In this part of the blog I will explain in detail the decisions I take, the techniques, the colors and type of brushes I use to make the paintings from the very beginning so that if you decide to start painting on your own, you can use this as a guide. Painting astronomical objects in oil on canvas is not easy. This is the reason why most artists create digital images instead. Even though it is not an easy task and probably my paintings will not be as perfect as if I created digitized work, I decided to do this collection in oils because the brushstrokes show the imperfections, I might say, the humanity, of the person holding the brush and because I simply adore oils. Contrary to a print, an original oil painting is a unique work of art that has texture you can see and feel.
Stage 1. For this painting, I started out with a white cotton canvas which I primed four times with black gesso, a mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum and black pigment. I coated the canvas with thin brushstrokes because I don’t want the structure of the canvas itself to disappear. After each coat, I sanded the canvas delicately with the finest sand paper, to get rid of unwanted brushstrokes. After the fourth coat, the canvas was let to dry completely overnight. To serve as a guide, I made a light pastel chalk drawing of the galaxies.
Stage 2. I did one swoop of paint around what I know will be the spirals. I used a mixture of Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Pthalo Blue, Ultramarine blue, Cadmium Yellow light and linseed oil to allow for the round tipped to effortless skim the canvas. I don’t like it when my colors get muddy and the brushstrokes look overworked, so I try to let the brush spontaneously glide through the surface of the canvas. I always think that a painting must look light and effortless, just like the perfectly cut dress drapes a woman’s body.
Usually, when one paints with oils, it is common to work from dark to light. Perhaps this would be a good idea at this stage, however, since this is my first astronomical painting, I want to be wild and experiment and just see what comes out of it. Throughout my life, when I am not doing physics, or trying to make my violin not sound like a whining cat, I have concentrated on painting banal objects. For me, this blog is a learning experience, as I intend to learn how to paint astronomical objects. I decided to reverse the process and work from light to dark by applying first the light colors. I presume the black primed canvas background dims out the rich brightness of the oil colors and I want my object to be luminous.
Stage 3. I continued to blend my color mixture into the canvas with a flat and round brush to highlight the spiral arms and the center of the galaxies. I want them to figurately jump out of the canvas. From this stage on, whatever I do will decide how the piece will end. One most not be afraid and move on.
Stage 4. I added dimension to the object by using a mixture Alizarin Crimson with Ultramarine blue that results in a dark, cold black. I prefer not to use black paint in my paintings because it looks too harsh and the painting does not look as vibrant. When I need black, I mix my own according to my needs. There are only eight colors you need to paint with oils. Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Cadmium Yellow light and Cadmium Yellow Medium, Titanium White and Ivory Black if you prefer. When I need specific colors, I simply mix these colors. I will write more about color mixing with each painting.
Stage 5. To highlight the center of the galaxies, I created a mixture of cadmium yellow and titanium white and blended it delicately with a hint of cadmium red to give it that needed dimension so that it looks like a pearl.
Stage 6. Not so bad, so far. I continue blending and giving my object structure and shape. When I was happy with it and when I couldn’t paint anymore, as the intense smell of the linseed oil gives me a headache, I stepped away and let the paint settle for a bit.
Each star was painted individually. For the white stars, as a base, I used a mixture of Alizarin Crimson and ultramarine blue that gives me a brilliant violet color. Then, I added a mixture of titanium white with a hint of cadmium yellow. I smoothed out the edges so that they don’t look like sharp blobs. After all, these are distant objects viewed through telescopes and most of the time, the atmosphere. The red objects, stars and far away galaxies, were painted using a combination of quinacridone red with a hint of the violet I created with the alizarin crimson and the ultramarine blue. The blue objects were painted using a mixture of ultramarine blue and titanium white with a hint of cadmium yellow.
Stage 7. The painting is done and well worth the headache! I suppose that’s how parents feel like about their children: they are a pain in the ass, but cute to look at.