Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stillman and Birn Gamma Sketchbook

Stillman & Birn's Gamma Series sketchbook is the fifth of the beautiful journals the company sent me to try. Available in several sizes with either a hard cover or a wirebound hard cover, the Gamma Series has 100lb ivory vellum archival paper. It's a very light ivory, not so dark that white strokes show up dramatically. The color gives a warm glow to anything drawn or painted on it and the heavy weight allows a variety of mixed media uses.

The paper is the same as the Stillman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook, its only difference is the ivory color. So I decided to test it again thoroughly with different mediums. Seeing how the ivory paper affects color in sketches and trying out a couple of dry mediums I didn't use in the Alpha for my review seemed like a good idea.

I trusted that it'd handle dry mediums well enough when I reviewed the Alpha. What I didn't realize was how great the surface was with them, whether I want broken color or blended smooth color areas. This paper, in both the Alpha and Gamma versions, shines for everything I've used on it.

I love the texture on the Stillman & Birn Gamma paper for drawing with Conte. Here's a sketch done with the traditional sketching colors, black, bistre and sanguine. I worked loosely, smudged, skittered the sticks across the page and got excellent broken color from the vellum surface. It's versatile. Not so toothy that I can't get soft blended edges or even use penwork, yet rough enough that broken color is easy.

I used SpectraFix casein fixative on this page. It's a good idea to use fixative on colored pencils paintings or drawings to prevent wax bloom. With pastels, pastel pencils or Conte drawings, even soft graphite drawings, fixative helps keep them from smearing on the facing page. At worst, smears on the facing page migrate into light areas of the drawing facing it.

For permanent storage, the hard cover Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook fits neatly on any bookcase and looks classy with its plain black binding. This is the type of bound sketchbook that gives an art journal a sense of special formality. I know in the past I was nervous about using hardbound sketchbooks at all for fear of messing up a page when it's so elegant.

Don't be afraid to experiment in the Gamma sketchbook. The strong Gamma paper stands up well to erasing and reworking for any dry medium. Any pages you're not satisfied with can always be reworked later or dated to show your progress.

One thing I like about the size is that the 8 1/2" x 11" Gamma sketchbook fits on a normal scanner unlike any of the 9" x 12" ones. That size range varies, but having a scanner sized sketchbook makes it much easier to post your pages online. If you don't have a camera tripod, it can be hard to snap photos of artwork without blurring. So having scanner sized pages makes it a lot easier to keep a digital record in case my sketchbooks are damaged by a flood or lost in a move.

Below is an oil pastel still life in my hardbound Stillman & Birn Gamma sketchbook. Oil pastels are a little different. Unlike Conte crayons, colored pencils or other dry mediums, they have mineral oils in them that never completely dry. Sometimes these oils can seep through sketchbook paper to appear on the reverse.

The strong paper with its sizing kept the oils in my oil pastels page from coming through at all. I could use watercolors on the reverse of this page with no problem. That's important to me because oil pastel is one of my favorite sketch mediums as well as a serious painting medium.

Because the hard covers are light proof, I can even use cheap student oil pastels in my sketchbook without worrying about fading. So I'm always on the lookout for papers that take them well. They're a portable, convenient color medium for studies in their cheapest form and it's a lot of fun to experiment, trusting that the paper will stand up to my experiments.

So if this paper stands up well to oil pastels and Conte crayons, I trust it'll be fine with colored pencils. It's toothy and should take some serious layering if you want to play with your Prismacolors on it. Stick to light applications till your final blending if you want to maximize layering though

Naturally I wanted to see how the Gamma paper holds up to light washes. Except that my example wasn't a light wash by the time I was done with it. I'd call it a heavy wash. I used Stabilo Point 88 fine tip watersoluble pens in a color set that came with my Carb-Othello pastel pencils.

Once I'd sketched the scene using half a dozen colors, I started washing by color area and pushing color around. I scrubbed hard in some areas to almost completely dissolve my pen lines, leaving only faint echoes if that. I dabbed color into damp areas from darker areas for wet in wet effects. What happened was some very slight curling at the edge when it was completely soggy and finished. That flattened out as it dried and the scanner finished flattening it to minimal.

This paper stands up to wet techniques and mixed media so well that I won't hesitate to use watersoluble pencils, watercolor sketching or any water media in it. The label says "light washes" but it stands up to some heavy washing too with minimal cockles. My main suggestion is to leave a bit of space between the edge of your painting and the edge of the paper if you're going to get really soggy, unlike what I just did. I'd rather have left about an inch but by then I had to keep going to get the composition right.

Stillman & Birn Gamma paper will put up with mistakes like that and come back strong. I'm happy with this beautiful sketchbook and know that I'll definitely replace it when it's full - these are a joy to work in and an inducement to sketch and paint more often.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

SoHo Urban Artist Gouache

When I reviewed my Ebony Splendor Brights brushes, I didn't realize that I hadn't already reviewed the SoHo Urban Artist Gouache that I tested them with. I used them with the SoHo Urban Artist Acrylics but didn't post that example - only the gouache painting I did with them. Well, here it is again in context.

This is an example of the kind of subtle mixing and texturing possible with SoHo Urban Artist Gouache. The set's regular price at Jerry's Artarama is $9.99 for 12 big 30ml pots of rich, highly pigmented designer gouache. Pigments are non-toxic and binder is gum arabic - this is traditional opaque watercolor suitable for any illustration uses, sketchbooks, art journaling, sign painting, color mixing and color theory courses, recreating medieval and Renaissance illuminations (the miniature artworks and borders in manuscripts, scrolls and documents).

Because lightfastness is not mentioned with this product, I do not recommend it for wall paintings that may be exposed to light. If you use it for those purposes, consider a UV protective varnish and glazing the painting with UV protective museum glass or acrylic. It's possible to preserve fugitive mediums and I expect the lightfastness to be better than children's products, but not up in the range of expensive artist grade gouaches like Lukas, Holbein or Winsor & Newton.

In fact, even in those top quality artist grade gouaches, it's important to check the lightfastness rating of the pigments you choose. That's only a consideration in one sort of gouache painting - those that hang framed on walls. For all other applications, this is excellent gouache and can be used for any design or illustration purpose. ACEO/ATC miniature artworks are normally kept in albums with UV-protective sleeves on them, so I don't concern myself with lightfast mediums when doing them other than to caution the buyer or recipieent that I may have used some fugitive colors. Don't display gouache paintings for a long time, store in cool dark places and enjoy.

This makes them perfect for art journaling since the bound artworks aren't exposed to light until you open the book to that page. I'd suggest using lightfast acrylics for cover decoration on art journals.

I've used gouache for decades. A good gouache is opaque but can be thinned till it behaves like watercolor, which takes a lot of water. It can be as runny as ink or used as a heavy body paint that even takes some texturing strokes with a bristle brush.

The quality and pigment load are comparable to Yarka/Richeson gouache, along with the price. Yarka's a couple of dollars more and the pots are 40ml instead of 30ml, making this set a little bit more compact. The quantity of paint for that price is excellent in both products. The mixing qualities are splendid.

The red is a good spectrum red that tints to clean magenta or rose with just a touch of violet. The blue is a spectrum blue that's very deep and dark, it reminds me of Prussian Blue and probably is. Cool it toward Ultramarine with just a touch of the deep brilliant violet. Yellow is a clean primary yellow that doesn't lean as greenish as lemon or as orange-cast as a Cadmium Yellow Medium. You can retain full saturation around the color wheel with just the colors in the set.

Three classic useful earths are included, a deep brown earth, Yellow Ochre and an iron oxide red. For landscapes it's very useful to have Iron Oxide Red as one of your hues, it'll balance the vivid greens and modulate them.

Gouache is the perfect medium for color studies. If you're a serious pastelist, it can be a wonderful underpainting medium and used by itself is the wet medium that comes closest to the effects of pastel. Use with a bristle brush to get strong textured strokes or a softer brush like the Ebony Splendor multi-media brushes when you'd rather blend smoothly.

If you're teaching a class in color theory, these inexpensive sets plus a couple of Ebony Splendor brushes are the perfect medium to have your class test mixtures, create color wheels, study any aspect of color and structure. You can mix all the secondary and tertiary hues from the primaries or use the included secondary colors to get vivid tertiaries.

Black and white allow for tints and shades to create good value map sketches in monochrome or tint and shade any color for an infinite variety of hues.

One of the advantages of Gouache is that it's rewettable. Some types of gouache reconstitute better than others if dried. You can put some of this paint into a palette and create pre-mixed colors, even if they're dried into it you can rehydrate to thin or thick texture as desired.

Just like the Yarka set of gouache that I won in the 1990s for a medieval scroll painting competition, the jars don't have a perfect seal. The paint may thicken and crack, taking on a texture more like heavy mud or even drying solid. My set was slightly dried when I got it, some colors more than others.

Light goes over dark easily. This is one of the ways it's so good for creating studies to plan pastel, acrylic or oil paintings. Dry brushing can create broken color and interesting optical mixing. Loose marbling effects are easy to achieve by not thoroughly blending mixtures - drag a brush with one color through a patch of another on your palette, swirl once and mix on the painting. There is a reason gouache is beloved by traditional art schools and design studios - it's that versatility and opacity.

Here's where the quality of SoHo Urban Artist gouache really comes in. Rehydrating dried-up pots is a slow process. Add a little water and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. This softens the surface of the dried up paint and helps it rehydrate better. Then take a paint stirrer, can be anything, plastic, metal, a popsicle stick or toothpick, and stir patiently until all lumps have been smoothed out.

I've rehydrated two of the twelve colors now and the process went quickly. The dried paint softened in only a few hours and stirring the lumps away didn't take as long as I expected. So don't throw them away if you open a jar and it's dried up. Just put some water in up to the level the paint should be at, let it settle for a few hours and gently stir. Wipe any paint off the lip of the jar when you close it and out of the threads. This will both help keep too much air from getting in and also prevent a dried-paint seal that would make it harder to open later.

Of course, the sooner you catch the paint drying out, the faster and easier it is to whip it back to creamy smoothness. Texture should be something like thick house paint at its optimum. You don't need to lose even a speck of the paint. So if you like using pan watercolors, consider putting a good dab into the wells of a small folding palette to create a portable set. It'll rewet easily out in the field too when you want to do color studies for later studio painting.

These are great. Have fun illustrating your webcomic, illuminating an award scroll for any occasion, creating ATCs, art journaling and don't worry about it if your kids or grandkids want to join in. It's safe for grownups to share these paints with smaller loved ones. If your cat walks through it, just rinse his paws off in the sink. I still wouldn't advise eating nontoxic paint but it's a very useful thing to be able to illustrate with cat and kid safe supplies!

Ebony Splendor Brushes and Derwent App

One of the most useful items in the big box of review products Jerry's Artarama sent me is a seven piece set of Ebony Splendor multi media brushes. What I tried is the Brights set, but other sets are available - Filbert, Rounds with both long and short handle sets and Wash brushes with short handles. Prices for the sets range from $19.99 to $24.99 but these are a frequent sale item. Watch for bargains up to 50% off on individual brushes or sets in this series.

These are true multi-media workhorses. I used mine with gouache, acrylics and watercolor. It doesn't matter what consistency of paint I'm using. They're soft enough for watercolor and strong enough to shove around full body acrylics. You'll get more bristle texture from a stiffer nylon brush if you want them to look more like oils, but the multi-filament structure of these brushes stood up to my tests for use with both thin bodied and heavy body paints.

When I first opened up the package, my 32 year old daughter was thrilled with this brush set. I'm ordering another set because she definitely put these on her Christmas list, especially once I opened it and we tried them with watercolors and acrylics. I want the long handled round set and the Wash Set because these are such good quality that I feel a need to expand my range.

Below is a gouache painting I did using the smaller Brights. The smallest two sizes are good miniature brushes with excellent shaping and razor edges. The size 2 looks a little more than 1/16th inch wide - more like 3/32", definitely smaller than 1/8" and still a perfectly shaped small bright. The next up size is about 1/8" and so on up the line. The biggest is a convenient 7/8" bright, one that I reach for every time I look to wet the paper or lay in a big wash.

In painting, it helps to use the largest brush you can for the area or layer you're doing. The size range in these seven brush sets is excellent for that. I can work to any size in my comfort zone. Wash brushes are 1/2", 3/4" and 1" sizes.

The wooden handles are varnished with a mtransparent burgundy finish, very distinctive, with black dipped ends. They're not scraper ends but work well enough as scrapers with how thick the black enamel is at the end, easy to wipe paint off if you use them to sign or carve lines into the paint. The grip is pleasingly shaped, though of course the handles have gradated sizes and the big giant brush is a bit wide.

I'm fond of good synthetic brushes. These may not be "the butt hairs of an exotic male weasel caught in winter" as my daughter teases me about Kolinsky brushes, but they are reasonably priced and perform beautifully.

Right now these excellent brushes are half price - $9.99 for the $19.99 sets and $11.99 for the $24.99 sets. So if you miss this sale, watch for it again. They're definitely a high quality workhorse brush. You may want to get both the long and short handle sets though, because acrylic use over time wears out brushes differently than watercolor does and if you use any of them with oils, you won't want to use that brush again with watermedia. Grabbing a lot of them on sale is a good way to get around the demands of different mediums and always have the size and shape you need.

I did not test my Ebony Splendor brushes to destruction by letting acrylic dry in the hairs. By previous experience, you can sometimes revive a gunked up brush using a good brush cleaner/conditioner soap or dishwashing liquid. But it's much better to keep them wet while they're in use and rinse them immediately with the solvent for whatever paint you're using.

They've definitely become my favorite brights. While I do finger-shape them after washing, they dry perfectly into their original shape rather than splaying out the way some natural hair brushes do when they're dry. Some sophisticated technology went into creating the mix of synthetic hairs in these brushes.

They may not last as long as a Kolinsky sable, but there are uses for old battered fuzzy brushes too. I'll add notes on their condition when they start wearing out for a home test of longevity, but so far they survived their first few months of use in pristine condition. I do use The Masters' Brush Cleaner/Conditioner on all of my brushes, synthetic or natural, so this is qualified by "when well cared for."

Any brush, if you leave it hairs end down in a jar of water, will get hopelessly mashed and bent. Even the best brushes don't survive that treatment and having gobs of dried oils or acrylic sticking the hairs together is another brush-killer. These are strong for synthetic brushes and some of my other synthetics have showed wear under the same number of uses I've put these through. Definitely a bargain for a high quality synthetic brush, especially when they're on sale. Stock up on them to always have the size and shape you need for thick or thin bodied paint.

I also recently got an iPhone4. Not the latest-best 4S but the previous latest-best that's now half price. Of course I got some drawing apps for it that I'll review in a later article after I've learned to use the new medium. I'm reviewing the Derwent App first though, because I am so fond of Derwent's products and it's so darn convenient for checking up on them.

It's got Hints and Tips videos and articles embedded in it, plenty of the sorts of fun things you can find online at Derwent's site.

Easy to navigate, it includes a bar code reader so that the unidentified black pencil that still has its sticker on it and says Derwent, you can find out what it is and what it does, whether it's lightfast, which range it is and get some hints and tips on using it easily. Very useful if you're at a store, see some colorful new product from Derwent and want to find out a lot more about it using your phone than the display tells you.

The lightfastness charts and color charts arrows direct you to the Derwent site, which you can read if you double tap the screen to zoom in to a comfortable reading size. So it's not a big library of information right within your phone if you're not online, however you can copy these charts and turn it into one if you like. The videos link to YouTube.

It's a fun little app that puts the Derwent site into your hands for convenience without having to type the link in. Also you can add your art to your personal Gallery using the app, or contribute it to the Global Gallery, surf around and see others' artwork done with Derwent products.

It's free, it's fun and easy to use, so definitely worth a download if you like using Derwent's products. Just watch your data plan usage for the videos, see if you can download them rather than watch them repeatedly on streaming.