The Studio Art School: Dorset

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By Justin Cooke, Feb 25 2015 12:03PM


There are various types of charcoal used for drawing. You will commonly find willow and vine charcoal as well as compressed charcoal. Willow and vine charcoal is nice to use, it gives a good even line, does not splinter or break up too easily when used. The fact that they both grow as slender stems also means that you can get pieces that you can hold like a pencil. It is also available in larger more randomly shaped blocks.Compressed charcoal is formed out of charcoal dust; it is compressed to various degrees and is available buttery soft to hard.

Why use compressed charcoal?

Firstly, it gives a darker and denser black.

Secondly, it can be found in pencil form, some artists prefer to use it this way.

Thirdly, sticks of compressed charcoal can be shaped or sharpened with a blade to make specific marks, much like the different nibs of a pen.

Any problems with compressed charcoal?

It does not smudge or blend as freely as charcoal does, neither is it easily removed with an eraser. The benefits of it adhering to the paper better, have to be balanced with the fact that it is not easy to work with once it is on the paper.

Why use charcoal? (such as willow charcoal)

The first thing many artists say is “it’s quick” and “direct”. With one piece of charcoal you can achieve all sorts of effects that would otherwise require a whole range of materials. Here is a summary.


You have a box of charcoal….

• If you snap a stick, you will get a sharp edge for detailed drawing.


• You can use it on its side for broader marks as you would a large brush for painting.

• By using your fingers you can soften marks much like you could if you use water to soften a watercolour painting.

• Just by pressing harder or softer, you can grade your tones from the lightest shade to rich dark tones.

• You can “draw” light areas back into your charcoal drawing by simply using an eraser.


Then there are some more innovative ways too; for example, that charcoal dust at the bottom of your charcoal box…it is very useful. You can use it with your fingers to shade tones. The very finest dust can be used with a brush. Just pick it up with the brush and paint with it!


(This is a good way of working out a drawing prior to drawing with finer –maybe splinters – of charcoal on top.) As well as your fingers, try using pieces of cloth or tissue folded into a pad.


Here is a tip for using charcoal that many artists have found useful.

To show you I will use cartridge paper and willow charcoal.


Firstly; cover your paper with a layer of charcoal using the stick on its side. Roughly smooth out with your fingers to spread it evenly. What we now have is a very thin charcoal layer to draw on and this can be very useful. It particularly helps with life drawing if you are a little apprehensive about drawing. I will show you why.



Let’s have a go at drawing on top.


I will do the same thing on a bare white paper.


Supposing I have drawn some lines that I do not like; if I try to smudge them away with my fingers on the bare white paper they still show. I would then have to stop, find an eraser, rub it out and start again. Even with an eraser, there is a very good chance my old drawing will still be visible.




On the prepared paper; a quick swipe with my fingers and it has disappeared.


You can also draw in highlights with an eraser. Below is an image showing a charcoal line removed and a line drawn with and eraser.

You can see there is an obvious danger to this. The drawing on the prepared paper, until fixed, is vulnerable.


The advantages though, you may consider worth it; because in just a few minutes you can draw hundreds of lines, any of which you can easily loose if you want to. The pressure is off… You have the freedom to try things over and over. You can experiment wildly, knowing anything can be put back to how it was. It is very liberating and helps to develop the sort of freedom in drawing that only comes with practice.

You can then also use an eraser to remove excess background tint and few people will know how you did it!


As your confidence and technique grows, you will find yourself making fewer changes to your drawing. You could then reach for the unprepared clean paper and just go for it! You are well practiced now, more confident and it will show.














By Justin Cooke, Jan 27 2015 07:15PM


Chiaroscuro : Light and Dark

Chiaroscuro is a term we use for the use of light and dark to show the form of things and to create a mood.


For now, let’s consider using it to make things look solid and fully three dimensional.


There are traditionally five elements to chiaroscuro.

Half tone. (Sometimes known simply as “light”, as it represents the lighter tones).

Core shadow.

Cast shadow.

Highlight.

Reflected light.


Let’s see how it works. I will draw a solid shape using chiaroscuro using the five elements above and we’ll see if it looks fully three dimensional. I’ll try a sphere, so there are no straight edges.


Here I have circle shape. It doesn’t look like a sphere it looks flat.


If I imagine a main light source, say top left, I can put half my circle in shadow. That should help. We will be using a couple of different types of shadow, so this one we will call “core shadow”. Core shadows on rounded forms like this (and the human figure incidentally) always have soft edges.
If I imagine a main light source, say top left, I can put half my circle in shadow. That should help. We will be using a couple of different types of shadow, so this one we will call “core shadow”. Core shadows on rounded forms like this (and the human figure incidentally) always have soft edges.

So now I have two halves of my sphere. The shaded side is the core shadow; the side nearest the light is the half tone. You could think of it as a lighter side and a darker side. If I make my background darker behind the light side that should help the light side show up a bit better.


I can now add my cast shadow, which should help. This is the second type of shadow we will use. Cast shadows are darker than core shadows and have sharp edges.



It’s getting there but we can do better. Let’s add the highlight. Highlights move as you move around your subject; shadows stay put which seems a little odd at first. The only way to move the shadow is to move the light source (be warned this could happen without your knowledge if you are using sunlight and are taking a few hours to make a drawing).


Now, it’s beginning to look three dimensional but there is still something not quite right. There is something missing…and it is the reflected light. I’ll put that in.


The reflected light helps separate the core shadow from the cast shadow but it is also a key part of any chiaroscuro painting or drawing.


I am often asked; “Where does the reflected light come from?” The answer is that not all the light illuminating the subject comes directly from the main light source; there are other light sources too. Every surface reflects some light and some of this finds its way onto our subject, it may be very faint but it will still show up in the dark shadows where the direct light from the main source cannot reach.


A particularly noticeable example of this can be seen in many portraits where reflected light illuminates the skin under the jaw. Here you can see it on a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. This painting is known as Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani). It is in the collection of the Czartoryski Museum, Krakow, Poland.


Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



The five elements of chiaroscuro

Once you start to look for them you can pretty much see them everywhere.



If you are doing a painting of some subject, say a still life, portrait, even a landscape; you will need to look for each of these five elements not just in the subject in front of you, but in your painting too. And this is probably the best way to use a list like this; that is as a checking device. I will explain below.


If you look at your painting or drawing and something doesn’t seem quite right about it. There are several things you can check. You could check to see if your drawing is accurate– are things placed where they should be in relation to each other and are they the right proportion, (is one eye higher than the other…that sort of thing). But you could also check the chiaroscuro.


It is one of those things about painting and drawing; that it is perhaps best not to think too deeply about rules while you are working. It slows you down and can make you hesitate. With practice you will work instinctively, without constantly being aware of all those things you have learned.


Having said that, imagine you are looking at a troublesome drawing. Just count through the five elements of chiaroscuro listed above. Take them one at a time and check all the parts of the painting where you would expect them to be. Do you have all the core shadows, highlights and cast shadows. What about the reflected light? (There is often some where the core shadow meets the cast shadow). The chances are that one of these is missing and putting it in will correct the picture. It is quite often the reflected light by the way.

Look hard to find these things in your subject, (it is not always easy to spot them all) then look hard to find them in your drawing; if it’s not in the drawing but it is in the subject, put it in.


So you can see; it’s a checking device as much as anything. That list of five…it’s a safety net.











By Justin Cooke, Jan 18 2015 01:42PM

How to make paint thicker



However you buy your paint; by the tube/ in a bottle or tub - It seems every manufacturer has an idea of how paint should be. And there are plenty of manufacturers to choose from. Some manufacturers choose to make their paint thick like toothpaste, others make it’s so liquid you can pour it.


Even with the variety available, you may easily find yourself making do with something you like but you know; it’s not perfect. It is good to be a little fussy from time to time and maybe now you want something a bit different than what is mass produced.

Just to make things even more complicated, you may have found the colour you really like made by one manufacturer, and although it is a good paint, occasionally it is unsuitable. It is not made to the consistency you need. You wish you could find it it in a more thick and dense form than it is when you buy it; because you would like to use a palette knife to paint with perhaps. If only they had made it thicker.




Making paint more liquid is fairly straight forward. You could add water to acrylic paint and turpentine and oil to oil paint. In fact, if you want to go down this route, there is a whole range of manufactured products you can mix with your paint that will do the job. Some of these not only make your paint more fluid but can also make it glossy or matt, dry faster…or even dry slower.


• But what if you want to make your paint thicker in consistency?

• Is there also a way of making the colours stronger?

• Is there anything that could be added to the paint to give it more body; make it more like a paste?

• Could you make paint thick enough to use a palette knife without those blade marks slowly softening and melting away before your eyes?


The answer is, thankfully, yes!


Here’s how it’s done.


There are things artists have always added to paint to change its texture and add what we call ‘body’. Some of these things behave differently with oil paints than they do with water based paints such as acrylics, but I will come to that later.


Let’s look at some of the things we can add.



Clockwise from top left;

Pure pigment

Chalk

Talcum powder

Sand


Now…each of these come’s with a warning.


Pure Pigment.

You can enrich the colour of your paint and add a little body to it by adding some more pigment to it. Pigments are sold in powdered form in much the same way as they have for centuries. L. Cornelissen and son, London, have been selling them since 1855. You will need to carefully match the pigment to your paint. Look at your tube of paint, it will tell you the pigments used to make it. This makes it very easy to add a bit more. The binders already in your paint should hold them quite well.
You can enrich the colour of your paint and add a little body to it by adding some more pigment to it. Pigments are sold in powdered form in much the same way as they have for centuries. L. Cornelissen and son, London, have been selling them since 1855. You will need to carefully match the pigment to your paint. Look at your tube of paint, it will tell you the pigments used to make it. This makes it very easy to add a bit more. The binders already in your paint should hold them quite well.

• In acrylic paints, the binder will allow for all sorts of things to be added. Think of it as a glue.

• In oil paints it is the actual oil used in the paint (linseed or rapeseed oil) that acts is the binder

• In watercolours, the binder is gum arabic, which is water soluble. Note, for watercolours you can enrich the colour this way but I would not attempt to thicken it or change its texture…think of it as a way of adding a little more pigment to intensify the colour. But really, it is not generally necessary to tamper with watercolour paint in this way as it is inevitably used with water. To use it you need to make it more fluid, not thicker. For better results colour wise, It is best to use a good range of good quality watercolour paints



So for now, let’s just think of acrylic and oil.


Adding pure pigment: It enriches the colour.

Pure pigment can be added to both acrylic and oil paint. It enriches the colour. Effectively you would be changing the proportions of the paint recipe and just loading in more pigment. Pigments can be very expensive and you can see the obvious point… you could easily find yourself making an expensive version of the better quality paints that are readily available anyway. So I would check what is available first.

Take care: some pigments can be toxic, so I wear gloves, use a dust mask and to protect the environment… no washing the excess away down the sink!


Talc (talcum powder): It adds body.


Talc is a mineral powder and is not soluble in water, it is fairly inert and you will find that it doesn’t change the colour of your paint much. Because it acts as a filler it adds body to the paint, which can be useful if you want to use a palette knife to paint with or use an impasto technique.

(Impasto. Using thicker paint in a way that shows brush marks and gives the actual painting surface a texture.)

Adding talc will also help make transparent colours (such as most yellows) become more opaque and therefore cover better over dark backrounds by virtue of being thicker (having more body).

Take care, do not breathe it in.


Sand:



Sand is very much like talc but it will add a gritty texture to your paint.

Chalk:


Now it gets tricky.

You can use powdered chalk as a filler in paint, but please note, when chalk is added to oil paint it goes transparent. It does not make the paint whiter as you may expect. Turner added chalk to his paint as an extender. I hope to explain a little about what he was up to on the Masterclass pages soon.

Remember; chalk in oil paint goes transparent and changes the feel of the paint… but that’s for later.


Have a go, and then experiment.


If you want to have a go at changing your paint in this way. As a first step, I would suggest adding talc and using a knife or a stiff brush to paint with. Your art supplies shop will certainly have a variety of other products which can be added to paint. You will find, as well as thickening products, pots of stuff that will make your paint have all sorts of textures, there are even tiny glass beads that can be added to paint. There is an additive that will make your paint iridescent and another that is a sand/gel medium. Experiment, paint doesn’t have to be limited to how it comes out of the tube!












By Justin Cooke, Jan 14 2015 07:18PM

Not a muddy puddle in sight!



We all know what it’s like. You’re in full flow on your painting…full steam ahead…you are making great progress… you look up, and spy your water jar looking decidedly murky – your mixing palette has turned into a muddy puddle…”Aargh! I can’t stop now to change it…”yet five minutes later…”Oh no! It’s gone all muddy…!” The painting has taken a downward turn and at this point, it is sadly sometimes irretrievable.


It may sound like such an obvious and simple thing, and yet it is amazing how many people end up with murky colours from either having a dirty water jar or a muddy puddle of colour on their palette.


There is an easy way to get round this ever happening, and that is to have several water pots so that you don’t have to keep leaving your painting to go and get fresh water.


I always have at least two or three water jars, and sometimes more, depending on the size of the painting, brushes, and how many colours I am using. If I am using a large amount of white on my painting, I keep a separate water jar just for washing out brushes with white. When a jar of water gets over saturated with white, it is likely that using this to mix any translucent colours would turn them opaque. Likewise, if I am using a lot of very dark colours, I also have a separate water pot so as not to taint any pale delicate colours I am mixing.


Having several mixing palettes to hand is also helpful for allowing plenty of room for lots of colour mixing experimentation, keeping the colours separate from each other. If there is even a hint of a ‘muddy puddle’ forming on your palette, it’s time to go, go ,go and hot foot it off to clean up your palette and get a change of water!


After you have swished on beautiful washes of colour across your paper and you stand back to admire your glowing, crisp, clear colours – you’ll be so glad you changed your water…and not a muddy puddle in sight!


by Nikki












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