Highlights and Shadows

This is not the first time I’ve noticed difficulty matching highlights and shadows but it’s more apparent when I’m working from my monitor. Monitors use an additive colour method but I paint from a printed image; both paint and print are subtractive. I refer back and forth from the print to my monitor so the difference tends to cancel out a little. I don’t usually work directly from the monitor because some colours are impossible to replicate and the result is a little disheartening. I refer to the monitor but then use a printout when I’m painting. I know that some colours are better on the monitor than they are on the print and I try to compensate, so the painting looks better than the print when I’m done; which feels good.

I have access to a photo printer or I could use the photographic settings on my cheap little printer but why bother when I can occasionally look at the monitor. The time it actually takes me to get to painting is enough that I can no longer remember the exact colours but I do try and sometimes get it fairly close. If I had a Mantis Shrimps eyes then maybe I could but it’s not possible with human eyesight.

The result of all of this is the monitor image does not match the painting. In particular the contrast is off significantly. As a result I’m looking at the painting and seeing much less contrast. I tend to ignore the actual colours but they are also significantly off as a result of the different methods of rendering colour. One method I’ve found to increase the apparent contrast in the painting was developed (I believe) during the renaissance. This method is similar to Unsharp Masking in Photoshop. The bright areas increase in brightness as they approach the dark areas and the same treatment is applied to the dark areas. This is usually a dark line in the dark areas and a light line in the bright areas applied just at the separation. Since I want the areas to appear sharper I switch to a smaller brush and add thin dark and light lines to various areas of the image. This seems to make the image ‘POP’ and increases the reality illusion.

I’ve included a detail of the painting I’m working on to show where I’ve used this technique. Some paintings don’t require it.




I always need to work up to the highlights. The first time I put them in they are never bright enough. I know that because humans lost the ability to determine absolute brightness a long time ago. We don’t need it for survival but it would sure be handy when painting. I wish I had eyes like the Mantis Shrimp.

On second thought I have enough trouble choosing and matching colours now, with a Mantis Shrimps colour range and visual capabilities it would be much more difficult.

Are You A Mathematician?

Rather a bizarre title for an art-blog entry. As an artist I don’t think I need to know much about Math but unfortunately I find it very interesting. I don’t think it’s unfortunate but many others do. My daughters tease me about it constantly and I try really hard not to point out that they are equally geeky but in different ways. My wife generally finds it amusing.


Read the first paragraph. If you have read the articles mentioned then you are a mathematician. If you are just interested then maybe you are an artist. If they have no interest for you, you can still be an artist according to my daughter.

Randomness and Clumping

Random is a misnomer. When I think of random I think of clouds, leaves on trees and white caps on waves. These are not random, at least they aren’t what most people consider random. Many people think of random as perfectly and evenly distributed.

Fractals use a lot of Random numbers but Fractals themselves are not Random. Clouds for example are quite Random, however if we are using them in a picture they are less random, they are restricted to the area of the picture that we have designated as sky. Fractals do a great job of mimicking the world around us and they use lots of random numbers. Close up they are really random but zoom out to see the entire picture and like the clouds restricted to sky, they become less random.

One of the basic traits of randomness is clumping. If you generate a truly random set of numbers and use them to simulate clouds, for example, you will notice that the numbers/clouds tend to clump together.

A good explanation of randomness;

One of the most used examples of randomness is background radiation. A sample of background radiation is used in many things that require a set of random numbers. A good example of background radiation is noise on your TV set or on your radio; set the frequency between stations. This method of generating random numbers is used because it’s really difficult to generate a set of truly random numbers.

So after all of this highly technical discussion, how can an artist use it?

When I am painting leaves I purposely clump them a little. When I look at a tree I see that the leaves are occasionally clumped together. They are not sticky or attached, they just clump. Take two steps to the right or left and the clumps will change location, but they will still be clumped. Many other things that I paint have similar behavior. So if I want to make an area of a painting look real I try to clump components. I use this idea to good effect in many paintings. A portrait for example you wouldn’t think of having any random components but with hair I use the same technique I use in leaves and it seems to work.

Dangerous Chemicals

Cadmium has been given a bit of a Bum Rapp lately. Not that it isn’t nasty. My father had Cadmium poisoning when he was working on aircraft during the war. I think Cadmium stays in the body like Lead does but Cadmium is somewhat easier to get rid of. Cadmium is not generally absorbed through the skin and it’s in minute quantities in artist’s materials, so it’s usually in a form that is considered nontoxic. But even so be careful.
Don’t suck on your brushes and be careful with the water you wash them in. I don’t drink the water but I do wash my brushes regularly in the sink.

I’m re-reading this and I don’t want to give the impression that it’s funny; it isn’t. This site gives an extensive description of the hazards.

I was surprised at the reference to smoking. I don’t smoke so I don’t think about it but paint on your fingers and a pathway into your mouth is a little frightening. My father survived Cadmium poisoning but it could have been lethal and I wouldn’t be here.

Luckily Cadmium can’t be absorbed through the skin and I’m not aware of any art-associated chemicals that could act as a transport mechanism. I’m sure that there are many chemicals in the products we use that could adversely affect our health, so be careful. The painting shown here uses Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Red extensively.

Dangerous chemicals are not just in the art world. I’m a bit of a gun-nut and in the blueing and case hardening of cast iron frames Cyanide is used. Luckily cast iron is rarely used today. There are lots of stories of gunsmiths simply falling over dead. I’m generally of the opinion that the more deadly the better. If the chemical is really debilitating then I might be really pissed off; however if it’s deadly I probably won’t care.


Lately I’ve been looking for ways to increase traffic to this blog and my Website. I am not fully invested in either one, it’s a bit of a hobby for me as is this promotional interest. I’m guessing that others of you out there are looking for the same thing. I’ve promised myself and my wife that I will not spend any money so I’m looking for freebies.

The ask is simple; e-mail two people and include a link to my blog or Website in the e-mail. There is no tracking except through Google Analytics and it only records how many people look, not who they are. There is no need to say anything about my paintings. I promise to report any traffic increases on this blog because it might be something that you could use. At present the traffic to this blog is very low and the same is true for my Website.

The image I include is a quick Photoshop paste-up of one of my paintings on a living-room wall. It’s not my living-room. It’s a simple idea that is easy to do and used on many sites, but not usually on artist’s sites. I’m not at all sure that an artist should do this because of how I feel about paintings that match rooms. I believe that the painting should stand on its own. If you want the painting to fit in the room; that is what the frame is for. The frame can have elements and colours that link it to other paintings or items in the room, but I don’t believe it is an artist’s job to paint something that looks good in a particular room.

The Evolution of Painting

Painting started with drawings on cave walls. The painted walls were hard and scary to get to, and the artist was most likely the local Shaman who could cast a spell on you and as a result the next bear you ran into would eat you. I love old cave art because it is very artistically done and the pigments used are interesting. Usually the pigments were readily available but occasionally they had to be made by the artist or shaman so it’s not difficult to understand the arcane nature of cave art. Add a torch and the drawn animals appear to come to life; good advertising for a shaman. Really the evolution of painting is the evolution or discovery of pigments.

I’ve recently had a little scare as the European Union was considering banning Cadmium. Cadmium compounds make a number of colours from yellows to red. They are really good colours and widely used but they have no good substitute. Governments have since decided that banning Cadmium in artist’s paint may not be the best idea. I think it has very little to do with toxicity and more to do with the environment. Google it and see the controversy. My daughter and I were particularly concerned because Cadmium Yellow and Red are basic parts of our pallets and we haven’t found a good alternative.

Are Acrylics Scary?

When I decided to switch to acrylics I wasn’t particularly scared, although I wasn’t painting to eat. I was hugely disappointed because acrylics were so transparent in comparison to oils and it immediately caused problems. I’m still dealing with those issues. I’m presently painting a fall scene and I want really bright yellow leaves in the trees. To get the bright yellow leaves I’m going to try painting them first in Titanium White, then with yellow. I’ve used this technique before and had reasonably good luck with it so we will see. One of the problems is that I’m looking at the leaves on my computer monitor so the colour is created using an additive system. Paint is a subtractive colour system so I will never be able to match my monitor. But I’m going to try.

It’s hard to describe acrylics or any paint as ‘scary’ but they do surprise me on occasion. It’s usually the quick drying time that surprises me, often when I’m 45 minutes into a painting session the paint isn’t going on as well as it did when I first started. If I had found a stay-wet pallet that I liked, this might not be a problem, but at the moment I treat this as a time to stop and clean brushes. That’s actually the scary part because to keep my brushes in good order they must be cleaned after every painting session. Brushes need cleaning no matter what the medium but with the short drying time of acrylics it’s very easy to destroy them. Acrylic brushes can be cleaned with hand soap and water. I rarely buy expensive brushes but they can get that way quickly if I let the paint dry on them.

I like acrylic pigments. Actually some are better than equivalent oils. I think this is because acrylic users are more likely to be open to using a ‘new’ pigment and some of the new ones are fantastic. In the art world a ‘new’ pigment is one that was introduced in the last hundred years. The white under-paint that I was talking about earlier is very opaque so whatever colour I want to use goes over it nicely and in this case the rapid drying is an asset.

There have been some concerns about the toxicity of some pigments. It’s true that at times some of the pigments used by artists have been less than safe; lead is an example. It’s a heavy metal that can collect in the body and cause some serious health issues. Household paint is an example since some children scrape the paint off their cribs with their teeth and consume the paint chips. Not good. Lead white is not used today as a result and this is true for artist’s colours also.

Cadmium also has issues but the cadmium used in yellows, reds and oranges is in very small amounts and it’s encapsulated in other non-toxic or less-toxic chemicals so the paint is not considered toxic. The European Union was in the process of banning Calcium artist colours (probably because of environmental concerns) but it appears that they have decided not to. I’m glad of that because Cadmium Yellow and Red are two of the basic colours on my pallet and I definitely do not find them scary.