Friday, 15 June 2018

2018 Lightfastness Testing

In January this year I bought some Blue Wool Scale 1-8 Cards and made lightfastness charts with every watercolour paint that I have in the brands that I own.  This means I sometimes have more than one example of a colour to test.  I also included known fugitive colours, some accidentally acquired in sets or dot charts, and one - Rose Madder Genuine - bought for the occasion.

The charts were made with swatches on watercolour paper consisting of Mass Tone and a dilution which still gave a clear colour, and the thick aluminium masks were set so that they covered half the swatch.  The glass is normal picture frame glass to allow maximum light penetration.

The original intention was to use a light box fitted with UV lights, but as it turned out, the tubes weren't numerous or strong enough.  And my electricity meter was whizzing around far to quickly !

So, after setting up the frames and masks and putting everything together,  it was all shelved in the dark until the weather was right.

©2018 Polly o'Leary - Watercolour Paint swatches and Blue Wool Scale card 1-8
Watercolour Paint swatches and Blue Wool Scale card 1-8

The past week has been dry and even occasionally sunny so the test frames have been hung outside daily, facing as close to South as I can get.   I don't wait for sunshine, and hours arent counted as the light here in South Wales is so variable.  Any light will do as I have the Blue Wool Scale to compare with.
©2018 Polly o'Leary - Watercolour paint swatches facing South
Watercolour paint swatches facing South
©2018 Polly o'Leary - Blue Wool Scale 1-8 masked and hung facing South
Blue Wool Scale 1-8 masked and hung facing South

Interim results, at Blue Wool Scale 3 - after just 1 week are interesting.
 ©2018 Polly o'Leary - Blue Wool Scale 3 changes
Blue Wool Scale showing changes to first 3 swatches

Aureolin (yellow) PY40 (Daniel Smith)
The colour most noticeably changed.  It's gone dirty and brown.   My advice, avoid.  The last thing any artist needs is a yellow that goes dirty so quickly.  There are plenty of lovely yellows to play with that won't change so quickly.  If you're really attached to it, maybe do your own Lightfastness Testing.
©2018 Polly o'Leary - PY40 showing colour changing after only 1 week
Aureolin PY40 showing colour changing after only 1 week

Rose Madder Genuine NR9 (W&N)
This is a known fugitive colour and I can't say I know of many who would use it as there are any number of non fugitive alternatives.  However, it hasn't changed as quickly or as much as I expected.    Watch this space.

Brilliant Red Violet  PV1 (Schmincke)
The expected has happened.  The brightness has disappeared across the swatch leaving a reddish purple.  It will be interesting to see how this one develops as time goes on.

Brilliant Blue Violet PV1 (Shmincke)
As PV1 above.

Opera BV11, PR122 (Turner) and Rose Opera PR81:1 (Sennelier)
Both of these make no claim to lightfastness and it's clear to see why.  They have faded substantially in mass tone and diluted.  
However W&N Opera PR122 remains bright and unchanged so far.

Rose Madder Hue PR81, PR122 (Daler Rowney Aquafine)
This has shown clear changes already.  Faded in mass tone and diluted.   There are substitutes that won't change.

Prussian Blue PB27 (W&N, Schmincke)
This has faded substantially.  If it's a favourite of yours, you may wish to do your own lightfastness Testing.

 ©2018 Polly o'Leary - The main watercolour swatches - some showing changes
The main watercolour swatches - some showing changes

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Meconopsis cambrica - Welsh Poppy

A native perennial with a taproot, even when it looks as if it’s been killed by the most severe winter, the Welsh Poppy will bounce back in the spring.  And it doesn’t need much soil, being happy to grow anywhere as long as there is moisture and a little sunshine.

When it came to choosing a native wild flower to paint, this elegant and delicate beauty was an obvious choice, it deserves more attention than it gets and makes a perfect subject for a watercolour painting.  Luckily, I had harvested a few seeds from wild plants some years ago.  I thought they were lost, but late in 2016, they started growing on the patch where they'd been sown. By spring last year, I had several small plants all showing good growth. As with all my paintings, my first move was to make studies of alll aspects of the plant, starting with it's growth habit and working through all the parts - even down to the tiny hairs on the buds and parts of the stems. Initial studies go in my sketchbook. Later studies are done on the paper I will work on.

Initial Leaf Studies Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Initial leaf studies - Welsh Poppy

Initial Studies Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Initial Studies - Welsh poppy

Painting Leaves Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Painting leaves - Welsh poppy

Flower Studies Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Flower studies - Welsh Poppy
 The bright yellow flowers were an enjoyable challenge. I had great fun finding the combination of yellows that would give depth and the correct colour, then working out how to portray the shadows without losing the glowing yellows.  

Yellows and Buds - Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
 Further studies on the flowers


Welsh Poppies on the Good Paper - Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Welsh Poppies on the Good Paper
Close-up of the leaves - Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Close-up of the leaves

 The leaves were a challenge all their own since they change colour even under daylight lamps. Painting them in daylight is clearly the answer, but in a cold, wet, Welsh summer, daylight is somewhat scarce and painting in the rain with watercolour not really practical.  Nevertheless, needs must and it was October by the time I was able to finish the painting, grateful for the mild autumn which allowed the plants to survive longer than usual.

Meconopsis cambrica - Welsh Poppy©2018 Polly o'Leary
Meconopsis cambrica - by Polly o'Leary

Friday, 13 April 2018

The problem of PY153 – New Gamboge, Indian Yellow

PY153 New Gamboge, specifically the W&N version has been my favourite warm yellow, my ‘go to’ colour whenever I need a warm toned yellow. I’ve discovered too late that my tiny tube is about empty, having cut open the end and peeled back the tube has helped, but the day is fast approaching that it will finally be gone.

My first reaction was that there must be some left somewhere, I just have to find it. An evening spent online revealed that sadly, it's too late. There is no more to be had.

I thought that there might be a pigment available to artists that would be a good substitute. Several purchases later I haven’t found one that will serve the purpose. Those which looked promising online arrived and I find they are not as pictured. None will do. Despite being lovely colours in their own right, they are too close to orange and have almost no yellow, even in tints, despite being called yellow.

So I’m left with creating a mix.

The criteria – 
Permanent – all my paints are rated as highly lightfast. Transparent or Semi Transparent – PY153 was listed by W&N as Opaque, but mixing 2 colours to replace it, I feel it’s better to keep transparency if possible as I use it to mix other colours.  Non Granulating. Warm yellow but not orange.  Easily mixed to an exact replacement without endless colour correcting. Has the same colour constancy as PY153.  Works in mixes of greens and oranges producing the same range of colours as W&N New Gamboge PY153 (old).

It’s a tall order!

First I set about choosing the yellows to work with. After spending time looking at the qualities of PY153, I narrowed my choices down to three. Winsor Lemon PY175 (almost Transp.), Permanent lemon PY109 (Transp.), Sennellier Yellow PY154 (almost Transp.) – this pigment is also sold
by W&N and others.

Next, I identified the likely candidates for mixing a credible match to PY153. These I narrowed down to Winsor Orange (yellow shade) PO62 (Opaque), Permanent Deep Yellow PY110 (Semi Opaque) and Winsor Yellow Deep PY65(Semi Transp.). I had hoped that Winsor Yellow Deep PY65 would be a like for like substitute after looking at the swatches on the W&N website but was sadly disappointed.

After a day of careful mixing, matching, and testing, I found that a mix of one from each group would make a very similar colour. However, I wanted as near identical as possible.




Polly's mixes to match New Gamboge PY153
For me, Permanent Lemon PY109 + Winsor Orange PO62 was the closest match and the easiest to get right quickly and reliably. Followed by Winsor Lemon PY175 + Winsor Orange PO62. Both PY110 and PY65 also make good matches with the Lemon paints but are a little trickier to get right.

The best I can recommend is to try out mixes with the colours you have, but make sure you have a good swatch of your New Gamboge PY153 (old) of choice to compare it with. Preferably on the same paper. Also, transparent or near transparent colours work best.
If you have any interesting colour mixes for New Gamboge PY153 (old) let me know.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Paper Matters!

Lately, I have noticed that my favourite Watercolour paper has changed.  When I can work on it, it's jolly hard work - but without the jolly bit.   In fact, I have found myself with paintbrush in one hand and a brush full of gelatine size in the other.  I did at first think it was me.  Painting isn''t one of those things that you just sit down and do, some days it goes well, and some days you wish you were a photographer, although, I'm sure photographers have bad days too!

So it was with a heavy heart that I decided that I would look for another paper to work on.

I like working on Daler Rowney HP, but it only comes in 140lbs, which is ok for really small stuff, but not so good if you want to work bigger and have larger areas of paint.  It cockles.   And before someone tells me to stretch the paper first, yes, this works for some people, but I prefer to keep the sizing where it is, and anyway, that means I would have to keep several pieces ready prepared and stuck to boards, and since my studio space is tiny this really wouldn't work for me.  There's also the problem of availablility with DR HP, it being available in sheets only from one supplier which means a two hour plus round trip - and that's if I'm lucky!

So, as I was taking the trouble to test out several papers I thought it would be of interest to others and I'm putting it here, because there's quite a lot of information.

Each test was conducted with the same paints and brushes.  I tried to make sure the only variable was the paper, but the weather decided to get involved too and some of the tests were conducted on very hot dry days and some on very wet days, although I think the main problem that posed was drying speed so I haven't commented on speed of drying.

The paints - all from Sennelier -  French Ultramarine(PB29)  Sennelier Yellow Light (PY154 )  Rose Madder Lake(PV19) Sennelier Red(PR254) and Sennelier Olive (the old one PO49,PG36) I don't normally use ready mixed greens but this one is very useful as a base and is totally transparent.


Paper Tests - please click on the photos for a larger version

watercolour test on Papers from Saunders Waterford©Polly o'Leary2016
Papers from Saunders Waterford


Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White – New Improved 100% cotton

Fine surface, very smooth both sides.

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Reverse of paper seems easier to work on and results cleaner.
Some cockling even when dry, I would love to try this in a 200lb or 300lb version.

A lovely paper to work on, but lifting after drying is a problem.


Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White

Slight texture on surface. Reverse more regular pattern

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Despite texture, edges clean and fine lines clean.

Nice to work on but needed a little more water

Saunders Waterford Ultra Smooth HP 300gsm 50% cotton

Very smooth paper both sides

W-in-W paint spread nicely, needed a little extra work. Easy to soften edges. Red lifted well
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, needed a little extra work. Nice effect. Sharp clean lines
Leaf – Needed extra work for W-in-W underpainting, but dry brushing very soft effect and clean sharp edges.
Stem – Very difficult to get effect
Green paint lifted leaving lighter green line. Red paint barely lifted leaving a slightly lighter red.
Edges clean and well defined and easy to clean up.
All colours bright.

Saunders Waterford Bockingford HP 300gsm White

Very smooth paper both sides.

W-in-W paint spread nicely and easy to control. Edges easy to soften. Red lifted well.
Petal - Edge colour spread nicely, good effect. Sharp clean detail lines
Leaf – W-in-W spread well, dry brush effect soft and deep. Edges easy to clean up.
Stem – W-in-W easy to control, highlight lifted nicely .
Green paint lifted leaving a clean light green line. Red lifted leaving a red line, but not sharp.
Edges clean and easy to clean up.
Colours bright.


Watercolour paper test D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500
D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500


Langton Prestige HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Slight texture on one side and smooth on reverse. Feels very soft to the touch.

W-in-W - Paint dispersed nicely and edges softened nicely. Red paint lifted almost clean away.
Petal – edge paint bled nicely, little or no manipulation. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, well controlled. Dry brush soft effect.
Stem – Edges pread nicely and easy to lift shine in the middle. Darker edging easy to soften.
Edges clean up easy
Green paint hardly lifted. Red paint both first and second layer lifted slightly.
All colours nice and bright. Texture didn’t affect clean edges or sharp details.

Lovely paper to work on.


Strathmore Imperial 500 HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Much heavier texture than most HP papers. Random texture on front and noticeable pattern on reverse.

W-inW inactive paint didn’t spread much. Difficult to soften edges. Red paint lifted almost clean.
Petal – Edge colour needed persuasion to soften. Fine lines needed more than one sweep.
Leaf - W-in-W spread far too much, soft effect but lacked control – maybe over compensation after first three attempts? Dry brush ok, not too harsh.
Stem – Took longer to persuade paint to spread, several attempts needed. Highlight present but mechanical looking.
Green paint lifted a little. Red paint sat on top of paper, but clean lines when lifted but not to white.
Paper cockled badly when wet but dried flat.

I found this a more difficult paper to work on.


Canson Moulin du Roy HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Very smooth paper, felt it was very like Arches.
W-inW paint spread well, but curiously when dried the colours seem faded. Difficult to soften edges and it shows! Lifting of the red unsuccessful.
Petal – Edge colour didn’t spread in and not successful. Colour when dried very feint.
Leaf – W-in-W spread well but colours feint and needed more than one wash. Dry brushing also needed more work. Effect soft.
Stem – W-in-W needed a lot of work. Doesn’t look as effective as others.
Green paint lifted well. Red paint sat on surface but lifted well, lines clear and defined, but not white.

Didn’t like working on this, and wasn’t impressed that the wash colours looked so faded

Watercolour paper Test Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)


Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is a few years old. It’s difficult to tell which side is which even with a strong magnifying glass. Both sides are very smooth and I painted on both sides too.

W-in-W paint spread out nicely leaving a soft effect. Edges were easy to soften. Lifting of red was mostly successful.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards beautifully and gave exactly the right effect. Sharp lines nicely defined.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, easy to control. Dry brushing gave nice deep colour and very soft effect. Edges very sharp
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift leaving a convincing shine.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted leaving a slight colour. Red paint was lifted leaving lighter red.
Colours not quite as bright as Saunders Waterford and Strathmore, but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on.

Watercolour Paper Test Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)


Fabriano Artistico HP 300gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is also a few years old, Both sides very smooth and difficult to tell back from front even with strong magnification.
W-in-W paint spread nicely, easily controlled. Soft effect. Edges easy to soften.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards nicely, giving the effect wanted. Fine lines sharp and clean.
Leaf - W-in-W easily controlled spread. Dry brushing soft effect, no harsh lines/
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted easily leaving lighter green. Red paint lifted leaving sharp lines of lighter red.
Colours not as bright as Saunders W and Strathmore but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on but slight cockling.

 
50% cotton - SW Bockinford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs
50% cotton - SW Bockingford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs


Fabriano Classico HP (old)

W-in-W paint spreads nicely, soft edges easy to achieve.
Green (Senn. Olive), Red (PR254), Rose (PV19) Blue (PB29) All lifted similarly leaving a very light clean line

Smooth paper

WS Bockingford HP 140lbs  - this is from a large sheet.

I often use this paper if I want to try out different things, or just for sketching.  It's a lovely smooth paper which takes a wash nicely and also dry brushing.  It's also very consistent and reliable which is very useful if you're sketching, as you can concentrate on what you're doing, rather on coping with variable paper.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Echeveria cante - Step by step.

“Paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see; not the object isolated as in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven reflected in the shadows.” - Claude Monet



In April I wrote about this year’s SBA exhibition, and the paintings I had exhibited there. I was tremendously encouraged to be told that one of my paintings had been awarded the Certificate of Botanical Merit – the Echeveria cante.

It was a wonderful plant to paint, since it's such a challenge. In full sun, the plant can be blindingly white, on dull days the plant can look grey.

On the day I saw this plant for the first time, it was very sunny, and as I looked at the plant, a cloud covered the sun. In that moment, the plant came alive with colour and I knew that I must capture it for others to see.

First task was to get an accurate record of the colours, using my trusty mini paintbox and travel brushes. Then measured drawings and notes made of the plant from different angles in order to capture as much information as possible.

Once back in my studio, I decided on a small study, in order to work out how to render the colours and textures and work out which colours and colour mixes would best express the glowing quality of the plant.   In this case, I decided on Cobalt Turquoise and Cobalt Blue as the Blues for the palette, as I felt they had just the qualities I was looking for.
Echeveria Study - First Washes©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante Study - First Washes
Echeveria cante Study - Further Work©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante Study - Further Work
 
Once I was happy with the choice of colours, I made an inked copy of the composition on tracing paper. This is used to transfer the composition to the watercolour paper via a lightbox, and is also insurance against having to start the painting from scratch in the case of disasters - flying brushes usually!
Echeveria cante - First Washes©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - first washes

Echeveria cante - Growing nicely!©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - Growing nicely!

Echeveria cante - Further Work©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - Further work

At first, the washes were laid in very lightly.  I wanted to make sure that I kept the tones light at this stage, and for the same reason the reds were left until last- deeper and brighter tones would add punch, but would not reflect the delicate colours and textures of the plant.  I decided to work in stages so that I could keep already painted areas clean by covering them as I worked.


Echeveria cante - Palette and colour mixes©Polly o'Leary2016
At this stage, this is what my palette looked like.  I tend to mix on the fly once I have chosen my colours.  This ensures plenty of variety in the colours of the painting and keeps me on my toes matching colours to the plant.  The grey at the bottom is mixed from the colours in the painting - in this case, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Magenta and a Transparent Lemon. This grey is then used to increase the range of tones in the painting and is also used for the very darkest areas - tiny areas of dark that help to lift the whole painting.

Echeveria cante - laying in some reds©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - laying in some reds

Once I was happy with the colours and tones of the main part of the inflorescence, it was time to lay in some of the reds.  A light wash of yellow went on first, which helped the more orange reds to glow nicely.  Then, the different reds were painted in - lightly at first so as not to overpower the rest of the plant.

Now it was time to add the stem, and reassess all of the colours.  The details of  the Stamens and Carpels were left until last and added a final touch of realism to the painting.

At this point the painting was put away for a few weeks.  I do this because working so intensely, it's easy to lose perspective.   After a few weeks, the painting is reassessed and any problem areas are more easily spotted and remedied
Echeveria cante - Finished!©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - finished!
I hope this Step by Step has given some insight into how this painting evolved and the techniques used to finish it.

Next up - Paper testing!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Dyffryn Gardens 7th May 2016

On 7th May 2016 the Orchid Study Group will be in Dyffryn Gardens for Orchid Day - a celebration of all things Orchid - Tropical and Native Orchids.  I will be there too, demonstrating how I paint orchids in watercolour.   Do come along  for a wonderful informative day out in the most beautiful surroundings of Dyffryn Gardens.

Five Paintings and a Phonecall !


2016 has been an interesting year so far.

Five paintings finished and taken to London for selection for the SBA Shape Pattern, Structure Exhibition, in late February and then the nail biting wait to see if any have been selected.   Luckily they didn't make me wait too long to find out that not only were all five selected, but I had also been made a full member of the SBA!  To say I was happy is an understatement!

Then later I find out that all five paintings are to be hung!   And on top of that, I get The Phonecall...  I have been awarded Certificate of Botanical Merit for the Echeveria cante Inflorescence painting!  I didn't scream, honest, I was quite restrained, but I did need to sit down and take it all in.

Certificate of Botanical Merit - Echeveria cante

Gladiolus Hybrid - Dried Flowers

Phragmipedium sedenii
Paphiopedilum Maudiae Hybrid

Stanhopea graveolens

The SBA Exhibition in  Methodist Central Hall opposite Westminster Abbey is wonderful.  Almost 600 paintings by Botanical artists from all over the world.   But you really need more than one visit to take it all in.

Katherine Tyrrell has written a Review of the 2016 SBA Exhibition which will give those who can't get to London an idea of what they have missed.  Katherine also has written posts about Prizewinners, Certificates of Botanical Merit, and the Private View.  Giving a comprehensive idea of what the SBA 2016 Exhibition holds for the Botanical Art lover.

On top of all this, I have been working on a project which is still under wraps - more about this later!
Coming up - Dyffryn Gardens Orchid Day 7th May 2016