23 Feb Great Art Blog: February 2015
Hello and welcome to this month’s materials blog for GreatArt!
This month: Catalyst Blades and Wedges
I’ve been wanting to get my hands on some Blades and Wedges for a while as they looked like a really exciting and useful new product…
Blades and Wedges are new artist’s tools designed to manipulate heavy bodied paints; think part way between a brush and a palette knife, and you get somewhere close to an idea of how they work.
Wedges( some examples shown above), feel lovely in the hand. They’ve been ergonomically designed to sit nicely in the palm, and come with a wide range of different styles; some flat and un-notched and others with notches of different sizes and shapes.
Above are some examples of Blades-these are the same basic principle but with the addition of a sturdy long handle.
In both cases the business end is made of silicone, which means the tips are very responsive and interesting to use, and another benefit is that they are super easy to clean up- a quick wipe between colours is all that is normally needed, and for a proper clean at the end of a session, a good wash in some warm soapy water, gets them back to ‘as good as new’ condition. If acrylic paints do set hard on them, they are easy to peel straight off.
The handles are designed to pull off if you need to give the Blades a really good clean, but this also gives you the flexibility to use them without the handle if you prefer-I have small hands and find the handles a little heavy so found that I often used the larger sizes of Blade without the handle…for me this worked better and gave me a very responsive and flexible way of working.
Materials to use with Blades and Wedges:
Both Blades and Wedges are ideal for use with ‘heavy-bodied’ paints like acrylics and oils, but they are very versatile and I found they worked really well for mark-making in inks too…
In the sample above I had a play with some Liquitex acrylic inks in black and white. I really like the way the wedges picked up the ink from a flat tray. They also created nice patterning and were good for dragging ink to make cross-hatching…using the un-notched wedges fairly vertical in the hand was really effective for creating straight lines.
Completely irrelevantly here, I also like baking and reckon they would be fantastic as a tool for creating effects in icing- probably not tools already used for painting though!
I’m also sure they would work well for adding incised patterns and detail into clay surfaces-I didn’t have time to try them with clay for this month’s blog, but may well add this in later?
I did also manage a quick test with Batik wax. Batik wax needs to be melted in a temperature controlled heater, and then can be added to papers or fabrics to create a resist pattern or design which can be worked over with paints or dyes. The silicone tips on the blades and wedges have no problem with the heat of the wax and are really good for creating simple and effective textures and patterns…
In the samples above, wax has been applied to rice paper. I then painted on top with watercolours and inks which reveal the ‘resist’. The samples above still have the wax in place, but this can be removed when finished by ironing between several sheets of absorbent paper…hopefully I will return to Batik in a later Blog, so check back for more detail then!
Detailed testing with Acrylic paints:
As I hadn’t used the blades and wedges before, I began by doing some test samples using both and focussing on acrylic paints which are a key medium for them.
Tip: When using the wedges, it’s worth finding something flat to use as a palette as this means you can pick paint up directly with your chosen wedge…anything non-porous will do. As you can see above, I used a large tile, which is also great for printmaking, but a plastic tray, sheet of glass, piece of perspex etc…would all be fine. This is also ideal for use with the blades, although you can of course also use a conventional palette…
In this first example above, I used a small blade with no notches. This allows you to ‘smear’ paint creating thin glazes. I really like the way the blade carries the paint; it’s incredibly flexible and you can very quickly build up loads of overlapping layers with directional strokes. If you put too much paint somewhere, it’s also extremely easy to lift it off again, just wiping the blade clean before continuing painting.
The large ‘flat’ blade is excellent for crosshatching and scraping back lines in your work. I found that you can really play with the way you hold them; varying angles, pressure and also where you grip the blade-they are very responsive to all these things and therefore allow considerable variation in the marks you make. If you like to work large scale they are also brilliant for covering big areas in a very short time-scale.
With all the wedges you have two surfaces to work with; a shorter and a longer one. With these flat edged wedges you can create smooth areas of paint, and also blend colour wet into wet; giving a very immediate and fresh result.
I found this notched wedge brilliant for building a textural feel very quickly, with plenty of hatching and crosshatching. It is surprisingly easy to vary the thickness of your marks by playing with how much paint you pick up, and how much pressure you put on the wedge when painting. These really are very easy and above all comfortable and fun to use!
These small notched blades create a very lively feel with linear hatching marks. By flattening the blade you can smooth out the paint and blur the effect.
As with all the blades and wedges you can both pick up the paint directly with the tool, and also apply the paint conventionally with a brush and then work into an area with a wedge or blade…combining both gives you maximum flexibility.
I found it really worth-while to give both blades and wedges a good wash in warm soapy water after each session as this keeps them ready to go for next time. If the tips have got really caked up, remember that you can take the handles off the blades, so you can give them a good soak without damaging the wooden handle.
In addition to acrylic paints, I really enjoyed using the wedges with inks…
Any inks would be fine, but the consistency of acrylic inks-these are Liquitex-worked especially well. I found that it was really easy to create weighted and unweighted lines with the wedge held fairly upright, and loved the range of marks they made. You can make very fine lines and thick bold ones with equal ease.
These tools are designed primarily for ‘heavy bodied’ paints, as already mentioned. However I thought it was worth giving them a go with gouache paint, just to see how well or not they would work?
Gouache: gouache is a type of water-soluble paint which unlike watercolours, gives an opaque result which does not allow the white of the paper to show through. Often called ‘designer’s gouache’ it was so-called because it was much used in the graphics industry for artwork that needed to be photographed.
My feeling was that they worked quite well, and I would use them for background textures in gouache from time to time, but they didn’t flow as easily as with the acrylics….you can see the difference, even in this photo as they are flatter and dry to a matt rather than light sheen finish.
Very Quick Mono-prints with Wedges and Blades!
Mono-prints: This is a form of printmaking that has images or lines than can only be produced once, although somewhat confusingly you can sometimes squeeze more than one print from a mono-print block! There are lots of different techniques for mono printing, but here I’m showing a really quick but effective one…
To make a simple mono-print using blades and wedges, I started with an A4 sheet of clear acrylic…actually you can use any non-porous surface, so you can also use a sheet of glass or smooth metal or even an overhead projector slide/acetate sheet-this is a bit flimsy, so if you are using acetate, tape it to your work surface with some masking tape.
I used some Gerstaecker block printing ink and a roller- for much more detail about printing, please refer to December’s Blog-Introduction to Lino Printing.
Above: Here you can see I’ve used my roller to cover a sheet of acrylic with a thin film of black block printing ink. Then all you need to do is have some fun with wedges or blades, making marks and patterns in the ink-work fairly quickly as you do not want the ink to dry out before you have taken your print.
In the picture above, you can see the completed block which is covered in linear patterns made with hatched and cross-hatched lines…The block below is inked with a mix of white plus a little black ink to create this soft grey. One of the beauties of this method is that no damage is done to your print plate so you can create endless designs, simply washing up in between designs and colours.
Next move your block to a clean space and lay a piece of thin printing paper over the top. I used Rice paper for this test sample. Rub over the back of the paper with the palm of your hand to fix the block firmly in place and begin to transfer the design-continue until all the design is transferred using a clean roller or the palm of your hand.
The print above is from the black ink block-when dry these are lovely to work into with soft pastels or watercolours.
*The prints above and below are being hand coloured with St Petersburg watercolours.
Next and in order to give the Blades and Wedges a really good test, I decided to work up a couple of larger pieces…
The first idea I wanted to work on was using a textured ground as a starting point, as I thought the blades and wedges would be great for working with texture.
For this piece I started with a piece of old black mount card as a base…* I used the black mount board as it allowed me to show the white texture paste in a photograph more easily. A sturdy surface is essential as it’s going to take a great deal of work to build layers of texture and a firm not floppy surface is really helpful and much easier to work with…canvas board would be excellent for this.
For the texture paste, I used Golden Light Modelling Paste, which you use straight from the tub. I found that it was very easy to apply with the blades and wedges, both working direct and also by applying paste to the board with a palette knife and then working into it with the blades. As this was purely experimental, I played with circular and linear marks using a range of both flat and notched blades and wedges. Some areas had only thin texture and others, very thick raised texture-impasto.
The paste needs to dry thoroughly before you work any paint into it, otherwise you tend to lose the texture and flatten the whole thing out, making a bit of a mess…if you are feeling especially impatient, you can hurry the process up a bit with a bit of judicial hair-dryer action!
Next I started to add colour using undiluted acrylics…for this I found that it was best to use a firm brush rather than a blade or wedge, as this allowed the paint to get right into the grooves and bumps on the surface.
In order to create a bit of structure, and also to balance the strong circular patterns, I added some liquid acrylic inks in dark blue (mine was Liquitex) and whilst it was wet, allowed it to run along the grooves and channels by tilting my board.
I began to build the depth of colour using some wedges to augment the texture that had already been created as a base layer. By following the ridges, I found that the shapes could be further strengthened and developed…You can see the marks on my palette where I picked up the paint directly on my wedge.
Above: Applying undiluted heavy body acrylic to emphasise the textural surface.
For the final layer, I added contrasting colour and texture with slabs of paint added using two small blades; one flat and one notched.
Above: detail of final layer ‘slabs’ being added to add depth and contrast.
The final piece has a very heavy texture and strong pattern feel..it was an interesting test piece to do as it meant using the blades and wedges to both build a textured ground, to add depth of colour and to build slabs of textured paint as a final layer.
For the second piece, I started with a very simple landscape seen from the studio window. I wanted to work in a loose expressive style, which I thought would probably suit the blades and wedges really well. I started on a ready-primed canvas board, which I tilted to a comfortable angle. I had intended to work on an easel, but found that I didn’t like working with the blades in an upright position-this was probably just a personal thing, but I found them much easier and more successful to use either flat or slightly raised as here. I suspect the reason was to do with pressure, in that I liked to be able to use quite a lot of pressure on the blades and found this more difficult when working on an easel….basically I kept sending my easel flying!
You can see that I didn’t do any initial drawing whatsoever, but got in straight away with some bold key lines indicating the main elements of my composition. I blocked these in with an un-notched wedge.
I love the way you can blend colour and begin to build textured layers. They are very fast to work with too, which is satisfying!
It’s possible to make many different kinds of marks and keep a nice loose style, while building both colour and tone.
The wedges are really useful for adding a linear quality on top of underpainting to bring back some definition.
Above: Using a small blade with long notches to ‘draw through paint layers and add texture to the foreground.
Above: Texture is really building!
Adding slabs of paint on top to create depth with a small flat blade.
Above: Blending colour
The finished piece above, is deliberately loose and flowing…I particularly like the way the wedges and blades allowed me to build texture and also to create a sense of movement with strong directional strokes.
My Materials List:
Catalyst Silicone Wedge form 4-yellow code: 31264004
Catalyst Silicone Wedge form 2-blue code: 31264002
Catalyst Silicone Wedge form 1- grey code:31264001
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 6-15mm code: 31261006
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 4- 15mm code 31261004
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 5 30 mm code: 31262005
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 2 30 mm code: 31262002
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 1 50 mm code: 31263001
Catalyst Silicone Blade form 3 50 mm code: 31263003
I Also Used:
Daler Rowney System 3 and Golden Heavy Body Acrylics in range of colours
Gerstaecker Universal Artist canvas board-choose size as liked
Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink Black code: 30587337
Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink White code: 30587432
Liquitex Professional Acrylic Ink Prussian Blue code: 30587320
Daler Rowney System 3 set of 3 brushes code: 77637
Golden Light Modelling Paste code: 28934
Gerstaecker Block Printing ink-white code: 34201102
Gerstaecker Block Printing ink-black code: 34201706
Ink Roller 10cm code: 29974
(For Batik) Abig Tixor Malam Wax Melting Pot code: 42465
Batik Wax code: 42060
(For hand colouring prints) St Petersburg White Nights watercolour set code: 29575
Lefranc and Bourgeois Linel Gouache in range of colours
All available from great art.co.uk on the link below:
You will also need:
Liquid hand wash or washing up liquid for cleaning up
Paper towel or kitchen roll
An old tile, piece of glass or piece of acrylic to use as a palette and also as a print block
Do take the time to experiment with both blades and wedges. They are very different to work with than either brushes or palette knives, and it’s really worth spending a while just getting used to them rather than launching straight into a piece of work.
Try out patterns, textures and ways of using the tools on scraps of card or paper-try varying your pressure and the angles you hold the blades and wedges to the paper…keep these swatches for reference in a sketchbook.
They seem to me to be best for either very textural pieces or alternatively work with a really loose expressive style…the following are some ideas for artists as inspiration:
Maurice de Vlaminck (Fauvism) 1876-1958
Georges Braque (Cubism) 1882-1963
Vincent Van Gogh (Post Impressionist) 1853-1890
Paul Cezanne (Post Impressionist) 1839-1906
John Bratby (Kitchen Sink Realist) 1928-1992