Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Painting Best Practices" Art Materials Workshop

I recently had the opportunity to attend Natural Pigment's "Painting Best Practices" workshop held at Anthony Ryder's studio in Santa Fe, NM.  It was an experience I won't soon forget!  I am still contemplating all the wonderful information that was shared in the three day class.  Everything concerning artist's materials was explained and broken down to it's smallest parts, and by that I mean down to the molecular level.  It was fascinating to learn how every part of the art making process has a direct affect on all the other parts.  From framing, supports, grounds, oil paint, mediums, varnishes, solvents, etc; every individual part's pros and cons were discussed based on the scientific research being done by George O'Hanlon and art conservationists in major museums.  George (founder and president of Natural Pigments) shared his vast experience and research in hopes to lead our blind ways into the light of KNOWLEDGE.  Many artists today are working in the dark when it comes to understanding their materials.  

I have been on a journey recently in my own art practice, making my own oil paint, mediums, and even creating handmade linseed oil in the tradition of the old masters.  What I've learned in the process has been fascinating.  Today many artist materials are mass produced with little or no information for professional artists.  In the 20th century we've seen the decline of many modern works of art, George O'Hanlon and art conservationists are madly working to educate artists on materials in hopes that future artworks may last through many generations without falling apart.

One of my favorite parts of the workshop was learning about how physical light plays a role in an artwork and the optics of paint films.  Light rays are either reflected, or upon entering the paint film are refracted, bent and scattered, then reflected or absorbed through the substrate--or a combination of all three.  This has an impact on how we view the paint itself, it's relative transparency and how glossy/matte the finish is. The refractive index of a paint pigment plays a role in how opaque or transparent it is.  Low refractive pigments, such as Ultramarine blue and lead white, are more transparent.  Titanium white has a high refractive index, light entering the titanium paint film bounces around more, is scattered, and the result is a paint that looks opaque.  Pigment particle size plays a large role in the paint film and how light plays upon the surface as well. 

Transparent and translucent passages in painting are what give the old masters works such a variety of textures and created a beautiful quality of paint. It also made it possible for them to optically extend the range of values in their painting.  A transparent shadow is much, much darker than the same color painted opaquely.  They were aware of the optics of paint films and were able to push the boundaries and limits of the value scale dramatically by incorporating low refractive paints in their oil paintings as well as bulking up their opaque passages.

Another way of creating transparent and translucent passages in a painting is by adding extenders that have a low refractive index, such as chalk or barite.  Also, choosing pigments with a larger particle size will increase transparency, as the physical light has less to bounce off of in the paint film.  The extremely fine particle size in modern tubed oil paints creates a more opaque quality and they are also extremely concentrated.  This is the opposite of the paint used before modern manufacturing made tubed paints possible.  Some paints of the past contained larger particles and were also mixed with extenders like calcite and different oils for different effects.  The painters of the past were much more knowledgeable about materials and were able to bend them to achieve amazing effects and also last hundreds of years.

Here is a great article about impasto technique of Rembrandt and his choice of paint, oils and extenders:  Rembrandt 
Listen to an interview with George O'Hanlon and learn his ten best painting practice tips HERE   

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Titanium vs Lead White

I spent some time recently experimenting with handmade white oil paint.  I thought I'd share a little comparison I made after mixing Chromium Oxide Green into three different whites, my handmade white, lead white, and titanium white.  Chromium Oxide Green is so easy to bend warm or cool so I thought it would be great to show just how warm lead is compared to the opaque cool of titanium.  

Lead white is very warm and somewhat translucent, it also dries very quickly.  Titanium white is ten times more opaque than lead, is cooling to color and slower to dry.  Titanium results in a chalky quality in painting that is not always desirable, compared to lead white. 

I've learned that combining calcite with lead white creates Ceruse or "lootwit" and was used by Rembrandt and Velazquez for translucent passages.  i also purchased some barite, after learning it is even more transparent than calcite and was used by the Old Masters with lead white as well, it was called Venice Ceruse, or Venetian white.
I decided I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to recreate the transparent quality of lead by mixing barite with titanium, resulting in a non toxic white that isn't cool and chalky.

The barite, titanium and my handmade SRO linseed oil created another ropey long paint.  To bulk it up I ended up adding a little bit of calcite as well, maybe 10% calcite.  The mixture was lovely!  So, would it be somewhat similar to lead?  I know my mixture will dry faster than commercially tubed titanium because of my handmade linseed oil.  Next was to mix with green and compare.  I was very pleased to see that my handmade white, while still not as warm as the lead, was still closer in color/value.  I took several pics in different lighting to share.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Hand Refined Linseed Oil from Flax oil

American Goldfinch  11"x14"

I just completed my first successful batch of hand refined linseed oil out of organic, cold-pressed Flaxseed oil.  It is beautiful and I'm over the  moon excited to make some paint and test it out to learn it's unique properties.  

I also have half of my new oil thickening in the sun, I plan to use that bodied oil for my hand made calcite putty medium.  I've learned that combining calcite with lead white creates Ceruse or 'lootwit' and was used by Rembrandt and Velazquez for translucent passages.  I also purchased some barite, after learning it is even more transparent than calcite and was used by the Old Masters with lead white as well, it was called Venice Ceruse, or Venetian white. 

here is the good quality oil I purchased to cleanse and make into linseed oil:

I've combined the oil with water, salt and sand.  A chemical reaction takes place and the mucilage and impurities are separated from the flax oil, they settle into the sand on the bottom, the cleansed oil floats above the salt water layer:  ingenious!

After several mixes and changes in water/sand/salt I have the resulting oil, a bit cloudy from water particles still in the oil but cleansed of the mucilage, fatty acids (Omega 3s) and impurities that slow drying and yellow over time:

After setting in a glass tray in the sun for a few days to clear, we have the finished oil!  My own batch of hand refined SRO (salt refined organic) linseed oil will now have its own unique personality compared to the commercial hot pressed, alkali-refined linseed oils.  Commercial linseed is stripped of all the properties that create unique painterly effects.  This is due to the fact that they are refined in the same manner as vegetable oils are refined for consumption.  The qualities that are desirable in oil painting are stripped from the oil in the commercial process to create a long shelf life.  Hand refined SRO oil keeps all the good stuff and eliminates the impurites and mucilage, resulting in an oil that the older painters prized in their hand made materials. 

My oil will create long, adhesive paint as opposed to 'short and bouncy', it will not yellow and will dry much more quickly now and to a strong, hard film.  These are exactly the characteristics I'm looking for in my painting practice.  If I were to heat this fresh oil to 100C on my stove for an hour, the resulting oil would create paint that is short, bouncy and dense.  My other half (that is thickening in the sun at the moment) will also have unique tendencies and rheology in my paints and mediums.  I love learning all the different painting qualities I can create, and am in complete control over, by processing my own materials.

ta da!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Grinding Paint

Recently I've become very interested in making some of my own paints and trying out different materials.  Earlier this year I began by experimenting with Rublev's Velasquez medium, calcite in linseed oil, and adding it to dry pigment and making my own oil paint.  see Here
I also add the medium, which is a painting putty, to my purchased tubed paint to create a more luminous paint quality, calcite adds a nice translucency to opaque paint.  I was attracted to using an extender like Calcite after reading about it being a 'colorless' pigment and how it was used by the Old Masters before commercial paints and mediums were processed the way we find them today.  I really like working with just pigment in oil with a little added extender and that's it, it is nothing like working with commercial paints.  Calcite also creates a thixotropic affect and the paint is just luscious.  

Commercial paints contain:
1. pigment
2. brightener
3. filler
4. vehicle (oil)
5. thickener/pigment dispenser
6. driers

That's a lot of stuff!

I've also started researching oils, and how they are processed before becoming the bottled oils available for artists at the local art store.  Linseed oil is heavily processed and loses much of the properties that made it attractive to painters prior to the 20th century.  That is when commercial processing changed the oil into the yellowing, slow drying medium that it is today.  Refining oils reduces the impurities and fatty acids, but overly processed oil loses all the behaviors that contributed to the painterly effects of the masters.  By hand processing the oil, using methods of the past to wash the oils of impurities, you create a product that is non yellowing and faster drying, and also dries to a harder paint film.  There are methods for taking organic, cold pressed flax oil and hand washing it yourself, but I chose to buy this Linseed oil from The Art Treehouse, it begins as a cold pressed, unrefined Flax oil and is water washed using traditional methods.  

In the photo above you can see the start of my own putty medium using the water washed linseed oil and calcite.  It is amazing!  It is gelatinous, viscous, and smooths out completely after being agitated.  Watch my video to see the thixotropic behavior as it settles out after being mixed, it's completely solid when you let it sit for a bit, yet will pool and ribbon when stirred.  This also affects the paints rheology, which is the way a liquid flows.

putty medium

 Grinding pigment

 a full day's work

I really loved the quality of my last batch of homemade oil paints, I'm excited to try out this new batch with the water washed oil and also using my own putty medium.  

In the meantime, I'm enjoying this reading,  this little book contains writings by well known artists and reflections on painting from Fra Angelico, Da Vinci, Velasquez, to van Gogh, Robert Henri, Andrew Wyeth and beyond...  it is a great look into painting through the artist's eyes throughout history, very insightful.

My studio, Happy painting!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Grinding pigment and handmade oil paint

 "Perch on a Golden Pear"  14"14"  oil/panel

It's been quite a while since I last checked in, I'm sorry to neglect my blog.  Usually when things get quiet over here I am actually working harder than ever and need time to organize my thoughts before sharing my latest efforts in painting.  It's been a very busy time and all the while I've been researching new materials and testing different methods in oil painting.  I have also been working on many new paintings, I will share more and have news about my future solo show very soon!

As for trying new art materials, I recently decided to make my own oil paint.  In my never ending quest to learn about oil painting, I began to learn more about mediums, oils, fillers and extenders and how each work in conjunction with one another to produce certain qualities in oil paint that would not be present otherwise.  There are so many combinations for so many different techniques, it can get a little overwhelming to figure it all out.  I kept running across information about adding calcite as an extender to oil paint, it creates a beautiful thixotropic paint that is long and levels out nicely after the brushstroke.  It is also like a colorless pigment in that you can add it to your oil paint w/out harming the ratio of pigment to oil.  

I already had a plethora of dry pigments in my studio, from working with egg tempera.  I decided to grind my pigment with linseed and Velazquez medium from Natural Pigments.  The medium is calcite finely ground in a bodied linseed oil and it can be mixed directly with paint from the tube or used when grinding your own pigment as an extender.

 my warm light mixture

Grinding the pigments took a couple days to do, each tube took a while to mix to a creamy smooth consistency. It was completely worth the time and effort!  The paint is unlike any tube paint I've ever used before, thick but luscious and smooths out to a lovely finish under a soft brush.  This is exactly what I was hoping for in my painting.  Plus I can thin the paint with medium to use in glazing.  The calcite adds a bit of texture and transparency to the paint, which I also really like.  The added transparency is an added bonus in my layering technique for luminous color.   It's been fun getting to know the properties of the oil paint and applying it in my painting.