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Human Nature - Materials and Techniques

Photography - from the field and in the studio

I paint from a combination of life, photography, and my imagination. 

I use a lot of photographic resources for my paintings, and by and large, I use my own photography. There is just no way for me to set up the scene of my painting and have it last for the duration it takes to make the painting, so photography is very helpful. It is such a pleasure for me to photograph nature, and I never know if a bug or mushroom I photograph will end up in a painting.

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This beetle ended up crawling on the bed in "Contact."

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These mating crane flies, dangling from a kitchen counter light, made their way into "Abandoned Reading."


This mushroom, a Questionable Stropharia, became my muse for "Wash it Away."

In my studio photography, I often use a cardboard box with a rectangular hole cut out, simulating a window. This helps me set up the lighting I envision for the painting. I then place the nature objects in this miniature room.


A resource photo for "Eros."

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A resource photo for "The Sick Child."

I also spend time setting up the scene of a painting using furniture I have. The photography occurs in my home or in my studio. I sometimes insert myself in these photos, just so I can see how light falls on a figure, and how that figure occupies the space.


The bathroom scene for "Wash it Away"


The table top for "Game Night"

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The bedroom scene for "Contact"

Drawing and transferring the cartoon

Using the photos, drawing from life, and from my imagination, I create a cartoon, or simple drawing, with pencil on paper. I then transfer the cartoon onto the prepared panel using carbon transfer paper and a metal stylus.

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Me working on a cartoon in my studio. I like working on the wall so that I stand away from it easily to view the drawing.

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Part of the cartoon for "Wash it Away." I later changed the position of the mushroom in the tub. This upright pose just didn't get the feeling across!


Using the stylus to transfer the cartoon.

Preparing the panels

I work on cradled wood panels. I prefer painting on a rigid surface instead of canvas, as I live in an area with a lot of wet weather which can affect the tightness of the canvas. I used to prepare my panels with 5 layers of traditional gesso, a laborious process. Now, taking the lead from Gamblin, and their discontinuance of artist materials that use rabbit skin glue, I use their Gamblin Ground. 

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Most of my paintings have an underpainting, either in a gray scale or a brown scale. Sometimes I'll use a combination of the two! I also treat the light areas in two different ways. I'll either scrumble white on top of a dry underpainting that been done in medium and dark values. Or I'll mix the white into the wet medium-value underpainting paint to create the value scale. 

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A detail of the underpainting for "Eros." The white was scrumbled over a dried underpainting that had only medium and dark values.

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The gray underpainting in development for "Wash it Away." I had begun with painting the entire surface a medium gray, then transferring the cartoon on it. I then made the underpainting in shades of gray.

Choosing the palette

I usually begin my pigment selection by deciding what kind of green I want. I rarely use a green paint straight from the tube. I have a chart in my studio that shows the different greens to be made from my yellows and blues. I have also made other color charts showing the mass, tone, tint, cool, warm, and neutral attributes of my pigments. I don't like to use a lot of different pigments on a painting - I think the paintings hold together better when I restrict the range. After choosing the green, I will think about what qualities I want the other colors to have, and then I'll do some experiments, making color wheels with a selection of pigments until I find the right combination. I do a lot of glazing in my work, so I also think in terms of layers of color. I'm not sticking to any particular palette on the whole; rather, each painting presents an opportunity for a different palette.

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Behind me on the wall you can see my color charts.

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My green chart, for determining which blue and yellow I want to use.

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Some of the color wheels I've made to determine my palette.

Other materials

I've been happy with Gamblin's painting supplies. I use their Galkyd, Gamsol, and Gamvar, for drying/glazing, cleaning, and varnishing, respectively. My paints run the gamut - I even have some tubes left over from my art school days. My brushes are a mix of styles and brands. I'm always on the hunt for good fine brushes.


Lately I've been using cat whiskers for painting spider webs.

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