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Monday, July 25, 2016

Painting tips

Painting tips--good, bad, and downright ugly.
In some ways this may seem to be a rather foolish topic in that there's no way, even as an experienced painter in three different media, that I can adequately impart all the little tricks and tidbits having to do with painting in any format short of a ten pound book (that's pounds as in weight, not pounds sterling). In lieu of that, I will be posting additional items in this vein over the course of the next few weeks, months, and (who knows?) perhaps years. For simplicity, I have broken these tips down according to the three basic painting media--oils, acrylics, and watercolor (I, for one, don't consider pastels a painting medium). Some (perhaps several) of these tips are applicable to more than one, even all three, types of paints. Some tips involve mitigating common artists' frustrations such as recalcitrant paint tube lids. Others are so basic, experienced painters in that medium should merely glance at them and move on. Others get downright technical yet are, at best, just "teasers" aimed at eliciting curiosity and further investigation by artists interested in cross-media exploration.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Anybody Home?, 1980, Jim Lane. Here the underpainting was
a blue-gray while the windows were left white to be glaze in
using warmer tones.
When I start a new painting, I sometimes begin by painting it with acrylics, (above) which, of course, dries quickly (usually some light tint to tone the canvas or suggest different areas such as sky and water). Sometimes its merely a coat of transparent matte medium which seems to hold pencil graphite better than primed canvas. If there's a lot of detailed drawing involved, I follow that with a second coat of matte medium to "lock down" the drawing, being careful not to smear the pencil lines. Then I fill it out using oil paints, particularly for light and shadow, and glazing.
Glazing in oils by Will Kemp.
Speaking of glazing, try it sometime. First use a light-colored or white ground, which helps reflect light, rather than a dark one, which absorbs light. A glaze is basically a thin, transparent layer of paint used in building up colors one of top of another. Each layer subtly changes the color of what’s already been painted on the canvas. Thus the color is mixed optically giving a deep, rich effect. How many layers you apply depends on the results you’re after and comes with practice. A glaze works best when each color is made from only one pigment, not a mixture of two or more. The more pigments or colors you use, the sooner you’ll end up with a brownish or grayish color (better known as "mud").
Transparent oil colors
ideal for glazing.
Glazing is all about putting down thin layers of paint, so the paint should be fluid so that you can brush it on evenly. Glazing med-iums are available for both oil and acrylic paints. Oil painters com-monly us a 50:50 mix of tur-pentine and oil. Some oil painting mediums (such as Liquin) will help speed up the drying time of oil paint. If you try glazing and don’t get good results, be sure you’re not glazing over a layer of paint that hasn’t completely dried. Also check whether you are using transparent, single-pigment hues. Start with a blue and a yellow, glazing to make various shades of green. By the way, if you’re a painter who needs instant grati-fication, forget about glazing.
If you try to apply a glaze over oils that are not quite dry to the touch, the layers will tend to mix together. Glazing takes time and patience. How soon an oil glaze will dry depends on the climate you live in and your studio humidity. The paint must not be sticky. I sometimes work on several paintings at a time so I can move from one to another while you waiting for a glaze to dry. When the painting is finished, apply one final glaze over the whole painting so as to unify all the parts of the painting.

A visual painting tip.
One final tip in using oil paints--you don't have to put the cap back on straight away. In fact, you can even jettison the damned cap in you like. When you're done painting for the day, light a candle and create a pool of melted wax. Dip the end of the paint tube into it. This forms a seal which is easy to peel off when you are ready to use the paint again. It has the added advantage of reducing profanities in case children are around.

If this looks a little too neat as compared to your palette, you might
want to spray paint a pizza pan, storing it in a garbage bag.
To remove dried acrylic paint from a palette, soak it in fabric softener. The stuff works like magic on stiff paint brushes too. If you wish to keep acrylics from drying on your palette, try reinventing your palette. I found that a six to ten-inch, round, ceramic, dinner plate works well. By placing colors around the edge there leaves a small space in the center in which to blend (above). Then, when finished for the day, place a wet sponge cut to fit the space. Store the plate/palette in a gallon-sized plastic food storage bag with a sliding closer. The paints will stay moist and ready to use the next time. Removing dried paint is just a matter of spraying the plate with window cleaner, allowing it to set for a few minutes, then wiping it clean with paper towel. Do not try this with a plastic plate, which tends to bind with the acrylics.
A sample only. Ideally, the artist should use
two glazes, one yellow, the second blue.
Glazing is not just an oil painting technique. However, when it comes to thinning acrylics, guidelines vary. Acrylics (above) are water-soluble when wet, so water can be used to thin colors. some sources say not to mix acrylic paint with more than 50% water as more than this amount of water may cause the polymer in the acrylic paint to break down and lose its adhesive qualities. This results in peeling or flaking or a lifting of the paint when you paint subsequent layers. Many paint manufacturers suggest that you use no more than 30% water in combination with acrylic paints when painting on a non-absorbent surface such as a primed canvas (they sell more paint that way). When painting on an absorbent surface you can use an unlimited amount of water because the fibers of the unprimed canvas, paper, or wood will hold the pigment and absorb any excess water. (This is sometimes called "staining.") Mixing acrylic paint with a high amount of water makes it more like a watercolor paint, giving it a matte finish. Unlike watercolor, since acrylic is not water-soluble when dry, glazing is much easier than with oils in that the layers of thinned color go on without disturbing the underlying layers.
With acrylics, it's all in how you "lay it on."
I've never been a great fan of acrylic painting mediums, but to change the viscosity of the paint dramatically while still retaining its chemical integrity, there are many different mediums available. Each gives a different effect, such as thinning, thickening, adding texture, glazing, or slowing the drying time. Unlike water, there is no limit to the amount of acrylic medium you can use in that they all have the same acrylic resin which acts as a 'glue' to make the paint adhere to a surface'. One manufacturer describes their mediums as "colorless paint." Let me add a note of caution here though. Some acrylic mediums are, in fact, additives. They do not have the same acrylic binders of paints and other mediums, so be sure to follow the directions on the container when mixing them with your paints. Retarding medium and flow improver are two such additives not containing acrylic binders. They often warn that using too much will simply cause paint not to dry.

Frisket masking allows the painting of the background first.
When using masking fluid (above), try diluting it with a little water before use so as to cause it to go on easier and rub off easier. Having said that, other experienced watercolor artists advise that a little heavier coverage of masking fluid makes it come off the paper more easily, with less damage. Who knows? Most of the time I've always used it straight from the jar. Also, lightly rubbing your brush over a bar of soap before using it for masking fluid makes it easier to clean.
Stunning eyes, pink-blue watercolor portrait--
drip, dribble, splash, and splatter on neutral white paper.
When buying watercolor paper, take its color into consideration just as you do its finish and weight. Traditional paper colors can range from a warm, rich cream to a cold, bluish white. A watercolor paper with a cream color can make your colors appear muddy. A paper with a blueish bias can give yellows a greenish appearance. Besides the tint of watercolor paper, there is also a difference between the two sides of each sheet. One side is usually slightly smoother than the other. The smoother side is better if you're dealing with a lot of detail, while the slightly coarser side is better if you're wanting to build up color by using use lots of glazes (often called "washes" in watercolor). As one might expect, a rough watercolor paper has the most surface texture (called tooth). It's sometimes referred to as having a pebbly surface, not unlike a pebble beach. On rough paper the paint from watery washes tends to collect in the indentations in the paper, creating a grainy effect when the paint dries. By the same token, if you whisk a dry brush lightly across the surfaces, you'll apply paint only to part of the paper, the tops of the ridges and not in the valley indentations. Rough paper is excellent for a loose, expressive style of painting.

Choose a paper which matches your style and watercolor technique.
To the opposite extreme, hot-pressed watercolor paper has a smooth surface with almost no tooth. This surface is idea for painting fine detail and watercolor washes. However, beginners sometimes struggle with the paint having a tendency to slide around on the smooth surface. On the other hand, cold-pressed watercolor paper is in between rough and hot-pressed paper, having a slightly textured surface. Cold-pressed is the most commonly used watercolor paper surface as it allows for a good amount of detail while also maintaining some degree of texture.
The above papers are white but the image has been
adjusted to better show the texture of each weight.
As if color and texture weren't enough to deal with in choosing a watercolor paper, the artist also has to deal with the paper's weight. The thickness of a sheet of watercolor paper is measured by its weight--the greater the weight, the thicker the sheet. In the U.S. paper weight is measured in pounds per ream. Elsewhere it's in grams per square meter (gsm). The standard weights of paper are 90-pound, 140-pound, 260-pound, and 300-pound. Thinner paper needs to be stretched on a stiff board using tape around the edges to prevent it from buckling or warping when painted upon. How thick the paper needs to be depends on how wet you tend to make the paper as you paint. Experiment with different weights, though you'll probably find that paper less than 260 pounds needs to be stretched. Not having to stretch it is not the only reason for using heavier paper. It'll also stand up to more abuse, and takes a greater number of washes. Watercolor paper is also sold in "blocks" where the edges are bound together as with a pad of paper only on all four edges. This means the paper doesn't have to be stretched to avoid buckling before you paint on it. You'll pay for this convenience though. A watercolor block usually costs more and the various sheets may vary in texture within the same block.

When each watercolor is dry, an opening in the binding allows
for the sheet to be cut from the block. I always used a butter knife.
And finally, many people believe that you can't fix mistakes in watercolor. That's not true. There are many different ways to fix errors if you really can't live with them. You can blot off watercolor with a damp tissue, sponge, or clean damp brush. In more recent years, many watercolorists have been delighted to find that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser allows them to change an area dramatically by applying another wash. In a worst-case scenario, if need be, you can even wash the whole painting off under running water. In that watercolor is water-soluble, it remains workable to some degree with just a little bit of water added to it even several years after it has dried.
Is all this necessary?


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