Thursday, 18 June 2015

He went that way

"He went that way" oil painting of foxhounds in golden light, a pet portrait by Karen
Well this was super tricky as well. It lulled me into a false sense of security: unlike yesterday's painting where there were multiple dogs, this one effectively has 3 with a few blobs and shapes in the background to indicate more. Can't be so hard, I thought and dived in. That was yesterday and the result was a wiper.
Today I started again, hence I am late writing this blog. I tackled it exactly like "Pack Together": first a few lines, then seal it with a wash of brownish acrylic, then weak acrylic to wipe in the darks, then the lightest lights on the tops of their heads and muzzles, etc.
I thought about why I had a wiper yesterday and decided: too much of a rush, lack of focus and too many colours on the palette. Especially: too many colours on the palette.
Today I used: black, burnt umber, cad yellow deep, yellow ochre, transparent oxide red and white. 
For the brindle-like markings on the foreground dog I also used the tiniest touch of my new colour: Rembrandt Caput Mortuum.
I bought this because I am working on some Renaissance portraits over on my other blog and this colour is cited as being used by various Old Masters. It has an interesting history. The name means "dead head" and comes from alchemy, where it was used to refer to the muck at the bottom of a heating flask after the solution's "nobler" elements had "sublimated". The alchemical symbol for the discarded residue was a death's head
Symbol for caput mortuum (bottom right) from a m.s. by Isaac Newton.
In the past, painters used a version of caput mortuum as a substitute for mummy brown. If you've ever seen a real mummy, you will remember the ochre and other warm earth tones of the ancient wrappings; mummy brown was a pigment made from ground-up bits of mummies, both humans and cats. Artists stopped using it once they learned what was in it. 
At least, I hope they did.
The thing about caput mortuum is that it has a pigmenting strength like you would not believe. If you squeezed out a pea-sized spot, you could probably paint all the walls in your house and still have some leftover.
This was the main reason why yesterday's painting went wrong. A dead head painting.
Today I swiftly waved the tube at the brush from a distance of about 25 feet and thus was able to create a lovely rich, deep, warm violet-brown. I like it.