Understanding warm and cool colours can instantly give your paintings a sense of harmony.
In the above Titian painting ‘ Bacchus and Ariadne’ Titan has almost split the colour wheel in half in his composition. If you were to put a diagonal line straight through the painting, the cool tones of the blues, greens and purples would be dominant on the left and the warm tones of reds, oranges and yellows on the right.
If you squint your eyes at the picture, the general colour scheme is based on blue and orange, which are opposite each other in the colour wheel so are known as complementary colours…
“An artist’s career always begins tomorrow” James McNeill Whistler, Artist
Starting art is like starting a diet; you buy a new gym kit…your canvas
You sign up for the gym, … your new brushes
You sit down and have a cup of tea and slice of cake because it’s all been too much.
If you think you’re the only one struggling, think again…..
It’s an exaggerated way of saying start with big brushes then end with a small one.
When starting painting, choosing brushes in this way can really help because it stops you focusing on the ‘interesting detail’.
Using large brushes to lay down bold and decisive strokes, helps to alleviate self-inflicted pressure to make the painting look finished too early on, in reality this never happens it’s like trying to re-landscape your garden without digging up the soil, you have to make the mess first to finish with the flowers.
How big is big?
If you use large brushes to begin your painting, you’ll develop brush handling skills, techniques and a huge variety of marks that can be achieved with one brush rather than relying on another specialist brush to fix the problem.
For example, if I was painting a 30 x 40cm canvas, I would start with a brush 2-4 cm wide.
What type of brush should I use?
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is indecision, if you only have one brush and two colours you’ve got no option, you just have to start.
I love filbert brushes, they are so flexible to use the hairs are quite long, arranged as a flat head and tapered to a rounded tip see: A quick way to understand brushes.
It’s always better to start with fewer brushes than to amass a whole drawer full and not start at all!
This may sound like the beginnings of a fairy-tale but it’s a quick and easy way to think about brushes. Most traditional brushes are made from animal hair and the quality of the brush – its bounce and feel, is dependent on the quality of the hair used.
Mink hair makes ‘Sable’ brushes and pig hair makes ‘Hog’ brushes…
“A great artist can paint a great picture on a small canvas.”
Charles Dudley Warner
Getting your Absorbency Right
Your choice of what to paint on can alter the working properties of the paint and give you a different painting experience but it needn’t be a mystery if you follow a few simple rules.
1. Acrylics straight from the tube are the most flexible medium, so can be painted on anything – paper, canvas, cardboard, metal…literally anything.
2. Oils are more tricky, so have to be painted onto a properly prepared surface (see: The Trouble with Oil) I recommend a prepared canvas or prepared board.
3. Watercolours work best on paper, I recommend Cold Pressed paper (confusingly also referred to as NOT paper meaning ‘Not’ Hot Pressed). It’s ideal for less experienced painters as it’s more forgiving. (There is a huge range of Watercolour papers see: How to choose Watercolour Paper).
Off the peg or bespoke? The dilemmas of a modern man.
Choosing a canvas is much like deciding between Savile Row, the high street or knitting your own!
With Bespoke, you get:
Neat edges on the back, staple-free sides, a choice of fabric, a choice of finish (unprimed, sized, oil-primed) an exact choice of size, a choice of stretcher bar thickness and a skilled craftsman making it for you, all coming with a premium price tag.
High street, you get:
Neat edges on the back, less robust stretcher bars, not as heavyweight canvas, machine-made but a very reasonable bill.
Knitting your own:
It can be a bit of a headache! But you do get a choice of fabric, choice of size, choice of the stretcher bar, and it’s a very economical way to achieve what you want if working on a lot of canvases the same size. Huge flexibility in finish mixed with the glow of satisfaction when stretching your own canvas…
Oil paint can be an amazing substance to work with, from creating quick sketches outside to photo-realistic portraits. Because oil paints take a long time to dry, they give you the flexibility to tweak, alter, soften and blend, resulting in lovely muted, smokey subtle paintings.
If you decide that you’d like to give oils a go, then my recommendation would be to start with a pre-sized, pre-primed ready-made canvas to paint on.
The “oil” in the paint can create a few issues over time you should be aware of.
We’ve all heard of “fat over lean” and paintings cracking but don’t be scared…