Cold Wax Painting with Gamblin Cold Wax Medium

It’s a rare occurrence for one specific painting medium to have a whole genre of painting associated with it, but Cold Wax Medium is one such medium. Cold Wax Painting is not defined by subject matter nor the degree of realism or abstraction, Cold Wax Painting is unified by artists’ shared interest in experimentation, texture and the physicality of paint layers.

Cold Wax Painting with Gamblin Cold Wax Medium

What is Cold Wax Painting?

Cold Wax Painting is any type of painting that heavily utilizes Cold Wax Medium into oil colors. In its own way, Cold Wax Painting blurs the line between oil painting and encaustic painting.

What is Cold Wax Medium?

Gamblin Cold Wax Medium is a mixture of natural beeswax (wax pastilles), Gamsol and a small amount of alkyd resin. The term “cold” in Cold Wax Medium and Cold Wax Painting refers to the fact that heat is not required for working with this wax medium – as it dries by solvent evaporation (Gamsol), rather than the cooling of the wax, as in encaustic painting. As the Gamsol evaporates out of the medium, the soft wax hardens to the density of a beeswax candle.

Unlike other Gamblin painting mediums, which increase the flow and gloss of oil colors to varying degrees, Cold Wax Medium makes oil colors thicker and more matte.

Cold Wax Painting Techniques

Cold Wax Medium is a dense paste, it is excellent in creating a variety of textures within a painting. It has a “short” characteristic and gives a clean break off of the brush or knife, retaining the sharp peaks of impasto. These working properties allow for expressive brushmarks and the ability to carve into paint layers with palette knives. Cold Wax Medium also gives oil colors a beautiful translucent quality, similar to the seductive surfaces of encaustic paintings.

Cold Wax Painting utilizes experimental approaches, including the use of brayers, stencils, and textural elements such as bubble wrap or wire screens. The possibilities are endless!

From the artists who wrote the book on Cold Wax Medium, Jerry McLaughlin & Rebecca Crowell demonstrates some of their Cold Wax Painting techniques in the video below. 

Compatibility

Cold Wax Medium is compatible with oil colors, alkyd/oil colors, alkyd-based painting mediums, and Gamsol. Fast-drying mediums such as Galkyd and Galkyd Gel will increase the tack when mixed with Cold Wax Medium. Neo Megilp, Gamblin’s silky, soft gel medium, gives the wax a smoother feel and will round the peaks of impasto. These alkyd mediums will increase the gloss level of Cold Wax (just as adding Cold Wax lowers the gloss level of these mediums). Adding Gamsol to Cold Wax Medium will make it more fluid without adding gloss.

Cold Wax Artists

We’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful artists who explore Cold Wax Painting techniques in their work. Whether these artists are working in representational or abstract modes of painting, they all utilize Cold Wax Medium for its unique working properties its effects on the resulting paint layers.

Since I first began using Cold Wax Medium 15 years ago, abstraction for me has become increasingly an expressive interaction with the materials. In mixing Cold Wax with oils, the body and the way paint can be layered, the enhanced drying time, and the transparency that it affords all lead to textures and visual depth that are the result of the process. Using Cold Wax helped me to move beyond conscious rendering of abstract ideas into a way of working that felt much deeper and more intuitive. Balancing the spontaneous aspects of my process with thoughtful editing and intention, the work has evolved into a true personal voice. —Rebecca Crowell

My painting process is centered on creating highly textured pieces by building many layers of oils colors, pigments, cold wax, and other amendments including cement, sand, soil, grit, and ash. —Jerry McLaughlin

I have been using Cold Wax and oil since the 80’s. I love how it extends the oil paint, the textural possibilities, and the way is sets up quickly to create layers. —Lisa Pressman

I fell in love with the rich luminosity of oil and cold wax in 2012 and have been using it ever since. I love how cold wax medium mixed with oil paint creates interesting surfaces and texture, allowing me to scrape, push, pull, and reveal previous layers. Sometimes it feels like I’m going on an archeological dig the way I am able to excavate and scratch into the layers, yet continually add more layers in an intricate dance to conceal and reveal. —Dayna Collins

Gamblin’s Alternatives to Titanium White

Alternatives to Titanium White

Gamblin Artist’s Oil Colors makes more of their artist’s grade Titanium White than any other color… by far. For most painters, it’s the first white we use. And for some, the only white ever used. There are some good reasons for this. Gamblin Titanium White has a strong tinting strength and an unparalleled, beautiful texture. It’s terrific for direct painting techniques and for quickly lightening the value of other colors.

With that said, many painters could be better served at times by whites other than Titanium White. Swapping Titanium White for any number of alternatives can solve problems and create meaningful, new artistic possibilities. Let’s explore a few. 

Pure White  
Whether the painting in question is abstract, representational, a bit of both or somewhere in between, there are situations where the use of straight, pure white is called for.  For these situations, we recommend Radiant White, our brightest white. Radiant White has a high content of titanium dioxide pigment and is bound in safflower oil, yielding a bright white that has a neutral temperature. Our testing indicates that safflower whites hold their colors best over time. 

Tempering Tinting Strength
No white pounds color down like Titanium White. It’s high tint strength can overwhelm colors, making them appear chalky in tints. A number of our other whites contain less titanium dioxide, which means a lower tint strength, and in turn more saturated color mixtures as well as more subtlety and control in color mixing.

If you find Titanium White a bit too strong in mixtures, we’d suggest trying our Titanium Zinc White. We designed it to be the perfect, all-around mixing white and to have the perfect texture to support the work of painting. 

Flake White Replacement combines a lower tinting strength with a dense, ropey texture. Even stiffer than Titanium White, but less powerful in mixtures. Titanium White in our 1980 line is a valuable alternative when an even lower tint strength is desired. Titanium Zinc White and 1980 Titanium White are both bound in safflower oil. 

The swatches below show Titanium White, Titanium Zinc White,and Titanium White 1980 mixed 5:1 with Quinacridone Red.

For comparison sake, we prepared the same mixtures, but reversed the ratios – 1:5 white into Quinacridone Red:

How about matching the color of your white to the color of your light? 

Gamblin Warm White and Cool White are designed for painters who want to factor the color of the light into their color mixtures. The color of the light source influences all of the other colors in the painting’s subject matter. Using a white that matches the temperature of your light makes it much easier to create a consistent quality of light and color harmony throughout your painting.

Why not take this a bit further and use other high-value colors as your white? Below are a few examples.

Portland Grey Light

“Using Portland Grey Light as a white is great for tonal painting. It is slightly darker in value than pure white so the value range is limited on the light end. But what is most exciting to me is its effect on color. It creates lovely harmonious mixtures when added to the cadmium colors on my palette. The result is beautiful half tones that are not as chalky as they would be if white were used. These harmonious, greyed-down tones sit beautifully together on the canvas as a result of them each having a common ingredient…Portland Grey Light.”
– Eric Jacobsen
jacobsenfineart.com

Eric Jacobsen, Backyard, oil, 8” x 16”

Titanium Buff 

In our discussion of colored greys, we consider Titanium Buff to be a yellow-grey. When used as a white, it simultaneously mutes and warms colors and results in a subtle harmony.

“On an Alaska fishing trip in early July, I shot a photo as first morning light permeated the distant misty landscape and played across the ocean surface with a warmth that belied the cold morning. To capture this unique atmosphere back in the studio, I set aside my usual Titanium White for tinting and switched to Warm White and Titanium BuffWarm White was used in a limited fashion for my lightest values and highlights, while Titanium Buff was used in nearly all color mixtures. As a muted tinting color, Titanium Buff unified and subdued my color palette helping to better capture the scene.”
– Dave Bernard
Gamblin Product Specialist

Dave Bernard, Sitka Morning, oil, 12” x 16”

Portland Warm & Cool Greys

“I found my paintings became chalky and dense due to the overuse of Titanium White. So, I set that tube a bit out of reach on my palette and now use Portland Warm Grey or Portland Cool Grey when I am looking for the “right white.” There is very little real white in the natural world and these soft grey tones have proven to be a good option on their own or as a basis for mixing other colors.”- Kris Ekstrand
www.krisekstrand.com

Kris EkstrandLine of Passage, oil on canvas, 60″ x 48″

Introducing Natalia Ushakova, Watercolor Artist

We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Natalia Ushakova! Natalia will take us step-by-step through her process for making a watercolor portrait. All Daniel Smith WatercolorsSets, and Grounds are on sale for 40% off during Plein Airpril – so now is a great time to test out some colors, treat yourself to that set you’ve been eyeing, and/or experiment with new techniques!

All my studio works are based on sketches, which I do while travelling the world. For example, in 2017 I participated in the IWS Portugal. At the gala dinner, we listened to a woman singing traditional Portuguese Fado chants. Despite not knowing a single word of Portuguese, I quite accurately understood, Cristina was singing about an unanswered love. Her performance was very artistic and emotional.  She poured her soul out, and one could understand the song without translation. I could not take my eyes off her, and kept drawing sketches. Later on, I came up with an idea to make a watercolour series on Portugal – and of course the music and musicians had to be the first topic. It is a series in progress, and I have many new ideas.

Step 1. Portuguese musician and singer pencil sketches (collaged).

Step 1. Here are some sketches made while listening to the Portuguese musicians and singers that I used for my watercolours.

Step 2. Preliminary pencil sketch.

Step 2. A preliminary sketch in pencil on 140lb. watercolor paper.

Step 3. Adding light and transparent tones.

Step 3. First, I used a large brush to add light and transparent tones while painting the faces and light in the window. For this, I used Naples Yellow, Hansa Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Scarlet Hue, Burnt Sienna Light and a bit of Wisteria.

Step 4. Filling the entire sheet of paper with the middle tones.

Step 4. Using the same brush, I filled the entire sheet of paper with the middle tones, leaving a blank area for the details of the magnificent scarf.  Tip, mix Neutral Tint with some colours with you already used in your painting like I did with Cerulean Blue, Chromium to add some coolness, and Burnt Sienna Light to add some warmth to the background.

Step 5. Adding more mid-tones to the face and the scarf.

Step 5. Add more mid-tones to the face and the scarf.  I added Cerulean Blue, Chromium for the eye shadow and for the scarf, I mostly painted with Naples Yellow and Hansa Yellow Light.

Step 6. Painting the darkest, dominant tone of the entire piece – the velvet dress.

Step 6. Setting the darkest, dominant tone of the entire piece – the velvet dress. Tip. I prefer mixing Perylene Violet and Perylene Green to make rich, deep, dark colors instead of using black paint straight from the tube.

Step 7. Enhancing the faces and hands of the singer and guitar player.

Step 7. Enhancing the faces and hands of the singer and guitar player with a thinner brush, for those details, I used Burnt Sienna Light andCadmium Red Scarlet Hue.

Step 8. Adding some red on her lips and manicure.

Step 8. Adding some red on her lips and manicure with a fine brush using Cadmium Red Scarlet Hue.

Step 9. “The Portuguese Fado Singer” 46×61 cm watercolor painting by Natalia Ushakova

Step 9. To finish the work, when my paper is nearly dry, I enhance the details: faces and hands, and special features, such as the huge turquoise stone ring which I painted with Cobalt Teal  Blue. Deciding that I did not like the red nails, I washed off the color so that it would not divert attention away from the ring.

“The Portuguese Fado Singer” in Natalia Ushakova’s studio with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors

The entire work was done with DANIEL SMITH Watercolours:

List of DANIEL SMITH paints on my palette.

Natalia Ushakova's painting palette with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
Natalia Ushakova’s painting palette with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
  • Buff Titanium
  • Naples Yellow – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • Hansa Yellow Light – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • New Gamboge
  • Pyrrol Scarlet
  • Cadmium Red Scarlet Hue – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • Quinacridone Red
  • Quinacridone Lilac
  • Perylene Maroon
  • Perylene Violet – The Portuguese Fado Singer 
  • Cobalt Blue Violet
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cobalt Teal Blue – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • Cerulean Blue, Chromium – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • Prussian Blue
  • Prussian Green
  • Perylene Green – The Portuguese Fado Singer
  • Mars Yellow
  • Burnt Sienna Light – The Portuguese Fado Singer 
  • Raw Umber
  • Burnt Umber
  • Payne’s Blue Grey
  • Neutral Tint – The Portuguese Fado Singer

I first discovered DANIEL SMITH watercolours accidentally by surfing on the internet.  When I found the web site, I couldn’t take my eyes off the pages displaying the magnificent range of colours, I wished to buy them all!  With great difficulty, I chose my main colors. Thanks to my brother-in-law who lives in America, I got my first paint tubes and fell in love with them for their quality, brightness, purity and sophisticated hues.

I especially like the range of Perylene colours from Maroon to Green because of their qualities, they blend well and complement each other, creating rich, deep black tones.  DANIEL SMITH constantly expands its range of paints encouraging artists to make new discoveries and experiments in creativity.

I love watercolour sketching and I’m so glad to know that DANIEL SMITH has released a new product line as if specially for me!  The new Hand Poured Watercolor Half Pan Sets, which include some empty half pans that can be filled with your favourite colours, and taken with you on a trip. I can’t wait for a new journey to try them out!

My main media is watercolour, I like it for the freedom of expression and unpredictability. Also, I work in other graphic media like drawing, sketching and various hand printing techniques.  I like to travel and a large number of my paintings and sketches are done in plein air. Those sketches are later used to create large-scale works, which I often expand with my imagination. I take part in many international art festivals and exhibitions, and combine my creative work with teaching art to kids.

Photo of Artist Natalia Ushakova

Natalia Ushakova received a master of art at the Moscow State Pedagogical University Fine Art.

Member of the International Watercolour Federation since 1998, and Member of the International Federation of Artists & National Artist’s Union of Russia Department graphic section since 2001. Natalia has been exhibiting her work since 1999 and in 2006, began taking part in International Art Fairs, Exhibitions, Competitions and Biennales world wide. In 2016, she was awarded the DANIEL SMITH Prize at the International Watercolour Exhibition at Fabriano (Italy), the watercolor was displayed at the International Watercolor Museum. At Fabriano in 2018,  she demonstrated a double kids portrait in Museum of town Genga.

Since 2002, she has been the owner and art director of Art Trophy Gallery, and lives in Moscow, Russia.

Getting Started with Plein Air Painting

Happy Plein Air-pril! Have you always wanted to try busting out of your art studio and painting en plein air? Or has it just been a while since you’ve been out painting? Either way, you’re in luck! Thanks to Royal Talens, artist Justin Vining walks you through the basics of getting started with plein air painting. Let’s get started!

Supplies

Less is More – Design a simple/lean setup. This will enable you to go to farther, cooler places and make it easier to just get out and go on a whim!

Start out with a Limited/Split Primary Palette – A warm & cool red, yellow, blue, titanium white, and perhaps a burnt umber or burnt sienna. You don’t need to carry a black- true black is rarely found in nature.

Brushes – I prefer hog bristle long filberts & long flats. Start out your painting with a big brush and save your small brushes for the very end.

Painting Surface – I like using panels outside as they are more compact, and durable with no risk of puncture. Carrying a canvas through tricky outdoor terrain can become risky.

Painting Process

Start Thin (Grisaille Layer) – Your first layer is almost like not painting at all- scrub in a “dirty” dry value that begins to describe the composition and form.

Think in the Most Basic Shapes – Squint really hard at almost any scene and you can quickly break it down into 2 or 3 big shapes of value. Use these shapes to start your painting.

Mixing Colors – I will generally premix 3-5 of my major colors and then start mixing the variations off those main ones. Put some color on the end of your palette knife and hold it up to what you are trying to match it to. Squint real hard to check value and color accuracy.

General Preparedness

Justin Vining plein air painting in Garfield Park.

Water/small snack

Headlamp (hiking out in dark)

Summer – bug spray, suntan lotion

Spring/Fall – waterproof boots/poncho

Nocturne – 2 piano lights in case natural street lamp light is not an option

Winter – ultra warm gloves & boots are the key here, its easy to keep the core warm, its a lot harder to keep your feet and hands dry and warm

Below are the colors that make up Justin’s Rembrandt Oils palette. We also recommend using Van Gogh Oil Colors by Royal Talens, an oil paint that offers Royal Talens quality at an economical price. The same high quality pigments that are used in Rembrandt Oils are used here, only in lower concentration. 

411 Burnt Sienna

409 Burnt Umber

406 Ultramarine Deep

534 Cerulean

342 Brown Madder Deep

377 Perm Red Medium

227 Yellow Ochre

208 Cad Yellow Light

118 Titanium White

We hope this helps you get started with plein air painting and that you try painting the urban landscapes around Raw Materials. Now, go paint!

IMG_2263.JPG

Justin Vining is an Indianapolis-based artist, specializing and landscapes and cityscapes. Justin studied Art Education at Purdue University and taught elementary art for three years. Following his tenure as a teacher, Justin attended Valparaiso Law school, where he rekindled his love for creating between classes and clerking. Shortly after graduating and passing the bar in 2010, Justin decided to pursue art full time and hasn’t looked back since. See his work here.

Introducing: Shantell Martin and Krink K-51 Permanent Ink Markers

Shantell Martin (@shantell_martin) is an artist based in NY. Her go-to Krink marker to create fluid, bold lines is the K-51 Permanent Ink Marker. This year Martin was invited to create an immersive, site specific installation in Lincoln Center for the seventh edition of the New York City Ballet’s Art Series. The Art Series was built on the NYCB’s history of collaborating with emerging and established artists and continues to intersect performing and visual arts.

Here’s Martin using the K-51 Permanent Ink Marker in her installation and performance.

NYCB x Shantell Martin. Photo by Roy Rochlin.
NYCB x Shantell Martin.
NYCB x Shantell Martin. Photo by Roy Rochlin.

The K-51‘s Super Black alcohol-based ink is permanent and opaque, and works well on almost everything. Excellent for use on paper, cardboard, metal, and painted surfaces. With a 30ml capacity and a 15mm block nib, best results are achieved on smooth surfaces. A great marker for larger drawing, making signs, and calligraphy.

K-51 Close up.
Krink K-51 Permanent Ink Marker

Credits

Shantell Martin (@shantell_martin)

New York City Ballet (@nycballet)

Roy Rochlin (@royrochlin)

Introducing Jansen Chow, Watercolor Artist

We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Jansen Chow! Jansen will take us step-by-step through his process for making a watercolor portrait. All Daniel Smith Watercolors, Sets, and Grounds are on sale for 40% off during the month of March – so now is the perfect time to test out some colors, treat yourself to that set you’ve been eyeing, and/or experiment with new techniques!

To demonstrate the DANIEL SMITH watercolor paints and my appreciation and understanding of their characteristics, I have used my favourite 18 colors from the DANIEL SMITH Watercolour collection [see Jansen’s Dot Card colors and list further below] to complete this painting. The title of this artwork is “Tinkus dancer at the Oruro Carnival”. This painting was completed to participate in an International Exhibition organized by the Bolivia Watercolor Society. I chose a colour theme that can represent the National colors of Bolivia.

Jansen Chow’s DANIEL SMITH Artist Dot Card with Watercolor tubes with “Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Canival” painting

Today, I will share my creative process of how I created this painting in 6 simple steps:

Step 1. Drawing or sketch for Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival

Step 1 : Drawing / Sketching

I have a lot of ways to start my paintings. Sometimes I like to use a pencil to sketch out the details, other times I start with just a general pencil sketch, and occasionally I paint directly with a brush. I wanted this painting to appear more realistic, so I drew the face very carefully with pencil, but only a few strokes for the background as I wanted it to have a more carefree simple background.  

Step 2. Mixing the colors directly on the paper for Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival

Step 2: Mixing the colors directly on the paper

I personally do not like to mix the colors too much on the color palette but prefer to mix the colors directly on the paper.  I first freely applied the DANIEL SMITH paint from my palette directly on the paper to add color to the face of the character and the hat with the colorful feathers, with a combination of thick and thin colour application. 

Step 3. Completing the main subject for Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival

Step 3: Completing the main subject 

My usual technique is to leave the highlights of the main subject white, to capture the reflecting light rays. I then slowly painted the important portions of the main subject and applied more details to about 80% of completion of my artwork.  Often artists will focus on completing the main subject to about 100%, but for me, I usually focus on completing it up to 70-80% of the whole artwork, so that there is room to add in more colors and strokes as the overall work is nearing 100% completion.

Step 4. Application of the background for Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival

Step 4: Application of the background

I used a single color, Payne’s Gray, to color the background in an easy and free way with the brush and water spray technique. The grey background contrasts sharply with the main subjects’ vibrant and fresh colors! During this process, I pay attention to the space treatment and try to complete the background in an interesting manner during the application of colors by keeping some white spaces.

Step 5. Gradients of the background for Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival

Step 5: Gradients of the background

I gradually added my favorite 18 colors both carefully and freely through lighter brush strokes. The usage of brushes at this stage is very important! You must use a softer brushstroke with the right pressure and direction to show greater space contrast between the background and the main subject.

Step 6. “Tinkus Dancer at the Oruro Carnival” by Jansen Chow.

Step 6: The Finish 

In addition to the strong light illuminating the part of the main body through the white space left earlier, I used watercolor brushes of different sizes and design to apply all the colors on my palette with different strokes, from treating the light to dark areas, to applying bright to dark colors for the details and background of the main subject. Upon completion, you will see that this piece has a strong sense of music surrounding the main subject, because of the colors chosen and the brush strokes applied. The overall feeling of this painting is warm and happy! This really achieves the emotion that I want to express through this painting – that the world is beautiful!

I am very honored and happy to be able to share with you the creative process of my work. I hope you liked it. Thank you!

–Jansen Chow
Jansen Chow in front of his watercolor painting of Machu Picchu

I have always liked painting this beautiful and colorful world with rich texture and colors, and DANIEL SMITH paints make it very easy for me to achieve that effect in my artwork. For me, DANIEL SMITH Watercolors are beautifully made, colorful and offer lots of choices. Most importantly, unlike other brands of paint, the richness and vibrancy of the colours assist me in capturing the beauty I see in this world and express that in my paintings. 

My 18 Favourite DANIEL SMITH Watercolors on my Dot Card and used in this step by step article

Lemon Yellow

Indian Yellow

Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue

Permanent Red Deep

Alizarin Crimson

Permanent Orange

Cerulean Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Viridian

Permanent Green

Cobalt Teal Blue

Cobalt Violet Deep

Cobalt Violet

Payne’s Gray

Indian Red

Yellow Ochre

Opera Pink

Indigo

Jansen Chow is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society (AWS) and National Watercolor Society (NWS).  He won an art scholarship and studied in The Art Students League of New York, New York from 1994-1996, and he was a student of Mario Cooper, a great American Watercolor Master.  Jansen has held 18 solo art exhibitions and took part in more than 350 National and International watercolor exhibitions since 1992. He has won more than 60 National and International awards in watercolor, oil, etching and photography since 1988, including receiving 1st place 9 times in watercolor competitions in USA, Canada, Turkey and Malaysia. Recently he was the IWS Malaysia Country Head, FabrianoInAcqurello Malaysia Country Leader, and the curator of “1st Malaysia International Watercolor Biennale 2018”. 

Jansen Chow lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Artist Michele Usibelli and M. Graham Artists’ Gouache

Michele Usibelli and M. Graham Gouache Paint

Check out this video of artist Michele Usibelli using M. Graham Artists’ Gouache Paint for her studio and plein air work. M. Graham Gouache is made in the time-honored tradition of binding pigment with pure honey and gum arabic, just as it was for Dürer and Boucher. The base of Northwest blackberry honey protects the color’s brilliance and offers direct, smooth application.

If you’ve wanted to try M. Graham Gouache, or need to stock up, you’re in luck! M. Graham Artists’ Gouache is on sale for 40% off!! Buy any 3 colors, get 1 FREE tube of Quinacridone Red, Rose, or Violet!! Sale ends March 31st but the FREE tubes are while supplies last, so don’t miss out!

Introducing Joanna Barnum, Watercolor Artist

We are delighted to introduce DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Artist, Joanna Barnum! Joanna will take us step-by-step through her process for making a watercolor portrait.

For this portrait painting, “Fae”, I started with a photo of my friend Amy, a dancer and professional fairy, who did an impromptu photo shoot with me at a festival. I liked her wistful expression and fanciful costuming as the main inspiration for the painting. This piece is an example of my typical portrait painting process in watercolor.

Reference Photo

I like to work with photo reference as the jumping off point for my portraits because of how a photo can capture fleeting expressions and movements, as well as the memories of a particular time and place. Although I also enjoy painting the model from life, and this practice informs all of my other drawing and painting, a live model is more limited in what can be sustained for several hours. Sometimes I hire specific models I want to shoot photos of (or press friends and family members into service), other times I’ll bring my camera to events to capture more organic moments. I particularly love working with dancers, actors, and all kinds of performers, since they’re very at ease in front of a camera. I might have a particular concept in mind when I start shooting reference, or I might just file the photos away and see what they inspire for me later on.

I look for expressions, gestures, and light that inspire me in photos, but I don’t worry about keeping the original composition of the photo, or painting everything exactly as shown in the photograph.

In this case, I first crop from a larger full body photograph, and then move the portrait 2/3 to the right of a horizontal composition so that we can follow the subject’s gaze through the composition. I plan to eliminate the extraneous background information, and handle the environment in an expressive way. I also plan to paint the overall colors a bit warmer than what my camera captured, since the photo has a slight cool caste to it.

Preliminary Drawing

I like to work on 300lb cold press or rough paper. I don’t stretch my paper, but I might clip it to a board to make manipulating the piece easier as I work. I’ll start with a fairly well defined preliminary drawing, which allows me to be looser and more relaxed with the painting process- I know that I already have my likeness nailed down. To avoid overworking the paper before I begin painting, I will transfer the basic lines for the image from either a separate preliminary drawing or a draft copy of my photograph, and then I will refine and develop the drawing using an HB (#2) mechanical pencil. I try to avoid excessive erasing.

Step 1 – Expressive background.

Since I want a loose, expressive background for this piece, I begin there. I work mostly wet on wet, painting a soft interpretation of the natural environment in the photo, leaving out extraneous elements. I also add a big swath of pink radiating out from the flower, to create sort of a magical feeling. I allow some of the background to merge into the shadow side of the figure. I also sprinkle some salt in areas of the background while it’s semi-wet to create small salt blooms as an additional atmospheric element. When I’m working a large area like a background, I try to use the largest brush I can, only switching to smaller brushes for more control when I need to.

Step 2 – Cool underpainting.

My basic process for painting a portrait in watercolor starts with a cool colored underpainting. This is a personal quirk I developed through trial and error when I painted lots and lots of (too cheap) portrait commissions right out of art school. Painting believable flesh requires using not just warm colors, but including some cools- and I found that painting some of the cools first helped to set them “under” the surface of the skin, and helped me get a good sense of the overall value structure of the painting right from the get-go.

It’s vital to note that this is NOT a full-value underpainting like one might do an umber “grisaille” in oil painting. Since everything put down on the page in a watercolor will remain visible through subsequent transparent layers, going overboard with this initial cool layer would be completely overwhelming. I just focus on the cool shadows I see. Large sections of the portrait remain unpainted at this stage.

Cerulean Blue, Chromium is the color I used most often for this stage. It has a slight warmth to it, and even at full strength, is not too deep in value. However, I will sometimes integrate greens, other blues, and purples at this stage, depending on the complexion of the subject or the lighting of the scene. On a subject with dark skin, the cool underpainting might shift to using more ultramarine blue and purples.

During this stage, I also make sure to put the white of the eyes and any visible teeth mostly in subtle cool shadow. Aside from any bright highlights on these areas, they are never fully the white of the paper. I also usually carry the cool shadows into other areas, like clothing, for consistency.

Overall, I tend to think in shapes of value and color, leaving fairly hard edges to my shapes. I might soften the edge of a transition within a face with just a little bit of clear water or with a dry brush texture, but “smoothness” is not something I concern myself with- I don’t think of it as a fundamental characteristic of watercolor. The major relationships are more fundamental in creating the illusion of realism. And any blooms or organic textures that arise in the course of painting are embraced and appreciated.

Watercolor bloom detail.
Step 3 – Lightest warm fleshtones.

Once the previous layer is fully dry (I use a hair dryer if I’m impatient), I look at my photograph and identify both the pure white highlights on the flesh, and the lightest light warm flesh tones. I put down a large wash on all of the flesh areas, except for the white highlights, in this light flesh color. It goes right over the cool underpainting. Indian Yellow, Pyrrol Scarlet, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Quinacridone Rose are the colors I usually choose from when mixing this color. There is no one exact formula- it depends on what I observe. In this case, the lightest light areas in the subjects face seem to shift more yellowish, so I used mostly Indian Yellow and Pyrrol Scarlet, well diluted. While this wash was wet, I drop in a little bit of Pyrrol Scarlet under the subject’s chin where there is a particularly warm sunny glow.

Step 4 – Mid-tone warm fleshtones.

Once again, I allow the previous layer to dry fully. Now I am layering my mid-tone warm flesh color on top of the lightest lights, leaving some of those previous light areas unpainted. Indian Yellow, Pyrrol Scarlet, Permanent Alizarin crimson, and Quinacridone Rose are again usually the colors I choose from for the mid-tones, although for a dark skinned subject, I may also introduce Burnt Sienna at this stage. The mid-tones on the subject look more pinkish to me, so I use cooler reds in the mix. There will also be variety from one area to the next in this layer. It’s important not to be too hesitant when painting the warm mid-tones. At this stage of the painting they will be the darkest thing on the face, which can lead to a tendency to want to paint them too light. Better to be a little more aggressive now, rather than realizing at the end of the painting that all of the mid-tones are too washed out.

Step 5 – Blocking in all the other areas.

Before I move on to adding more detail to the face, I make sure that all other areas of the painting are blocked in with an appropriate light color. I try to work a painting as a whole so that I can understand the overall relationships, rather than totally finishing one area while another is still totally unpainted.

At this stage I may switch to using mostly smaller brushes, as the areas I’m handling are getting smaller. I build up details and darker areas as needed to complete the painting. Colors here could be anything. As I darken some shadows on the flesh, I may return to using some cool colors. Small shadows that define the features can be warm darks or cool darks. I mix neutrals and darks using a variety of complementary color pairs.

Eye detail.

It’s important that the lights and darks in the finished painting feel well balanced and create a pleasing movement around the page. Sometimes there is a tendency for beginners to make the nostrils and the pupils of the eyes the only dark areas on a face, which looks odd. And when it comes to details like the texture of hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, it’s important to observe carefully and not default to a cartoon idea of what these things look like. Think about bigger shapes first, with individual hairs being just an enhancement in certain places.

“Fae” by Joanna Barnum, 12″ x 16″, 2019

Tips for painting portraits in watercolor:

Use the largest brush comfortable for an area, and switch to a small one for more control or detail only when you really need to. Don’t get caught up in trying to cover a lot of area with a tiny brush.

Think of breaking down the major value changes in the face like creating a stencil. Big shapes and accurate values are more important than smoothly blending one value into the next. A preoccupation with blending and smoothness can lead to an overworked painting, or a face that lacks structure.

Embrace the fundamental character of watercolor. Allow it to be alive and do what it wants to do, to some degree. Accept blooms, tide lines, and other organic textures that arise naturally during the painting process as a beautiful, natural part of the process rather than fighting them or trying to “correct” them. An organic “accident” is more beautiful than overworking an area trying to force it to behave in certain way.

Don’t isolate features – don’t think of a “nose” or “lips” as separate objects that need to be worked separately from the rest of the face. Work in big connected shapes.

If realistic full-color flesh tones are the goal (as opposed to an intentionally limited palette- which can also be great) it’s important to have both a warm and a cool red.

All flesh contains cool tones as well as warm tones.

Materials:

DANIEL SMITH Watercolors – I love how pigment rich DANIEL SMITH Watercolors are, enabling me to achieve intense color saturation easily; and and how readily they re-wet back to full strength even when left to dry on a palette – just like new with no scrubbing or rubbing! The wide selection of colors offered, including those with unique properties not available elsewhere, means each artist can choose precisely the palette that works best for them, and find exactly what is called for in any circumstance.

  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Pyrrol Scarlet
  • Indian Yellow
  • Sap Green
  • Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Payne’s Gray

Brushes

  • #1 round – Synthetic white sable
  • #4 round – Synthetic white sable 
  • #10 flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • 3/4” flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • 2” flat – Synthetic white sable 
  • #16 round – Faux squirrel

Palette – For small pieces and travel, I use a plastic one with individual wells for color and large divisions for mixing. For large paintings, I use a variety of enamel butcher trays and individual ceramic dishes.

About the Artist:

Photo of artist Joanna Barnum

Joanna Barnum uses watercolor to express universal emotional states and the unique spirits of her portrait subjects, balancing experimental, abstract use of the media with sensitive realism and symbolism.

She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006, and has since made her living as an artist across the realms of fine art, illustration, and teaching. 

She is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society and serves on the boards of the Baltimore Watercolor Society and the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters’ Association. Joanna’s work has been recognized by American Illustration, Illustration West, the “Splash: The Best in Watercolor” series from North Light Books, Infected by Art, and at juried watercolor society exhibitions and plein air painting competitions around the country. 

She has worked with clients and collaborators including Renegade Game Studios for the game Overlight, NASA, AARP, Cricket, Faerie Magazine, Eating Well, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Her work has recently appeared on Every Day Original online, at Abend Gallery in Denver, CO, and at Rehs Contemporary Galleries in New York, NY. Joanna also teaches her approach to watercolor as a guest workshop instructor for watercolor societies and institutions.

Joanna currently lives in Harford County, Maryland with her husband and their greyhound (and studio manager) Zephyr.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

AMOUR: Laura Kimpton (@laurakimpton)

Presented by Timothy Yarger Fine Art

This was easily one of the more popular pieces on view at the 2019 LA Art Show last month. Artist Laura Kimpton is the conceptual force behind the Monumental Word Series that began back in 2009 at the annual Burning Man art event in Nevada. Jeff Schomberg collaborated with Laura Kimpton in building and installing her conceptual designs.