Sunday, December 4, 2011

Get There 2.4 (Painting the Base Layers of Land)

My process strongly focuses on the way light shines through film as opposed to reflecting off of it and it took a while to figure out a proper painting method for working from photography (I used to particularly struggle with figure drawing from photograph).  When you work from life, outside elements of your process, whether they be a model or weather itself, force you to make compromises and stay focused on the big picture.  When I started working from photograph I would obsess over single details as opposed to laying in the overall structure and composition first.  This would make my pieces uneven and unintentionally out of proportion (I say "unintentionally" because this "mistake" can also be used to intentionally make a piece uneasy, hence early Lucien Freud paintings...supposedly).  I found that using the Photoshop* cutout feature helps simplify the structure and palette of the photograph.  This also helps out with the whole Red\Green colorblind thing as well.

How to use Photoshop cutout:
  • Load your photo into Photoshop
  • Select Filter > Artistic > Cutout
  • Adjust the number of layers, edge simplicity, and edge fidelity until you have an accurate and workably simplified version of your photograph.
I find myself using the cutout versions of the photos less and less these days.  Regardless, they are a good tool to help find the colors and structure of the primary layers of the land.  If you notice above, I am using two different photos for this painting.  One was shot with a plastic Holga camera using 120 Kodak vivid saturation 100 speed film.  The more intensely saturated photo was shot with the same film but through a plastic Diana camera.  These are the cameras that the Hipstamatic apps for your phone emulate.  I am sure by now that you are well tired of seeing these but they are a good tool to study their filtering of light and power in making the viewer experience the image personally.  I have no intention of painting their hiccups and inconsistencies, though I still prefer the analog film to the electronic apps because, to this day, I feel that they cannot be properly emulated.  I am also not too concerned about the hipster stereotypes of the photos simply because, as far as I am concerned, anyone who actually cares is too busy not making paintings themselves.

For the first step I am laying in straight black.  I usually have trouble determining if I want to use Mars black or Ivory black.  Mars has a heavier body and is more opaque, but its warmth makes it more surface and detracts from the potential depth of the painting.  On the other hand I am a little suspect of Ivory's archival qualities.  If you look at expressionist paintings from 50-60 years ago you will probably notice how in several areas where Ivory black has been painted over another color it cracks more relatively frequently.  I think black paints just tend to dry faster in general though; I have the same problem with acrylic gessos.  For laying in the black base of the land I use the Mega Fiblert to brush in a smooth coat and a one inch square edge for drawing the horizon.

I don't feel 100% about laying in a black undercoat for the horizon line.  I like keeping my process consistent  so I won't end up with an awkward division of layers between the foreground and background.  Since my landscapes shy away from over-lapping hillsides, trees, and rivers it is crucial that may layering stays consistent from foreground to background, to accentuate the depth of one plane.  In theory this is just dandy, but I am constantly** confronted with the issue of the horizon having too much paint and looking too "surface".  Right now I am going forward with a black sub layer on this horizon because I will be working with a relatively near mountain range.

This is one of my first oil landscapes from this series.  The way I painted the distant mountain range was incidental.  That layer was supposed to be the sky over the horizon.  After repeatedly brushing the blend from the top corners of the wood panel the horizon eventually became too dark.  Instead of waiting for the paint to dry and starting all over, I painted a positive layer of white above the horizon, leaving the space of sky in between the horizon and white paint.  This made the illusion of a distant mountain range.  It is a technique that is easy to replicate on a small scale but can be troublesome on larger pieces due to the gradient of sky looking patchy from having to unnaturally blend around the shapes of the mountains, instead of one consistent direction.

When I am filling in the black, I lay the paint on just a little bit at a time.  This helps prevent areas of the paint from being too thick too soon.  It also helps the primary layer dry evenly.  A standard technique for oil painting is "fat over thin."  Obviously, you can go about things however you like but "fat over thin" is a good rule for conservation.

I prefer my last layer of brushstrokes to be vertical, that way when the painting is hanging the overhead lighting won't reflect off of the surface.  This is something I only take into consideration on this primary layer of the painting, it is particularly important, though difficult to execute on the sky.  I use the Mega Filbert mostly for this process but stick to the one inch square for areas around sensitive contours.

You should now have a relatively soothing silhouette of land under your sky.  Soak that up for a few days while you wait for the paint to dry completely.  It shouldn't take to long since the paint was applied so thinly. Soon enough, things will get a whole lot more tedious.

Slowly but surely I begin to apply each layer from darkest to lightest.  The first layer is a brown that is pretty much next to black.  I mixed it with Burnt Umber and Ivory Black, with hints of Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre.  I also threw in a little Alizarin Crimson to neutralize the green from the brown mixing with black.  To be honest, I am not entirely sure if the green tint is actually there.  I am just assuming it is an effect of the color mixing and not my slight red/green color blindness.  With this dark of a value I am willing to take the risk and neutralize the color with a little red.

I start with a square edge brush to begin laying in the overall shape of the first layer.  Do much of the filling in with this brush as well to keep my accuracy and then smooth the paint out a large Filbert.  Some of the large areas I will fill in with the Filbert as well.

I tried to take a photo with some glare so you can see how the structure is outlined.  It is important to take the time to lay out the shape of the layer carefully.  When I first started making these paintings I would refer to the layers in the photoshopped photo to get an accurate sense of the structure.  If things get too haphazard your landscape will start looking like poorly painted drapery.

Sometimes, when I paint in these first few layers, I will paint some fresh black into the corner so I can paint a smooth blend for the silhouetting.  Lately, when I mix each layer of color, I am sure to mix an excess amount of paint and preserve it in little plastic containers I buy at the pharmacy.  I would imagine somewhere like The Container Store would have a good selection as well.  Any paint on my palette I cover with sheets of Saran Wrap to preserve while I am away from the studio.

It is important to be careful while applying the layers near the edge of the sky.  I accidentally went over and instead of grabbing a clean brush, dipping it in mineral spirits, brushing off the mistake, and dabbing it lightly with a cloth, I instinctively tried to just rub it off with my finger.  Unknowingly, my finger had paint on it so I made it worse.  I then tried to haphazardly rub that off with a paper towel, which just rubbed off some of the paint on the sky.  Now I will have to figure out how to fix that spot later.  It is a complete nightmare to try to fix a spot on such a smooth gradation.  I am considering trying to match the general color around the scuff and try to dab over each black spot individually.  Every time I try to layer on a single large spot it only matches either to paint at the top or bottom of the spot, never both, because of the blend.

That layer is now filled in and ready to dry.  It can be tough to distinguish it from the black if you do not look closely.  This will only become more difficult after the paint dries and becomes even darker.

At this point I grabbed a smaller square edge brush, maybe a quarter inch or so, and started blocking in the structure from the next lighter value. (Sorry about the angle of the photographs, I am doing this because from straight on my studio lighting produces a photographically distracting glare.)

For filling in this layer I am only using a small brush, usually a quarter inch square edge or similarly small round.  I fill in the space by loading the brush with only a small amount of paint and scribbling it onto the surface with short abrasive strokes.  From here on out, applying each layer will take several hours.  It is important to scribble according to the topography of the land and to take each little rock formation and pack of trees into account.  There is no quick shortcuts for these steps.  The smaller the brush you use on these scribbles, the sharper your painting will look.

In this photo I am using a small square edge brush but in hindsight I should have been using an even smaller one.  If the brush marks are too large, especially on the parts of the mountain that are furthest away, everything will start looking too blurry to work the structure of the land into the painting.  Sometimes a round point brush is useful but it can have a tendency to make the land look flat and choppy and can be counter-productive to the structure of the land.  I try to avoid using them in this early of a stage.

As you can start to see, with each layer more detail is revealed and the land begins to take recognizable shape.  Again, these steps take several hours each.

And with each layer the paint gets lighter by adding Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow, and Yellow Ochre in small amounts to the previous color.  To be honest, I am probably neutralizing the color down with blues and reds as well but I can't recall the exact mixture.  After the next couple of layers I will probably need to split off into two separate but simultaneously applied blends because the center of the mountain range is more rocky, with less green vegetation.  I will probably mix elements of that grey in little spots throughout the painting to keep it consistent though.  In those tough times I usually mix the grey from the brown and start basing my layering and color work on the material make-up of the land itself.  To simplify, here is my complete process:

  • I start with dark objects with little light reflecting on them.
  • With each step I am simply adding a more powerful light source to the image.
  • When a differentiation needs to happen between different make ups of the land I switch my focus from adding stronger light to relating the paint to different compositions of land matter.
  • I add the greys that make up rock.
  • I add the browns and low saturated greens for the land.
  • I start adding the brighter greens and browns for vegetation that reach more sunlight and covers the dark surface below.
  • I then switch back to painting light instead of the objects, highlighting the light reflecting of the top layer of vegetation.

This layer starts to approach the borderline between painting light and beginning the first steps of paint as land matter.  And as I mentioned before, each layer is done with more and more care for detail.  The smaller the area you are painting, the more you should be focusing on detail.***

The details and highlights are beginning to really show.  Do not let this layer fool you though.  This painting is nowhere near finished.  This layer will most certainly darken when its dry and the photo above is not entirely accurate to the actually color on the painting.  I am taking these shots with a relatively cheap point and shoot digital camera since I do not have the time and resources at my studio to take professional level photos.

Here is a receded view so you can get a better idea of the affects of the scribbling scumbling.****

As you can see, after that layer dries it looks more like a preliminary layer of the land.  Starting on the next step I will be switching my focus from thinking of the paint as light to thinking of it as pieces of the land itself. With all time of purchasing materials and canvas assembly accounted for, I am about 50-60 hours deep into this painting.

*I will write a blog post later about affordable alternatives to expensive computer hurdles.
**Three times.
***Again these are just rules to make these paintings.  If this process does not interest your intentions then you should by no means be following these "rules."
****That will be the only time you ever see those two words together.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Lately, I have been hearing the word "sophisticated" thrown around too often.  In a general sense "sophisticated" can be used to imply that something is under the influence of a strong education, proper manners, and a deep respect to cultural knowledge.  In other uses it can also describe something that is complex or intricate, or something that is satisfactory to high class taste.

Regardless, there is only one definition of "sophisticated" that I find relevant in describing artwork: deception.  Not because artwork itself is inherently deceptive or misleading, which it may actually be, but because the very use of the word itself is deceptive.

Art is subjective and always dependent on interpretation.  It is dependent on the viewer, their lives, their era, their generation, their taste, and, for that matter, their sophistication.  Each work of art is both great and terrible.  In a broad sense, this applies to just about everything that has ever existed.  There is absolutely nothing special about this armchair, skill-level-one philosophy, either.  And to illustrate that point simply: "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Art cannot not escape this broad of a classification

Artwork cannot be classified as sophisticated because, by definition, recognition of "sophistication" is dependent on the life experience and taste of the viewer, not the inherent qualities of the artwork.  The use of "sophisticated" as a description is a sales technique, not a formal critique.  It is used to empower the viewer and make them feel sophisticated, not to describe the visual elements of the work.

Always be conscious of someone trying to apply a level of class to a piece of art.  It is usually an attempt to empower the buyer, not the artwork, and in the end any positive critique toward a work of art is only a few prepositions away from being completely dismantled.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Get There 2.3 (Painting the Sky Pt. 2)

The techniques I use for the second layer of the sky are the same as the first layer.  Therefore the first half of this post probably won't take too much description.  Normally I would have painted this thing on the wall but FM had open gallery hours as I was working on this step.  Thank you Peter St. Lawrence for an easel large enough to fit this thing.  Normally I would use my Klopfenstein.  It claims to securely hold a 72 inch painting, but I wasn't finding that to be the case.  In most other cases it is a great easel.

I took the opportunity of the first layer being dry to re-up my layer of white.  The horizon had been too blue so this was a perfect time to add a little more contrast to the sky.

It is much easier to smooth the paint on this layer.  Rough brush strokes and transparent layers do not show as much since the layer under the wet paint is not black anymore and matches (for the most part) the color and tone of the new layer.

The black and ultramarine really start to pop on the second layer as well.  The endless blending of the first layer, though it can look pretty smooth, tends to neutralize out a little too much.  This painting was ready for the next step after the second layer.  I've had other ones need a third and fourth sky layer to finally be ready to move on.  It's tedious and obnoxious, but it's necessary.

Here were the brushes I used.  The Blick Mega Filbert and a 4 inch brush made by Princeton.  The brand isn't important in this case as long as the brush is densely packed with natural bristles.

Be sure to end painting the sky with a even layer of vertical strokes.  This way light will have less glare off of the brushwork.

I have seen several techniques to paint clouds.  Usually, they involve smashing and dabbing on the paint thick and quickly, then smoothing it out with a larger brush.  I never cared for how this looked.  To me, it doesn't matter how thick, massive, or puffy clouds can get; they never have that thick impasto* look that most landscape paintings seem to gravitate toward.  For that matter, I never thought clouds "feel" that way either.

I started laying on the the Titanium White (with a little added tint of ultramarine) with the Mega Filbert.  I was doing that swoopy style brushwork you see the everyone do on TV.  I have no idea why I started doing that, it just seemed like a good idea.  It wasn't, or better yet, it didn't make much of a difference.  In this case the paint was still too thick and I was applying to little of it at a time to make a difference.  I had no intention of changing the consistency of the paint either.

I decided to ease up on the fancy dancin' a little bit.  Usually that type of painting is reserved for artists with a camera on them.  Everyone loves the fancy dancin'.  If you ever need to make a painter act melodramatic just throw a camera on them.  Seriously, do you think Ed Harris would have been nominated for an Academy Award if he portrayed a hyper-realist painter?  They drink too you know!  I don't care what people say, Pollock was WALKING around those canvases.

I used a ladder to paint the clouds.  I didn't feel like putting a lower set of screws into the wall.  The main reason was because it was getting late and I was too lazy to grab the drill from the top of my storage racks (even though I clearly had the ladder out anyway).  In hindsight I am glad I didn't because it gets pretty dusty in my studio and I very well could have accidentally kicked dust onto the lower portion of my canvas while painting.  This could have mixed into my paint and rolled into little clumps while working on the first layer of the land.  I am aware it's not very romantic to worry about dust.  After all, Picasso once said:

"The earth doesn't have a housekeeper to do the dusting. And the dust that falls on it every day remains there. Everything that's come down to us from the past has been conserved by dust... It's my ally. I always let it settle where it likes. It's like a layer of protection."

It's a shame that there was no dust to protect his wives and mistresses from his beatings.

I pulled out a small round brush to start building the edges of the cloud.  I know it is most certainly not "time saving", and this is probably not the most traditional method to paint clouds but I wanted to give as much attention to the details of the cloud as possible.  I couldn't leave it to one general technique and assume that the viewers eyes will automatically resolve any inconsistencies beyond my control.  Again, I feel I should reiterate, these choices are all just techniques and methods to provide the means to an end.  Who knows, in a year I might be preaching the Word of the random.

At this point the structure of the cloud is applied.  So far I have only used the slightly off-Titanium White with a little linseed oil to add some transparency.  As you can see, the center of the cloud is a little pastier.  It was not my intention but if I spend more time trying to smooth it out with linseed I will just smear a hole to the blue that I cannot repair until it all dries.  Considering that this is not the final layer on the cloud I will leave it as is.  When it is completely dry another day I can come in and add another layer of white to even out the appearance and make it seem to glow on the canvas.

I wanted to even out the brushwork left over by the small round tip too.  I used a synthetic filbert this time.  I normally wouldn't recommend the synthetic but since very little wet paint was coming in contact with the bristles I chose to take advantage of their smooth, hard edge.

You probably noticed by now that this is a very strange cloud.  It was strange when I saw it in the desert too.  Here is a photo of the photo I took.  I do not aim for my paintings to be exact replicas of the photos, or for them to recreate the irregularities of the lenses either.  Holga and Diana photos are so easily written off nowadays anyway.  One thing about the cloud that I would like to carry into the painting, though, is the saturated, UFO like glow it seemed to be emitting.  It would be the truest way to represent its unsettling appearance in person.

So beyond adding one more layer of white to the cloud later, I am pretty much done with the sky.  All I have to do is be careful not to damage it.  It is damn near impossible to repair that level of flat gradation without having to repaint the whole thing.

After a long night's work nothing beats dining on a pre-packaged salad from the grocery store and soaking in the rampantly eccentric party lifestyle that is being an artist.  Such a wild dance!

*impasto: another word used by a-holes to describe the painting process where the paint is applied thickly (mostly quickly) to show the brush or palette knife marks.  In most cases the word is used to imply that the speaker is looking for money or sex.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Great Basin Pt. 1

I am aware that landscape painting isn't for everyone.  In a contemporary setting, most viewers probably expect nothing but boredom toward the prospect of a landscape painting that doesn't include at least some small element of human interpretation or presence.  That seems to influence the most constant re-occurring theme across all disciplines of land art too, "Man vs. Nature" or "Man's Interaction with Nature" or "Man's Effect on Nature."  I can't always avoid it myself.  My introduction into landscape painting began with the obligatory images of desert residences and weathered vehicles and to this day still depicts elements of dirt roads and shoveled earth.  As you can see from the photo above, sometimes the human elements creep in without my intention.  And further on that note, beyond the frail fencing pictured above, you are still looking at a photograph that one day may be used as a primary visual source for a painting, a process rooted in interpretation.

Is it a defense mechanism that I find a need to justify my use of photography in landscape painting?  A part of me always feels as though there must be some element of eye rolling when someone turns away from my work.  This leaves me wondering why someone would assume that my dedication to my work would in someway be less genuine.  As though the use of photography was born from laziness as opposed to preference, or even necessity.  The pathetic fallacy is that all of these ideas are rooted in my own baseless assumptions.  Who gives a damn what anyone thinks?  As far as I see it, plein air painting is a constant string of human compromises: time is limited, light is limited, and the weather can be far from permitting.  These are all compromises that effect the working process and, regardless of your own intentions, they may just be detrimental to your own techniques.  Painters know how these compromises will affect their work.  We work with compromises on a daily basis.  Trust our experience.

There is a reason I use photography for my painting.  If I were searching for a more human interpretation I would throw my easel in the car.  If I were aiming for less, I would unbox my projector.  There is also a reason I stop short of photo-realistism.  Red-Green colorblindness led me to photoshop, while a short attention span turned me away from the projector.  These are chosen techniques.  If I had chosen to battle those elements of myself then I would have chosen to add more human elements into my paintings.  It is a sales pitch assumption that those human elements always make for better work.  I have drawn a line into my working process that I find necessary for my goals and I make all of my decision to walk that line to the best of my ability.

If I stick to my guns I can make you a new landscape painting.  One that does not depend on blatant interpretation.  One that does not use familiar architecture, trees, and land formations.  You know what a barn looks like.  You know what thick, pasty clouds painted with a palette knife you look like.  You know what an old truck looks like.  You know what a patch of trees on the horizon looks like.  You know how the river winds through the three overlapping hills, which become bluer with each step of distance.  You know what boats look like.  Or the sunset shining through the waves.  You know how the long, one point perspective shot looks too.  It may even still speak to you.

This is far from new territory.  Though I still managed to not only pitted myself against the nature of landscape painting, but the demands of contemporary "high-end" painting as well.  Though I do not feel that I should have to add any abrasively interpretive elements to make a good landscape, it is against ones own nature to remove man made objects from an environment.  I still find myself halfway through a painting wondering why it needed to contain a dirt road in the first place.

You will never see me paint Southern Utah either.  It may be an astounding environment, but you already know that fact. My paintings are currently focused around Utah's northwest region, around the west desert.  From there they will most likely migrate into Nevada and deeper into the heart of the Great Basin.  These photos were all taken in central and southern Nevada.  These photos were taken off the side of the highway.  They are regions where an average driver wonders if they will make it to Reno without falling asleep behind the wheel.  Regions that most would prefer to occupy their minds thinking about which casino would have the best odds. Or which club in Vegas will get them laid.  Who gives a damn if the mountains next to you were formed from the Earth ripping apart millions of years ago?  Who cares if those moutains are currently rolling onto their sides?  Who cares if where you are currently driving used to be a thousand feet under water?

If you grew up in the west you are a part of this history.  Whether you realize it or not you are involved.  This land pushes people over the edge.  They have no idea how to interpret it.  They have no idea how to use it.  Should you shovel the earth for silver or build a hotel that promises gold?  Is it the perfect land for dropping a bomb?  Will aliens visit you?  Is there a body buried somewhere out there?  Where did the showdown take place?  Can you see this history when you only see the land?  Why don't you pull over and find out?  This is the boring American West in all of its glory and it's had a hold on you long before you found the casino.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Get There 2.2 (Painting the Sky Pt. 1)

I was nervous about starting this painting.  When you start working on this scale it is very easy for the cross bracing and stretcher bars to show through the brush work on the front of the canvas.  You may have run into this problem before.  You may have found yourself intensely digging the brush into the paint only to end up making a giant cross in the middle of your canvas.  I really didn't want to deal with that problem.  I decided to apply water to the back of the canvas to tighten it up for the preliminary layers of the painting.  I usually use a heavy duty canvas (probably Blick's #10) but this time my canvas is a little thinner (probably Blick's #12), which I am actually finding the elasticity nice in keeping the canvas tight.  For safety sake, though, it never hurts to get as heavy duty a canvas as you can (except for your knuckles because you are going to shred the tops of your fingers when stretching a canvas this large).  Also, seriously, grow up and buy unprimed canvas and gesso it yourself.  Primed canvas is embarrassing and it's always papery, cheap, shit.  Anyways, I just hope my canvas is good and should be fine.

Once I evenly dampened the back of the canvas I brushed the water into the canvas fibers so it wouldn't just bead and drip down to the bottom stretchers.  Though it has been thoroughly gessoed I assume it can't possibly be good to have a puddle of water sitting at the bottom (metal) stretcher bar.

This is all I used to paint the sky:

Titanium White
Cerulean Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Ivory Black

Most of the time I prefer Mars Black over Ivory Black.  Mars is a more opaque, heavier paint, making smooth blends much easier.  Regardless, I decided in this case to use Ivory.  It is darker, cooler, and might look better blending into the ultramarine.  In future paintings I have planned I will probably mix little variations into the blue to take out a little of the intensity and add bits of pollution to the horizon.  Also, it is important to note that I do not mix any mediums into the paint for this step.  I like having the paint be as thick and chromatic as possible.  Wax mediums may thicken the paint but it would wash out the chroma and any linseed or stand oil would thin the paint and make it too transparent, leaving streaks of visible brushwork.  The biggest struggle you are going to face in this step is not accidentally pulling lines of the naturally thinner black and blue paints into the fragile but thicker white.  You will see this happen further along this process.

Even though the photo above depicts that I have already used all of these brushes I decided to show it preemptively to simply illustrate which brushes I used to paint the sky.  I am hoping this makes things a little less confusing later.  It is important in this step to have a couple different Filbert* brushes.  Once the straight black paint touches one of them you can no longer use it to paint the lower portion of the sky without it being cleaned.  I have ruined a number of skies by not completely cleaning the Turpenoid (turpentine, mineral spirits, etc) out of the brush before taking it back to the canvas.  This is why I started using more than one.  One can blend the dark paint, one can blend the light.

I started the painting by laying the white out with a Filbert.  Though the brushwork is highly visible I use the small brush to spread the paint evenly among the surface.  If I had used my largest brush at this step I would have spent too much time trying to spread the paint out from the first spot where I touched the brush to the canvas.  This would have eventually forced me to apply more and more pressure to the canvas, which in turn would have probably cause me to apply too much pressure, which would rub the canvas against the cross bracing below and accidentally cause it to show through the canvas.

I applied the white from below the horizon line of the image all the way to the near top of the canvas.  I only left a little space near the top so I didn't lose the intensity of the black and ultramarine by accidentally mixing in too much white.  From this point I applied the black on the top corners, then the ultramarine from the black to the edge of the white.  I then applied the cerulean on top of the edge of the ultramarine and the white.  At this point it is good to start blending with the Filbert brush specifically on the edges where two different colors are touching.  I usually blend perpendicular to where the colors touch, then criss cross over it, then parallel with it.  Be sure, in the beginning, to work each line of touching colors individually.

After the paint had begun to even out I pulled out a large brush like the one pictured above to start blending from top to bottom (perpendicular to the color lines).  I had never used this Purdy brush before.  I bought it at Home Depot.

Initially, I didn't care much for this brush.  It moved pretty smoothly but the hard, square edges made it hard to blend smoothly.  This brush was probably best for this point of the blending process, but would need to be replaced by a denser, thicker, natural fiber brush to really smooth out the blend.

Here were some of the marks that the Purdy brush left on the canvas.  If the bristles were denser and the brush a little thicker than these lines wouldn't have shown in the blend.  This problem isn't specific to just the brush, though.  The ultramarine and black are thin paints.  They move across the canvas very easily.  You will notice when doing this blend that the cerulean will not give you too much trouble, while the ultramarine will drive you crazy.  Paints having different consistencies and properties will also often be one of the causes of oil paint cracking over over time, as it settles.  Ever notice how the black in old paintings cracks more than the other colors?  This may be a problem specific to store bought paint and it may also vary between different types of black, I really have no idea.

One of the problems with a new brush is that the unstable bristles fall out while you're painting.  Turpenoid (again: mineral spirits, Turpentine, etc) can be hell on brushes (especially some types of synthetic bristles) and you will probably find yourself picking little bristles out of the paint as you go.  You can see above that I had to go through this as well.  Bristles breaking into the paint usually is the primary cause of me yelling obscenities at my painting.  The bristles are distracting, they mess up the blends, and they have forced me to repaint large areas of my skies on previous paintings.  It never hurts to have a pair of tweezers in the studio.  I am not sure if there are any good techniques to removing the initial weak bristles**.  Every brush has a window in the middle of its life span when its bristles are pretty secure.

This brush is in that window.  It's dense with natural fibers, and most importantly, the perfect mix of soft and firm.  I am not entirely sure how to describe it but after you use a brush a bit it gets to that point where the bristle tips are soft but rest of them are still firm and can spread the paint.  You will know when your brush gets there.  When I used the brush pictured above I was able to smooth out those awkward marks that the Purdy brush left.  The other benefit of natural over synthetic bristles is that the natural ones don't stick together from moisture.  Synthetic may be nice for making a scratchy palette knife effect, but it certainly would not have helped me at this stage.

Here is a problem that you will run into regardless of what brush you use.  After switching brushes I had managed to smooth the blend without too many hitches.  Inevitably, if you are primarily starting your long, vertical brush strokes from the top, dark end of the sky and moving into the white, you will pull the paint off of the edges of the canvas and leave the thicker light paint in its place.  This can obviously be fixed by brushing from the white into the dark.  You have to be careful at this point.  Use a second brush that does not have dark paint on it.  If you forget and use the same brush you will accidentally brush a spattering of hair-thin dark lines on the white.  You can smooth this out but if you keep juggling the dark and light paint back and forth you will eventually move too much darker blue toward the horizon.

That is exactly what had happened to my painting.  Though it is a little hard to tell from this photo, too much blue paint had moved toward the horizon.  It wasn't too much of a problem for this image since the horizon on the photo I am working from was surprisingly darker than usual.  In many cases, if you look at the horizon on a sunny clear day in the desert it will be closer to white than you think.  Regardless, I still had to take action with this painting.

I used my plastic*** drywall knife to remove some of the excess paint near the horizon line.  Obviously this left a mess of a texture and sketchy blending that I had to smooth out all over again but by this point most of everything had started to even out so taking the time for this recovery is much easier than dealing with a overly dark blend.  I have made too many paintings in the past where I didn't realize until I was about half way finished that the horizon was too dark, a live-with-it/start-over situation.  One last thing about painting the sky that I want to mention now in case I forget in the next Get There post is that I like to end each sky step with vertical brush strokes.  This way light won't reflect off of the fine brush marks and make your painting glare.  I usually gradually make my vertical strokes as I slowly move across the canvas, slightly overlapping one bottom-to-top stroke at a time.  Much like vacuuming a rug.

It was approaching the end of my day at the studio when I realized that I had been slowly ruining another pair of jeans.  This problem could have been fixed with an apron or less stupidity.  I took it as a sign that I should have been doing all of this on the wall.

I had then put three screws in the wall and hung my painting.  I really should have had the painting hanging this way since I finished gessoing.  Though this may seem obvious, hang the painting upside down.  This way you won't have to use a ladder (duh) and keeping the long, vertical brushwork a little low also enhances your control of the brush.  I always prefer working vertically over horizontally (as I was on the saw horses, or as you would at an art table) because there is less of a chance that your viewing angle will distort your painting (probably another "duh").

At this point, I had applied the first layer of the sky.  I needed to now let it dry completely to do the same process over again.  I couple rounds of this and the painting should really pop.  Also, painting a preliminary sky layer leaves less of a chance of little raw parts of the gesso layer to show through and offset the value and depth of the sky.  One more bit of advice: That metal grating inside my can of Turpenoid is a flower box/rain gutter mesh I found at Home Depot.  It came in 4 ft tall (about 1 ft wide) strips.  Cut and bend some of it into your Turpenoid can and it will help your clean your brushes better.

*Filbert brushes are crazy expensive.  Dick Blick has a "Giant" natural bristle brush for relatively cheap.  I remember trying to find the largest one I could.  It ended up being a size 30, hog hair Da Vinci for $130.  That price ended that journey.  I instead went with the naturaly bristle "Giant" Blick brand because it was $15.  It wasn't as nice but it worked.  It also enabled me to buy the nice big brush in the can pictured above.  I wanted to find a link to it but I don't know if the brush type is considered "Bright" or "Flat", so I can't find it online.  Whatever, it is a nice naturaly hair version of a brush you paint a house with, whatever the hell that is called.

**Here is a helpful technique for removing the excess fuzz off of a paint roller:  If you ever found yourself screaming at a wall you were rolling because there is a speckling of dust bits in your paint, then you are in luck.  First of all, only buy paint rollers that are white.  Those cheap brownish/yellowy shitty ones are no good.  Don't be a bargain hunter when it comes to paint rolls.  Before using the roll tightly wrap it with the sticky side of your painters tape.  Do this around the whole roll (think like a barbershop pole).  When you peel the tape off a bunch of the roller dust will be stuck to it.  Do this a couple of times before using the roll.  Ryan Coffey showed me this trick. It may have been common knowledge, but I really had no idea.

***Don't use metal because you will probably just rip the canvas and then get pissed off at me!  You may even want to consider dulling the corners of your plastic drywall knife just to be safe when doing something like this.