Varnish and OMS, and why I dislike dammar

I recently posted a video of pouring varnish out onto a painting on IG and I used the hash tags #gamvar and #varnishporn. Varnish day is the best! You get to watch the dried and often dulled colors refresh and pop back to life, as pigmented as the day you applied the color. Umbers especially dull out, as it absorbs the oil faster then some other pigments. Varnishing for me, holds a similar kind of magic that working in a dark room produces – the same joy of experience of watching a latent image appear on the paper. This naturally lead me down the rabbit hole of watching varnish application after varnish application from painters all around the world. I watched an entire slew of videos and what I saw inspired me to write this post.

I’m not trying to be a commercial for Gamvar but after trying multiple products, it’s the one I like the most. It doesn’t reek, so it doesn’t get me high, it doesn’t have dammar in it, and it’s therefore removable with OMS (odorless mineral spirits, a petroleum distillate*) instead of actual turpentine (a product of pine trees, like it’s dammar counterpart, from Asian Dipterocarpaceae trees). Dammar replaced mastic as the the favored varnish in the 19th century, or perhaps in the 20th century thanks to an artist suppliers marketing. I don’t feel it is the most appropriate varnish now that newer ones have been synthesized. I was informed to use damar back in college, and to mix mediums from it as well, only in 2006, but now I refuse to touch the stuff.

Dammar is a pale yellow resin, obtained from trees. As a genuine resin, in accordance with its properties, it will yellow with age, and real turpentine is the stuff strong enough to dissolve it. It’s functioned fine for a very long time as a varnish for artists paintings, but is why after a long period of time, paintings need to be stripped of the blackened varnish, then cleaned and the varnish replaced. My problem with this, despite not having 50 years of information about products like Gamvar, is that we know factually that dammar gum yellows and that the harsher solvent of turpentine is needed to remove it at all.

I use OMS in my studio and am sensitive to turpentine. Recalling my experiences working in darkrooms with photography chemicals, I knew the day in the darkroom was over after about 6 hours, because my gums would start to go numb from exposure. Turpentine produces the same effect, a tingling in my gums, after about 5 minutes of exposure. I’m not overly concerned with studio safety, to be honest. I think most people do not understand the materials, and think they are much more dangerous then they really are. ** Although I paint without gloves and use paints that contain heavy metals and lead, I put my foot down when it comes to turpentine. I don’t want to use it or be around it.

I support varnishing any oil painting. It evens out the sheen, and protects it from say, an exploding can of spray paint nearby. It’s how I learned to always varnish, occurring in the home of the first painting I ever sold. The painting was ruined, and they were too horrified to tell me about it for a really long time. Here’s some thoughts on why to varnish, straight from a treasure trove of technical information, Gamblin.

I don’t work for them. I just like what they do enough to use a brand name, it’s possibly the only time I will ever do so on this blog, and specifically for varnish. Dammar based varnishes tend to bubble and I can’t stand being forced to brush bubbles out, my face right in those nasty fumes! So, what about those videos I watched inspired this lengthy post of technically inclined ranting, you may wonder? People using synthetic brushes, people pouring waaayyy too much varnish, and people using a product against the manufacturer’s instruction. I’ve also had several painters question my love for the product because they had, or heard of someone else, have an experience with “beading up”. Everything you need to know is out there! Varnish should not be a thick layer, and natural bristles will brush it down to a thinner layer then a synthetic brush. Really, the goal is to scrub a thin layer down. The longer you brush it, the less shiny it will be, and you have a whole 15 minute window before it starts to tack! What’s not to love??

I use the gloss varnish because I want my colors to remain. I don’t wish to matte them down with wax in the varnish. At first I fell for the intrigue of less shine, sure, I think most of us do when we start out. Wax is the substance that brings down the shine, it cuts down on light reflected from the surface. Why would I want to matte down my colors, put wax between the eye and the paint? What’s not to love about the slick allure of wet seeming oil paint?

Finally, also, allow me to please beg you to not varnish your paintings with alkyd resin, an alarming trend that’s happening right now. By definition, a varnish is a removable layer. Products like liquin and galkyd (okay, this is the second and last time I drop names) are not appropriate final coats. Both manufactures state the products are not for such use. They are fine to oil out with if you are putting more paint down, but a final coat needs to be removable in case, you know, spray paint happens. Or fire/smoke damage, or any number of things.

*OMS is a safer option then turpentine, but not it is not SAFE it is SAFER. Just because you can’t smell the fumes as strongly does not mean they are not there – you should expose yourself to as little as possible, meaning use a smaller container, close it when you don’t need it, (say during breaks) and work in a ventilated space, or at least a space with air flow. The fumes from OMS might not be as damaging as turpentine, which shrinks your internal organs over years, but don’t think it’s “good” for you either. And for goodness sake, please NEVER EVER dump OMS down the drain. That goes into our drinking water and environment. To properly dispose of it, you let it evaporate slowly while using it. When using OMS, you have two jars. Once the jar you use while working is really dirty, you pour it into a second jar and let it sit until the paint sediment settles into the bottom. You’ll be left with clean OMS on top. Pour that back into the jar you use while working. Repeat, and you’ll never have to technically dispose of it. Should you ever need to dispose of it, take it to your municipals hazardous household materials disposal site.

** I hear a lot of other painters worry about their paints being “toxic”. Oils are not toxic, it’s a really overused word! When working with OMS, cadmium, lead or cobalt, cover any open cuts on your hands or wear gloves if you have open wounds. If your skin is fine and unbroken, it’s not a big deal if the paint or some OMS sits on your skin for a bit. Be sure to wash your hands at regular intervals, don’t ingest the paint while smoking or eating, and you’ll be just fine. If you have small children or pets in your studio, then perhaps it’s best to not use them, but it’s also not needed to stare at me like I have two heads just because I love lead based white paint. It makes for the most lovely, not chalky, skin tones, and dries faster then titanium white when working in layers. I’m not eating it, it’s all fine!

Please, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or stories to share, or if you want to chat about any of these topics!

Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

It’s been 4 years since I’ve completed one, but the Crayola bug has bit me once again! I recently was fortunate enough to be able to make it over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to see the van Gogh exhibit there – it was wonderful, and really, really packed for a Tuesday. I shudder to think what it was like to visit it on a weekend. There were several pieces I’d never seen before and some sketches as well. Seeing these paintings in person is sort of like hitting a ‘reset’ button for me. The daily monotony of working and then painting is pretty tiring sometimes, and seeing others’ art refreshes the well! It’s ecstasy to drink in these pieces in person! The MFAH has an incredible permanent collection as well, and it’s always a treat to visit with some of my favorite paintings in that collection. Last time I was there I was taken in by Georges Daniel de Monfreid’s self portrait, and it was so lovely to be able to visit it again. Another piece that captured me on this visit was František Kupka’s “The Yellow Scale”.

The first is my photo at the museum. In the second, sadly, much of the pinks are washed out.

Sometimes you see a piece of art that simply floors you, that sucks the air right out of your lungs and everything else in the room ceases to exist. You make a beeline for it, as if magnetized. This painting did that to me. Kupka eventually went on to make abstracts, and this self portrait makes me a little sad about that, even though it makes sense as he was primarily interested in color theory. This study of yellow is a commanding portrait. An artist friend of mine said “The sheer arrogance of it almost knocks you over.” It’s well said. You can’t help but to wonder as to what this artist was like in person and what he was thinking as he posed for himself for this piece. It strikes at the heart of what is so compelling about self portraiture – how intimate the self portrait is. While I believe that in its way, every piece of art made is a self portrait of the artist, literal self portraits are brazen and boldly open, honest and revealing. They are exciting and fearless, as personal and daring as an artist can get. To make one and then to share it, to remain in the world past your years as a picture on a wall for countless strangers to connect with you is a compelling act. This painting in particular, with Kupka presenting himself in his robe, holding out his cigarette, staring at you as if to dare you to look at him – this is pure gold, pure connection, an intimate stare into the human condition. He challenges you to accept or deny him, to really see him if you are willing to look. This is why when I copy master paintings, an invaluable tool for learning from those before you, I prefer them to be self portraits. I prefer to spend time with the artist, this allows me to converse with them in a more personal manner, going deeper then their composition, color choices and brushstrokes.

Georges Daniel de Monfreid “Self Portrait” 1905 and Henri Mattise “Self Portrait in a Striped T-Shirt” 1906 (See my earlier post “Painting at the start of the 20th Century” for more on that topic.)

My choice to do the majority of my master copies with crayon is also a deeply personal choice. It’s a challenging medium, an unforgiving medium. It’s hard on my hands, too. Every single one I have done harbors mistakes that can not be covered or hidden from view. They do not aim to create a copy that is indistinguishable – they celebrate their mistakes and differences. I enjoy the challenge of translating the medium, even when thick impasto brushwork must be sacrificed. Color correctness must also be sacrificed, the range of crayola colors is limited and requires extra thought into layering to achieve something that’s sort of similar. I could buy a wide range of fancy, adult artist crayons, ones with more pigment and colors with familiar names, but there is something soothing and reminiscent of the pureness of drawing as a child that I enjoy, the olfaction is a large part of it. The act of drawing with crayons keeps alive that sheer joy of just sitting and exploring with waxy color. Applying the drawing skills I have as an adult to the medium of early childhood is something deeply satisfying, it feels like coming full circle as a celebration.

My aim, over time, is to complete a series of 20 self portrait master copy drawings. On my list for the next drawings are Ludwig Meidner (second attempt), Gwen John, van Gogh (of course), and if I’m feeling extra fancy, Kahlo and Lucien Freud.

Wood vs Muscle

Wood vs Muscle

I posted before about one of my favorite pieces suffering an impact crack and how it broke my heart. I decided to paint the same image again, on a sturdy Ampersand panel, with a lovey 2 inch cradle that I stained cherry red. I’ll go ahead and say this was a really good choice on my part. The second piece turned out so much better then the first. I was able to apply all the new things I’ve learned in the 4 year span since making the original, and on a rigid substrate. Phew!

wood v muscle '16_web
Wood vs Muscle, 24 x 24”, 2016

I had mixed feelings about repainting a piece, it felt kind of strange, but the experience really was so different from the first time because I was so much more proficient in craft this time. The first painting was a plodding struggle spanning months. The second version was still a struggle, sure, but I had so many more tools at my disposal – a better eye and more experience. I also got to fix a couple of issues that really bugged me about the first painting.


I’m still working this formula – first layer verdaccio, second layer to refine. Then glazing flesh tones, but I admit some areas get too opaque, I’m still struggling with adding too much color over the shadows, where the paint is supposed to remain the thinnest to show the underpainting. My understanding is that the midtones are where the shadows blend into upper layers.

If you’ve been following along on this journey of self taught glazing, you might see that each time I attempt a piece like this they get closer and closer to what I’m aiming for. I’m not there yet, and I waffle between thinking this knowledge is finite or limitless. I’m slowing down though, a recent break of painting a landscape during sunset was a refreshing change of pace that I wish to repeat! It was so freeing and loose after these years of tightly controlled detail painting. As to whether or not I’m changing my subject matter, well, that’s what series are for, right?


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!

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!




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.

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!