paintings · Tutorials

A word about student paint

“Jorge – Zorn Palette” approx. 4×6″ oil on unstretched canvas. (From a canvas pad.) If loving Jorge Salinas is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

So… I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to do a review, or perhaps a treatise, on the subject of student-quality paints.

Lately I’ve had reason to shop at the North-American-based chain craft/art supply stores, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. I realized that for many people, these types of stores are their only access to art materials, at least hands-on. So, I thought I’d explore what it would be like for a new artist to try to select paints (oils or acrylics) from one of these stores, while also being budget-minded.

So I purchased some oil and acrylic sets from both stores (haven’t finished collecting my samples yet) with the intent of trying them out and reporting back what I experienced.

An overview of chain craft store brand paints. Continue reading “A word about student paint”


A bit about alkyds… (overview/tutorial)

I’m going to add a brief entry to my “tutorials” section. It’s not much, but I feel badly that I haven’t been updating the blog as frequently. (It’s summer, what can I say? I went on another road trip last week.)

I’ve dabbled in alkyds (fast-drying oils) for a long time now. I first tried it in art school, many moons ago. I think that at the time we only had Winsor & Newton brand. The first impression I had of alkyds (back then) was that they weren’t as opaque as regular oils, and they had a kind of “waxy” texture. But they were quite workable, and I loved the fast drying time!

"Jason in Shadow," 5x7" alkyd on Gessobord. Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca (model) and Portia Shao (photographer) for the use of the stock reference photo.
“Jason in Shadow,” 5×7″ alkyd on Gessobord. Thanks to Jason Aaron Baca (model) and Portia Shao (photographer) for the use of the stock reference photo.

Here’s an alkyd study I did recently. Now we have several brands of alkyds to choose from, and they don’t seem as “waxy” as they used to, way back. But they are still quick-drying!

I typically use Liquin (an alkyd medium) when I paint in alkyds. This should help speed drying time more. I find that usually in less than a day (depending on the paint thickness) the painting is dry enough, and ready to be worked on again.

Here’s another recent alkyd painting (WORK IN PROGRESS!).

“Blue Hair,” 12×12″ oil (alkyds) on canvas panel. WORK IN PROGRESS!!!! Thanks to Cathleen Tarawhiti on DeviantArt for the stock photo I used as reference.

With “Blue Hair,” the painting was dry to the touch later the same day, so I was able to do some work in the morning/noonish, and do a little more later on in the day. Amazing! I love my alkyds.

Even though we have several brands of alkyds to choose from (as opposed to just W&N’s alkyds, back in the day), I wish there were even more brands and colors available. Winsor & Newton’s “Griffin” brand has recently discontinued all cadmium colors. I understand that they have probably made this decision because cadmiums have some toxicity, but cadmium “hues” aren’t the same—cadmiums have an opacity and denseness that cannot be replicated in “hues.” Fortunately, the other alkyd brands (C.A.S., DaVinci, and Gamblin) do still carry cadmiums.

Each brand of alkyd has their own properties. I think DaVincis tend to be very thick and stiff. (Kind of like Old Holland in that respect.) I will still use them, am very grateful for DaVinci’s line of alkyds, but given a choice, I prefer something a little more buttery. Gamblin’s “FastMatte” alkyds are pretty good, soft and buttery, though I wish they carried more colors. CAS is a good quality brand, but sometimes their customer service sucks if you order from their site. (Long, long story there. For another time!) Griffins have a good consistency and I think a decent pigment load, but I miss the cadmium colors.

Alkyds have, in some form or another, been around for many decades. I’ve heard that studies indicate that they are “stable” and I am comfortable using them. My old paintings done in art school still seem rich and vibrant as ever. As long as we use pigments that are strong and light-fast, I think they’re an awesome alternative to regular oils. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to mix alkyds with regular oils. (Many artists use an alkyd white with their regular oils, which tends to speed up drying time on all the paints.) Some manufacturers of regular oils sell a “fast drying” white, which is often made with alkyds, for artists who enjoy the fast-drying properties of alkyds but don’t want to use a whole set of alkyd colors.

This page has a good overview of alkyds.

paintings · portraits

Señorita, oil on panel

Back from a longish break (Colorado! I went to Colorado!). I did a fluffy cat painting the other day (need to create a blog entry about it) and tonight it is Señorita, a 10×10″ painting on panel.

“Señorita,” 10×10 inches, oil on panel

This is another painting from my “novela” series (inspired by the Mexican soap operas, you can read more about it at the bottom of this post). I liked her expression—emotional, but not sad, beautiful, and slightly dramatic. And with lots of bright pastel colors!

I painted this on a 10×10 inch panel, with a textured acrylic primer (“gesso”). It’s an interesting texture that I’ve learned to like—it’s not always what I want, but sometimes it’s interesting to use it. The panel is thicker (around 1/2″ thick or maybe a bit less) with a dovetail slot (you can learn more about dovetail slots here). You can either hang the painting on the wall as-is (with the dovetail slot) or frame it like you would any other regular painting.

paintings · portraits


“Indecision,” 8×8″ oil on panel

I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with this one. I loved the drama (drama, drama, drama! 😀 ) of the expression and the pose. I tried to keep the brushstrokes loose, but sometimes that doesn’t always work out.

The panel was primed with an oil-based primer, which makes it so nice for wipeaway and texture, like you see in the background. I first covered the whole panel with a thin wash of a brown, which I then wiped away, keeping some of the color to stain the background and also to show the texture of the priming brushstrokes.

The expression is a bit ambiguous. Is she afraid, scared? I think she is indecisive, ready to make a decision and not sure which way she’ll go. But interpreting her expression is up to the viewer to decide.

paintings · portraits


“Eavesdropping,” 6×8″ oil on linen panel (Gatorboard).

I finally had enough, it’s done, it’s done!

This is another painting from my “novela” series (which I explain better at the bottom of this post), where I explore emotions in more depth. I always enjoy doing these paintings—so many expressions to capture! Totally love it.

I fussed with this painting for a while (you can read more of my struggles here) and decided it’s time to let it go. Time to move on to another painting! Even with the frustrating moments, I still enjoyed painting this one very much.

This painting was also my first attempt at painting on a New Traditions Art Panel, which is a bit ooh la-la and high end (too good for me! Ha!) but I had to try them out. (I’m such an art materials junkie!) I liked the lightness and sturdiness of the Gatorboard (which is like a super stable foam board with an unbendable quality) and the linen was very smooth, but somehow it seemed to suck in the paint. A bit weird to paint with. I think there are probably other linens from New Traditions that I’ll like better. (And if I don’t, oh well, I still have RayMar and Sourcetek!)

paintings · portraits

Profiles: Overworked, underworked, will I ever get it right?

I’ve been a busy, busy bee, painting and painting and painting!

This post is the story of two profile paintings, and learning when to stop, or in other words, am I quitting too soon? Or going too far? I am still learning and don’t always get it right.

The other day I started a painting, got it sort of “done,” and posted it on Facebook. I got some compliments. But I didn’t think I was done! So I did some more to it. And then even more. And I do NOT think it’s improved. I should have quit while I was ahead.

So tonight, I did a little oil sketch and “quit while I was ahead.” Maybe I’ll have to find a few dabs here and there to touch up, but I very much hope that there won’t be much more to add to it.

Blue Shadows, 6×8″ oil on panel

Thanks to hermitmessiah on DeviantArt for the use of the stock photo. I found the reference photo so fascinating because of the strong color shifts, and wanted to try to capture warm/cool temperatures in the blues and greens in the shadows and reflected light, as well as the muted flesh tones. Also loved the overall pose and expression.

Here’s the painting from the other day that I should have also quit while I was ahead, but didn’t.

Eavesdropping, 6×8″ oil on linen panel.

There’s a little more I need to do; it’s probably not “ruined” (at least I hope not) but I should have just stopped earlier.

The problem was, it didn’t look enough like the reference photo, and while it doesn’t have to be an exact likeness (I was going for a feel, and expression, not the likeness per se), I wanted the likeness a little better! I mourn the loss of the original version, which was fresher and simpler, but didn’t look like the guy in the photo at all.

This painting is part of my “novela” series, which I find great fun, so many wonderful expressions and emotions to explore!

Misc. Stuff · paintings

Oil paint & Sap Green/Alizarin Crimson palette

A couple of things to write about today.

“Mercy” miniature painting, 4×4 inches, oil on Gessobord

First, I’ve been toying with the thought of using a limited palette of White, Sap Green, and Alizarin Crimson (Permanent). One of my favorite artists, John Larriva, has been playing with variations of this palette for a while, and that inspired me!

Mercy converted to B&W. Interesting! Click on image to see larger version.

Just because I felt like it, I also converted this image to B&W to see how it would look. It’s said that you can tell if the values of your painting are correct if it still looks okay in B&W. I think my painting passed the test (I hope?).

Anyway, about the limited palette: I used Liquitex Everwhite, Dick Blick’s Alizarin Crimson Permanent, and Williamsburg Sap Green. (More about the Everwhite later in this post! 🙂 )

I found the whole experience of limiting myself to just these colors, Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson Perm., and White, to be really challenging! I wasn’t sure I could do it at first. I desperately yearned for a yellow. But after a while, I got used to it and realized that it was starting to come together. It’s a bit like the Zorn Palette (see an example of that here) in that you have to think of warm and cool tones, and not so much about getting the right blue, yellow, or red. Mixing the green and the crimson together will make a pretty good dark (almost black) and it’s amazing how the flesh tones finally start to “click” after a while when you’re mixing. I’ll have to try this again sometime soon.

Okay, the other thing: Liquitex Everwhite! It’s no longer being made! An artist friend was showing me his collection of yard sale oil paints and it was the mother lode for a paint geek like me! Brand new, still in box, never used, Liquitex oil paint! I asked him if I could buy the large 150 mL tube of white, and he was willing. The tube was untouched, unused, and with a copyright date of 1980. And it was still as fresh and as buttery as it was all those decades ago! So I used it for today’s painting.

Squee! Over 34 years old! And still fresh and buttery!

This is a testimony to anyone who wonders—will my paint last? Yes, oil paint lasts for a long, long time. Occasionally you’ll have a paint mishap, where the tube gets a little hole in it  or something, but assuming that the tube is sealed and undamaged, there’s no reason to worry about your paint drying out before its time. So stock up now if you can, and scour those garage sales!


After a long absence . . .

There’s really no excuse for such a long absence from this blog. Other than I’ve been busy and that a lot of positive changes have happened!

I’ve been studying more, and was able to attend a workshop taught by a wonderful young artist, Adam Clague. I’ve also taken some private lessons with him. His instruction has helped me immeasurably and I’m so grateful to him!

And, I’ve been able to paint a lot more, and work from life a lot more. These are vitally important to an artist’s development.

And lastly, I got myself a new studio! It’s a mess, but was very much needed. One of my friends said that renting this studio has given me more confidence and “seriousness” about my art. I think she’s right.

Well, that’s enough of the updates. Here are a few paintings that I’ve done in the last few months:

“Green Ribbon in Her Hair” oil on panel, 8×8″.

I whine about this painting, but I’m glad it’s done. I was trying to apply many of the things I’ve learned under Adam Clague’s tutelage. I realize that there’s much more to learn. I had fun with this painting, using some Charvin brand paint (with a limited palette). I love all the variety of colors available from Charvin.


“Zorn Palette, Jason Aaron Baca” 5×7″ oil on gessobord.

Thank you to Jason Aaron Baca on DeviantArt for the use of the stock photo as reference. Photographer Portia Shao: Model: Jason Aaron Baca

I really enjoyed painting this little study. It was painted entirely with the “Zorn Palette,” a limited palette consisting of only: Vermillion Red (orange-red), Yellow Ochre, Black, and White.

The palette is inspired by Anders Zorn, who is getting a lot of attention from artists lately. (He recently had a big show in San Francisco.) In some of his paintings he focused so much on form and value, as well as temperature (“warm” vs. “cool” colors) that he could get by with just these four colors! The black paint is “cool” (almost blueish) and can substitute for a blue when needed.

You’ll see in the painting above the greenish tints in his 5-o’clock shadow, as well as the background color? All done with these four colors. I mixed the black and yellow together to get the green, and black and white gave me a “cool” grey (which can almost pass for a muted blue) which I used in the background.

The Zorn Palette is awesome. It helps the artist focus on values and shapes and brushwork, without agonizing too much over a myriad of color mixing choices. Sometimes, you don’t need any other colors other than the Zorn four (white, black, red, and yellow!).



“Intense” oil sketch 6×8″

“Intense” 6×8 inches, oil on panel

This is a small painting I did on a Raymar panel several months ago. From my “novela” series, I continue to explore different expressions and emotions in these portrait sketches. I love Raymar panels, by the way. This is the simple acrylic-primed panel with a semi-smooth texture (for portraiture).

Another aim of this portrait sketch was to try to be less “fussy” (obsessed with picky details) in my painting technique. This attempt was partially successful.

paintings · portraits

“Suspicion” portrait study in oil

Another in my series of paintings exploring human expression and emotion, inspired by those melodramatic Spanish-language soap operas. (So much crying and angst! So over-the-top! So campy! I love this stuff!) Other paintings in this series are “Sad Tears,”  “Sideway Glance, and Roger.”

I started working on this series because I needed the practice (an interesting excuse to paint little portrait studies) and I thought the challenge of trying to capture the expressions was a needed exercise. Plus I love those Spanish soaps! I started watching them years ago (off and on) and they really have helped with my Spanish comprehension.

“Suspicion” oil on oil-primed linen, 8×8 inches.

I used SourceTek‘s fantastic oil-primed linen. Oh my word, I can’t say enough about SourceTek. When I put the first brushstrokes down on an oil-primed SourceTek panel, I stopped and went, “Whoa!” Kind of like if I’d eaten an especially luscious piece of chocolate. It was that sublime. You just had to be there. The way it took the paint, the texture . . . *sigh* Seriously, I’m in love with these panels. I’ve also got a nice little order of oil-primed linen from RayMar, and I anticipate a similar reaction.

I use good quality paints of various brands. Some of them standard quality “artist grade” (like Winsor & Newton’s Artist Oils and Grumbacher’s Pre-Tested) but I also have some heady, high-end super-duper fancy oil paints. Like Vasari. Sigh and say it with me . . . Vasari.

Vasari is super rich, super smooth, and super-expensive. I had Yellow Ochre (a cheaper pigment) on my palette when I worked on this painting. Other colors (from less expensive brands) were Alizarin Crimson (Permanent variety), Cadmium Red Light, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue, Red Iron Oxide, Naples Yellow, Burnt Carmine (Rembrandt brand—I LOVE this color!), and a Titanium-Zinc White.

Some day I’ll devote a whole blog post to some of my favorite paint brands, as well as more about the colors I like best. But not in this post.

This painting was started several months ago, was shelved as I got sidetracked with other things, and then I returned to it. There was some fussing and fiddling that went into it (getting the proportions of the head correct took a little longer than it should have) but finally I think it’s done. I feel like the painting style here harks back a little bit too much to my illustration roots (I studied illustration in art school) but that’s okay. I’m simply glad to have it done. Onto the next painting!