Colorful Fridays–Shady Green


“Like emotions, colours are a reflection of life.” – Janice Glennaway (from Irene Osborne)Screen shot 2013-10-11 at 11.00.35 AM

Most greens fall into the yellow spectrum following the colors of leaves, grass and other growing things of the natural world.  These greens usually produce a nice mud color if mixed with red.  The discovery of Viridian green changed that, creating a clear bluish green perfect for cooler uses and making a better glazing green.  Mixed with alizarin crimson, viridian makes a beautiful grey, similar to Payne’s grey.  Viridian next to red creates an energetic drama.

In the early nineteenth century, painters began looking for a less toxic green than the highly toxic emerald green.  Painting Through the Ages states that viridian is Chromium oxide Dihydrate and was first patented in 1859 by Guignet of Paris.  It quickly became a widely used color.  So popular now it is even seen in the paint of cars as in the new Chevy Volt.  For artists, viridian’s uses vary according to artist but remains very popular and a “must have” right next to alizarin crimson.

Golden Paints says viridian green has excellent permanency.  And Gamblin says viridian is very good as a tint. and others state viridian is excellent for oil painters but not the best green for water-based media.  Its transparent qualities and tinting ability do not hold up as well in acrylics, watercolor or gouache.

The writer of the website Paintmaking advises to pay attention to the quality of viridian as some manufacturers may not fully purify the pigment leaving problematic traces of borate and chromate.  In the case of Viridian, apparently, you will get what you pay for so test the different brands.  The quality is worth the price.

For oil painters, viridian makes a beautiful cool green for shade, water and other areas the yellowish greens would tend to heat up.  Few artists use it straight, usually diluting it with titanium white, ultramarine or alizarin.  Straight or mixed, viridian will grab attention, even in the shade.

For the daring, here is a guide to mixing your own viridian from Painting Through the Ages.

A color guide of the many beautiful mixes that can be made with viridian is demonstrated by has an excellent discussion (here) posted of artists explaining their uses of viridian green. Very informative!

Happy shady painting!


3-Part Sunflower Zoom Class

These workshops will cover 3-steps to creating beautiful, detailed botanical watercolor paintings

Sunflower-1-8/20Coming in late August will be the first painting Zoom Workshop that I have offered.  After a trial run in June, I have discovered that a Zoom workshop is very possible.  My fear was that I could not give the personal attention I love in a Zoom format.  The trial run made it abundantly clear that it would not be difficult to interact with individuals and their art in a Zoom workshop.  With that said, the first official Zoom workshop will be a 3 part series on sunflowers.  I love sunflowers!

In this 3 part series, I will cover all three aspects of completing a finished sunflower painting in a botanical style.  In my method of teaching, I prefer a watercolor over pencil approach to capture wonderful detail, rich variations of dark and light, and the velvety appearance of flowers.  Step one is getting the basic outline drawing with arrangement on the page by making a preliminary drawing on drawing paper to facilitate the ability to try out different positions of the flower in the picture plane.  Once the preferred outline drawing is complete, the technique of tracing the drawing will be described and assisted beginning with how to use tracing paper to transfer the drawing and the other necessary tools.

Sunflower drawing-2-07/20Stage two will cover the process of creating an underdrawing.  Attention will paid to proper pencil and various shading techniques.  Its the really fun stage, at least to me!  This stage always makes me think its the place where we get to fool the viewer.  At the same time, I hate to cover up a good drawing.  I love drawing.  Yet its the good drawing that makes the wonderful painting.

Who doesn’t love laying on the color? The paint stage takes the drawing and layers color on top.  The icing on the cake where the finishing touches are made.  Its easier to get daring with the icing.  Make all kinds of beautiful things with layers of color.  We might even do some tricks with a few color games.  Just our secret!


Enrollment in the first Zoom starts next week.  Costs will be per session for three sessions.  $25 for each of three sessions, lasting two hours each or $60 if signing up for all three sessions at one time.  I’ll be posting more next week about it.  Feel free to message me with questions


Colorful Fridays–Expensive, Wormy, Insect Red

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 7.36.00 PM

“A good painter needs only three colors, black, white and red.” Titian (from The Painter’s Keys)

Older than Ultramarine from Lapis Lazuli, probably as old as ivory Black, the warm orange-red known as Vermilion has ancient roots. From Chinese laquerware to the villas of Pompeii to illuminated manuscripts and more, Vermilion was the red anchor of artist’s palettes up to the nineteenth century where it was replaced by the less toxic cadmium red.  Other less expensive reds were made from clay and similar “earth” sources but these lacked the depth, richness and opaqueness of Vermilion.  Vermilion was the red favored by Titian.

The mineral cinnabar, primarily derived from mines in Spain has long been the main source of true Vermilion.  The breakdown of cinnabar reveals the main component as the highly toxic mercury.  Despite the toxicity, Vermilion remained the redScreen Shot 2014-03-27 at 7.33.18 PM of choice for artists who could afford it, for centuries. Vermillion is also used in the ceremonies and symbolism of several major religions.  Today’s Vermilions are entirely synthetic without a trace of mercury.

Vermilion is so named from its similarity to a red dye made from an insect, kermes vermilio. Other sources claim the name Vermilion is from the Latin word, vermiculus, for the small worm known as vermis, also used for red dye.  Maybe the worm, vermis, is actually the insect kermes verilio. It could possibly be a wormy, red insect used for the dye.  Whether named for the vermis worm or the buggy verilio, Vermilion, the paint, was still made from the expensive, highly toxic, mercury-laden mineral, cinnabar.

Why couldn’t all those brilliant medieval Illuminated manuscript artists conceive of a way to make paint from the wormy, red insect dye instead of the highly toxic expensive mineral?  Maybe they weren’t all that illuminated, after all. Its probably best to stick with Cadmium Red and avoid wormy, red insects altogether.  Better yet, go for Naphthol red or Winsor Red for the least likelihood of toxicity in beautiful reds.

Pencil Games-Paint Stage-First group

CallaLily-Musgraves Pencil under Watercolor
Watercolor over pencil made with Musgrave pencils in 2H,4H and 7H

Testing a number of pencils by creating drawings of calla lilies with different brands, gave me a good feel for the lightness/darkness factor of each brand as well as, amount of pressure needed with each.  While all were nice drawing pencils, some had different strengths pertaining to the watercolor over pencil botanical painting technique, I prefer and teach in my workshops.  I have narrowed down my choices.  The next step is to play with my favorites until I fall in love with one. Or maybe two.  I could even fall in love with three.  Time will tell!


For each painting, I used tube watercolor paint and kept it simple with only three colors, Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow and Sap Green. Windsor & Newton paint was my choice for all three colors.  This is not to make an argument for or against Winsor & Newton, though it is my choice frequently, but along with other quality paints from other manufacturers. My goal was to keep the variables to a minimum so that the focus remained on the pencils.

The Musgrave pencils in their Unigraph series have a nice smooth flow and are the darkest of the H pencils I tested. The Unigraphs had the characteristic harder H graphite making the pencil marks no problem for the paint.  No discoloration occurred when the paint was applied. No bits of graphite came up to muddy the paint. The Musgraves pencils created a deeper drama in the shadows requiring less paint.  Artist’s taste would be the deciding factor on whether or not the deeper shadows are preferred.

CallaLily-Steadlter pencil under watercolor
9H, 6H, 4H Steadlter pencils under watercolor


Steadtler pencils were the lightest in tone, making more distinct marks that were less visible.  The shadows were softer, less dramatic creating a gentle flow with the variances in light and dark.  These pencils are very nice in an underpainting requiring the artist to apply a few more glazes of color to the areas of depth.  Virtually no pick up of graphite by the paint suggesting these pencils will create a very clean underpainting. My suggestion for artist preference would be the artist who loves the paint layering process with water color.




Prismacolor Turquoise series 9H, 7H,

The Prismacolor Turquoise Series pencils in 5H, 7H, and 9H were the happy medium between the deeper darker shadows created by the Musgrave Unigraph and the Steadlter H series with lighter more distinct marks on the paper. The artist who prefers a mix of the dramatic underpainting and the softer, lighter version will love the Prismacolor Turquoise series.  There was no noticeable pick up of the graphite by the paint.  Colors were clear and bright, not cloudy and muddy. The Turquoise series is a wonderful combination of the soft and the hard in H series pencils.  These are for generalizations of underpainting mark making.  Make the mark but don’t make it obvious.



This group provided dark, light and peanut butter and jelly.  Prismacolor is the peanut butter and jelly.   Its all a matter of preference.  Steadlter provide the light, Musgrave the dark.  Steadlter is all soft Italian bread while  Musgrave is a dark whole wheat bread.  Take your pick. Its all in the taste.  Its all in the drama.

What drama you want is your priority.  Own your choices. For me, I’m inclined toward the darker, more dramatic as the lighter ones require more effort to achieve the drama I crave.  Some days and some flowers may cry out for softness, low drama. Its great to know there are choices.  At least it seems so in my world.

Next up: more choices!




Colorful Friday–Photographic Shadowy Earth Brown

Van Dyck

“It is not the form that dictates the color, but the color that brings out the form.”  Hans Hoffman  (from Brainyquote)

The deep rich brown known as Van Dyck Brown is both a paint color and a photographic process.  The name is derived from the paintings of early seventeenth century painter Anthony Van Dyck.  Van Dyck was a prolific portrait painter whose talents were nurtured by mentors and fellow Flemish painters, Rubens and Frans Haals.  Van Dyck’s portraits are noted for the rich brown shadows present in all.  Van Dyck’s portraits were very popular and sought after by the royalty of England and France.  Van Dyck spent time in commissions for the Pope and the nobility of Italy.  Van Dyck achieved great financial success and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle but died at the age of 42.

According to Winsor-Newton, Van Dyck Brown is an earth pigment and can vary greatly between brands.  Testing of brands is advised.  Winsor Newton states Van Dyck Brown was, “Originally made from a lignite or bituminous earth containing iron oxide found in Kassel or Cologne, Germany, it was known as Cassel Earth and Cologne Earth,” and is permanent, lightfast and transparent.”  Stories differ as when the name officially changed but was sometime before the mid-nineteenth century.

A photographic process known as Van Dyck Brown Print Process was developed in 1842 by British astronomer, Sir John Herschel.  The process is named for the print color similarity to the paint color.  The ingredients for the process can be obtained for those adventurous enough to try this on their own.  A video is linked below on the process.  Van Dyck Brown prints are an ethereal haunting brown very different from the bluer prints of traditional printing.

With Van Dyck Brown beautiful, striking shadows are a breeze.  Or in photography, ghostly, mysterious effects can be created in the processing to achieve a sense of other-worldliness.  Van Dyck Brown does not appear to have the problems of Burnt Umber, so go ahead, pour it own.  However, caution is advised.  A little bit of shadowy mystery could easily become a large bit of depression.