Cornelissen in London makes the best bristle brushes I’ve ever owned. They finally have an online store which is great, as getting to central London is a pain and their staff aren’t particularly friendly (I got in trouble there once for checking unfamiliar turpentine brands for mineral spirits and the clerk thought I was getting high). The series 44 are the ones I use. They are more expensive than other brands but they are built like tanks and last forever. Mine usually get worn down to a triangle shape after years of use.
For sables, Zecchi has the best quality brushes I’ve found. The red-handled ‘cat-tongue’ sables are very useful for drawing with your paint. They are also pricey (though cheaper than much of the competition), but will last a long time if properly looked after.
I get asked a lot about brush care. I clean mine about once a week with soap and cold water*. In the meantime I keep them in the freezer at night so they wont dry out.
Bristle brushes I wrap individually with a little piece of paper towel to pull out the water and keep the shape. Sables I leave a bit of soap in and make a point with the hairs so they dry with a sharp tip.
*It’s important to use cold water as warm water can expand the ferrule of the brush and the hairs will come out.
Here are few sketches from the past week in Bergen, Norway. It stays light here until midnight at the moment, but the weather has been iffy. I hope to come back next June for a more intensive landscape painting trip.
Sailboats, Bergen. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.
Bryggen, Bergen. 18 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Sailboat, Solheimsviken. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
This summer I’m skipping my usual solo show. I missed half a year of painting in 2011 and wont have enough work unfortunately. I will have new work at the Haynes Galleries in Maine and with the Grenning Gallery on Long Island. In September I’ll have some work on show in London with Constantine Lindsay.
This is a portrait I did of a friend a few years ago. As a last-minute idea I set my old cellphone on a chair and had it take a photo every few minutes over the course of the week. The battery kept dying and people kept bumping into the chair so the already-poor-quality image jumps around a lot. My apologies. I found the pictures recently and threw them together:
Wind Turbines at Aachen. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Traveling across Western Germany recently I was amazed at the number of wind turbines they’ve put up. When I was a kid I remember seeing a farm of them outside of Los Angeles and thinking they were spectacularly ugly. These new ones are much larger, and more spread out, and they’ve started to grow on me. I’m also aware that we probably need to be looking for alternative sources of energy, preferably clean ones.
Often I’ve wondered why we are attracted to beauty. Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Are we biologically hardwired to feel the direction our lives should take based, even if only a little bit, on individual aesthetics? Can there be a collective human aesthetic? And can it change over time? Is it controlled in some way by a rational understanding of the direction we should be taking as a society?
I was thinking about these turbines driving past. I once saw them as blights on the landscape, now I find them fascinating in a way. Is it possible that our sense of beauty can be changed in a subtle way by the rational part of our brains?
And what is the artist’s purpose in this? To reflect society or guide it?
I was back in Holland for a day to pack up the house, so I went over to the German border at Aachen to paint the wind turbines and think about it all.
Driving down through Switzerland the other day, we were stuck in traffic for hours in one of the prettier part of the Alps. These are a couple of quick sketches I did from the passenger seat using my cigar box palette.
Alpine Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Alpine Sketch #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I wanted to mention briefly that my cigar box has a lot of modifications for better functionality, in case anyone wants to try to make their own.
The cigar box palette.
In 1997 I lived in Paris and had a studio in an occupied ex-high school (Pole Pi or something or other was the name. The police took it back after I left and it is now an architectural university). There was a lot of old furniture still laying around the place and I made a large palette out of the back of an old cabinet. That palette is now the base of my cigar box, complete with the old thumb-hole which is now used to hold brushes when I’m taking a break.
I enjoyed that period of my artistic life and like having the memory around.
My old palette at the base.
Normally, cigar box lids are held to the box with paper. I replaced mine with real hinges.
My carpentry skills in all their glory.
The hinges in turn allow a small gap for the metal easel board-holders to slide through and hold the palette. I use a clip to keep the wind from blowing the lid shut.
Hooking a cigar box to a metal tripod easel.
Cigar boxes and prochade boxes are brilliant for the quick set-up times. Often you’ll see a fleeting effect (or a fleeting view, if you’re in stop-and-go traffic), and the speed of setting up and starting to paint becomes important.
Here are some of my sketches from our plein air workshop near Volterra. We had good weather for the ten days, even if the wind was problematic at times. I find wind can be harder to work with than rain.
Badia Camoldolese #2. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.
The Fortress at Volterra, Dawn. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
The Fortress at Volterra, Midday. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Fragole e Baccelli. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Poppies in the Alfalfa. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Emma Studies. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
The Era. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
San Giusto #2, Volterra. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Here are a couple of sketches from my plein air workshop near Volterra. The first I’m happy with, the second is awful.
San Giusto, Volterra. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
San Giusto, Volterra. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
The sketch above isn’t my fault. Really. Every month I make dozens of sketches and I usually buy large quantities of the gessoed boards from Zecchi. A few months back I got a batch from them where their subcontractor had messed up the proportions of the gesso and there wasn’t enough glue. The boards are too absorbent and are utterly unusable. Somehow they got mixed up into the next batch of boards I ordered and every now and then I find I’m trying to paint on one. It is impossible for me to pull anything decent off with one of these boards. I’ve had to throw away the ten or so paintings from the times I’ve insisted on trying.
On our workshops we give the students a full painting kit. It makes it easier for those who have to travel, but the reason we do it is really that we got tired of students arriving with unusable materials. Rubens couldn’t paint with some of the set-ups these people arrived with. Often they don’t have the experience to recognize that it’s their materials that are the problem. Since we started giving out full kits, we’ve seen a marked improvement in the students paintings. They are able to focus on learning to paint.
Good quality painting materials don’t have to be expensive either. Here in Florence we find the Zecchi brand is fine for paints (for dark ultramarine we use Old Holland). In the US, Blue Ridge and M. Graham both make excellent paint for reasonable prices. Often ‘student-grade’ paints are so full of fillers that to change one color you have to add a ton of the other one. This means the cost savings is gone when you calculate how much paint you actually have to use.
Good boards are cheap. Ray Mar is a good supplier in the US, Zecchi in Europe (when they get them right), or make your own. I use a cigar-box clipped to a $50 easel for most of my sketches. Brushes are really important but they don’t have to be expensive and will last for years if looked after properly. There is no excuse to skimp on materials if you care about painting.
At the end of the day, painting is hard enough without fighting your materials.