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Art Questions, Art Tutorials, Painting

Neutral colours vs. muddy mixes

Some watercolourists seem to find it hard to make the difference between neutral colours (especially browns) and muddy mixes. There is a huge variety of browns that are clean, transparent and without a hint of mud in them, not even the detoxifying cleansing spa kind.

Unlike primary and secondary colours that are found on the rim of the colour wheel, neutral colours sit in the centre. They are obtained when a primary colour is mixed with its opposite secondary colour, also called complementary colour.

Depending on the proportions used, most of these mixes are brown, while some tend towards grey. The main complementary neutral mixes are as follows:

  • Yellow + purple
  • Red + green
  • Blue + orange

All of these mixes are clean neutral colours with a potential to turn to mud…

So what makes the difference between a clean neutral brown and a muddy one?

Here are a few things to avoid if you have to put your wellies on every time you try to mix a neutral colour:

  • Poor quality paints. This first one seems obvious but low quality paints are full of fillers, which are made of various substances (mainly chalk) that affect the saturation levels, transparency and brilliance of the paint. Fillers are used to bulk out the paint, filling the tubes or pans with anything but pigments, which are the most expensive component of the paint. This way the manufacturer saves money and the paints are cheaper. Don’t be tempted by cheap paints, even if the manufacturer calls them “artist range’. If the paint is cheap, the ingredients are cheap.
  • Too many pigments. Try to stick to single pigment paints. Every pigment reflects different sections of the light spectrum and too many pigments will fight each other to death and leave behind a muddy battlefield. Imagine mixing a green made of 4 pigments with an orange made of 3 pigments. This gives you a mix of 7 different pigments and it is bound to turn nasty.
  • Opaque paints. These tend to overwhelm the transparent paints and the washes will lose their transparency and delicate finish.
  • Dense pigments. Some pigments (Cadmiums are a good example) are extremely dense as well as opaque. The other pigments simply cannot compete with them and as a result the mixes become heavy and have too much covering power. The transparency and freshness of the washes is lost.
  • Overworking the paint. It is possible to have a clean neutral mix in the palette but ruining it on the paper by overworking the paint. Browns are especially susceptible to this. If the paint is moved around too much, the layering of the pigment becomes uneven and creates unwanted texture that looks dirty and “tired”.
  • Mixing too much paint. Thick washes are definitely not helping when it comes to keeping colours clean. Make sure to use a small amount of paint with plenty of water. It is safer to layer several washes of thin paint than to apply the colour in one thick wash. Remember this only works with transparent paints.
  • Proportion is the key. Any two colours mixed together can produce an infinity of colours. Try to identify the bias of your neutral colour before you start mixing: is it a blue-biased grey, a red-biased brown, a yellow-biased grey green? This will give you an indication of the proportions. This is important because if the proportions are wrong and the colour not what you were aiming for, it is tempting to add more and more paint until the mix becomes thick and muddy and a mountain of frustration.

If you are having trouble with muddy browns, I would bet that you have been doing one or several of the things above.

Hopefully this will help clean your neutral colours!

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Happy painting!

News, News 2017, Painting

A postcard from 1923

I have a new hobby: I am painting plants and insects on the back of vintage postcards, from the Victorian era up to pre world war II. Some are still blank but others were written and sent.

I love reading the faded words, inspecting the old stamps, imagining the people writing soft and loving words to long gone birthday girls. I place my designs in a way that the name of the recipient of the card is still visible, as well as the sender’s signature and their parting words. The body of the message is usually mundane but the last words often moving. This is where true affection shows itself: “Hope to see you soon now, just two more weeks, with best love”, “With fondest love, Mummie and Daddie xxxxxx”, “Lots of love, Auntie Lizzie and Auntie Pat”.

Were Auntie Lizzie and Auntie Pat two unmarried sisters living together, writing to their niece for her birthday? Why was “Dear little Ivy” far away from Mummie and Daddie on her birthday? We will never know… but they missed her.

I like the names as well: Ivy, Beatie, Ethel, Gladys, Florence, Norah, Ella…

When these cards were sent the image on the front was exposed in the collection or pinned on the wall. A hundred years later, the writing on the back is more precious and certainly more mysterious. The cards meant enough to the recipients that they kept them and they survived for a century. I am hoping that my paintings are giving the words another breath of life, and the inscribed side (with often beautiful handwriting) is now under the glass instead of against the wall. Sweet words telling stories and turning into art.

Sweet so far anyway. I have yet to find one full of insults and bad wishes. If I do, I will use it to paint a venomous spider…

These paintings will be exhibited during my Hampshire Artists Open Studio in a couple of weeks.

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Art courses, News, News 2017, Painting

Hampshire Artists Open Studios

Hello everyone!

It is the time of year to open studio doors and welcome people to see my work and have a chat!

My studio, house and garden will be open from Friday 25 to Monday 28, with a preview on the Thursday evening.

I will be painting most of the time so you can see me working but this year I am also running two workshops, Saturday and Sunday afternoon. These will be from 2 to 4pm, in the studio or in the garden depending on the weather, all materials provided, with a maximum of 4 participants so you will get lots of attention! (Even if you would rather not ;D) If you are interested in taking part, you can email me at sandrine.courses@gmail.com

I will have many paintings exhibited, from small work starting under £50 to large paintings, as well as cards and folios. A black wall and a white wall, flowers and fruit and bugs… I will also have some of my textile work on show.

Now back to painting the walls of the living room in preparation for the event… Ooohhh, new colour!

I hope to see you soon,

Sandrine

 

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Drawing, News, News 2017, Painting

The Ethical Artist – New article in Artists & Illustrators Magazine

The Artists & Illustrators Magazine May issue is out!

I have another article in there, and this time it’s not about botanical art: it’s called “The Ethical Artist” and it’s about looking at where our art materials come from and what they are made off.

I did quite a bit of research and got in touch with lots of manufacturers, who were all forthcoming with their info, so there will be more blog posts about the results. For example, I tested a dozen different synthetic brushes (not being a fan of sable fur farms…) and found some treasures I need to tell you about.

In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the A&I article… Here is the first page.

Happy reading!

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Art Questions, Drawing

How to transfer a drawing

If like me you do a lot of erasing before you can be happy with a drawing, then drawing straight on watercolour paper is not really an option. Because botanical painting is cut to white, any trace of erasing, smudging, or marking on the paper will stand out and completely ruin the feeling of freshness that is so desirable when you paint flowers.

An easy way to solve this is to draw first in a sketchbook, trace the drawing and then transfer it to watercolour paper. This gives you some gorgeous sketchbooks to peruse through for years to come, a beautiful record of your work, the comfort to know that there is no pressure and you can erase to your heart’s content, and a clean, smudge-free drawing on your precious watercolour paper. It also gives you a master copy of the drawing, should you mess up the painting and have to start again (it happens…)

What you need:

  • Cartridge paper or sketchbook
  • Tracing paper
  • Tracedown transfer paper (it looks like the old fashioned carbon paper, minus the grease and the wax)
  • Watercolour paper
  • A normal pencil and a coloured one
  • Soft putty rubber (I like the Maped grey putty rubber)

How it works:

  • First you draw your subject, either on cartridge paper or in a sketchbook.
  • Trace the drawing with a normal graphite pencil on tracing paper (the lower quality the better: if it is too thick, the line won’t go through at the next stage)
  • Position your tracing on the watercolour paper and use little bits of soft putty rubber to hold it in place
  • Slide the Tracedown transfer paper between the tracing paper and the watercolour paper, dark side down
  • Using a coloured pencil, go over the drawing
  • Remove the tracing and transfer paper: Tadaaa! You have a clean drawing on the watercolour paper

 

Here is a video I posted on my YouTube channel Flora’s Patch, which shows the whole process: