We all know the old adage about not fixing it if it’s not broken, but I think most of us — from time to time, at least — have a tendency to improve things or a desire to try something different for one reason or another. Today’s painting reflects the latter: trying something different, doing something different, breaking away from what I know works best and approaching my oil painting in a different way.
It began when I read about my March subscription box from Paletteful Packs. It included a small set of Cobra Water-Soluble Oil Paints. Oh, was I excited! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on these paints. As you probably know, I’ve made the switch — completely — from traditional oil paints to the water-soluble paints. Mostly I use Winsor Newton’s “Artisan” brand. They’re reasonably priced, the quality is good, and they’re easy to order through Amazon. There I can purchase single tubes of 40 different hues and have them delivered right to my door. Such a convenience. By the way, you can download a color chart directly from Winsor Newton.
I’ve used other brands — mostly less expensive ones — and my paint box does include one Cobra tube. It’s a Transparent Oxide Red that I couldn’t find in the “Artisan” brand. Winsor Newton has a Transparent Red Ochre, but is that actually the same? I wasn’t sure, so I bought Cobra’s “TOR” — as it’s so often called.
Now, with the small set of primaries plus tubes of Cobra’s Titanium White and Ivory Black from my subscription box, I figured I’d have a great opportunity to make a comparison between them and my usual “Artisan” paints. Perhaps I would like the Cobra brand — made by Royal Talens — better. Like the Artisan paints, Cobra is also available through Amazon.
I planned to do a complete painting using only my Cobra paints, and I was looking forward to it. Even before the subscription box arrived, I’d chosen a reference photo. Once the box was delivered, I hurried to the studio.
Using a 9 x 12 canvas panel for my ground, I set about painting my landscape, and it didn’t turn out at all the way it was supposed to. Was it the Cobra paint? No. It was me.
Let me begin by sharing my reference photo:
I was starting with a burst of confidence here, having had success with my recent painting of “Rocky Falls” and having just received an award at the Blue Springs Art League show. I wanted to include that fallen log as part of the painting. I felt certain I could do it. The reference actually reminded me a bit of a graphite drawing I did one day. I was eager and excited, more than ready for the challenge, I thought.
In my eagerness and excitement, however — and with my desire to do a quick comparison of two brands of paint — I threw out my entire painting process, the very process that’s been working so well for me. I didn’t tone my canvas. I didn’t make any thumbnail sketches. I didn’t do a value study.
This “process” — when I use it — almost always leads to successful paintings. The problem is that I sometimes manage to turn out a reasonably good painting without following all those steps. With “New-Fallen Snow” — the painting that got that recent Honorable Mention award — I didn’t go through the complete process. I simply had an inspiration, went to my easel, and began painting. Sometimes it works.
This time, though, that “go to the easel and paint what I feel” approach was all wrong. As a result, I ended up with a painting that just didn’t work.
In looking at this today, I’m willing to say that maybe it works in a very impressionist, almost abstract landscape way. I’m willing to say that maybe it’s not completely awful. But neither is it a good painting, if only because it’s not at all what I intended to paint. Where is that fallen log? What is all that swirl of blue? Where did that dull orange come from?
Answers: (1) I couldn’t draw the fallen log successfully with my paints, so I wiped it away. (2) I thought maybe I could suggest the appearance of a stream. (3) Already frustrated, I just played a bit with colors.
Now, as for the Cobra paints, all I can say here is that, for now, I’ll stick with my Winsor Newton brand of water-solubles. I’m familiar with them. I know the colors and their properties. As the old saying goes, don’t fix what’s not broken, right? I should listen to that advice more often.
What happened here, I think, is that I’ve learned a bit about when and why I should follow that painting process I’ve developed. If I’m working from a reference photo — one that will require a bit of drawing — I need to take my time and make a methodical approach, doing those thumbnail sketches for composition, creating value studies, underpainting and color blocking. That was the approach I should have taken for this scene.
On the other hand, if I’m just painting intuitively, using my imagination and expressing my feelings — as I did with New-Fallen Snow — it’s all right for me to grab a canvas and jump right in with a somewhat alla prima painting style.
Now, because this was originally intended to be a review of Cobra water-soluble oil paints, let me share just a few additional thoughts.
- As with all water-soluble oils, these are great in the studio, great for traveling, and especially great for working in places — such as club meeting rooms — where toxic products are prohibited. If you’re an oil painter and you haven’t used water-solubles, I suggest you give them a try — not necessarily the Cobra brand, but any brand you’re comfortable with.
- After receiving my paints in the subscription box, I realized I couldn’t make an accurate comparison because the paints I received were “student grade” rather than “artist quality”. The Artisan paints I use are rated as “artist grade” but are generally considered to be a bit on the “lower end” of the scale. It’s above “student” quality but perhaps not as high-quality as comparable “artist” paints. Still, I do feel the Artisan paints I use are a better quality than the Cobra paints I received, but I see little, if any, difference between the Artisan paints and the “artist” Cobra paint I’ve used before– that Transparent Oxide Red.
- I think Royal Talens might make a better choice in the hues included in their “primary” set. Yes, there are all three primaries, but they’re not well-suited for mixing — in my opinion, at least. The three colors in the set are Ultramarine, Pyrrole Red, and Yellow Ochre.
I’m happy to have these Cobra paints on hand, and I will be using them often in the studio, especially for practice paintings. I might also purchase a few tubes of their “Artist” grade water-solubles and give them a try.
Another thing I plan to do is to make another painting from this same reference photo, this time following my careful step by step process. It will be interesting, I think, to see the result and compare it to my quick alla prima attempt.
For now, I’m not giving a thumbs-up to the Cobra paints, but neither am I giving a thumbs-down. As artists working in oil paints, we should try different brands and find those that best suit our needs. Here is a quick list of various water-soluble brands of oil paint available.
- Royal Talens Cobra Water-Mixable Oils
- Winsor Newton Artisan Water-Mixable Oils
- Holbein Duo Aqua Water-Mixable Oils
- Grumbacher MaxWater Mixable Oils
- Lukas Berlin Water Mixable Oils
- Weber wOil Water Mixable Artist Oil Colors
- Reeves Water Mixable Oils
- Mont Marte Water Mixable Oils
- Daniel Smith Water Soluble Oils
- Marie’s Water Soluble Oil Paints
Again, I recommend you try water-soluble oils if you enjoy oil painting. Buy a small student set to start with and see how enjoyable it is to paint without messy, smelly solvents and cleaners. Then, once you decide to make the switch, you can move up to a higher grade paint.
So, more lessons learned for me today, and even though this painting didn’t work out quite the way I wanted, it helped me see different ways to approach oil painting and why each can be useful. That’s an important lesson, for sure.