Our last class was all about seeing where the students were in their artistic adventure . . . and where they needed direction. I talked a lot but didn’t interfere much with their process. The last class was just about watching them paint, but today was for instruction! I like telling people what to do. Especially my husband.
How to Clean Brushes
This may be starting at the end, but it’s an important lesson. Fortunately it’s easy with water-miscible oils: just soap and water. But here’s the important part: don’t smash the bristles. Only the Hulk smashes. As you rub the brush back and forth in the palm of your hand, keep the brush as parallel to your hand as possible. Occassionally, pinch the bristles from the ferrule to the tips to force the excess paint out. Keep going until the soap and water run clear.
The Importance of Goop
A little side lesson is what to do if you’ve neglected to wash your brushes. Overnight? No big deal – oil paint dries very slowly unless you’ve added some driers to your paint. Forget your brushes for a week or even a few days and you have a problem on your hands. Goop to the rescue! Yes, it’s called Goop, and I love the stuff possibly more than my children. Definitely more than my dogs. You can find this at Lowe’s in a very unassuming tub. Coat the brushes well with the cleaner, wait ’til the next day and the paint comes right out! At some point, you may have waited too long and then you might as well just chuck that brush in the trash, but Goop gives you a lot more wiggle room. Or at least wiggle room.
I’m working with elementary to middle school kids so they tend to let their color mixing get out of control. Their biggest problem is adding a new color to their mix too fast. A demonstration is vitally important and even then it’s very hard to put what they’ve learned into practice. The tiniest bit of alizarin crimson (it’s a real thing) can quickly overpower a mix. And phthalo blue (also a real thing, I think) is much, much worse! (To the point where I have banned its use from class.) I recently saw a meme of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men screaming, “You can’t handle the phthalo blue!” Truer words have never been thrown about as recklessly at Tom Cruise (a certain couch incident with Oprah excepted).
Incidentally, we learned how to spell phthalo blue (or almost learned).
How to Mix Black
First I let the students dig into the paints and pick two colors that they think will make black. It’s surprising difficult to choose two and get a really good black. After some struggle, I show them my favorite two: burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. Now we have the perfect lead into color theory and complementary colors. If you can get perfect complements, meaning opposites on the the color wheel, their resulting mixture will be black (or, more appropriately, a very dark grey – one of the many shades). Some colors are harder than others to get a good balance. That’s exacerbated by the limitations of manufactured pigment. Testing all of your paints with each other is a great way to discover your favorite mixes.
After some successful attempts at mixing black from different complementary colors, I get the kids to make value scales. Getting the value right is one of the most important elements of a successful piece of artwork. That’s why I like to get it introduced early. We could have done better. I’ll try to be more patient.
Just as important as learning to mix black/grey is learning to mix a color wheel from just the primaries: red, blue and yellow. The trickiest thing is that paint is rarely a pure form of color perfectly balanced against the other primaries. We learned this the hard way.
Notes For Next Time
Thoughts for future classes.
Shape, value, color, and edges
Hue, value, chroma
Using a limited palette
Cool versus warm colors
Thanks for joining us today!