Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Bigger Poachade Box (Revisiting a Historic Design)

I bought my new bigger pochade box to produce finished paintings. I got the idea from Stefan Baumann's 1920 box. Design of this old box was very thoughtfully executed. Three panels (no standardization for size at that time), palette, paints, oil etc and brushes. The previous artist who owned it put cardboard separations for tubes. This is very similar to what the Hudson River School artists and most of the other olden day painters used. They sat on a tripod stool and painted straightaway. No business with tripod and other stuff (observe Albert Bierstadt surrounded by American Indians). This box will serve its true purpose if it is put inside a Gloucester easel (now Take it easel).

I looked over the internet and found only this box from Indian artists product manufacturer Brustro. It is intended by the manufacturer to be a mere pallet and color carrier box (not sure why) but its perfect size, weight and good looks are well suited to those old designs.

Palette, brushes, tubes etc. I pasted a few wood chips inside as palette rests.

I prefer rags as against paper towels to wipe off paint. Need just five colors of Mark Carder palette and a few extras, a plastic medicinal spray bottle filled with medium and I am in business.

Below is an 8X10 canvas board but you can add masonite/MDF/ply panels as well. The maker could have gone straightaway to a size for an 8X10 or a 9X12 to make life easy. Anyway, I decided to make further changes. 

This is how the box would sit on my lap sitting down. Perfect size. I Needed something stable to keep the box in place.

Box shut. As I said earlier - this box is specifically for finished paintings from my tours. I will use my little thumb box locally. I can put this a tripod hole later if I make the base a little harder.

Made my new 8X10 panels by putting three coats of gesso on top of MDF panels. I found an e-commerce plastic bag and turned it into a brush holder using a bulldog clip. Big brushes are placed to the rear inside the bag. Only thing remains is to fix the panel holders in place and create an L for smaller panels. This box can hold three wet panels.

My outdoor painting box is almost done. I bought a powerdrill and attached the left panel holder onto that woodblock that I cut all by myself. This box can now hold three MDF panels. I made an 'L' for vertical format and smaller panels (if any).

I ordered a few D clips from amazon. I put two of those onto the sides of the lower base to attach a strap. I will tie this strap around my waste tightly while painting so that the box doesn't fall off when I am a little less attentive of my posture. The strap of my old violin case came into use here. Now this box is ready for all my plein air adventures.☺

This box fits into my backpack, along with a bottle of water and packed food items. I need an extremely portable stool/chair which might fit into the backpack as well.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Cheap, Sturdy Thumb-held Pochade Box (Thumb Box)

The inspiration of making a pocket thumb-held painting box was drawn from several old and new designs of the same. I want to paint outdoors (called En plein air painting today), learn from nature itself without the hassles of taking too much space, immobility, lethargy, handling too many materials and drawing too much attention. This little box will give me the opportunity to train myself from nature as well as provide sketches for the future paintings. I can literally paint anywhere now. 😁

I want to thank artists Stefan Baumann wholeheartedly for his positive endorsement of Utrecht thumb box to avoid all the problems mentioned above. He presented his thoughts in these two lectures on his YouTube channel:

There are many other designs present that were produced by makers and artists (DIY) over the years. You can have a glimpse of such boxes below:
Image result for thumb pochade boxRelated imageImage result for utrecht thumb box
Image result for jullian thumb box

Here is my mini outdoor sketching box. Total cost Rs.300 ($4.5/-) instead of Utrecht's Rs.6000/-box with US to India shipping. I bought the box, a saw (much later) and wood glue. I prepared this without any carpenter's tools apart from just wood glue, scissors, pockets knife and my arm strength. It looks flimsy but both the box and its cardboard separations inside are very hard and strong.

Back rest for the lid. This was pasted to avoid any drilling for hinges as I don't have any carpenter's tools.

Inside, there is room for two cardboard panels. These also help me to hold the panels and brushes in place when I am painting. The panel-mount below the lid is just wood and panel-rest above is an 'L' shaped hard cardboard supported by pasted wood inside (not seen here). 

     Opened the box. I added a 9ml tube for scale but I can also carry 20 ml tubes, rags and this box in a side bag.
     I will paint on oil paper mounted on cardboard for most of the time as they will mostly be sketches. It is better to paint without mediums on paper as the paint moves freely. But I can carry a small plastic homeopathic drop bottle with tups+linseed oil mixture if I am using small canvas panels. Notice how the palette was placed inside the pochade box when it was closed. I can use very small market available canvas panels; make your own panels by using gessoed ply/Masonite or pasting canvas on ply/Masonite.

I put the palette below to show how it works. It is a grey colored plastic sheet pasted on top of a very hard cardboard. I can rest two panels inside very comfortably.

Brushes were cut to fit the size of the box. I am carrying a lot of old brushes so that I can maintain the purity of tone.These are mostly smaller nylon ones - slightly harder than watercolor ones and a few old bristle brushes. Bigger ones are for quick blocking in and smaller ones are for modelling. There are also two detail brushes. See what I did to the palette knife. I removed the holder and pasted medical gum strips over the steel neck to gain some grip.

A test painting took me 15 minutes. I was planning to make this scene into a big painting for sometime. So this sketch will be very useful.
Brushes are rested tightly behind the panel. They are practically immovable. Palette is immovable due to proper placements of bigger bristle brushes below that are generally not used for such a small scale painting. I pasted two hard black cardboard pieces to hold the panels in place. I can modify this in future though but here I deliberately eliminated the uncomfortable position of holding the box and the brushes by the left hand thumb.

Removed the oil paper from the cardboard panel with a pen knife; glue stick on the side.


The colors that I can carry are my leftover paints: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Lemon (Cadmium Yellow Pale/light can also be used), Crimson Lake (Alizarine Crimson in the studio), French Ultramarine/Cobalt Blue and Burnt Umber/Burnt Sienna. This is my usual palette - two sets of warm/cool dark and light colors and one red. I also have a few additional colors for convenience. These are Prussian Blue, Cadmium Red Light, Viridian and Sap Green. These colors appear once in a while in the natural world but just in case...

I painted my first true plein air paintings on Sunday, 21st of May, 2017. A few difficulties arisen during the painting process.

  1. The palette tended to slide off towards the panel box when I held the box vertically, so I pasted small posts in the tree corners of the brush box. Now it is absolutely immovable.
  2. It is better to carry a small plastic cup with leads on for excess paint on the palette. Scrape the leftover paint, make a pile of a singular color and then put this into the cup. This color can also be used in the future as most of the tones in the nature are more towards grey. 
  3. I put a cleaning rag on top of the brushes, so that I could shut the lid without cleanings my palette if there is an urgent need. This will prevent the paints to be smeared on top of my brushes.

This box works like a dream. 😎 Here are two of my very first outdoor sketches. Still a long way to go by the way! Outdoor painting is truly very tough due to changing conditions.

Update on 28th of May 2017:
I made a few small changes into the design. Position of the panel holders were changed so that the panels would not wobble at all. I also added five 20 ml tubes of color in the box itself so that the box becomes compact but smaller 9 ml tubes would be ideal. A few more rags were placed under the palette for wiping the brushes. The bigger brushes shown above were moved to the utility side bag along with additional colors, small medium squeeze bottle.

Update on 29th of May:
The final neccassary changes are now made. Now it is actually a thumb box. I drilled a thumb hole with a new hacksaw, sanded the edges and pasted some tapes to protect the thumb from hard uneven edges of the wood. I can do huge change now. One thing comes to my mind is to convert the top lid into a genuin panel holder.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mark Carder's Color Palette (DrawMixPaint)

        I accidentally stumbled across Mark Carder’s YouTube video channel DrawMixPaint in November 2015. At that time, I was heavily confused over my skills and felt that I reached the dead-end. It was like a boon for me to find; Mark’s instructions aimed at all the things that I was struggling with at that time.

      Previously, I was under the influence of a group of artists who paint oil paintings like pastels with bright colors all around and have no connection with reality. I do not call these Impressionism because the real Impressionists painted the best pictures that are full of life and spirit. I was seeing and painting the natural colors but convinced myself (due to the influence of the aforementioned artists) that I was doing something wrong and against the trend. This conflict was beginning to destroy my own joy of painting. But after finding Mark, I understood that there was nothing wrong with my eyes and came across a large number of great artists worldwide who paint realism. They see natural colors and use the learning of both Impressionism and previous ages.

Mark Carder explaining the values and colors that he mixed and matched for his portrait demo.
     One of the most important factors that Mark Carder addressed was his use of ultra-limited color palette for natural colors instead of a big color palette. Before 2014, I used only the color that I felt I needed in a painting, which resulted in chaos. In 2014, I moved towards split primary colors (Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine and Prussian Blue). However, this also became difficult to maintain as acquiring all these colors became very expensive. Some of them were Series 4 and similar Hue colors were not that brilliant. So, I needed something new and stable.

     Mark’s palette has only five colors: Titanium White (White); Cadmium Yellow/ Cadmium Yellow Light Pale (yellow); Pyrrol Rubine/Permanent Alizarin Crimson/Permanent Madder Deep in Rembrandt (red); Burnt Umber (Brown) and French Ultramarine (Blue). So, it minimized the cost beyond measure. It has two warm/cool lightening/darkening color and mixing can be done totally according to Mark’s simplified color mixing chart. Only addition to the primaries is Burnt Umber, which really is the workhorse of this palette. It saves other expensive colors, maintains warmth, prevents bluish milkiness and creates a dark orange base.

     Mark justifies that any natural colors (except brightest oranges, purples and blue-greens) can be mixed and matched with this palette provided the painting is painted under the same brightness of light as the subject. Mark's color mixing chart below is very simple and self explanatory. This theory simplifies all sorts of confusion regarding mixing. E.g. if the color has become more blue-green compared to the subject, then add the opposite color brown to normalize it. If green is too yellowish as compared to the subject, then add purple to diffuse the yellow in the green. I used this theory and it works very beautifully. It has reduced all my previous efforts to the minimum.

     When you reach a point where you cannot match a color with this palette, you can use auxiliary powerful colors such as Pthalo Blue, Cadmium Scarlet/Orange and bright purples. In that way both cost and effort to manipulate these powerful colors will be minimum. 

     It is important to mention that Mark recommends mixing clove oil and stand oil to oil paints, which leaves the paint wet for a longer period which is again a trend breaker in the industry as the most manufacturers and artists opt for quicker drying time. They think that slow drying is a problem. It is easier to manipulate wet paint rather than painting wet-on-dry. This theory helped me again a great deal in improving my art. I used to wait for my paints to dry to correct mistakes; now I don't. 

    I hope this blog helps the reader to make his/her painting process smoother like wet paint 😀. Many people won't believe that such a limited palette is of any use. But I feel that it is better to try and then believe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How to or not to Judge Art; Abstract Expressionism Paintings by Kaustav Mukherjee

Personal preference or taste cannot be a parameter to judge art (good or bad), especially without the experience of looking at vast types of artwork. Ability to judge art is a summation of understanding the techniques employed, culture of a time, experience of ones life, feelings etc. Art can only be understood objectively - the artist's aim. Without this understanding, nobody can differentiate between good art and bad art.

Here I must point out that people generally despise modern art due to lack of understanding of the concept. The viewers do not understand that the modern art is more to do with instincts and feelings that can only be felt or experienced. It is not representational. That said, a question can be asked that how many people really even understand representational art? Do they have enough knowledge to understand the symbolism in a representational painting? Rembrandt's 'Return of the Prodigal Son' may look just an ordinary painting to a lot of people unless they are shown what aspects to look at. However, one must know that lack of skills cannot be an excuse to get into modern art just because it looks easier sometimes and leave representational art totally since there is a problem to handle called the 'likeness' in it. Modern art is not at all easy. Years go by just to find the most desired style of painting that connect to the senses of both artist and viewer.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Zorn Palette: An Extraordinary Experience

Anders Zorn (18 February 1860 – 22 August 1920)

      Anders Zorn is known to have used a primary color palette consisting of Lead White (Flake White), Yellow Ochre, Vermilion and Ivory Black. Surprisingly, this ultra-limited palette can produce a vast range of mixes. These days this color palette of Anders Zorn is receiving praise due to the enormous possibilities it provides. It is also noteworthy that three out of the four colors are Series 1 (the cheapest).

     Artists these days consider this palette as a very important development for oil painting and portraiture in particular. However, it is noteworthy that these colors can also be used in still life and landscape paintings under certain circumstances. Most striking aspect is that a kind of an olive green color is possible to obtain by mixing Ivory Black and Yellow Ochre as Ivory Black is bluish in nature. Observe the examples below:

Zorn Palette Still Life by Kaustav Mukherjee
Zorn Palette Landscape by Kaustav Mukherjee

   The main reason for such choice of colors by Zorn is not certain but probably due to simplification of color mixing and availability of these colors anywhere in the world at that time. Also Lead White, Yellow Ochre, Vermilion and Ivory Black are perfect for any portraiture. It must be known to the reader that Anders Zorn was not the only user of this palette. But the palette received his name due to his display of extraordinary virtuosity with such limited range of colors.

    The color palette was not explored to the fullest during Zorn's time due to the advent of Impressionism, increased focus on colorful landscape painting and modern art, in which the artists preferred a much broader color range than a limited one. Also, Zorn palette cannot produce very bright colors such as sunny day greens, brightest oranges and pure purples. Thus it was less used by the artists. However, with the resurgence of realism in the recent times artists explored and found this to be an excellent choice for a number of reasons such as broader range, easy availability, lower cost and permanence of colors.

     Below is a study conducted by Aaron Westerberg in his blog 'Zorn Palette and Color Chart' Posted on 5/2/2016. The chart shows how wide the range of Zorn Palette is.

     These days artists tend to use Cadmium Red Light and Titanium White in the place of Vermilion and Lead White respectively due to health and safety regulations and availability. This change also provides three new opportunities:
  • Brighter oranges and pinks due to more powerful Cadmium Red.
  • Although still very dull compared to pure blues, a 'Bluer' blue color due to blueish undertone of both Titanium White and Ivory Black
  • Palest tints due to powerful tinter Titanium White

     It is noteworthy in the end that there is misconception that Zorn used only these four colors. It is absolutely untrue. A large number of his paintings show the use of auxiliary colors (e.g. Viridian, Cobalt Blue etc.). He also had a large variety of colors in his possession. Therefore, he used these special colors only on need basis and used his regular colors for the majority of the work.