Paint Reviews

These articles were forwarded to me by the author of the website/blog.  This is an excellent resource and I think it can be useful for painters interested in knowing more about the different brands of acrylic and oil paints available.  These reviews are not entirely objective or in any way scientific but simply impressions and opinions of artists who have used these different brands.

It is a good idea to be aware that manufacturers work hard to compete in the different markets that they supply, so the quality of all the higher end products will be comparable.  That said, manufacturers will make paints that often have different characteristics and working properties that they think are ideal for their brand.  That is why it can be advantageous for artists to identify a brand, or brands, that suits them best.

It is also important to understand that all high quality paints from different companies can be inter mixed with each other.  The same is not true when mixing professional quality paints with lesser grade or student grade paints.  The later are not made with longevity in mind and will have unpredictable, and undesirable, results, and are therefore not recommended for permanent painting applications.

I use mostly Golden and Triart acrylics.  For oils, I use M. Graham, Schmincke, and a couple of other brands to a lesser degree.

Here is one of my acrylic paintings, and an oil painting, both similar compositions from the same area (top of Whistler mountain).  You can see if you can figure out which is which.

avant-ski 24x48 op oct 19 039


The Art of Business – its not about the art,…

Since I did my first presentation on ‘the art of business’ at an art symposium hosted by the Federation of Canadian Artists in Kelowna a few years ago, the requests to do more of them have continued to come in.  I am scheduled to do 4 of them this year, in Nanaimo, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Edmonton (events calendar).  In it I discuss some of the principles of achieving financial success in the art market, and also spend some time clearing up some of the myths on the topic that are so prevalent in our trade.  Here’s a teaser for one of the big ones – its not about the art!

I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was very young.  After high school I enrolled in a visual arts program at college, then went on to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Ottawa.  I was hoping to develop two main skills sets to help me in my career:  how to be a better painter, and; how to make a living as an artist – I learned neither.  Since most of the instructors in those programs have little or no experience in the art market, they were not in a position to provide value in that area.

For centuries artists learned their craft in the guild and Master/Apprentice studio settings.  Here, you would learn the craft of painting as a young apprentice and you would also be immersed in the commercial aspects of the trade as it was an everyday part of the experience and learning process.

16th cent dutch woodcut depicting the master/apprentice studio setting

16th cent dutch woodcut depicting the master/apprentice studio setting

But, like most successful artists these days, I am self-taught.  I learned my painting skills thru my own efforts and studies, and I figured out how to make a living in the trade the same way.

There are many different ways to sell your art, and more avenues and opportunities have become available with the internet.  Choosing a business model that works for you is an important consideration.


Being good at the business/marketing side of things is an entirely different skill set, its not complicated or difficult, but somehow very challenging for many artists to get a grip on.  The principles of the exchange of goods and services are easy to understand and have been in place since cave men were swapping wooden clubs and fur garments.  But it seems that it is often the psychological, emotional, philosophical hindrances that a lot of artists adhere to that are the stumbling blocks of many who fail to achieve their goals.  the first kamloops scene

The picture on the right is from my early days starting out as a full-time artist – its a newspaper photo with me standing in front of a city scene that I had painted for my first solo exhibition in Kamloops.  Notice the tall tree in the foreground, the homemade frame, and the lack of white hair,…

My advice is if you want to develop your painting skills and learn to sell your art, take workshops and get some mentoring from artists that you admire and respect.

Below is a picture of myself with 3 of my ‘colleagues’ in the biz:  That’s Rod Charlesworth on the left, who gave me some very good advice on the business stuff when I was starting out, Cameron Bird, and Mike Svob.  We were doing a painting demo in the alpine meadows of Whistler mountain earlier in the day.  This was a Q&A presentation in the afternoon, the event was sponsored by the Adele-Campbell gallery.


Events Calendar – Workshops


she's not there 24x30 ac

My workshop schedule for the year is confirmed so I have posted the places and dates on the Events Calendar  page of my website.  I may have a couple more workshops dates coming up in the fall.  I will post those when they are confirmed.

I have also been asked to do a few presentations on the business and marketing aspects of the artist’s career.  It is a two hour talk that is called “the Art of Business”.  It has become a frequent request since I did the first one a few years ago.  People can attend those without having to sign up for the workshops.

For more information, or to sign up for an event, please click on the links attached to those events on the calendar.



The Secret of Single Pigment Colors


The Secret of Single Pigment Colors

Q:  I visited your website and have read your article “Light Matters” and am impressed by your work and what you have to say about single pigments and having a large number of individual colors to work with.  Your idea of not mixing the colors, but rather buying individual single pigment colors, seems so contrary to what other painters suggest or do, that I am fascinated by your approach.  There is a simple, straight-forward logic behind what you say about the depth of colors coming straight out of the tube compared to those that one can mix by using two or three other colors.  Your ideas really hit home with me.

However, I have run into a serious snag in trying to follow your process of using single pigment paints.  I have been able to find only a few single pigment acrylic colors… cad yellow lemon (light), cad orange, cobalt, dioxazine purple, phthalo blue, and not many more.  I have always mixed colors, so painting without mixing the colors will be quite a new undertaking for me!  I’m thinking that if I want to complete a painting without mixing colors, I would have to have say…15-20 single pigment colors?  Or am I wrong about that? You said that you have a LOT of paints, so I suppose you meant that you have a lot of single pigment paints?  Is there a list of pure pigment colors that can be purchased and where to buy them?  I have tried to look at various sites and going through the colors one by one to see what they are made of, but it is time-consuming and I feel I simply am not going to find very many single pigment colors.  Is there somewhere a list of single pigment colors (landscapes being my main interest) that I would need?

A:  It is interesting to note that for hundreds of years artists used a palette of between 12 and 18 colors until the Industrial Revolution in the 19 century when that number doubled making the Impressionist movement far more impressive with the introduction of brilliant colors like the Cadmiums.  We are in the middle of the next revolution now with new colors being added almost every year.  The last time I did a survey there were close to 100 single pigment colors on the market, more for oils than acrylics. 

 Most manufacturers produce color charts for the range of colors that they offer.  You can look at these on their websites or in the art supply stores.  I do have one that I give out during my workshops that has over 25 single pigment colors on it, see below.  Manufacturers typically offer a selection of colors of which around 25% or more are mixtures of two or more pigments.  A quick glance at a color chart of a well known manufacturer of acrylic paints shows 85 colors of which around 70 are single pigment.  If you go to any manufacturer’s site, check the color charts at art stores, or just read the tubes, you will be able to discern for yourself which ones are composed of more than one pigment.   Perhaps the quickest reference technique is to look for the ‘color index’ right on the tube, that is the letter/number assigned to each color, for example PY35 is Cadmium Yellow Medium.  If a color has more than one color index, it is not a single pigment color.  A color named Cadmium Red Hue it is not a single pigment color and will have more than one index assigned to it, perhaps:  PR5 (Napthol Red) and PR207 (Quinacridone Red) for example. 

 Also, beware of colors that are not named after the pigment used to create them.  Hooker’s Green, Payne’s Grey, and so on.  Sap Green is not a single pigment color and the example shown below is a mixture of 4 different pigments: Phthalocyanine Green (PG36); Carbon Black (Pbk7); Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), and; Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150).  You can make the color yourself by mixing those pigments together, or as I would prefer to do, layer them in transparent glazes and/or veils to create a comparable color effect that I think is much more vibrant and interesting.  By making your own version of the color you have more control by altering techniques used to apply them, or simply by adjusting the amounts of each color.  In the example below, the color on the left is the manufacturer’s Sap Green, on the right is a combination of the 4 single pigment colors used to make Sap Green applied in transparent layers (glazes):











Cadmium colors also create some confusion for painters because they come in 3 different shades, light, medium, and dark, and they are all single pigment colors, not mixtures of two or more pigments.  You cannot mix Cad Yellow Medium with white (left below) and get a color effect that looks like Cad Yellow light (right below).  















Mixing colors is fine.  Just be aware that any mixture of two or more pigments will create a duller less luminous and vibrant effect than would be achieved by using a one single pigment color.   I do have a lot of paints because I don’t like to mix colors, but also because different paint manufacturers get their pigments from different sources so the same color from several companies can have very different hues and properties, esp. the natural organic colors like the browns.  Look at the difference between these two manufacturer’s Burnt Sienna colors.  One is more opaque and cooler, the other warmer and more transparent.  There is nothing you could mix with one of them that would give you the same color effect created by the other without the mixture looking much more dull and muddy.















Here are the same manufacturer’s versions of Burnt Umbers:














Also, contrary to what most painters are told, I use black, all three blacks: Ivory or Bone; Carbon, and Mars.   Each has its own unique properties and no mixture of various colors will ever yield blacks that are as cool, transparent, and intense as pure black pigment.  

I understand that not all painters have the desire or resources to own as many paints as some of us so for a well rounded palette I recommend an assortment of single pigments colors that includes at least one opaque and one transparent in each hue.  That way you will have a selection that Rembrandt would be envious of and with which you can create almost any effect imaginable:

 Essential Pigments

 Transparent/Semi-Trans (ST)         Opaque/Semi-Opaque (SO)

Ivory Black                                             Mars Black

Zinc White (ST)                                     Titanium White

Burnt Umber                                          Raw Umber (SO)

Burnt Sienna                                          Raw Sienna (SO)

Transparent Red Oxide                       Red Oxide

Transparent Yellow Oxide                  Yellow Oxide (Ochre)

Nickel Azo Yellow                                 Cad Yellow (Light, Med, Dark)

Quinadridone Red                               Cad Red (Light, Med, Dark)

Dioxazine Purple (cool)                      Quinacridone Magenta (warm)

Phthalo Blue (Green/Red Shade)     Cerulean Blue

Antraquinone Blue                              Cobalt Blue

Ultramarine Blue

Phtahlo Green (Yellow/Blue Shade)   Chromium Oxide Green

Pyrrol Orange (ST)                             Cadmium Orange




New Paintings

I just posted 9 new paintings to the “Paintings” page on my website.  Four of those paintings are part of a collection that is going to the show I am doing with Cameron Bird next week in Calgary.



It’s Back to School Time!

If you want to learn about which materials and techniques I use to paint stuff like this:


How almost everything we learn about painting is the opposite of how great painters worked for centuries, or how the execution of that tree painting has more in common with Rubens’ style than the Group of Seven.

Are you interested to learn why which paints you use and how you handle them can mean achieving the kind of difference you see in these two paintings?


And that’s just a little teaser,…  Yup, its back to school time and I have a number of workshops scheduled between now and next summer:  Kelowna, Qaulicum, Castlegar, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and even here in Kamloops.  I enjoy meeting all the wonderful people that come out to learn and to share and I am happy to share everything I know about how to be a better painter and how I put together my own paintings.

Check out the calendar page on my website for more info and to sign up for the workshop nearest you.  If you can’t make it to one of the workshops then at least read the blog below entitled “OILS VS ACRYLICS” – that is some serious good info that I wish I would have learned in my art classes.

I will post the winter and spring workshop schedule early in the new year.

Happy painting!

Oils vs Acrylics

I am reprinting an article I wrote a while ago for the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) on the differences between oils and acrylics because I think this information is invaluable for helping anyone become a more skilled painter.    I also threw in some images of different pairs of paintings that I have done in recent years, an oil and an acrylic in each set to make it more fun to read for you visually oriented artists.  It is a bit of a tech read.  See if you can figure out which is which – I will post the answers in the comment section below.

avant-ski 24x48 op

hey, where's our reflection 24x48 ac







I am often asked about the differences between oils and acrylics and much of my instruction on painting materials and techniques is focused on this fundamental topic.  Once you are familiar with these two superb media, it will help you decide which one is best suited for you, or, if you are like me and paint in both media, then which one is best suited for the particular expression at hand.  Knowing the specific properties of each, and their working characteristics, will make you a better painter, no matter which medium you prefer to use.

Oil paints have been around for centuries and have passed the test of time.  The vast majority of the greatest paintings in the Western World have been done in this medium for over 500 years.   Acrylics have only been available since the middle of the 20th century but it appears that this medium is also here to stay, and for good reason.

Initially, acrylics were offered as a substitute for oil paints, just as synthetic resin paints, like latex, have replaced oil paints for the most part in commercial wall painting applications; and for the same reasons:  Synthetic polymer paints dry fast and clean up easily with water; plus, they don’t smell as bad.

What we have learned since their introduction is that acrylics present an interesting alternative to oils, but not a good substitute in many regards.  Oils do some things extremely well that acrylics are not as well suited for.  On the other hand, acrylic paints and mediums have opened up a whole new world of techniques and creative possibilities.

what, no firs 18x24 op

you're out front, you decide 20x30 ap








Here then, is a summary of the differences between the two media:

 Slow vs Fast:  Oils dry slower than acrylics.  This means more time for blending and creating various ‘painterly’ effects in your compositions.  Oil paints are perfect for the classic ‘Wet in Wet’ style of painting or for precise and carefully blended effects that take time to execute.

With acrylics, you can over-paint within minutes without picking up the underpainting, but if you spend too much time trying to mix and blend them, they will lift and create streaks and ‘marring.’  On the other hand, a multilayered composition full of glazes, veils and impasto painting, and even textured effects, including mixed media and collage techniques, can be accomplished in one sitting.  There are also slower drying acrylics on the market as well as retardant mediums you can mix with the paint to slow the drying time.

Oxidation vs Evaporation:  Oils polymerize (dry) thru a complicated chemical reaction that involves oxidation.  They absorb oxygen and actually expand at a certain stage of the drying process.  That is why it is not good to paint a fast drying color over a slow drying color.

Acrylics dry as water evaporates from the paint film, usually within a few minutes depending on the thickness of the layer and the relative humidity of the surrounding air.   The paint layer actually shrinks once the water is evaporated.

 Variable vs Uniform:  With oil paints, different pigments dry at different rates, some slower than others, anywhere between a couple of days and a few weeks.  In addition, there are varying degrees of stiffness and flexibility in the dried films.  Moreover, the ‘fat’ colors (higher oil to pigment ratio) will have a more glossy finish than the ‘leaner’ ones.   All of this requires the oil painter to be familiar with the different properties and drying characteristics of the assorted pigments if they are concerned with permanence, particularly if they are painting in layers.

It is significant to note that painters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods did not use straight oil paints as we do today but rather the pigments were ground with a combination of oil and resin to counteract the yellowing properties of the paint and to regulate drying rates.  I am aware of only one company that still makes this kind of paint (Schmincke).

All acrylics colors and mediums dry at the same rate and are all intermixable with all other colors and mediums without issue.  Simple.

at least the view is nice 18x24 op

 two for one 30x30 ac







Smooth vs Bumpy:  Oil paint has a smoother surface texture and the medium itself is more transparent than acrylic polymer resin.  In general, colors in oils are clearer and more ‘luminous.’  The surface of acrylic paint is more rough and porous by comparison.  That is one of the reasons why acrylic paint looks ‘softer’ and more muted in its color effects than oils.  It is also one of the main reasons why oils adhere better to acrylics, which have more ‘tooth’, than the other way around.  So paint oils over acrylics, if you must, but not vice versa.

More vs Less:  Oil paints have a higher pigment load than acrylic paints for the most part and so the colors are more intense.  This also means that it usually requires less paint to achieve a particular tint or shade when mixing paints, which is significant because good quality oil paints are generally more expensive than good acrylic paints.  Also, several pigments are not compatible with the alkaline environment of acrylic resin and so most manufacturers are able to offer a greater range of hues in oils.  The gap is closing somewhat in recent years with the development of many synthetic pigments that are used in both media.

Furthermore, the variation of color effects is more pronounced in oils:  the transparent colors are more so, clearer and shinier, and the opaque colors are more thick and dense than their acrylic counterparts.

 Same/Different vs Different/Same:  Oil paints look the same when they are dry as they do wet; the colors, shade, and texture remain unchanged.  With age on the other hand, Oils paints turn more yellow/brown and become more transparent.  This is the reason why the oil painters of the early Renaissance painted their lights thinly, over a smooth white gesso ground, and their darks, especially the cool ones, very thick.  In this way as the paint warmed in hue and became more transparent, these effects were compensated for, ensuring that the paintings would retain their compositional integrity even centuries later – smart.

Acrylics dry darker initially, because the water in the paint, which is reflective, evaporates.  Acrylic paint also shrinks and flattens out somewhat because of the water loss, so some of the texture and brushing effects are lost.  This shrinking is also the reason why flexible supports like paper and unstretched canvas will warp when the acrylic paint contracts.   However, once dry, they will not change with age.

let's not wait 18x36 ac

its warmer over here 24x48 oc






Heavy vs Light:  Oils paints are actually heavier than acrylics.  The same amount of paint will weigh more, and this varies with the different colors.  Acylic paints by comparison are light and soft and fairly uniform in this regard throughout the range of pigments.

A variety of brushes of different shapes, fibers and degrees of stiffness, will all create different effects with oil paints.  Acrylics are not easily handled with a stiff bristle brush because the paint is so light the brush will tend to plow the paint instead of deposit it in a controlled fashion.  The inexpensive, soft synthetic sable brushes are more suitable for most applications with acrylics.   Read on.

 Good Brushes vs Bad Brushes:  Having as wide variety of good quality brushes with different types of fibers will allow the skilled oil painter to create a myriad of effects and textures in their paintings.  And if these brushes are properly cared for they can last for many years.

No matter how careful you are in cleaning and caring for your brushes when using acrylics, the paint will soon enough destroy them; it just dries too fast.  Besides, most of those fancy effects created by good brushes in oils are lost with acrylic paint as it will flatten and shrink as it dries.  Better to buy the cheapest brushes you can find and toss them when they are done.

i'm already gone 60x24 ac

 some time away 60x24 ocStiff vs Flexible:  Oil paints dry hard and brittle compared to acrylics which remain flexible indefinitely.  As a result, oils prefer a stable, rigid support like hardboard to flexible supports like canvas or paper, especially if the later are not properly prepared to ensure they are impermeable and as stiff as possible.  The great advantage here is that you have more options for painting surfaces with acrylics including all types of canvas, paper, wood products, and so on.

Acrylic polymer resin is also thermoplastic which means it will become hard and stiff in cold temperatures, and soft and sticky in a warm climate.  This can be a concern when storing and shipping paintings.

 Solvent vs Water:  One of the main reasons many painters choose acrylics over oils is because they are easy to clean up with soap and water.  Also, some people have allergic reactions to solvents.  Moreover, because acrylic paint dries fast, it can be much less messy to work with.

Still, you should never wash oil paint off your body using solvents.  Soap and/or vegetable oil is always the best and safest option for cleaning hands and brushes.

 Acid vs Alkaline:  Oil paints are acidic, acrylics alkaline.  The main concern for artists here is that oil paints will cause rapid corrosion of canvas or paper if these painting supports are not properly isolated using a good sizing material.  Gesso is a primer (ground), not a size, and oil seeps thru gesso quite readily.

Note too that when painted over an overly porous, un-sized surface, the oil that is absorbed by it will leave the paint film dry and very prone to cracking.

Conversely, acrylics can be used on almost any surface without a problem.  In fact, it more often acts to strengthen, ‘plasticize’ if you will, and impart flexibility to most surfaces.

this is fun 24x24 oc

emerald twilight 40x40 ac+









Toxic vs Toxic:  It is a commonly held belief, and a false one, that oils are more toxic than acrylics.  It is true that some people are sensitive to the smell of the volatile solvents given off by the oil paint, and the odor can even cause them headaches.  Still, it is the pigments that are the toxic elements in any paint and all good artist quality paints contain the same pigments.  Cadmium Sulfo Selenide is used in oils, acrylics, water colors and pastels and is highly toxic.  The binder and medium, linseed oil for oils, is non toxic and even edible (flax oil).  The same cannot be said for acrylic polymer resin and all of the chemicals used to make a balanced paint in acrylics.

 Old vs New: Oil paints have been around for hundreds of years and when used appropriately the paintings created with them will endure for centuries.

Acrylics have been around since the middle of the 20th century and continue to improve in their quality and working characteristics.  Scientific studies and accelerated aging tests confirm that acrylics will likely outlast oils in almost every category associated with ‘permanent’ painting.

Varnish vs Varnishes:  The final picture varnish for both media is the same, that is; a good acrylic solution varnish.  One thin layer of this varnish is sufficient to protect a completely dried oil painting.

Since acrylics are sensitive to solvents – these varnishes are made with solvents, and solvents are used to remove them – acrylics require an additional protective layer first, an ‘isolation’ varnish.  This is simply a thick layer of gloss medium, or soft gel medium (gloss) mixed 2:1 with water.

Acrylic paintings accumulate dirt faster than oils because they are porous and ‘electrostatic’; this means that the surface attracts and holds onto dust and airborne particles that readily stick to its soft, porous surface.

Acrylic paints can be cleaned with water.  Never use water to clean an oil painting and do not display or store them in humid areas or places where the temperature fluctuates significantly.

without the french horn (assiniboine) 36x48 ac

 assiniboine in the am, with more red 24x36 op


The Best Painting Support, Ever!

Its permanent, durable, versatile, and very inexpensive, and, its available at the hardware store.  Raphael would have loved it.  Its Hardboard (Masonite).

Wooden supports were favored by Tempera and Oil painters of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance because they are more stable than flexible supports like canvas.  The problem was, where do you find a piece of wood large enough to make a painting on that is straight, flat, not cracked, and does not have too many knots and resin canals; those darker stripes in the wood, or ‘wood grain’ as it is often referred to – this is where there is a higher concentration of natural glue, or sap, and so the place most likely to crack.  These early painters paid good money for a fine wooden support.  They needed to be cut from the largest trees possible, properly dried and ready to paint on.  Dealers would sometimes source them from old pieces of furniture or ships that were being dismantled and sell them the the artists.  But they did not have Hardboard.

Raphael, Madonna and Child, 1503, oil on wood, 55x44cm (22x16 in)

Raphael, Madonna and Child, 1503, oil on wood, 55x44cm (22×16 in)

That is why the paintings from this era were all pretty small.  If you wanted to do a larger painting you would do Fresco painting (paint directly on walls) or you would have to fasten together several small boards with bracing on the back and fill the seams.  These were heavy and unstable, not ideal to say the least.  This is the main reason why flexible supports made of fabrics like linen and cotton became popular for large portable paintings.  Now flexible supports like cotton canvas have become the painting surface of choice for most artists.  But we also have Hardboard.

The main reason these early oil painters did not like to use flexible supports for oil paintings is because the dried paint isn’t, flexible that is, so lots of cracking.  Moreover, oil is acidic and likes to eat fabric,  so, not so permanent.   Raphael was active during the transition period between the early and ‘high’ Renaissance when artists like him started to paint on large flexible canvas supports.  It is just not more practical to paint on fabric for large, portable paintings that could be more easily moved and shipped.  The painting on the right is one of his early ones done on a wooden panel.

Hardboard is a unique product in that it is pure cellulose fiber (wood); it has no additives, fillers, glues or resins added; it is simply compressed saw dust.  The natural glue in the wood, called lignin, is what holds it together.  This means it is dimensionally stable with no resin canals or knots.  Other wood products that some artists like to paint on, like MDF, Plywood, and Melamine, are put together using glues and resins that are not permanent for paintings that are meant to last for generations.

Hardboard is ideal for oil painting of course, but also acrylics, tempera paints, mixed media and collage.  It comes in 1/8″ and 1/4″ thickness in 4’x8′ sheets.  You can use the thin 1/8″ for sizes up to about 14×18, then the thicker 1/4″ boards for sizes up to about 20×30.  Larger supports should be cradled by attaching a wooden frame to the back to prevent warping.

june 18 002

The cradle is made by using 1×2″ strips of wood glued to the back of the hardboard. Standing on end for a wider edge, or flat to end up around the same depth as a stretched canvas.

The problem with hardboard panels in larger sizes, larger than 24×36 say, is that they become quite heavy and therefore more challenging to hang and transport.  For sizes larger than 24×36 I prefer to use canvas.  For large oil paintings, canvas can be prepared using acrylic resins to make it more permanent – Golden’s GAC 400 fabric stiffening medium on the back and GAC 100 for sizing on the front.

Some artists like the feel of the stiff board under the brush, others prefer the feel of a flexible fabric support like cotton canvas.  Don’t forget too that paintings done on a smooth surface like hardboard, will have brighter and more intense colors than the same painting done on a more textured surface like canvas.

The warm dry days of summer are ideal for setting aside some time to prepare a bunch of painting panels to last the whole year.  Get together with some artist friends, esp if one of them has a table saw, and make a day of it.  So here then is how to make your own permanent and economical painting supports using hardboard:

july 5 005


How to Make Your own Painting Supports

Supplies you will need:

Untempered hardboard cut to size, White Shellac, Methyl Hydrate, a wide brush, no. 60 or 80 sandpaper, no. 120 sandpaper, good quality Gesso.

  1. Buy Untempered Hardboard.  ‘Tempered’ hardboard has additives like oil, tar, and wax to make it waterproof for outdoor construction applications.  The gesso will not stick to it and the additives will have unpredictable and undesirable effects on your painting.  You can get smooth on one side or smooth on both sides.  Hardboard comes in two thicknesses, 1/8” and ¼”.  It comes in 4×8’ sheets and most hardware stores will cut it into whatever sizes you like for a fee.
  2. Sand the smooth surface before sizing.  No.60 or 80 sandpaper is good.
  3. Size both sides of the panel with a mixture of 3 parts Methyl Hydrate to 1 part White Shellac.  Apply the shellac in a thin layer in one stroke of the brush or roller.  If you apply too much size the surface will become too shinny and smooth and the gesso will not adhere well to it.  You can substitute the Shellac for Golden’s GAC 100 medium, diluted 2 parts GAC 100 to 1 part water.  The purpose of the size is to create a barrier between the ground (gesso) and the wood, which is naturally acidic.  Without this, the natural glue in the wood will migrate into the gesso and cause yellow or brownish discoloration.  This is referred to as SIDS (support induced discoloration).
  4. Using a light sand paper (120), sand the surface once it is dry to make it smooth again.
  5. Apply a coat of Acrylic Polymer Gesso on the back  of the panel (optional) and at least two coats on the front.  If you want a very smooth finish you can sand with fine sand paper between each coat after it has dried.  You will find the best quality gesso will have more covering power and better adhesive strength.  I typically apply 4 coats of gesso; the first two brushing in opposite directions, then two more thinner coats diluted with a bit of water for a smoother painting surface.
  6. You may also want to use a spray machine to apply the gesso.  Its faster, and gives a different finish than a brush, certainly more even.  If you do that you will  want to add some flow release medium to prevent clogging.  I use Golden’s Airbrush Medium.  Below is a picture of my painter buddy Joe using his commercial sprayer to coat some panels for me.

oct 9 004

The Process: the large triptych commission painting


I recently completed a rather ambitious project where I painted a large composition in 3 sections (triptych).  I don’t do very many commissions and there can be significant challenges with this process as artists who have done more than a couple will attest to.  I decided it would be an interesting and rewarding challenge and I liked working with the people involved.  I posted images of this on my Facebook page.  I will go into some detail here describing the process of putting it together.

wilcox painting 6 002

It started out as a casual conversation with a couple at a show I was having in Whistler.  They expressed interest in commissioning me to create a large feature painting for their living room.  I agreed to meet them at their house the next day to discuss it.  We examined the space and talked about some possibilities regarding the size and potential theme.  I left with the agreement that they would choose some of my paintings that featured the kinds of things they might like to have in the painting.  They are familiar with my work and already own a couple of my paintings.

Here are a couple of paintings they showed me that feature some of the elements that they were attracted to:

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stuck in the middle 24x36 ac











I started working on a composition that included some poplar trees in the foreground and some strong shadows that would pull the viewers attention into the painting.  Here is a photograph I took recently that I used for reference and inspiration:

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I made several sketches and measurements to help me figure out the best scale and size for the painting.  I decided that 3 canvases were best suited for the painting in the space it would hang.  Each canvas is 66”x33”, so each individual one is twice as tall as it is wide, and overall the composition ends up being 1/3 longer than it is tall; perfect proportions.

wilcox painting 1

I first do the drawing in pencil to establish the position and proportions of the elements in the design, then I used an india ink pen to do a precise contour drawing.  This is important because I paint in layers and I need to know where the negative space is, which defines where the different layers and colors will be placed.  I use the structural lines created by the shadows to bring the viewers eye into the scene diagonally from both sides, converging on the focal point which is at the top left in between the first and second panels.  I am using the tall vertical lines created by the poplar trees to break up the strong horizontal movement formed by the landscape behind.  A winter snow scene is ideal for the chosen color palette and the strong contrast needed for the shadows.

wilcox painting 3








Burnt Orange is the first layer of color (Imprimatura).  Its purpose is to create a dramatic warm undertone.  I added a slow drying medium to the glaze and used rubber spatulas to carve out the shapes of the poplar trees and branches.  I prefer to use the white of the ground as the base white for these deciduous trees – it increases the luminous effect.  I also painted in the opaque and semi-opaque blue tints for the fir trees and the distant hills.

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Next, I applied a yellow glaze over the entire painting and then I blocked in all the mid tone colors, leaving the orange underpainting showing in the knots of the poplar trees and the dogwood bushes in the background.  The yellow glaze turned the blue fir trees green too of course.  The sun shining thru the clouds behind the top of the fir tree on the left side (focal point) creates a dominant diagonal shape bringing the viewers attention back down towards the right.  The idea was to create a scene that would also draw the viewer’s attention into the distance with the receding planes, the structural lines created by the shadows and the clouds reinforce this.

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In this stage I applied more glazes:  Yellow, blue, green and earth red, as well as more bold opaques and a warm blue veil over the poplar trees.

In the last sitting I used black contours and shadows to boost the contrast and add more detail.  I also spent time adding in more opaque colors and bright highlights (see the first image of the painting above).  Below is a picture of the triptych in the setting for which it was created.

wilcox commission - Copy







How to Ship Your Paintings

I have been asked on several occasions to write about how to ship paintings.  Every artist has their own ways of having their work transported and many prefer to leave that chore to others that specialize in shipping, or they may use companies like Art Pack that will pick up the art and deliver it, no packaging required.  Some artists even prefer to just deliver the art themselves if the distance is not too far.

I have always packaged and shipped my paintings using courier services.  I find it simple and very manageable.  I have shipped many paintings over the years and I have developed a good system by paying attention to what works well, and focusing on what is most efficient and practical.  I will give a quick tutorial here that you may find helpful for getting your art off to galleries and clients.

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This is a picture of the things you will need, from bottom left to right:  Shrink wrap roll, packing tape and dispenser, roll of packing paper, masking tape, utility knife.  The items are all sitting on a piece of 1 inch  insulating foam that you can buy at the hardware store.  It comes in 4×8′ sheets.  It comes in blue or pink color, I like blue.  It is very light and easy to cut with the utility knife.  This is NOT styrofoam, the white stuff that crumbles into little pieces when you cut or break it.

OK, here we go:

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1. Wrap your paintings or panels in the wraping paper.  You can buy these rolls at shipping supply stores or even some hardware stores.

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2.  If you have more than one painting to ship, stack them together with the painted sides facing inward.

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3.  Use the shrink wrap to bundle them together so they cannot move around.

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4.  Cut pieces of the foam board to cover the tops and sides, creating a box around the paintings.  Use the packing tape to hold the pieces in place.

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5.  Use the brown paper to cover it over and tape the corners and edges to help prevent tearing.

Its just that easy.

I use an online shipping broker company called Shiptime.  It is an excellent company that works with several courier companies and provides excellent discounts compared to dealing directly with the courier companies.  Once I have entered the address of the recipient and enter the dimensions and weight of the package, I can choose from a list of courier companies that shows their rates and delivery schedule.  I print off the labels and the paintings are picked up at my door.

Insurance is a concern for some artists but I have never used it.  It is difficult to get insurance because couriers have been defrauded in the past by artists making exaggerated claims on the value of their art.  To get insurance you need to have the art appraised by an independent authority.  Of the hundreds of paintings I have shipped over the years I have never had any lost and only a couple damaged, but not to the point where they could not be easily restored.