thirds rather than perfect-quarters, too, so I'm not a complete loony.

When I finish them, I'll detail out all the things I learned in the process. I already have quite a list going . . .

The Blank Canvas

Because this young boy died in a tragic accident, along with his best friend and his best friend's mother, this commission has been one of the most difficult I have ever done.

I stared at the blank canvas for probably 20 minutes. I said a prayer (okay, several), and then finally started the block in:

I remembered my greatest teacher, William Whitaker saying, "The first stroke you make on a canvas is always perfect. It's the second stroke and all subsequent strokes that can ruin everything. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply leave a painting alone."

I took a deep breath, and then got warmed up:

Once things started to come together, I got a little more confident:

The painting began to have a life of its own at this point. This is the point where you've committed enough that you either have to finish it or start over. So I finally braved the serious stuff:

Several sessions later, was finally happy with it:

I've thought a lot about being a mother through this process.

My children are my blank canvases. Sometimes I just stare at them, frozen, thinking about all I wish to teach them. I say a prayer and start to go forward, one lesson at a time. I remember the advice, "The first stroke you make is always perfect." I look at my beautiful girls and see this is true. They are perfect little beings.

Then I keep going and worry that "it's the second stroke and all subsequent strokes that can ruin everything."

I remind myself that "sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply leave [them] alone."

At this point, I still feel like I am in the bare beginning stages--just a few basic strokes for composition and placement on their blank little slates.

Some day I'll have to turn the brush entirely over to them. They will take on a life of their own. I hope by then they can see what beautiful potential they have and make the last strokes with courage and bravado.

Thank you, Deena, for the honor of painting Austin. It's helped to remind me of the incredible opportunity of motherhood, the fact that anything can change in an instant, and that knowledge that every day is a gift.

Thank you, God, for the honor of raising my beautiful daughters. My own little miracles remind me of Thy infinite goodness.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More Thoughts on Beauty

So I had some time to digest the Lecture on The Banishment of Beauty by Scott Burdick, and I've finally come to my own conclusions of exactly how his ideas have impacted me.

Beauty has, for the first time in my life, become a valid and extremely important thing to fight for.

One concept I spent a great deal of time pondering today is the idea that "beauty is simply truth" because that's the statement that caught my attention. Now I don't think Scott's intent was to define the universe or anything simply by saying that we'll find it if we focus on beauty. But he definitely piqued my interest in the subject.

You see, up until now, I have always devalued beauty. I defined it is as something that was, at best, simply nice to have but not essential. At worst, beauty was something completely superficial. This opinion made it hard for me to value my talents and to rectify within myself the strong desire to pursue art. It seemed so inconsequential in the long-term scheme of things. But this tie from beauty to truth made me take a second look at my opinions.

Although I still believe that beauty can be superficial and therefore distract us from ultimate Truth, here's where the light went on for me:

Beauty is not sufficient, alone, to lead us to absolute truth; but absolute truth is never found without beauty.

Therefore, beauty is valid. Beauty is important. Indeed, beauty is essential. And the part that I play as an artist who is doing my best to create beautiful images is, indeed, essential as well.

Beauty is worth fighting for in a world full of ugliness and I'm happy for the choice I've made to pursue it.