I have written about sir Alfred Munnings before. If you are not familiar with this very talented artist I hope you will take the time to read my previous post here.
The National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg Virginia is hosting an exhibition The Open-Air Works of Alfred Munnings. Over 50 Painting are on display April 21 -August 1 2013, it is free to the public and the show is accompanied by a 136 page softcover catalog. If you are in driving distance of this show it is not to be missed. This is one of the largest displays of the artists work this side of the Atlantic.
I have not always painted in oils. I originally started painting in acrylics at fifteen. Later when I was hired for my first job in the entertainment industry as a background artist, I continued to paint with acrylics. It wasn’t until I decided to make the jump to gallery painting that I switched over to oils and before I did I researched the proper use for oil paint and read up on materials and techniques. I talked to a conservator and asked about proper technique to ensure long life for my paintings. We talked about what to paint on and about sizing and grounds and pigment layers.
Basically the paintings that have the best chance of survival are ones that follow certain rules to insure anatomical strength for the physical painting. Paintings on hard surfaces have less chance of cracking than paintings on stretched surfaces. if you don’t use linen or cotton the surface must be prepared with a ground to hold the paint. If the surface is wood it must be completely dried to prevent warping and flexing as it dries. Kiln dried wood is best for painting. Gesso and oil prime are what most people use as a ground today. If painting on linen or cotton the fabric must first be sized or sealed to prevent rotting or allowing moisture to invade the layers of pigment. Animal glue was the preferred size for years but that has now given way to polymer sizes made with PVA.
Traditional gesso was made with glue and mixed with chalk or gypsum. Modern gesso is acrylic paint, usually titanium white and calcium carbonate with preservatives like ammonia and formaldehyde added as a preservative,
Oil prime was originally lead carbonate pigment mixed with turpentine this has been replaced with titanium white for safety reasons. Lead white is more expensive and carcinogenic than other whites and has fallen out of use as a commercial ground and as a paint for application although it can still be purchased.
After the ground applying the pigments should follow the fat over lean rule where layers of applied paint contain more oil in the later stages. Thinning your paint with medium or solvents breaks down the paint and makes it more prone to flaking and cracking. I was told the impressionist paintings were the easiest to preserve because the paintings were layered very simply. They usually contain a size and ground for the canvas and then pigments were applied and then a varnish was added. I have followed this advice for my career using oils and I have not run into any problems of permanence.
This is a different approach than more academic paintings which could have layers upon layers of pigments and glazes with different types of mediums and extenders to retard or quicken drying times for the paint. This latter type of painting has a greater chance of problems for permanence s as the painting ages. Extra care must be taken to insure the stages are preserved correctly when drying so the pigment doesn’t delaminate or crack over time. This includes using liquin which has become a popular commercial medium and homemade mediums of various mixtures and consistencies.
A trip to the museum will show the veracity of this advice. Paintings on stretched surfaces and paintings that have many layers of pigment and glazes show a tendency to crack and come apart even in as few as fifty years. This is especially true of the modern art movement where some painters introduced fugitive substance into their work that destroyed the integrity of the pieces and created a nightmare for restorers. Other paintings like some orthodox Russian Icon paintings on oak panels or copper look as fresh as the day they were painted.
The artists Handbook of Materials and Techniques (fifth edition)
Even though I continue to paint traditionally I like using digital painting tools like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Sketchpad, Artrage, Corel Painter, and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. All of them have their benefits and problems. These sketches are made with Photoshop using a regular round brush shape. I set a time limit and draw everything freehand from life. Its a good way to practice observational skills as well as honing my tablet skills. I use a Wacom Intuos.
More and more I use digital for my preliminary work even for my landscape paintings because of ease of use and the ability to keep multiple versions and ideas until I decide to paint traditionally. Digital software is just another tool to use as an artist and I think in its proper role can be quite beneficial to an artist and their creative output.
Most people I know who paint traditionally have abandoned traditional slides and print film and use digital cameras. They also use large monitors for photo ref instead of printing everything like the old days.
Paint software and hardware are no different.
An artist’s palette is their life’s blood. In some ways your palette defines your style more than your mark making does. The perfect palette has been searched for since artists started applying pigments to cave walls.
I think an artist’s palette should be organic and morph as our artistic tastes change. It should also reflect what we believe about painting. Whatever palette you choose as an artist it will serve you better if you make conscious decisions about the pigments you include.
When I started painting I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I was given a set of acrylics for my birthday. I never questioned the pigment choices in the set and just began painting immediately. This type of palette is most artists’ first introduction to painting and I call it a stage one palette. A palette is chosen for you by someone who is hopefully more knowledgeable about painting than you are. All of the pigments are there because someone told you to put them there and it doesn’t really matter who that person was. Many people stay in this stage for years never questioning their palette.
A stage two palette is an augmented stage one palette. It usually occurs when an artist’s ability catches up to their philosophy and they start to question their art to improve it. One of the ways we improve is by changing things up and the palette is a prime target for change. You start to see colors and values in other peoples work that you don’t see in your own. This usually leads to an inclusion of more colors to the palette, and more influences from videos, books and workshops and other artists as you expand your abilities with other pigments.
The final stage for an artist is a personal palette. A personal palette isn’t static and unchanging but it is self-directed. The artist through study and practice decides to include every pigment on their palette. The palette allows them to express themselves to their full potential as an artist. The palette may be limited to just a few colors or not, but all the colors are there for reasons the artist has decided upon, not anyone else.
My palette comes from years of exploring stage one palettes. I use a piece of glass
on my studio table. My palette is a prismatic palette consisting eight pigments
which are: Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Permanent, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Yellow Pale, and Titanium White. I not only use this palette for landscapes but also still life and figure painting. By removing earth colors and pure black I am forced to mix my grays which give me the opportunity to find more vibrant color choices than pure neutrals allow.