I started a new project! I am doing a painting a day for ? 30 days at least. The last time I did this I went for 90 days. I am painting a flower every day. What is happening is some paintings require more time than others. Some days I start 3 or 4 and then my goal is to finish at least one a day. Below are a couple of examples. I need to give a shout out to one of my teachers, Doris Rice, for starting me off on this path. She had us do what she calls “Drip Tulips” she calls this meditative painting. I call it sheer fun! Doris teaches on line and in the New Hampshire Seacoast Area. She also offers outdoor workshops all over the world. You can find her here- http://www.dorisrice.com/site/ Thank you for reading!
Sometimes you fail. Learning to watercolor means making a lot of mud. When folks decide they want to learn to paint, their reasons are diverse. Being inspired by beautiful and interesting paintings, wanting to learn a new skill or hobby, or perhaps following their romantic dream of what it means to be a painter. No matter what the reason for the interest in painting, taking the plunge into actually painting is huge! Never mind coming to a class. It takes a lot of courage to try new things. We bring so many expectations of ourselves. Trying to get what is in our head out onto paper usually takes lots and lots of practice. Practice means making things that we would not necessarily share with others. I like to share these excursions into mud with you. I think it is important to remember everyone makes mud! Here I was trying to capture the sun coming out after a thunderstorm. Everything got all wishy washy! Have a great week- thank you for your time!
I am taking a watercolor portrait class with Kim Stenberg, which has been a real stretch for me. She mentioned the idea that some of our watercolor paints are, or used to be, fugitive. Immediately the ears of a fellow student perked up. She was in law enforcement, and she said “What does that mean? I know what the term means legally but is my paint running from the law?” Artists have long been using fugitive colors. It simply means that the color fades. Watercolorists use expensive glass to try to keep the effects of light, dirt, coffee, etc. off our work and for a very long time we had a few paints that would disappear out of our work no matter how much money we spent on UV resistant glass! Today we have the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) . They rate our paint for its lightfastness using 4 methods. Method A- exposure to natural daylight filtered through glass Method B- exposure to irradiance from daylight fluorescent lamps Method C- exposure in xenon-arc irradiance simulating daylight filtered through glass Method D- exposure to irradiance from cool white fluorescent lamps and soda-lime glass filtered fluorescent UV sun lamps
Under these standards, lightfastness categories are assigned based on the color difference between samples before and after exposure to light as measured with a spectrophotometer. Lightfastness I: Excellent Lightfastness Lightfastness II: Very Good Lightfastness Lightfastness III: Fair Lightfastness Lightfastness IV: Poor Lightfastness Lightfastness V: Very Poor Lightfastness The lightfastness of a particular pigment can differ. For example, Vermilion has a lightfastness rating of excellent when mixed in oils and acrylics. As watercolor, it may have a rating of fair. Be sure to check the side of your watercolor tube or the manufacturer’s website. Some other infamously fugitive colors are Alizarin Crimson, Rose, Opera, Rose Madder, Sap Green and Dioxazine Violet. When you buy these colors look for a version called Permanent – Permanent Alizarin Crimson for instance. Let’s be clear the colors are not exactly the same, for instance Alizarin Crimson has a brown hue that Permanent Alizarin Crimson does not have. Some colors do not have a substitute like Opera. If you choose a fugitive color just know that in a few short years your painting may look very different.
Below is a painting where I used Opera. You can see why an artist might want to choose this color and there is no substitute that I know of. Thanks for reading- have a great week
What’s that! Is there really dirt in my paint? Recently I heard it mentioned that Raw and Burnt Sienna have dirt from Siena, Italy in them and I just had to check that out. According to Wikipedia, Sienna is an earth pigment containing iron oxide and manganese oxide. In its natural state, it is yellowish brown and is called raw sienna. When heated, it becomes a reddish brown and is called burnt sienna. It takes its name from the city-state of Siena, where it was produced during the Renaissance. By the 1940s, the traditional sources in Italy were nearly exhausted. Sienna’s production was moved to the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Another place they found the proper “dirt” was in the Appalachian Mountains. The pigment is also produced in the French Ardennes, in the small town of Bonne Fontaine near Ecordal. In the 20th century, pigments began to be produced using synthetic iron oxide rather than the natural earth. The labels on paint tubes do indicate what pigment is used, but it is clear as mud regarding synthetic VS natural pigment. According to Fredrick Kaplan, synthetic Burnt Sienna is Pigment Red number 101 abbreviated to PR101 and natural Burnt Sienna is PR102. You do have to do more research if you want to know whether your paint has dirt in it. I reached out to Winsor & Newton hoping for a chart but they did not have one.
Natural inorganic pigments — mined from the earth and pulverized (no carbon) Synthetic inorganic pigments — created in a lab using metal or mineral compounds (no carbon) Natural organic pigments — ground-up plant or animal matter (carbon) Synthetic organic pigments – carbon-based pigments made in a lab. Some examples of inorganic pigments; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, cadmium, cobalt, ultramarine. Synthetic organic pigments include quinacridones, phthalos, dioxazine, naphthol, anthraquinone. This group usually tends to be more vivid, transparent, and staining. Those carbon atoms form strong, stable chemical bonds.
You can make your own watercolor paint with a few simple items: dirt,water, gum arabic powder,honey or glycerine and clove oil ( this would be to help prevent mold) and a few simple tools. OK- so it is not rocket science but it is a fair amount of work and pulverizing dirt into power makes it inhalable and so there are some safety concerns too. One of my teachers, Carol Douglas, also cautions us that many of these paints may be fugitive. Let’s talk about fugitive pigment on another day.
I am putting day 6 and 7 of The 90 Day Sky Project together. These two paintings came from my head. I think they look like “cousin” paintings. When I started this project I used Cerulean blue almost exclusively when I painted skies. I like it for the granulation that occurs. It creates a little chaos in a controlled kind of way. The other color that I was using is Cadmium Red Scarlet. It is actually more like orange than red. I like to mix complementary colors to make my grays. Cerulean Blue and Cadmium Red are both fairly granulating colors and so the pigments drop out of the water solution in interesting ways. Today I often use French Ultramarine Blue mixed with Cerulean Blue for skies. The Ultramarine adds a little depth in the blue. Thank you for reading!
Tension. Songs have tension and that makes them interesting. Visual art can create a feeling of tension. Meetings sometimes have tension. Is this a sign we are getting the hard stuff done? It seems like everywhere I turn lately there is tension. I was figuring everywhere I go, there I am and what did I have to learn from these tense moments? Then I remembered, I was quitting caffeine and I bet if you came in and handed me a rainbow there would be something wrong with it! I better practice patience and tolerance. This is day 5 of The 90 Day Sky Project. It is reminiscent of a view across the street from my parent’s house. I preserved the whites of the birch trees with masking tape and then painted that “peaceful and relaxing” graduated wash of pink to yellow. I put the green area in and then I took off the tape and rendered the trees. I generally work light to dark and since the trees are darker, I could paint the branches right over the background. Be well my friend- and thank you for reading!
I made the front page of our local paper, the Intertown Record, Vol.29 No.16. Below is the article that was written about me. Thank you Natasha Osborne-Howe for taking your time to interview and write about me!
Rebecca Bense, Followed Creative CallingBy Natasha Osborne-Howe
Whether it is flowers, a landscape scenario in New Hampshire or an ocean perspective in Maine, artist Rebecca Bense is most centered when she’s at the canvas.
After some fits and starts for a number of years, experimenting and fitting in painting when she could, her craft and capacity as an artist has evolved. Painting is her happy place and she has discovered great satisfaction with it.
“When I am in the middle of painting, everything else just seems to fall away,” Bense said. “It’s very relaxing, meditative; it’s me, the paint and the paper.”
Bense prefers to paint plein air style, which is out in the open air.
“You can sit anywhere, find a nice view and I like to be comfortable in the shade,” she said.
Bense often starts her paintings outside and finishes them in her studio. Flowers are her signature subject matter.
“I try to capture nature, flowers are in a lot of my paintings and people like my flowers,” said Bense simply.
Her preferred medium is watercolor, appreciating its transparency, low toxicity, easy clean-up and portability.
There were times when Bense experienced moments of discouragement, but the love of painting kept her going. It was approximately 8 years ago Bense really got started and more serious about painting.
“I paint from my heart and it gets me through a lot of feelings,” she said. “It occupies my time in a positive manner.”
Bense gravitated toward painting in high school.
“I was OK at it and people seemed to like what I did,” she recalled.
At the University of New Hamsphire, Bense majored in anthropology and minored in studio arts. She enrolled in a drawing class at first and also picked up a brush to explore oil painting.
Bense indulged in ceramics as well and worked for a couple of semesters for potter, but then realized she needed to make a living. From 1989 until 2015 her painting got put on the back burner as she described.
In 1995 she went through a personal transformation, which re-directed her life. Along the way, Bense always kept painting within close reach.
She furthered her education in art by attending some watercolor classes through Concord High School adult education and at The New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. Closer to home, she also took some classes at the Library Arts Center (LAC) in Newport where she began teaching in 2011.
Bense is further studying at present to enhance her skills.
The first time Bense exhibited her work was in 2014 at the Kingswood Art Center in Wolfboro and a couple years later at the Tuftonboro Free Library, in her hometown.
“It was cool and I was excited to show my art to the world,” Bense remembered. “It legitimized my work and I was also flattered to be allowed.”
Bense belongs to Odanakis, a plein air group in the Upper Valley, which often has group shows.
Listed on her teaching resume, is a stint at the Newport Montessori School in Newport, a “differently-abled” adults class at the LAC and now via Zoom.
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, Bense adapted to utilizing Zoom last September. She finds advantages and disadvantages to the forum.
“There is a lot of prep work involved to teach a class,” Bense said. “The benefits of Zoom is that I can draw people in from all over the world and there’s no stressing about the weather.”
The downside of teaching on Zoom Bense explained is that it is hard to see what her students are doing. Also, there isn’t as much peer-to-peer learning. She does hope, though, to continue teaching by Zoom because of the flexibility and far reaching accessibility.
Twenty years ago Bense had decided she wanted to be an artist full time by this point in her life. She made some sacrifices along the way and took leaps of faith as her passion for painting beckoned.
Bense teaches 9 months of the year and takes the summer off to focus on her own painting.
“It’s been a constant struggle between survival and creativity,” she revealed. “This has been years in the making.”
She holds onto the vision of having her own gallery and frame shop one day. Right now she doesn’t have the space to provide for that venue. She does sell a lot of her artwork on Facebook.
Although that dream of a gallery is on hold, Bense has a well-rounded, inclusive future outlook.
“I am looking towards being of service to my family and community,” Bense disclosed. “I am hoping I can continue painting beautiful things and sharing my joy of painting with others.”
Behold the beauty.
If you would like more info and/or to inquire about lessons, you can visit www.rsbense.com
Day 4 of the 90 Day Sky Project- this one came out of my head. I painted the sky first trying to get a flat wash. A flat wash is an area on the painting where there is little variety. A flat wash has the same value, texture, color, no brush marks and it is not easy to do. The key to this is to use good paper. 100% cotton paper like Arches or FabrianoArtistico. Seriously, getting a flat wash on paper pulp is darn near impossible. The next part is technique and practice. To achieve a flat wash have enough paint mixed for the space you want to paint and then make some more just in case. I work quickly and intentionally to cover the area, get in and get out. No licking the paint on this one. (Licking the paint is when people dab-dab-dab the paint on to the paper.) Create a flat wash by using smooth even laying down of paint. Following the bead. All these “technical” terms today! Following the bead refers to keeping the edge of your painted area the same wetness. If you paint at an angle the water will often pool a bit at the bottom of the last stroke. This is like a “bead” of water. Thanks for reading, let’s see what I trip over for the next Watercolor, Words and Wanderings!
On the third day of the 90 Day Sky Project I painted a rather timid sky. I used a dry brush to try to create some interest on the trees and to give the green space some depth. Dry brush is a brush loaded with paint and not too much water. If you get it just right you can skip across the top of the texture on the paper with paint. It is hard to do at first and I have found holding my brush horizontal to the paper is the only way to accomplish this. This sky was painted first, with a technique called wet-into-wet. I wet the whole sky with clean water and then dropped the blue in while the page was wet. Here getting the balance between how much pigment to have on your brush is key. It also takes practice- 😉
Wet-Into-Wet is great for getting soft edges and vagaries that artists sometimes want to capture. Here is a painting I call “Imaginary Morning Glories” I started this painting by using a flat 3/4 inch brush to wet the whole page with clean water. Then I dropped in fairly thick watercolor paints with a round #14 brush and tried to keep some of the white of the paper. This is actually harder than you might think. I am looking for the paper to be glistening still- not puddily.
In this beginning picture, I have completed the first pass of paint and let it dry. I then started imagining the scene based on what occurred with the wet- into -wet process. Can you see how the green leaf in the bottom right is still glistening? This is about the “right” amount of wetness for the first pass technique. Here I am trying to correct the only orange flower in the scene. I lifted the paint out of the center by wetting it and lightly scrubbing with a stiff brush and then drying my brush off and using it to sop up the paint. This is what is called thirsty brush. Having a paper towel or a cotton rag handy when you are painting is a must! I also defined the edges of this flower- for some unknown reason. This flower is the bane of my painting – a challenge to see if I can integrate it with the rest of the picture.
I then painted a few leaves in and I did not want to get too dark too quickly or accidentally fill in a light area. I stopped myself and took out a hard lead #4 pencil and drew the shapes for the rest of the scene. I also knew at that point I needed to make the orange flower a similar shape to the rest of the flowers. I painted that in with a #9 round. Also note the yellow flower near the center has some lighter veins happening. This is accomplished through lifting- again wet area and with a thirsty brush sop up the paint.
Little by slowly I am working around the painting. I start to put in the darks in the background. That is Prussian Blue mixed with a little bit of New Gamboge. You can see where I have negatively painted the veins in a few of the leaves. I painted the space between the veins and thus the veins stay lighter. This is a fun technique but it can take over and create space that is hard for the viewer to understand. Just remember to step back every once and a while and try to take an honest look at your work. I am working around the piece. Trying to see what needs to go where. Getting darker and more intense and more detailed as I go. I was getting carried away with negative painting. It was so much fun. I put it away for the night before I wrecked it.
Am I done? I set it down and took a break. I looked at it from across the room, What areas are “talking” to me? Do I need to soften edges or glaze over an area to neutralize it? Overall the painting is a high key painting- is it too busy? Maybe- but so am I these days- art imitating life.
I missed an opportunity to have one aspect stand out because I covered over my lights. There is an unopened flower near the center. In a last ditch effort to bring a little more attention to it. I broke out the white watercolor paint. I try not to use that because it is opaque but there is a time and a place to try new things. And again the finished piece below.