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!

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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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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New tutorial video on YoutTube: Apricot Parrot Tulip

Hello everyone,

I have done a video tutorial of the Apricot Parrot Tulip that was published in Artists & Illustrators (April 2017 issue). Here is the link:

Happy watching!

Article in Artists & Illustrators Magazine – Parrot Tulip Masterclass

Hello everyone,

The April issue of A&I Magazine is out, with my Apricot Tulip Masterclass on a 4 page spread. I always find it exciting to see my paintings published…

There are 2 other botanical artists’ tutorials in the issue, by Fiona Swapp and Mariella Baldwin. So if you like botanical art, this is an issue worth investing in!

I’m off to West Dean College on Sunday, to run a 4 days residential course, painting spring flowers. Tulips, Hyacinths, daffodils, anemones, primroses, snowdrops and hellebores are on the programme…

Have a lovely week-end everyone,

Happy painting!

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Update on Fabriano Artistico – 1st February 2017

Hello everyone,

I thought it was time to write an update on the Fabriano Artistico paper situation.

Unfortunately, for the moment, the report is that there is nothing much to report on the paper front. The October earthquake in Italy hit the Pioraco Mill and the roof collapsed, damaging some of the machinery. Fortunately nobody was hurt but paper production at the mill has stopped. The other Fabriano mills have to make up for the loss of production and are working extra shifts to cover. This means no time for experiments… at least for the next few months. It will still happen, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer, probably after the summer.

In the meanwhile, here is a work in progress on Fabriano Artistico.

My thanks to Chiara from Fabriano for the info. I will post more news here about Fabriano Artistico next time I have something to report…

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Watercolour pans vs. tubes

This is a question that I am asked a lot: is it better to use tubes or pans to build your watercolour palette?

As usual, the answer is never quite straightforward and it really depends on how you use your watercolours the most.

Do you paint large or small? Do you travel a lot, especially by plane? Do you leave your paintings unfinished for ages before picking them up again? Which brand do you use? Are you likely to fall in love with a beautiful colour box that will become part of your inspiration and you won’t be able to sleep if it’s out of sight?

All of these will be a factor in your choice for a new paint box.

Size of paintings

If you like to paint miniatures and small paintings, pans are a good choice. They allow you to pick only a little paint at a time, without wasting huge amount that will wash down the sink.

If you prefer to paint large pictures, forever going back and forth from the pans to the palette in order to mix a sufficient quantity of paint will drive you mad. Squeezing larger amounts of colour on the palette and mixing in wells will work much better.

Travelling

Pan boxes are much more convenient than tube boxes when travelling. Most of them include a palette in the lids, they take less room, they are less messy, more practical and less likely to let you down. Nobody wants to be stuck in the Papua New Guinea rainforest with a tube that won’t open.

If you travel by air, there is another consideration: some airlines won’t accept tube paints because they are likely to burst under pressure changes, leak all over people’s luggage or even explode. Pans are less treacherous.

Attention span

If you start and finish each painting in one go over no more than a couple of weeks, pans and tubes are equally good.

However, if you have the attention span of a butterfly, your mixes might stay on your palette for months (years?) Most manufacturers have different formulations for tube/pan paints. In order to stay wet in the tube – as long as it is air tight- the tube formula contains more Gum Arabic. This means that the paint is more prone to flaking after drying. If left on the palette for too long and rewetted repeatedly, it will start to become lumpy and goodbye smooth washes. (Which is why you must never squeeze tube paints into pans and keep them for ages.) Pan paints on the other hand are formulated to dry and be rewetted many times. So if you tend to flutter from one painting to another and back again, pans are better.

There is a notable exception to this general principle: brands that only produce tube paints (such as Daniel Smith) formulate them so that they behave as pans. They can be rewetted without being exaggeratingly troublesome and can therefore be squeezed into pans.

Tidiness

If you require extreme tidiness to work, tubes have the advantage. Pan boxes can get pretty messy, especially if neglected. They are high maintenance and require a regular clean up. This is especially true for the light colours, such as yellows, Permanent Rose, magentas, light greens… With tubes, you can wash the palette after the painting is finished and start afresh with clean colours.

Glamour and inspiration

When I look at my pan paintbox and my wooden box of tubes, I know exactly which one I like best.

My beautiful French Victorian paintbox with all the pans arranged in colour rows gives me a little catch in the heart every time I look at it. In comparison, the box of tubes is sort of “Meh…” Tools of the trade rather than inspirational grace.

As you can see from the pictures, I have both. I use my paintbox all the time, at home, for courses, when travelling… But I also have the same colours in tubes. These are useful when I fancy working on a larger scale. I also keep a couple of tubes in my pan paintbox: Lemon Yellow (so that it stays clean), Sap Green and Perylene Violet (because I use them a lot). I also have a tube of Winsor & Newton Smalt Blue, which was an anniversary limited edition and was never released in a pan version.

Now you can take all of this into consideration and make your choice…

If you have other reasons in favour of one or the other, please don’t hesitate to write a comment. It will help readers to make their choice.

Happy painting!

 

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Botanical Bites – my new painting series

holly-cropOn this brisk and sunny Sunday afternoon I should be outside enjoying the fresh air and doing some gardening… But I went clubbing on Friday night and went to an ice-hockey match last night. Two late nights in a row, I’m too old for this. So today, I am sprawled out on the sofa in front of the fireplace, making some crochet snowflakes instead of enjoying the plein air.

I also started a new series on Instagram called Botanical Bites.

I will regularly upload short videos showing painting in action.

I have just uploaded the first one, the painting of a wet-in-wet holly berry. All videos are less than one minute long, just a little bite, easy to swallow! Here is a link: https:www.instagram.com/sandrinemaugy

Every so often I will gather a few bites together and make a video for my YouTube channel.

Let me know what you think. Do you like the idea?

Happy painting!

 

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Sunflower video- 4th part posted on YouTube

Good morning!

I posted the fourth and last part of the sunflower demonstration on YouTube. (Finally!!)

Here is a link:

I hope you enjoy it,

Happy painting!

Designing a Christmas card

While the rules of composition apply to card design, composition and design are two different things.

When composing a painting, the artist has to take into account depth and perspective, the mood they want to convey, the size and orientation of the picture as well as the mount’s placement. If illustrating for a book, practical issues come into play as well, with the format and space allocated to illustrations.

Designing for a card has one principal element: impact. The space on a greeting card is limited and the painting has to have maximum impact in this reduced space. The priorities change: perhaps depth and shadows are less important than striking colours, and realistic depictions can give way to slightly looser, more eye-catching pictures.

Composing a painting looks at the real subject and draws directly from it, in whatever style you choose. Design takes you one further step away from your subject.

Here are a few things to have in mind while designing a Christmas card:

  • Composition rules

I will write a different post on composition so I will not go into the rules in great detail here. The same applies for a painting and for a card: the movement of the composition needs to lead the eye around the picture and special care should be taken with negative shapes. The composition should be balanced, in shapes and in colours.

  • Scale
autumninksketch

The bleed is drawn around the edge and taken into account when calculating card proportions

The first thing to work out with a design is the shape of the finished picture. For example, if the card is 10 x 10 cm, the original painting has to be 10 x 10 cm as well, or in scale with the card so that it can be reduced to 10 x 10cm. The details on a reduced painting will look impressive but by reducing too much there is a risk of losing them and thus lessening impact. I would not recommend designing a smaller painting and enlarge it for a card, as the details and edges would look scruffy.

  • Edges

The decision on how to treat the edges needs to be taken early in the design process. The painting needs to sit well within the edges or it has to overlap the edges enough to print without leaving a white space around the design. This is called the “bleed” and if not considered properly it might ruin the card design at the printing stage.

  • Be original

While people might prefer a classic composition for a painting on the wall, a greeting card is the perfect space to be more creative and playful with the subject. Someone opening an envelope will react to the card in a split second, so the image needs to be arresting in order to get a second, more in-depth look.

  • Make it personal
autumninkink

Ink on watercolour paper

A Christmas card is meant to convey personal wishes. A personal card that means something to you and/or the receiver will be appreciated, especially compared to the mass produced banalities that circulate by the hundreds. If you have a pet, a favourite tree in your garden, or a pretty thatched cottage, include them in the design. If the receiver of the card lives in a beautiful thatched cottage, ignore those negative jealous feelings and paint an image of their gorgeous home (in the snow, with a reindeer in the front garden) for them.

Above all, have a relaxed, enjoyable time designing your cards. If it’s chilly outside, add a hot toddy to the painting process. It will help loosen up these drawing skills…

Happy painting!

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