Jolie Guillebeau

Archive for the ‘Tutorials’ Category

Saturday Tutorial: Shading a Sphere.

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

I’m in the midst of a crazy weekend, since I’m preparing for our trip to New York City this week, we start counting down to the holidays on Tuesday, and of course there’s a book launch happening.

But I hadn’t forgotten you! I found these tutorials by Myron Barnstone on YouTube a few weeks ago and I’ve been saving them for just this occasion. The one below is my favorite, but I learn something every time I watch any of his videos.

See you on Tuesday with a new painting!

Saturday Tutorial: Brushes for Beginning

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

If you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices out there. Especially with brushes. There are just way too many options.

Obviously, if you’re in a class, then the teacher is going to have some recommendations, but if not, then here’s a good list to begin– just the very basics.

Start by reading last week’s tutorial, so you’ll understand the terms I’m using here, and of course if you see a brush that speaks to you and isn’t too expensive, buy it. Just be careful– I have way too many brushes that I bought as a beginner that I never use, but chose them because they were pretty in the store. You don’t want gorgeous brushes. You want good, reliable workhorses that will help you create gorgeous paintings.

If you have $20 to spend on brushes buy these:

1. A size 8 hog bristle flat like this one.

2. A size 6 hog bristle round like this one.

3. A size 8 soft bristle synthetic like this one.

4. A size 4 soft bristle synthetic like this one.

Each of these is going to be less than or around five bucks. They’re all pretty small brushes, but I’d start here. If you’re going to paint larger canvases, then of course you’ll need larger brushes.

A word to the wise: Always paint with the biggest brush possible. Just trust me.

So as you’re ready to invest a little more, then you’ll want to buy a few more sizes of each shape. Don’t be afraid to go big with brushes. You’ll also want a mixture of synthetic and natural bristles, especially until you’re more familiar with what you like. Just keep trying lots until you find your favorites.

My favorites change regularly. Especially since brushes seem to be discontinued as often as china patterns or my favorite lipstick shade. For awhile I loved the Grumbacher Renoir Bright in size 8. But then it was discontinued, and then I found an Raphael filbert that had just the right curve to it, and it was discontinued. I’m currently passionate about my new Escoda sable, but that will change too. Different paintings need different brushes. Different painters need different brushes. Experiment. Find the ones you love. Then come back and tell me about them. Because I’m always looking for good brushes.

Saturday Tutorial: Choosing Brushes.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I’ve had lots of questions about brushes lately, so I thought I’d quickly cover some basics today and then we’ll do another video tutorial next week. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to brushes for oil painters here, but most of this information applies to almost any other kind of painting.

There’s a lot to know about brushes. And yet, once you know it then it becomes pretty simple. It’s a bit like Harry Potter choosing a wand– the most important factor is how it feels when you’re using it. And armed with the right information, you’ll be able to make magic with these brushes, too.

Most brushes are built with a handle, a ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles) and the brush head (which is another name for the filaments or the little hairs). When buying brushes you want to pay attention to the handle and the ferrule first. Is the ferrule wobbly where it attaches to the handle? Pick another brush. Is the paint chipping from the handle? Pick another brush– this likely means the wooden handle has been exposed to water and will swell. Handles are longer for oils and acrylics (for painting at an easel) and shorter for watercolor (since you’re painting at a desk).You want a seamless ferrule, made of metal that won’t rust.  This keeps paint and liquids from damaging the structure of the brush.

Now as for filaments, it’s a little more complicated but it still basically comes down to three choices.

Material, Shape, and Size.

Material is first. The filaments can be made of soft animal hair, hog bristles or synthetic materials like nylon. There are advantages to each kind and it’s a good idea to have a few of each in your toolkit.

First, let’s talk about natural. There are two kinds of natural bristles–hog bristle and soft animal hairs like sable. Sable brushes have a nice spring and keep their shape very well. They’re expensive, but when cared for they’ll last years. They are best for details and precision. Hog bristle is usually white in color, and stiffer. They’re good for pushing paint around quickly and leave a distinct mark in the stroke. They’re pretty bristle-y (if that’s a word) and very durable. They work well for large surfaces or for thicker paint.

Most brushes in art supply stores are synthetics. Synthetic brushes are made from nylon or polyester and they’re much cheaper than softer animal hair brushes. For example, I’ve had a combination of synthetic and hog bristle brushes in my studio for years, but just bought my first sable this year. I only own one sable, and I’ve been really happy with my synthetic brushes for years.

A side note: In the store, often brushes are stiff and starched, which helps protect them in transit. Before buying a brush, run it through your fingers and make sure it will hold its shape without that starchy stuff on it. Feel it– if you don’t like the way it feels, pick another brush.

Shape is the second factor in choosing a brush that makes you happy. It’s good to have a variety available, but you’ll find with experience that you prefer certain shapes and sizes.

Here’s a quick diagram showing the different shapes in my brush jar today.

Finally, size. There’s no standardized system for brush sizes. Different manufacturers may each make a size 8 round and yet one will be obviously larger than the other. It’s annoying, but just know that the larger number means a larger brush. Looking through my brushes, I have lots of sizes 4, 8, and 10. You’ll find the size of the brush as a number on the handle, usually it’s close to the ferrule. And in a perfect example of inconsistent sizing, here are these two brushes.

Both round, one is hog bristle and one is my sable brush. They look to be about the same size, yes? And yet, one says it’s a size 4 and the other is labeled as a size 16. Bah. Again, just find the brush that works best for you. Don’t get hung up on size.

Next week, we’ll talk about brush strokes and technique and I’ll offer recommendations on a few brushes for getting started.

Saturday Tutorial: Painting Demo

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

I’m kind of excited about this tutorial. It’s really fun to watch a painting develop from beginning to end, and I always learn something from watching others, so hopefully you’ll feel the same way.

This was originally about an hour of footage, and I’ve trimmed it down to just under 20 minutes. There are a couple of places where the audio jumps a bit, and remember, I’m still a video amateur, so don’t judge me too harshly!

I learned a couple of things doing this. One– make sure you charge the camera battery before you attempt to record an hour of painting footage. Two– it’s rather hard to talk and paint at the same time.

I’m starting with a 4×4 masonite block that’s been prepared with clear matte gesso, and I’m using my typical landscape palette.

And here’s part two.

Here’s the finished product. Let me know what you think!

Saturday Tutorial– Video! Basic Brush Cleaning.

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Huge Disclaimer: This is my first video post. It’s rough. But I still think there’s good stuff here, so I’m still going to put it out there.

In today’s tutorial, I review some basics. I’m showing you how to clean your brushes. It seems pretty easy to clean brushes– I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you don’t need to watch a video on cleaning brushes. BUT! There are a couple of handy tricks. You might be surprised.

This first video explains a bit about different types of brushes, and shows you the best way to take care of them when you’re at your easel.

This next video is at the sink, showing the easiest and best way to wash each kind of brush. The challenge was finding an angle that allowed you to see everything without getting the camera wet. So the angle is a bit awkward.

I know, it’s a lot to take in. Who knew there was so much to learn about brush cleaning? Trust me, I’ll get better with the video posts, I promise.


Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Today’s tutorial is going to take a slightly different form. I’ve been wanting to show a step-by-step process through  a painting for awhile, but it doesn’t work very well with smaller landscapes. So I thought I’d show you Chef Kermit, which was a recent commission.

When working on larger paintings, or things with a lot of detail, I start with charcoal, because it’s forgiving. I may spend several hours working out angles and getting things arranged on the canvas just the right way. If I’m uncertain about where a line should be, I’ll draw it several times– as you can see.

Once I get the lines in the right place, then I also block out the biggest dark shapes, which helps me with the next step. I put Burnt Umber on my palette, and using mineral spirits to thin the paint until it’s very loose, I’ll sketch in my dark shapes and big shadows. I use Burnt Umber, because it dries quickly and works nicely as a neutral under bright colors (and it’s cheap), but I’ve also used Burnt Sienna, or even Ultramarine Blue, which also work nicely.

At this point, I’m using a very large brush and I’m not worried about details at all. I’m focused on the core shadow– the darkest parts. I’m looking through my red cellophane fairly often to check the values.

Next, I’ll think about the mid-tones. Usually at this point I start really considering the background, and in this painting it was important to establish the background value, because of the Kermit’s cast shadow. I wanted it to be a big part of the composition, so I knew I needed to get the values right here before I worried too much about color.

Here I’m starting to add color to the major elements of the painting. I wanted the green to really jump out, so I was playing with different neutral backgrounds before I settled on this cool gray.

And here I’ve built up color even more, adding it to the books and the table top, but I haven’t even started on the spatula and the egg. I tend to be pretty detail focused, so I really make an effort to work from “general to specific.” It makes better paintings and it’s less frustrating for me, because often I realize a detail needs to move slightly or change a bit. If I wait to finish the details, then moving something around is a little easier.

Here I’ve begun to clean up edges and block in the spatula. I’ve also begun to add reflected light into the chef’s hat and Kermit’s body. At this point, I tend to get one area to a place that makes me happy, then try to build the rest of the painting up to match that area. Gradually I move to smaller and smaller brushes and tighter edges or more minute details.

This is pretty close to the end. I’ve added the eyes, cleaned up the edges around the egg, and begun the lettering on the books. I should tell you that there was probably 3 to 4 hours of work left on this before I felt completely happy with it, so this is definitely a process. People tell me all the time, “I could never do that!” But if you spend 25 hours looking at a stuffed frog, you’re going to be able to see details and things you wouldn’t otherwise notice. Give it time. Learning to see requires looking at something for a long time. You can do it.

Saturday Tutorial: Limited Palette, Option 1.

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Remember a few weeks ago, when we talked about what to pack? And I mentioned paint?  Today I’ll show you how to get away with packing only four tubes of paint– which saves lots of space and hassle.

A quick disclaimer: These are the four tubes I’d pack when I’m painting here in the Pacific Northwest, which lends itself to softer grays and lots of green. If you’re in a desert, or the tropics, you might choose different colors, but I still think you can get away with only four tubes. Try it and let me know your results.

Titatinium White, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, and Lemon Yellow.

These are the four I’d use. I know what you’re thinking–you’re worried that I’m missing a dark color . How am I going to get nice deep shadows? Or what about tree trunks? There’s no brown. Or gray for clouds or a road? And am I really going to get enough variety in my greens with only those four colors?

You’re skeptical, I know it. I was when I first learned this, too. What if I show you this?

This is my palette after about 20 minutes of work. I got all of this with just those four colors. Here’s a better photo– and I’ve left it large enough that you can click through to refer to it as needed.

Limited Palette for Landscapes

Chart of Limited Palette-- four colors.

On the far left are my original four colors– straight up. Then the second row are various mixtures of two of each of those colors. For example, I started with Lemon Yellow, and I mixed it with Ultramarine Blue to get a dark green. Then I took a little of that mixture and added more yellow to get a lighter green. Then I repeated that process to get an ever lighter green.

Next, I mixed Burnt Sienna and Lemon Yellow for a nice rust color, then I added a little more yellow, and then a little more until I had a pale orangey color. I repeated this process, mixing each color with one of the other three. So it goes like this:

Lemon Yellow + Burnt Sienna

Lemon Yellow + Ultramarine Blue

Lemon Yellow + Titanium White

Burnt Sienna + Titanium White

Ultramarine Blue + Titanium White

Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine Blue + Burnt Sienna

Wait, what? I just mixed those last two twice. Yes, exactly. The first mixture has a smidge (a very scientific measurement) more Burnt Sienna, where the second mixture has a smidge more Ultramarine Blue. One turns in to this lovely brown, where one is a nice dark neutral for shadows– or when I add white, it’s a perfect gray sky. See?

So from these four tubes of paint, I’ve got 37 different lovely shades for my next painting. Still skeptical? I’ve tucked this palette in to the freezer, and I’ll paint my next four paintings using only these colors. That way you can see the results as well.

Saturday Tutorial: Composition

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Last week’s tutorial was tips for making a composition better, so this week let’s talk about what to avoid.

I’ve taken a few photos to illustrate my points here, but this applies to paintings as well as photography. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way, and I’d gladly use my own paintings as examples of what NOT to do, but I’ve thrown all of those paintings away!

Rule one is by far the easiest rule to remember and correct. It’s simply this: NO KISSING on the painting. By kissing, I mean no edges touching– you want space between those edges or you want overlap. Edges that kiss one another flatten a painting, and irritate the eye. See?

By the way, these matryoshka dolls are actually measuring cups. I love them. But not so much that I want them kissing.

The second thing to consider is Negative Space, which means the space around what you’re painting. We talked about this a bit last time with the Rule of Thirds, but it’s worth mentioning again. Consider making the negative space interesting, and you’re half-way to a good composition. In the picture above, the negative space is even, the subject is smack in the center, and it’s frightfully boring.

And here the image feels crowded, because there is almost no negative space. Also, the kissing. NO KISSING. Another thing to consider– notice how the face of the doll on the right is looking out of the frame? Not good. The viewer can’t see what she’s looking at, and that draws attention away from the image. If your subject is a face, consider adding a little extra negative space where your subject’s eyes are looking. It helps to keep the viewer in the painting.

Adding overlap and a little space makes a big difference. Another basic trick (not necessarily a rule) is to aim for an odd number of objects in your composition. Somehow, an odd number is more visually appealing. There are many excellent exceptions to this “rule”, but if you’re stuck, it’s a good place to begin.

This image isn’t too crowded, the negative space is interesting, and there’s overlap (instead of kissing) to create depth. The odd number helps, and they’re balanced with the two smaller dolls offsetting the larger one nicely. You can also apply the rule of thirds and discover that the largest doll is entirely in the left third of the image, and the eye of the doll in front lines up with an intersecting point on the tic-tac-toe grid. I know that because my camera has a feature that overlaps the grid on the viewfinder– which makes all of this very easy.

We’re five tutorials in– are you learning anything? Is there something I’m forgetting? What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

Saturday Tutorial: Composition

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

When setting up to paint outside, you want to make things as easy as possible. Once you have the right materials, and you can see the values, then the next most important part of that is choosing what to paint. Specifically, it’s choosing how you want your painting arranged on your canvas. Which is called composition.

A strong composition draws the eye in to the painting and holds the viewers attention. A weak composition makes the painting look flat, boring, or confusing.

There are a few tricks to composition, and once you know them they become intuitive. It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for. And that’s what I’m going to tell you now.

First, you need a frame. Something like this works really well, but you can just cut a square out from an index card– it doesn’t have to be fancy. The thing is, most painters tend to over estimate what will actually fit on the canvas, and frame helps me to know what will fit and what won’t.

Once you have the frame, mentally divide it in to a tic-tac-toe board. Like this.

Now, simply place the interesting stuff  in your painting along one or two of the lines. Even better, place something at one or two of the dots. This is called the rule of thirds, and you can find tons of detailed useful articles about this all over the internets. The best one is here.

If you follow the rule of thirds, you’re well on your way to a fabulous painting. But maybe you’re not sure what the interesting stuff is. You’re in doubt about what should go along the lines. Here’s what to look for:

Overlap. Look for elements that overlap to create depth. For example–

Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh

See any overlap there? Yes, the big tree creates a strong sense of depth, just by overlapping the rest of the painting. (Just for fun, apply the rule of thirds here– notice anything?)

A path, or a Z-axis. This is a no-fail recipe for a decent painting. A path, or a road, or a fence or a stream starts in the foreground and moves back. As long as the perspective is right, this is a great  and easy way to draw the viewer’s eye in to the painting and create depth. And it works.

Albert Bierstadt, Mt. Rainier

Bierstadt isn’t my favorite, because he wasn’t terribly concerned with accuracy, but this painting is a great example of composition. The rule of thirds, overlap, a z-axis, and balance are all clearly evident.

Use the z-axis sparingly, because it can become a crutch and it can be a little trite. You don’t want every painting to have a river or a road.

Balance. Scroll up and look at the Mt. Rainier painting again. See how the trees and the mountain balance each other so nicely? And in Starry Night, how the moon balances the big tree? It’s not required in every painting, but balance is something to consider. Is there a way you can incorporate it for a stronger composition?

Next week, we’ll look at what to avoid in composing a painting.  See you then!

Tutorial: Values

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

A couple of days ago on Facebook, a friend was talking about her search for a  photographer and she said:

“just saw some photography that I LOVED and others I felt were lack-lustre. I’m realizing more and more that i love the high contrasts, basically adding glamour to an everyday shot. beautiful!”

I knew exactly what she was talking about. I might use different words, but a successful painting is all about values.

For example, here are two paintings of mine from a couple of years ago. These were from my views from childhood series. I painted what I remembered seeing from my bedroom window in houses I lived in as a child. Because they were from memory, some were better than others.

Which painting do you like better? If I’m guessing, I bet your eye is drawn to the one on the right more. Why? Because it has more contrast, yes? Another way to say that would be that it has stronger values. I’m not making a moral judgement here, I’m simply saying that the darks are darker and the lights are lighter. There’s a good range of lights and darks. That’s what you want in a painting, right?

Another example. Let’s say you were going to paint this pink ball.

How many different shades of pink do you see? Light pink and dark pink? Any more?The problem is that your brain says, “That’s a pink ball,” even if your eye sees many different values there. So we have to find a way to overrule the brain and get rid of the idea of color for the time being.

But if we were to reduce it to a black and white image, how many shades of gray would you see? More than two or three, right?

I know what you’re thinking. “But, Jolie, I can’t take the digital camera and Photoshop everything in to black and white for every painting, especially if I want to learn to paint outside.” And that’s true. But– you can use this:

What is it? It’s a piece of red cellophane film fitted in to a slide frame. You can see that mine is covered in paint, because I’ve used it so much. I keep this near my easel and whenever I need to simplify an image, I pull it out. It’s the manual equivalent of using Photoshop to make a black and white picture. See?

I just held this over the camera lens in the same way that I’d place it in front of my eyes. Now, I don’t have the color to confuse me and I can look only at the values. Do you see more values this way?

So if we apply this same idea to a landscape painting, we might start with this.

So your brain thinks, “Blue sky, brown building, green trees.” And you start to get out the blue, brown and green tubes of paint. But there’s a problem. If you listen to your brain here, you’ll get a very different image on your painting than the one you see. Look through the cellophane and see what I mean.

Okay, so there's a bit of paint on the cellophane-- that's why it's blurry.

When you look at the same image through the red cellophane, you notice that regardless of color the building is one of the lightest objects in the image. So if you listen to your brain and pull out the brown tube of paint, the building would be one of the darkest objects in the painting. That’s why the cellophane helps.

Paintings with a wider range of values are more fun to look at. And more fun to paint.  Try it.  You’ll see.