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PAINTING Boats and Harbors
By Harry Russell Ballinger
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Oil Painting Equipment
ALTHOUGH I HAVE PAINTED a great many watercolors in my life, I still consider oils a much easier and more flexible medium in which to work. The instructions in this book will be based on painting in oil, and I will try to give you all the information at my disposal to help you handle this medium in a professional manner.
Some artists and many students think that they have to paint in watercolors for years before they acquire sufficient skill to work in oils. This assumption has always seemed absurd to me, for there is no medium as easy to work in as oil. You can make changes and repaint the picture with the greatest of ease if you are using oil, while in watercolor you are in trouble if a single wash goes wrong.
Painting in oil isn't like drawing with a pencil. Your brush strokes should be broad and strong, so accustom yourself to working on a fairly large scale from the start.
For the benefit of those who have had no previous experience with oil painting, I will list the necessary equipment for out-of-door painting.
You will need a sketchbox to carry your brushes and paints. A wooden box 12 x 16 inches is a good size, although you can use a 16 x 20 inch box if you prefer a more generous one. Sketchboxes are usually made of wood, though some people prefer those of aluminum because of their light weight. A smaller sketchbox is easier to carry, but I think one does better with a fairly generous size.
A palette comes with the sketchbox, though some artists like to use a paper palette with disposable sheets. If you use a wooden palette it is a good idea to rub a little linseed oil on it, when new, in order to give it a smoother and less porous surface on which to mix your paint.
Don't buy a fitted box. It contains a lot of useless colors and is much too expensive.
You will want a good, solid sketching easel of either wood or aluminum. My favorite is the Anderson easel, now being manufactured by Edith Anderson Miller in Cincinnati, Ohio. It has a shelflike arrangement below the canvas on which to rest the sketchbox and palette. This easel folds up compactly and has a shoulder strap for carrying. It is a great help when you are wandering around the docks with a sketchbox in one hand and a couple of canvases in the other. Some of the aluminum easels have a similar arrangement. If the easel hasn't a place for a palette, you can nail three stretcher sticks together to fit down over the easel and give you a platform for it.
I never paint while holding the palette in my left hand. It is uncomfortable and, moreover, you need your left hand to hold extra brushes or a paint rag.
I recommend at least six brushes, ranging from a quarter of an inch to an inch in width, and prefer bristle brushes to sable, because you are liable to get your work too polished with sable brushes. These brushes should be flat with a square end, either the type called brights with short bristles or those with slightly longer bristles called flats.
It is a good idea to have two brushes of approximately the same size, one for light color and the other for dark — for your smaller ones, Nos. 2 and 3; for the next size, 4 and 5; and for the larger sizes, 7 and 8. For very fine lines you could buy a No. 1 brush, but you will be able to get a fairly fine line by using the side of your larger brushes and will rarely need a small brush. It is better always to use as large a brush as possible in order to cover your canvas rapidly and to keep your picture broad and simple.
You will need a single oil cup about two inches in diameter and a palette knife of the trowel type, with the knife surface a little below the handle. This type of knife is easier to use than the straight type, and you get less paint on your hands (Fig. 1).
The list of colors in the Ballinger Palette is a simple one. It consists of ultramarine blue and cerulean blue, zinc white, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, cadmium red medium or dark and alizarin crimson. There are no earth colors, greens or black.
These are the colors you will employ most of the time. In addition, you can buy phthalo blue and viridian, though you will seldom use them.
Medium is the liquid you mix with your paint when you apply it to your canvas. I use a combination of linseed oil and turpentine, half and half. The oil should be a purified linseed oil obtainable from any art materials store; any clear gum turpentine sold by paint stores is adequate. You will also need retouching varnish. This is a light, quick-drying varnish to bring a gloss to the parts of the picture that look dull and lifeless. It can be sprayed on by a fixative blower or applied with a clean, soft brush if the painting is dry. You will need only the retouch varnish when the picture dries out and you want to continue painting on it.
One other useful piece of equipment is a view finder (Fig. 2). This is simply a piece of cardboard with a rectangular opening in it and a wide enough border around the opening to blank out all but the scene that you are viewing. When you are sketching outdoors there is so much to see that it is often difficult to decide what to include in your picture and what to leave out. The view finder will help you isolate your projected composition.
The last item to consider is what to paint on. Canvas mounted on a cardboard panel is good because it is easy to transport. For larger sizes — 20 x 24 inches or over — I would suggest a stretched canvas. Panels the size of your sketchbox are handy because you can carry them in the lid of your box, which has slots for that purpose. Some of my friends use Masonite panels cut to a desired size. They are practically indestructible, but I don't like the surface — one side is too smooth and the other too rough.
At this point I would like to list a few terms that artists use in describing pictures, which otherwise may be confusing to the beginner. Artists are constantly talking about warm and cool colors in their pictures. This means exactly what it says. The warm colors are red, yellow, orange, yellowish green, reddish purple and the browns or grays in which the warm colors predominate. The cool colors are the blues, bluish greens, blue-purples and all the bluish grays.
By value we mean the degree of light and dark of any particular part of a picture or color. It also means the degree of light or dark of one color compared to another. Tone means about the same as value. Half tones are the values in a picture that are neither light nor shade — the values that are between the light and dark masses.
Key means the color value of the picture. A high-keyed painting would be one with light, bright colors, while a low-keyed picture would have dark, sombre colors.CHAPTER 2
Simplified Approach to Composition
THE FIRST THING TO CONSIDER in any picture is composition, that is, the dark and light pattern or design of the picture. Color alone won't make a good picture unless you also have a pleasing balance of the masses. I always try to think of every scene that I paint as a big, simple arrangement in two tones of light and dark (Fig. 3). This is the framework for the whole picture. I try to see every portion of the picture either as part of the light or of the dark pattern. I always "tie" my darks together by having one dark spot blend into or overlap an adjoining one to make a large, irregular shape of dark rather than a number of isolated spots (Fig. 4A & Fig. 4B). Tie up the light spots in the same manner. The dark pattern, of course, makes the light one.
By thinking of the picture as a two-tone pattern of light and dark, you start with a simple poster-like arrangement (Fig. 5). There is so much detail in nature that it is a great help to start a picture in simple masses and then, as you work along, modify some of the darks and lights, adding detail where necessary (Fig. 6).
There are a few standard forms of composition that are often used in the structural design of most pictures, but before we discuss them I would like to explain what is meant by balance in a picture.
Pictures are composed on the principle of the steelyard balance. If this term is confusing, think of the old idea of the seesaw: an adult has to sit well in toward the center to be balanced by a child out on one end of the seesaw. Applied to a picture, a large mass of either light or dark near the center of your picture can be balanced by a small spot out near the edge (Fig. 7).
It is easy to see a two-toned pattern of light and shade in a harbor scene on a bright day. As a rule, the sky and its reflection in the water will be part of the light pattern as will light pilothouses and the superstructure of the boats or those parts of buildings or wharfs that are in sunlight.
The darks will be in the hulls of the vessels, dark shadows under wharfs, reflections in the water and those parts of buildings and wharfs in shadow (Fig. 8).
A popular type of composition is a light picture with balanced spots of dark (Fig. 9).
Many pictures are painted with the same composition in reverse, that is, a dark picture with balanced light spots — for example, the light boats and wharf in the upper left balanced by the rowboat in the lower right (Fig. 10).
A composition with a dark base and a light upper portion is effective; so is the same in reverse — dark top and light lower portion (Figs. 11 & 12).
A pyramid composition with the weight and interest building up the middle is always strong and effective (Fig. 13).
There is also the L-shaped composition which builds up one side of the picture (Fig. 14).
I often use the S-shaped composition in which the interest swings through the picture from top to bottom like the shape of the letter S. It is always pleasing (Fig. 15).
Sometimes the picture can be arranged in horizontal bands of alternate light and dark (Fig. 16).
A circular design is good because it keeps the eye in the picture and concentrates attention on the center of interest (Fig. 17).
Often a combination of several of these compositions can be used in the same picture (Fig. 18).
The difference between drawing and painting becomes apparent when you paint in masses of light and dark without any outline — when you draw you are working simply in line and outline with very few values.
If you are able to get a fine decorative arrangement in your picture, you will have a good painting, but if the composition doesn't balance or work out in a decorative design, it is useless to struggle with it — the picture will never be any good. You might just as well give it up and try another from a different angle.
One way of learning about composition is to study every fine picture that you see and try to figure out what makes it good. Decide what kind of composition was used in its construction. By studying other paintings you can see how the principles of balance and composition which I have been discussing can be applied to your own picturemaking.
Perspective plays an important part in every picture, so I will try to explain its general principles.
The receding lines of all objects in a picture converge at a point on the horizon line at the level of your eye. Your eye level determines the horizon line since the eye line and the horizon line are the same. Every receding line above your eye level comes down to the horizon, while all receding lines below go up to it. A figure standing on a dock would see a higher horizon line than a figure seated in a rowboat (Fig. 19).
Nearby objects below the level of your eye seem to tip down to form a more exaggerated angle with the horizon line as they get nearer to you. They flatten out as they recede toward the horizon line. The same is true of objects above the eye line. The lines of buildings slant at a more exaggerated angle near to, but flatten out as they approach the horizon (Fig. 20).
Clouds have more sweeping curves overhead, but are flatter and closer together as they approach the horizon.
If you wish to learn more about perspective there are a number of books available on the subject. Try to get one that you can understand. I must admit that most of them seem rather complicated to me, but if you stay with it and keep in mind the few simple ideas that I have listed above I'm sure that you will be able to work out the perspective in your picture without too much of a struggle.CHAPTER 3
Color Mixing — Using the Ballinger Palette
I BELIEVE THAT IT IS BETTER to use a simple selection of colors for your palette than to use every color under the sun. When you mix two colors to make a third, you get more sparkle and freshness than if you use a corresponding color right out of the tube. My choice of colors, which has been called the Ballinger Palette, is simply the standard high- keyed palette, with no green, purple or black and no earth colors.
Before even attempting to paint, you have to learn to mix color. Until you learn to match the color that you see before you with your paints, you won't be able to paint anything the way it looks to you, for mixing a desired color is a matter of practice and study. I suggest that you spend some time trying to match in color and value every color in your living room. Try to match the color of the ceiling, walls, floor, draperies and furniture. Match the general color of the carpet, for instance, both in the light and in the shadows. Try the same idea outdoors. Don't draw; just match the colors you see in front of you — the color of the grass, trees, houses, etc.
Most beginners can identify correctly a color that they see in front of them but are unable to combine the pigments on their palette in the proper proportions to produce the desired color.
There is one thing to remember: go gently when you are trying to mix a color; sometimes just a touch of color on the corner of your brush will be all you need. Compare the color that you are mixing with the color in front of you — put them side by side. If your color is too light, add more paint; if too dark, add white; if too warm, add more cool color. While it does take practice to match the exact color and tone that you see before you, it can be done with perseverance.
The colors should be arranged on your palette starting with the cool ones on the left, white next, then the warm ones, arranged in the order of the color wheel (Fig. 21).
1. Ultramarine blue. This is a dark, purplish blue which, combined with red, can be used for strong darks. I use the blue to darken the color, then add cadmium red deep, cadmium red light or cadmium orange, depending on how warm a dark I desire. As a rule, I like to have my darks a little on the warm side to give them more richness and depth than if they were a cold blue or purple.
2. Cerulean blue. This is a paler, more greenish blue and makes lovely, pearly grays when combined with cadmium red light and white. If you desire more of a tan color, add a little cadmium orange to your gray mixture. However, don't add cadmium yellow pale, as this will immediately produce a greenish tint. Cerulean blue is a very useful color as it is already grayed up as it comes from the tube and can be used to gray up other colors or combinations of colors. It makes a fine light green when combined with cadmium yellow pale. For darker greens you can use ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow pale and for a very dark olive-green, use ultramarine blue with cadmium orange.
3. Phthalo blue and viridian. Once in a while you can use a little phthalo blue or viridian for some special spot, but I don't think you will need either of them often. Phthalo blue is a powerful dye, like Prussian blue, and should be used with restraint. Sometimes a little mixed with white will make a strong, very light blue that can be used in painting a sky. For ordinary use it is too powerful for the other colors in your palette.
Viridian is a pleasant blue green and is useful in painting parts of a cresting wave in a surf scene or the dark green in the quiet water of a harbor.
4. Zinc white. This should be fairly liquid so that it will mix readily with your colors and flow on easily. Of course you can use it to gray up your colors when you are mixing lighter hues, but don't mix too much white with your color because you are liable to give a chalky look to your painting. For instance, you can get light enough greens by using cadmium yellow pale with your blue, which is a nice light color, without using any white at all.
5. Cadmium yellow pale is like a lemon yellow. Be sure that they don't sell you cadmium yellow light at the art materials store, as this is a warmer color and doesn't work as well as cadmium yellow pale.
6. Cadmium orange is just about the warmest kind of yellow. By mixing different quantities of cadmium yellow pale and cadmium orange, you can get any degree of warmth that you desire in your yellows.
7. Cadmium red light. Be sure it is a bright orange-red, like vermilion.
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