FAQ’s (technical) Greatest Hits

As some of you are no doubt aware, I spent many years studying materials and techniques of painting, particularly the methods of the so called ‘Old Masters’.  I have dedicated myself to teaching, writing, and doing presentations on the topic to help artists become better at mastering what I call ‘the craft of painting’ – the kind of stuff I was so keen to learn about when I started out as a young painter.  Basic stuff really, thinks like:  Why are there 3 kinds of blacks and two kinds of whites, and what are the differences; what is the difference between turpentine and mineral spirits; what does ‘fat over lean’ refer to; why are some brushes cheap and others really expensive; what is a glaze and a veil; why, when, and how do you varnish a painting, and so on.

I have also been writing a technical Q&A article for the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA) magazine where I answer these kinds of questions from painters.  I have just submitted a compilation of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) from over 15 years for the next edition of the magazine.  There is a lot of misinformation and down right mythology about the basic physical and chemical properties of the painter’s methods and materials going around out there since the decline of the Master/Apprentice studio system of old.  As a result, there are a lot of paintings that have been produced in recent times that will not look very good a couple of generations from now.  I hope my contributions can help to steer that ship back on course.








Since many of my artist friends and followers are not members of the FCA I thought it would be valuable to reprint that article here.  For more detailed information on these topics, visit the Technical Q&A page on my website (davidlangevin.com).


FAQ – Technical Q’s Compilation

After many years of writing these technical Q&A articles, as well as doing countless presentations and workshops on ‘the craft of painting’, I thought it would be a good idea to review the most frequently asked questions (FAQ).  My goal has always been to help people become better painters, more skilled and knowledgeable about how to use the tools of the artist’s craft to create art that will last for generations.

Q:  What is the best support for paintings?

A:  Overall, untempered hardboard is the most permanent and economical support for oils, acrylics, and mixed media. Acrylics will remain flexible indefinitely so just about any surface they will adhere to that is permanent is OK.  They are sensitive to acidic elements so sizing a support made of wood for example, is important.  Oils become more hard and brittle with age so prefer a non flexible support like hardboard. Unlike acrylics, oil paints are acidic so supports like canvas need to be protected from coming into contact with them.  You can prepare canvas to be more stable and less flexible for oil painting.  Go to “Supports’ in the Technical Q&A section on my site for instructions on how to prepare hardboard for use with any media, and canvas for oil painting.

Q:  Is commercial primer or house paint from the hardware store suitable as a ground instead of gesso?

A:  These products are not made for permanent painting applications. They would be OK to use for beginners and practicing.

Q:  Can I use gesso to cover an old painting before painting over it?

A:  Not if you want it to last, esp if it is an oil painting. If you are not concerned about permanence then you can paint over it with white paint, not gesso, and start a new painting.  Gesso will not stick to paint, it is a ground (primer), and has very little adhesive strength.

Q:  Can I paint oils over acrylics?

A:  Yes, oils will stick well to acrylics, but not vise versa. I would suggest this practice be done on a rigid support (see above).

Q:  Is it OK to dilute my oil paints with solvent and my acrylics with water?

A:  Oils and acrylics are ‘body’ paints so unlike water media paints they are designed to be used thick and rich in texture. Diluting them with solvent (oils) and water (acrylics) will make the colors dull and the paint film weak and unstable.

Q:  Is a mixture of linseed oil and solvent a good medium to mix with oil paints?

A:  No, modern oil paints already have too much oil in them and tend to yellow and wrinkle with age, adding more oil compounds this problem. Traditionally, oil paint was made of a mixture of drying oil and resin.   Use a good quality alkyd resin medium instead to mix with your paint.

Q:  Can you explain the ‘Fat Over Lean’ principle in oil painting?

A:  Briefly, it recommends that you not paint a fast drying color over a slow dryer. Also, a color with high oil content (fat) should be painted over a pigment with low oil content (lean) for better adhesion, and not the other way around.

Q:  Is it safe to mix different brands of paint?

A:  Yes, as long as they are of the same quality. Mixing low grade inexpensive paint with good quality professional colors will yield unstable results.

Q:  Is there a technical reason to not use black paint?

A:  No. It is interesting to note however that for hundreds of years great painters avoided mixing colors until the advent of the color wheel and the theories that have been built up around it.  Any mixture of two or more colors will always be duller and less vibrant than a single pigment color, including black.

Q:  Why are some brushes so expensive? Is it important to use good brushes” 

A:  There is no technical reason to spend extra money on good brushes but from an artistic point of view good quality brushes will give you much more flexibility and control in oils and water media paints. This is not the case with acrylics because of the nature of the paint and so cheap brushes tend to work fairly well.

Q:  Can all the different acrylic mediums be mixed together?

A:  Yes, with one reservation; it is not a good idea to use an abundance of hard mediums like molding paste and pumice gel on flexible supports as they are more likely to crack.

Q:  Are oil paints more toxic than acrylics or watercolor paints?

A:  No, they are all equally toxic. The pigment (color) is the toxic ingredient, not the binder/medium.  Treat them all with care.  Some people are sensitive the the volatile solvents given off by oil paints.

 Q:  Acrylic paints are relatively new, are they permanent?

A:  Yes, they are very durable and stable and accelerated aging tests show that they will last for centuries under normal conditions.

Q:  Should paintings be varnished?

A:  It is a good idea to varnish your oil and acrylic paintings so that they can be cleaned without damaging the painted surface. The best picture varnishes are acrylic solution varnishes.  Acrylic paintings need two layers of varnish:  an ‘isolation’ coat, then the final picture varnish.  Wait at least 3 months, depending on the thickness of the paint, before varnishing oil paintings.









New Paintings

I just shipped out a collection of new paintings, some are going to the Artym Gallery, the rest are going to La Galerie D’Art au P’tit Bonheur in Quebec.  You can click on the gallery links to view the paintings as soon as the images are uploaded to the sites.

Here is a sneak preview of some of the paintings I have been working on recently, including a collection of oil paintings.  These will not be ready to ship for a while.

the way in to assiniboine 24x36 op

the way in to assiniboine 24×36 op

I'll take the low trail 36x36 op


These two oil paintings are from a hiking trip at Assiniboine park I did with my friend Doug Smith a couple of summers ago.  Its fun to do these paintings at this time of year, makes me look forward to summer and some more spectacular hiking adventures.





make up your mind 24x36 op

make up your mind 24×36 op


This is another oil painting that I completed over several months and five different sittings.  It took a while for this one to come together.  More on that in another blog.




Of course I did a couple of tree portraits as well.  The titles allude to the feeling of spring in the air.  The one on the left is going to the Artym gallery, the other one to Galerie D’Art au P’tit Bonheur.

are you guys getting ready to bud 48x16 ap+

are you guys getting ready to bud 48×16 ap+

its almost over 36x12 ap+

its almost over 36×12 ap+











For those of you still hanging on to winter, weather (pun) you want to or not, here is one with lots of snow.

you're blocking the way 30x30p

you’re blocking the way 30x30p

Click on the ‘Paintings’ page on my website to see the new paintings, including these one, that I have recently uploaded.


2016 Calendar update

I have finalized the dates on my events calendar and it looks like I am doing more workshops than usual this year.  I may even do one more next fall, perhaps right here in Kamloops.  I will also be doing another presentation on the art of business in Vancouver in the spring.  I look forward to getting to know the many wonderful people in the workshops, it is always a treat for me to connect with other artists.

I am also doing a different kind of event in Calgary next October at the Stephen Lowe Gallery.  They are hosting a dinner gala evening at the Bow Valley Club in downtown Calgary with Cameron Bird and myself doing presentations/talks on our art careers.  I think I may do a picture presentation of some of my hiking adventures and paintings that came out of them.  This will be lots of fun.  We will also have a show at the gallery with a collection of new paintings.  In fact, I have just completed a couple of Rocky Mountain scenes in oil that I will likely put in that show.

I hope you all have a very fulfilling year.

Click on the link below and follow the links to the hosting organization’s websites for more detailed information about the workshops and presentations.

Events Calendar

I Want to be Liked!

I think my art career would have started earlier if I wasn’t so hung up on people liking me, and my art.  I suppose I could go on about the impact of my childhood experiences but for now I will simply say that like a lot of artists starting out I would have been happy to have my work represented in just about any gallery that would have me.  I brought my portfolio around to different galleries and got turned away several times, as is normal.

I remember having an appointment with a gallery in Montreal and I sat there surrounded by some of my paintings for at least an hour while the owner did everything but acknowledge my presence.  I am sure that she was hoping I would just leave, but I am persistent when I have a goal.  She finally stopped in front of me, took a quick glance at my work simply said, “J’aime pas ca”  (I don’t like that), and walked off.  Ugh.

Then it all changed, or more precisely, I changed.  I had moved out the BC to focus on painting landscapes and establishing my career as a full time artist.  I also decided that I would only do business with people that I liked and respected.  I turned the tables, I went out and interviewed galleries to see if I was impressed enough to want to start a relationship with them.  That was it after all.  I realized that for me, in business, like in life, its all about relationships in the end, and I only wanted to be close to people that I could trust and that were supportive of me and my endeavors.  That has made all the difference.  I have very rewarding relationships with all the galleries I do business with.

Speaking of wanting to be ‘liked’, I have finally joined the social media network, I’m on Facebook.  I say finally because after years of people telling me I should get on the network I did end up creating a personal FB page, but only because I needed to have an account so that I could be an administrator on my band’s page.  I let my own page sit dormant for a long time until some recent conversations convinced me that it might be worthwhile.  Understand, I don’t even use a cell phone.  I know there is Twitter and Instagram and others things I have never heard of, I just don’t have the time for all that.

I am actually enjoying the Facebook experience for the most part.  I still don’t understand some of what is happening on there but I get to check in on friends and acquaintances and fellow artists that I would normally only touch base with once or twice a year.  They are all my ‘friends’ of course.  Its fun.  I also set up a Facebook page just for my art and I am told that it would be good to have lots of people ‘like’ my page.  So come on over to my Facebook page and ‘friend’ me, and go over to my art page and ‘like’ it:  facebook.com/David-langevin


It has been snowing a lot around here for the last few weeks.  It started snowing again last night and it is still snowing this morning.  I will have a couple of hours of shoveling to do later, I’m going to wait for it to stop and for the plow to go by.  The up side is that I love to paint snow scenes.  I went out for a walk to find some inspiring images the other day.  Here is one of my favorites:

jan 2 1016 013

I am certainly going to paint something using this scene, but it really is beautiful just as it is.

I will be updating my calendar in the next few weeks with all of the shows and workshops that I have booked for  the year.  Right now I am working on a collection of paintings for my show in Whistler with Rod Charlesworth on Jan 23.  I hope to meet lots of ‘friends’ at the opening.  Here is one of the paintings I am sending the gallery for the show:

still blowing 60x30 ac+

still blowing 60×30 ac+


Scraping By

I thought I would share my story of scraping by as a painter.  I don’t mean financially, rather, I sometimes actually scrape paint off as I compose the picture.  I have looked at the statistics for artist’s income, and indeed, most are just scraping by.  But in this case I am speaking about a technique I demonstrated at the last workshop that I taught.  It is lots of fun and using the luminosity of the white gesso ground always seems to appear the most natural and, well, luminous looking it seems.  One of the ‘secrets’ of my style is that I often remove as much paint as I apply, esp when I am working on a textured surface.

It is a strategy that was employed by the early Renaissance painters and of course watercolor artists are quite comfortable with this concept.

Here is a painting that I recently completed, appropriately named ‘scraping by’.  I did a couple of compositions like this one, you can see the other one in a recent blog.  I took a picture of this painting at the stage in the process where I have just removed some of the wet glaze to reveal the light areas of the composition.

scraping by 24x48 ac

scraping by 24×48 ac






Below is a picture of the completed painting.  The light areas of the painting, particularly the poplar trees, are almost entirely the light of the ground showing through, there is very little white paint used.  Most of the browns are also simply the original glaze from the underpainting, this means that they are more vibrant because of the single pigment transparent color (glaze) with the white of the gesso shinning through.

scraping by 24x48 ac

scraping by 24×48 ac






How fun is that?

Speaking of fun.  It looks like next year is shaping up to be full of it, as usual.  I have a few workhops scheduled:  Vancouver, Edmonton (twice), a couple of others in the interior of BC and maybe even here in Kamloops in the fall.  I also have some shows booked.  I will update the calendar page on my website with all the details early in the new year.

Bark and Boxes of 2







As it turns out, I am also the official shipper, and photographer, for Lana’s remarkable chocolates.  So if you need a great gift, or just a wonderful treat for the holidays, email her @ lanalangevin@gmail.com.

…, But is it Good?

Don’t think about making art, just get it done.  Let other people decide if its good or bad, whether they love it or hate it.  While they are deciding, make even more art.”  Andy Warhol

“…But is it Good?”

Some people might be upset by this essay, particularly those in the arts community.  I have been a professional artist most of my life.  I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master’s Degree in Art Education. I’ve also been teaching art now for, hmm…a long time.  Mostly I have focused on teaching artists how to be better painters, but here I’ll turn my attention to a question that I’m often asked by non-artists when they are confronted with the conundrum of ‘modern art’. The question: “But is it good?”  This question often surfaces when ‘experts’ in the art community claim that a certain piece is somehow important, even though we may be confused or even repulsed by what we are seeing.

Without getting into a discussion about the definition of what can be called art, suffice to say that although art can certainly be fashionable or culturally relevant (which is of course subjective) it’s fashionableness or cultural relevance does not necessarily mean that it is good or bad. Here’s my thesis: Fashionable or popular, or even culturally significant, does not equal good.  Good transcends space and time.  J.S Bach was a brilliant composer, but at the end of his life his music was falling out of fashion as the popular taste was migrating to a new style of music we now call “Classical’ (Mozart).  Bach’s work was revived some 200 years later however, and is still appreciated today. Why? Well, because it’s really good.

I have a theory we can test that supports my thesis, or perhaps more accurately, a formula for judging art that is as objective as anything I can imagine.  It is a tentative, and certainly not an all encompassing approach to the subject. That said, I think it’s a helpful approach. You can let me know if you think it has value.

Art is indeed subjective, in that we can all decide for ourselves our preferences—what we like and don’t like; a subjective personal opinion so to speak.  Saying something is good or bad however implies an objective proposition, a criticism, and for that we should have objective criteria that does not rely on opinion.  So, without having to become an expert on art I designed this little test to at least give people a reasonably objective tool to tackle the question of what is good in art.  This test would apply equally to music.  What I’m trying to draw out here is the tension between subjective and objective evaluations.  My point is this: you can dislike something even though it’s very good.  A lot of people don’t like Bach’s music.  That’s fine.  However, that person’s subjective taste in no way diminishes the objective value of Bach’s music—it remains good.  Of course, the converse of this agreement can be true as well.  You can like something even though it isn’t really good.  The formula I propose is simply a tool to help you in determining the quality and relevance of an artistic expression.

Before we test this idea it is important to note that much of what we call contemporary art is conceptual in nature, that is, it is based primarily on an idea or a concept, which takes precedence over the aesthetic side.  It is often this kind of art that inspires the average viewer to declare:  “That is not even art!”

Things like this:

conceptual art - chair

conceptual art – chair








Or someone’s bed on display in a gallery:

conceptual art (bed)

conceptual art (bed)







Or this artist who won one of the most prestigious international art awards for dismantling a shed and reconstructing it in the gallery:

conceptual art (shedboatshed)

conceptual art (shedboatshed)







People often declare about much of what is categorized as conceptual art, “I could do that myself, and I’m not an artist”.  I think this is a fair thing to say.  A clever or compelling idea, or concept, is not enough to make it good; which brings me to my formula:

Take an artist and or his/her art, and move them thru space (geographically) and/or time, and see if they are still ‘good’.

Let’s take a couple of very different artists and plug them into the equation to see how it works:  Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was a renowned American Abstract Expressionist, or ‘Color Field’ artist; Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael (1483-1520), was a famous painter, and architect, from the Italian Renaissance period.

Newman’s “Voice of Fire” painting was purchased by the National Gallery in Ottawa a few years ago and created quite a stir, and not a small number of people asked the question which is the title of this article.

'Voice of Fire' (1967) Barnett Newman

‘Voice of Fire’ (1967) Barnett Newman










The write up by the National Gallery describing the painting includes phrases like this:

“…Limiting his colours to red and blue, he created this powerful vertical canvas to be suspended from the dome’s ceiling. While it appears simple in form, Voice of Fire conveys a range of meanings. Newman intended the work to be studied from a short distance; its enormous scale transforms the space and tests our sensory experience….”

That kind of prose certainly makes the painting sound, well, at least interesting.

The painting has significant cultural relevance in relation to the time and place it was created: America at the height of the Cold War.  You can study up on what art historians have to say about that time period, but let’s just take the painting and move it in space over to Paris, or Tokyo in the 1960’s, to see if it is still an ‘important’ artistic expression.  Nope, those cultures are into their own thing, and are not in the same position as the USA as it tries to distinguish itself with its own cultural identity.  Now, let’s move it in time back to the Renaissance. No again. Barnett would be thrown out of the studio for using that much paint to make stripes.  What if you were to paint something like that today? Would it still be worthy of all the attention, and money spent on it?  Nope, it has already been done, so is no longer culturally relevant.  Besides, your dad would get mad at you for using that much paint just to make stripes.

Now let’s take Mr. Newman and send him back in time to see if he has the skill set necessary to sell any paintings in Italy in the early 1500’s. Hmmm…tough one.  Do you think you could paint something like this Mr. Newman?

'Transfiguration' (1516-1521) Raphael

‘Transfiguration’ (1516-1521) Raphael










Now, let’s put Raphael in the time machine to see how that works out.  With his exceptional skills and ingenuity I think it would be a good bet that if he were dropped into today’s world he would be a renowned artist of some sort making very good art. He would more than likely be a very successful one as well: Raphael was a good businessman.  Move him from Italy to France during his own time period, no problem.

If you were to make a convincing copy of Raphael’s painting, it would certainly still be a good painting (objective), but perhaps not culturally relevant or fashionable (subjective) in our day.  Whether a work of art is good or not, or what you think of it, often has little bearing on how much praise it may receive, or how much it will sell for in the market – that has more to do with what is fashionable or popular.  You can also rephrase the question this way:  “Is it good, or is it simply fashionable or popular.”  Times change, people’s taste change, and those who have influence in these matters understand that many people are easily swayed and can be told, and sold, on what they should like, buy, and support.

I had a mind to run some iconic Canadian artists thru the test, but I don’t want to come off  as being too blasphemous so I will leave it to you to apply the test to whomever you like.  Just remember, fashionable or popular, or even culturally significant, does not equal good.  Good transcends space and time.






Fresh off the Easel

I am working on a few new collections of paintings and I just uploaded a some onto the website.  I haven’t even shipped most of them out yet, or finished them all actually.  Some are going to the WhiteRock Gallery, some for the Xmas show in Kamloops on November 21 (I will be teaching a workshop in Abbotsford that weekend) and some for the Galerie D’Art au P’tit Bonheur in Quebec.  Connie and Grey from the Artym gallery were here the other day and they took a few paintings with them as well.

When I am finished with these commitments I will get to work on a bunch of commissions, or special requests from clients, that I have on the to-do list.  Then it will be time to prepare for my show with Rod Charlesworth (http://www.rodcharlesworth.com/) in Whistler on January 23 .  I already have a few in the works for that show, and part of that task will be finishing some oil paintings that I started this summer.  Its a busy time of year for sure; and what a privilege it is.

Here are a couple of pictures of Rod and me at one of the ‘Painting on the Peak’ events in Whistler from a few years ago:

Rod and I at the Q&A session

Rod and I at the Q&A session

messing with Rod's painting

messing with Rod’s painting










And today, we had the first dusting of snow on the ground.  It has begun.  I have already started painting snow scenes though, I just like painting snow.  Below are a couple of images from the website of paintings that I uploaded; paintings that show the transition from where we are now, to where we will be in a month or so with the weather.

we'll wait to see how you do 24x36 ac

we’ll wait to see how you do 24×36 ac

the sky in the water 20x30 ap

the sky in the water 20×30 ap








When you go to my website and put your cursor on the ‘Paintings’ tab just click on the word ‘Paintings’ to go to the page with all the recent work; put your cursor over ‘Archives’ or ‘Figures’ and click on them to see the paintings in those categories.


How to be ‘Painterly’

I just got back from teaching a workshop in West Vancouver, right on the waterfront, it was lovely. Vancouver is a spectacular city, esp when the sun is shinning.  It is almost always sunny and warm when I am in Vancouver – even in the winter.  How unusual.  I even got to play tennis at Stanley Park with my good friend and tennis buddy who happened to be in town as well.

It was a lively and informative session for everyone involved for sure, and the excellent group of painters that came out to learn were so engaged that we fell behind by a couple of hours with the material that I wanted to cover because of the many questions and conversations that sprung up around how to be a better painter.  We got it all in by the end, but it was a stretch.

north shore artist's guild - workshop, oct 2015

north shore artist’s guild – workshop, oct 2015

One of the topics that came up, as it often does when I ask painters what they hope to get out of a workshop, or what they would like to improve about their paintings, goes something like:  ‘I want to be more loose, more ‘painterly’.  We all seem to admire the ability to say much with little, to suggest, and to have the casual and fluid technique that allows the skilled painter to make complex elements of a painting seem simple and effective without being over worked or stiff looking.  Often people will marvel that a painting looks messy and random up close but when you step back it looks fantastic.  It is quite a skill indeed.

Monet was a confident painter, but he got even more ‘painterly’ in his old age as his eyesight was failing and he started painting on larger and larger canvases with bigger and bigger brushes.  Indeed, that is often suggested as a way of getting more loose in your painting, use bigger brushes and canvases, step back and squint or maybe borrow your friends prescription glasses.

monet's 'water lillies', close up

monet’s ‘water lillies’, close up

The only way to be really good at it though is to spend a whole lot of time painting.  I don’t know of any shortcut. Perhaps it is because it is not a goal to be reached or to aim for but rather a side effect of reaching a destination called being a really experienced, good painter.  I don’t think it is a particularly good thing to focus on or try to accomplish, it happens automatically and naturally when you have been painting for a long time and you have developed your eye to see what is essential and leave the rest, and then with a skillful hand, to improvise and to suggest.  It is like the ability of a very good speaker or writer to communicate a complex topic in a simple and concise way – that takes a lot of study and practice.  I am reminded of story of the person that asked Micheal Jordan how he made his jump shots look so easy, he replied with something like “that is because I do 3000 a day.”

Moreover, the product of all that work – the ability to paint with confidence and abandon, flowing and spontaneous – is the antithesis of efforting, of trying to be ‘loose’.  Its like working hard at trying not to work too hard, or trying to be relaxed.  If you are trying, you are not relaxing.  Sometimes our personality does get in the way, and well, for that, you will need a different kind of help.

I think the same can be said for finding your personal style, which is another major concern for amateur painters – don’t bother trying to find it, just keep painting, it will happen on its own.

That said, I am aware that there are instructors, and workshops, and coaching tips to help someone be less ‘stiff’ with their painting technique, and more focused on what might separate them and distinguish their art, but I cannot imagine that those things would be sustainable, or particularly rewarding or fulfilling in the long run.  I could be wrong about that, I am open to that possibility, but I am certainly not interested in teaching that sort of thing.

Anyway, back to being painterly.  Vasari, the famous biographer of the great artists of the Renaissance, remarked on Titian’s work from his later years stating that he had adopted a manner of ‘painting with splotches’.  Perhaps due to his age and failing eyesight it was speculated.

Titian - self portrait

Titian – self portrait

The 17th century term used to describe this phenomena was ‘sprezzatura’ which is roughly translated to mean ‘looseness’ or a casual approach in the handling of the paint.  Of his paintings Vasari declared:  “They cannot be looked at up close but from a distance they appear perfect”  It can certainly be said that Titian’s later style did indeed change the course of the history of painting.

Rembrandt started his career with a relatively precise and careful execution but ended his life painting in a ‘rough manner’ as it was called during his day.  A contemporary was quoted as saying ‘up close it looked as though the paint had been smeared on with a bricklayer’s trowel’.  Rembrandt himself declared that the paintings should be viewed from a distance and it is said he would pull people away from getting to close to the painting, claiming the odor would be bothersome,…

Below are two self portraits done many years apart that illustrate how Rembrandt’s painting style became more ‘loose’ in his later life.

Rembrandt – self portrait











Check out that brushwork!

Rembrandt - Self Portrait J910070

We cannot discuss being painterly without featuring a painting of perhaps the most popular of all the messy painters, below is a close up peek at some of the brushwork in Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’.  It is noteworthy to mention that we generally admire Van Gogh’s paintings from his later years and even though his life was cut short, he had produced nearly 1000 paintings.  At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I will say that Vincent did not have the natural talent or excellent training of someone like Rembrandt and his early work does betray the mark of an awkward and amateurish hand compared to the early work of Rembrandt.  But Van Gogh just kept painting feverishly.  For anyone who is familiar with his life story you will likely agree that he did not have anything better to do with his time.

When I am asked for tips on how to make a better painting, I generally like to suggest that people ask me again after they have done 200 or 300 paintings.

van gogh - detail









That looseness and bravado with the brush is an admirable quality.  As I was doing the demo of the texture mediums on the tree painting at the workshop I remarked on that very thing – that the effective application of the mediums comes down to being skillfully messy, or deliberately random, and that takes a lot of practice.  Here is a close up of a painting I did of my own night stars a few years ago.  The stars in this sky are actually shinny mica flakes:

aurora 5x6 72x60 ac 2004








Below is a close up of a section of a painting I did of some poplar trees.  Almost all ‘painterly’ effects have some element of texture in them and it is the reason I started using the gel mediums all those years ago; I love the look and feel of the tactile paint and mediums.  Who doesn’t want to run their fingers over a Rembrandt or Van Gogh painting?  That might get you into trouble, but you are welcome to feel my texture, uhh,…

orange removed 18x24 ap - detail










Don’t forget, you can click on any of the images to enlarge them to get a better ‘feel’ for the texture and quality of the painterly effects.

Now, as for that demo painting I was working on at the workshop.  I did complete it, and I did promise to post the results here so the good people in West Van could see how I finished it.  Here it is:

this is how we left it at the workshop. after the first 2 glazes and the black 'stain' I had started to block in the background veils and the purple and green on the tree.

this is how we left it at the workshop. after the first 2 glazes and the black ‘stain’ I had started to block in the background veils and the purple and green on the tree.

nsag demo 2

I finish the blue and purple veils and the warm white tint on the background then I glaze the whole painting with blue and wipe most of it off. I use the warm white tint to create highlights on the tree trunk


I lighten the blue veil at the top, glaze the highlight on the trunk with transparent red oxide, put more opaque yellow highlights on the bows, then glaze transparent yellow oxide and quin red on the background.


nsag demo 4

I finish the trans yellow glaze, put a phthalo green glaze over the tree and a bit at the bottom, put another blue veil at the bottom and then some black shadows and contours.

nsag demo 5

I again boost the highlights in the background with a warm white, tinted with yellow.


nsag demo 6

another trans yellow oxide and nickel azo yellow glaze over the background


'don't leave anything out' nsag demo 28x10 ac

finally, I add a trans red oxide and an Indian yellow glaze over the light areas in the background, then add more blue and purple tints as well. the title of the painting is: ‘don’t leave anything out’

I know, what a process; and what’s the point of it all?  I painted stuff and then painted over it again.  It is said that Titian and Rembrandt would sometimes put up to 30 layers on in different parts of the painting, often wiping off as much as they put on.  I like to do that sometimes too, it just ends up looking so much more painterly!





Holiday Weekends and Painting Panels

A friend called a while ago to ask if we had plans for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.   “That weekend is Thanksgiving?  I think I am teaching a workshop in Vancouver”.  I checked, and I was.  I called the organizer and asked him if he was aware that it was a holiday weekend.  “I did not realize that”  he said.  He is an artist too.  People still ask once in a while if I have any plans for the ‘long weekend’.  “Weekend?  Long one?  Really?”.  If it were not for my regularly scheduled tennis games, I would not know what day of the week it is. Its just that kind of life I suppose, and what a life it is,…

I have been working on a collection of oil paintings for the last couple of weeks.  They are in different stages of completion.

oils of assinboine

Oils of Assinboine

Above is a picture of three oil paintings of the Assinboine valley where I went hiking a couple of years ago with my friend Doug http://davidlangevin.com/im-back/.  You can see the painting in the middle is a scene taken near where I took the photo of Doug that I posted in that blog entry.  These three paintings are all the second sitting, I will do two more sittings, with drying time between each one, to complete the compositions.  These ones should be ready to go by early winter.  The oils are in the drying rack and I have just started to put together a series of acrylic paintings to get ready for the fall season.

I have also been spending some time these last couple of weeks preparing a bunch of painting panels, with the help of my friend Myron.  We cut, sanded and sized (sealed) the panels to get them ready for the gesso (ground).  Since then I have been waiting for some nice weather to spray on the gesso.  The weather channel has been unreliable in its predictions.  Thursday was supposed to be nice so I booked my painter buddy Joe to come over and spray them with his spray machine.  When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am a painter, they usually assume I am a painting contractor like Joe – he paints houses.  No one actually paints pictures for a living do they?

We got the first coat on and then it rained.  Its not supposed rain here!  I have been playing tennis about 5 times a week outside since early March and I have only had to cancel 3 times because of rain.  Some of the panels got wet and so we had to bring them into the garage and wait until Friday them.

Here is a picture of Joe spraying on the second coat:

Joe spraying the panels

Joe spraying the panels

Truth is, I had intended to do these panels in May or June, that didn’t happen, so I set my sites on August.  Procrastination pushed it all the way to October.  I normally just apply the gesso with a brush but I wanted a different finish, and I wanted them done quickly.   I’m happy to finally have them done.

If you want to know how to make your own painting panels – they are inexpensive and by far the most stable and permanent painting support available – you can contact me and I will send you the instructions.  I also give out the ‘how to’ handout for preparing your own canvases and panels at my workshops.

Right, the Thanksgiving weekend workshop.  Dene and I decided it would be best to reschedule it for next year, either in January or April, the only times I have available.  Check back on my calendar page, or Dene Croft’s site, if you want to join us.  I will post the time, and other workshop times and places for 2016, in the next couple of months.



Everything They Told You is Backwards.

I recently got back from a workshop in Regina and as is always the case with the kind of stuff I teach, the extent to which we have lost our way as painters in the last couple of centuries is demonstrated so clearly.

One of the most common questions I am asked about my work is how I am able to create the luminous effects in the paintings.  I am able to accomplish this in spite of the fact that I am quite partial to heavy textured effects, dark compositions, and I like to use black.

-24x60 ac+

As I have mentioned on many occasions, I learned to paint, not in the college and university painting courses that I took, but by studying the methods and materials of the so called ‘Old Masters.’ My research eventually led me to the realization that, for centuries, the craft of painting was a very scientific and technical vocation that focused on the properties of light and color in a way that maximized the luminosity and color intensity of the painted effects.  The thinking is that if you understood how to create the most luminous and vibrant colors, dulling them down and muting them for specific aesthetic reasons would be a simple matter of disregarding, or ‘breaking the rules’ as it were.  Painters like Rubens and Rembrandt, whom I wrote about recently, managed this in a time when their palette was limited to a handful of colors.  A survey clearly shows that copies of some of the earlier Masters’ works done centuries later are often darker and in poorer states of preservation than the originals.

Because of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of a whole range of new manufactured pigments, the Impressionists had approximately triple the amount that were available to the Baroque painters.  It is safe to say that had Monet been using the same paints as Caravaggio, the Impressionist movement would not have been so impressive.  In recent decades, with the influx of the new colors coming out of the oil and dye industries, we have tripled that number again.  So, in a time when we have an abundance of excellent paints and mediums at our disposal, it is remarkable to see how dull and muddy looking so many paintings are.

When I survey the participants in the workshops, almost without exception, they confirm that they have all been taught to paint the same way, and almost every aspect of that instruction goes against the practices of the greatest painters from Van Eyck to Van Gogh:  Mix your colors, paint from dark to light, paint over things instead of around them, and so on.  Rubens would be flummoxed (how often do you get to use that word?).

I decided all those years ago that I should write a book to explain and demonstrate the important message of the Old Masters – I called it ‘Light Matters’.  I never got around to having it published and with the internet now, I am not sure it is worthwhile to go that route.  For now, I just hand out the manuscript at my workshops and teach and write about this stuff.  I want to do my small part to help painters regain some of the technical knowledge and expertise that was a fundamental part of the artist’s craft in the past; a return to the light so to speak.

I managed to simplify and condense the concepts into 7 guidelines that can be followed to create the maximum amount of luminosity and color intensity in your paintings.  I will not elaborate on the details, but here they are:

  1.  Paint on bright white, smooth surface.
  2. Use the best quality paints and only single pigment colors.
  3. Use colors without mixing them (yes, black is good).
  4. Use gloss mediums and do not mix your paint with thinners (water for acrylics, solvents for oils).
  5. Keep the underpainting and glazes light.
  6. Use transparent pigments for glazes, veils, and tints.
  7. Paint around things.

I think may have come up with this quote but it is just as likely that I came across it years ago in my studies of the painting techniques of the Old Masters, in any case, I have decided to take credit for it for now – ‘Painting is the art of subtracting light.’  When you start with an all white, smooth painting surface, it reflects back all the light that hits it, as you add layers of paint you gradually subtract light from your composition.  A good way to decide then if your painting is completed, is to recognize when you have subtracted just enough light, but not too much.  Remember too, it is always easier to subtract light than to add it back in if you have gone too far.

I will share some little demo paintings that I made for the workshop to illustrate how dramatic and relevant these ideas are.  Here is a simple painting I did where I respected all the guidelines for ‘brilliant’ painting methods listed above:

'Light Matters' all in

Here is the same painting done using the exact same methods except that guideline number 3 has been ignored and I mixed the colors, red and yellow to make orange, for example, instead of using pure colors:

'Light Matters' no3

Invariably, artists will, without knowing it, paint in ways that are in opposition to one or more of these principles.  With every guideline that is disregarded the painting becomes increasingly dark and muddy looking.  Now compare the first painting with one where all of the ‘rules’ are broken:

'Light Matters' all in

'light matters' all out

I don’t like to call them ‘rules’ because that makes it seem like a prohibition, and that is not cool in art.  There are many good reasons why a painter might want to disregard certain guidelines in the interest of creative expression.  I do think it makes you a better painter to know and understand these principles so that you can ‘break the rules’ in a deliberate and calculated manner.

Here is a tree portrait that I did where I broke one of the rules, and it is my favorite one to ignore.  Since I understand the effects that neglecting these guidelines will have on the image, I am able to compensate for it in other ways to help maintain the luminosity and color intensity of the paint.  Which one do you think I have set aside to make this painting?

no rest 24x9 ac

Feel free to send me questions on matters of light and color and come on out to one of my workshops to practice some ‘brilliant’ painting techniques and to learn more about how almost everything you were taught about how to put a painting together can be reversed.