Sunday 22 August 2010


Shot-in-the-Eye Oglala Sioux 1898 courtesy

Shot-in-the-Eye was an Oglala Sioux who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, where he was wounded and lost an eye. What he was called prior to this battle is unknown. This was the famous battle in which General George Armstrong Custer, a very controversial figure in American history, was killed together with nearly 300 troopers of the 7th Cavalry. The Sioux, with some Cheyennes and possibly Arapahoes,, amassed a huge force of several thousand warriors and overwhelmed the numerically inferior cavalry. Custer had earlier split his force for which he has been heavily criticized. This was the last desperate attempt by the plains indians to maintain their traditional ways and within less than two years they were confined for ever more to reservation life. The above photograph, which has been edited, was taken at the US Indian Congress Trans-Missisipi and International Exposition in 1898. He died about 1910.

My initial drawing together with  work on the features and skin tones.

Shot-in-the Eye. Waterford Not 16" x 11"

I used Cadmium Red Light and Yellow Light together with Ultramarine Blue plus Cerulean for the features and skin tones. The red colour is Windsor and Newton Permanent Carmine, otherwise, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold (Maimeri), Raw Umber and touches of Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna plus some Viridian (Rowney), Brushes used were nos 2, 4, 6 Kolinsky sable plus my Da Vinci Artissimo 44 Kolinsky mop.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Palettes Pt 2

Part one discussed the many plastic palettes on offer, indeed many were omitted, but suffice to say a huge range costs from as little as 50p upwards to near £30 ($42), the majority under £20 ($28). They are freely available from art shops and the large mail order specialists. I also covered the cheaper empty metal palettes, again freely available via mail order, with the largest and dearest upwards of £30 ($42). What you pick is a matter of personal choice depending upon cost and how you paint. Obviously large flat or round brushes and large washes call for a large pallette, or deep enamel pans of various sorts.Plein air painting needs a smaller  more convenient palette, although Mel Stabin uses his John Pike palette for all his painting, including plein air. See his setup in his Watson Guptill book `Watercolor, Simple, Fast and Focussed'.  

Of these sorts my preference is the John Pike for studio work, although I use my Craig Young Paintbox and even the Sketcher's box, for virtually all my paintings, studio or plein air. I also like the Zoltan Szabo palette, albeit it is flimsy being vacuum formed. Other than that I would opt for a large empty metal box and fill it with half and full pans.

My Craig Young Palettes. Two in British Racing Green the other brass.

The same palettes open. The Palette Box is yet to be christened.

Craig Young palettes are very expensive. That is a given so either many artists cannot afford to pay so much or prefer to have a cheaper option. I don't disagree with that as buying them is something of an indulgence, although many top professional artists have one or other and many serious amateurs. Charles Reid, who previously used a Holbein now has at least four from Craig Young and personally requested he make the Sketcher's box. Judi Whitton has a Sketcher's Box with 20 wells instead of sixteen and I have a small four well extension to clip onto mine. Craig is open to special requests.

The discussion about Craig's boxes on Wetcanvas tilted towards buying one or other of the better quality `heavy duty' boxes, used by Winsor and Newton, complete with either half or full pans of paint.  These  boxes come at a high price, especially if you already have most of the colours. They are a great Xmas or birthday present! The question was asked were they available empty and soon information was flowing from posters giving the options. Some `professional' boxes are listed by the suppliers highlighted in Part one but tend to be isolated examples. What are the alternatives? There are two main ones, either from Holbein or made by the Italian metal working specialists  Fome

In the UK Heaton Cooper list 12 empty metal palettes, four from Holbein (250/350/500/1000) and four from an unidentified manufacturer (possibly Fome) that are `hand enamelled'. The remaining four are logo'd Scminke and are the lightweight sort. They are all very well illustrated on the website with plenty of information. Prices of the hand-enamelled models range from £18.45  (approx. $26) to £54.95 (approx.$75)  with three having 12 half pan wells and one full pans. Heaton Cooper tend to be expensive and charge carriage extra. The other source is Jacksons  who have just added Holbein to their range, so new that they are not in the most recent catalogue. Search the website for `holbein palettes'. Prices are cheaper than Heaton Cooper and no carriage charges are applied if your total order exceeds £39 UK or £100 Europe. Other destinations ring for a quote. There may well be other sources but these are the only ones I know about as things stand. If further information comes to hand I'll post it.

In the USA one source of a heavy duty palette has been identified as Natural Pigments This is a heavy duty box with 12 wells that sells at $57. According to Robert Armas, who has ordered one and is waiting delivery (delayed), the name Rublev, which appears on many of the products on the site, is involved and he suspects it could be Russian in origin rather then the Italian Fome. Actually it is listed as a Fome. I have not looked at any of the other major USA mail order specialists yet but I'd be surprised if names like Dick Blick, Jerry's, Cheap Joe's and Art Express had nothing similar to offer.

A final word. Look at this website This old company are in Chelsea, London and sell, amongst other things, antique palettes. I'm not suggesting you buy one but have a look if you are interested . Not a Binning Munro nor a Roberson in sight however!  

Monday 9 August 2010

More Plein Air Paintings & Our Latest Project

A week last Thursday I painted at Newton St Loe. It should have been at Victoria Park in Bath but that is another story. Here is the result.

The Church at Newton St Loe.18" x 14" 152lb Veneto Not

I wasn't going to post this one but after looking at it a few times decided to take the plunge. Drawing wise everything is pretty much in the right place  and I simplified the scene. I was positioned just in front of the monument on the left and started the drawing at the front of the entrance in the centre. As usual I attempted to do this by modified contour drawing, drawing then stopping, leaving the pencil on the paper while comparing each section to get the proportions right. This doesn't always work for me - I'm not Charles Reid - but is not bad in this instance. Newton St Loe is a delightful village on the western outskirts of Bath. Apart from one residence all the others belong to the Duchy of Cornwall - in other words Prince Charles - and there is a waiting list to rent the various cottages, including some lovely thatched buildings. It isn't tiny and has a village shop with an annual fete on May day. My AVAS group usually put on an exhibition in the church during the fete. Prince Charles occasionally flies in by helicopter as the Duchy have a regional office.

Regarding the painting I used Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Gold Ochre, Ultramarine Violet, some blues and other yellows plus Burnt Sienna. I am almost out of the true Quinacridone Gold and am trying Gold Ochre instead. Ah yes some Permanent Carmine in the roofs.

Thomas a Becket Church Pensford 18" x 14" 152lb Veneto Not

Last Thursday my Avon Valley Artists Group, seven of us, painted at a small village called Pensford several miles south of Bristol. All those present decided to paint this ancient building formerly a church but now, would you believe, being converted into a private residence. The church dates back to the 14th century but was badly damaged in the 1968 floods when the River Chew burst its banks and reached unheard of levels. It was then abandoned and has been rotting ever since but in 2008 was bought for repair (it is a listed building) to be turned into a home. Apparently the couple who bought it have four children.  When we were painting a lady invited us to look inside and see how the conversion was going and several did but I continued painting. I'm just amazed that anyone would want to live in it. The church itself is not enormous and is surrounded by a modest amount of ground but, as you will see from the painting, filled with gravestones, some of which appeared recently tended!  According to the lady it is to be the subject of a television programme. I cannot imagine how much all this will cost. The owner must be a banker or financier.

I'm not really into painting churches but decided to have a try and took the porch in the centre rear as the focal point. That porch is in need of repair looking at the state of the roof and the background was a sea of green from the surrounding trees. Other than that there were gravestones everywhere. Perhaps I should have left them out, or at least most of them. I painted almost exclusively with a number 14 round Escoda Kolinsky-Tajmyr Series 1214 retractable (Jacksons) to try and avoid being too tight. Colours used, lots of blues and yellows to get varied greens, Ultramarine and Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna for the darks, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber and Gold Ochre (Windsor & Newton) for the buildings and I used Cyan Blue (Maimeri) mixed with Cadmium Orange (Maimeri) for various shades of grey. Possibly a few other touches such as Green-Gold (PY129) Rowney.

Our next project

This is me working on our next project. The subject and photos were supplied by Mick. This is my `studio' a converted bedroom. My wife keeps wanting to sort it out as I have stuff everywhere. You can see why I wear a cap most of the time when outside.

This is where I draw and paint when not outdoors. The drawing is partially completed.


Sunday 8 August 2010

Palettes Part One

I joined the wetcanvas forum a few weeks ago  and an interesting discussion has taken place about palettes, driven by some of the posters discovering the Craig Young hand-made versions. Several appear to have ordered them and according to one poster the waiting time is now a year and the prices he quoted (in dollars) indicated they had risen steeply compared to when I purchased mine.  Some of the contributors appeared a little confused with what to buy when balancing cost against functionality. As a result, and due partly to new information about what is available and where I decided to do this piece.

First of all watercolour palettes come in various shapes and sizes from small to (very) large. If you are painting on say half sheets or larger and use big brushes size 16 and above and large flats, 1" or more, then it is obvious you need a big palette. Not everyone uses conventional palettes and various sorts of flat trays are used by artists, including some top professionals. Butcher's metal trays of different sizes and/or the flat plastic ones sold in some kitchen shops can be perfectly adequate. With such trays you squeeze out paint from tubes. This method is normally associated with limited palettes of 6 to 9 colours.  You can mix large quantities of paint but it can be wasteful with what remains and is then washed off.

The above selection of palettes includes two of the largest, the John Pike (A) which is on the left hand side complete with lid, which can also be used as another mixing area. The Robert Wade Palette (B) is at middle bottom with the lid, also used for mixing, touching to the left. Top centre is a muffin tray (E) (as used by the artist Trevor Waugh) and to the left (D) is a plastic palette of a type commonly available. Centre is the Zoltan Szabo palette (C). The three remaining palettes in the top left hand position are top a cheap aluminium version (F) commonly available and underneath the smallest palette, a Windsor and Newton plastic one (G) with an empty metal palette (H) of the sort commonly available but in this instance filled with empty full pans. I have labelled each palette with a letter A to H, but you may need to click on the photo and enlarge it to see the letters clearly.

What you need and what you should obtain depends on how you paint and whether you use tubes or half/full pans. The other criteria is how large you paint because in my experience most amateurs paint fairly small. These are only a selection of palettes that come in four basic materials, plastic, metal, ceramic and porcelain. There are other sorts but not usually used for watercolours. The John Pike palette is American  and all the information you need is here The Robert Wade palette is obtainable in the UK from . The JP palette is very popular with professionals like Mel Stabin and in his book `Watercolor, Simple, Fast and Focussed'  is illustrated more than once as he uses it for everything including his plein air painting! I'm not sure about the Zoltan Szabo palette as he is deceased (as is John Pike) but it is probably still available if you Google it. Added Note: Yes it is. Try Wade and Szabo palettes are vacuum formed whereas the Pike palette, those from Herrings and several others are made from much stronger materials.

What is readily available? In the UK we have Ken Bromley, Jacksons, Lawrence, Herrings and several others possible suppliers. Great Art are German but have a UK telephone ordering number. Great Art have palettes from 85p up to a `professional' box with 48 large wells (!) costing £133.40p. Try Great Art . The enormous catalogue stretches to nearly 400 pages. Jacksons, who tend to be the most popular supplier amongst my artists group  list a large number and have recently added the superior and more expensive Holbein metal palettes. They are not yet in the catalogue but are on the website. Bromley also list a good number including the plastic Maxwell palette `designed by artists'. Herrings are interesting because the Herring brothers (and family) are enthusiastic artists and have introduced a range of artists products `designed by artists for artists'. These include several palettes plus other items like easels. Herrings also sell two `professional' metal empty boxes. Herrings have a website but it is still under construction and art materials are not yet on it. Most of the above also sell various empty, lightweight, metal boxes, cheaper and not to be compared with the more expensive heavy duty `professional' sorts.   

Here are three typical metal boxes, purchased empty and filled with a mixture of half and full pans. I suggest half pans for the least popular colours and full pans for the colours you use most often. You can purchase empty full and half pans at both Jacksons and Bromley and some of the others and fill them from tubes or  half and full pans from manufacturers like Windsor and Newton. Not every paint manufacturer offers both half and full pans.  One of my local art shops in Bath (Minerva) also sells them in packets of ten. You may note two of the boxes above have the Scminke Logo. Some of these boxes, very similar whatever the source, have logos like Scminke, Rembrandt and Lukas. others nothing. They are basically cheap enamelled metal so don't compare them with the more expensive heavy duty palettes I shall cover in Part Two. They do the job if price is an issue but won't last more than two or three years with heavy usage.