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Oil! What does it matter?

Am I just a tiny speck of pigment on the end of a cosmic paintbrush? 

Why am I really doing this, thirty years on? 

How did I end up involved in conceptual abstraction when all I truly want to do is paint dog portraits?  

How do I capture with a pencil the sense every night of staring into the deep dark void? 

Am I still desperately trying to please Mother? 

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These questions bother all artists, young and old, but there is another, one less existential, and more practical –  is it at all significant which oil I use when painting? If you are a watercolourist, no, if you are an oil painter, yes!  Ho ho!

The oils we will talk of are vegetable oils which have the desirable property of drying to form a tough adhesive film whilst suspending pigments in a stable solution. Once dry the process is irreversible and the oil cannot be reversed to its original state by any means. These oils, namely linseed, poppy, and walnut, allow the painter to paint.

Crude oil makes the world go round, linseed oil lets the people paint its spin.Linseed oil is pressed the from the seeds of the flax plant which has delicate lilac flowers and which is also used to make linen. So, this excellent plant singlehandedly provides the backbone to an oil painter’s life. God bless you little flowering thing, how lucky we are to have you on this here Earth!  For good reason linseed oil is everyone’s starter oil, it is not only glossy and reasonably fast drying, it is trustworthy, tough, and flexible. 

Nowadays linseed oil is produced on a huge scale as part of a highly developed modern industry. The oil is normally extracted by crushing the seed and pressing it with the aid of steam. It is used in everything from food, health supplements, furniture care, and of course, artists’ materials. Unlike poppy and walnut oil, linseed oil comes in a plethora of forms, whether in the form of refined, cold-pressed, sun-dried, or stand oil.  

The first form of linseed oil to mention is the standard refined linseed oil which is made by crushing and pressing flax seed with the aid of steam. This industrial method helpfully reduces the cost of production. It is an excellent all round glossy oil good for making your own paints, painting with, and making glazes. However, it is not without criticism, some, notably Ralph Mayer, the highly reputable and marvellous investigator of all things painterly wrote that whilst economical, refined oil, or hot-pressed, is inferior to cold-pressed oil, because the steam is so efficient that it extracts other, less desirous, substances that cannot be removed by however much refining. According to Mayer, linseed oil’s heyday was the good old 19th century when all was good, nothing was bad (…?), and canvases had not been dessicrated by steamed paint. Mayer also wrote that refined oil was more prone to brittleness than cold-pressed. With the greatest respect to Ralph Mayer times have changed since his book was published in 1940. Modern technology and alkali refining techniques have redressed the balance of the quality issue, meaning it is highly likely that the difference between hot and cold-pressed is negligible.

Importantly, whilst refined linseed oil looks pale, it has been bleached, so as with most other linseed oils it will, over the years, revert to its yellow state. When old, linseed oil gives a warm glow to a painting. This patina, depending on the individual is either positive or negative. Personally, I think it is rather nice, and think it is the answer to my rather simple judgement that old paintings are better than new ones. This factor of yellowing is therefore very important to the oil painter! It is advisable that when using whites, pale colours or light blues consider alternatives to linseed oil.

Refined linseed oil has two more mature cousins, linseed stand oil, and sun-thickened linseed oil. Stand oil is linseed oil heated to 273-300 celsius for several hours with nothing being added or taken away. This heavy, viscous oil looks like a pale honey and is often found in stumpy metal tins whose purpose I cannot claim to know. This oil requires a little more effort from the painter in that to use it one must thin it with turpentine. When cut with turps it is unlike other linseed oils as it is practically non-yellowing. It is ideal for painting smooth, enamel-like films free from brush marks and full of vibrance and life. However, It is only to be used for painting and glazes,  not paint grinding.

Similar to stand oil is sun-thickened linseed oil. This oil is also thick and honey-like, however it is not readily sold though making it is relatively easy and inexpensive. This form of oil, like stand oil, is ideal for forming light, almost invisible glazes of colour,  delicate, soft shadows or wonderful areas of luminosity. Indeed, if you sadly find yourself in the scenario where you have a rather dull patch on a painting the effect of sun-thickened oil or stand oil mixed with a transparent colour can be astounding. To make your own sun-thickened linseed oil pour some refined linseed oil into a glass container, place a glass lid over the top supported by a few match sticks so air can get in and out, put the container on a window-sill or work bench, give the oil a little stir from time to time, say every other day, and when you have a consistency similar to a thick honey you can use it as you like. As they say, homemade is best! So, if you are one for delicate, luminescent glazes and smooth films, use either of these versions of linseed oil.

As mentioned linseed oil is not the only oil to paint with. Indeed, If you are a forger of 15th century paintings linseed oil is definitely not for you as it did not find popularity until later in the millenium. Instead, the oil of the delicate and creamy walnut is more recommendable, though I do not encourage artistic fraudulence, or do I…? (***ThE aRt MaRKeT iS a cOn!***) The red-turbaned, palid-skinned genius behind the world’s most famous mirror trickery, the one and only Jan van Eyck was a real fan, notoriously saying on his deathbed in July 1441 “Damn, what an oil!”. Oh Jan, blaspheming on your deathbed like that is not a good idea! Enough digressing… By the time of the 15th century most artists had had enough of egg tempera and had moved on to walnut oil. As an oil it was and is often preferred as a binder for whites as it yellows less than linseed oil, meaning paler and colder colours mixed with it change less when dry. It is often remarked that walnut oil has a distinct texture and flow, silkier, and softer than that of other oils and the effect of this is evidenced by the works of masters like van Eyck whose works is indeed, silky, soft and ravishingly detailed. If you are one who enjoys painting on wooden panels with brilliantly glossy paint then walnut oil is very much for you.. This unique creaminess and coolness could be just what you have been looking for after all these years!  

Poppy oil is similar to walnut oil in that it does not yellow like linseed oil does (this is why white paint is commonly made with these oils). Poppy oil is naturally colourless or lightly straw coloured and gives a brilliant appearance to a painting. Unlike the other oils, poppy oil dries matt and has a very slow dry time of about four to five days. This latter feature is useful for travelling artists who work outdoors and may return to a spot a few times over a holiday. Drying matt means that the oil can attract dirt and dust, and thus, if you can it is worth drying your painting as close to the ceiling as possible (cobwebs dusted away). Poppy oil is best used for direct, simple, alla prima techniques rather than complex, multilayered methods which are better done with linseed oil. This is because the oil has a tendency to crack when painted over reactive pigments (this is a key difference between poppy and walnut oil, the latter being less likely to crack when painted over). However, as a crazy sidenote – all this chat about cracks makes cracks seem bad, but are they always? Looking at Harold Sohlberg’s painting of a cabin in the forest, the cracks make the painting, giving it an incredible eerie feel! Just saying! Lastly, poppy oil is excellent if you are just beginning to learn how to make your own paints. It is the easiest oil to make paints with whilst also giving your paints a delicious buttery consistency. 

A final point is that the quality of your oil matters. If you are serious, do not, for example, buy linseed oil from a hardware shop, it will be very impure. Similarly, cheaper paints are more likely to yellow and crack than more expensive ones (not to mention lack of pigment) for example Georgian, which is great for students and experimentation, will undoubtedly degrade, yellow and darken with age, whereas the premium brands will not, or are much less likely to do so!

The end, voila, have fun!

By Ned Elliott

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How “Green” is Green and Stone?

As a morally infallible artist it was only natural for me to join the protesters at Extinction Rebellion on Easter Sunday. Sat amongst the crowd having watched Greta Thunberg’s short and sweet speech I was urged to take part in the chant “We love you”. Sadly, as a cripplingly uptight young man these three words were too much for me and I quietly ate some bread instead. Having seen this inspiring young lady I emerged a climate-oriented me and cycled home on my non-carbon-emitting-two-wheeled-iron-horse. Whilst cycling with my head held high and illuminated by my newly acquired halo I couldn’t help but consider Green and Stone’s eco credentials. I knew that we recycled most of our rubbish (because I ALWAYS put it out! Rosie! I’m looking at you!) and I knew that our carrier bags are biodegradable, but I was sure there was more. So, I visited my local ashram and pondered, “How green is Green and Stone?”.

The answer came quickly, and the truth is, it is a real struggle for an art shop to be 100% eco. As artist’s we make use of all sorts of terrible materials and minerals for absolutely no logical reason. It’s inescapable! But hey ho, one line of depressing news is one too many. As I say, we recycle, we have biodegradable bags, and fortunately amongst our stock there are many examples of eco-friendly items!

Amongst our selection of papers there are many which come from low-intensity, small scale, and environmentally friendly companies. Arguably, the most aesthetically pleasing papers we have in stock are, surprise, surprise, also the most eco-friendly! The paper I speak of, is the paper of Japan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

The papers of Japan are mostly made in the mountains where the climate is cold and the water is pure. The chilly climate means the ingredients to make the paper do not decompose whilst it also strengthens and contracts fibres, thus resulting in papers of a crisp, firm, and fresh appearance. Instead of using chemicals for bleaching, these paper-makers utilise the natural bleaching of the sun and of the river, the latter of which sees plant fibres left to whiten in clean and nippy shallow river beds. By using the river, the paper also picks up particles of mica which will let the paper sparkle just like the river from whence it came.

Most Japanese papers use kozo or paper mulberry fibres which are harvested sustainably. The result is a variety of papers with an inherent strength, warmth, softness, eloquence and attractiveness. Lens tissue and Tosa Washi are incredible examples of delicacy and strength, whilst Atsukuchi is a paper with a unique warm yellow hue. These papers are ideal for printmaking, but can also be used for pen and ink drawing, scrapbooking, bookbinding, and all sorts of experimenting!

Green and Stone’s Indian papers are similarly ecologically conscious. They are called Khadi papers, and they were inspired back in the 1920s by Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement which encouraged the resurgence of indigenous Indian craft and promoted the rights of Indians to embrace their own industries. These papers are very different to the Japanese papers which tend to be light and refined. Instead, Indian papers are robust, perhaps less delicate pieces of craft, but nonetheless they are very beautiful, and good for the planet.

The rag papers are made from 100% cotton rag which is recycled from t-shirt cuttings. Despite the rustic look, Khadi rag papers are still acid free with a pH neutral size thus making the papers supremely excellent for watercolour, gouache, and ink. The interesting texture of the paper also lends itself to expressive, organic drawing. Oil paint is even suitable if you prime the paper with acrylic gesso!

Other papers in our Indian Khadi collection include the delectable khadi coloured papers, which come in one of the most beautiful shades of magenta, and are excellent as wrapping up paper or general crafting. They too are eco-friendly, being made with dyes which meet European standards on toxicology. The eventual intention of the Khadi paper company is to reduce or entirely avoid the use of dye by recycling t-shirts of certain colours for certain papers. We also sell hemp papers made from sunn hemp, a native fibre used in India in the past for rope making. These are heritage papers made using traditional methods with the consciousness of nature in mind.

Bordering India are the mountain countries of Nepal and Bhutan. Nepalese and Bhutanese papers are made from the inner bark fibre of lokta plants that grow in the forests of the Himalayan foothills. The plants are harvested every three to four years, and are allowed to re-grow from their main root, thus meaning less disruption of soil and greater biodiversity. These Nepalese papers are the only papers made in Nepal using soda ash instead of harmful caustic soda. The run-off of this soda ash can then be used as a fertiliser so the environmental impact is actually positive! These methods have hardly changed for over one thousand years. The papers are an excellent example of the Buddhist reverence for the nature, from which we can learn much!

Beyond paper we are also proud stockists of St Eval candles. This company, based in Cornwall, takes the environment very seriously indeed. They not only re-use packaging, source FSC Certified paper, and reduce plastic-use generally. Their energy sources for production include wind turbines, solar panels and biomass boilers. On the farm on which they are based they have worked with the RSPB to create a network of mixed arable fields, wildflowers meadows and hedgerows to sustain populations of insects and bees. This all means that St Eval candles, which smell so heavenly, are close to being a completely carbon neutral company! Something one can only salute!

The final exemplar of small-scale excellence is Mr. Abraxas who makes Abraxas Inks. Yes, these inks, which are made solely with natural materials are all made by one man. Not only are they unsurpassed in terms of the aesthetics of their packaging, their colour is incomparable. The range includes oak gall inks, saffron and carmine inks, and pure vegetable inks. They are all mixed by hand! By a wizard (maybe!). They are completely non-toxic and are produced on a base of pure water. If you really wanted to, you could probably drink them. But what would be the point…

So, whilst it is nearly impossible for Green and Stone to call itself an eco saint we do at least try! We are very proud to sell these eco-friendly products, but there are many products I haven’t mentioned; other papers, other inks, other gifts. But what I should also say is that almost all our stock, even if they use not-the-nicest materials comes from small-scale suppliers whose carbon footprint is always going to be much smaller than those of larger corporations whilst also providing a higher quality, typical of people who really care for what they do!

And my last point is, don’t pour turpentine down the sink!

By Ned Elliott

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The “Canvas” Room

The canvas room at Green and Stone is a bit of a misnomer, because in it you find much more than only canvas. Undoubtedly though, it is the product with greatest primacy, and as soon as you enter the room you will notice the shelves full of Belgian and French ready-made canvases, and the piled rolls, short and long, of cotton duck, linen, and jute, unprimed and primed – a collection which culminates in a room filled with the timeless perfume of linseed oil.

The selection of canvases at Green and Stone is of great variety. On the roll and sold by the metre we have eighteen different types including rustic and rough unprimed jute, 9oz and 12oz cotton duck, unprimed linen, all sorts of oil-primed and acrylic-primed linens ranging from the ultra-smooth double primed No.13, to the ruggedly grained Charvin.

Tucked away nearby to our canvases is our selection of kiln-dried pine stretchers. These come in three widths, 2 ¼”, 1 ¾” and 1 ¼” and range in length from the dainty five incher to the eighty-four-inch corker, suitable for anything from the tiniest landscape to the grandest portrait. If a length you are after is not in stock, custom made stretchers are also available!

In the middle of the room stands a collection of easels; travel easels, lyre easels, studio easels and table easels. Of the easels, the most exciting is the French box easel. The 19th century invention is a work of sheer genius akin only to nuclear fusion. Essentially, it is an inclinable easel attached to a box which itself is placed upon retractable legs. Truly, it is Heaven sent! Whilst primarily used by the plein air artist it is also very suitable for an artist with a limited work space. With its nifty design it can hold both small and large canvases whilst also containing all of your brushes and paints. When you are finished in the field, sufficiently sunburnt and tired of the painting that was intended to relax you, the easel neatly folds down to a box. Some people complain the French easel is too complicated to set up and take down, but I regard it as a satisfying challenge, and when returned to its cuboid form its physical solidity can help reaffirm the artists’ fragile sense of self – and frankly, no other easel so excellently holds a canvas, all of your paints, a palette, remains sturdy and rigid whilst out in the field, and is very camper-chic. The French box easel thankfully comes in two sizes, one full, one half, with the half being an elongated box, so there is simply no reason for you not to have one.

If however, you prefer the idea of a simpler, less all-encompassing easel – perhaps, because unlike me you cannot face the challenge! – there are various others in the canvas room to select from. These include lightweight watercolour easels weighing as little as a kilo or the multipurpose and supremely well-priced St Paul’s sketching easel. This easel – for some reason named after Paul the Apostle (if anyone has an answer please email answers4ned@gmail.com) is easy to set up, comfortable to carry, comes with a sartorial strap, and though less solid and comprehensive is cheap, cheap, cheap! If you are blessed to be able to splash a little more cash the Mabef (Made in Italy) sketching easel is a larger and hardier equivalent able to take bigger canvases. For the student there are also various H and A frame studio easels, or for the established artist there are our exquisite and grand French-made oak studio easels. Amongst the new, there are also the old, and so in the canvas room there is also an ever changing collection of antique easels.

Adding colour to the canvas room is the card stand which not only includes a rainbow range of thirty delighting shades of Canford Card, but also glittery, shimmery, and pretty craft card. Similarly, our mountboard comes in such a dazzle of colours your mood board plans might be thrown into the air. If you are one of these interior designers who like to use mood boards, you then only need to turn your head to also see our foam board and portfolios. The room is filled with all sorts of folios suited to presenting all your fabulous work to friends and clients. These folios include very smart black numbers, and more funky retro portfolios with jazzy faux marbled covers.

There is much more in the canvas room; trestle tables, porte cartons, and all sorts of artists’ materials and equipment including ready-made gesso, rabbit skin glue (in flake or jelly form), marble dust, whiting, carrageen moss, staples, and much, much more. The truth is, words cannot do the room justice. So come and see it for yourself!

By Ned Elliott

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Hank Marvin for Charvin

Charvin Bonjour Set of 7 Fine Oil Colours

It’s sunny, my skin is being gently caressed by the sun and my hair is flowing handsomely in the sea wind. I am driving somewhere along the Cote d’Azur having eaten something delicious at a small seaside restaurant. My car is a gleaming scarlet convertible from the Golden Age of Motoring. It is very expensive and I am gliding across the landscape like a knifeful of strawberry jam across a freshly sliced piece of buttered baguette. I can’t help but look in the rear-view mirror and think how damn gorgeous I am. However, I am soon distracted, an unmistakable smell penetrates the salty pine-infused air. My heart is suddenly stung by memories of disappointment, rejection, dashed hopes, ah, yes, art school! But no, there is more, I remember my unwavering love of painting! Suddenly I am filled with the electric buzz of seeing a picture come to life. ‘What is it! What is that smell! What is it!’ I scream from my beamer. It is the smell of fresh poppy oil, but what exactly, oh yes, Charvin, it is you, I love you! I do!

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This introduction was written from my cold bedroom.

I do not have a car, and I have never been to the south of France. But I have smelt poppy oil, and I have used Charvin. And so, this blog is about Charvin, whose essence I have hopefully captured in this paradisaical opener.

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At Green and Stone we sell several types of oil paint including Michael Harding, Sennelier, Winsor and Newton, and Blockx. All of them are good, but the most unusual of the paints is Charvin.

Charvin is solely made on the French Riviera. Much of the products charm lies in its heritage. It is a family business run by Bruno and Laurence Charvin and relies on recipes from 1830. It was popular with such greats and lovers of sunlight, Cezanne, Bonnard, and Ambrogiani.

Charvin sells both fine and extra fine oil colours. The difference between the two being that the extra fine oil is milled twice as long as the fine oil, with discrepancy on timings for each pigment. The machine used is a Buhler Swiss Three-Cylinder which is typically used for the manufacture of high-end cosmetics. The outcome is an incredibly smooth oil paint with a thick, creamy texture. In the extra fine range there are a staggering two-hundred-and-eight colours of which Green and Stone sells ninety-six and which is constantly changing. This means Charvin oil paints have the widest range of colours in the world including such delights as ‘Cyclamen’, ‘Absinthe’ and ‘Mummy Brown’. Whereas Sennelier relies on safflower oil, and Michael Harding on linseed oil, Charvin uses poppy oil. By choosing this oil the paints have a lovely shine, are excellently lightfast and should age without any yellowing. With their buttery and fine texture, the paints are perfect for the traditional Flemish painting style headed by such estimable figures as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. However, they are equally suitable for painting using colour shapers and palette knives, whilst the small 20ml tubes are ideal for the keen traveller and plein air painter.

Charvin paints are also unusual in that they mostly come in mixed colours, in stark contrast with Michael Harding who emphasises the importance of pure single pigments. Charvin are aware of this and suggest the artist picks their colours carefully and that they do not overmix them, as they warn they will take on a shade of grey upon drying.

The understated jewel in the Charvin crown of rainbow jewels is their oil-primed linen canvas, whether on the roll or ready-made. The linen is of a medium to rough grain with a characterful texture which reminds one of the sorts of canvases someone like Walter Sickert would use. The ready-made canvases come in traditional French portrait formats, as well as squares and elongated rectangles. They are handmade by talented Frenchmen who deftly wack copper tacks into the sides and firmly stamp ‘CHARVIN’ onto the back. The result is a canvas of the highest quality with a rigid structure and evocative 19th century look. Why use staples, when you’ve got tacks!

The final aspect of Charvin which makes it so excellent is the philosophy of the owners. Indeed, Charvin are very much a business on an ethical crusade.

In their own words they are a family business ‘rejecting the plasticization, consumerism and delocalised mass production to which the world of fine arts is engulfing’. With a business model they consider ‘utopian or crazy’ they have chosen to use raw materials only of the highest quality without any real economic outlook at their cost. They are against people who only think of profits and margins, who make low-quality products for low-cost countries, simply to gain a foothold in the market without regard for the ethical consequences and the repercussions for art itself. They work for authentic values and true products of meaning.

As part of this crusade Charvin have stressed what they are against. In brief, they are against; colour range reductions (hence their rainbow colour range); the use of average ingredients; cotton canvas – an unreliable material over time, lacking the charming texture of linen. Why use cotton, when you’ve got linen! And finally, they are against online shopping. Arguing it means the end of advice, replaced only by a better price – thus resulting in a user who cannot progress in their work. The knowledge of generations being lost little by little.

And so, long may Charvin reign in the sunny south of France. A beacon of artistic heritage and quality artistic production, keeping the French oil painting tradition very much alive for all the world.

By Ned Elliott

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Perfect Pencils for the Particular Person

2B or not 2B, that is the question.

Indeed, it truly is the question when stood in the menagerie of pencils that is the downstairs rabbit warren of Green and Stone. In this place a cornucopia of pencils awaits you, including everything from the humble school pencil to the most suave, dark, and mysteriously named Pierre Noire.

First and foremost in the collection are the graphite pencils whose sheer variety of shapes, sizes and qualities will surprise those who think of pencils as merely being striped like a wasp and stuffed sadly in a neglected and shadowed drawer.

Particularly prized in the collection are the Caran d’Ache Grafwood pencils which have both style and substance. On their style, the silvery shafts are coloured in accordance with the graphite grade and have a hexagonal shaft to suit your grip, thus completing a sartorial draughtsman’s look (very important!). On their substance, the graphite is of the highest quality and is delectably soft and smooth, even in the hardest 4H grade. Also, in the Caran d’Ache range are the Grafcubes which are similarly soft solid cuboids of graphite perfect for expressive and gestural mark making.

From Derwent, there are the water-soluble graphite pencils which are ideal for making light sketches before using watercolours, whereby the underlying sketch will disappear when wett. Interestingly, if you are one who minds where your pencils are made, Derwent are the last remaining pencil factory in Britain. Based in the Lake District where graphite was first discovered in the mid-1500s they now make 14 million pencils a year using Californian cedar wood, pigments from across Europe, and China clay from Cornwall.

On the gradation of pencils, ‘B’ means black, and ‘H’ means hard, so 9B is very soft and black, HB is in the goldilocks zone, whilst 4H is very hard and pale. The gradation of pencils is made by cooking varying amounts of pure powdered graphite with clay. The purer the graphite content, the softer and blacker it is, and the more clay there is the harder and paler it is.

In the graphite collection there are also the excellent Faber Castell 9000’s, Koh-i-Noor’s Chunky pencils, Cretacolour tubs of graphite powder, and much, much more!

Away from the graphite pencils there are many shades of sanguine and fleshy tones in Derwent and Conté perfect for classical drawing techniques and drawing on toned papers. New to the collection are the Conté Pierre Noire’s which feature soft leads of dense, velvety matt black ideal for both lively and precise drawing. Also, in the Conté range are the Charcoal pencils which do not dirty your hands, provide a more accurate charcoal line and blend very well with their iron red and sepia cousins.

In the realm of coloured pencils there are traditional wax and oil-based pencils, watercolour pencils, and pastel pencils. Of the traditional coloured pencils there are the wonderful little Ferby’s which are delightfully chunky and vibrant, whilst at the top of the range there are the Caran d’Ache Luminance’s which are the finest of the fine! Whilst expensive they are worth every penny. They are smooth and can be easily blended with either burnishing, layering, or application of solvent. Most of all though, they remind you that coloured pencils are not always like the terrible, weak ones you had at school which frustrated more than they delighted. Instead, they are extraordinarily vivid and punchy, enough so that they can be mistaken for a painting. In addition, they are Grade I or II light fast, (important for any professional artist!). In a different corner of the shop there are the Carbothello’s which are pastel pencils. So, similarly to the charcoal pencils they do not mess your hands and provide a more accurate and steady pastel line.

Of the watercolour pencils there are the Faber Castell Albrect Durer’s which are also lightfast and strongly pigmented and can be used for both drawing and painting. Eagerly sought after by a select enlightened few the Stabilo Woody pencils have a naïve child-like look which belies their complexity. Indeed, these XXL pencils can be used as a pencil, a crayon, and a watercolour, and can make images so intensely vivid you will feel as though rainbows are falling out of your eyes. Truly, for only £1.45 you can experience pure psychedelia! Last, but not least there are the new Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks which are unique in that when wet they become ink, and once dry the colour is fixed and can be used on fabrics, including silk and cotton. Watch out Vivienne Westwood!

Hopefully, my point is a sharp and clear as that of my Faber Castell 9000 – there are a lot of pencils at Green and Stone! In truth, I have barely scratched the surface, there are many, many more to use (the chinagraph pencils which can write on all non-porous surfaces – what excitement awaits!).   

However, if the idea of a pencil tires you out, you can be truly 18th century and use a port crayon instead. Et voila! You will be transported to an Enlightenment tea party.

By Ned Elliott

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Black Velvet – A Look at Black Pigments

Yummy, silky soft and truly delicious – it can only be Guinness! One of the universe’s greatest gifts, a distillation of flavour and pure human goodwill. Such an enrapturing drink deserves to be painted. But which black should one use to capture the deep velvet cream of this comforting stout – ivory black, lamp black, mars black or vine black? Each type of paint has its own characteristics and story to tell, so which one, if only one, is right for your wee pint? But before we take on this aesthetic challenge we should firmly note that we are painting Guinness, not Guinness Extra Cold – indeed, it would be grotesquely embarrassing if after all your hard work and dedication someone stands in front of your painting and says, ‘My, oh my, what an excellent painting of Guinness Extra Cold!’

Most black pigments are obtained by burning various animal and plant materials. These blacks are all carbon blacks, traditionally produced from charring organic materials like wood. There are many types, each reflecting a traditional method for producing a particular carbon black pigment, whether vine black or the uncommon fruit stone black. Basically, anything you can burn!

The most common of the black pigments you find are ivory, lamp, vine and mars black. The material specifically called carbon black is the most intense in colour and tinctorial power. Black pigment is possibly the oldest of all pigments, alongside the ochres, its use most likely being prompted by the invention of the Zippo lighter back in the Stone Age.

Ivory black is the first contender. The pigment was previously made by killing poor little hippos and elephants and then stealing their ivory teeth and tusks. This practice is now (mostly) frowned upon and expensive so no longer occurs. Nowadays ivory black is simply the misleading name for bone black. This black is the most widely used black; used by practically all artists, whether in oil, watercolour, ink, pure pigment – whatever! It is undoubtedly the all-round black.

The warm brown and grey undertones of ivory black would be useful for capturing the comfort instilled by Guinness, particularly when sat in a cosy pub and doubly enhanced by the addition of a packet of Scampi Fries. However, if using this in oils one should note it is one of the worst pigments to use full strength, or nearly full strength as a film of any other pigment on top is extremely likely to crack as the ivory black moves about. However, instead of being a blob-brush painter you can delicately thin it to a glaze – otherwise it is excellent for making initial wash-like sketches. Nonetheless, away from this totally arbitrary study of a pint of Guinness and the quite conservative teachings of my educational master (Pip Seymour) all the great masters from Mr Caveman, Rembrandt, Picasso and Manet used ivory black with great effect and show that the oft-quoted teaching that black kills a painting is not true (see ‘Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets’!

In contrast to the warmth of ivory black there is lamp black which is an equally ancient pigment but with a much colder, blue hue. Long ago it was produced by collecting soot from oil lamps. Now it is made from partially combusted mineral and vegetable oil, with the oily residue removed during the manufacturing process. It is an intense colour with great tinctorial strength and a lovely velvety depth. However, it is very transparent and like ivory black in oil it should (technically not artistically) only be used in thin layers because at full strength it will wrinkle and take forever to dry. HOWEVER! As we are painting Guinness, not Guinness Extra Cold, it is wholly inappropriate to consider it any further.

In addition to ivory and lamp black there is the thoroughly trustworthy and modern mars black which was invented in America back when TV didn’t exist and everyone wore hats. The purpose of its invention was to create a black more suitable for watercolour. The process used natural gas as the raw material and the resultant black deposits from burning were of a finer grain than the other blacks, meaning it could spread further in watercolour. Additionally, it is a stable pigment available in all media. If you like your Guinness really warm, then Mars black is for you as it is much warmer than ivory black, which should be perhaps be said as having a cool warmth (does that make sense?) Like ivory and lamp black it has good tinctorial power. However, it is not as saturated in colour as ivory, and some say it is less subtle than other blacks when mixing with other transparent colours.

Lastly, there is vine black which is made from desiccated grape vines. It is a cool, grey black somewhat like lamp black but less deep – shallow you might even say. It does not have the tinctorial strength of the other blacks, but this can be an advantage for the subtle painter, just as zinc white is weaker than titanium white. Yes, there is strength in weakness!

If you have read this blog with a pint of Guinness in your hand you will have seen that Guinness isn’t black at all, more a rainbow of brown, and you will have also realised how stupid and clunky this ridiculous piece has been. However, if you, like me, love Guinness, you could simply ignore all of this and paint Guinness pink, or not even paint it at all, maybe instead you could place a pile of sand, a sheaf of barley, a blob of malt extract and a drip of water onto a table as a deconstructed art piece for this delectable pint.

So, what have we learnt? Ivory black (bone black) is a warm black with brown and grey undertones, it is not vegetarian, it is available in most materials. Lamp black is a cold blue black, it is vegetarian, and it is deep and velvety (like the Black Velvet cocktail – a concoction of Guinness and champagne – what could be better!) Mars black is the new kid on the block with great opacity, warmth and all-round stability and popularity (see acrylics section of shop!). Lastly, there is meek old vine black, a strange wee pigment with a shy demeanour but a subtlety that could perhaps floor the others.

Thank you.

By Ned Elliott

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Sunshine and… Toned Paper!

With the days getting longer but somehow the month feeling gloomier it is only natural to pine for summer, both past and future, and the warm joy it brings. Undoubtedly, there is no greater pleasure than jumping into a tree-lined river, throwing yourself under its sun-dappled waters, then lying on the tickling glistening grass and basking in the sun whilst water steams off your pale-turning-brown body. Away from the river another highlight of my England-bound months of smiles was the Charmed Lives in Greece exhibition held at the British Museum. Alongside boys lying in fields of asphodels, slowly drifting into the arms of Morpheus, were a selection of small portraits of Cretan and Greek men, women, and children. Here John Craxton, a British artist who for much of his life exiled himself to Greece (tough life!), not only made me jealous of his Mediterranean gallivants but he also opened my eyes to the world of toned paper! Truly exciting stuff!

Before my eyes were opened by Craxton I lived as an ignoramus blindly wandering around Green and Stone thinking the only paper for me came white, phosphorescent and bright, and that toned paper was exclusive to pastel painters. But no, such paper is open to all – whether you use charcoal, pencil, coloured pencil, conté or pen and ink!

Toned paper comes in all sorts of colours ranging from light creams, bold greens and rich reds. Whilst Craxton enjoyed all sorts of colours of toned paper in the Renaissance we find that light browns and greys were most popular with the likes of Michelangelo and da Vinci. What all these artists understood, whether 15th century, or 20th century, was that toned paper can greatly enhance a drawing.

Having such a choice of delectable colours to draw on allows you to set the mood of your drawing more easily. Whilst Craxton often chose warm tones of yellow and orange he equally favoured cooler ones of grey and blue. Having the constant unifying mid-tone also allows one to darken and lighten their drawings more easily. Indeed, this sort of highlighting which can be done in white charcoal, chalk, white ink, or dry-ish gouache can be more difficult to achieve when drawing on white paper and to some extent allows a more realistic bodied drawing, as when in nature do you ever really see stark white in nature? Equally, coloured paper can lean one further towards abstraction. The constant mid-tone can also grant you wicked speed as the paper does much of the shading work for you, making it perfect for travelling and quick sketch making. Craxton’s ‘Tasia’, a portrait of a Cretan lady drawn in conté, is a beautiful example of the dynamism of toned paper. The paper highlights her warmth, spiralling hair and extraordinarily captured features. No doubt Craxton could have achieved this otherwise, but the paper helps! Finally, using toned paper encourages unusual colour combinations which can prompt all sorts of effects, moods, and experiences.

The only things that will upset toned ‘pastel paper’ is the wet, whether watercolour or acrylic, it will squirm wildly and lose all dignity and be a terrible waste. However, relatively dry gouache and the delicate wetness of pen and ink is perfect. Fortunately, watercolour does come in its own range of hues comparable to those mentioned here.

So next time you think about paper, don’t only think of it as white, at Green and Stone in the ‘pastel paper’ stand it comes in forty different colours (not counting all the other types of card and paper) ready to be made into whatever sort of drawing you like.

By Ned Elliott

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Recipe of the Week : Mantegna’s ‘Agony in the Garden’

 

New year, new you!

Over Christmas we become flabby, not only physically, but also mentally. By this I mean we can slip artistically and lose aesthetic rigour as we practice the sin of gluttony and let ham seep from our pores. Sadly, there is no easy solution, but with effort one can alleviate their sin – not by dieting, joining the wagon, or sweating at the gym – no, the only way is to don your smock and recreate a fifteenth century masterpiece.

To help you I suggest copying Mantegna’s Agony in the Garden (currently on show at the National Gallery). I have already done so and now feel like twice the man I was in 2018.

This painting exquisitely depicts Judas’s betrayal and the arrest of Christ before going to the cross. In it we see Christ receive the Instruments of the Passion whilst his disciples snooze unaware of the encroaching army of soldiers snaking out of an imagined Jerusalem. Rendered in tempera it has a brilliant luminosity and crispness which is not replicated in the above photo. With the addition of a sweet trio of rabbits nibbling away at the trodden-grass Mantegna makes even the most hardened atheist hearts tingle with the poetry of the Lord!

Here then follows a guide to redemption.

Ingredients:

A rigid wooden panel

Gesso

Egg tempera

Bole

Gold Leaf

A competitive brother-in-law (called Bellini)

Attention to detail

Talent

Start by choosing your wooden panel. If you wish to be truly authentic visit your local madman-in-the-forest and exchange a tuppence for some poplar wood chopped in the autumn. Make sure it is well seasoned and then cut to size (62.9 x 80cm!). Otherwise compressed fibreboard or seasoned panels of birch framed on pine (which we sell in the shop) are suitable.

Prepare your panel by dusting it with a lint-free cloth and degrease it with a delicate wipe of methylated-spirits. Sit the wood happily on some makeshift feet and allow it to thoroughly dry.

Next prepare a delicious vat of gesso.

Again, if you wish to be truly authentic you must make two stops. First, either go to your local pet shop and buy a rabbit or commit a crime and set an illegal snare in the countryside. After you have done this grace your nearby gypsum mine and buy a kilo or two of the powdered rock. If you can’t get a rabbit you may be truly Renaissance and use clippings of goatskin vellum soaked in water for 24 hours.

To spare yourself the horror of the first stage and the lung damage of the second simply go into the downstairs of our shop and buy yourself a bag of rabbit-skin glue and a bag of gypsum, or a tub of whiting.

To make your gesso mix the two ingredients together in a way better explained in Robert Massey’s Formulas for Painters or Pip Seymour’s The Artist’s Handbook.

Now apply a ‘grip coat’ of mostly glue and a smidge of gypsum powder followed by between 4-10 coats of silky smooth and creamy white gesso. You’ll know if your glue is good if it dries to a clear pale straw colour. If it is bad it will dry dark brown and a cloud of shame will rest above you for the rest of your day.

If you don’t want to do any of this you can again skip the process and exchange some sweet dollar for ‘Gessobord’ pre-gessoed panels! Again, available downstairs!

With your panel now ready and gessoed you may begin to think about paint.

To remake this masterpiece, you must use egg tempera which in this modern-age you can buy in tubes! Or you may dedicate yourself to the handmade process more comprehensively and lengthily described in the previously mentioned books. But essentially, raise yourself a hen, collect its eggs, remove the whites, cut open the egg sac, remove the yolk, wet your pigments, mix the two together, and grind, grind, grind with a muller. Et voila!

With the technicalities over you must begin painting as your handmade egg tempera will go smelly after two days. Make sure to paint delicately and lightly with a fine brush otherwise your painting will crack to bits. Once you have added the finishing touches – the swirling silvery hair, the hundreds of tiny pebbles, the glint of the little rabbits’ eyes – the truly final touch can be added – the golden horse!

Yes, if you look closely, atop Trajan’s column (beautifully rendered in plaster at the V&A) sits a golden horse and rider. Of real gold! Not gold paint, no real gold! So that it shines like the sun! What grace!

To do this apply a little bole and delicately apply with your gilders tip the finest gold leaf in the land (available at little ole Green ‘n’ Stone!). Ta da!

If all goes well and you have followed my instructions closely you should end up with a painting which will make your heart glow with the radiance of God and reinvigorate your mind with the sharpness lost over the Christmas period. To 2019, a year for unparalleled artistic endeavour! Using supplies only from Green and Stone!

By Ned Elliott

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Michelle Pearson Cooper

Between 26th October 2018 and 24th January 2019 a raffle is being held at Green and Stone for Michelle Pearson Cooper’s exquisite charcoal drawing ‘Cheetah’.

This piece, measuring 4ft x 5ft and mounted in a handmade frame from Green and Stone, is available to win through purchase of a raffle ticket. Each ticket costs £25 and 50% of the money raised will go to the Artist Benevolent Fund.

To buy a ticket you can either purchase a ticket in person at the shop, or over the phone, or via email.

The winner will be announced on the 24th January 2019.

Good luck!

Michelle Pearson Cooper studied art on a rarely awarded Art Scholarship at Millfield and in Florence under Signorina Simi who lists Annigoni as one of her pupils. Michelle has held 17 solo exhibitions in London, Palm Beach, Marrakech and Dubai, and collectors of her work include HRH The King of Bahrain, Bruce Oldfield, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Mahdi Al Tajir and Tom Stoppard. Inspired by primeval landscapes and their wild creatures, on travels to India, Africa, Oman and the UAE, Michelle has given substance to her ideas born in the silence of the desert and the solitude of the wilderness. She chooses subjects that are powerful and challenging but always her affinity with them is paramount. Her honest approach and distinctive draftmanship is apparent in each faithfully executed drawing, achieving greater perception into their individual characteristics.

Our phone number is 02073520837 and our email is sales@greenandstone.com

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The Secrets of Sepia

Long ago, on a blustery Mediterranean shore, an ancient Roman man slipped and slid across a crumple of rocks in search of booty. After some time, the sodden man found his treasure in a gently lapping pool. Looking down into the octopus’ face the man said, “O poor little octopi, already so delicious and sweet, you are so perfectly exploitable for my own artistic expression.”

And the octopus shed a tear.

*

As our introductory story illustrates sepia is a natural and ancient pigment. It was Cicero in 45BC who first recorded the use of sepia for both drawing and writing in his De Natura Deorum. The famous orator kindly and concisely explained how sepia is made by removing and treating the contents of the ink sacs of various sad cephalopods including cuttlefish and octopus. This makes sepia a strictly non-vegan art material! If you are a vegan, don’t fool yourself! Maybe don’t even read this blog!

True sepia is used exclusively in watercolour and ink as it does not respond well to oil or acrylic.  When presented as “sepia” in these latter mediums it contains a mixture of other pigments trying to replicate the rich brown of the real thing. As we don’t deal in knock-offs at Green & Stone we will no longer mention these pale imitations! The true brown of sepia is semi-transparent and depending on its dilution it ranges from a very dark and powerful brown to a delicate glowing light wash. In comparison to the cool greenish-brown of bistre, sepia is a warm reddish-brown similar to burnt umber.

Sepia enjoyed its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries when it was used by such greats as Turner and Van Gogh. Nowadays, it is not so popular due to its semi-permanent nature. However, this pigment is brilliantly dynamic and exciting to use and if you don’t leave it baking in the sun it’ll be preserved for posterity (see Turner and Van Gogh!).

As mentioned before sepia is used exclusively(!) in watercolour and ink, but in my own wretchedly humble opinion it is most enjoyable as French sepia ink which is an ink mixed with a shellac base. In this form it has a waterproof satin finish. Mixed with shellac the ink gains a light viscosity which, when used with a brush, feels rather silkier and softer than say, Indian ink, and also gives it a little more visible body which shows, when dried on paper, the way one has used their brush. Furthermore, the shellac seems to add to the glow of sepia, giving it extra liveliness. Indeed, having just used the French ink a customer came in and exclaimed, “It’s so dynamic, look!” as she gleefully thrust her paintings in my face.

In Holy Island Cathedral (pictured) Turner perfectly shows the depth and range of the “colour” and tones of sepia watercolour by highlighting areas of contrasting light and shade in the ruins. Indeed, sepia is perfect for making monochromatic tonal studies and sketches in preparation for larger works of art in different mediums.

Where Turner mostly used sepia for watercolour painting Van Gogh used it for drawing with a reed dip-pen. Van Gogh’s drawings of peasants farming and trees swirling highlighted the raw, earthen, toilin’ in the fields look of sepia. Undiluted, Van Gogh’s dark mark-making perfectly reflect the warm and gritty rurality of 19th century France.

What more is there to say about sepia? Only to try this slightly maligned colour out, for sketches, studies or full-blown masterpieces!

By Ned Elliott