Writing Bios makes me question everything. Which is great.

I’ve written a million bios at this point. Well, maybe 50 to be really honest, but it seems like it’s taken me ten years and 48 different versions of it to finally start chipping away the extra stuff and get down to the heart of describing proficiently who I am, and what I am doing with painting. I wrote my 50th or so Bio today for a show and it finally seems to be a cohesive message with clear meaning. I hope. I’m still wish-washing between the third person and first person battle though. We all agree, I think – writing about yourself in the third person is weird, uncomfortable and feels stifled. Let’s face it as well, most people hate writing their bios. It’s so crucial to defining your practice though, that if I was teaching painting to third year college students I would make them write a new one every other week. They would despise me for this, unquestionably, but the ones who continued on to a daily art practice after graduating would thank me for it. I think.

After years of the same over poetic, long-winded bio, I started getting critical of it finally. The procrastination of this process is pretty amazing. I’m impressed it’s taken me so long to realize how valuable it actually is. Not just for describing who I am to others so they can place me in whatever box is needed as per human categorization and processing goes, but really more so for myself and gaining a deeper understanding of what my mission statement is a painter. Naturally as the years pass, your statement should be changing and growing with you. Here’s the new one I wrote today, which is not perfect whatsoever, but a heck of a lot better then previous attempts.

“Linda Wandt is an Austin based oil painter who primarily creates surreal portraiture and figurative works. Originally from Long Island, NY, she moved to Texas in 2000 and attended UT Austin from 2003-2006 where she obtained a BA in Studio Art while also focusing on literature and philosophy. Through painting, Linda is trying to explore the topics of forging identity, what it means to be female in the present as well as in the past, and examining the subconscious and how it interacts with the conscious mind. The narratives and characters in her pieces which often involve flora and fauna as well, invite the viewer to question these topics in their own way.”

Writing this bio today made me excited. My work has jumped all over the place over the years in both style and direction. I don’t view that as bad, I’ve just been painting whatever the heck I’ve wanted, which is what anyone should be doing. I paint a lot of models from life, but I’ve also been painting bees, owls, venus fly traps and llamas and my favorite musicians or authors or other painters and I’ve been painting the conceptual pieces that represent what I’m *actually* trying to convey. The thing is, these things are all connected in some way. It’s just not possible to see that sometimes, not until years later. I’m starting to connect the dots now, and my paintings don’t feel as random anymore. A teacher once said “You don’t reinvent the wheel with each painting. Each piece should lead you to the next”. I’d make a painting in 2007 and then have the idea for the next in that “series” 7 years later. In present time, I can start making the pieces I want with a closer technical skill to what I desire from what I produce, but those older pieces still hold space with me, and contribute to what I make now.

Today’s bio is succinct for the purpose of the show, it’s cohesive enough to get the basic point across, but I found myself still wanting to write when it was done. Those three topics I described in the bio break it down into easily digestible snippets. It’s more complex then that though, and again comes the questions I’ve been dodging for years – Am I a feminist painter? Yes if you count how I ultimately want to depict my female subjects, as minds in clothed bodies with thoughts and dreams and daring to brush up against the edges of reality in their quests for greater understanding of themselves and their places in the universe. What I just wrote leads me to understand that the pieces are surreal, sure, but also existential. Some of the pieces are not strictly about a female experience though, and within that context could be interpreted far from what was intended. Smokescreen and Instinct vs Intellect especially, those pieces portray women representing humanity, outside of the gender bias. Microcosm as well, the figure in that piece represents all of us. I feel so strongly about that, and have found no other place to express it then here. I used female figures for them merely because that is the filter though which I understand everything around me. These paintings are societal commentaries. The first two reflect American problems, to be even more specific, the first is political protest, the latter a comment on our relationship with nature. Microcosm reflects on possibility, that we are but one consciousness amid the multiple possibilities, the universes at the ends of the forks in the horns and the keys and locks representing what we do along our paths, and that is not to speak of one gender. We are a micro in a macro. I couldn’t find the room to express this in the bio,  while there was a strong sense of satisfaction from it, it prompted the need to keep typing.

The pieces are not random, not at all. I need the bio and statement writing to keep myself on track sometimes though. A family member once looked at one of my earlier paintings (The Queen of Bones to be specific, a nearly disturbing painting, true) and they just shook their head, and said “I could never look so deeply within myself. I’d be afraid too.” We as painters get to do this, if we choose to. It’s important that we do this. It’s important that we go to the scary places, that we search the depths of our psyches. It’s important that we perform this function for society as well, and reflect back to it what we see in it.

So before I digress more here’s the idea – if you make paintings and haven’t really been focusing on bios/statements, write one. Then write it again. Then again. It’s like burning your first 100 poems before you write a good poem. I’ve burned several of my paintings at this point, and I’m really glad I have. I’ve painted over many more then I’ve burned. My catalogue at this point is just over 100 (I realize that is not a lot), and I’ve destroyed or sanded off and covered the same amount or more I’d wager. This applies to the entire process of refining what you do, to growing over time. Don’t change the bio or statement you’ve already written, a mistake I’ve made so many times. Start it over again from scratch. Over and over again.

p.s. I’m sorry there were no images in this post. I’ll do better next time! I haven’t gotten around the Zorn palette like I said I would in the last post, which was a long time ago, but more about color to come!

 

Adventures in flesh tones!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here, and a lot of great things have gone on since “Microcosm”was completed! I took a 6 session figure painting class with a fabulous local painter, and she had us work with a limited palette that I’m still using and really enjoying. The more I work with it, the more levels I unlock, and it’s really exciting! It took a little while for me to start mixing greens out of it, I admit, and it was awkward at first since I’ve been using a ton of colors, but now that I’m past the hump of initially feeling limited,  it’s not limiting at all. These colors are the following – Titanium white, yellow ocher, Winsor Red, Winsor Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Red Oxide and Raw Umber. It took me a bit to mix the red oxide and umber together for a warmer brown, which I am embarrassed by. That took me several uses to figure out. Burnt Sienna is really important to me, but you can totally make, no it problem! For flesh tones, it’s still a little strange for me still not having Viridian Green available for neutralizing colors, but I’m getting the hang of the new green, and getting into some lovely greys as well.

Another school of thought on the limited palette is that it’s great to have both a warm and a cool version of the primaries, and with this palette, you just do the work yourself. Yup. No Alizarin Crimson. No Cerulean Blue. MIND BLOWN. The conclusion I’ve reached is that I LOVE THIS PALETTE and I’m going to keep using it for a good while longer and keep learning new things from it. I’ve been mixing paint for a long time now, but I’m getting a lot from this exercise, and wish I had started using it years ago. The great thing about painting? You keep learning FOREVER. I love that.

Here’s two of my latest with this palette. The first one is titled “Communication No. 1 (Bells, Birds and Pistons)”.  I originally was going to put pistons in there, and then agonized over the meaning. I wanted to lighten it up, and went with a bell. Now Pistons still need to happen, and ta-da! A series is born about the different ways we communicate vocally. The pirate painting is totally in progress here, and not finished yet. I’m calling it “Trophy”. See what I did there? It makes me happy. That peacock print chair that she’s sitting on makes me really happy too. Don’t mess with this lady, or she’ll take over your ship. I really love the possible narratives this piece offers.  I’ll get more into it once it’s finished. I am in a serious rush to get it done for drop off for a show and will likely make a larger version I can take my time with. The model has amazing 3/4 sleeve tattoos on her arms, and I’ll paint the whole thing over again just so get those in there. I’ll probably make the background wooden slats too, for a boat feel.

I have to admit a secret, which is that I’m addicted to monochrome under paintings now. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know! I have a wee bit of an issue with proportion at times, so the two layer underpainting process really helps me get that settled while only concerning myself with value. I can refine where things go and then once stuff looks correct, I can move into the glorious world of color. I’ve been hoping to break the tedious underpainting thing and work quicker with more wet on wet, but the transition is looking slow. The downside is I don’t always see things until it’s too late if I’m working thin, and then I’m stuck with the issue. That’s really bad!

Then I threw a wrench in the works completely, and took a three day workshop with a super famous dude in portrait painting. Everything about it was different from what I’ve been doing. It was really useful, and kind of overwhelming. He uses a huge palette and doesn’t premix. It’s madness! Sometimes I spend as long as 30-45 minutes mixing those fleshies. Why? I DON’T KNOW! Most importantly, I got from it this nougat of wisdom – keep the features loose for as long as possible. Get into the details once every thing else is looking correct. Sure, this seems obvious, but in practice, personally, it’s actually difficult to do. It’s also a totally different approach, since I have been working with the monochromatic underpainting for so long, but then I realized the gem – IT STILL APPLIES.  *Getting into details too fast is why my proportions wind up biting me on the butt all the time.* Bad habits are hard to break, but this is my new mantra, and I’m excited about it.

So now I’m in a space in my practice where I’m trying to adopt new stuff from both methods of working, and it’s a little confusing. The best way to sort it out is to just keep painting and keep those key concepts in mind. Next experiment when I get a chance – the famed Zorn Palette! Stay tuned!

Microcosm

I’ve completed another painting, and another experiment in flesh tones. During my blog about creating “Smokescreen” I discussed the palette I’ve been developing over a verdaccio underpainting, I said I was going to try the same palette over a grisialle painting so that I could see the difference in how the paint mixes optically. Welp, it was a total failure, just as I expected! That likely sounds moronic to some people, but to me it’s merely a science experiment. The failure went exactly how I expected it to go, and that gives me a great deal of information about the process of what colors work well over what monochrome underpaintings.

Grisaille Underpainting Linda Wandt
Grisaille Underpainting by Linda Wandt

This piece served to show me how and why the warm flesh tones I was using don’t work in a transparent manner over a grey underpainting. The colors together work great over a green-grey underpainting, because the cool greenish hue neutralizes the warm flesh hues over it. When I started laying the color on, everything was really peachy and not natural looking. I knew this could be that the layering process is complex, and would require more then one layer to look natural. Unfortunately, I was working with a very pale skinned model, and I had to alter my recipes to work with the skin tone. I switched from a warm red flesh tone base (transparent red oxide) to a cool red – genuine rose madder – an expensive color I use rarely and sparingly that interestingly is somewhat fugitive so it was replaced greatly by Alizarin Crimson, and then by the synthetic Quinacridone family of pigments. I find Rose Madder creates such a gorgeous color that is different from both more modern alternatives however. This does not mean I recommend using the pigment, but I do have some and love it greatly. With this recipe, things began working out much better, but it still required several layers and a lot of guess work to get things where I wanted them. I got so lost for a bit, I had to even ask for an outside opinion to help with the issues I was having from working from a photograph of a fair skinned person sitting in the shade. Le Sigh. Working from life really is better. It’s so absolutely true that you loose so much color in the shadows when working from photographs. What I really needed to do was simply keep plugging away at it, slowly adding color layers to create form. Here is what I ended up with.

Macrocosm Linda Wandt
Detail of “Macrocosm” Linda Wandt

So camera phone photos are not all that for reproduction. The skin is pinker in reality. Also keep in mind, I’m learning, and on top of that mostly teaching myself. I’m leaving out the meaning of the piece altogether, and focusing on the technical aspects, and I’m still honestly tweaking some of the details around the figure, so I’m only showing a detail at this point. Sorry about that. I’ll have it photographed all pretty and nicely lit and put that on my website in the next week or so. But the journey toward the flesh tones in this painting was important. Neutralizing the skin with blue in some spots and green mixed in others into the base flesh tone and then adding other colors has been a huge step in the right direction for me, and I’m really excited about the results as I do this more. I’d love to streamline this process in future paintings, but I feel like a few more with this method are merited before I get real crazy and start attempting my flesh tones in a single layer, like I see some people doing. I’m really curious though, and feel like if I can gain these principles in transparent colors, trying it all in one shot will be an easier process for me. There are so many possibilities for flesh recipes, it gets really overwhelming sometimes, and it’s very easy to get lost in the realm of possibility. A smarter painter then myself recently told me that limiting your palette is really wise, and I think she is absolutely correct. I also think that would make a fine subject for the next entry.

Impact Crack in Painting! No!!!

Hello again, so soon! I’m really sad to have discovered a circular impact crack in one of my most favorite paintings – Wood vs Muscle from 2012. This painting is the sister companion of a painting from 2007, Infrastructure.While not as technically proficient as earlier pieces, they both hold a special place in my heart for the concepts they broach. I have already talked about this piece, but now I have to discuss options for fixing it. It’s not looking good. Consider this instead, a cautionary tale.

Linda Wandt, Surreal Self Portrait, Self Portrait, Female Oil Painters
Wood vs Muscle, 2012 by Linda Wandt

Once you have a cracked painting, there isn’t much you can do for it. That’s why it’s best to be mindful of the Fat over Lean principle, and to work on high quality substrates, and to be so very careful during transport. This painting is from a short period where I was trying out linen instead of cotton duck canvas. I bought a few prestretched linen canvases, and I have had nothing but bad luck with this particular brand, which had been sworn off before I just recently discovered the damaged to this favored painting. I still stand by (more so then ever) stretching my own and not buying premade. I have read about stretching linen, and tried it once and it was much more difficult then stretching cotton duck. My understanding is that many professionals buy super expensive linen, stretch a large amount onto a chassis and then prime it. They then cut out the amount they need for a smaller chassis, and stretch the preprimed linen. I haven’t gotten this far yet, because I can’t afford the fancy expensive linen yet. (A hopeful “yet” indeed.) So I settled for trying the cheap kind, and I have regretted it due to cracking, now in both of those paintings. Not cracking from badly constructed paint films – a more painful kind, impact cracks. These cracks are certainly my fault, clearly the painting was not handled well at some point, and I have no one to blame but myself (I think). I don’t recall *when* this damage was done, but I do transport the pieces often, and surely that’s how this happened. But to be sure, never again will I paint on cheap thin linen. Linen is supposed to be superior to cotton duck – the fibers are stronger (it’s made from flax, the same as linseed oil!) and it will last years and years beyond the point when cotton duck will eventually begin to rot with age. Sure, the canvas will rot well after my lifetime. I don’t mean this will happen anytime soon. But longevity is what I am after, and linen is fancy and pro, and supposedly stronger. The elasticity is what gives it this strength, however what this means is it’s more elastic. Linen will loosen up while you work on it. It’s very different feeling then canvas.  So while being technically a stronger weave, linen damages and dents easily. I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow. All of this is prefaced however with the disclaimer that I have never painted on fancy heavy expensive linen. I would like to try it, but this experience has perhaps ruined me on the idea, and for medium to small images I might stick to panel from now on.

Let’s look at the damage and discuss what to do – life isn’t perfect, and shit happens. It can’t actually be fixed, but I tried to minimize the damage. When either cotton duck or linen start to sag or get loose, or you find a dent, the first thing to do is try brushing the back with water. That’s the most simple solution usually. You don’t want to soak it, just brush a small amount evenly and this will tighten the fibers back up. My best option for “fixing” it is a long hard road – removing the linen from the stretcher, mounting it to a panel with PVA or high quality acrylic gel medium (I have found gel medium to work better then PVA, but you must work quickly and it’s tricky to do) and then I’d have to remove all of the varnish to paint over the crack. It’s not possible to remove just the varnish in one area, and replace it and have it look like that isn’t exactly what I did.  Looong Sigh. Removing varnish is a serious, slow, laborious task and I never want to have to do it ever. I am not a conservator, that is not a degree that I carry, and I have no desire to spend hours meticulously performing this act huffing harsh solvents trying to get it all off evenly and perfectly. I am now refraining from going off on a tangent about varnishes. Not the point of this post, not the point of this post… but real fast, if you haven’t tried Gamvar yet, I highly recommend it. I discovered its wonders a mere year ago, and I’m never going back.

Once I have theoretically removed all of the varnish without horribly damaging my painting, then I could use some Cold Wax Medium or Acrylic Gel Medium in the deepest part of the crack, to sorta fill it in. Then I could attempted to paint over the crack. Would this work? I have no idea. Oil paint layers thin and become more transparent over time. Back to the plate of spaghetti analogy. I highly suspect the crack would still be visible in the end, after all that work, but at least the crack would not be at risk for getting larger.

In the end, as seen in the photo above, I “fixed” it the lazy way. I used wax, referred to my amazing studio notes from 2012, found the recipe for the colors I used (at least the crack isn’t on the figure!) and painted – YUP! – over the varnish. I so totally admit I did this. Is is sooo bad? (The answer is yes.)  This painting will forever hang in my home now, it is absolutely not fit for gallery presentation now, so there ya go. I might make it again, on panel, for gallery presentation. I was never actually happy with the hair anyway, or how you could see the hard lines of the shoulders under the layer above. Many lessons to be learned, including this one – keep impeccable studio notes. You will thank yourself one day. Comments, suggestions and pointers are all very welcome.

Edit * I decided to go ahead and try the fancy linen after all. I don’t feel one brand is sufficient to make my mind up about the nature of linen et all. I special ordered a 39.5 x 42.5 sheet of Artfix preprimed Belgium Linen and I will definitely describe my experience with it once I try it out!

Creating “Smokescreen”

Creating “Smokescreen”
Linda Wandt Smokescreen, Political Art
“Smokescreen”, 2016 30 x 60” by Linda Wandt

I haven’t made a post in a while because I’ve been so consumed with finishing this painting around working fairs and shows for the last few months. It’s done now though, and I’m back! I thought it would be fun to show how this painting came together. I’m really happy it’s done, clocking in at around +/- 200 hours, so it’s quite an accomplishment, and it really tested my dedication at times. It also showed me some serious weaknesses that I need to focus on improving if I am going to continue making paintings of this scope. If you have tips or tricks of your own, feel free to share! I don’t normally graph, and this piece was too large to *not* graph. This really challenged my poorly developed left brain, since I spend so much time in the right side. Wait, maybe that has been disproved at this point? In any case, here’s the photo of the finished 30 x 60” canvas. Without getting into the meaning of the piece at all, (unless someone really wants to discuss that, in which case I’m open to it, as it is a pointed piece) let’s dig into the details!

I began with a print out at half size for graphing. I picked up this trick from a really talented painter I’ve met along the way, but she recommends always printing out at full size. I figured at half, it would be really easy to simply enlarge 2x and that turned out to not work out as perfectly as I had hoped. I spent a lot of time working out the graph, and then realized the figure wouldn’t be large enough to fill the canvas in a satisfying way and also to satisfy my love of painting faces and hands and feet. What I wound up with was a figure with a head, face and feet that are a touch too large for the body. But forward I marched! The lesson here – don’t do that. I’m cool with it for this painting, because I do so love to paint those features as large as possible, and I don’t want to deal with canvases that won’t fit in the back of my pick up truck.

Linda Wandt, Verdaccio
Verdaccio figure, first layer
Verdaccio, Linda Wandt
Verdaccio figure, first layer
Verdccio, Linda Wandt, Smokescreen
Verdaccio figure, first layer

 

Ug, I’m so sorry I can’t figure out how to format those photos in a pleasing way!

I have been experimenting with different flesh tone palettes over a verdaccio underpainting for several years now, and I’ve hit some that I kind of like, but haven’t really found *the one* yet. It took me awhile to even really figure out the verdaccio recipe I like most. I have now, I go for the Flake White, Ivory Black and Yellow Ocher route, and I’m very happy with it. When I first tried it with Oxide of Chromium, the figure was REALLY green, like alien green. I refined it for a bit with different ratios, and then tried it without the actual green – yellow ocher and black mix to somewhat of a green, and found I like the subtle green-gray much more, and it’s the correct mixture used back in the day anyways I believe. I did the full figure in verdaccio first, attempting a refined layer but only somewhat succeeding.

Verdaccio, Linda Wandt
More refined layer upon previous. There’s likely a quicker way to go about this. I’m not there yet.

Getting the background in and the dress  was a slow process. The Dress -what an ordeal! Stay away from Lamp Black unless you use a drier, it takes FOREVER. I’ve been waiting three weeks for this dress to dry enough for me to touch up a couple of spots, and then I’ll be stuck waiting another month before I can even think about Gamvar varnish. I can’t use a drier for the final touch ups because I’d risk cracking if I did so. So. Much. Frustrate. I have an actual gallery waiting to see this piece, and I’m stuck cooling my heals for a bit now.

As for creepy owl, which was extra creepy because I love owls, I created a paper-clay model of a dead owl so that my model would have something owl shaped and I could get her fingers perfect for the photo shoot. My only thing about this is that I wound up painting a super stiff owl, because my reference was super stiff and I didn’t succeed in giving it a little droop. So goes that, I get so focused on my references sometimes. It’s a really great thing to be able to separate the piece from the photo, it’s crucial actually, sometimes when you are making creative imaginary things from based in reality images. At a certain point you should ditch the photo and focus on the painting, and what makes it a good painting! It’s way more informative to work from life, but for images like this, and for my financial ability, I can’t ask a model to pose for the whole time I am working on the model. I hire a model to come in for an hour, pay the best wage as I can afford, and have a photo shoot. I also give the model a print of the painting for free. I think that’s good form.

Linda Wandt, Smokescreen
Flesh tone funsies! Also laying in the grisaille for experiment – single pigment glazing on roses!

Here comes the fun stuff about the skin tones. Most of my attempts to glaze over the verdaccio obliterates the verdaccio. The point is to build up paint over the light areas, and leave the shadows thin. I have failed over and over, and with this one it started to click a little better. I found a full list of Adriane Gotleib’s palette on his website, and substituting several of the colors I didn’t have for ones I did have, sticking to mainly transparent colors, I came to a pretty good place with the mixtures I made from this. They didn’t work well for me when I tried it over a white background, but over the cool verdaccio… yesss. I substituted another couple of colors for ones I liked more, and arrived at something similar but different, and I’m really happy with it. For my next piece, I am working with a grisaille underpainting, but I am going to use the same base colors to compare between what it looks like over grisaille vs verdaccio, because I want to know how much the green plays in. If it doesn’t work so well (I suspect it won’t but need to see for myself) I can always tweak it to better suit the grey scale without the cool green. I went for a Mars Black grey mix, so we shall see, experiments continue as always! I’ll probably blog about it too, cause if you are as dorky as I am on it (if you have read this far, you are. It’s okay. We’re in this together.) you may want to know as well!

I tried to add a video of the flesh tone glazing, but am limited to what content I can add! If you’d like to view the video (it’s really helpful I think, and I really wish there were more videos out there for people learning like myself) you can see it on my IG @linda.wandt.art

The single glaze for the flowers mostly worked, but a couple of the lower petals didn’t have good enough variation in the grey scale for depth. But not to worry! A little bit of glazing Viridian over the red (complimentary colors, they are your friends!) and VIOLA! Depth where I needed it so the shadows popped, giving the petals the full forms I wanted. I spent a lot of time on the necklace and belt buckle as well, I love those details! While conceptually the meaning of the piece is a little away from Instinct vs Intellect, I view them as sister pieces. I find full series to be a bit tedious, but love pairing paintings, and sisters pop up a lot. To me this is a series of two. Not quite a series, I know. But I like to think they have companions at least. Please feel free to ask questions, make suggestions, share your knowledge, or to just leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Painting at the start of the 20th century

One of the things I love most about painting is also the thing that overwhelms me about it – the are so many different ways to paint. There are so many different things to paint, too. Plenty of people absolutely adore painting landscapes. That’s not quite my jam, but I can certainly appreciate a beautifully painted landscape. Some people paint hyper-realistic fruit. That’s also not quite my thing, but again, I sure can appreciate the effort and time it takes to glaze layer after layer to achieve realistic transparently glowing grapes.

I enjoy really passionate art, no matter what the style. I tend towards somewhat intense art as well, which many people do not. That’s the thing about art – it serves different functions for different people. For example, this is one of my most favorite paintings ever created, and it sure isn’t for everyone.

My Nocturnal Self
“My Nocturnal Visage” by Ludwig Meidner

 

This painting is by a fellow named Ludwig Meidner, born in Poland in 1884, he died in Germany in 1966. He lived and painted during the second wave of expressionism and this piece was made in 1913. He is most famous for his Apocalyptic Landscapes, which are amazing as well, but I love his portraits so much – probably because I prefer portraits. Expressionism is most assuredly my greatest influence, and the art happening at around 1913 is my favorite period in art history. These paintings and the style and the brush strokes and the colors chosen just hit me so hard in the feels I have a hard time expressing it in words.  This is where the passion and greatness of painting comes from for me. It’s antiquated at this point most certainly, and it’s safe to say most abstract expressionism doesn’t do it for me. Some have, but most don’t. Many would view this painting as overwhelmingly disturbing and creepy, and try to not think about it too much. That’s totally fine. I find it completely visceral and raw and honest beyond comfort. This is one of the greatest roles art can function in. There is a time and a place for beautiful things to put over the couch, but there is also this ability for art to serve as a force to humanize. There is a space for art to connect, de-alienate and to allow us to not all feel so alone. This painting does that for me. This painting lets me into the world of an artist who is long dead, and allows me to see him as he saw himself in his most private moments, and he is HONEST. So honest, the vulnerability of the piece is a corkscrew to the heart. I get to share in his humanity because he shares this intimate self view. We are capable of so many terrible things, we commit such atrocious acts. Alice Walkers’ words pop into my mind whenever I see a painting like this. “If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”

Here is one more, this time of a house located in Dresden.

Meidner_TheCornerHouse
“The Corner House” 1913 Ludwig Meidner

It’s a house, sure. But the energy and movement makes it seem alive, and even threatening. The perspective conveys a great deal about the subject. How he chose to handle the planes, even in the sky, all make this painting convey tension.

I have copied several paintings at this point, and I recommend you do the same if you are learning and have never done so. Reproducing another artists work will teach you invaluable lessons in color, brush strokes and more. I’ve reproduced Joan Brown’s Self Portrait with Fur Hat (this paintings is SO great), Van Gogh’s Postmaster taught me about the color blue, and Carlo Carra taught me about adding orange when mixing, and I have a side project (which I need to get back to) where I enjoy copying master portraits with Crayola crayon. Maybe more on that later. For now, here’s another of my favorites, Carlo Carra’s Penelope, which I reproduced at twice the size of the original, because hey, why not. It was a challenge, and I didn’t know how to blend yet, so I’ll show the original painting he made. This is the best photo I could find.

penelope
“Penelope” Carlo Carra

Carlo Carra was an Italian Futurist and coincidentally, this painting was made right at the same time Meidner was working. This painting is from 1914, and it probably reminds you of Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” Futurism was a combination of Cubism and mechanical imagery. There are a lot of things about this piece that make my heart thump. The way he chose to break the shapes of a body into planes of metallic material make her very robotic, but very human at the same time. The braid going down her back floors me, and so do the folds of the dress. Mixing the colors to reproduce this piece took me up to 45 minutes sometimes before the actual painting could start. Some of them were quite tricky to figure out. It was a great experience though, and again I recommend you pick a wonderful and complicated painting to learn from.

I have a total love/hate relationship with painting. Sometimes the painting is so difficult I’m hurling obscenities and about to just give up and set the thing on fire. Sometimes I really enjoy the challenge and sometimes I can really settle in and relax and just paint. But it’s very often a struggle, and I can’t imagine making these paintings were easy. To be a fly on the wall when these paintings were created! I make it difficult on myself as well – I choose difficult subjects, or fabrics or whatever because I like challenging myself and I want to learn how to paint better. Each piece is about expanding my proficiency. I may curse and mutter during the process, but eventually I’ll manage to push through the problem and eventually I’ll be satisfied enough to stop. There is an element of masochism to this, I admit, but it’s for the greater good at the end. I am positive most artists feel this way often. It’s an obsessive drive that moves us to create, and painting is truly about problem solving. I keep coming back for more, and after all of the trouble and growing pains I have a serious accomplishment (usually, sometimes I don’t!) and I’m ready for the next.

That was an aside, that little rant, so here’s one more from my favorite time in painting and then I am done for now. Here’s a painting I discovered in a museum in Houston and I stared at it for a long time. Then I tried to look at some other art. I was pulled immediately back to this painting. It has a power to it, the green of the wallpaper in stark contrast to the blue black of his shirt, the sitting position, as if he is contemplating something quite secret… It’s a very powerful painting to me, and it’s a contrast to the Meidner above. This painting is by a French fellow named Georges Daniel de Monfried.

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Georges Daniel de Monfreid 1905

This post is getting pretty long, so I am not going to indulge in too much of a rant about self portraits, though maybe by now you can tell I adore them. It’s been said that every painting a painter makes is a self portrait, regardless of the subject. It’s also often noticed that people learning to draw may tend to even portray their sitters with a bit of their own features, that it is a subconscious tendency. de Monfreid in this painting is not quite inviting us in, he seems a bit on guard in fact. It makes me feel like he is trying to decide how much to reveal, and this feels like the truth of this piece. He is posturing and that tells us a great deal. The paint handling of the hands here makes me love it even more so then the well described beard. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these paintings!

 

Oils for Oil Painting: Part II

Now that I’ve gotten some information out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the oils available for painting with. We can start with refined linseed oil, since it’s the most flexible and commonly used. It gets complicated though, because there are a few variations of linseed oil in use.

First, there’s hot pressed vs cold pressed. The concept is the same as it is with cooking oils. Cold pressed oil yields a higher quality oil, it will retain its properties for longevity. It’s pretty amber in color, but will resist becoming more yellow with time. This is the original way the flax seeds were pressed to make the oil, it is a slower process, and requires a higher volume of seeds. Hot pressed became popular to increase production and lower cost. It’s still good oil, just not quite as good as cold pressed.  Dry time is 2-3 days. It’s still better then any of the oils you buy at the grocery store, which is refined for food grade consumption, not fine art purposes. So it’s said. I haven’t compared the two by microscope, and I don’t have a chemistry degree anyway. The statement made by many, is that food grade oils are not as refined as artist grade oil, and that it has materials in it that are safe for you to eat, but that are not desirable in paint films. I have chosen to not take the risk, especially if I am going to spend 80+ hours making a painting, I want that thing to last as long as freaking possible. I want my paint film and materials to be as absolutely archival as possible.

Old Holland mills with cold pressed, and their paint is very pigmented and stiff. Some painters are all about it, some are not. It’s high quality for sure, but I like a more buttery paint out of the tube. Quick note on brands – you really need to try a brand to decide if it’s right for you. I like some more then others, and I use lots of different brands and mix them. There is no one best brand, and there are a bunch of really nice professional grade paints out there. Student grade paints are okay at first, but if you start getting really good, and start selling your paintings, switch to professional grade paints. They handle much nicer, will last, and you aren’t cheating a client with cheap paint. It may take some time to stock up on those expensive paint tubes, but it’s worth it. If you are taking the time to really learn a craft, a trade, I feel really strongly about using good materials to create your products. Each canvas I make and paint on represents ME as a brand, as a person and as an artist. I want what I make to be top notch. My name is on the thing. The thing is my name. I take that to heart, and wish to represent myself in the best way possible. Anyways – Oils!

Cold pressed oil is better oil, but I personally can’t feel a difference between that and plain old refined linseed oil. I’ve been using refined hot pressed for a while, and use cold pressed on occasion. Some really serious painters out there say that commercially available artists oils are still not really pure enough to use out of the bottle. They purchase it, and then further refine it on their own in a process called “Oil Washing”. This refining process takes about two weeks, and leaves you with half of the oil you started with. I have never done it, but you bet if I ever do I will blog about the experience.

Next up, we have Stand Oil. Stand oil is linseed oil that is *viscous*. It’s thick, like honey, and needs to be thinned down. A very traditional medium used is 1 part stand oil, 1 part damar varnish and 1 part turpentine. This recipe has been around for a long, long time, and many people are still using it. The advantage to stand oil is that it’s polymerized – it’s made by putting the oil in an air tight container and heating the oil until a double bond forms between the molecules instead of a single bond. The stuff is tough, and it’s almost the most elastic form of oil you can get. It also dries much slower. I once had a painting teacher who recommended I use stand oil for an impasto technique. I made a 4 x 5 ft painting, slopped on stand oily paint with a palette knife, and that painting took a full year to dry. 6 months in, you could still dent the top paint film with a finger nail. Good news though, is that I will never have to worry about that painting cracking. It’s solid.

There’s other processes done to linseed oil to change its properties and dry times, and refinement level. There’s Sun Thickened Oil (which is actually a step up from Stand Oil, but this stuff is expensive)  Bleached Oil, Boiled Oils, Drying Oils, all these variations.

Let’s move along, though I want to get into other uses for linseed oil, like washing your brushes or caring for your wood easels or palettes. My favorite clean up soap is linseed oil based. Moving along, I swear.

Poppy Oil is a really popular oil as well. It’s very pale in color, and it dries slower then linseed. There’s a paint company that mills with poppy, and they are very lovely paints indeed, and they come in so many mixed colors it’s astounding. Plein Air painters seem to love them for not having to mix on site a lot. I love the slower dry time and the slippery feel of the paint is luscious. I did have that one painting yellow on me though, so word of advise with poppy oil – maybe stick to panels for it, and maybe don’t slop a bunch of it into a white background, and then definitely don’t add a few drops of Liquin to make all that poppy oil dry faster. It’s dry time is about 4-5 days. Oh! One other variable to discuss – the WHITE PAINT. Do you know about the White Test? I hope he’s cool with my linking. This guy is right up my alley, check out his site.

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Cassandra, 2010 Yellowed significantly with time. You can see the start at the top there.

The last oil I am going to talk about here is Nut Oil. Walnut oil is a very popular one. There’s a very wonderful hand milled paint available with this oil and I love it. It dries in about 3-4 days. It may not keep as well as linseed, and some people who have bought very large jars of walnut oil have discovered it spoils with time if not refrigerated.

Something I have encountered a great deal of while researching and experimenting with oil materials is conflicting information. This is rough. It’s best to view yourself as a mad scientist out to discover what’s really going to happen. Experiment and experience are key. I have to make that disclaimer when discussing these things. All the variables abounding are also going to make differences. All the information I give is from my own experience. Maybe the dry time of an oil is different in California then here in Texas, because of altitude or something. Remember, so many things are at play here. This is why it’s best that I stress when learning about materials to KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you go mixing different oils and alkyds into a piece, and something unwanted happens, you don’t know where the problem came from. It’s best to keep the paint films stable, and simple. I will mix poppy oil paint with linseed oil paint, but only sparingly. Plus, linseed oil paints overwhelm poppy oil paints, and then you are sort of wasting the more expensive paint. Mixing the different kinds of paint come down to the style of painting you are doing. If you are layering in the indirect method, glaze and layer away! If you are mixing and slopping that paint on, take heed and pay attention to what you are using.

That’s it for oils for now! Enjoy, discuss, and ask any questions you’d like!