Impact Crack in Painting! No!!!

*This post has been edited because I included information about mounting canvas to panel and I have learned a great deal about conservation techniques since writing it.  3/19/18

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 say to use PVA or gel medium to mount canvas or linen to panel, and I really want to stress that this is NOT how conservators work. It might be done for a small piece that is going on archival panel, but in real painting restoration there are materials used to preserve the piece without permanently altering it. Using PVA is permanent. Cracks can be fixed to a larger degree then I thought, but it requires relining the piece on new linen and using wax as the adhesive. It also requires ironing the piece, and it’s a huge, tedious process. Spot touch inpainting could be done over a layer of varnish, the key is that it’s not on the original paint. Things are different when a conservator is working to preserve the piece, versus the artist them self.

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!

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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.

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!

If you’d like to view a video of me applying flesh colors over the verdaccio you can see it here. (It’s really helpful I think, and I wish there were more videos out there for people learning like myself.

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!