Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #6

Cobalt Studios

Brecciated Marble
There was no wasted time at Cobalt.  While we were waiting for parts of the woodgrain project to dry, we stapled pre-sized muslin to the floor and began the base coat for our marble assignments.  We painted the end of both woodgrain assignments and the beginning of both marble assignments simultaneously.  For the sake of clarity, however, I will only write about one project at a time.

While we were waiting for paint to dry, we sat in the classroom (which was actually just a rolling table on the studio floor) and discussed different kinds of marble.  We learned about how marble is formed in the earth and we learned about different painting techniques.  Each of us was then instructed to select two samples of marble from the folder.  At least one of the samples was supposed to be a mid-value marble.  The reason for that was because it would become our trompe l'oeil marble and the mid-value showed the highlights and shadows better.

As a scenic artist, I have painted hundreds of square feet of marble in my career.  I have painted many different types and varieties.  I have painted many different techniques.  I don't say that to boast, it just is what it is.  I determined, however that I was at Cobalt to be taught and to learn, so I chose one marble I had never painted before and also two techniques I had never used for marble before.  I decided ahead of time that I was not there to demonstrate what I already knew.  I was there to learn what was being taught.

Breccia marble is a marble with a violent past.  It is a collection of broken rocks that are cemented together by a fine grained matrix.  Fault breccia is created when two fault blocks grind past each other.  The broken fragments are then cemented together.  There are other kinds of breccia.  Basically, it's the conglomerate of marble.  It takes a great polish and it's quite stunning to look at.  I decided to paint breccia for one of my marble projects.

Step #1:  The Base Coat
First of all, Kimb demonstrated a breccia method.  It was because of her demonstration that I decided to paint that particular marble.

The first thing I did was to tear up scraps of bogus paper into the irregular but angular shapes of the stones in the breccia marble.  I tore paper into large, medium and small stone shapes.

Then I put my first scumble down.  I scumbled some dark browns with some medium browns.  Then I laid the bogus paper onto the wet paint and scumbled lighter colors over that.  Successive layers of scumbling and bogus paper friskits later, along with some random spatter and I had my base coat done.  All wet on wet.  When I was satisfied with the base coat, I pulled the bogus paper and went to lunch at Big Kev's Barbecue.

If you attend Cobalt, Big Kev's is a must.  It's about half a mile down the road from the studio and he serves from a food truck from about 10 AM until all the barbecue is gone.  However long it lasts is how long he stays open.  Oh, and it is GOOD!

Sadly, I got so caught up in the painting of this project that I didn't photograph as much of it as I thought.  So I just have shots of finished steps instead of process shots.

Base coat, stage one

Base coat, stage two

Step #2:  The Layout
We were told to walk around our marble to find the worst corner.  The corner we liked the least.  Once that was located, we laid out our profile of the finished marble piece.  We were going to paint a marble entablature.  With charcoal on a bamboo, we laid out our entablature.  The corner we liked least would be painted out.  That way, our pieces were more dramatic.

We had a tool called a story stick, which is a piece of brown kraft paper that is folded down the middle lengthwise and has markings at intervals which are then transferred onto the marble piece on either side.  Lines are drawn between the transferred markings with charcoal and a lining stick.  Then the profile of the entablature is cartooned on the side.  Every great paint job is a good drawing first, I always say.

Step #3:  Shade and Shadow
Using the fuzzy lines we had learned about in the basics project, we began painting our shade on the curved surfaces of the trompe l'oeil.  Using fuzzy lines can help you paint both concave and convex shapes.  There were both on this project.  Shade is the shadow which is caused by lack of light on an object, whereas shadow is cast from an object.  We painted both of those a little differently.  Shade is created by mixing burnt umber with ultramarine blue and thinning to a watercolor transparency, and shadow is mixed by combining black with ultramarine blue, in other words Payne's Grey.  The shadows are also mixed to watercolor transparency.

On a convex surface, the shade is painted on the underneath side, whereas the concave surface has the shade painted on the top side.  It will be clear in the first photograph.

After the shade is painted, then cast shadows are added on the areas where light is blocked from one surface to another.  All of these shades and shadows were painted with brushes on bamboo and lining sticks.  This was guided work, not freehand.  Also notice that the shade, shadow, highlight and zinger all project past the charcoal lines.  This is all going black anyway so it doesn't matter.

Cartooning with charcoal and shades painted.  Note the concave and convex surfaces and the fuzzy lines

Cast shadows added

Step #4:  Highlight and Zinger
Highlight is made by taking the local color, or base color and adding the color of the light to it.  If your light source is amber, then add that to it.  If the light source is pink, add pink to it and so on and so forth.  It's important not to go too far in value above your local color or the piece will appear cartoonish.  I like my shade and shadow to be transparent and I like my highlights to be translucent.  Zinger and cut lines are opaque.  I get the desired translucence from my highlight by adding water.

On the convex surfaces, on the top third, I painted my highlights with fuzzy lines.  I also added a small highlight at the top of the piece.

Highlights added at top of piece and on the two convex pieces of the entablature

When the highlight was dry, I added the zinger.  Actually, I added the zinger when the piece was still wet which serendipitously gave me a fuzzy zinger that I kind of liked, then I waited for that to dry and added another zinger on top of that.  The zinger goes on the very top edge of the entablature and in the middle of the two fuzzy highlights.

Fuzzy zinger in an impatient accident

Solid zinger on top of the fuzzy one

Step #5:  Bounce Light and Cut Line
For my secondary light source, I chose a blue light from ankle level.  Somewhere along the way, either Rachel or Kimb or both suggested that bounce light often looked really good when it was a complementary color.  Since my basic color of the piece was overall an earthy orange, rust color, I chose a blue bounce light.  I placed it on the bottom edges of each of the projecting surfaces, as well as in the bottom third of the convex pieces.  Bounce light, by the way is best painted in a dry brush technique

Blue bounce light added on bottom surfaces of projections

Next came the cut line.  I used my one inch Purdy and a lining stick to make a cut line at each transition, where one piece projected beyond another one.  In other words the cut line goes at the deepest part of the shadow.

Cut line added

Step #6:  Paint it Black
With the one inch Purdy, I cut in the profile with velour black.  Rachel calls Rosco Velour Black the "Cadillac of black."  When that was complete, I got a bigger brush and laid in the rest of the black.  No sense painting it with a tiny brush.  I've always been taught to use the biggest brush possible for the thing you are working on.  Once the black was on, the piece was done.

Edge cut in

Black painted

This was a very satisfying piece to work and learn on.  I was happy with the results, but more importantly I was happy with the things I learned on this project.

All the paint is dry, the piece is finished

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #5

Cobalt Studios 

Finished Woodgrain
While we painted the weathered wood, there was a certain amount of dry time that we had to deal with.  To combat that, and to make the best use of our time, Rachel and Kimb would have us work on two projects simultaneously.  While the weathered wood was drying, we worked on our finished wood project, and vice versa.

Step #1:  Cartooning
Most great paint jobs begin as great drawings.  When we draw our projects in scene painting, we call it cartooning.  For the finished woodgrain project, our cartooning began with a pounce.  A pounce is a piece of brown kraft paper with a design perforated into it that powdered charcoal is then rubbed on.  The powdered charcoal falls into the perforations and leaves a trace on the work.  The pounce we used only dealt with the corners of the wood panels we were to paint.

Once the pounce has been applied, we used straight edges and permanent markers mounted in a bamboo to complete the drawing.  We use permanent markers so they will bleed up through the first few layers of paint to give us indication lines.  By the time we are done, the marker lines won't be visible, but they will guide us until that point.

Muslin after the pounce has been applied

Inking with a standing straight edge

The piece as inked

Step #2:  Base Coat
I probably need to mention that prior to the pounce and inking, we primed our flats with starch.  I never skip the priming step.  It's a recipe for disaster to do that.  Just recently, I was walking across the stage where I work and noticed the trap door cover after the stage floor had been painted.  I pointed out to my student, "Remember how told you I can always tell if something has been primed or not?"  Then I pointed it out to them and they got it.

Our base coat was very similar to the base coat we had for weathered wood, except it was a little more refined and we used warmer, cleaner colors.  We used orange and yellow earthy colors for our scumble.  Once again, it was like a hybrid ombre/scumble.  Long strokes lightly blended along the length of the wood pieces we were painting.

We always start in the "lowest" point, in this case where the panels were going to be.  The section in the middle where all the graining is vertical is where we started.  Then, while that paint was still wet, we painted the horizontal portions above and below.  The reason we start that way is so we don't have to be careful on the first step.  We can paint with reckless abandon because we're going to come back and clean up the edges with the paint that covers them up.

In this step, it's important to remember the horizontal trim pieces in the recessed panels.  The scumble always follows the direction of the woodgrain you are going to paint.

Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the whole process here, only the finished thing.  Just know that the middle section of vertical stripes was painted first.  Notice how the permanent marker is showing through.

Step #3:  Graining
For this step, we used our one inch Purdy to create the woodgrain.  We had a handout on different kinds of woodgrain and we had been taught about how the different types of woodgrain grow and are cut for display.  Then we had practiced on the bogus paper.  We were ready to go.

The first step was to woodgrain the recessed panels.  I like a good "cathedral" woodgrain in recessed or raised panels.  It just looks more elegant.  I made an attempt to bookmatch the panels, meaning making them a mirror image of each other.  I put a scrap of bogus paper on the top and bottom of the panel as a friskit to keep the paint from the sections I didn't want that type of woodgrain on.  I also did some individual graining with the Purdy on a couple of the other boards.

When that was done, I took a custom brush for woodgraining, a four inch chip brush that had been cut up for just this purpose and filled in the straight grain.  We used a wash of burnt umber for the woodgrain.

Bookmatched cathedral woodgraining in the panels

Custom graining brush

The graining of the whole piece.  Notice the transition from the Purdy to the custom brush on the lowest board

Step #4:  The Wash
We wanted this to look like a cherry finish on our piece of wood, so we used a burnt sienna wash over the whole thing.  The wash tends to bring everything into the same world.  It provides a lens through which the whole piece can be seen.  In the picture above, the graining and the base coat look broad and obvious.  The wash blends them.  

It is important to paint the wash in the same direction as the woodgrain.  At this point I'd like to say something about the choice of colors we used.  We used yellow and orange earth colors for the base, a greenish brown for the woodgrain and a reddish brown for the wash.  What that means is that this piece of woodgrain will respond to just about any color of light a lighting designer can throw at it.  It will look good in just about any color of light.

The wash applied

Step #5:  Shade and Shadow, Dark Toner
The most important thing to remember when doing this kind of trompe l'oeil work is light source.  Where is your light?  What direction is it coming from?  What will it strike first?  How long will the shadows be that are cast from it?  Imperative.

At this point, we had a classroom discussion where we were given sheets of paper which had a drawing of each of the different kinds of moulding we would be painting the highlights and shadows on.  We took charcoal and chalk and drew in the shadows and the highlights for each type of moulding.  Having the worksheets available was very helpful when painting our details.  We taped the paper at or near the part we were going to be painting so we'd have that ready reference.  I'm always amazed at novice painters that think they can paint from their minds without the reference.

There were four worksheets total.  One had the detail of the crown moulding.  One was the top left corner of the recessed panel.  One was the bottom right corner of the recessed panel and the last one was for the base moulding.  Once you complete the worksheets correctly, the painting becomes pretty easy.  It's much harder if you have to just think about it.

In order to replicate the roundness of some of the moulding, you have to paint the fuzzy lines that were talked about in a previous blog post.  Essentially, you paint a strip of clear water on the edge you wish to be fuzzy, then draw a brush with paint in it along the straightedge on one side and the clear water on the other.  A little bit of futzing on the water side and voila, a fuzzy line.  Fuzzy line painting at Cobalt was one of the great revelations for me.  I had painted things like that before, but this time it was institutionalized and put there for a purpose.  The teaching had been codified.

All of the shades and shadows were painted with a lining stick and a brush on bamboo.  None of this is freehand.

We painted the shades first.  Shade is the shadow that is on the object which is more like where the absence of light is.  For that we used burnt umber and ultramarine blue mixed together and thinned to a transparent wash.  

Next we painted our cast shadow.  A cast shadow is that shadow that falls away from the light from one object to another object.  Our cast shadows were ultramarine blue and velour black, mixed and thinned.  In other words Payne's Grey.  

We also added a little dark toner for areas where two pieces of wood came together in the same plane but we wanted to make a little distinction between them.  Dark toner was just our shade color thinned a bit more.  It's a very subtle thing but very beautiful.  In the finished piece you don't really see the dark toner but you feel it.

The shades painted

The worksheets

Shade, cast shadow and dark toner applied

Step #6:  Highlights and Zingers
The highlights were mixed, once again by taking the local color (one of our base colors) and adding the color of light to them.  For this we chose an amber light so our highlight was an orange/yellow.  Some of the highlights, like the shade are on rounded objects.  They needed a fuzzy line as well.  For me, I like shadows to be transparent and regular highlights to be translucent.  The zinger, which is also called the flash is painted opaquely.  It's very small and is the highlight color with white added.

The highlight was added to the edges of the recessed panel, or the trim around it and we painted a fuzzy line in the concave curve in the mouldings.  When that was dry, we added the zinger color with a straightedge and a very thin brush to give that extra bit of drama and authenticity.  I don't like a zinger to go all the way across in an unbroken line.  I like it to come and go a bit.  I don't think I was completely successful with that point on this project.

Highlights added.  Notice the translucent quality of the highlight in the moulding

And the zinger added.

Step #7:  Bounce Light and Cut Lines
Bounce light is a secondary light source.  For example, in this piece we decided that the main light source would be a window from the top left.  That light would be amberish.  Our secondary light source was from a fireplace directly in front of the panel and at ground level.  This bounce light was more orange than the highlights.  Bounce light is kind of subtle, or it should be.  Subtle is a relative term, however because if you paint it too subtly, in a larger house it might get lost.  What we think is broad from up close may read better in a thousand seat auditorium.

The last step, after the bounce light has been placed is the final cut line.  We use straight velour black for the cut line.  The cut line is a very thin line painted with a one inch Purdy, in the deepest part of the shadow, where one surface joins to another or a change in elevation.  In other words a cut line is a transitional line.

Bounce light added.  Notice the bright orange line at the top left and in the upper moulding in the recessed panels

The cut line.  I photographed this while the cut line was still wet.  Serendipitously, the location of the cut line show up in the picture pretty well.

The Finished Piece
Once our work was dry, we all put them up around the room and talked about them.  I have two pictures, one a close up of just this woodgrain and the other which shows both pieces, the weathered wood and the finished wood, together to show how it was painted.

The two pieces together

Closeup of the finished woodgrain project

This was a very rewarding project.  I think it turned out pretty well.  I am pleased with it.  Once again, you have to be able to see the end from the beginning.  I think that's one of the most important skills a scenic artist can learn.  

After twenty-five years, I finally got to study at Cobalt!  I hope to go back sometime.  Wonderful experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #4

Cobalt Studios

The Cobalt Method
Just a note about the teaching style at Cobalt,  The early projects involved a lot of demonstration.  The teachers would demonstrate and we would copy.  As the time went on, there was less demonstration and more of us having to take what we learned and fill in the blanks.  By the last projects we were mentored through the projects but there was no demonstration.  I thought that was a great teaching method.  It ensured that everyone started out with all the proper information and then there was a certain accountability required to finish.  I liked that a great deal and have incorporated it into my pedagogy.

Weathered Wood
After the basics assignment, we went directly into woodgrain.  We did two projects simultaneously, so we didn't have to wait for dry time.  For the purpose of the blog, though, I'll separate the two in different posts.

We were first shown some photos of old barn wood.  I find there is no substitute for visual reference.  I always encourage my students to have a paintbrush in one hand and the visual reference or the paint elevation in the other.  Typically, when I see scenic artists make mistakes it's when they are painting and the visual reference is somewhere else.  Thirty feet away or so.

Step #1:  Cartooning
Rachel demonstrated this piece.  The first thing we did was take a piece of charcoal in a bamboo pole (which from this point on I will reference only as 'a bamboo') and cartooned the wood planks and the doorway we wished to paint.  Charcoal is notorious for leaving 90% more material on your work than you need to make a mark, so when we were done with this step we flogged off the excess charcoal.  A flogger is made by taking a piece of wood about two feet or two foot, six inches long and adding a bunch of muslin strips to one end.  A flogger is an important tool for the scenic artist.  It's like a magic eraser.  Flogging removes most of the charcoal and leaves only enough to see the lines but not so much that it changes the color of wet paint.

When we had flogged off the work, we then inked the lines with a permanent marker in a bamboo.  We did this freehand without a lining stick.  We used the permanent marker for the very reason people say don't use a permanent marker.  It bleeds through a few layers of paint.  We wanted our indication lines to project through to guide us later.  I've found that there are very few absolutes in the world.  Don't do this....except in certain situations.

Charcoal lines


Inked with a blue permanent marker

Step #2:  Base Coat
The base coat is a wet on wet process that goes on quite fast.  We used a grey and a brown as our two colors.  To be fair, the brown was kind of a grey brown.  We laid the first color down in irregular stripes on the door section.  When doing this, it is extremely important to orient your stripes in the direction of the woodgrain.  Vertical stripes for vertical pieces of wood, horizontal stripes for horizontal pieces of wood.  Since this is a wet on wet technique, and you are painting it very quickly, it's okay, in fact it's better for you to paint just outside the lines.  You can clean that up when you paint the next board.

We put the second color down between the stripes of the first color and blended the edges just a little.  Once the door piece was based, we then dragged our brushes along the diagonal piece and the two horizontal pieces to give the proper direction to the boards.  If you do this quick, while the paint is still wet, you don't have to introduce a lot of new paint for this.  Just use what is already there.

First color, irregular stripes

Second color blended, kind of

Door section painted with diagonal and horizontals dragged through

Then we did the same thing for the other boards.  It's like a puzzle.  You have to place the right piece at the right time for it to work properly.  On the piece above, the two horizontal boards that are not yet painted would be first.  If the paint ends up on the vertical board at the left, no big deal because you can clean that up momentarily.  If you paint the vertical one first then you have to paint with much greater care on the two horizontal pieces.  It's important to figure all of that out before you begin painting.  Which piece gets painted first and the order etc...

Base coat complete

Step #3:  Graining
While we were waiting for the paint to dry, we did two things.  First we base coated the other side of our flats for the more refined woodgrain.  Second, we went to the classroom and looked at different kinds of woodgrain, received a handout with illustrations, and then we practiced painting woodgrain on the bogus paper floor.  Bogus paper is an absorbent paper that scenic artists like to lay down beneath their work.  Helps keep everything clean and orderly.  Cobalt was the first time I had ever painted on bogus paper.  It won't be the last.  I really liked painting on the bogus paper.

Rachel then told us to pick out three or four boards on our piece and do different woodgrain techniques on them.

After that, we found old ratty paintbrushes whose bristles were splayed and did a simple drag through the rest of the boards.  It was looking pretty ugly by this point.  My mantra to my students over the years has been, "The last thing you do is the only thing they see."  I have seen students get upset and want to quit on projects at this point because they don't look beautiful.  Many projects have to go through an"ugly duckling phase" before the become beautiful.  But don't worry, this one will get uglier before it gets prettier.

Notice in the images below that the paint has dried lighter than it was when it was wet.  Sometimes paint dries lighter sometimes it dries darker.  I believe this is directly related to whether or not white was mixed into the color.

Graining a few boards

The rest are dragged

Step #4:  Spatter and Drag
As the name would suggest, the next step involves spattering sections of the piece and then dragging with a dry brush through the wet spatter.  This is done in small sections so the paint doesn't dry before it can get smeared.  It is also important to drag along the direction of the board you are painting.  As I mentioned earlier, this project gets uglier before it becomes beautiful.  This step is the paint job at it's ugliest.  The thing about good scenic artists, though is that they can see the end from the beginning.  They know it has to go through this step before it can become beautiful.

Spatter and drag

Step #5:  Details
Since each of these boards are supposed to look like they are sitting on a different plane, it's important to identify which boards set higher than others.  This is designated by writing numbers on boards based on how many inches they set above the base.  The base is given the designation "0".  In this case the door is the lowest point and the vertical boards in the door would be marked "0".  The horizontal boards and the diagonal board on the door would be designated "1" because it is one inch above "0", and so on and so forth.  This is done with charcoal, which will be flogged off later.

Numeric designation

I added charcoal lines around the door just to help me see where my shadows went

Once the designations have been determined, the next step is to add cast shadow.  The cast shadow is made by mixing ultramarine blue and black.  In other words, Payne's Grey.  Using the designations as a guide, we then took a one inch Purdy angled sash brush on a bamboo and painted in our cast shadows.  Notice the shadows that fall across boards that are vertical are jagged on the bottom, because weathered wood ends up having grooves because some of the rings in the tree are harder than others and the softer ones recede as it weathers.

The most important thing to remember when painting shadows and highlights is Light Source.  Where is the light coming from?  Always think about that when doing any of the trompe l'oeil techniques.  The thing that will make your work look either good or amateurish more than anything is how well you understand light source.

We did use straight edges for the shadow work, by the way.  If a board has a designation of "1" and it is adjacent to a board that has a designation of "0", the shadow would be one inch thick.  If, however, a board had a designation of "2" and it was adjacent to a board that had a designation of "0" the shadow would be 2 inches thick.  In other words you have to do math.  It gets tricky when shadowing the door because part of the shadow is two inches thick and the other parts are only one inch thick.  I'll show that on the photos.

When the shadows are dry, the next step is the highlights.  Highlights are made by mixing the local color with whatever color the "light" is supposed to be.  In other words don't just use white paint to make a highlight.  If the color of the light is yellow, then that is your mixing color.  If it is pink or blue then use that.  That being said, it's not inappropriate to lighten your highlight with a little white, so long as you have the color of the light as well.

When painting the highlights, we used a one inch Purdy (from this point on, if I mention a one inch Purdy, it refers to the angled sash brush).  I like highlights that come and go.  They don't necessarily have to be full length to look convincing.  Place highlights on the edge of the board that light would naturally strike it.  In other words, if the light is coming from the left, the leading edge of the board is the left edge and that is where you would highlight.  Shadows are just the opposite.  They flee from the light.

First batch of shadows laid in

Charcoal flogged off at this point

More shadows and highlights.  Notice the shadows on the "Z".  Two inches, then one inch then two then one then two...

Step #6:  The Last Thing
The final bit of detail is the cut line.  For this we used Rosco Velour Black.  Rachel calls it "The Cadillac of Black."  Cast shadow is a transparent shadow that casts from one thing to another.  Velour black is what we used to create voids, such as where the boards end and it's completely dark beyond.  The jagged edge of the bottom of the door, or the space between boards were painted with velour black.  We also used a one inch Purdy to create a cut line right where the shadow begins when it's casting from a higher surface to a lower surface.  Having just a little darker hard line right there brings the whole piece into focus.

Cut line and voids filled in with velour black

The finished piece

This was a rewarding experience.  I enjoyed painting weathered wood.  You have to really see the end from the beginning on this project.  I really liked how Rachel combined techniques to paint not only the weathered wood, but also the trompe l'oeil.  I love the way she has codified the teaching of scenic art.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #3

Cobalt Studios

Learning the Basics
Our first project that involved paint at Cobalt was all about the basics.  It was important to go back to the basics.  The foundation is the most important part of a house.  It's what holds the rest of it up.  I believe the fundamentals are the most important part of scene painting.  They are the basement, the foundation.  They make everything else make sense.  They hold everything else upright.  I was already familiar with much of what was being taught on this project.  I think all of the students were familiar with a lot of the early material.  The beauty of the Cobalt method, though is that the teaching is codified.  There is a system.  Each part in sequence.

I loved the Cobalt system.  I asked Rachel and Kimb if I could 'steal' it for when I taught my class back home.  They gave me permission.  Painting the basics in this way sets the stage for subsequent projects.  Everything builds off of previous projects.  We needed a strong foundation.

I've taught for years that the five steps of every great scene painting job are:
1.  Prime
2.  Base
3.  Workup
4.  Detail
5.  Seal

We first covered flats with muslin, then we sized them, or primed them with starch.  While we were waiting for the starch to dry, we sat at the desk and learned about geometry and how to use it in laying out large canvasses.  There was no wasted time during the work day at Cobalt.  That meant no wasted money.

The next thing we learned was two different kinds of base coats.  A scumble and an ombré.  We divided our flat lengthwise in half and painted an ombré on one half and a scumble on the other.  An ombré is painted by taking one color and painting one side of the flat with strokes all going in the same direction.  The paint is pulled about halfway across the work and then you start on the other side with a different color and do the same thing, pull the paint from the edge to the middle.  Where the two colors meet, they blend over the middle third of the painting.

A scumble is a base coat that involves two or more colors that are laid down in patches and then are blended into each other.  The middle of each of the patches remains the pure color, but the edges are blended.  In a very fine scumble, it's difficult to tell where one color ends and the other begins.  Some scumbles are broader and less blended.  That's okay too.  Depends on what look you are going for.

Painting the ombré


and scumble
While we were waiting for the base coat to dry, we went to the desks and learned other things.  That was a constant at Cobalt.  Never a wasted moment.  When the paint was dry, we divided the ombré in half lengthwise and also the scumble.  Now we had four sections to work with.

On one section, we made our own ragrolls by taking fabric and wrapping it around a roller and attaching it with rubber bands.  The rubber bands also served to break up the pattern in interesting ways.

Another section we took large brushes and spread the bristles out a bit and dragged a color along the length of the section.  Almost like a drybrush technique, but with more paint.

Still another section we painted with sponge rollers.

The last section we took rollers that had been cut and shaved in interesting ways and painted a texture with them.  Basically we were playing with many different textures.

Painting with a ragroll roller

Dividing the panels with brown kraft paper

The four textures, top to bottom:  Ragroll, Drag, Cut roller, Sponge roller

The next step of the workup was three different kinds of spatter.  The first one was a regular spatter, the second one was a wet spatter, where you spatter into a little bit of water and let the drops spread.  The third version was more of a bath where you spatter into pools of standing water.  Once again, we had stuff to do while the paint was drying.


Wet spatter



The first part of the detail was some linework.  We used a tool called a story stick that was a piece of brown kraft paper, folded in half with measured markings on it.  The story stick is placed on the side of the flat, marks are made with charcoal corresponding to the marks on the story stick, then it's turned over and the same marks are placed on the other side of the work.  After that, we used lining sticks and paintbrushes in the end of bamboo poles to make our lines.  Some of the lines were what they called "fuzzy lines" which meant we put down a little water on one side of the line and when we brushed paint into it, it spread and got fuzzy.  That's the basis for a lot of the trompe l'oeil we would do later in the session.  Trompe l'oeil is a French term that means "to fool the eye."



Fuzzy lines

The next part of the process was to use a pounce to lay out our cube, cone and cylinder.  We also used a compass to lay out our sphere.  A pounce is a piece of brown kraft paper which has been perforated with a particular shape.  It is then attached temporarily to the work and a piece of muslin with powdered charcoal is then rubbed on the perforations to leave charcoal residue in the voids.  When the pounce is lifted, the shapes appear.

Once the work has been pounced, we then inked the shapes with permanent marker.

Using a pounce

What that looks like


Lay In
The next step was to lay in the local color.  I used an angled Purdy sash brush for the job.  The reason we used permanent marker was so the ink would bleed through the paint.  There were several reference marks on the pounce that we would need later.

Laying in the local color

Local color, notice the bleed through

The next step was to lay out the shadows.  We did this by chalking out indication lines, signifying the two directions the light was coming from, in other words light coming from the a axis and the b axis. The position of the sun has lateral direction as well as vertical direction.

Using the two directions, we were able to lay out the shadows of all the pieces.

Chalk indicating direction of sunlight

Using geometry to lay out the shadow on the cube

and the cylinder

and the cone

Pisaro Shapes
Camille Pisaro was a painter who theorized and standardized the painting of shapes.  She believed that if you could paint a cone, a cube, a cylinder and a sphere you could paint anything.  Those are the fundamental shapes found in everything.

While we were waiting for paint to dry, we went over and drew the Pisaro shapes and learned about the different elements used in painting them.  In other words highlight and shadow.

Shadow-This refers to the shadow that is cast from an object
Shade-This refers to the main part of the object that is shaded because it isn't in the light
Dark Toner-This refers to a secondary shade on the other side of the piece
Highlight-This refers to the area of the object that is in the path of the light
Zinger-This refers to a small section in the center of the highlight that is much brighter.  A flash.
Bounce Light-This refers to light that hits the object from a secondary light source
Cut Lines-This refers to sections of the object where it comes to rest on a surface.

The first thing we painted was the shade on all the objects.  We used burnt umber mixed with ultramarine blue and thinned to transparent with water for our shade color.  Where the shade fades out, we painted fuzzy lines.  While we had that color, we added in our dark toner on the other side.  The dark toner was just the shade color with a little extra water thrown in.

Painted shade and dark toner
We already did the lay out for the shadows and the next step was to paint them.  Our shadow color was ultramarine blue and velour black in equal parts and thinned to transparent with water.  In other words our shadow color was Paynes Grey.  Shade and shadow are transparent, just like in nature.

Shadows added

The highlights were added next.  Highlight is made by taking the local color and adding the color of the light and sometimes white.  For me, I like highlights that are translucent, which is that ethereal place somewhere between transparent and opaque.

When the highlights were dry, we added the zinger, or the flash light.  The flash light is opaque and it's the highlight color with white added.  It's more like the highest part of the reflection.

Highlight added to the top of the cube and cylinder 

Highlight added to the sphere and cone

Laying the zinger down

The zinger

More of the zinger

The next step was to add the bounce light.  Bounce light is light from a secondary light source.  When Rachel was talking about it, she mentioned dance lighting and the bright colors of sidelight they use.  She was hinting.  Most everyone else went conservative with their bounce light.  I went into the shop and found some florescent pink for mine.  Rachel approved.  I chose my bounce light direction from the floor to the left of the piece, so it would show up in the shade of the object.

Bounce light

Bounce light

The last step of this project is to add the cut line.  The cut line is pure black, opaque with is a simple line where the object comes to rest on the ground.  We painted them with a one inch Purdy angled sash brush because we could get the lines very thin with them.

The cut line on the cylinder

The cut line on the cube

The cut line on the cone

The sphere didn't get a cut line because it's floating.

The finished piece
Some of what was taught, I already knew and had already done.  I liked the way everything was taught at Cobalt though.  The really neat part about this technique is that you have a paint job that starts from general to very specific and you learn about twenty techniques without having to change the muslin on the flat or painting it out.  You have something to show for it at the end that represents what you learned.  That's powerful.  That'd codified.

I used this technique when I taught my scene painting class last fall.  It was revelatory.  As I taught the Cobalt method all semester, I realized that while some of my class may have been more talented than others, it seemed that every technique I taught, instead of the class sorting themselves into better and less better groups, everyone seemed to come along at the same rate of speed.  The thing is, they all painted better and everyone was challenged.

This experience at Cobalt was awesome.  I would love to go back for a second helping.