Anything painted directly, on the spot, always has a strength, a power, a lively touch that is lost in the studio. Your first impression is the right one. Stick to it and refuse to budge.
- Eugene Boudin
Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see.
- Henri Rousseau


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Unicorn Magical Drawing and Painting Horse

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:15 am

The Unicorn Magical Drawing and Painting Horse
As I mentioned in my 2007 article on “The Drawing bench (horse)“, I’m fond of the arrangement provided by these usually simple benches that allow for a “sight-over” position when seated and drawing.

I say “usually simple”, because I got a kick out of comment recently posted to the article on this amazingly deluxe variation, apparently suitable for a Gilded Age drawing room. The manufacturer’s site, for the bench, which they call the “Unicorn LE” and describe as “a magical drawing & painting horse”. I’m not exactly sure about its specific magical properties, but it has a delightful tagline that reads: “Elegant enough for the living room and sturdy enough for the studio”. I suppose you could get matching ones for either side of the couch.

I had to chuckle a bit, as this is a far cry from the normal plain arrangement of three or four boards, even when factory bought rather than cobbled together from scrap lumber. I haven’t tried one, of course, but the padded seat and handy storage drawer look just dandy.

The website doesn’t list a price, suggesting you contact the company (display and graphics firm, Scale 2) for information, so maybe you have to hock your car and sign away hour first born to afford one, I don’t know.

Sure is pretty, though.

(Aside: I found out that the term “drawing room” as often used in Victorian times, has nothing to do with artists, but is rather a shortened version of “withdrawing room”, a room to which one withdraws after a meal for conversation and other diversions.)

[Suggestion courtesy of Layil Umbralux]

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wilmington, Delaware gets an art store!

Posted by Charley Parker at 1:12 pm

Jerry's Artarama store in Wilmington, Delaware
I’m happy to report that Jerry’s Artarama, an art supplier familiar to many from their online presence and a chain of retail stores across the U.S., has opened a store in Wilmington, Delaware.

And why, you ask, should this be of interest to the wider national and international audience of Lines and Colors? Well, it’s relevant in that it prompts me to bring up the general state of online art suppliers and the availability of brick and mortar art supply stores in smaller cities.

Wilmington, Delaware is a relatively small city (population: 70,000) in the shadow of a large one — Philadelphia; it’s also near where I grew up, and still not far from where I live.

In years past, Wilmington had an art supply store called Audio Visual Arts, which everyone simply called “A.V.A.” It was one of those stores that seemed like a fixture when I was younger; as far as I knew it was always there, and I expected it to always be there. For a time, Wilmington supported two art stores — on the same block — after disgruntled A.V.A. employees started a rival store just a few doors down.

All of that changed when commercial art went digital at the end of the last century, as it did for so many art stores that depended on commercial artists as their primary customers and carried supplies for painters and students as a sideline. Brick and mortar art stores took another hit from the increasing prevalence of online art suppliers in the first decade of the new century.

Wilmington went from two art stores to less then one, when what remained of A.V.A. was moved to a small space adjoining the company’s related blueprint service, and the rival store went out of business. The small demi-store, left to cater to students and Sunday painters, eventually went under as well, leaving those who wanted to shop locally for art supplies to drive to a small shop in a nearby college town (Finley’s – a nice little shop, but with limited stock), or travel to Philadelphia, negotiate city traffic and fight for parking, or just be at the mercy of the suburban big-box arts and crafts stores. Any serious painter who has shopped at the latter (at least judging by the stores in this area) knows what a disappointing experience that can be.

Even though Wilmington has had a relatively small but growing art school, the Delaware College of Art and Design (where I teach a class in Web Animation with HTML5 and Adobe Flash) on it’s main shopping street since 1996, it has been without a real art supply store for a long long time. That changed last week, when Jerry’s Artarama opened its newest retail store on a building owned by the school, due in good measure to efforts on the part of DCAD’s president, Stuart Baron, and with cooperation from the city.

To me, and I’ll warrant a number of other artists in the region, a real brick and mortar art supply store opening in Wilmington was like flowers blooming in an long empty lot — a hopeful sign that things are changing for the better.

I certainly understand the appeal of online art suppliers. It’s difficult for brick and mortar stores to match the selection available from a large online supplier (similar to the difficulty faced by brick and mortar bookstores). For example, I recently ordered a jar of Red Ochre acrylic primer and a bag of marble dust to mix into it for texture — not items in high demand in local art stores. Also, my personal preference in oil paints is a brand of handmade paint from a small company that is only available online (see my post on Vasari Classic Artists’ Oil Colors).

However, when possible, I like to buy my other art supplies locally. There is something to be said about being able to see and feel the items you’re buying — the stiffness of a brush, texture of a canvas, thickness of a drawing paper or color of a marker — and the ability to pick up what you need today, when you need something for what you’re working on, not in a few days when FedEx trundles by with a shipment. (Plus, much like bookstores, I just love the way art stores smell.) So I like both online and local shopping for art supplies — for different reasons.

Philadelphia, about 30 miles from Wilmington, is a large city — with, I am told, more art schools per capita than any other American city. It has long supported multiple art supply stores in the downtown area (called Center City by locals), though individual stores have come and gone over the years. (When I was an art student, there was a cramped, cluttered, quirky and wonderful store called Zinni’s that was reminiscent of the bizarre little “we have it in the back” shops for magical paraphernalia in the Harry Potter movies — but I digress.)

The situation in Philadelphia has changed over time as well, both when the commercial art shift to digital media closed some of the stores that depended on commercial art customers, and more recently when Dick Blick, the largest online art supply company and chain of associated retail stores, opened a large store pretty much halfway between the city’s two largest art schools, the University of the Arts (formerly the Philadelphia College of Art) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (where I spent my time as an art student years ago).

When the Blick store opened, a new large scale art store seemed a plus, and the store was welcomed by both students and the larger arts community (if not by its competitors, like Utrecht, the previous dominant presence). The other stores in Center City seemed to fare well enough in the following few years, leading to the thought that the city could support one more art store without losing the others.

That changed, however, when the Blick company bought Utrecht earlier this year (reportedly for their proprietary line of paints and canvas) and promptly closed the two Philadelphia Utrecht stores, undoubtedly with the idea of forcing everyone who had shopped at Utrecht to go to the single Blick store, raising that store’s profit per square foot. While this has likely been accomplished to the satisfaction of the company’s bean counters, I and many other local artists thought of it as regressive and a sorry event. At one time there were five art supply stores in the central part of the Philadelphia; there are now two — the big Blick store and a smaller (but quite good) Artist & Craftsman Supply store, part of a less extensive national chain.

So I’m happy that the unfortunate loss of the Utrecht stores (one of which was much more convenient for me reach than the Blick store) now seems offset by the new Jerry’s store in nearby Wilmington. Though I can bemoan the fact that all of these stores are part of national chains, and most (but not all) of the independent art supply stores in the wider metropolitan area are gone, I still feel encouraged when physical art supply stores open up, rather than closing down.

I was also encouraged that the new Jerry’s Artarama store in Wilmington is reasonably large and well stocked, comparable to the Utrecht stores we lost in Philadelphia — a serious art store and welcome antidote to the painfully meager offerings of the big-box craft stores. Artists and students in Wilmington have long had to travel to Philadelphia to buy art supplies, but the new Jerry’s store may well pull in the other direction, drawing students and others from out of state to the Wilmington store with the lure of easier parking and Delaware’s famous lack of sales tax.

A larger question posed here, however, and one I don’t have an answer for yet, is whether any of this is indicative of national trends, or is simply a local reshuffling of pieces on the board.

I’ll have to wait and see, but at least in the meanwhile, I’m happy I have another place to go when I need a painting panel, a #2 filbert, tube of gouache, a brush marker or a bottle of stand oil — or when I just want to walk into a store that smells like art supplies.

(Images above borrowed from the Jerry’s Artarama of Wilmington Facebook page)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Karen X. Cheng learns to dance (and be a designer)

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:34 am

I learned to dance in a year, Sara Cheng
What does learning to dance in a year have to do with learning to draw or paint? A lot, I think.

From Jason Kottke’s blog, I was introduced to this time compressed video of Karen Cheng learning to dance over the course of a year.

She made the decision it was what she wanted to do and she devoted herself to it, saying: “I practiced everywhere. At bus stops. In line at the grocery store. At work — Using the mouse with my right hand and practicing drills with my left hand.”

As Kottke points out, the more interesting thing is that she applied the same approach to changing careers, teaching herself to become a graphic designer by searching out the necessary resources, and devoting herself to it until she was able to leave her job at Microsoft for a position with a design firm.

I’m reminded of the aphorisms “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” and “Make progress each day, even if it is by the thickness of a single sheet of paper.”

I’ll step aside now before I start to sound like a Nike commercial.

For a relevant subject, and some resources for learning to draw, see my previous post: Learning to draw: where to go from here.

[Note: the image above is not an embedded video, please use the links below.]

Monday, June 24, 2013

The joys of a limited “three primary” palette

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:51 am

Limited three primary palette: Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Light
I was struck yesterday by a post on the blog of Jeffery Hayes about his experimentation with the limited palette recommended by Mark Carder in his method of learning to paint.

Hayes is a still life painter who uses a wide palette of up to 70 paints, and produces quite beautiful results from his choices. While not normally a fan of limited palettes, he tried this particular one at the suggestion of a friend, and was surprised at how flexible it was.

This prompted me to think about the palette I’ve been using, which is quite similar.

When I returned to painting after a long hiatus, I knew I wanted to use a limited palette, and set about researching which colors would be most advantageous.

What I eventually decided on was a palette of three colors, used as “primaries”, with the addition of one or two supplementary colors, depending on the intended use. (In choosing my palette, and for the purpose of this article, I put aside arguments about what “primary colors” actually are or are not, and I’ve used the term in quotes here to emphasize that.)

The basic colors I arrived at are: Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Light.

Like almost any oil painting palette, these are used along with white (usually Titanium or Titanium-Zinc).

I’ve found this is actually a very common limited palette, and/or the core of many palettes I’ve seen in which these three “primaries” are augmented with one or two additional colors (as Carder has added the Burnt Umber to compensate for the high value of the yellow).

Adding a bright, warm red like a cadmium or pyrrole red is common. Burnt Sienna is sometimes used in place of Carder’s Burnt Umber. Another common addition is Viridian, which mixes with Alizarin to produce a nice range of dark greens and reds, as well as making a pretty good chromatic black (as does Ultramarine Blue mixed with Burnt Umber, or the deep purple that can be mixed from Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson).

Kevin Macpherson, in his popular and well regarded books on painting, uses these three colors as primaries, supplemented with Cadmium Red Light and Phthalo Green.

I’ve seen these three colors on numerous supply lists for classes and recommended starter palettes for those learning to mix colors.

Some people have pointed out that there are “three primary” palettes that produce a wider gamut of colors (in which paints closer to cyan and magenta are used instead of blue and red), but gamut is not the only characteristic of paints relevant to artists. There are other factors like transparency, covering power, mixing strength, range of value and the ability in a limited palette to create strong mixing complementaries.

These three paints, when used as primaries, seem to work exceptionally well together.

Alizarin Crimson — while the subject of some controversy (and perhaps another post) — has a depth, richness and subtle characteristic in its undertone that is not found in other reds. Notably transparent, it makes a good glazing color and mixes well with other colors to create deep, transparent darks.

The controversy has to do with the debate over the lightfastness of Alizarin Crimson. Carder, and many other artists, use a “Permanent Alizarin” substitute. These are generally not Alizarin at all but quinacridone reds, essentially an “Alizarin Crimson Hue” — though why they aren’t labeled as such, I don’t know. While I personally prefer the real thing when painting in oils, I would not recommend genuine Alizarin Crimson in a watercolor version of this palette.

Ultramarine Blue (French Ultramarine) is beautiful and remarkably flexible. It’s warm and strong, but not overwhelming in mixes, where it excels in creating a broad array of colors. A touch of Cadmium Yellow Light brings it into the range of cool blues common for skies.

Cadmium Yellow Light (or Pale) is perhaps the strongest, clearest, “yellowest” yellow available to artists — almost neutral but slightly warm (depending on the manufacturer) and nicely opaque. Combined with Alizarin Crimson, it can produce a warmer red (though not as bright and warm as a Cadmium Red) and a surprisingly bright range of oranges and orange-yellows.

The bluish Alizarin Crimson and the reddish Ultramarine Blue combine to make a beautiful range of clear purples, either deep or bright with the addition of white. Clear purples are often difficult in limited palettes.

Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Light can create a wonderful array of greens for landscape, bright enough that most still have to be dulled down a bit with Alizarin so as not to be too high in chroma.

Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Light mixed for secondary colors

All three of these colors are strong in mixes, but not so strong as to overpower other colors. (Phthalocyanine pigments, for example, can sometimes be overwhelming in mixes and difficult to control.)

Like any palette based on three primaries, each pair of primary colors when mixed produces a secondary color that is the complementary color of the remaining primary. (e.g. blue and yellow make green, the complementary color of red.) Complementary colors can be used to heighten the vividness of a color by juxtaposition or reduce its chroma in mixtures.

While not “ideal complementaries” — colors directly opposite on the theoretical hue circle — these colors produce effective “mixing complementaries” — paints that have the desired effect of moving a color toward gray when mixed together.

The weak point of a palette consisting of just these three colors (while simultaneously one of its strengths) is the high value of the Cadmium Yellow Light, which lightens almost any mixture to which it is added. This is the reason a dark orange-red like Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna is often added.

These three colors, as primaries, also form the basis of many common “split-primary” (or “color-bias”) palettes, which utilize a warm and cool version of each primary.

Those palettes usually add a cool yellow (often Cadmium Lemon), a cool blue (commonly Cerulean, or Cobalt, which is almost neutral) and a warm red (Cadmium Red Light, or a Pyrrole Red).

The core palette, however is Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Light — in common use, augmented with one or two supplementary colors like Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Viridian or Cadmium Red.

Painters who are used to a larger palette, but want to experiment with a limited one like this, may find it helpful to mix piles of the secondary colors from the primaries on their palette before starting to paint. That way, in addition to the tube color red, blue and yellow, your set-out palette can contain mixed orange, purple and green — and, with a little additional mixing, some pretty good approximations (at least in hue) of earth colors like ochres and siennas. It’s surprising what a full palette you can create from these three colors. Adding an actual dark earth color, like Burnt Umber, extends it even more.

A limited, three or four color palette like this can have several advantages.

One, of course, is simplicity and expense. You only have to buy five tubes of paint (including white) to have a relatively complete and versatile palette. I do recommend, however, not skimping on the Cadmium Yellow Light by substituting a paint labeled “Cadmium Yellow Light Hue” (usually made from an Arylide Yellow), which will be much less satisfactory in this use.

It’s also a convenient palette for keeping things light and simple when packing for plein air painting.

A limited palette like this forces a kind of built-in color harmony, in that almost any color applied is likely to be a combination of two or three of the same tube colors.

This kind of palette is ideal for someone like me. My temperament is quite different from Hayes and others who find a very broad palette useful (which it certainly can be for having the widest range of clean, intense colors available).

I get overwhelmed with too many color choices, and much prefer to mix from a limited number of colors. When mixing a red and blue to make purple, I don’t have to decide which red or which blue to start with — that’s a given. My goal at this stage is to learn these few colors well, seeking a deeper understanding of how they work with each other in repeated application.

Artists who find a multitude of color choices confusing, are starting to learn color mixing, or are looking for a convenient, limited palette to carry into the field, may find these three colors, with one or two additions, a great place to start.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Art Model Tips

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:17 am

Art Model Tips
In my years of drawing from the model in life drawing sessions, as a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through additional classes at the Delaware Art Museum School, the Fleischer Art Memorial, the Philadelphia Sketch Club, the Plastic Club, the Delaware College of Art and Design and other venues, I’ve learned a couple of things about artist’s models.

One is that posing for artists is much more demanding than outsiders realize. There is a tendency to think that modeling is “just sitting there” or “standing still”, and as such should be easy, but that’s simply not the case, particularly not when well done.

That’s the other thing I’ve found — that some models take it quite seriously and work to be very good at what they are doing. From an artist’s perspective, it makes a big difference.

Often in open studio sessions, as opposed to more formal classes, there is little guidance from the proctor other than length of pose or standing, sitting, etc., and it’s left to the model to invent the poses. Ideally, these should be interesting, with some suggestion of movement or dynamics, but not so off balance as to be difficult to hold for the pose sessions (usually 20 minutes at a time, often with the same pose repeated over several sessions).

The best models manage to be creative in these situations, as well as knowing how to hold a pose — again, not as simple as it sounds. I’ve never had a problem with models who will “shake out” in the middle of a pose, and then resume it accurately. Models who are not good at holding a pose are more likely to gradually slump into a different position over time, like a melting glacier.

Poor models will also make it obvious that they are bored, or just biding their time until they’re paid. Good ones make it obvious that they are doing what they do well, with thought and attention to the pose, even if they’re mentally in another world while holding the pose.

Artist models are generally not paid well, certainly not in comparison to the skill that some bring to the task, in particular those with a bit of dance or theater training who know how to use the position of their body expressively.

Artists who are fortunate to work with a good model, however, have a much better chance of producing interesting, expressive work. At its best, it’s something of a collaborative effort.

Models, however, remain something of a forgotten element in the art community (even though some of them are also artists), with fewer resources available than for artists in general.

It’s nice to see a new (to me at least) website called that collects a number of resources of interest to those in involved in life modeling, as well as those who run drawing sessions or classes and hire and work with models.

It includes links to resources for life drawing sessions in 40 countries around the world, books and videos of interest to models, life model guilds and associations, instructional materials and other items of interest both to both models and to artists who do life drawing or painting.

The resources include The Art Model’s Handbook, and the Figure Drawing Classes, Workshops, Open Studios website (which I have written about previously), in itself a considerable resource for both models and artists.

[Via @StudioIncammina]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Draw Mix Paint

Posted by Charley Parker at 7:13 pm

Mark Carders' Draw Mix Paint art instruction
Mark Carder, the well regarded painter and portraitist who I profiled in a previous post, at one point participated in and lent his name to a series of instructional painting videos known as “The Carder Method”.

These sold for over $100, and were for a time heavily promoted.

Carder is no longer associated with the company that was selling the set, and they have ceased selling the materials as of the end of 2012.

Carder has since been creating his own instructional videos, outlining his teaching methods, and is generously making them available for free on his website Draw Mix Paint.

You can also access them on his Draw Mix Paint YouTube channel, but the website includes additional resources, like his supply list and the discussion forum.

Carder is self taught, and attributes some of his training to study of painters he particularly admires, including John Singer Sargent and Velazquez.

He has codified his teaching method into a process that is based on direct observation, measurement, and constant incremental color checking.

To this end he has created some simple tools to facilitate the process, and gives instructions for making them yourself, including proportional dividers and a pistol grip style “color checker” that allows for sighting across a swatch of paint through an eyelet, to better isolate the color than with the traditional method of simply sighting over a color laden palette knife.

To those of us who have had some formal training, his method may seem laborious, relying as it does on many more steps of color checking and smaller increments of mixing than most approaches to painting.

Bear in mind, however, that this is a method intended to allow absolute beginners to go from 0 to painting in the course of instruction. Carder points out that this isn’t intended to be a method of painting, but a method of learning to paint.

Even if your predisposition is not to the type of direct representation of reality that Carder practices, or you have less patience than required to practice his approach as demonstrated, I think many will still find Carder’s instruction worthwhile.

Although there are areas where experienced painters may disagree (as is often the case between painters) Carder’s methods are pretty much based on sound proven principles.

For an introduction to the essentials of his method, I suggest you watch his video on “How to mix colors with oil paint“. If you like the process, follow up with “How to paint what you see“.

For those with no painting or drawing experience, he recommends starting with the initial videos on drawing.

Carder has additional videos on topics like setting up a studio, making a shadow box, stretching a canvas, making his color checker and proportional dividers, etc. and he continues to add to them.

He has recently introduced two downloadable videos for which he is charging, Painting Portraits, and From Start to Finish: Still Life; but the fee is a small fraction of the cost for the original course ($20 each), and he points out that they are not necessary — they just go into more detail, and you can learn the essentials of his method from the free videos.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vasari Classic Artists’ Oil Colors

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:53 am

Vasari Classic Artists' Oil Colors, Alla Prima Pochade painting box
Most artists who work in oils recognize three general grades of oil paints. For lack of better terms, they can be called student grade, artist grade and premium grade. There are numerous levels of variation within those categories, of course, but they will do as a generalization.

In student grade paints, the price is kept to a minimum and an attempt is often made to keep a level of price consistency across most colors, both by using fillers and extenders in the paints and by substituting “hues” for expensive pigments.

(When you see the word “hue” in the name of an oil paint, it means a substitute for a particular pigment, created by trying to match that pigment’s hue with other, often cheaper pigments, sometimes mixtures of two or more. For example, paint labeled “Cadmium Yellow” is made with cadmium sulfide, an expensive material that produces a beautiful color with excellent covering strength; but “Cadmium Yellow Hue” is made with materials other than cadmium, like arylide, that are modified to initially look like Cadmium Yellow out of the tube, but in use produce a weaker, less desirable color.)

Some examples of familiar student grade oil paints would be Winsor & Newtons’ “Winton” line, or Grumbacher’s “Academy” student grade paints.

The middle level, “artist grade” would correspond to Winsor & Newton’s more familiar “Artist’s” line of oil colors, or those by Gamblin or Holbein. These are noticeably more expensive than student grade paints, and within any of these lines, the range of prices for different pigments within the same brand varies more dramatically, reflecting the varying cost of the actual pigments.

These are the most familiar oil paints. They have fewer fillers or extenders than student grade paints, though there is often some adulteration to facilitate machine-filling of tubes or to maintain a price point for competition within the larger art materials market.

The third level is perhaps less familiar to some, and that is premium grade artist’s oil colors. In these, the manufacturers compete more on quality and reputation than on price, working to produce paints that are more pure combinations of pigment and oil, using higher quality materials and taking greater pains in the preparation and grinding of the pigments. Often the tubes must be filed by hand when additives intended to make machine filling practical are eschewed.

Familiar names in this category might be brands like Old Holland or Williamsburg. They sell at a premium price, often considerably more expensive than the mass market “artist’s” colors, and the difference in price between expensive and inexpensive pigments within a given brand (e.g. between cobalt colors and earth colors) is even more dramatic.

I think most experienced painters have learned that student grade paints are seldom the bargain they are positioned as, their much weaker pigments actually require more paint to produce a similar effect in mixtures, and they often evidence an overall dullness of color and less than desirable handling characteristics. “Hue” colors in particular, are usually much weaker than their nominal genuine pigment counterparts.

Many painters, though, find a similar value in using premium grade paints over the more common artists grade, with an apparently similar valuation of the latter as false economy. They find the more intensely pigmented formulations and handling characteristics of premium oil colors worth the higher initial cost.

Others will insist that the main difference in premium grade paints is just marketing and branding, and don’t see a difference in value worth the expenditure (and will sometimes be quite adamant about it).

Some will pick and choose particular colors from one range or the other, as they prefer certain colors by certain paintmakers and find them individually worth the expense. (There are also proprietary colors, mixtures formulated by particular paintmakers that are not offered by others.)

Until recently, my personal experience had been limited to the first two grades of oil colors, understanding the value of using artist grade paints over student grade, but thinking of the premium colors as an unnecessary luxury — nice if you can afford it, but not likely to make enough of a difference in the practical sense to justify the expense on my part — basically an “Audi vs. Toyota” kind of difference.

There is something to be said, however, for making your judgment after having driven an Audi and then going back to driving a Toyota. Similarly, I’ve found that having had the opportunity to work with premium artists oil paints has changed my attitude about their value.

The paints I’ve had the opportunity to work with are from a small independent paintmaker called Vasari Classic Artists’ Oil Colors, and here I must make a disclaimer.

Vasari Classic Artists' Oil Colors

Though I was familiar with them by name, my experience in actually using Vasari’s paints came about as the result of being hired in my capacity as a website designer to design a new website for them. Their current site is the one I designed (image above). So there is, of course, no way I can claim to be impartial. They are my client.

That being said, I think most readers of Lines and Colors know that I rarely mention something in my posts unless I actually think it’s of value, and I pretty much shoot straight from the hip, so you can balance those factors out and make your own judgment.

Vasari is in many circles the highest ranked of the premium oil paint makers, commanding a premium price and available only through their website (with a $100 minimum order) or at their one retail store in NY, but not in chain stores, catalogs or online art supply companies. They are smaller than most, and devote their efforts only to making oil colors, no other art materials or types of paints.

In the course of an initial meeting with Stephen Salek, the founder and principal paintmaker behind Vasari, he asked about what paints, and specifically what colors I use. Shortly thereafter, I received a box from Vasari in which he had sent me samples of his versions of the colors in my regular palette (which are fairly common), with, I thought, the intention of seeing if they would convince me of the superior quality of his paint while I was in the process of working on his website.

Vasari Classic Artists' Oil Colors

So I set out my usual palette using their colors to give them a test drive. I suppose I was expecting to notice some small difference between their paint and the regular artist grade I have been used to, but I frankly wasn’t thinking it would be dramatic.

I was wrong. I was surprised. I was delighted.

The paints handle with a smooth consistency quite unlike other paints I’ve used. The colors have a vibrancy and subtle strength that kept me fascinated with them.

For the first couple of weeks, in fact, it was a bit distracting. I would be mixing colors while painting and find myself getting lost in just mixing and playing with the colors. I would be in the process of mixing a color and stop partway through, thinking “That’s not the color I’m trying to mix yet, but OMG that’s a beautiful color!”

After working with the initial set of colors for a while, I turned around and bought another box of their paint, filling out from my normal limited palette of six colors to my extended one of twelve, dying to see what their Cobalt Blue and Transparent Red Oxide were like, fascinated with my paints in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was in art school.

Since then, I have tried going back to my other paints and found it disappointing, and I have to say that I’m now rather spoiled. Not only are these paints wonderful to work with, I see a difference in the surface quality and color of my finished paintings.

Of course, using premium paint won’t necessarily make someone a better painter, any more than better brushes or higher quality canvas. A good artist can make a good painting with cheap materials — but it will be more difficult. If I have the option of using the best materials I can get, why not take advantage of them?

I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and buy premium oil paints; their relevance to any individual artist will inevitably depend on each artist’s values and personality — i.e. “Your milage may vary.” I’m just reporting on my personal experience.

Some will fall on the side of not finding the difference significant enough, but some may find the experience an eye-opener, as I did.

To be clear, I don’t mean to intimate here that regular mass market artists grade oil paints are somehow “bad” or inadequate, just that there is value in the difference found in premium paints.

I should also point out that the Vasari Classic Artists’ Oil Colors are the only premium oil paints I’ve worked with to any significant extent, so I can’t make any across the range comparisons. However, I have done some reading in artist forums and blogs about comparisons between premium brands, and have found that when Vasari is mentioned, they’re generally at the top of the list of premium artists’ oil colors.

The take-away is simply that in my experience there is a significant difference between regular artist grade oil colors and premium colors like Vasari; and that if you have the opportunity to try them (and aren’t afraid of being spoiled), they may well be worth a look.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to get back to playing with these beautiful colors… oh yes, and painting.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My turn as a painter/blogger

Posted by Charley Parker at 12:36 pm

Chaley Parker painting
Back in 2005, the year in which I began writing Lines and Colors, I reported about an artist from Virginia named Duane Keiser, who had the year before begun a practice of painting a small painting every day, posting it to a blog titled “a painting a day” and placing it up for auction on eBay.

It seemed a unique thing at the time, and as far as I can establish, Keiser was indeed the originator of the practice.

In my article, I remarked on what a great idea this was, and how I wished I could emulate the discipline. It promised the kind of advancement as a painter that only regular painting can provide, aided by the incentive of selling the paintings as they were done.

The following year, I reported on others who had become “painting a day” participants, like Karin Jurick, David R. Darrow, Shelly Grund, Elin Pendleton and, in particular, Julian Merrow-Smith.

Over the years since then, I’ve watched and reported on the burgeoning of the “painting a day” phenomenon, although it has become so widespread and generalized that the term has lost much of its meaning, and I now tend to use the more general term “painter/bloggers”.

This is a practice in which hundreds of artists, at all levels of experience, are painting and posting their work on blogs and connecting with buyers through online auctions, PayPal payments, Etsy shops, group sites like Daily Paintworks and other means of direct sales — either bypassing or supplementing the traditional gallery system.

After following this for some time, and having gradually brought my own painting practice somewhat up to speed, I’ve decided to jump in and try it for myself.

The regimen of painting every day remains appealing, and the idea of selling the work makes it more likely I will adhere to the practice and hopefully will allow me to devote more time to painting.

What I’ve learned and decided so far.

I’ve tried to observe some of the best practices from those who have been doing this for a while; and as I begin my process, I’ll try to make occasional reports on Lines and Colors for those who might be interested in what I learn.

I’ve also tried to follow my own advice in my article on “How Not to Display Your Artwork on the Web” and the follow up series on “How to Display your Art on the Web“.

So far I’ve established a few things that seem basic and essential, and I’ve also made a few decisions to vary from the mainstream.

Though I endeavor to paint every day, my goal for posting finished paintings will not be “a painting a day” but a more modest one of two small paintings a week, which I will try to post consistently on Mondays and Wednesdays. [Addendum: I've changed this to Mondays and Thursdays.]

Chaley Parker painting  blog

The blog

Like most painter/bloggers, I’ve created a blog, on which I will post my paintings as I put them up for auction.

Unlike many, however, I’ve decided that on that blog I will only post paintings, and not water it down with posts about works in progress, studio photos, the new brushes I just got, the weather, or any other topics not directly related to the paintings. I will continue to insist that the home page of a website, or the top of a blog’s home page, should always be aimed at the first-time visitor, not those familiar with the site who are returning.

For the design of the blog itself, I’ve deliberately chosen a dark neutral background, as I think it shows off the color of images to best advantage. Many painters without design experience don’t realize how much a colored web page background, that may seem appealing for the blog itself, can compete with and detract from the presentation of their work.

I’ve made a point of dedicating the sidebar to introducing myself, and describing the intention of the site, the size, medium and support of the paintings, the process, and my policies for selling and shipping the paintings. I’ve also made sure to provide a contact email address.

The current painting will appear at the top of the page, and visitors will have the ability to click on the image to view it large, or click on a link to view or leave comments. Comments will not only add interest for those visiting the site, but hopefully provided informative feedback on the paintings.

Chaley Parker painting  on eBay

The auctions

I’ve chosen to use eBay for the auctions, primarily because I already have an account and there is no upfront expense as with the Daily Paintworks auctions.

Most of my paintings are 5×7″ or 6×8″, and in keeping with the kind of size-based scale I would apply to gallery pricing, I’ve decided to set their auction minimums at $100 and $125, respectively.

I’ve also decided to limit my auction periods to 3 days, though this is one of the elements of the process of which I’m least confident, so it may change. [Addendum: Yes, changed to seven days.]

On the blog, I’ve provided a consistent line below each painting on the entry to show the painting’s status: At Auction, Available or Sold, and a clear link to the auction.

There will be an archive of past paintings, sold or otherwise, and a page for available works that are not at auction. Paintings not sold at auction will be priced at what I would consider gallery minimums at $200 for the 5×7″ and $250 for the 6×8″.

Contact and promotion

Near the top of the blog, I’ve included a sign-up for a newsletter, by which those interested can receive an email notice whenever I post a new painting.

For this, I’ve chosen to use MailChimp, which allows you to create and manage an email newsletter list for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month for free.

I’ve created a new email address, specifically for contact through the painting blog.

I’ve created a new Twitter account, @CParkerArt, specifically for announcing paintings as I post them. I had to log out of my Lines and Colors Twitter account to create the new account. I’m using TweetDeck to manage multiple Twitter accounts now that they’re established.

I’ve also given the blog some basic search engine optimization (more on that later) and I will probably leverage my ability to place an ad on my own general topic blog (i.e. this one) to perhaps send some visitors, and some “Google love”, to my new painting blog.


One thing I’ve decided to do differently than most painter/bloggers is to delay posting the paintings for several weeks.

Common practice is to post a painting as soon as it’s done, hot off the easel, so to speak. This, however, means that the purchaser, whether direct or through an auction process, must usually wait several weeks for an oil painting to dry enough to be shipped.

At the risk of appearing out of sync with the seasons, particularly as they change, I’ve decided to wait three to four weeks for the paintings to dry, and then apply a light coat of retouch varnish — with another week for that to dry, before posting the paintings and putting them up for auction.

This will allow me to ship the paintings as as soon as the auction closes. I’ve tried to weigh the the plusses and minuses of both approaches, but if I buy something, I’m much happier when I receive it sooner rather than later.


My decision to varnish the paintings is as much a desire to even out the painting’s surface appearance as to provide protection. I seldom use medium when painting, so even though I’m using a very high quality paint (more on that later), passages in which I’ve used thinly applied chromatic blacks in particular (e.g. Alizarin plus Viridian or Ultramarine Blue plus Burnt Umber) can look flat or “sunken in” compared to more thickly applied areas of brighter color.

After a bit of research, I’ve decided to use Gamblin’s Gamvar synthetic resin varnish, thinned with odorless mineral spirits (OMS to varnish 5:1), to act as a retouch varnish. This can be applied much sooner than a final varnish as it allows the paint to continue to dry. A light coating of this also has much less gloss than a full coat of final varnish.

Photographing the paintings

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve arrived at a completely satisfactory method of photographing the paintings. I’ll go into more detail on what I’m doing in that respect in a future post.

The start

I’ve been pretty consistent in recent weeks with painting every day and finishing two small painting each week. I’ve just posted my first painting (above, top), which was painted at a nearby state park several weeks ago (with a few finishing touches in the studio).

Progress reports

I’ll try to occasionally report on my progress here, as I learn what works for me and what doesn’t.

Of course, I’m always open to comments or suggestions from others who have engaged in the process.

It’s all about learning.

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