Anatomy of a painting part 2- Varnishing

By Armand Cabrera

The last piece of painting anatomy is varnishing your painting if it is painted in oils. No painting step creates more uncertainty and problems for oil painters then varnishing.  A varnish layer was added to paintings for protection from chemical reactions from air and sunlight  and also dust and soot from household smoke from candles, oil and gas lamps, wood and coal burning stoves and fireplaces. Another benefit to varnishing a painting was the varnish evened the painting out visually. Oil paintings have different pigments drying to different finishes of glossiness. Some were very flat and some shiny. Applying a varnish unified the painting surface and gave the colors a fresh wet look.

When varnishing, a thin uniform coat of varnish is preferable to a heavy coat. A heavy coat is actually less durable and more susceptible to decay and problems. The best application is spraying on varnish while the painting is laying flat and then once the varnish has set turning the painting towards a wall face down to prevent dust and other objects reaching the surface.

There are a number of picture varnishes on the market, but basically they break down into two camps matte and glossy varnish. The three most accepted materials for varnishes are Damar, Mastic and Acrylic; two of them, Damar and mastic are made from trees the third is an acrylic solution, methacrylate, a polymer that has been used by museum conservators since the 1930’s as a final varnish.  Damar and its acrylic substitute have the best properties for picture varnish. Varnishes have other compounds added to them to make them have a matte finish and there is no matte varnish recommended as a final varnish by conservators.

The question of when to varnish is a nightmare for painters. According to the material handbook a painting should be varnished sooner than too late. That is, after the oil in the pigment has dried. When using linseed oil, that is about two months’ time in a normal climate. The reason for this is oil paints begin adverse chemical reactions when exposed to air and sunlight. The sooner you seal them from these the better it is for the painting.  Another train of thought is to varnish as soon as the painting is dry to the touch and let the varnish age with the painting. This works better if you are using an acrylic varnish which will retain a more flexible structure over time.

My best advice is to try some tests and see what kind of results you get. I usually varnish my oil paintings within the first couple of months and I use an acrylic varnish.

Please follow and like us:

How To Travel Light With Paints & Equipment

by Armand Cabrera

Traveling Light

Part I


If you can afford it, I recommend having a couple of different setups to paint with. I like to paint from 4”x6” up to 36”x48” outdoors. There is no single system that is the perfect easel or Pochade box and that is why I have different equipment for traveling as light as possible. The recent popularity of outdoor painting has made buying equipment more affordable. Whatever your preferred medium—whether it is watercolor, pastels or oil painting—there are great solutions for your outdoor painting needs.
There are many fine Pochade systems on the market  to fit your budget.

Painting getaways are a great way to renew the spark of creativity. When I travel to a painting spot for a week to ten days, I streamline my painting setup. Flying can be hard on painters with all the restrictions.
I often ship my supplies and equipment ahead of me.
I prefer FedEx.  They are very reliable.

As an oil painter carrying solvents on a plane are out of the question. With the new security regulations paints are no longer allowed as part of your carry-on items. For checked luggage I switch to water based oils or watercolors for the trip. A collapsible brush holder works great for cleaning brushes.

I limit the size of my sketches to 12 x 16 or smaller. I cut a number of pieces of oil primed linen to size and only bring one board to clip or tape my paintings to saving on weight and space.

I place the blank panel in the Pochade box

My collapsible brush holder slides under the panel in my Pochade box.

I roll up my linen and place it in a clear mailing tube.
When paintings are finished and dry I roll them up and replace them in the tube.

All my brushes, clips and paints go into the tube also.
I do this to make it easy for inspection at the airport.

The mailing tube and Pochade go into a high impact plastic briefcase. A pistol case is perfect for this. You can buy thin rolls of foam rubber to line the inside with to cushion the equipment.


Below are the vendors I used to purchase the equipment for this article.

Water soluble oil paints

Water soluble oil paints are manufactured by the following companies:
Windsor Newton Artisan     
Holbein Duo

Holbein also makes the collapsible brushwasher


Golden Acrylics makes a line of slow drying acrylics called Open.
They are not quite the same as oils but might be a solution for some people.

Paints and Solvent

Paint, turpentine and other art supplies including the collapsible brushwasher can be purchased from an art store.

Stores offering art supplies nationally are:

Cheap Joes

Daniel Smith 1-800-426-7923

Jack Richeson
(800) 233-2404

Utretcht 1-800-223-9132

Art Supply Warehouse

I use Gamblin Oils and  Gamsol Odorless turpentine by Gamblin when I am painting with regular oil paints.

I buy my linen panels and panel blanks from SourceTek.  JoAnne will be happy to help you.

Pochade boxes

Pochade boxes come in many sizes and configurations.
These vendors make quality products.
Talk to them first to see if they will satisfy your specific painting needs and budget.

Open Box M

Artwork Essentials

Wet panel carriers

Wet panel carriers are as varied as Pochade boxes
The Pochade vendors and Sourcetek also offer wet panel carriers as part of their product line.
The lightweight panel carrier is made by Raymar

Extreme weather gear and clothing, backpacks and pistol cases can be purchased from a local sporting goods store or from an online store like Cabela’s

The plastic totes are available from stores like Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Orchard Supply Hardware. The 35 gallon tote I purchased cost about 8 dollars.

Please follow and like us:

Making Linen Panels For Outdoor Painting


Armand Cabrera

I’ve been asked by some readers of this blog to show how I go about making my panels for painting. It is a fairly simple process but I will explain it step by step for those of you who are interested in making your own.

I do buy my birch panels from SourceTek. I find them to be the best panels on the market and I have never had a problem with ordering like I have with some other companies that make similar products. I also buy my glue for the panels from SourceTek, it is a non-shrinking glue called Miracle Muck. I buy it by the gallon, which will make more than a hundred panels for me.

I start by laying out a roll of linen, in this case Claessens 820 from Utrecht. I place the panels out, spacing them with enough room to leave an edge of about a quarter inch larger than the wood.

Using a pencil, I draw a line as a guide for cutting the linen with my utility knife.

Since I’m making these on my studio floor I slide a cutting mat under each panel before cutting the linen.

I cut out all the panels I’m going to make that day and stack them for gluing.

Next I pore out some glue on a panel being careful not to use too much.

With my putty knife I spread the glue evenly across the boards surface and if I do have too much I scrape it on to the next panel so I don’t waste it.

I use an ink brayer and starting from the center roll all the air pockets out from under the surface of the linen.

When I am sure the linen is completely flattened out I flip it over and place some weights on it to dry.

Once the glue has dried overnight, I trim the edge of the board and the panel is ready.

Please follow and like us:

SourceTek Products

Armand Cabrera

From time to time I get questions about the type of materials I use and where to buy them. For my panel supplies I use SourceTek. It is a small company in Scottsdale Arizona that handcrafts their panels from the highest quality materials. JoAnne and Will Pierce are the owners of SourceTek and they are dedicated to excellent customer care and service.

SourceTek panels are the best panels on the market. I’ve been using them for almost ten years now. I just wanted to bring some of their new products to your attention. They have expanded their panels to include archival hardboard and a less expensive Academic Line that offers the same handcrafted professional quality of the other lines. The Premium line oil primed linen panels are made with Claessens linens. They also use Claessens acrylic cotton canvas for their Universal Line and the Academic line uses a medium weight polyflax canvas.

SourceTek offers three different substrates, Baltic birch, gatorboard foam and archival hardboard. These substrates are available with or without canvas and linen. They now offer more than 350 different panels.

Other products include the Silver Brush Grand Prix line of paint brushes and Holbein and the Che Son Painting Knives. Che Son knives are manufactured in Italy.

SourceTek has always been about providing artists with solutions for their painting needs. For years they have consistently maintained their quality when everyone else is cutting corners. If you are in the market for quality artist supplies and panels I recommend you give SourceTek products a try.



General Information:


(480) 483-6883, Arizona and Canada
(800) 587-5462, Toll-Free Within the United States
011-480-483-6883, International

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 14765
Scottsdale, AZ 85267-4765

Please follow and like us:

Studio Lighting

Armand Cabrera

Quite a few artists have asked me to write about studio lighting. This is an area that is like the Mac vs. PC debates. I will offer the information I have and also my opinion about what I feel is important. After that—you’re on your own!

If you don’t have a studio with north light, you need artificial lighting. Period. You can’t properly paint your canvas without accurate light.

Remember—the light you use in the studio is not the light the painting will ultimately be viewed in. Your gallery, an exhibition space and any potential buyer will have a unique set of lighting conditions. Your painting is going to look different in all those situations.

You should have light that isn’t too cool or too warm so you can accurately judge color. Otherwise, you’ll be mixing orange when you think you are mixing green. As a painter, I have used incandescent, fluorescent and halogen lights. Let me break down the various lights without getting too technical.

Incandescent Bulbs
The worst solution for your paintings because the light is so warm you will actually paint things cooler than you want.

Full Spectrum Halogen Bulbs
These lights can be a great solution as long as you paint small. The problem is area coverage. They don’t emit a very large covering surface, so you have a spot effect. The light around the spot drops off quickly, giving you an uneven illuminated surface. They also emit a lot of heat, so just adding lots of bulbs for an area isn’t a solution. Not all halogens are the same and again check the temperature of the light they emit. Solux bulbs are the best halogens on the market, but they are expensive compared to lifespan/ cost ratio of fluorescent bulbs.

Full Spectrum Fluorescent Bulbs
These bulbs are probably the next best thing indoors to north light for most artists. They are relatively cheap and efficient and have good but not great color indexes. They tend to spike in the blue green range of the spectrum and drop off too dramatically in the red violet range so do your homework.

Some terms you will run into when looking for lights

K: stands for Kelvin, which for our purposes is referring to color temperature
CRI: Color Rendering Index
CCT: Correlated Color Temperature
CIE: Comission Internationale de l’Eclairage (International Commission on Illumination) They designed #51-A which is a “Method for Assessing the Qualityof Daylight Simulators for Colorimetry “

You will see a lot of back and forth discussion in forums about K, CRI, CCT and the CIE ratings.

Get a bulb that has the highest ratings you can find;
Generally 91 CRI or above is good
CCT range between 5000K and 6500K is usually considered acceptable although this is a matter of personal preference
CIE is the quality grade rating of the light, a CIE #51 determined rating for A or B is what you want. They go down to E with A being the best and E the worst.

Some other things to consider:
Carpet and wall colors affect the light on your canvas. Even the housing the lights are in will affect the light. Stick to neutral colors for your walls and floor. Gray with a reflectivity of no more than 60% is best.

Consider other aspects for your situation like unit cost, energy efficiency and bulb life. I always buy the best I can afford and make do until I’m in a position to upgrade.
When looking at ratings, remember picking your bulbs based on any one rating will not give you as good of an outcome as looking for a combination of higher ratings for the type of bulb you choose.

Chromaticity, color temperature and the quality grade, as determined with CIE 51, is a much better procedure for finding a light close to daylight.

Please follow and like us: