Northern Vermont on Memorial Day

What an unusual warm, sunny dry late May weekend in Northern Vermont.  Wildflowers are blooming that usually bloom mid June and the lake water temperature is in the mid 60’s; those are swimming temperatures!  Loons are swimming on the lake, but are quiet at night.  Barred owls are calling to each other at night.  Early in the weekend south winds brought very warm air; later in the weekend a shift to west winds brought clear skies, drier air, but still warm temperatures.  Black flies are starting to bite, butterflies are everywhere, fishing boats are out on the lake, and the hummingbirds are visiting the feeders.  Can it be any more beautiful than this in the northeast kingdom?

Palette Layout

Gamblin has an interesting article posted on their website about color; it describes color theory and discusses using color theory as a principle for laying out your colors on the palette: 

The article suggests a way of putting your paints on a color wheel and then opening up the color wheel to create a linear layout for the paints on your palette.

I made a diagram of the paints I wanted to use most of the time on my palette, and did a similar layout of the paint on my palette, going from yellow to orange to red to violet to blue to green.  Here’s a photo of the paint on my palette:

Obviously, a lot of the paint has been used and mixed, but you can see that the layout follows the Gamblin design.  The yellow is at the left of the palette to keep it separate from the blues and greens that would green the yellow color.  The reds and oranges are in the middle.  I used a warm and a cool pigment for each color and added an indian yellow as an extra yellow and a bit of cobalt blue between the warm ultramarine and the cool manganese blue.

“Flume Pond in Winter” 16×12 oil on canvas board

I used this palette for a painting of a coastal pond near my house. The pond is ringed with Phragmites and other marsh plants; there is a connection visible in the distance to the bay and a sandy strip where water exchange takes place between the pond (mostly fresh water) and the bay (salt water).  There is snow at the edges of the pond and in the marsh.

I think the palette layout helped me in choosing and mixing colors.  I don’t usually put violet on my palette, but I found myself using it as one of my darks because of it’s location on the palette.  The manganese blue made a nice sky color; I used mostly ultramarine, mixed with white, for the pond water.  Although I did put two oranges on my palette, I think I only needed the raw sienna.   The painting is bright and colorful, but it was a bright winter day on the marsh. I’m going to try using this palette layout for my paintings this summer to see if it continues to please me.

Gamblin Oils Limited Palette

I ordered a limited palette selection of Gamblin oil colors for another sketch of coastal oaks.  Gamblin offers a broad selection of very useful colors; I selected five colors that were similar to the palette I used for the Utrecht and Daniel Smith sketching exercises.
 The ultramarine blue, quinacridone red, burnt sienna and cadmium yellow light are the same as in the other palettes; added was a tube of indian yellow.  Also sent free was a tube of “Torrit Grey”; every spring, Gamblin Artists Colors collects a wealth of pigments from their Torit® Air Filtration system. They filter the air around the areas where they handle dry pigments so that the workers are not exposed to pigment dust. Rather than sending any of the high quality, expensive pigments into the landfill, Gamblin paint makers recycle them into “Gamblin Torrit Grey” which is sent free each spring to purchasers of their paint.  The color of the mix this year is a dark brown with a very stiff consistency.  I did use it in some of the darker portions of the painting.

Some explanation of the coastal oak habitat I’ve been painting is in order.  Along the coastal plain there is an ecosystem with a mix of oak species and scrub pines.  The soil is sandy and the plants are subject to coastal storms and harsh conditions.  Because of these severe conditions the oaks are often gnarled, with spreading branches low to the ground.  The ground is covered with oak leaves and filtered light reaches the floor of the forest at most times of the year.  Vines and briars make walking in this habitat difficult unless there is a trail that has been cut.  Deer and coyote use this habitat, as do rabbits and many bird species. The light on the trunks of the trees makes for an interesting painting subject.

I liked the Gamblin oil colors that I worked with.  I particularly liked the Cadmium Yellow Light, which was lighter and brighter than the Utrecht Cadmium Yellow Light.  It is light enough and bright enough to be a substitute for a lemon yellow.  It had good color intensity.  The Indian Yellow was an orange yellow earth color that I found to be very useful for depicting the oak leaves on the forest floor; it blended well with the red and burnt sienna.  With ultramarine blue, it formed a wonderful olive green color, making it a very useful landscape color. I used titanium white in all my comparison sketches; I used it with ultramarine blue for light blue sky color and to add the light accents on the tree trunks (a lightened yellow was used as well).  Darks were made with ultramarine blue, quinacridone red and burnt sienna in various combinations.  Both lightened burnt sienna and indian yellow were used in the trail color.  Good tree greens were made with the blue and cadmium yellow.  I was quite satisfied with this limited palette; I liked the buttery consistency of the Gamblin paints and would definitely use them again.  The torrit grey was a very stiff paint; it was useful for a few dark accents, but I liked the darks I mixed myself from the limited palette better.

Here’s the almost finished sketch along a trail filled with coastal oaks.  It is interesting to look at all three of the limited palette sketches (See the page with recent artwork here.) Although all three of the paintings were done with similar limited palettes and similar subject matter, the overall color and look of each of the paintings is different.  I’d be interested to read comments from you about which paints and which colors you liked the best.

Of course, the final question is “Which of the brands of paint did you like the best?”.  All of them were quality paints with the ability to provide good color in paintings.  Only Utrecht and Gamblin offer cadmium colors.  I know that Daniel Smith doesn’t offer them because of concerns about cadmium; however, it seems that the Gamblin cadmium paints have a very low toxicity.  Here I quote Gamblin:
“American manufacturers of cadmium pigments have developed production systems that yield cadmium pigments that are relatively insoluble in the human digestive system. They have been so successful that Gamblin Cadmium oil colors DO NOT REQUIRE an ASTM health-warning label for ingestion. Over 25 years ago when I first started making oil colors, cadmium pigments were much more soluble in the human system than they are now. Cadmium pigments contained about 1000 parts per million (PPM) bio available cadmium. Now cadmium pigments that I choose to make Gamblin Artists Colors contain only about 5 PPM cadmium that can be absorbed through ingestion.”

Gamblin provides “Studio Notes” on painting with their painting materials, including safety of their paints and working without solvents (which is how I paint).  I have found all their resource material very helpful.  Utrecht provides only a small amount of resource material about their paints, although on line there is full information about the pigment composition of their paints.  Daniel Smith used to offer a lot more information about their materials on line, less so today, particularly for their oil colors.  The pigment composition is there though if you search for it.  And I did find (after a lot of searching) an interactive color wheel for their watercolor colors here.

The consistency of both the Utrecht and Gamblin paints was excellent.  Most of the Daniel Smith colors were good, too, except for some separation of the paint and linseed oil as I noted before.  Daniel Smith has the broadest range of colors, but offers no cadmium colors.  Their cadmium “hues” are very expensive.

I think one could paint happily with any of these brands of paint.  Gamblin paints are slightly more expensive than the other two brands, but buying large tubes and shopping when the paints are on sale and when the “on line” merchants are offering free shipping makes the the paints competitive with one another.  All of these paints are good alternatives to the European brands like Winsor and Newton. So, if you want to “buy US” and have good paints, these manufacturers offer you a quality alternative.

Utrecht Limited Palette

Here’s another limited palette exercise, this time using oil paints from Utrecht.  The palette includes Cadmium yellow light, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Permanent, Ultramarine blue, Burnt sienna and Titanium white.

I liked the consistency of all the paints; only the Ultramarine blue had some separation of oil from the paint on the palette.  I used Burnt Sienna, Alizarin, and yellow in the underpainting.   Without the Terre Verte that was on my Daniel Smith palette, I found that some shades of green were hard to achieve.  I used quite a bit of white to lighten the yellow for highlights in the trees.  A mix of the Alizarin, blue and sienna made a good dark, and the Alizarin alone was good for the leaves of the Japanese Maple tree.  Sienna lighted with white worked well for the ground around the grassy areas.  I liked the Utrecht paints, but found this particular limited palette had me wishing to add  lighter yellow and a greener blue.

Painting with Daniel Smith Oils

I’ve decided to do a series of paintings using a limited palette of oil paints from different manufacturers.  I’m starting with oil paints from Daniel Smith, a producer of watercolor and oil paints located in Seattle, Washington.  I’ve used and liked their watercolor paints, but their oils are relatively new to me.  Below is a photo of the palette I used for painting:

Clockwise from the top left are Hansa Yellow medium, Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Red, Terre Verte, Titanium white, and Yellow Ochre.  Notice the big pool of linseed oil separating out from the yellow ochre, almost as if the paint was not thoroughly mixed.  I’ve had this experience with several other tubes of Daniel Smith paint, and it’s bothersome.  The other pigments behaved well.  The Hansa Yellow is very transparent and seems to disappear in mixtures; I don’t like it as well as the Cadmium yellows that I usually use.

Here’s the beginning of the painting, showing the sky painted in and some of the other large masses painted.  The Ultramarine Blue with white made a nice pale sky and the ochre, with white and some red, duplicated the driveway well.
I used the blue, the red, the yellow and the ochre for the trunks of the trees, using white to create the highlights on the trunks.  The terre verte was a nice dark green for the conifers; mixed with the yellow it made good grass color.  The yellow with white and just a touch of the terre verte worked for the leaves, but I also used yellow and ultramarine blue for a darker brighter green.  For the dark shadows I used blue, red and some ochre.  Here’s the painting nearing completion, all painted with palette knife.  No solvents were used.
I liked the Daniel Smith Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Red (behaves much like Alizarin), and Terre Verte.  I found the Hansa Yellow (medium) easily covered up in mixtures and not nearly as bright as I would have liked.  The Yellow Ochre was a good color, both straight and in mixtures, but I was unhappy with all the linseed oil that separated and pooled on my palette.  I should mention, too, that I’ve had the caps on several tubes of Daniel Smith paint break; I would wish for studier caps, although when I complained they very kindly sent me replacement caps.