The Colour Of Water

Sounds like a Koan. I’ve been thinking lately about the colour of water. The water in the seascape I’ve been doing is slate grey. Why do I think it should be blue? Any colour that we see in water is generally a reflection. In this case it’s reflecting the sky which is grey and overcast. In the photo this is based on it’s actually snowing, hence the grey sky. The low cloud and mist is interesting but I’ve had to put some blue in the water. I know I’m basing this on my ideal of water, but I think that others will also expect blue. I expect blue and that’s the most important criteria.


A small rant.

People just don’t know what they are talking about!

I believe I come by this view honestly through years of people talking about the perspective being wrong and my arguing that it is absolutely accurate. It’s apparently wrong in different ways to different people. I’m reminded of the ‘Lamentation over the Dead Christ’ by Mantegna. To me Christ’s head is too large and feet too small. I’ve read that the paintings perspective is laid out very accurately. A little role reversal there and I’m rather disheartened to think that I might be one of ‘those people’.

I think that what many art critics and teachers talk too little about is picture size and viewpoint. The Lamentation isn’t very large (27” x 32”) but I bet it would look different to me if I were standing a few feet away from it in a gallery. It’s interesting that the Lamentation looks fine to me if it is small on screen but wrong if enlarged to full screen. I have a fairly big computer screen. If I were to give advice to artists about perspective it would be “Make it look right to you when you are painting it, in your studio, on your easel”. Some people will think it’s right and some will think it’s wrong. Ignore them.

Colour theory

There is no shortage of different colour theories. These theories have been developed for or are used by various technologies. For example house paint manufacturers tend to use the Munsell theory of colour. Every artist paint manufacturer and instructor seems to have their own pet theory that will help artists. For the most part I’ve found these theories to be confusing; mostly because they don’t add much that is useful for the artist. These systems of colour differentiation provide the ability to do accurate calculation as to the exact colour represented. If the goal is to build a machine that provides accurate colour matching of a manufacturers paint colour then these systems are great. If your goal is to mix some paint to match the fall colours of Poplar trees then I would toss all the theories out and go back to kindergarten.

In kindergarten I learned that blue + yellow make green, red + yellow make orange and red + blue make purple. Now if I take any one of these mixed pairs and add a little of the third colour I get a brown that various colour theories call secondary, tertiary or sometimes complementary (and a host of other names). I think it’s brown. Various shades of brown but brown. It should theoretically be black but paint isn’t a very efficient colour agent so I need some black paint. I need white paint to make light colours, some colour theories call them tints. There is also additive and subtractive colour theories. Additive theories are used with computer monitors and Web design but if I’m painting a picture then I go back to kindergarten.

So I have blue, red, yellow, white and black paint. I can mix all, or at least most of, the colours. I can mix all the colours but some of them don’t look so great. I think that’s why there are so many paint colours. I use Dioxazine Purple because it’s a really nice purple that is difficult to get with just red and blue. Kindergarten really taught me everything I need to know to paint. Maybe to be an artist I need to know a few details but I worked them out or learned them over time. 50 years on I now have 17 paint colours in my paint box but I only use five of them consistently.

Top 10 Canadian Painters

Ok so this is MY top ten list and it changes, there might be a couple more than ten. Perhaps not daily but definitely weekly. I like Impressionistic styles. I’d like my style to be more impressionistic but I have a great deal of trouble with that so I wrote a post recently that I have given up impressionism. At least I’ve given up trying to paint in a more impressionistic style.

I’m not going to put them in any order so here they are:
I like his work. His website has a lot of information about acrylic mediums.
Ok so it’s not painting. When I first saw her work in New Westminster I was immediately drawn to it. I first thought it was paint. It’s fabric. It’s beautiful.
Her waves are beautiful. So is all her other work but I love the way she paints waves.
Beautiful. This is how I’d like to paint but my style just doesn’t go there.
Flowers. I like flowers but I get lost in the petals.
I don’t like abstract paintings. These aren’t abstract but they have an abstract look. Nevertheless they are wonderful.
They look like they have far more detail than they actually do.
I love the warm sky over the bridge.
My first thought is thought is that I shouldn’t like her work. The geometric forms she uses are striking. I like it.
Whimsical. Her animals have such life.
He likes warm paintings. So do I.
I think his work has inspired me more than any other.
Carol Borrett’s paintings are so friendly. I love how well she paints creek water; so transparent.

Why Most People Can’t Draw

Draw what and only what you see. Couldn’t be simpler, so why is it so difficult? We all have an internal visualisation of what the reality around us looks like. Unfortunately I believe that visualisation contains a lot of information that simply doesn’t equate with being drawn on a two-dimensional surface. I’ve practised turning off all that extra information and concentrating on what needs to be drawn. I don’t remember what it was like before I could turn it off, but I do know that adults can learn to do it and children do it very quickly. An artist enjoys the process. My daughters are great examples. The oldest is an artist but the youngest has very little interest in it. I think they are both equally talented but it surfaces in different ways.

I think the best way to practice this is to draw a glass. I did this with my daughters and it was interesting because one of them could do it well almost immediately and was very interested. The other one just couldn’t be bothered. The interesting thing is that the uninterested one did an excellent job of the exercise later on her own. An empty glass forces you to paint only the reflections and what you see through the glass. The shape of the glass shows up in distortions in objects viewed through the glass.

An Artist’s internal visualisation is modified in such a way that it equates to drawing. It may have been naturally that way or developed over years of practice. An artist can draw a chair in 3D and others will be amazed. I’ve done this; it’s a very simple thing. I’m surprised when others find it so astonishing. I don’t understand how it can be any other way. This is something that can be developed so keep drawing.

I Sketch With A Brush

When I start a painting I might sketch in the basic details with pencil but I usually start right in with a brush. I know that any preliminary sketching I might do will be painted over in any case so I just use a brush and get the general locations worked out. With the painting I’m working on presently I did paint in the boats but they were immediately covered with sky and water. Now that I have some work done on the mountain mist and water it’s time to paint in the boats.

Many artists can’t work this way but it allows me to reconsider almost everything. I used to work with a detailed sketch and sometimes I had to. Oil paints dry very slowly and I had trouble when everything was wet. Acrylics dry very quickly so wet paint is not a problem but fast drying creates problems of its own so it’s a bit of a trade-off.

I like a flat painting surface

I have painted on canvas for years. Recently I noticed that the canvas was bouncing a lot while I painted. Very annoying. Perhaps the canvases I used to paint on were stretched a little tighter. My local art shop has a new product (new to me). Painting board which consists of a thin plywood panel mounted to a stretcher-like frame. They call it a cradled wood panel. It’s quite stiff and reasonably light even though it’s available in some fairly large sizes.

I like painting on these panels. I gesso the board and flatten it as much as I can. If I want it flatter I could sand it; the gesso is apparently sandable. My latest painting is on canvas and it is clear that I like the board better. The board is firmer and allows painting fine detail more easily. I’ll attach a link to Opus but I bet these are available just about everywhere if you want to try it. I definitely recommend it.

Areas that don’t make sense.

There are areas in most if not all of my paintings that don’t make sense. So my question today is why do I have to work to make some small parts of my paintings make sense? Why do they not make sense? Who decides that they don’t make sense? OK so clearly I’m the one that’s bothered with them. I’m assuming that others will be bothered too. I’m presently working on a painting of boats. They are in the distance and tied up at a dock. Various fishing, sailing and pleasure boats. Some of the boats are behind others so I can’t see exactly how they are oriented and as a result they’re orientation doesn’t immediately make sense. It’s taken me a couple of weeks but I think I now know why they look the way they do. My internal model of their orientation has changed and unfortunately I won’t know if it affects the final painting because I will never be able to see the boats in any other way.

I’ve noticed in the past that just because an area of a painting doesn’t obviously make sense doesn’t mean it doesn’t look right. There are areas everywhere we look in reality that don’t make sense. That may be because they are far away or it may be that things are in the way and block our vision. If the subject of my painting looks wrong then I fix it. This sometimes means that I make stuff up in order to make it look right. So if areas of reality don’t look quite right then perhaps it would be wrong for me to make stuff up to make them look right in a painting? This assumes I’m looking for a realistic result and I usually am. This is a fine line to travel; sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t.

I just loaded the image and there are no boats. I’m not crazy (not that I’m aware of). The boats are in the original photo (I had to check). I haven’t put them in the painting yet and that may be because I wasn’t settled on their orientation. They just didn’t make sense.


Another About The Reality Illusion

First, what colour do you see in the image? My camera sees blue. It’s a wash on canvas of Dioxazine purple. It looks very different in my studio.

So not everyone sees the reality illusion in my paintings. This suggests that the internal visualisation of reality is not the same for everyone. An artist might be able to enhance the illusion with some detail but he/she won’t be able to create it for everyone. At one time I thought that detail created the illusion but on a couple of occasions I’ve been surprised by very undetailed areas (backgrounds for instance) that achieved it.

I try to get the illusion but there is no reason to think that it is required. If an artist wants to do a completely abstract piece that has no connection to reality then that’s their prerogative. I confess that I’ve never had such a desire, but I like some abstract paintings. I sometimes do a semi-abstract background if the photo background is just too boring.

I take the view that abstract is just made-up and does not represent anything specific. As soon as it starts to resemble something or is based on something the artist is seeing then it is impressionistic. So I don’t paint abstract; everything I do represents to some extent what I am seeing.


This post is the result of an earlier post where I admitted to liking reflections. Not much of an admission.

I’m presently working on a still life of a silver coffee pot. Reflections are a big part of the image. A silver coffee pot reflects very much like a mirror although the reflections are a little grey in tone and of course wonky due to the shape of the pot. Most reflections that I add to a painting are not mirror-like, they are usually just a little bit of colour. If a red object is close to another it projects red light onto the other object. The other object doesn’t have to be reflective in any way. It’s just like using a coloured light. The colour that I see is not the colour of the object, it is the colour of the light. If the subject of a portrait has a white shirt collar it acts like a white light source illuminating the jaw and chin of the subject.

I see these little reflections all the time and I believe it’s a trained observation. As a photographer I had to be conscious of odd reflections and multiple light sources. That helps a great deal in painting, and it helps when I’m trying to visualise a change I want to make with my subject. These little reflections are so prevalent that we must have evolved to be very attuned to them, so if an image doesn’t have them we notice it.