Change & artistic style, Part 3.

Baldassini oil landscape brushes
My landscape brushes. top row clockwise: Luco “La Serene” 4-inch bristle. I use this brush for blending out cloud color and shape transitions; Steve Kafka script liner No. 6 for tree trunks, branches and such when my fingers or a rolled up paper towel is ineffective; Princeton Dakota No. 4 Bright for occasional application of specific color passages; bottom row: Rosemary & Co. No. 8 Series 279 Long Flat for occasional refining of cloud shapes. Bottom row left to right: Inexpensive hardware store “chip” brushes, 3-, 2-, 1/2-inch; Rosemary & Co. Series 3099 Hog Background, 2-, 1 1/2, 1-inch, these are my workhorse brushes along with the chip brushes; Pastry brush, my go to brush for grass and scrubby bush effects.

I made a conscious decision to depart from my prior way of working – “a structured approach” – to a much more intuitive “let’s see what happens” approach. The point was to be able to spend more time painting and less time preparing to paint. I had stored years of of landscape imagery in my mind, countless more digital images on hard drives if I needed additional source material.

Although I enjoyed very much composing with a camera and was a highly skilled digital image editor, I no longer wanted to be beholden to photographic reference. Born with an innate sense of design – “the artist’s eye” – and more than 35 years as a professional graphic designer I was not intimidated to stand in from of blank panel and get to work. And, after a dozen years of painting florals, I knew how to mix paint even though I planned on not having to mix much of it any more.

As far as brushes and the marks they make I enjoy priming panels as much as actually painting on them afterwards. The large inexpensive gesso brushes – “chip brushes” as they known by in the hardware store – produced most interesting marks and put down a lot of paint in a short amount time with very little effort. While applying the white gesso on the brownish MDF panels I would make tree shapes, grassy field textures and clouds using my wrist, arm and shoulder. It was a great feeling – crude proto-landscapes that were most interesting – only to be obliterated as I continued to prime the panel to a pure white surface in preparation for another floral work. I knew that those marks could be used to great effect in constructing a landscape rather effortlessly in oil, and those are the brushes I now use to create my landscape paintings.

It would be necessary to develop a new palette of colors before it became time to take the plunge. The colors of landscape around me were pretty much the same everywhere – greens for foliage, warm browns for land and blues for the sky, white and gray for clouds, a tonalist. My floral work necessitated the need for high-chroma palette, but the landscapes would not – I wanted to try out a more subdued tonalist-style palette. I needed to find a limited range of tube colors that would convey my landscape vision with minimal mixing and in a convincing manner. Drawing on colors from my 22-color extended palette of which I felt quite competent using in mixtures, I quickly narrowed it down to a small group: Ultramarine and Cobalt blue would serve well for the sky, Terra Rosa and Yellow Ochre for land, Sap Green for foliage, and a pre-mixed gray (Payne’s Gray) for clouds and to darken and neutralize the other colors. Titanium White would serve to create and modify clouds and sky colors.

But which manufacturer’s paint would it be? The pigments used in each tube color had to be compatible with the others so I started to research my own rather large collection of tubed oil paint. I knew the most problematic color would be Sap Green as every manufacturer’s version is wildly different so technical details (pigment identification numbers ) were important. The base of all the Sap Greens out there is PG7 (Phthalocyanine Green), to which is usually added some kind of earth yellow and red. I did not need a completely transparent yellow or red so PY42 (Yellow Ochre) and PR101 (Terra Rosa aka Red Iron Oxide) were good candidates for my new palette, being semi-opaque and great mixers. I had been using mostly Michael Harding and Old Holland brands, some Williamsburg and Winsor & Newton brands but I did not really the Sap Greens from any of the popular manufacturers. My Titanium White, when I used it, was made by Lefranc Bourgeois – Richard Schmid highly recommended paint from this French manufacturer but their Fine Artist line of colors are now impossible to find in the United States, and Jackson Fine Art only carries their Extra Fine line. After much research online I found an art supply distributor in Spain that ships to the United States, and stock both lines. Their Sap Green (called Bladder Green) is a mixture of not only PG7 but the other two pigments that I needed, PY42 and PR101. Ultramarine Blue is an indispensable workhorse blue on most artist’s color palette and my go to sky color (except Bob Ross, who favored the heavily staining PB53 Phthalocyanine Blue). I also required a lighter and cooler pre-mixed “convenience” blue for use in sky mixtures but all of the mixed lighter blues available in the US such as “Kings Blue” are mixtures of Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White. Lefranc Bourgeois is the only paint manufacturer that makes a convenience blue mixed from the cooler PB28 (Cobalt Blue) and (PW4 Titanium White) so I went with that. In fact I replaced all of the colors on my new palette with those from Lefranc Bourgeois. They are of exceptional quality and very reasonably priced. I can purchase most 150ml size tubes from Spain for less than the cost of standard 50ml tubes in the US, and shipping is free if you spend over $75.

Baldassini color palette
My landscape oil paint Lefranc Bourgeois 150ml and 40ml tubes left to right: Yellow Ochre, Transparent Red Oxide, Sap Green, Ultramarine Blue, Royal Blue, Payne’s Gray, Titanium White. I also sometimes use Light Green in the land areas and mixtures of Japanese Red and Ultramarine Blue to make moody dark cloud shapes.

I changed up my medium also. No more expensive, smelly lead-containing Maroger Medium, although I must admit it was fantastic to work with. Now just straight up Refined Linseed Oil, of which I apply a liberal amount to my colors, except for white which I use straught out of the tube.

Finally, how to prime my panels – no more mounted expensive Belgian linen. I purchase 1/2-inch Trupan Ultralight MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) in 4×8 ft sheets and cut them to size on a table saw. To prepare the surface for painting, two ground coats are applied using Utrecht Professional Acrylic Gesso. It is a superior gesso, thick and quite opaque, easy to apply, non-absorbent and ideally suited to my paint and wipe-out method of working.

With major decisions made, it’s time to start painting. More in Part 4.

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