Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back to the basics-WAY BACK!

This blog is somewhat of an embarrassing blog to write because it requires that I make a very personal confession, "I have dirty brushes."  Okay, there I have said it for the world to read and so now I can move forward towards my recovery.

You would think that somehow along this journey to becoming an artist, I would have learned how to properly maintain my brushes, but I guess not. I only remember in high school art class washing my brushes in the sink under running water and doing that only until the water ran clear.  I thought that was all there was when it came to brush care....(I will continue this blog as soon as you have stopped laughing.)

I became suspiciously aware of the fact that there just be a bit more to paint brush care when I started taking formal painting lessons.  Each week, I would arrive to Lily's house to have sitting before me my unfinished painting, a clean palette with little colorful blobs of oil paint and 5 or 6 paint brushes that all had bristles that were well rounded, a sharp point or had a nice sharp edges.   The bristles were stiff and a frankly a joy to paint with. I know that a number of my brushes are very old but I have found that when I buy brand new brushes, that before you know it, the edges of the bristles are spread apart and I no longer am able to paint a nice straight detailed line.  Even after trying to shape the edges, while the bristles were wet and allowing them to dry on a flat surface I would still have brushes that were far from what Lily had.  So a couple of weeks ago I decided to swallow my pride and ask Lily for help.
The paint brush exorcism took place yesterday at the end of my painting lesson when I painfully submitted my brushes to Lily's scrutiny.  During my 2 hour lesson, my brushes soaked in cleaning solution suspended by a wire hanger.  Just before I was to leave, Lily and I went to her kitchen sink where she pulled out a tub of brush cleaning soap and began to squeezing the bristles and rubbing the brushes vigorously in the palm of her hand.

To my horror, old paint that had worked its way into the ferrule of my brush began to turn the white soap lather into a nasty green-gray color.  I think I heard Lily mutter something under her breath about never having seen such dirty brushes. 
Yes...that is suppose to be a 3/8 Angle Shader on the right that I apparently have ruined in comparison to a #6 angle brush that with my new gained knowledge won't ruin.

So here is what I learned about brush care:
     1.  If the brushes are really dirty you will need to soak them in a brush cleaner solution perhaps as long as overnight.  I definitely think that describes my current situation.  You want to us a brush washer that allows you to suspend your brushes in the solution without covering the ferrule of your brush.

2.  Use a brush soap and get the bristles well lathered.  Rub the bristles vigorously in the palm of your hand then squeeze the bristles between your finger and thumb nail to work the old paint out from deep within the base of the bristles and the ferrule.  Repeat until your soap lather is white.  Leave some lather on your bristles to work as a sizing to allow you to form the desired shape with your fingers.

3.  Lay the brush flat on a paper towel to allow to dry.  Don't stand them up on the end of the handles as the water will stay in the ferrule and will eventually cause damage to your paint brush handle.

 Now is when the fun really begins.  I am off to the store to purchase the necessary items and then I will begin the long process of trying to save my brushes by soaking and soaping them back to life.  As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Pain-No Gain

Yesterday, was my scheduled 4th painting lesson.  I was anxious to progress on the current oil painting that I am working on of a fallen tree up on Mt. Charleston.  The difficult thing for me when it comes to taking these lessons is that I feel insecure because (1.)  I'm painting in oils and (2.) my natural approach to the subject is very different from that of my instructor.  Each step of the way she gives me instructions on the next process in the piece and often I don't produce the result that she is wanting.  Either I am trying to be too detailed, over doing it or not doing enough.  This can be frustrating, but as I have stated many times, I am self-taught and obviously in many aspects, self-taught incorrectly.  Bad habits can be hard to rid oneself of if they are deeply ingrained and apparently my bad habits have very "deep tap roots".

I was excited to take along my most recent painting that I call, "Memories of the Road Home" and one of which I have been very happy with. As I painted this one, I had tried to remember the points I have learned in the book I am reading by Margaret Kessler entitled, "Painting Better Landscapes" and the things I have learned so far in my 3 previous painting lessons that I have taken with Lily Adamczyk and all in all I thought I had done a pretty good job.  Boy was I mistaken!
This is my original painting that I had completed that I am calling, "A Memory of the Road Home".
I was sure that Lily would discuss a few things that I could improve on to make it a better landscape painting.  After all, there could only be a few minor changes that I could do to improve it because the overall piece was done well, or at least that was what I thought.  It was the last few minutes of my lesson when Lily suggested that we take a look at what I had brought along.  She picked the canvas up and in a matter of 30 seconds or so she said..."Do you mind if I...." and she grabbed a roll of masking tape in her other other and began placing pieces of tape in different directions on the surface of my canvas.

Lily said that when you are painting buildings it is very important that you emphasize angles and lines and the best way to insure that they are straight is by using masking tape.  As you can see, I was blind to the extent that my lines and angles were off.  Only the tape showed me just how crooked they were.
Lily then proceeded to pull out her brushes and paint palette and go to work on the roof of my old homestead.  She explained that the detail of painting each shingle wasn't necessary but what was more important was getting the base colors correct and giving just the impressions of the tiles.  That was also her advise when it came to old wooden slates that the house is comprised of.
Lily giving me a lesson on how to improve my painting

I was amazed by her ability to add a few colors together and come up with the perfect matching color to use for those old green shingles.  She mixed Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo Green,  Black, and White to make the shingles.  We also added a blue tint to the path way to give it interest.  My other notes include- STAY AWAY FROM WHITE...and throw away your fan brush.  An angle brush works great because you don't have to paint every blade grass, rather give the impression of the grass.

My piece in it's current stage of transformation.  We have brought the one tree down into the foreground, added a stone wall, radically changed the grass and my path.  I am still working on lightening the grass and detailing some of the foreground. 
It was a painful couple of hours, but my resolve is to turn the PAIN into GAIN and remember that critique, no matter how painful, will make me a better artist.  After I finish this piece a second time, maybe I will start a second painting of this same house so that I can reproduce this effect on my own from start to finish.  Perhaps this view with some overgrown rosebushes and an old tire swing would make and interesting composition.  Practice makes Perfect...and I need a LOT of practice.