100 Starts – numbers 11-20

Continuing my 100 Starts, based on Kevin Macpherson’s prompt…

100 Starts - Kevin Macpherson prompt - Days 11-20
Days 11-20 of the “100 Starts” exercise, painted in acrylics from 11-17 and oil 18-20

Numbers 1-10

Number 11 notes

I added two new things to the way I do this exercise: used multiple brushes (one for lights, one for shadows, and one for the first easy color which is typically higher chroma) and a little test sheet to organize my colors in the light and shadow families. They’re very small changes that made a huge difference in the experience! I didn’t spend time cleaning out one brush over and over as I moved through the stages of color mixing and painting. I also had more confidence in the colors I put down due to the immediate feedback of the test sheet.

light family and shadow family test swatch chart

It helps that that my objects were only green and white, but I finished this one in the 30-minute time goal. Tomorrow I’ll mix up the colors more and hopefully these new techniques will keep things moving quickly.

Number 12 notes

One more change to this exercise: instead of doing a thumbnail sketch first, I went straight to sketching in the objects on my panel. Since they’re such simple setups I wanted to see if it would hinder anything to skip that step, and happily it did not. Once I’m doing more complete paintings it would be smart to bring back the notan thumbnails though.

My little test swatch strip came in handy again.

test swatches 100 starts number 12

Number 13 notes

This drawing got a little squatty and small for the panel, which I don’t like. But I really like the shadow shapes that were created with the arrangement of the blocks — and I brought back the jar candle that I loved so much from number 9. As I compare this with number 9, there’s a big difference in the luminosity of the study. I’m not sure if that’s because of the small brush I used on number 9 which shows the white of the gesso, or if it’s the way I mixed the colors. The shadow shapes in the candle seem more dull in this one. I’m thinking it’s a matter of them getting muddied up and losing vibrancy. .

Tomorrow I’ll keep an eye on that and use an additional brush if it would help.

100 Starts Day 9 next to Day 13
Number 9 on left, number 13 on right

Number 14 notes

Wonky shapes aside, I’m really happy with this exercise. The shadow shapes are pleasing, and as I look over the completed study I see how I could have easily connected them together nicely for fewer shapes overall. I’m also thinking about whether I’ve simplified enough, and if it would make sense to put the sides of the cubes in light all in the same color note. It would be more in the spirit of the exercise: to represent the subject in the fewest and most basic shapes, with the colors necessary to do so. By choosing different colors for the sides of the cubes in light, I’m essentially modeling the form with light and halftone. Which helps make the image more readable, but takes longer and is more colors than necessary.

Tomorrow I’ll see what it’s like to link the shapes in the shadow family and reduce the number of colors for the shapes in the light family.

Number 15 notes

I got almost all of my shadow shapes linked, except for a tiny area on the right where my brushwork smooshed it apart. I also used just one color for the light family on two of the blocks — on the third the color shift was just too great and I decided to paint all three sides with their respective colors. Since the surface the cubes were on was a mid-value grey fabric, all of the cast shadows were darker in this one.

I’ve been obsessing over what colors I’d like to get for a three-primary oil palette. So I switched things up from the cad yellow light, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue (artist quality acrylics) to cad yellow medium, cad red medium, and ultramarine blue (student quality acrylics). I was hoping to get a feel for how this group mixed compared to the first group because I have a hard time mixing a rich golden brown that doesn’t tend toward purple with the alizarin and cad yellow light.

Number 16 notes

As I reflect on the last few exercises, I think my cast shadows are getting too dark. It happened around the time I decided to push the lights and darks and they’re pushed too far for the particular light I’m using. It may be partially a factor of acrylics drying darker and me not compensating for that. I definitely forget to do that! Today at the art store I picked up some new oil paints: a set of primaries plus a big tube of white. I’m very tempted to switch over to oils tomorrow to see how they compare to the acrylics and start getting familiar with them.

It seems like the drawing stage is going more quickly lately — it’s becoming easier to see the relationships between shapes, especially when I remember to view them as shapes and not objects.

Number 17 notes

Instead of starting with oils, I finished up the acrylic paints that were leftover in my stay-wet palette. My plan is to use the palette box to store my oil palette for working in the studio, so I wanted to get it cleared out without wasting paint.

I didn’t use the artificial light on the still life — just scooted the setup closer to the window and used that. It was enough to cast a shadow, but relatively soft natural light. The value difference between the shadow family and light family is not as great as previous studies, but the cast shadows are still too dark. Part of my problem may be in being too strict with the color isolator tool. There’s probably more luminosity and color in those cast shadows than I’m seeing with it. Will try to adjust next time.

I thought it would be fun to do a comparison of my painted exercise next to a photo of my still life, both converted to greyscale to see if the values are close. With the exception of those too-dark cast shadows I’m happy with it:

100 starts number 17 value check
A greyscale photo of my still life setup on the left, a greyscale photo of my painted study on the right.

Now I’m thinking about the subject of transparent shadows with opaque lights…it’s something I’ve heard many times and I’m curious whether Kevin Macpherson intended for that to be a factor in this 100 Starts pledge. That’ll take some thought and research!

Number 18 notes

I set up my palette for oil paints. Woo hoo! To compare this exercise with the last one, I didn’t change the still life setup (although it is overcast so the light coming in the window is different). For colors, I’m using cadmium yellow light, naphthol red, ultramarine blue, titanium white, and ivory black. I premixed the secondary colors on my palette so there’s a full color wheel going on and used a mid-grey paper palette inside the Masterson stay-wet palette (sponge and paper for acrylics removed). I’m very curious to see whether this will help keep the paints fresh enough to keep using day to day without setting it up all over again each time I want to paint. Luckily with this 100-start project I’m painting every day at least a little so I don’t need to worry about the paints sitting for days on end.

I definitely need to mix up bigger piles of paint for this project because I want to see thick, juicy application rather than thin and scrubby. I really enjoyed using the hog bristle brushes. I felt like I had more control over the paint application, which helped me make nicer shapes and get better coverage.

Number 19 notes

I’m so enjoying the feel of oil paints! Little things, like the way a shadow edge softens with the adjoining brush stroke, are delightful after working with acrylics. If I don’t get stingy, this small tube of cad yellow light might go quickly — plenty of naphthol red and ultramarine blue though.

Instead of the color blocks, I set up an onion, a small wooden bowl, and a chunky candle in a ceramic pot. They’re all sitting on a bright yellow fabric which looks vibrant but is making me face my fear of using up too much yellow paint, haha.

This week I started reading Kevin Macpherson’s book Landscape Painting Inside & Out, a followup to Fill Your Oil Paintings with Light & Color. It strikes me as much more advanced, and makes me appreciate beginning with Light & Color and the 100 Starts pledge. Something I read in the second book struck a chord with me: he said to look at a color note for just a second to record it in your mind and make a color decision, rather than staring at it for a long time because that makes it go rather dull to your eyes. That’s definitely been happening to me. In my effort to really get the color note right I’m looking so long and critically that the color loses its essence and greys way out. I’m going to try doing it as he suggests and see if the color shapes become more interesting.

It’s occurred to me that I’m getting much better at seeing shapes instead of things. I don’t even really care what I’m painting right now, it’s just so exciting to see the colors I’m putting down work together to form an image. Especially when there’s life and color in the shadow family. It was such a mystery to me how a painting comes together and I’m so glad to have Kevin’s book to help break it down into manageable steps.

Number 20 notes

This one was a struggle for me. The blocks were lit by the window, so it was somewhat soft light but it did cast clear shadows. One challenge was the fact that two of my blocks are painted in rather dark colors, and while I could clearly tell what was in light and what was in shadow, I had a hard time seeing how to make the darkest colors in the light family lighter than the lightest colors in the dark family. I also did a poor job of looking quickly and judging the color shapes. I stared much too long, and everything ended up rather dull.

My mission for the next few exercises will be to bring back some of the life I see in number 9 and refocus my efforts on finding one representative color for each simple shape. One thing that’s getting me into trouble is the fact that the planes have gradations in them which distracts me from the bigger picture and makes me second-guess my color choices. So…look fast, mix fast, apply fast!

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