Saturday, February 25, 2012

More tiny abstracts: inktense, Derwent studio pencils and Fisher 400 paper

Another in series of tiny abstracts, playing with the interaction of colour, shape and space

This one was done using Derwent's studio pencils over an inktense underpainting, on Fisher 400 paper.   I like the way that Derwent's Coloursoft pencils work with this paper better, though these worked well, the Coloursofts were richer when used like this (not so on normal paper).

Working with the underpainting allows me to create the same sort of effects that I can achieve in oils - changing subtly or overlaying very different colour opaquely,  and is a really useful way of playing with colour and ideas.

and another variation with the same materials

 and there's more .....

I may arrange them in a grid, keeping each element small with the grid black or a deep linking colour - decisions decisions ....

what do you think?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Derwent Artbars: a luscious new product from Derwent, water soluble waxy crayons

 detail from step by step

Well ..... secret project is secret no more  : > )

Derwent Artbars
Last summer I was asked to take part in testing Derwent's newest baby - Artbars, then in the lab under development.   They will be available in the next couple of weeks and are now on the Derwent website.

Rocks near Porthgwarra, Derwent Artbars, on A2 cartridge paper, Vivien Blackburn

It was really interesting being involved in trying them out from the short-stumps-of-colour-and-varied-composition/shape etc at the beginning and following their progression.   I still have a little container of these stumps.

In this one, that they commissioned after the initial testing, the only other medium used is a little white gouache for those areas where I didn't retain the white of the paper for the incoming waves.   In other places it is simply the white paper.

In the one above,  I was wanting to build an intensity of colour, unlike the sketchier, airier version below.   Artbars worked equally well either way.

The colour is lush.

It's possible to use a wide variety of techniques with Artbars

  • Draw on dry paperScumbling colours over each other, dry, then washing loosely with water,  being careful not to over mix or overwork, and keeping the underlying graphic marks in places, contrasting with the really fluid washes with no marks,  gave some really nice textures and colours.
  • Draw into a damp wash  for softer marks that blur into the surrounding colour a little.
  • Drawing back over dry washes and leaving the fuzzier, quite different marks showing, where appropriate, adds variety and texture. 
  • Lifting colour from the sticks for fluid washes with no ‘drawn’ marks is very effective and gives luscious washes of colour.   It's possible to achieve very pale translucent washes as well as intense colours.
  • Splatter colour by picking up from the crayons with a wet brush
  • Glaze layers over earlier dried layers for veils of changing colour
  • Dry drawn marks in final layer, leave as graphic marks
  • Use those fine triangular edges for linear marks  (the shape also means they don't roll of your desk or roll away when you work plein air)
  • Where I had only used dry colour or not built up too much wetted dark to sink in and stain the paper, a battery operated eraser worked well to remove colour and ‘draw’ back into areas.

  • Printing - I scribbled onto acetate and then ran a small foam roller across it – then ran this across paper.  I’ve previously done this with watercolour and it worked well with the Artbars.  Scribbled marks on acetate were simple rolled over with the sponge and then printed onto the paper by rolling the sponge down the page.   Ideal for underpainting marks in rocks, bark, stone walls etc  They can be blotted whilst damp, to remove parts.  Then use any of the techniques above to work into it, defining, removing, simplifying.  Variations on stencilling and printing can be experimented with.  Example on the left above. 
  • Spraying techniques using the spray bottle in the accessories
  • Building heavy layers of colour and scratching through to reveal lower layers or the white of the paper
  • Building heavy layers of colour and burnishing to a glossy smooth finish
  • Scraping flecks of colour into wet washes to create interesting speckles and texture
  • Scraping through thickly applied  layers of colour, to reveal a the colour of a layer below.
  • Using Derwent's embossing tools through a wet wash - it dents the paper surface, creating a fine line of more intense colour as the pigment dries.
There is a range of accessories with spray bottles and scrapers to add even further techniques - see on the Derwent site, to add to the range of techniques.   I find spray bottles very useful with water media and often scrape fragments of pigment from pencils to add texture, letting them fall into a damp wash, which fixes them.

Artbars also worked well with Derwent's waterbrushes - I was absolutely amazed at how these self'-clean.   You know how you have to wash a brush thoroughly before picking up another colour - I don't know how these clean so easily, but they do.  (I'm sold on them for times when I wouldn't want to be carrying quantities of water   They are ideal when you only want to carry a sketchbook, watersoluble graphite and a brushpen for instance - a minimal kit but really expressive).   Taking Artbars out plein air I'd want water and bigger brushes to enable me to work fast and freely on a largish scale but for small studies the waterbrushes worked well.

 detail 1 from a quicker sketch showing glazes, dry marks, washes, splattering, scratching .....

You can work fast with them as you can lay down a considerable amount of colour and cover, washing it out, blotting,  working into it, catching the moment if you are working plein air.  In the studio you have the luxury of more time.

 detail 2 from a quicker sketch showing glazes, dry marks, washes, splattering, scratching .....

the whole of the quicker sketch 

One of the things I asked for was a range of subtle light colours, as well as a good range of more vivid colour.  This should enable images from the very subtle to intense and vivid and they certainly seem to have listened  : > )

Here I've deliberately  used the Artbars alone apart from a touch of white gouache in surf as I was testing them.  

Artbars colour range

This earlier still life done with a limited range of the early Artbars was one of the intense variety I think
: >)

Still life experiment on A2, Vivien

I like the mix of drawing vs the painterly marks they can make, the flood of colour achievable and the soft subtle washes that can be obtained despite their richness.

They worked well on both cartridge paper and watercolour paper - the watercolour paper allowing more changes and pushing the colour about/lifting it off etc without the paper becoming damaged, though I preferred a smooth surface to work on and would use hot pressed watercolour paper.   I like the marks to be ones I've chosen to create, rather than those imposed by the paper.
It's possible  to combine them with any coloured pencils, water soluble pencils/graphite, ink or watercolours to extend mark making possbilities even further.   My next project is to combine them with Inktense/Coloursofts/Derwents Artist and Studio pencils/watercolour pencils/watersoluble graphite - possibilities are endless : > )

For anyone who is a member of the SAA, I was requested to do an article for the SAA magazine about Artbars, (out in March, for those who are members).  There is a step by step birch tree showing some of the above techniques in practice.

My paintings have been featured in a glossy magazine but I've never written an article - so be kind and make allowances!

So - these are going to be something I enjoy using, free an expressive and fun.  I'll add further work here or links to longer posts about using the Artbars in work as I go.

Edit April 2012 - further work:

Go to the searchbox and enter Artbars and it will come up with more work and comments :>)

.........    and an update - you can read more about this one here


A search on Artbars or Derwent on my blog will bring up more work.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Derwent Coloursoft testing: Tiny abstracts, trees, seascapes, studies and ideas for potential large canvasses

A series of tiny (2 inches and less) studies for possible large canvasses.  Derwent Coloursoft on Fisher 400 paper, underpainting in watercolours.   Vivien Blackburn

 Tiny Abstracts with Derwent Coloursoft pencils  and watercolour on Fisher 400 paper:

I had some tiny left over scraps of the Fisher 400 and decided to experiment with water colour washes, overlaid with Derwent Coloursoft pencils (which work beautifully over this paper, so intense and rich).

As I'm not getting out to work plein air at the moment, due to the cold not being great for arthritis, I thought I might work on some canvasses where I'm simply using luscious colours to create space, mood and lovely interactions of colour.

The Coloursoft on the Fisher paper allow me to throw in those unexpected intense bits of colour, over deeper washes beneath, like those touches of vivid red that float over the underlying colours.   Mixing media like this allows me to do this - to let the painting, tiny as it is, to start talking back to me.  To make changes, subtle or dramatic.   Some of the colour shifts are gentle with watercolours wet in wet, glazed or with thin hazes of the coloured pencils.

Using the Coloursoft on this paper over watercolour, acrylic or gouache, on a small scale,is a perfect way for me to play quickly with ideas, colours, space etc before starting on a large canvas as I can create similar separation or blending to what will happen when I work on a large canvas in oils. with the mix of media.  It has the same ability to work backwards and forwards between dark and light and make big changes.

These studies are the beginnings of a series that I hope will lead on to 36 or 40 inch canvasses - they have the feel of bigger paintings to me - do you agree?

An earlier series in a similar vein can be seen here and here   for work in progress and below for one finished canvas, They were done for a project linked with the comedy festival here a few years ago and were about Harlequin and the Commedia del Arte.  They were based on the patched Harlequin costume, stage lights reflecting on silky fabrics, distressed surfaces ...

Harlequin,30x40 inches mixed media on canvas, Vivien Blackburn

Some other studies testing out the Derwent Coloursoft:

 Coloursoft pencils in Moleskine sketchbook, Abstracted seascape, misty morning on a day that promises to be glorious , Vivien Blackburn
 Birches, coloursoft pencils on Fisher 400,  no underpainting, Vivien Blackburn

Birches, Derwent Coloursoft on Fisher 400 paper, Vivien Blackburn

and this one, done as part of the postcard exchange.

I am really liking Coloursoft in combination with Fisher 400.  It's lovely on paper - but the way it behaves on sanded paper is something special : > )

 Coloursoft doodle in the Derwent 75lb sketchbook with Rotring pen lines

Colours can still be quite intense even on the thin paper in this sketchbook but even better on the 110lb sketchbook or other heavier paper.

An article on the Secret Project on a new product next week as it's secret will be out :>)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tonal values: Light and shade, a key element in making your paintings and drawings better, 2 of 10

The cliffs at Hunstanton in greyscale to show tonal values

Tonal Values

Getting to grips with tonal values is essential to capture your subject in an interesting way.

 The original version of the striped cliffs at Hunstanton in colour

You need to use the full range of tones observable - this may be a limited range as in a subtle Gwen John interior (below) or a misty day - but more often has a wide range of contrasts.   I find students are often wary of pushing the darks enough and the finished work lacks impact - deepen those darks (with colour not black) and the painting comes to life.

Gwen John

This Gwen John interior is a beautiful study using a limited tonal range, the shadows under the chair the darkest area, though not intensely dark, the rest bathed in a diffused light.

Half close your eyes to simplify tonal values and capture them with more ooomph.  Colours are a totally separate issue from tone - yellow in the shade can be darker than black in sunlight - it's essential to look and compare, squint, really observe closely and don't simply think of the colour your left brain knows the object to be.  The effects of light can make it appear a very different colour and tone.  Constantly compare - the small hole punched in paper for filing can be useful to isolate an area so that you can assess it without preconceptions creeping in.

Remember as well that a camera can't cope with the number of tones a human eye can.   If a human eye can see 10 degrees of tone then a camera catches less than half.   Some areas disappear into blackness - black holes where the human eye would see colour in the shadows.   Some areas get burnt out - skies too pale and washed out for instance - whereas the human eye sees the colour and tone.  So, if working from photos a lot of visual memory needs to be drawn on to add back the missing elements.

Read this article on Handprint to see a scientific and interesting explanation of our perception of tonal value

 Don't forget 'lost' edges where things next to each other may be different colours (or not), but are tonally equal and the edge is indistinct as in the this Caravaggio painting, where the clothes melt into the darkness behind the figures-  or the chair back almost melting into the soft shade in the Gwen John interior.

 Caravaggio is an absolute master of contrast, with parts of the subject lost in darkness, faces and hands gesturing are brightly lit adding pure drama to the scene being enacted as though on a stage.

Consider the very different mood that the tonal values (and marks) evoke in these paintings and the one below.


Just look at the clever use of tone in this painting by Turner - he's used it to create a vortex, all marks and tones leading you to the ship in difficulties, the light areas silhouetting it, the dark swallowing it without clear distinction between boat and sea.  Again, tone to add pure drama.

 Do take a look at Turner's sketchbooks at the Tate if you haven't done so - here.   They could have been done today,  amazing, free, timeless, so well observed.

 This is a study I did of a studio space I had about 12 years ago and below is a greyscale version.

As with the Gwen John interior the light was diffused.    The space was cluttered with a shirt over the back of a chair, a  vase of wiliting flowers and a tin of brushes, the window at the back but probably fluorescent lights lit as well.

close up of the brushesm backlit by the window and below in grescale

Tonal value also creates a sculptural sense of form

With these studies of cardoon heads I wanted to get the volume, the robust heavy shape, the different textures - scaly dry bracts and fluffy interior - tonal value (and observation and mark making - see they all interlink!)  is what I used to try to achieve this.   I felt I was sculpting with the pencils, interpreting a 3D subject in 2D but trying to make it  feel 3D, pushing the bits of darkness behind the bracts to make them come forward, using light over dark as well as dark over light in the fluffy areas.  My little electric erasers are brilliant for this.  I've got a Jakar and a Derwent one..  The Derwent spins a little slower, is a little wider and has longer refills.

 The same issues of volume and form apply to any subject - portraits or landscapes.

Other artists that might interest you

Kurt Jackson's landscapes are full of light and shade, beautifully observed.  Reflections on water are especially fabulous :>)  (also intense observation and lovely mark making)

David Prentice   both traditional and abstracted work - but the tonal values are as important as the colour

If painting/drawing an abstract, tonal values still apply.   The overall painting still needs to work tonally it's a  balancing act even though it isn't related to some concrete object, view or person being observed directly.

Mary Fedden flattens perspective, isn't concerned about 3 dimensions but her paintings still consider tone as well as colour and composition.

Barbara Rae abstracts from the landscape in wonderful vivid colour -  but again the tone works.  Take a look at her wonderful sketchbook, sadly out of print - I was tempted to buy : > )

To make an interesting painting, the light must be interesting in the first place, giving interesting tonal variation and shadows.

It's worth lighting a still life with lamps or positioning it sideways on to a window - or backlit for drama.

In the landscape evening and morning light is far more interesting than the flat light of midday.  It has long shadows and a special quality to the light whereas midday - especially in summer - can be just plain boring to paint and results in a boring painting.

Prior posts in this series

Post one of this series an overview

Post two - on observation

More to follow with points 3 -10  : > )

Friday, February 10, 2012

Making a bead necklace .... and now for something completely different .... for me

My first bead necklace 

Today I met up with a fellow teacher for an exchange of skills.  Sue teaches jewellery making and makes some really beautiful things (check out the link).   She taught me how to make this necklace with all the extra, sticky out beads at the centre :>)   I chose all the lovely blue greens of the sea with a few sand colours for contrast.  Her studio was  a treasurehouse of luscious beads.  She was very patient with someone clumsy, who constantly tangled her thread :>)

I took the Inktense pencils and bars and my paintbrushes for her to have a play with them.   They can be used on silk and as she involves textiles in some of her work I thought they might be of interest.  Sue experimented with those, while I industriously threaded beads.

A lovely creatively different day :>)  which we plan to repeat, with me teaching drawing/painting and Sue, Gill and Sheryl teaching different aspects of jewellery making.

Key Elements in Painting and Drawing series:

I'll do the next episode in the key elements of painting and drawing in the next few days.   The next one will be about tone.