Brushes: Silver Black Velvet Brushes (review)

I watch a few art channels on YouTube, and several of the watercolour artists use Silver Black Velvet brushes. While I know that practice is at least as important as the tools you use (ie. there’s no magic brush that will make you paint better) I did like the look of the brushes, and at the time the only non-synthetic brushes I owned were a Jackson’s Squirrel Mop and a Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky sable I got free with an order from Jerry’s Artarama years ago, so I decided to get one.

The first Silver Black Velvet brush I got was the size 10 round (top brush in the above photo). I liked it so much I later bought the 3/4 inch wash, and then, when I started doing bigger watercolour pieces than the postcard sized works I usually did, I bought a 1.5 inch wash brush as well.

The bristles are a blend of natural squirrel hair and black synthetic fibre, and the combination produces a perfect balance – at least to my mind – between soft and springy. The softness means it’s easy to get subtle, delicate blending, especially wet in wet, and the springiness helps it snap back and keep their shape, so achieving fine controlled marks presents no real challenge. It’s firm enough that you can use it to scrub at dried watercolour for lifting techniques, but soft enough that it won’t damage the surface of the paper. The bristles hold a lot of water or paint, which allows you to paint for longer without having to dip the brush in the water or palette again.

In addition to being wonderful to paint with, these brushes are just really nicely made, and they look good, too. The wooden handles feel sturdy in the hand and the black finish with silver accents makes them look like the high quality painting tools they are.

Unfortunately, buying these brushes will be difficult if you don’t live in America. So far I’ve been unable to find anywhere that sells them in either the UK or Australia, and postage costs from the few US art supply retailers push them into the ‘too expensive’ category. The only way I was able to buy any was from a single seller on eBay. They were still expensive when purchased that way, but no more so than natural bristle brushes purchased from local retailers.

Silver Black Velvet brushes are difficult (and expensive) to find outside of America, but if you can get your hands on them, they are worth every cent. If you’re a watercolour artist and you have some money to spare, you owe it to yourself to at least try one Silver Black Velvet brush.

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Watercolours: Seascape (demonstration)

Time for another art demonstration! I found an old picture of my Nan and I at the beach many years ago, and while I didn’t want to paint any figures, I thought the beach scene itself was simple yet appealing enough that it would make a good watercolour painting. Once the painting was finished, I decided I had taken enough progress photos that I could turn it into a demonstration post, so here we go. As always, remember you can substitute the colours I’ve used here for the equivalent colours you already have in your palette.

Schmincke Horadam Watercolours:
-Ultramarine Finest
-Permanent Green Olive
-Yellow Ochre
-Burnt Umber
-Payne’s Grey Bluish

Winsor & Newton Watercolours:
-Cobalt Blue

Lukas Gouache:
-Chinese White

-Silver Black Velvet 3/4 inch flat
-Silver Black Velvet size 10 round
-Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable size 4 round
-Creative Mark Ebony Splendor size 2 round

300gsm rough press watercolour paper (I used Saunders Waterford by St Cuthbert’s Mill). You can do it in whatever size you like but I did it on a block 5″ X 7″.

Other Equipment
Masking Tape
Greylead pencil (HB or 2B)

Step 1

Mask off the outside border of the paper with masking tape. Use a ruler to draw the horizon line about two-thirds down the page and the outline of the headland (don’t press too hard with the pencil). You might also want to lightly sketch the shoreline along the bottom. Put another piece of masking tape across the horizon line (the top of the masking tape should be aligned with the horizon line). The sky area needs to be done quickly to avoid ugly hard lines forming, so it’s probably best to mix up puddles of the colours you need before you start, so you don’t waste time mixing while the wash dries. Make one puddle of Cobalt Blue, a little puddle of Yellow Ochre (or Raw Sienna, if you have that instead) and a larger puddle of Ultramarine Finest and Burnt Umber mixed into a bluish grey.

Use a large flat brush to put a clean wash of water over the whole sky area. Working quickly, before it dries, use a size 10 round brush to put in the Cobalt Blue for the blue areas of sky. Rinse your brush and pick up your grey mixture of Ultramarine and Burnt Umber and dab this along the bottom of the clouds to create the shapes, concentrating the darkest parts in the middle and right of the cloud formations. Rinse and dry your brush and use it to gently move some of the grey up higher into the clouds to create a lighter grey. Rinse and dry your brush one more time before picking up a small amount of Yellow Ochre and lightly dusting it along the top edges of the clouds to show the sunlight hitting them. Let this dry thoroughly. Make a dark mixture of Paynes Grey Bluish and Burnt Umber to paint in the distant headland with a size 4 round (if this isn’t dark enough, you may need to go over it again once it is dry with a stronger mix of the same colours). Again, let this dry thorough. Once it has, remove the masking tape across the horizon.

Step 2
The next step will require more wet-into-wet blending like the clouds above, so mix up separate puddles of three colours: Ultramarine Finest, Permanent Green Olive and Yellow Ochre. Wet the ocean area with clean water, then pick up each of these colours and apply them with horizontal strokes, letting them overlap in places while still remaining pure in others. The colours should generally be lighter the closer they are to shore. Apply Yellow Ochre in the bottom corner for the sand (leave a strip of white between the sea and the sand for where the reflections will go; this strip should get wider as it moves to the left and gets closer to the viewer). Blend a little Burnt Umber into the very bottom right corner. Let the painting dry.

(side note: apologies for the oversaturation of this photo, I’m not sure why my iPad camera distorted it so much. The painting isn’t this bright in person.)

Step 3
Go over the sea area again with the same colours you used above, dropping a little Paynes Grey Bluish in along the horizon on the left. Create a puddle using all three of your sea colours and add a little Paynes Grey Bluish (the colour you end up with should be a bit darker than the sea areas). Using a mostly dry size 4 round brush, pick up some of this dark sea colour and add some horizontal strokes to show the shadowed areas of some incoming waves. Once these have dried thoroughly, use a size 2 brush to carefully brush some Chinese White gouache along the tops of the waves for the foam (flick it down in a few places to show it crashing down) and in a few other areas to indicate light sparkling on the water.

Wash clean water along the white area between the sea and the sand, making it overlap onto the sand a bit and leaving a narrow, uneven strip of dry white paper at the water’s edge. Using your grey cloud mix of Ultramarine Finest and Burnt Umber, drop some grey into this to show the clouds reflecting in the wet sand (make it darker along the right side, where the clouds are darkest). Drop in some Cobalt Blue in a few places on the left.

Now all that’s left is to sign your name, which you can do with a size 2 round and a slightly darker mix of Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber.

Thus ends today’s art demonstration. Though it may look challenging, watercolour can be made easier by mixing up your colours before you start painting, so you don’t have to worry about your wet washes drying on you before you can mix the next colour. Until next time, happy painting!

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Books: Paint with the Impressionists by Jonathan Stephenson (review)

Something I’ve always struggled with in art is letting myself paint loosely and not getting bogged down with perfection and realism. Though I do enjoy painting and drawing (or at least trying to paint and draw) realistic art, I also want to paint in a more expressionist or Impressionist style, but every time I try, my subconscious takes over and demands that I make everything accurate and detailed. As a result, I ended up with a painting that’s neither realistic or Impressionist but is just a colourful mess.

Though I know that instruction books aren’t a magic solution – you still have to put the effort in and practice to become good at something – I thought it might be worth picking up a book about Impressionist painting to see if there were any tips or tricks I could learn. A quick Google search yielded a number of results for various books, and I ended up buying Paint with the Impressionists by Jonathan Stephenson.

The first parts of the book provide a brief history of Impressionism and some of the key artists (like Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Renoir) of the movement and how their work evolved. It also looks at the sorts of tools and materials (including the paints and particular colours) they used and their techniques. I found the historical aspect quite interesting – even though I was familiar with some of it – and it was interesting to look at the different styles and preferred subject matter between artists within the Impressionist movement. The materials and tools sections also talked about modern day equivalents, so the reader can go out and buy what they need in any art shop if they want to attempt the exercises in the book.

A little over half of the book is taken up by demonstrations painted in an Impressionist style by the author, Jonathan Stephenson. A lot of art demonstration books annoy me because they have one or two little pictures of the painting in progress, followed by a full page shot of the finished painting, proclaiming “Look how easy it is to paint this!” Though some of the progress shots in this book are small, most are a decent size, and there are a lot that show close-ups of the detail and brush strokes used. There are 25 demonstrations in the book, each based on the style of one of the key Impressionist artists and ranging in subject from landscapes and still lifes to portraits and figures. Most of them are done in oil paints but there are a couple that use acrylics or pastels. The accompanying explanations and descriptions for the pictures provide a good idea of how the artist completed each stage of the artwork, making it fairly easy for even a relatively inexperienced artist to follow along.

Paint with the Impressionists by Jonathan Stephenson is a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in Impressionist painting. I got a second-hand copy off eBay for about $11 but a new copy from the Book Depository only costs about $22. Those who are purely interested in a historical perspective will enjoy the information about how the movement got started and how the original impressionist artists liked to work, while those who want to learn to paint in an Impressionist style will find the comprehensive demonstrations throughout the book helpful and fun to paint along with. I’m looking forward to applying the techniques from this book to some landscapes and still lifes of my own.

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Art Roundup: May 2017

So far this blog has been structured almost entirely around art supply reviews and art demonstrations, with the odd article or opinion piece thrown in for good measure. This has been deliberate; my brain likes structure, with every post having a proper category and no post being an ‘odd one out’ in terms of how it should be categorised, but as I’ve been doing more paintings recently, I’ve started to realise the limitations of this structure. Whenever I post art, it’s usually in the form of a demonstration post – showing all the steps I went through to create the finished piece – or in the form of an art supply review, thrown in at the end as a ‘sample’ painting or drawing to illustrate what I did with the art material I’d just spent a whole post waffling about. But when I created art with supplies I’d already reviewed or couldn’t be bothered reviewing at that time, I didn’t really have a category for it.

Hence I’ve decided to create the monthly Art Roundups, where I’ll post any new art I create in a given month that hasn’t been used in a review or a demonstration. Depending on how much art I create each month, I may also include art that was used in reviews and demonstrations so it’s easier to find for those who just want to see the art and don’t care about the supplies used. Depending on how lazy I am, I might eventually go back and create Art Roundup posts for past months as well.

Anyway, here are the new things I’ve painted or drawn in May, 2017.

Spring by the Lake – Winsor & Newton Artists Watercolours
This landscape was my first real attempt at a looser, more impressionist landscape. Though I love the impressionist style, my brain always demands that I make things look realistic and detailed, so I struggle to let myself work more freely. Though there are things about it I’d change if I did it again, I’m quite happy with how it turned out, and it was good practice for watercolours, which I find the most difficult medium to use. I also thought I’d ruined the painting at one stage by overworking a section, but in the end I managed to save it, and I think that the corrected area isn’t visible to most people.

T-Rex – Daniel Smith Watercolours
As I often do, I was dicking around on Twitter one day instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing: marking assignments. I Tweeted that I didn’t know what to paint and one of my friends told me to paint a dinosaur… so I did. I ended up ‘selling’ the dinosaur to said friend in exchange for churros and hot chocolate.

Reflections on the Shore – Schmincke Watercolours
I’ve painted a few seascapes in acrylics and oils but I hadn’t painted a watercolour seascape, so I decided to attempt one. I didn’t get the structure of the clouds quite right (and I couldn’t really fix it since I know I would have ended up overworking it and making it worse) but otherwise it came out alright, I think. It was loosely based on an old photo I took with my grandparents many years ago, when we were at the beach near their house. I do think it came out much nicer than the original painting I did for my review of Schmincke watercolours, so I’m going to go back and replace that painting with this one.

That’s it for this month’s art roundup. I do have a few other pieces in progress but I’ll wait til I actually finish them to post them. Now that I’ve finished teaching for the semester I’m hoping to have more time for art, but since I’m now off intermission, much of my time will now be taken up by research.

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Oil Sticks: Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks (review)

On a recent trip into the city to meet up with some friends, I dropped into a few art supply shops while I was waiting. One of them had a clearance table set up near the door, and several minutes of rifling through it like a magpie in a garbage can yielded some Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks.

Most of these little cardboard packets contained one full-sized stick, but there were a few of these ones that contained three sample-sized sticks, including this set and one with metallic/iridescent colours. I decided to get this one since it was a cheaper way to try more colours. Unfortunately they didn’t have any white PaintStiks left. Here’s the colour chart I painted when I first got home with the sticks.

The packet claims that these will be touch dry in 24 hours. This was accurate for two of my three colours, but Wedgewood Blue took closer to 36 hours to be touch dry. Still, this puts them pretty much on par with the Sennelier Oil Sticks, and it’s still much faster than traditional oil paint’s drying time. As with other oil paint sticks, a ‘skin’ of dry oil colour forms over the stick after a couple of hours when it isn’t being used, to keep the inner paint fresh. The skin formed on the Shiva sticks was quite thick compared to both the Sennelier and Winsor & Newton Oilbars, which means that in the long run, a greater percentage of each stick will be unusable. The skin is at least easy to remove; just slice a bit off with a palette knife and then use your fingers to peel off a larger section, exposing the fresh paint inside. Texture-wise, the Shiva PaintStiks are quite soft and squishy, similar to the Sennelier sticks, and they lay down colour easily. You can also scribble with them on the palette and add solvent or a medium like Liquin to the swatch of colour and then pick it up with a brush to use it like normal oil paint. You can just push the paint around with a brush without the use of a medium, but it’s much more difficult.As I mentioned in one (or both) of my reviews for the other oil sticks I’ve tried, I’d recommend using a colour shaper for fine detail, as the chunky nature of the oil sticks can make it hard to get accurate lines.

Shiva PaintStiks are slightly shorter and thinner than the Sennelier Oil Sticks (38ml), and significantly shorter and thinner than Winsor & Newton Oilbars (58ml) but as far as I can see, the actual quantity in mls is not listed for PaintStiks. In the few local art supply stores that carry them, the Shiva PaintStiks seem to be a little dearer than the Sennelier Oil Sticks, but when purchased from the UK they’re slightly cheaper, though the difference in size between the brands means they’re probably about the same per ml.

There are 77 colours available, with 22 of these being iridescent colours. I regret not getting some of the iridescent ones to try; the art shop had another three-pack of mini sticks in Gold, Silver and Copper, but I figured I’d already spent enough money that day. They also do not have any pigment information listed – either on the sticks themselves or on the documentation on the manufacturer’s website – though they do provide lightfastness ratings for each colour. Most of the iridescent colours are lightfast but of the 55 standard colours, only about half of them were rated as *** (excellent). I was disappointed to find that the Wedgewood Blue I got was only rated ** (very good) while the other two colours were rated * (fair, though in my experience when something is rated “fair” it usually means “poor”). On the bright side, the pigment concentration in the Shiva PaintStiks is comparable with the other oil stick brands, so you can build up solid layers of colour quickly and easily.

Here’s a little landscape I painted quickly from imagination on a small canvas panel this morning. I had to use some Winsor & Newton Oilbars and Sennelier Oil Sticks as the colour range in my Shiva PaintStik sample pack was quite limited.

The Shiva Artist’s PaintStiks are a reasonably priced option for those who want to play with oil paint in stick form, though I’d suggest looking at the colour chart online before ordering to make sure you avoid fugitive colours if you intend to sell or display your work. Depending on where you are, it may be cheaper to buy the Sennelier Oil Sticks, in which case I’d suggest going for those instead, but PaintStiks are perfectly viable and will get the job done.

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Inks: Higgins Drawing Inks (review)

A few months ago I won a mystery box full of art supplies through a giveaway on Grumbacher’s Facebook page. One of the items in the box was a set of four bottles of Higgins Drawing Inks. Having never used inks before, I initially shoved them into my cupboard with no real intention of using them, but eventually I figured I should at least give them a go, so I fished them out again.

Here are the swatches for my four ink colours.

Most of the inks are transparent, as one would expect, but the white one was quite opaque. The white ink also dried with a little raised texture, unlike the others which all dried completely flat. Of the four, the indigo ink took the longest to dry. Most of the colours seemed waterproof once they were dried, but the indigo one did smudge a bit when I scrubbed at it with a wet brush.

I believe these inks are supposed to be used with dip pens or technical pens, but I don’t have any of those (my mystery box included inks and pen cleaners but no actual pens), so I just used them by drawing on the paper straight with the ink droppers. The droppers included in the bottles are quite precise and allow for plenty of control in squeezing out the ink.

There are 11 colours available (including two variations of white), but these inks don’t seem to be available outside of America; besides eBay and Amazon, the only sellers I found who carried them were Cheap Joes and Dick Blick, both American art supply retail sites. That being said, they’re only about $4-5 USD a bottle, so if you do live in America, you’ll be able to get them easily and cheaply.

Here’s a little blue wren I draw from imagination with the Higgins inks on a background created with Winsor & Newton watercolours.

Though I’m not an expert on inks by any means, I quite like the Higgins Drawing Inks. I can’t say how well they’d work in pens, but if you just want something that will allow you to do quick, loose ink drawings, Higgins Drawing Inks will suit your needs. The convenient droppers included in the bottles mean you can just as easily use them to draw even if you don’t have a proper ink pen.

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Gouache: Art Spectrum Artists’ Gouache (review)

After doing a few artists’ trading cards a while ago, I decided they were a fun way to complete paintings quickly due to their small size, so I ordered a few more packs of blank cards. At the same time, I noticed that the Primary Mixing Set of Art Spectrum gouache was discounted, so I added it to my order.

There are only five colours in the set, but you can mix any colour from the three primary colours plus white and black, so it’s actually a really good tool for anyone interested in learning colour theory and mixing. You don’t need to buy 20 tubes of paint if you can mix all the colours you need from a handful. Here are the swatches for the Primary Mixing Set.

Gouache is known for its opacity and matte finish while still handling like watercolour, and Art Spectrum gouache performs well in that regard. All five colours in my set were opaque and most had a reasonable semi-fluid consistency when I squeezed them from the tube, although the white one had begun to separate from the clear vehicle a little. They also didn’t have the awful gritty texture some brands of gouache have once they’ve been applied to paper. Though White and Black were single pigment paints, the three primary colours were mixtures of two pigments, though multi-pigment mixtures do seem to be more prevalent in gouache than in other artist grade paints. Though lightfastness information is available on the manufacturer’s website (showing that most colours are lightfast aside from some of the reds and violets), the actual pigment information is only available on the tubes themselves. I will say that the colours in this mixing set were very well chosen, as I was able to mix a wide range of natural, muted colours for my sample painting.

The Art Spectrum gouache is significantly cheaper per tube than other artist grade brands (at $7.60 or so for a 22ml tube as opposed to $7-8 for 14-15ml tubes) but unlike brands like M Graham and Winsor & Newton, the Art Spectrum gouache uses very few expensive pigments. Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow are the only exceptions and those are about double the cost of the other Art Spectrum tubes, but other than that, every other tube in the range is the same price. For this reason it’s probably the best option for beginners or those for whom money is tight (I’d also recommend Lukas gouache if you can find it, but I don’t think it’s easy to get outside of America and Europe).

Here’s a little mini landscape I painted from imagination on a Strathmore watercolour ATC.

Art Spectrum Artists’ gouache is a reasonably priced and good quality paint, with all colours providing nice, opaque coverage. It’s also relatively easy to find in most local art stores, so it would be an excellent option for art students who are learning colour theory and/or who want to be able to replace a tube quickly if they use up the previous tube of that colour.

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