Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Painting Process 3

The Painting Support
The main support I use is cotton duck canvas because it is inexpensive and I like the texture of the weave. I think canvas is one of the most beautiful materials and the Venetian painters of the 16th and 17th centuries knew this as well. There are many supports one can use, a canvas could be made of different materials such as cotton, linen, hemp, and jute. According to some, linen is the most durable of them all, but pricey, specially here in the US. The original support for oil painting is panel, a wooden board made of either of oak, pine, or birch. I have recently gotten into panel because the colors become more radiant with this support. I would paint on panels more often but the price of it could be quite high at times.
I prepare all my supports from scratch. I haven't bought any pre-made canvas in many years.
I start by stretching my canvas onto wooden stretchers. I usually spend a whole weekend stretching different sizes of canvas. I like to have a number of them to choose from when I'm ready to paint. After stretching and stapling the canvas onto the stretchers I seal it with two coats of rabbit skin glue. Many art supply stores carry this product but if you don't know what it is or how it looks like you're most likely to pass right by it and not know.
Rabbit skin glue is a traditional sealer and ingredient for making traditional gesso for panels. As much as I would love to get into the history of the material and its many uses I won't because I would like to keep this short. There are many art material books out there that contains information about rabbit skin glue.
I make a solution of 1 part rabbit skin glue to 10 parts water. I soak the glue over night in the water and then warm it up when I'm ready to treat the canvas. You must not over heat or boil the glue because this makes it loose it's strength.
After the first coat has dried over night I apply the second. Once the final coat has dried I prime the canvas with Lead White in oil and some chalk. Two coats should be enough. The oil primer needs to be thick, much more than regular oil paint. I apply this primer with a sturdy palette knife to fill in all the cavities in the canvas.
After this I let it dry for six months before I touch it again to paint. This is the way a painting begins for me, some might use ready made acrylic gesso to prime their canvas, something I used to do. I stopped using acrylic gesso because I learned that it causes oil paintings to crack faster than they should. I have been a witness to this. That's why the old way works better for me know and I can see proof hanging in museum walls that this method will make my paintings last for a while.
Here are some helpful books on art materials:
The Artist's Handbook by Pip Seymour
The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen
The Painter's Craft by Ralph Mayer
Formulas for Painters by Robert Massey
The Materials of the Artist by Max Doerner

Monday, May 29, 2006

Painting Process 2

My Palette
There are so many colors available now to the modern painter that it becomes very hard to choose a palette that works. In the old days painters had a very small choice of colors and they were able to achieve greatness with this restricted palette. I was lucky enough to take a foundations class on color where I was taught about mixing and choosing colors. I adopted the palette suggested to us in class and it has worked wonders. The main idea of this palette is to use two shades for each of the primaries, one cool one warm, to get the right mixtures. Here's what I use as a palette:
Titanium White (the brightest white, cool white)
Zinc White (warm white)
Flake White (ideal warm white for flesh tints)
Unbleached Titanium Pale (very light natural Titanium I use for backgrounds)
Cadmium Yellow Lemon (cool yellow for mixing greens)
Cadmium Yellow Medium
Cadmium Yellow Deep (warm yellow for mixing orange)
Naples Yellow (my favorite color, I use it almost in everything, including flesh tints and for
onions. I use genuine Naples Yellow, which is a lead based pigment. Both Naples
Yellow Light and Deep are much richer than the synthetic ones)
Yellow Ochre
Raw Sienna (I use it sparingly)
Burnt Sienna (a must in my palette)
Burnt Umber
Raw Umber (deep rich brown. I use this instead of black)
Iron Oxide Red Med./Mars Red/Indian Red (good for those rich reds if mixed with Cad. Red.)
Cadmium Red Medium(warm red for mixing orange)
Cadmium Red Light (love to use it for the bright areas of a tomato)
Quinacridone Red/Permanent Rose (cool red for mixing the ideal purple with ultramarine blue.
I have stopped using alizarin Crimson since it fades, more
so than it's natural counterpart Madder Lake.)
Ultramarine Blue (cool blue for mixing purple)
Phthalo Blue (warm blue for mixing greens, I rarely use this color)
Cobalt Blue (I love cobalt blue)
Genuine Cerulean Blue (I love this color and try to use it as much as I can.)
Chrome Oxide Green (I use it sparingly)
This is my main palette, I sometimes use other colors depending on the effect I'm trying to achieve.

Painting Process

Some one requested that I should show the process of painting a still life. I had thought about this before but didn't go for it thinking no one would be interested. But after the request by a fellow blogger I decided to do it and have fun with it. There are many things that go into a painting before work on it begins. I invest ample time in preparing my supports and painting space. This first part of the Painting Process series will be about my studio space.

The Studio
My "studio" is a small area in my studio apartment which I share with my partner. I have gotten used to painting in small corners. When I was living with my parents my painting space was a corner, in college my painting space was a corner of the big senior studio space, and now once again I paint in a corner. The studio space, no matter how big or small should be kept clean and organized. These things do show in the final product. I tend to keep all my mediums in one area, and my paints are stored by color category in the drawers of a small rolling cabinet. Keeping my materials in designated areas and within reach makes it easier to find them as I paint. Some may think this is fussy but I feel that if I'm serious about my work, I need to give it the respect and attention it deserves.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Planning Before Painting? II

Since I started painting I stopped drawing. Drawing was the only thing I knew how to do, but it just stopped as soon as I picked up the brush. We all have different ways at tackling our own work. Some plan for it and some go with the flow and work out the problems while creating. I'm one of those who like to go with the flow. I'm very impatient, therefore I hate to plan for paintings. I get to work on them right away and work at it until it pleases me. But lately I've felt less of an artist because I don't use drawing to plan for my work. Apparently to some purists you have to make thumbnail sketches or a number of studies before you start painting.
When talking about the subject a friend told me not so long ago that he can't start to work on a painting unless he has made many different drawings to determine the best composition. More power to you if this is the way you work. It shows discipline and commitment. But there are some of us who just can't go at it the same way. Reason why I start to paint right away is because I spend a long time setting up my subject the way I think it might work on the painting. I play around with the light and once I get it I take a picture of it. Yes I work from pictures! Some criticize this method, but I live in a very small space and have two kitties who love to play with everything they can find. Setting up a permanent still life is not an option for me. Besides, I'm a product of my own time and cameras play big part in modern life.
I thought about this for a while and decided to try to draw before painting. It does help you understand your subject a little better but I still don't see the difference. The only way this has helped me is to be able to plan for the size of the actual canvas I'm going to use and the scale of the subject within the space.
Here are two drawings, which have not yet been made into paintings, and an ink sketch which now exists as a painting. I like drawing, but it doesn't capture my attention like painting does.

Planning Before Painting?

I used to paint with watercolors when I was a kid. It was my favorite medium as a matter of fact. Some how over the years I stopped using watercolors and would only use pencil. I picked up oil painting in high school and not once did I miss or wanted to paint with watercolors at all. I lost the touch for it, but one day last year I decided that I will try to work with it again, at least as an aid for my oil painting. I used watercolors to help me plan for two paintings, the first which has already been executed. Home Grown II was a commission from a friend and first patron, and this watercolors sketch was very important to me because not only was it the first time I had worked with watercolors in close to twenty years, but it was a study for a second try at the commission. The first painting I did was not to my or the buyers pleasing. I will develop on this story some other time! The second image below is a sketch done after a finished painting that looks the same. In this drawing I was trying to correct the scale of each subject and their relationship in space to each other. I will be re-do the painting based on the proportions from this drawing.
Study for Home Grown II, 2005, watercolors on paper, 9 1/2 x 8 inches (image size)

Study for Red Cabbage, 2006, watercolors on paper, 10 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches

Sunday, May 21, 2006

In the Kitchen with Mama!

The kitchen for me has become a symbol of family and love. For as long as I can remember my mother will spend a great part of the day cooking, doing dishes or cleaning; and I was always there right beside her. She never took me by the hand to show me how to cook, not unless I asked her to, which I did when I was older. I would always observe, if not from another room I would smell and hear the action in the kitchen. Sometimes the aroma was so strong and good that it forced me to come down to the kitchen and engage in conversation with her as she would cook. Good talks and laughs have happened in the kitchen between all family members and to this day these scenes are very common in my mother's kitchen.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My Release

In the fall of 2001 I took my first step towards abstraction. At that point I rejected any idea that art could be non objective, conceptual, or free from any reference to the physical world. I decided one night to pick up my brushes and tackle a canvas to see what would come of it. I thought that by smearing paint on the surface I would have a finished product, an abstract painting. I was wrong. After putting my work up for a critique I found out that it wasn't as easy as it appeared to be. I was determined to get it right and started to rework the painting. I was hooked! I was pleased with the final piece, and decided to start a second one. Soon, I had gone from representation to abstraction.
It wasn't until 2003 when I finally found a style that worked for me. The last series of abstractions became large and very free. This new method of working was the release I had been waiting for all my life. It helped me to become loose, and to work the picture as a whole. These last paintings were inspired by the legacy of the abstract expressionists, mainly Rothko and Color Field painter Frankenthaler.
St. John the Baptist, 2003, oil on canvas, 72 x 62 inches
Still Life, 2003, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
(private collection)

Canto Gitano, 2004, oil on canvas, 24 x 58 inches
(private collection)

Lessons with Matisse, 2004, oil on canvas, 60 x 54 inches

Concierto de Violines, 2004, oil on canvas, 60 x 52 inches

Friday, May 12, 2006

I Play with My Food!

I usually rush home from work at nights to try to get diner ready before 9:00 p.m. so that I could have some painting time. This usually doesn't work out that way because once I start getting ready to cook I start playing with the food. If my mother could just read this she would smack me across the head! We have all been told at some point not to play with our food, but what can I say, playing with my onions, tomatoes, etc has paid off. It must seem funny to my partner looking at me running around the kitchen camera in hand while chopping and stirring. I always have my camera handy because you never know what you'll see.
I have been painting still lives for a long time, but after moving out of my parents' home my paintings became a little more personal because this time around I was painting objects and scenes that happen on day to day basis. I got into cooking as a necessity more than any thing else. Mama wasn't around any more! These paintings are very connected to my life and I enjoy the process of it, from the kitchen to the easel.
Olive Oil, Two Onions and Tomato, 2006, oil on canvas, 13 x 9 inches

Vinegar, Onions and Tomato, 2006, oil on canvas, 17 x 14 inches
Lately I've become interested in painting single/central subjects. I had always shied away from this kind of composition because teachers in school would always tell you to stay away from the center. Finally I went with what I felt and I think it works for me. I like the overlooked vegetables and objects turn out to look like the are on a pedestal in these paintings, thus making them idealized.

Vine Ripe Tomatoes, 2006, oil on panel, 9 x 9 inches

Yellow Onion in Bowl, 2006, oil on panel, 12 x 9 inches

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Painter's Studio

My current painting space in my tiny NYC apt.

During the fall semester of my senior year in college I gave photography a shot. Not knowing what I was getting my self into I opted to always relate photo with painting. The following images are of the studio spaces in the Senior Studio at the Hartford Art School. Through the lens of the camera I discovered that there was something aesthetically pleasing about the way some of the painting spaces looked. I was fixated with blobs of paint on work tables, brushes dipped in turps and tubes of paint squeezed to the last drop. My painting teacher once said that she thought that the idea of an artist working alone in the studio was very humbling, and I had agreed with it but had never really experienced that kind of a feeling until I was left alone to work in the senior studio. I walk around the room and took these images, all inspired by the act of creation that my fellow painters left for me to witness.

Parkville Art Studios, Hartford, CT

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Ultimate Goal

There's not a single day that passes without me thinking of Chardin. I was introduced to his work in 2001 by my painting teacher in school, and ever since I have used his work as my ultimate goal. Chardin hits a special cord with me. I think his work is the epitome of perfection, each painting full of life and spirituality. He was not too concerned with little details or hung up on subject matter. I have had the honor to stand in front of his work, including the two pieces above, which hang in the MFA Boston. In every painting by Chardin I have been able to witness his genius of handling his materials, little dabs and strokes of color strategically placed throughout the painting. Above all, his work always display an amazing degree of honesty and humbleness that I find mind blowing.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Tomatoes and Pumpkin, 2005, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches

Olive Oil with Tomato and Limes, 2005, oil on canvas, 10 x 10 inches

Still Life with Tomatoes and Limes, 2005, oil on canvas, 14 x 12 inches

Tomato in Bowl, 2004, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches