New studio, new charcoal drawing

About a week ago, the place where I rent a shared studio space relocated to a new building. I helped the owner a bit by polyurethaning the tops of our wooden work stations. Ugh, the fumes! I also changed stations since one by the windows became available. Since the move, I’ve been there most days and am so happy with both the natural light I now get from the windows as well as the improved overhead lighting in the new space.

I also started a new drawing a couple of weeks ago and was making slow progress on it until I took it to the studio. I’m hoping to finish it this week and will probably frame this one as I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out. The subject may look familiar because I’ve been slightly obsessed with these NYC fire escapes since list year. I think I’ve drawn this image at least 5 times and painted it 3 times. Will probably paint it at least one more time before I feel done with it. Maybe I’ll eventually write a post about the benefits of doing the same subject matter over and over.

I don’t really hold my pencil like that when I draw although supposedly I should. This drawing is on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board paper. I like this paper for charcoal drawings because the slick surface allows me to manipulate the charcoal much more than on other types of drawing paper. I can apply pressed charcoal, pencil charcoal, or powdered charcoal and then move it around on the paper until I get it where I want it. It’s also easier to lighten areas with an eraser (kneaded rubber or with the essential Tombow Zero Round).

I do charcoal drawings on a slanted surface so the excess powder falls off. To keep from smearing my work, I use either a paper towel as shown here or, more often, a wooden yardstick as a mahl stick. I picked up that trick years ago from James Gurney only I’m too lazy to add the spacer or tung oil. I just rest the tip on the edge of my drawing board and that keeps the stick off the surface of the paper. When I’m drawing on a flat surface, I use an acrylic bridge like he references in the link above.

Once this drawing is finished, I’ll add it to my home page so you can see the final version.

Water soluable oils

It’s been 6 years since I’ve been able to paint with my beloved oil paints due to not having a safe environment for the fumes that happen with oils, solvents (even Gamsol smells strongly to me), and its associated mediums. My home studio is attached to my bedroom with no intervening door so I don’t want to sleep breathing fumes. And my outside-of-the-house studio space is a share space where fumes are, understandably, unwelcome.

Hence my recent tentative steps into working with water soluable oils. Whenever I start playing around with new-to-me mediums, the first things I do are color mixing studies. A lot of them. Here are some old oil painting studies to illustrate how much effort I usually put into a new medium. Each one of these panels is 8” x 16”:

oil color studies 01

So I’ve just this week begun to do this exercise with the water soluable oils. So far I’ve learned that 1) they have a different consistency from regular oils unless you add water-soluable oil to them. And 2) they dry very fast compared to oils. I’m hoping I’ll figure out the correct ratio of oil medium to paint so I can slow the drying time down to where it suits me best. I almost never paint alla prima although if I continue working with the water soluable oils, perhaps I’ll start exploring that method.

By the way, I learned of this type of color mixing exercise from the invaluable book on alla prima painting by Richard Schmid. That book has since gone out of printing and although you can find copies for high $, there’s a new edition out (that’s still pricey). I’ve not looked through the new edition but I would suspect it’s a valuable to artists as the old.

ALLA PRIMA II: Everything I Know About Painting - and More By Richard Schmid