En Plein Air

I was thinking of the words of the great landscape painter John Constable the other morning. He said that “the imagination cannot alone produce art to bear comparison with reality”. So I thought I would give you a few pointers in what to look for when painting outside, as June offers a spectacular opportunity to paint reality with open garden events in the local area. If you do decide to go off out and paint or draw from reality firstly, remember that one thing that we cannot plan for is the weather.

Keep your materials limited so that whatever the weather, you are not carrying trolley loads of paints. Watercolour pencils are a great media to work in outdoors as they are lightweight and produce good results and all you need is a watercolour pad, a paintbrush and bottle of water to go with it.

Give yourself boundaries. When you are outside, you are faced with a full 360° view. It’s near impossible to do a large panorama justice when outside as each time you turn your head, your viewpoint, and therefore the angles change. This will mean that you will struggle to get everything looking like part of the same scene. The best advice I can give is to use parts of the landscape to form the edges of your paper: a tree on the left forms the left hand edge of your picture, a telegraph pole the other side forms the right hand edge a stone just in front of you creates the bottom of your painting and so on. This way, if you do look away, you will always know what is supposed to be in your painting.

For more information on which gardens are open in your area, visit www.wherecanwego.com or pop along to your nearest National Trust property and produce some wonderful paintings!

What Are Paints Made From?

We often get customers in the shop asking what the pigments in our paints are made from such as Cadmium Red and Ultramarine and what the difference is between artist and student quality paint. Artist quality paints are mainly made from pigments ground from the earth such as Yellow Ochre, others are manufactured chemically from the metal cadmium such as Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow.

Student quality paint however, is a synthetic mixture that closely mimics the real pigment, but is often not as bright or permanent. A student quality paint can be identified by the word ‘hue’ written after a colour. I thought I would share with you a brief, interesting and sometimes amusing history of the lengths artists would go to make the colours they needed.

Historically, artists would make their own paint in their studios by mixing the pigment with either gum Arabic for watercolour or linseed oil to make an oil paint. Traditionally, Sepia was made from the ink sacks of cuttle fish, Indian Yellow was (allegedly) made from the urine of cows who has been fed on mango leaves, and Vermillion was made from the highly toxic Mercuric Sulphide. Egyptian Brown was historically made by grinding the remains of Egyptian mummies! Some greens were created by mixing copper sulphide and arsenic, but when the colour got damp it gave off a toxic gas. Thankfully, these colours are either no longer made or have safer modern alternatives.

In years gone by, artists could be identified by their pallor; their sunken cheeks and dark rings under the eyes weren’t from a late night painting, but from the chemicals inhaled or absorbed into the skin as they mixed their colours or painted on their canvases. How thankful we are that the tube of paint was created along with the legislation to makes paints safer! Even today, owing to where pigments are found or how they are made, there are still some high quality paints manufactured that do carry a warning due to the pigments used. The better the quality of paint, the higher the chance of it being slightly toxic. These paints give brighter, stronger more permanent colour and are perfectly fine to use as long as you don’t suck your brushes!