Love Letter to the Big Empty

End of Day in the Big empty

The painting is End of Day in the Big Empty. Some pretty amazing oil paint in this painting. The gray in the sky, the gray-blue in the mountains and the blue in the water are all the ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli called sometimes “Lazurite.” I was afraid to start this painting but at every turn it seemed that color was offering to help me. I really love it. You can see all the fantastic things it can do.

The bright blue in the sky is cerulean blue hue by Gamblin; hue means it’s pre-mixed with white. The intense, joyous yellow in the background, where the late afternoon sun has broken through the clouds, is Indian yellow over-painted with flake white replacement. Flake white is an old, old color known also as lead white. Gamblin came up with a way to make a very close approximation without lead. I really didn’t see the differences in whites until I did the very snowy painting. I’ve discovered doing this painting why people loved lead white so much. It’s just “friendly.”

The green in the trees and the brown in the foreground are both from my collection of natural pigments — the green is Verona Earth (natural green ochre from the Lessinian hills) and the brown is Cyprus Umber (dirt from Cyprus). Toning down the Indian yellow is Iron Violet, made from water pollution, by Gamblin Oil Paints. It’s a fantastic color and has a big part in this painting. Along with toning down the Indian yellow, it’s the purple in the mountains, the sky and the water and the reeds toward the back of the pond. I hope they keep making it.



The painting is 20 x 16 inches on panel.

Painting this was more than just doing a painting. It was an incredible experience. I cried when I finished. So strange. Then this came on Mohammed’s Old click wheel iPod.



Paintbrush…

I’ve had this paintbrush since the late 1970s. It’s my main brush. I’m using it on the painting I’m working on now. It’s about an inch wide and has a short handle which is useful when I’m not using an easel.

It has a history. It did the watercolors for the YWCA in 1978 — in fact, the YWCA bought it for me when I was their artist and I was paid in art supplies. 🙂 It did most of the paintings for my one-woman show back in 1981.

It painted all the “funnyture” back in the ’90s as well as some landscapes when I was painting in acrylics. Sometime in there my brother, who was also an artist and had taught art, grabbed the brush and gave me a big lecture on brush care. Among other things, he trimmed it to a very useful shape so this absolutely GREAT brush got even better and more useful.

I have a LOT of brushes. It’s a beautiful bouquet. But this morning when I started to paint the details I reached for the oldest brush I own.

Many of these brushes have a story. Some I bought, but most were left to me by an artist friend who’s dead and others a gift from an artist friend who’s lost his sight to macular degeneration. My friend who died? She was once my boss at a language school. She retired, and there was a big retirement party for her. We all chipped in to buy her gifts. The main gifts were paint and brushes. I felt a stab of envy seeing her new, beautiful brushes. I wished I had them — at the time I had two brushes — the one in the featured photo and a 1/2 inch brush of a similar type. I also had no money to buy more. I wished I had the time to paint. I wished a lot of things hard-working people who struggle to make ends meet wish. I hated myself for my feelings, but I shrugged them off as human nature.

They’ve been well used. Both Sally and Michael were productive painters. Some brushes are worn and brittle, carrying their painting history in their broken bristles. And, every painter has his or her own way of approaching the surface. Sally’s was different from mine though I wouldn’t say that our styles are completely different. I have yet to use one of Sally’s brushes, but maybe this time. My blind friend has a very different style from mine and has trimmed his brushes pretty drastically to do what he wanted them to do. I love them, too.

The basic differences between brushes are what the bristles are made of and the shapes of the brushes. I tend to use soft brushes with sharp ends, basically brights and flats (sounds like music!). Sally used filberts and rounds.

Not my brushes…
“A Basic Oil Painting Brush Kit, from left to right: bright bristle, filbert bristle, small and large flat bristles, an old bright bristle cut into with scissors (for making loose ragged brushstrokes), Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II round, assortment of Winsor & Newton Monarch brights, flats and filberts; and a fan bristle. Article contributions from Cherie Haas

There’s a lot out there instructing us how to use brushes and it’s probably good, but I think the best lesson is one’s own hand, the surface, the paint and the effect we are searching for. I’m very far from God’s gift to painting, and the ONE great bit of teaching I got in my life for the use of brushes is to use the biggest one you can. Then, somewhere down the road, you might need to put in small things with a small brush, but wait. Do what you can with the biggest brush you can.

Work in progress...

I Could go ON and ON and ON but…

Most of them are just rocks and dirt that people discovered ages ago they could use to paint with. Cave paintings like this one from Argentina have been found wherever there is ochre clay clinging to the rocks, usually near limestone caves. Limestone + water + pigment = fresco. To get these amazing paintings, all they had to do was pulverize some ochre, put it in a hollow reed, wet the wall of the cave, put a hand up and blow through the reed.

Cueva de los Manos, Argentina. Red, brown and white ochre.

Ochre is common throughout the world. I saw brilliant green and gold ochre outside Verona (Verona green ❤ ). I’ve had the chance a few times to go to the Paint Mines not far from Colorado Springs. It’s a spot where Indians dug for face paint, but the white clay there is also good for pottery.

Artists still use these ancient pigments. We draw and even paint with charcoal and lamp black. All of our “earth colors” are really earth colors.

Under the boot and on the toe you can see the color of the pink rock from the Paint Mines that’s in the featured photo.

Other colors were harder to come up with long ago. Red was extremely challenging to produce, and some shades were deadly poisonous. A beautiful non-toxic red — carmine — could be derived from the Cochineal beetle which is found in South America. Carmine made its way to Europe in the 16th century. It was so valuable that the Spanish — who had cornered the resource, obviously — kept its source a secret until the 18th century. The most common red was ferrous oxide (rust). Some very rare and expensive colors are now made synthetically. Artists have benefitted through “better living through chemistry,”

The most beautiful blue came from this rock:

Raw Lapis Lazuli
Padua, Baptistry of the Cathedral, Giusto de Menabuoi

Ultramarine blue was so rare and expensive, its production (obviously) not easy, that for a while it was worth more than gold. For a long time, it was used only on Jesus’ robes. It is Ultramarine Blue — “ultra marine” — across the sea. It is made from Lapis Lazuli and came from Afghanistan to Europe on any of the arduous and dangerous trade routes.

A tube of Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis I bought last year before my hip surgery, and my ultramarine blue watercolor pencil

These days, many of the colors we use are synthetically derived — including ultramarine blue. Paints are less poisonous. Artists’ favorite white, lead white, became illegal in the 19th century and now there are a few substitutes. It’s thought Van Gogh went nuts from eating his cadmium yellow paint in fits of sunflower driven ecstasy.

Like any painter — have favorite brands. For watercolor, obviously, I love Caran d’Ache. I usually use pencils, but I also use watercolor crayons and paints from their traditional box, too.

My favorite oil painting brand is Gamblin Oil Paint. They are made in Portland, Oregon, in a small company, Gamblin Artist’s Colors. The founder, Robert Gamblin, is, among other things, an art restorer who builds traditional pigments, which, of course, I love. One of the main aims of the company is the production of safer paints and solvents. The oil colors and various media are beautiful, easy to use and responsive to my way of painting. The solvents are not only less toxic but also less stinky which is good because the place where I paint has no ventilation other than the doorway to the kitchen.

Well, as I said, I could go on and on and on…

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I keep my paints in a jewelry box made by my Uncle Hank.