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 “Microcosm” 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.

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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!

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!

 

 

 

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.

de monfreid
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 making sales, switch to professional grade paints. They handle much nicer, will last, and you aren’t cheating a client with cheap paint that may fade quicker. You also kind of cheat yourself with student grade paints – the use of more filler and less pigment means you go through it faster. 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, all these variations.

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 have heard it does not yellow, but I have no proof of that. I had that one painting yellow on me, so word of advise with poppy oil – stick to panels for it, because it yields a more brittle paint layer 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? This guy is right up my alley, check out his site.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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 the current most 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. I have never experienced this myself though. I love Walnut oil, and it is my primary oil now. It’s also best on rigid substrates.

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!

 

 

 

Exploring different Oils for painting : Part I

Please excuse any obvious issues with my learning how to blog, and my learning curve on WordPress.  Oil painting is my preferred medium… and it’s been around for 500 years and involves pushing pigments around on a substrate with a stick that has animal hair glued to it. It’s pretty old school .

In any case, I’d like to get down to it – this blog is intended for me to talk about my paintings, my adventures in learning how to paint, and for me to share the knowledge I’ve gathered over the years. Today I’d like to discuss the different kinds of oil that are available for painting with. First, this requires my insistence on stating the first rule in oil painting – FAT OVER LEAN. You have maybe heard this before. You may be very familiar with it. Maybe once, you made a painting that cracked on you, and you aren’t sure why. It’s possible this is why.

Here’s the break down.

Solvent is 100% Lean. Oil is 100% Fat. Literally, oil is fat. It’s some other stuff too, and it’s also quite acidic. This is why it is imperative that you protect your lovely raw canvas from it. Some people like to go to the art store and buy cheap canvases to paint on that are pre-primed and ready to go. I love pre-stretched canvases for studies and for working out issues, but on the whole, I find these canvases to be cheaply made and  often times not square, or warped. The primer isn’t great either. But that’s for a different post that I’ll make about substrates at another time. Back on point – if the canvas isn’t sized properly, oil will seep through into the canvas itself and start rotting it. This is why you should not paint on raw canvas. What this means for building an oil painting is that you have to have a sufficient isolation coat to protect the substrate you choose to work on. A flexible paint film is desirable because it is more durable with time. It’s important to realize that the oxidization process takes a really long time. Way longer then once the paint feels dry to the touch. It goes on for years. The paint layers will shrink and expand on a molecular level, and the painting will become flatter with time and more transparent as well. I’d love to use the plate of spaghetti analogy, but I can’t recall the source. It’s a great aide for understanding what happens to the layers over time. They shrink and flatten out and fuse together while the exothermic process continues for years.

Lean layers, the first layers of your painting, will dry faster if you scrub in the basics using just solvent to get the paint going better. Once you need the paint more workable, for upper layers, details and blending,  you get oilier and fattier, and those layers will dry slower. Each layer can have progressively more oil then the last. This comes down to the drying processes – evaporation vs oxidization. You want the first layers to dry fast so you can get into those details. If you use oils early on though, you have wait for that to dry. If you apply a leaner layer over the oily layer, you get trouble known as ‘Why is my painting cracking, OMG NOOO”. People have asked me for solutions to fix this problem. My sad answer is “Don’t do it again in the next painting”. Fat over Lean.

There are many available oils out on the market, and it’s really confusing to figure out which is most loved. Let’s look at what oil paint even is – it’s pigment suspended in a vehicle for manipulation. If we were talking about watercolor, the vehicle would be gum arabic. If it were acrylics, it would be acrylic polymer. The vehicle is oil (and usually paint makers include a small amount of wax to keep them from separating), and when people are just starting to learn how to paint, I love to recommend that they try it first for awhile without adding any mediums so they can learn what the paint feels like before they start really altering it. In the case of really tight paint, or if they really need to thin it and fyi – solvent alone is not good to super thin down colors, then I suggest trying oil as the first additive. Too much solvent will weaken the paint film, and once that dries via evaporation, you’re left with pigment and no paint film. Too much solvent cuts down the oil and leaves you with dry pigment. So it’s best used in small amounts to get your paints the desired viscosity. Adding oil to your paints is just adding more of what’s already there and not complicated! A little dab of oil on your brush, or a dab mixed into your paint pile can really get things going. I’ve tried SO MANY mediums at this point, and at the end of the day, I admit my favorite medium is simply MORE OIL. In cases where I must use an alkyd dryer, I have my favorites, but I only resort to driers when I have serious time restraints on the painting.

Lots of painters are very concerned with the tendency of oils to yellow over time and I am too. It’s a great reason to stop using damar in your recipes, besides the turpentine necessity! Damar is a natural resin, and a property of resins is that they yellow over time. That’s TWO reasons to not use damar anymore! Wow, I feel so strongly about damar, and not using real turpentine. You’ll be seeing these outburts often I suspect. Anyway, I have a piece with a very white/celadon background, and no kidding, after 5 years I am starting to see yellowing in the whites. This is really sad! I experimented with adding a synthetic resin alkyd to a slower drying oil (poppy) and this is my reward. I don’t know if it happened because of the alkyd mixed with oil, or if it’s just the oil I used, or if it’s just the alkyd. Lesson – Keep it simple. One additive to a painting while you learn.

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I have an art habit. Don’t judge.

Most oil paints are milled with refined linseed oil. Some paint companies use poppy oil, or walnut oil and those are in fact very nice paints and I use all of them. White paints tend to be milled with safflower oil, due to it’s paler coloration. I use all these oils, honestly. But there is a good reason why after all this time linseed oil still reigns despite its slightly more yellow appearance. It yields the most flexible paint film. It remains more flexible over time then the nut oils or poppy oil. Poppy and nut oils dry slower then linseed, and they are clearer in color, it’s true, but the paint film they yield is less flexible. It’s important when you build an oil painting that you take into account all the variables to ensure it lasts a nice long while. Is your substrate flexible or rigid? What quality of primer or sizing are you using? Is that ground acrylic or oil based?  And now, what quality of paints and what kind of medium are you using in those paints? All these choices are important.

That’s all I have time for today, but I’d love to continue ranting about oils in more detail, so maybe an “Oils:Part II” is in order. Congrats if you made it this far! I hope this oils rant was helpful, and please feel free to ask questions if you’d like. Writing about this stuff really brings out my passion about it, and shows me how very disorganized it is in my head. I’m jumping from topic to topic, but really it’s because all these parts work together to create a whole.  This, I suspect, is another reason I oil paint. Once you understand all the aspects at play, it opens up the realization of how much more there is to learn, and how beautifully complicated it all is. Oil painting is incredibly chemistry based, and nuanced, and it takes a great deal of curiosity and passion to jump down that rabbit hole!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to make successful paintings, you have to make a lot of unsuccessful paintings. Each one you make is a building block to the next. There is no such thing as a waste of time if you make a bad piece. You’re simply learning how to make it better next time. In this post I’d like to show a few of my more successful older pieces, and go into some of the details surrounding where they come from. I’ve been told by quite a few people and artists that I trust at this point that I need to “settle down” and to stop jumping from style to style with each piece if I want to get picked up by a gallery already. While I would like that very much, I also really enjoy varying my style. I get comments however that my portfolio looks like it’s work from several different artists. Not everyone says this, and I have gotten feedback from a few people who say they can see the same hand in all, but it’s a less often made observation. I understand the need to remain recognizable, but after a month or more of creating an indirect painting, layering layer after layer of glazes, I need to paint thick and chunky with a palette knife and slop the paint onto the surface and take joy in the sheer act of painting! I love what I can achieve with the slow approach, but the active aspect of painting thick and the expression you can get with the paint strokes is SO GOOD.

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The Queen of Bones, 2006 Linda Wandt

 

I made the Queen of Bones in my painting II class. I fully admit it was a little too intense for people watching me make it. It’s the result of a bad relationship with a poet, a line from one of his poems about our bad relationship (“Heart of Sticks, Heart of Stones, No One Owns the Queen of Bones”) and a trip to the MET in NYC where I saw a collection of African Funerary Masks on display. While it shows off my lack of planning and technical skill at the time, it still holds up to me, a decade later, as a strong piece. It’s about death and change, and it’s incredibly personal. It’s glazed with damar varnish around the borders, which means it would be difficult to clean up if I had ever wanted to do so. The writing at the top and bottom is vine charcoal – under the damar. Look, it’s a mess. I’m proud of it, but I didn’t understand the materials yet. We learn best from mistakes though. If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t trying new things. A quick word on Damar Resin – while it’s a very traditional ingredient, I personally believe it is no longer needed in painting. Since it’s a true resin, it will yellow with time. I’d need actual turpentine to remove it from the piece, and that stuff is awful.

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Gemini, 2006 Linda Wandt

This is the last painting I made in school. I created a collage from images I cut up from Art in America magazines and I liked it enough to create a painting off of it. Each element is a different painting, I added in the background, mirrored the figure and tied the two figures together by extending the feathers into a bridge connecting the two figures. I became very intrigued by metaphysics for a while, before realizing what a giant waste of time it had become. It’s important to question both reality and our place in it, but only up to a certain point, when it becomes more important to stop sitting around pondering questions that might not have answers and go do something with yourself. I am a firm believer in positive existentialism – it is up to each individual to create their own meaning. I find comfort in the knowledge that I am a speck of dust in the universe and that I am empowered to create my place in it, for whatever that is worth. I am a somewhat indecisive individual at times as well, so I am fascinated by duality and the choices we make when creating ourselves. The theme of “versus” pops up in the paintings a lot. Gemini, the twins, represent two halves of the same whole. They are two sides to the same entity.  I’ve been asked about the little figure of the man in the yellow shirt. Does it ruin anything to admit I left him there because I think it’s humorous? He’s quite out of place, but so is everything else, so it felt fitting to leave him when all I had really wanted was the splash of yellow to make up the shirt.

Linda Wandt
My Sister Subconscious, 2010 Linda Wandt

 

This piece is called “My Sister Subconscious” and it was made in 2010. I sold it during a music festival I had a table set up at in downtown Austin. A man came over to my table where I was selling $10 prints and asked me how much the painting cost. It would be really bad form for me to admit how little I sold this piece for, in hindsight, but it was during a short period of unemployment and this sale ensured I would have electricity for another month, which was wonderful. It was a wonderful thing indeed. He whipped out his wallet, handed me cash, and asked me to mail it to him in Houston. I was speechless, and elated, and it felt like a lot of money at the time. This painting represents the conscious mind, which is blind, and the subconscious seeing eye. It is also about duality, and there is also a bridge present, the strange shape separating the two faces. I’m interested in the spark that exists between our minds and our physical bodies, but I can never delve any deeper into that mystery of consciousness then I can explore with these images.