This week I was planning on drawing another self portrait in pencil, finishing current paintings, and start a new canvas. Monday night changed all that. I attended the P.A.L. meeting and Art talk. Artist Clemmie King discussed Chinese Brush painting; history, technique, equipment, and so on.
It made me realize that most artists are really nerds about their work. Contrary to the messy and free-wheeling caricatures of artists perpetuated everywhere (are we all Jackson Pollacks and Vincent Van Goghs?), artists care more for the quality and consistency of brushes or the hue and texture of paint. Ms. King told us Monday night of her journey to find the right brush for her paintings: from Hobby Lobby, to Windsor & Newton, and finally to Japanese brushes. Once she found the right one, she’s used it for 16 years (a Japanese brush). With this brush she created, right before our eyes, a tall bamboo stalk with leaves with only 7 brush strokes: full of detail, light, and texture.
Most of the artists I met that night personally relate to the quest for the perfect brush. I have had the perfect brush before, a sable, Windsor Newton Series 7, number 9. I see now that it is $350 per brush, I paid $150 back then. Does a brush that expensive really matter? Depends on the artist and the media. I am happy with inexpensive, nylon, flat brushes for acrylic painting. I use them down to soft little nubs in about three months. I admit, I scumble my acrylic and oil paints: scrubbing the paint into my canvases. Especially over large areas. I reserve angle brushes and small, round brushes for details and finishing touches. But watercolor is different. My Windsor Newton sable brush can hold a lot of watercolor and yet lay it down smoothly, even to a fine point, if needed. Cheap brushes start with delicate, narrow tips but once you use them a few times, the point widens and become erratic. Also, they hold little watercolor, which means more dips in the palette.
While energized by the talk of brushes, I met artist, Marion Huff, who was seeking more submissions for a Mixed Media Art show in Livermore . The deadline was only two days away but I was overdue for a still life or two and after Ms. King’s demonstration, I had a hankering for watercolor and my beloved brushes.
I must explain that I was taught by an old fashion watercolor artist; we never sketched with pencil first, we saved our whites, gradually built up our darks, and layering wash upon wash wash to develop a picture. It is hard for me to break away from this mode and using mixed media felt sinful. I painted two still life settings for this show and they both felt like cheating, like eating donuts while on a diet. I still used the same watercolor techniques, gradually adding color and form. Then I blissfully inked the lines in the still life, bringing a crispness to the soft lines that inevitably occur with 20 pale washes. I also heightened the color and highlights using acrylic paint! I still left whites for highlights but the extra sheen in the water glass, the rim of the wine glass, and the mug were from acrylics. And, finally, I couldn’t resist using coffee for the cup of coffee and wine for the glass of wine.
To paint with the beverages, I brewed extra dark coffee and let it sit for a few hours to give me an even darker blend. Then I painted with Windsor & Newton (but student grade), just as I would watercolor. Same with the wine, but it did not noticeably darken as I waited. Perhaps I should try painting with a port or even balsamic vinegar.
I had so much fun with the three beverages I went to Whole Foods and bought pears. I love painting pears and apples and frequently will sketch them as a warm up to a larger work. This time, I used the same technique as the Water, Coffee, Wine painting but without utilizing beverages. I started with watercolor, then sharpened the lines and darks with ink and finally added acrylic for stronger highlights and brilliant hues (especially on the pomegranate and apple). I include a photo of the set up (now with my computer cord running through it).