Easy Paint Tool SAI

One of the benefits of Ubuntu flaking out on me is that I have been able to play with some Windows only software that I generally wouldn’t. I just didn’t want to reboot every time I took it into my head to do some art.

I DL’d the demo of Easy Paint Tool SAI yesterday and started fiddling with it. It’s got some very nice blend options on brushes as well as a really good blur tool. I could see very good uses for this software. It’s also got the simplest interface for rotating your work that I’ve ever seen. Just like you can swivel around a piece of paper to give yourself a better angle for drawing, you can swivel your image in SAI.

Hopefully I’ll have a bit of something to share that was made using SAI in the next few days.

Review: Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette

Sta-Wet Super Pro PaletteFor Father’s day, two of my girls got me a Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette.  I have had a few chances to use it, at home and at class, and so far I like it a lot.

Description: The Sta-Wet palettes are all pretty similar.  “Super Pro” refers to the size.  12″x16x”1.75″.  It’s easily large enough to hold your favorite pad of palette paper or a rectangular palette for oil painting.

The Sta-Wet palettes come with a sponge-and-film system for keeping acrylic paints wet.  The idea is that the thin sponge stays wet, and the paints can leech that water out of the sponge through a specially prepared palette film.  I have tried this in a smaller model, and can confirm that it greatly improves the wet time of acrylics – even low-viscosity and craft paint.

The palette comes with “feet” on both sides so you can turn it upside down for watercolor.  The lid (from an oil-painter’s perspective) is formed with wells and divided mixing areas for watercolor.

Performance: The Sta-Wet palette has performed like a champ for me.  I go to class once a week, so my oil paints are always dry in between.  When I came back to class this week, the source piles of paint on my palette were completely wet.  There wasn’t even a skin on them.  My mixed paint did not fair as well, but there was still a fair amount of usable paint left over.

The two halves of the palette come together with a seal you can hear and feel.  Taking the pieces apart requires a small amount of effort to overcome the vacuum, but shouldn’t be a problem for anyone healthy enough to stand up and paint for any length of time.  Painters with particularly weak hands might want to look into the more Tupperware-like “Palette Seal“.

The unit comes with a sticky-backed sheet of eight transparent rubber feet, four for each half.  They do an excellent job of holding the smooth-bottomed palette still on slippery tables.  I have only used half of them, since I never paint in watercolor.  I was considering using the extras on my 11″x14” glass palette to hold it still in the center of the Sta-Wet palette.

Value: The Sta-Wet palette has an MSRP of $25, and costs only $20 at DickBlick.com.  I have paints that cost up to $50 for a 37mL tube.  Anything that reduces the amount of paint that I have to scrape off my palette because it’s dried up is a great value and will pay for itself fairly quickly.  When you add in the additional features of portability, multi-functionality, and stability, it’s a great buy.

Measurable Improvement

61b436fa47273fe1e06a3ec413be2536.cacheYou know what they say, practice makes perfect better.

I started my next painting yesterday at Brushworks. This one is a plaster cast (taken, one assumes, from a statue of some kind) of one quarter of a face. It contains the eye, cheek, and eyebrow.

It’s really quite similar to doing a still life.  The difference here is one of focus.  In still life, you’re interested mostly in composition.  There are also questions of color, shape harmony, negative space, etc.

Casts, on the other hand, are all about value.  (insert Barenaked Ladies reference here)  My own value scale is pretty tight, particularly in the mid tones.  This means that I have a tendency not to make the steps in value in my paintings large enough, resulting in a flat-looking, boring image.  Since the cast is white, all you have to worry about are the values as shadows proceed across the surface.  This ability to focus will be very useful, I think.

0572293a70fe5b392d2f1cc2c4b0c6c3.cache Yesterday I did the initial charcoal drawing.  Once again, I learned fun new things.  My charcoal is way too soft and dark for initial underdrawing; vine charcoal is on my shopping list for the future.  I have definitely gotten faster at the initial drawing.  I’ve also gotten far more accurate.  When I did my first sight-size drawing for the still life with vases, I had to redo almost every measurement by the time it was over.  This time, I really only had one set of measurements that were off, and the most complicated part (the eye) was fine after the first try.  I’m pretty proud of myself.

Next week, I should start putting paint on the canvas.

It was a good week to paint

Another week, another layer of paint.
This week the focus was on the background. My original thought was to use a looser style with more visible brush calligraphy in the back. It would evoke the complex texture of the background (a sort of shiny, embossed fabric) and add visual interest.
Unfortunately, in practice it ended up passing “interesting” and moving into “busy and overwhelming” so I had to smooth out the transitions.
However, it wasn’t a total waste. I think I managed to turn a lot of the sharp crease-like value changes into a more gentle roll feel. I also fixed my darks so they were more in line with the rest of the background.

I also got some very nice glow in at the edges of the picture (not that visible in this photo) using Daniel Green “golden ochre” painted thinly wet-into-wet into the green.

Obligatory school pride/socialization plug – if you are interested in art, you should come take classes along with me at Brushworks. 🙂

Patty also hates me and wants me to be poor – she told me about a sale on that same Daniel Green paint for up to 85% off. That’s $10 for a tube of Cadmium Red, instead of close to $50. I should probably scoot out there this weekend and see if they have any Ultramarine left – I’m getting really low. Not to mention that the more I use my M. Graham and Winsor-Newton paints, the less patience I have for the stiffness and lack of staying power from my Winton tubes. 🙂

This is my first WIP photo taken using my new phone. It works well. It’s nice to have a camera that’s worth a darn in my pocket. I might be able to start taking more snaps. 🙂

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Hues are weird. The lure of private lessons. Optical illusions

As usual, Thursday night this week was my art class at Brushworks.  This is week #3 of the new painting, and I got to put some paint on the canvas.  The smaller of the two ceramic pieces was really difficult to get quite right in my drawing.  I think it is just that a small error is a much larger % of the total size of the piece, and last week when I got around to that, my arms were tired and kind of shaky.  but on top of that, it’s very shiny.  The lights reflect off it.  The other elements of the composition reflect off of it.  It really takes an effort to look at it, and not the false contours that the reflections can create.  I am thinking this will be a fun challenge.

This was my first time using straight paint as the first layer.  For my first painting, I used extremely thin paint mixed with turpenoid for an imprimatur.  This time we forewent imprimatur and just went straight to paint.  That, friends and neighbors, kind of sucks.  There was no hyperbole involved when Patty told me to “scrub the paint into the canvas.”  It took me most of an hour to get one thin coat of paint on an 11×14 canvas (including color mixing time.)

Color mixing was interesting tonight.  The large vase is a horsehair raku piece, so most of it is gray.  Patty told me confidently, “Start with burnt sienna.”  The mind boggles.  However, burnt sienna + a ridiculous amount of white + a smidgen of blue later, and voila!  Pretty much dead on for the lightest colors on the thing.  It also happens that Patty’s own still life has a background with similar colors to mine, and in the midst of mixing her still life, she had my proper color.  She was using M. Graham viridian green and titanium white.  I have those colors!  Only, not really.  I have W&N Winton “viridian green hue.”  It looks pretty nice alone.  It’s even interesting with yellow.  However, it becomes a bizarre and unnaturally bright/saturated color when mixed with white.  Adding some crimson to key it down didn’t really work.  I ended up with a gray that was still too bright.  Patty, always a gracious teacher, shared some of her viridian with me.  Grumbacher in this case, but still an actual viridian rather than a hue.

Luckily, my darling wife and several of our darling children were already in St Paul so I asked them to head to Wet Paint and pick up a tube of M. Graham viridian for me.  I really like that paint.  I started off just impressed that there was a line of professional grade paint that was similarly priced to the student lines.  Then I used it a bit and became pleased, and now I am creeping up on downright excited.

Last night was unusual for one other reason:  Everyone else from class was either out sick or out of town.  It was just me and Patty.  In other words, a private lesson.  That was really cool.  I had her attention whenever I needed to ask a question, or found myself at a loss as to where to proceed next.  I definitely understand why people pay a lot of money for 1-on-1 art instruction.  If I had more spare cash, I would consider it myself.  I also got to watch a bit as Patty painted.  Just standing there and watching her, and asking the occasional question, is almost a lesson in itself.

I think I am really going to enjoy this painting.  It has the makings of a serious challenge, and also a platform from which to learn a variety of techniques.  The combination of materials I’m painting is going to tax my ability to draw transparency, reflection, fine detail, texture, and light.  I absolutely expect it to suck when I am done, but I bet I’ll be a much better painter.

Learning to set up a still life

My latest adventure in art, at least at class, is a still-life painting.  There is a lot more to creating a still life composition than I really understood before.

Negative spaces are a subject that I don’t think enough about.  This is not just true of still life, but also of all my paintings.   Repetition is helping me remember to consider it.

I took a whole mess of things, because I wasn’t sure what I would need, or how much.  I ended up just using two objects.  They are both ceramics made by my lovely wife.  They ended up set up with an almost guitaresque negative space between them, and a triangular formation between the tall vase and the short inkwell.  Then we added some folded cloth for another triangle and some contrast.  I quite liked it, in the end.  That took about an hour.

Once the still life was set up and taped down, we marked my viewing point and the location of my easel, and I started drawing.  I am doing a “sight-size” drawing, which is a new experience for me.  It involves standing back from the subject and measuring it with a stick or other viewing aid, then turning to your canvas and making a note of where the measurement would be placed.  Then you walk up and mark your measurement.  Rinse, repeat, double-check.  Eventually you (theoretically) have sufficient guide marks to begin drawing the parts of your still life.  In my case, they were largely off, and I had to redo them a few times. 😛  But in the end I had the contour of the large vase done.  Next time around I can start on the smaller piece and the fabric.  Then, I will use carbon transfer paper to move it onto a canvas.

I’m quite enjoying myself.

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