Cool tools: Silicoil


That simple jar with a smooth coil insert sitting on my palette is the best brush-cleaning tool I’ve ever had. I have mine filled with Turpenoid and periodically poor off the clean stuff, wipe out the sediment that collects at the bottom (the coil is easily removed for access) and then refill with the same solvent. The write-up at Dick Blick Art Supply says:

Be kind to your fine art brushes!Stroking a brush across the smooth surface of the aluminum coil opens and separates the hairs for proper cleaning without damaging the fragile flags (the delicate split ends of brush hairs).

This heavy glass tank with a screw-on lid holds up to 12 oz (355 ml) of water, solvent or Silicoil Brush Cleaning Fluid.

Cheap at $6.00 a jar, this has probably already paid for itself in resurrected brushes.

New work

I have a new mantra: Wait for Everything to be Dry, and a new policy on using mediums (linseed oil, etc.) in my paint: Don’t Use Any Medium, and a new slogan written on the wall of the studio in black marker: Really, Wait for It To Dry. This is the first piece I’ve finished with all the rules in place and I’m very pleased with it.

Red Flowers, White Pitcher

Red Flowers, White Pitcher. 24 x 18, oil on panel.

Up next, and Blagden Preserve landscape using the same constraints keeps life interesting. . .

Dawson Shaw, art teacher and inspiration

dawson shaw, teacher

I am unpacking boxes (again, some more) and came across this clipping of my high school art teacher, Dawson Shaw and I having a confab over a pen and ink drawing. He was a wonderful teacher, and was directly responsible for my application to college and eventually attending art school in Philadelphia. I know he passed away in the eighties but can’t find much about him on the ‘net. He was endlessly patient and kind, with high expectations for us and what we could do with our art. Maybe that’s enough.

Thank you, Mr. Shaw!

Welcome to the studio!

We’ve started to move in to the new space and make ourselves at home. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to see the work from more than a few feet away, and to have all my equipment close at hand.  Below is the interior facing north. The big windows give an even light over the course of the day.

studio face northThe harsh light in the photo above streams in through a set of sliders on the opposite wall. The drapes are light-fast and insulating, because that’s a lot of south-facing glass.

south facing exposureThe view from behind the palette. . .

dec studio sw cornerWe’re still trimming windows and moving construction debris but we’re painting anyway – I’m looking forward to being able to post about new work in the the new space very soon.


New work, new idiom

It has been a long three months of working through the idea of painting a background. My still life set-up area is not ideal; the hoop house walls are a plastic film that distorts colors and images behind it and my drapery arrangements are fixed as to height and weight. I’m getting more accomplished at setting up objects that relate to the structures they’re sitting on, but it’s all new to me – I’ve always been a big fan of “dump the oranges on to the table-top and paint them as they lay”. That philosophy (or lack of same) just isn’t working for me any more. I either need to move into Cezanne’s kitchen – where every view seems to be a paintable one – or I need to pay attention and integrate all the information available. The second choice seems more sustainable, but I’m not totally discounting the move to Paris.

New work under the new idiom, just dipping my toes in and painting the green and slippery tones that were really behind the set-up. Oil on board, 16″ x 20″, Roses in a Spanish Cup:

Roses in a Spanish Cup

New work

I’ve finished a 16″ x 20″ study of the front room at Thuya Lodge. There’s a lot going on in this small space and I think it’s a good choice for a larger painting – 32″ x 40″ would be very large for me.

Thuya Lodge study - The Rocking ChairWhen I finish a painting I often study enlarged random sections of the digital image. Do the individual brush strokes make sense of the shapes? Is the color pure and purposeful? Do the edges where colors meet perform well? I fall short of the mark of course, but it’s a helpful process on the long road to improvement. Below are the sections I chose to examine on this piece:

random detail ceiling

random detail lamp

random detail lamp 2

On (and off) the easel

Two weeks ago I posted a  new work-in-progress and then the site went down for a few days and I never posted the finished piece. Here it is with additional detail and the final glaze in Ivory Black.

Acadia Snow finalIf I’d given more thought to the process of changing from pastels to oils after all this time I would have started with studies – small pieces with discrete subject matter as exercises – rather than full on painting subjects. This is the first drawing, in brush and ivory black, for a series of still life studies featuring grapes and the occasional red plum. I think they will be very educational.

grape study drawing



Tuesday hatred

I spend a great deal of time reading about words on the Internet. I’m not a grammar nerd – I have a fine arts degree and my understanding is that eliminates me from that category, forever. My outsider status does not interfere with my pleasure in the back-and-forth, however and if I can find the link to that famous discussion about whether honey comes from plastic bears, or vice versa, it will be my next post.

Meanwhile, Home for the heteronomous has a lovely bit about a post on The Awl that bemoans the use of “literally” and eventually “actually” and a few others that clutter the mother tongue despite the efforts of battalions of word nerd gardeners constantly weeding them out. I could tell them a few things about weeds and weeding and how pointless it is to pull up that sow thistle, no matter how annoying, but whatever. Tuesday Hatred’s author points out just how difficult it is to police the spoken word (or healthy garden) in this way:

Like and um are brought in for drubbings, as is awesome; these are words that can overtake a sentence or dilute a compliment. But they are also how very many of us talk, especially those of us who are not perfectly comfortable speaking. Those of us who are not exactly sure what we have to say, or whether we are entitled–empowered–to say it, say many of these words. And to those who feel that way, I would rather hear your thoughts, with all of your words, than silence you until you can get by using only those off the approved list.

Exactly! I love the spoken word and all its foibles. I love how the sounds and selections have changed since I first learned to talk, and I imagine myself  happily nodding along with modifiers I barely understand in context when I’m 90. Every time someone opens their mouth without a filter I get to look right at their inner self and, unfair advantage or not, the beauty of that moment often stops me right in my tracks.

Tuesday Hatred mentions, just in passing, the near universal hatred of  “Best!” as a closing:

. . . Never sign an email best because “you would never say best in person,” as if all words that couldn’t do double-duty in speech and writing were ballast to be thrown over the side of our magical linguistic hot-air balloon as we try to escape the muttering troglodytes who want to talk to us in small words.

Nope, sorry. I give advice for a living and if I signed off with anything else I’d never be on to the next problem. Somehow that one word sums up my good wishes and my inability to send more than my good wishes better than anything else. I’m not giving that up.

Go read the whole post – it sums up years of grammar angst in a highly satisfactory manner. But don’t worry too much about how we talk about it at the office tomorrow morning.



I love my new oil palette. Reading and research gave me some ideas while I tried to keep an open mind and avoid the prejudices I’ve been taught. For instance, my current line-up does not include any cadmium colors although all of my teachers thought they were indispensable.

and thats how you make cherries

Titanium White – Neither warm nor cool, somewhere between Zinc and Lead white. R. suggested using Old Holland brand for this particular color because of the relative intensity of its tinting strength and now I can’t get along without it. The history notes from Dick Blick are interesting:

Titanium is the ninth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, however mineral deposits that are economical to mine are less common. Titanium dioxide was first discovered in 1821, although it could not be mass produced until 1919. Widespread use of the pigment began in the 1940s. Since that time, it has become the most commonly used white pigment.

Permanent yellow light – Cooler than the cadmium yellows that it was intended to be a chemical replacement for, and much more versatile. This pigment mixed with Ivory black makes a beautiful range of still-life greens.

Quinacridone ruby (also sold as Old Holland magenta) – From the  Dick Blick excerpt on this color:

Chemical Formula: C22H16N2O2

Properties: Quinacridone Magenta is a semi-transparent and powerful bluish red with an impressive mixing range. It makes an excellent glazing color and is one of the bluest of the Quinacridone colors. The pigment’s properties vary considerably, depending on how it is ground. Quinacridone pigments have relatively low tinting strength in general. For this reason, quinacridone colors are often expensive, because more pigment is required in the formulation.

Permanence: Quinacridone Magenta offers very good lightfastness in most media, but some have argued that it is less lightfast in watercolor form. Although Quinacridone Magenta received only a passing grade of “fair” under ASTM test protocols, other test results have rated the pigment very good to excellent. Transparent reddish violet pigments in general have more problems with lightfastness than any other range of colors. PR122 is often used as the Magenta of CMYK (four color) process printing because it offers a better tradeoff between tinting strength and lightfastness than other pigments in its class.

History:Quinacridone Magenta came from a red violet aniline dye that was first produced in 1858 by Natanson. It was called Magenta to commemorate a battle in Magenta, Italy. Over time, Magenta became the standard color name for a deep, violet red. Although quinacridone compounds became known in the late 19th century, methods of manufacturing so as to make them practical for use as commercial pigments did not begin until the 1950s. PR122 has become particularly popular in the formulation of Magenta for CMYK process printing.

Phthalo green blue – intense, mixes well, and is closest to the discontinued (and toxic) Verdigris.

Manganese blue – copper phthalocyanine. Very deep and slow drying, reliable and light-fast, tending toward green. This pigment was discovered by accident in 1935.

Ivory black – from charred bones these days, since ivory is protected. Blue-black with a hint of brown in mixtures, this color functions in my palette (with so many cool colors) as a warm mixture.

Raw Umber – A combination of Mars Black and Mars Orange, this dark pigment has strong warm undertone, great for warming the phthalo blues.

I’ve never had a more dependable selection of pigments, even for simple two-color mixes to produce a range of still-life colors. This random sample is permanent yellow light and q. rose, tinted with white at the bottom of the palette and toned with ivory black to the right.

two color mixes

Next on the easel is a set up of pink mallow and scarlet roses on a raw umber ground. Can’t wait!


Studio thoughts

The studio at the top of the stairs:


I’ve changed media from pastel to oil paint. Turns out there are some aspects of my studio environment that become more pressing with the change. I didn’t want to stop during my session tonight and make a list, but here’s what I recall.

1. Lighting – A regular residential wall mounted light bulb and a halogen pole lamp were fine for pastels, but now I need more. Mixing paint means more moving around the pallet, more shadows are thrown, I spend a lot of time getting out of my own way. We have 9′ ceilings in this little house so perhaps some LED track lighting is the way to go? I’d be happy to get feedback on that.

2. More brushes in more suitable sizes – Why do I always expect to be able to paint with 3/4″ brushes on a 16″ x 20″ surface? Most of the marks I’m making are MUCH smaller than 3/4″.  The studio space itself won’t accommodate a panel larger than 24″ x 36″ (I know – I’ve tried) so I don’t see why I continually try to bend physics to my will. Time to put in a Dick Blick order, with restraint and an eye to the budget.

3. More paint – And by more paint, I mean I might be in love with Old Holland Titanium white. It’s amazing stuff. I don’t have nearly enough of it.

4. Learn to wear gloves – My hands sweat in nitrile gloves but I don’t currently have an allergy to latex and don’t want to develop one. I’ll stick to the blue, unpowdered nitrile variety and hope I get used to them quickly. They’re uncomfortable and I startle every time my bright blue hand comes into my field of vision, but it sure beats being covered in paint at the end of the night.

5. Patience – Paint is so facile, so direct, and the brush is such a sensitive instrument after all those years of using hard sticks of chalk that I find myself going too fast and jumping from one area to another all over the panel. I need to rein it in, proceed calmly, step back if I’m not sure where I’m going. I love the excitement, but I’m paying a price in errors and mushy re-do’s.

6. Draw it all out – I’m still working on my first painting in 20 years, not making much progress, and part of the problem is that the underlying drawing was wrong in several areas. Why did I think I could “fix it in the mix”?

7. Tone the panel – I’ve been working on a dark grey or green background for so long that the white canvas panel is a hardship. Tonight I put down a raw umber wash over my next drawing which will help me see the lighter colors more easily.

8. Paint more – paint more. Paint more.