27 May 2009

what has happened to arches?

yes, what has happened to arches papers? i thought my occasional bad experiences with their 600gsm sheets (specifically the double elephant or 29" x 41" sheets) were just luck of the half irish. what kind of bad experiences? how about a tuft of what appeared to be lint mixed with human hair stuck in the middle of the sheet, buried in the pulp, that had to be carefully trimmed down to the surface? or, in another sheet, a patch of denser pulp that repelled paint even when the patch was scraped slightly and scrubbed with a brush as paint was applied.

then a painter i admire wrote me about problems *she* was having with arches sheets, problems she took to the manufacturer and to which Arches responded in a generous manner. but one off gestures to repair the relationship with the artist do not get at the underlying problems with the paper.

case in point: the 29" x 41" figure nude of sienna, which i had to abandon because of inexplicable blotching across her ... well, across the part of the image that i could not disguise with texture, pattern, dark values or strong color contrasts.

i know how to store and handle papers; i wash my hands before handling papers, and i do not bruise or abrade papers accidentally or on purpose. these blotches get darker grossly darker when the paper is wet, implying the flaw is in the pulp.

the companion painting disclosed a different flaw -- a small cluster or spray of white dots, each about 1mm in diameter, covering an irregular, elongated area about 6 cm/sq. these dots, whatever they are, repel paint and cannot be worn down or lifted by judicious scraping with an xacto knife. they appear in a mid valued area where i can probably disguise them with texture.

i am a habitual user of Arches watercolor blocks, both the 300gsm and 600gsm sheets, and in general the 300gsm (140 lb.) blocks have a rock solid consistency. i recently purchased some 20 year old 300gsm blocks from an artist who wanted to offload her inventory, and the quality of the 300gsm sheets 20 years ago and today is indistinguishable.

in contrast, the 600gsm block sheets seem a little erratic to me; the surface in particular seems less finished and more unpredictable. so i have a conjecture: all the 600gsm weight papers are made in a separate line or at a separate manufactory, under separate or subsidiary management from the higher volume plants. if so, someone from Arches corporate (well, Arjo Wiggins or whoever owns them now) should drive out to that plant and do a quality and process review. something unhappy is happening to arches papers.

23 May 2009

bearded irises

watercolor on Arches CP 300gsm, 14" x 10.

jan's garden has come into full bloom so i spent a few days photographing and selecting some flowers for painting.

i justified cutting these irises because a heat snap would have cooked them dry. they are an almost black violet with gleams of red. i used ultramarine violet darkened and warmed with cadmium scarlet, and quinacridone magenta for the highlights.

this is just a recreational painting: freehand drawing, quick blocking in of color, little attention to detail or composition. the vase has a water glass shape but is actually a foot tall. the blossoms were about 13cm wide.

the stalks ended in a single blossom. after i posed and drew the flowers and started the painting, the stalks went through the death process and the central blossom opened, then the other buds opened after the two large flowers shriveled up. the plant exposed as much of its pollen as possible before the flowers were gone. it was sad to watch, but also inspiring.

15 May 2009

trinity (color study)

watercolor on Arches CP 300gsm, 14" x 10".

this color study was prepared to evaluate a color scheme that i intend for a series of mirror poses with trinity. i also wanted to explore ways to model her hair on cold pressed paper, and play around with the composition.

the hair turned out to be more work than i intended but the method i used -- lifting paint from a foundation layer of synthetic black (perylene maroon, phthalo green, a little phthalo blue), then painting into the highlights with the component colors, then shaping the darks with a second application of black -- gave the hair a softness i hadn't expected.

i foregrounded the figure by painting the flesh tones in burnt sienna, cadmium scarlet, benzimida maroon and cobalt teal, over a foundation wash of raw sienna, then contrasting it with the ultramarine violet wall color and the greenish brown frame of the mirror. the figure within the mirror is painted with cadmium red and chromium oxide green, shaded with phthalo blue. as a final step i laid a light wash of phthalo blue over the reflection, to push it back, but i'm not satisfied with the result.

i shaped trinity's portrait toward a contemplative, almost wistful expression. trinity told me stories of her teenage years in gymnastics and the many recent positive changes in her adult life, she seemed to be looking both inward and outward. i have also begun to see consciousness as fundamentally an image projected by physicality into identity, the vanitas theme of the middle ages and renaissance.

01 May 2009


watercolor on Arches CP 300gsm, 14" x 10".

it has been a while since i've done a decent self, and the pic i've been using on facebook and elsewhere, all in green with glaring purple eyes, makes me look like a stalker. so i did this one in a couple of days, between trinity paintings, to get my image up to date.

i used the tripod and shutter delay to pose in front of a studio wall. i chose the yellow wall because it is sunny and cheerful, and after all summer is icumen in and laud sang obama.

i am physiologically smile impaired. my normal smile is more like a smirk, and anything that shows teeth makes me look like i'm clenching for a dental exam. some people are gifted with a smile that sits in their face like a nightingale in the golden tree. anyway, i took about 20 photos to get one that looked human.

background is cadmium yellow deep; sweater is perylene maroon and phthalo green. flesh tones are benzimida maroon (a great portrait shadow color), pyrrole orange, cadmium scarlet and burnt sienna, all over a base tone of titanium zinc antimony stannate (winsor & newton "turner's yellow"). this turned out to be too lemony for a good flesh highlight, so i knocked it down with a very light glaze of manganese violet, which was also used (with phthalo green) to mute and darken the shadow modeling. used a gray of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to rough in the hair, and a dulled mixture of olive green for texture.