Archive for November, 2010

mediums at large

A former workshop attendee (not sure you can really call someone who spent three days under ones tutelage a student) just wrote to ask me about mediums. I’ll do my best to answer this one with what little I know backed up by the great Google. The fact is I don’t have a lot of real and accurate knowledge about mediums. But one general school of thought is the idea of painting lean to fat or thin to thick. Using more turp and less medium for the underlayers and more medium to no medium for the top layers. Reason being is that paint needs to dry throughout and if you seal off the top layers from oxygen the bottom layers may not get to dry and may eventually cause cracking…. just like with plate techtonics. What I generally do is to work the underlayers very thin, with turp and maybe a little medium, the middle layers are more medium and the top layers are no medium… painted more thickly.

I mostly use a fast drying medium called galkyd lite because I am impatient and want the underlayers to dry as quick as possible, galkyd is a resin based polymer and makes the paint dry really fast so I can go over it the next day or even that day with another layer or two. But this fits my painting style. I paint fast and loose and want underlayers to show through. Different mediums do different things and the one you choose needs to work with your painting style. If you want a lot of blendability in your paint for an extended period of time you use a medium that is designed to increase flow and slow down the drying time (see below). If you want to speed up drying time you pick something like galkyd or liquin.

Some artists use not turp only or no medium at all. Some just use odorless mineral spirits. Some use a mixture of 1 part linseed oil, one part turp and one part damar varnish which gives a nice flow to the paint, speeds up drying time and keeps the dark areas from dulling down, maintaining that still wet gloss. I wish I could go through all the variations and permutations of mediums but I only know just enough to be dangerous… I’d recommend some research on your part to find out what you need.

The following info on mediums is pulled almost verbatim from about.com with some editing from me.

“Linseed oil is made from the seeds of the flax plant. It adds gloss and transparency to paints and is available in several forms. It dries very thoroughly, making it ideal for underpainting and initial layers in a painting. Refined linseed oil is a popular, all-purpose, pale to light yellow oil which dries within three to five days. Cold-pressed linseed oil dries slightly faster than refined linseed oil and is considered to be the best quality linseed oil.

Stand oil is a thicker processed form of linseed oil, with a slower drying time (about a week to be dry to the touch, though it’ll remain tacky for some time). It’s ideal for glazing (when mixed with a diluent or solvent such as turpentine) and produces a smooth, enamel-like finish without any visible brushmarks.

Sun-thickened linseed oil is a created by exposing the oil to the sun to create a thick, syrupy, somewhat bleached oil, with similar brushing qualities to stand oil. Pour some oil (about an inch) into a wide dish, cover it with a propped-up lid (i.e. to minimise debris getting in, but so that the air can flow through). Stir every day or so to prevent a skin from forming on the top. How long it takes for the oil to thicken will depend on how hot the climate is where you live. Test the thickness of the oil when it’s cool, not when it’s still hot from the day’s sun. Pour it through a sieve or cloth to remove debris before you bottle the oil.

As linseed oil has a tendency to yellow as it dries, avoid using it in whites, pale colours, and light blues (except in underpaintings or lower layers in an oil painting when painting wet on dry). Stand oil and sun-thickened oil yellows very little.

Sun-bleached linseed oil is created by exposing the oil to the sun but with the container’s lid on, so no evaporation occurs. The result is an oil that has less tendency to yellow.

Poppyseed oil is a very pale oil, more transparent and less likely to yellow than linseed oil, so it is often used for whites, pale colours, and blues. It gives oil paint a consistency similar to soft butter. Poppyseed oil takes longer to dry than linseed oil, from five to seven days, making it ideal for working wet on wet. Because it dries slowly and less thoroughly, avoid using poppyseed oil in lower layers of a painting when working wet on dry and when applying paint thickly, as the paint will be liable to crack when it finally dries completely. Poppy seeds naturally contain about 50 per cent oil.

Safflower oil has the same characteristics as poppyseed oil, but dries a bit faster. It’s made from safflower seeds. Sunflower oil also has similar characteristics to poppyseed oil. It’s made from sunflower seeds.

Walnut oil is a pale yellow-brown oil (when newly made it’s a pale oil with a greenish tinge) that has a distinctive smell. As it’s a thin oil, it’s used to make oil paint more fluid. As it yellows less than linseed oil (but more than safflower oil) it’s good for pale colors. Walnut oil dries in four or five days. It’s an expensive oil and must be stored correctly otherwise it goes rancid (off).

Boiled oils are oils that have been heated and mixed with a dryer to create a faster-drying oil that gives a glossy finish. They tend to yellow and darken with age, so are best limited to lower layers in a painting and darker colours. If you’re not sure what effect an oil is going to have, rather take the time to do a test than ‘lose’ or ‘damage’ a whole painting.

One other note about liquin, it’s a great medium but I have noticed that it browns in the jar, though I’m not positive that translates into browning color, it’s something to think about. And never use Liquin as a topcoat or final varnish. It is a permanent, non-breathable, non-removable medium and as a straight layer, will yellow.


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Small studies are good exercise. When I teach workshops I often ask the students to tape off a canvas into quarters for a couple of reasons. It helps to keep the student from turning the study into a painting and the small scale forces the painter to just deal with the big shapes. Try taping a 12×16 off into 4 panels and give yourself one hour to comeplete each study. Set an alarm if necessary so you don’t end up picking it to death. Big shapes, color notes, color relationships and no detail.

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to the finish

The befores and the afters. An almost finished painting made hopefully better with a few subtle tweaks to color.  I lightened the sky at the bottom, though you can’t tell. Changed the color of the stuff on the ground because it was too similar to what was in the tops of the trees and altered the water so that the line of blue didn’t repeat the same line as the shore. Also a few notes of pure green in the ground plane to move the eye some.

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I had a conversation with a student during the last workshop. He said he had taken a workshop with a well known artist who is a proponent of painting what you know instead of what you see. And while I agree with that sentiment, it’s what makes one artist different from another and leads to the individual interpretation and voice of the artist, it’s based on already having the fundamentals down. This artist can say this because he had already invested the time into learning the basics. I’ll use the analogy of playing a guitar. You have to take the time to learn where all the notes are and how to strum and pick before you can play what you know, what is in your heart and mind. Likewise with painting, you need to invest your 10,000 hours as Malcolm Gladwell puts it in the book “The Outliers”, before you can put the notes exactly where you want them.

When we learn to first paint what we see, we are learning drawing, value, color and paint handling. Once these things are ingrained and inherent you, as an artist, are free to have your way with your painting. That’s why you have to do 100 (or 300 as Carl Rungius once said) bad paintings before you can get to the good ones.

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Just finished a 3 day workshop here in Central Florida. Great attendance with 18 people of all ranges of talent and abilities. Each day I demonstrated different things with small paintings, 12×16 divided into quarters, for example. But on the last day we went into the park on Park Avenue in Winter Park and parked in the park were a bunch of fancy cars. I had promised to demo a larger painting, so I did this 30×30. 12×16 is a good demo size, so is 16×20 but a 30×30 is like a wide screen tv. It’s a lot easier to see what is going on from the standpoint of the viewer. It forces quick decisions with no noodling. Cover the ground as fast as you can and go for the big shapes, dividing the shapes into smaller shapes later.The truth is if you are using large brushes and big amounts of paint, it takes about the same amount of time.

The surface here is gesso primed wood but the gesso is thick and very textured which helps to break up the strokes and let what is underneath peek through. This is a painting that I would probably never put in a gallery so I had a quandry about what to do with it when it was done… sand it down? As it turned out, sort of serendipitously, the owner of the car has a really good friend that I just happened to run into at the bank and he bought it as a gift for his friend. Nice.

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