Hi David,
Can there be varying degrees of “archival” with regard to paint? In other words, can one type of paint be archival, but not AS archival as another kind of paint?  Or, if paint is archival, it’s archival, end of story? Help.
Thanks, Kelli

Hi Kelli,

There are definitely varying degrees of LIGHTFASTNESS when it comes to paints.  That is, some colors will take longer to fade, and are therefore more lightfast than others.  That has to do with the properties of the individual pigments rather than the quality of the paint itself.  So even within a professional grade of artist’s paints there will be varying degrees of lightfastness between pigments (colors).  But the best quality, professional artist paints are all made to the highest standards so that they will last as long as possible.  Lesser grades (the inexpensive paints), and student quality paints are not made to the same standards and should never be considered ‘archival’ or permanent.  They will fade faster, darken and yellow, crack more, have less adhesive strength, and so on.  Use these for practice and experimentation but not for paintings that you want to last for future generations to enjoy.

That said, the term “Archival” is usually used in reference to paper, boards, tapes, glues and so on.  To meet the standard of archival quality these products must be acid free and not break down or deteriorate under normal museum conditions.

Good question, cheers, David

Hi, I have a full can of beautiful grey acrylic wall paint for interiors (egg finish). I am tempted to use it on already gessoed, stretched canvas as a background for acrylic painting.
What do you think about it, is it safe?
Thanks, LES

Hi Les,

By “safe” I assume you mean will it be “permanent.”  The answer is no.  So it really only depends on how long you want the painting to look good.  House paint is manufactured for walls, not artist’s paintings, and contains many ingredients that may cause unpleasant and unpredictable results in the painting: cracking, flaking, wrinkling, yellowing, darkening, etc.  In fact, most commercial house paint is specifically engineered to deteriorate within a few years so that you will be inspired to repaint your walls…  if you are just making a practice piece or are not concerned with permanence, go ahead.  Otherwise, try mixing your own grey color using permanent artist’s materials.  Have fun, David

Brushes n’ Things

Brushes aren’t as important for acrylic painters as they are for oil painters and certainly not watercolor painters.  Acrylic paints are hard on brushes.  An oil painter can have a favorite brush for years if it is well taken care of.  When painting in acrylics you have to constantly wash the brush and scrub the paint out of it before it has time to dry.  Even then, a small amount will stick to the hairs and eventually the brush will lose its shape.  Good brushes don’t make much difference for acrylics like they do for oils and watercolors, so inexpensive synthetic hair brushes serve well for most purposes.  Oil paint is thicker and more dense, different brushes and brush-work will affect the look of the paint and it will hold its shape.  Acrylics are lighter so you don’t usually need a stiff bristle brush to push them around.  When the acrylic paint dries it shrinks and levels out so the textured brush-work  is mostly lost.  There are mediums that will give the paint a stiffer texture however.  If you take good care of your nylon hair acrylic brushes they will last a reasonably long time and then you simply replace them.

I use nylon brushes for acrylics almost exclusively and especially the chisel tip variety.  With those you can paint a larger flat area, you can turn the brush on its side and paint a thinner line or you can tilt it and use the point for fine detail work.  I use natural fiber oil painting brushes for fine detail work.

Brush Maintenance

An oil painter will often have two or more brushes going at the same time, one for each color.  With acrylics, you could never paint fast enough with one brush before the others dried out.  Acrylic painters will use one brush at a time and wash it regularly.  That’s why I love those multi-purpose chisel-tip shaped brushes; I can do most of the painting using only one brush.  When you are done using a color you must wash the brush and dry it thoroughly before you use the next one.  If you have more than one brush going, one must be left in water.  You will need some good dry rags on hand while you paint.  If the brush is in the water for more than a couple of minutes it should be scrubbed to remove the paint from it because the paint on the inside of the brush will continue to dry even in the water.   For this reason it is important to have a screen of some sort in your water container to scrub the brush on and to prevent the brush from resting on the bottom where all the pigment settles.  When you are finished painting the brushes can be rinsed in warm water then washed with a mild soap.  They can be stored lying flat or standing with bristles up.

Painting and Palette Knives

There are two types of knives designed for painters:  one is the painting knife that comes in a variety of shapes and the other is a palette knife used for mixing paint on the palette.  The painting knives have a bent handle so that they can be held horizontally to the painting surface without you getting your fingers in the paint.   The palette knives have a straight handle.  I like to use painting knives for mixing on the palette and for painting because I like the bent handles.

Palettes

There are a variety of materials you can use for a palette:  wood, glass, wax paper, and so on.  For acrylics, glass works well because it is easy to clean.  Just soak the dried paint in water for 15 minutes and it will peal right off.

The editor of the FCA magazine, asked me to take a stab at answering this question from the FCA website’s discussion forum. I thought it would be of interest for some other artists considering alternative water –media paints. 

Does anyone know if Casein paints are considered archival, how does its’ light-fastness compare with watercolour?  Jennifer
Hi Jennifer,

Casein is a milk protein that was commonly used by painters of the past to make paints and its use even dates back to ancient Egyptian times.  Casein can be diluted with water and has very good adhesive properties, and has often been used as a glue.  I know of at least one company that makes it in tubes.

The problem with casien paint is that it is water-resistant when dry but not really water-proof.  Also, it becomes quite brittle with age and will crack easily if it is applied too thick or on a flexible support like paper or canvas.

Light-fastness is a property of the pigment, not the type of paint.  The same pigments are used to make all the different types of paints.  So, a good quality cadmium yellow pigment will have comparable light-fastness in watercolors, casein paints, oils, or acrylics.

casein paints are very similar to egg tempera paints in the way that they handle and look when dry.  Egg tempera has been the preferred choice of most artists over casein for hundreds of years, you might want to consider looking up a little book called “the practice of tempera painting” by Daniel Thompson.  Hope that helps to answer you question.

Hi David,

Thanks for the information about Caseins.  Question: You had mentioned that a good cadmium yellow, for instance, had the same light-fastness in whichever medium.  However, I was surfing around in the Alberta Foundation for the Arts website and found an article on conservationhttp://wwwaffta.ab.ca/ccorner/visualarts/consmatters.htm and it mentions that watercolours are highly light-sensitive because the pigment particles are spread out in a thin gum binder, exposing more surface are to light. So would caseins be similar?  How long can we expect good quality watercolour paintings on cotton paper under conservation glass to last?  (I realize this is almost impossible to answer, but I thought I’d throw it out there.)

This issue is starting to bother me.  I have painted professionally for 12 years with watercolour and have had great reception, except when it comes to some galleries, who won’t consider carrying watercolours because people don’t want glass.  Someone suggested I switch to acrylic, but after refining one’s skill at a media such as watercolour, a radical change seems alarming. I was hoping Caseins may be an answer – although they have to be varnished for protection.  Are there any waterbased archival quality varnishes on the market?  I would appreciate any more information you have.

Thank you!  Jennifer

Hi Jennifer,

Watercolor paintings  are generally not as durable oil or acrylic paintings for obvious reasons but when properly framed under glass with acid free mats a watercolor in considered to be a “permanent” media from a museums viewpoint.  That is, it is expected to last at least 100 years in its original condition in museum conditions (this is a generally accepted definition of ‘permanence’).  It is true that because the paint is applied in thin layers the colors are not as lightfast but that is also true of any medium when the paint is applied thinly (low concentration of pigment).

I agree that to switch for those reasons seems ‘alarming.’

My advice is to ignore all the issues about permanence and what the galleries are saying about people not wanting glass.  I have been told by several galleries that watercolors are generally not in vogue right now with most buyers but good art work is good artwork and it will find its place in people’s hearts and collections no matter what the medium.

Most people who have considered casein paints in the last 30 years as a viable medium have gone to acrylics instead, they are more permanent and more versatile.  Egg tempera, as I mentioned, is another option that I think you would do very well with.  There are no water-based varnishes.  Any painting on canvas or board that is not framed behind glass needs to be varnished for protection.  That includes tempera paintings like casein and egg tempera.  The same type of varnish is used for all of them.  The best ones are the relatively new acrylic solutionvarnishes that can be thinned and removed with mineral spirits.  Golden MSA and Liquitex Soluvar are excellent.

good luck Jennifer.  david

HELLO  MR LANGEVIN

I HAVE A TECHNICAL QUESTION REGARDING OIL PAINT.  I’M HAVING A FAMILY REUNION BANNER MADE ON A COTTON CANVAS, EACH FAMILY MEMBER WILL PLACE A THUMB PRINT ON THE CANVAS AND SIGN THEIR NAME WITH A BLACK MARKER. WE WANT THE ART PIECE TO LAST. MY QUESTION IS WHAT TYPE OF PAINT CAN I USE, AND IS IT SAFE FOR CHILDREN, AND DOES IT WIPE OFF EASILY.  THANK YOU   PHYLLIS

Hi Phyllis,   Don’t use oil paints.  It will chew thru the cotton in time and it will be more difficult to clean safely from your hands.  Use acrylic paint.  It will stick permanently to the cotton and last, and it cleans easily with soap and water.  No paint (permanent paint, that is) is safe if the children eat it so just make sure they wash it off right away.  Have fun.  David

Dear David,

I have a First Nations acrylic on canvas that was purchased on Manitoulin Island
several years ago. The painting has developed mildew (gray-black areas) on the
back. The painting is still on the stretchers. The room where the
painting was hanging inadvertently was closed off with no heat during a
vacation. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Sharon

Hi Sharon,

Exposure to strong sunlight (or an ultraviolet light if you have one) and fresh air should destroy and stop the growth of mold on canvas.  Expose only the back of the canvas to the light however, as it will cause the colors to fade.  You can also try bleaching the fabric with a mild solution of bleach. Use as little as possible and don’t soak the fabric with it, just use a clean cotton moistened with the solution and then another moistened with water to rinse the bleach.   If that doesn’t do it, it should be looked at by a conservationist, especially if it is a valuable piece.  They have the proper techniques and chemicals to do it effectively.  Good luck and let me know how it turns out.  David

Framing: Glass or Plastic Glazing?

Q: AIM For Arts required paintings glazed with either Plexiglas or Perspex (whatever that is). What is the best as far as glazing, UV proof etc or regular glass?. Thanks, Gloria

A: When we talk about painting in oils and acrylics “glazing” means to apply a thin transparent layer of color over an underpainting. For the framer, it means to fit a picture frame with glass or glass-like material. The AIM for Arts organizers simply requested the use of a plastic glaze instead of glass. Probably because it does not break as easily as glass and they were concerned about shipping and handling of the artworks.

You can frame a picture using either glass or a plastic product, like “Plexiglass.” Glass and plastic used for framing pictures are like most products, the more you are willing to pay, the better the quality will be. The more expensive glass, like “Conservation Glass” is also designed to block Ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet light rays cause fading and darkening of colors and can produce chemical changes that can make artwork brittle and structurally weaker. The major sources of ultraviolet light are fluorescent lights and direct sunlight. Non-glare glass is glass that has been etched to diffuse the reflection. The greater the space between the non-glare glass and the artwork, the fuzzier the image will become. The distance of a single matt is acceptable for most people.

There are different types of plastic sheeting that are used for framing but the most common is clear acrylic (polymethyl methacrylate). “Plexiglass” is the trademark of Rohm & Hass for clear acrylic sheeting. “Perspex” is another word used to refer to plastic sheeting. Not very many people use acrylic to glaze pictures and some framers don’t even stock it. Acrylic has some advantages and disadvantages over glass: it is clearer and transmits more light than glass (90% instead of about 83% for glass); it is lighter and less breakable and this is important for larger works, and; it is easy to score and cut to size. The disadvantages of plastic glazing are that it is very easily scratched and it cannot be used for pastels, charcoal, or chalk artworks due to the static charge that it develops. This can cause a significant amount of the material to be lifted off of the artwork and it will stick to the acrylic sheeting. Acrylic can also be a fire hazard. When plastics like this are heated or burned without sufficient oxygen (which is the case in most house fires), they give off large quantities of toxic vapors. Acrylic sheeting that filters ultraviolet light is also very expensive.

A good framer will be able to provide more specific information regarding the various types of glass and plastic glazing available, and their prices.

Thanks for the question

Is it true that oil paints are more toxic than acrylics?

Researchers have learned a lot about toxicity in the last few decades and they have also discovered that artists have a long history of poisoning themselves with their materials.  It is now believed that some of the well documented accounts of artist’s sicknesses were actually cases of poisoning.  Goya’s ills in his middle years and Van Gogh’s famous mental and physical health problems are being attributed to the ingestion of paints.  In fact, the glow that Van Gogh painted around lights and stars in his later works are thought to be the result of lead poisoning which causes swelling in the optic nerve – he actually saw that glow around objects!

An excellent book was written a number of years ago by Michael Mcann called “Artist Beware.”  It may be out of print but it is still readily available.  It covers potential health hazards in all of the arts and crafts.  For now, let’s just look at some basic principles that will help you avoid poisoning yourself while you paint.

The most toxic component of any paint is the pigments used to give them color.  Since the same pigments are used to make all paints for artists: oils, acrylics, water colors, pastels, and so on, they should all be considered equally hazardous.  The binders used to hold the paint together, that is, linseed oil for oils paints, glycerin and gum Arabic for watercolors, and synthetic acrylic polymer resins for acrylic paints, are relatively non-toxic.  Acrylic resins are certainly not as edible as linseed oil and glycerin however.  Paints also contain a number of other dubious elements that act as dryers, emulsifiers, stabilizing agents, anti-foaming agents, preservatives, and so on.   Many of these are not considered safe for ingestion.  Some pigments are more toxic than others, cadmium colors are highly toxic and a known carcinogen.  Cobalt often contains arsenic, and manganese is present in various colors as well.  We all have heard of the hazardous effects of lead in paint due to its use in commercial wall paint.  It is no longer used to make house paint but many artists have stopped using the very excellent, and I would even say indispensable, lead white in oil paints (also called “Cremintz” or “Flake” white among others).  Don’t stop painting or using certain colors because they are considered toxic.  The best policy is to treat all paints as hazardous and handle them accordingly.  It is important too to remember that most toxic elements accumulate in the body so even a little bit of exposure once in a while is not a good idea.  Here are some simple rules to follow when painting:

Don’t eat the paint.  Don’t get paint or powdered pigment on an open cut.  Don’t clean paint off your hands with solvents.  Don’t breath powdered pigments.

The level of toxicity of a pigment is also relative to the way in which you are exposed.   A pigment can be mildly toxic when exposed to the skin, moderately toxic when ingested, and highly toxic when inhaled.  Breathing in pigments in their powdered form is by far the most hazardous thing a painter can do because anything breathed into the lungs is fed directly into the blood stream.  For this reason using pure dry pigments to mix into paintings or collages, making your own paints, using sprayers, and even dry pastels can be extremely dangerous.  A proper respirator can be used for these purposes.  You must not breath the powder, get it on your hands and clothes where it may be eventually transferred to food or utensils, or stir it up on surfaces where it can be inhaled.   Pigments in paints will not be absorbed through the skin but can enter the body through open cuts or, more commonly, be carried into the blood with the aid of a solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits.  The unpleasant smell of oil paints and turpentine does not make oil paints more toxic than any other type but if you are using oil paints (even household oil/alkyd paints) never clean your hands with solvents.  Turpentine was even used at one time to administer drugs intravenously.  Commercial hand cleaners used by mechanics also contain mineral spirits. If you have paint or oil on your hands I suggest using any kind of cooking oil to clean your hands, followed by soap.  Solvents themselves are also quite toxic if they enter the body and most are relatively toxic when inhaled.   If you spray on your varnish, do it in a well ventilated area and use a respirator.  You can eat your paints and get quite sick too.  Biting your finger nails, chewing on the paint brush and eating while painting are the most common ways that we ingest poison chemicals.

Q:  I have different tubes of paints from different manufacturers, can I intermix them in the same painting?  Does quality make a difference, some of my paints are inexpensive student grades and some are professional? Also I heard you can use latex house paint instead of gesso?  What do you think?  Janet

A:  I will answer your questions with the assumption that you are concerned about permanence.  If this is not the case or if you are only working on studies or practice paintings then you can disregard the information.  You can intermix acrylic paints, and mediums, from all different manufacturers without concern.  Although they are formulated differently using different polymers their common chemical foundation (acrylic polymer resin) makes them compatible.  Mixing different grades (qualities) of paint is not as simple.  Student or inexpensive grades of paint are made with lesser quality ingredients and often have fillers to bulk up the paint.  As a result these paints will not have the same working properties as professional grades of  paint – things like flexibility and adhesive strength.   On a rigid surface like hardboard this is less of a concern.  You can do simple tests on canvas to check the flexibility and to see how well the cheap paint adheres to the surface and to a higher grade of paint.  A good idea may be to use the cheap paints for underpaintings and preparing light tints while saving the better quality paints for the areas where you want stronger, brighter colors.

Intermixing various types of oils paints is a little bit different.  All brands are compatible with others but mixing different qualities requires even more attention.  One main difference between cheap and expensive paints in oils is the amount of oil versus pigment in the paint (pigment saturation) – the cheap paint has more oil (and fillers), less pigment.  This means that the cheap paint will dry slower, wrinkle and turn brown more than an expensive version of the same color.  So, using the inexpensive paints in the underpainting like we suggest with acrylics has to be done with more caution.  Remember the ‘fat over lean’ thing (april 2000 issue)?

As for you last question the answer is “no”, latex house paint is not a good substitute for gesso if you want your paintings to last.  House paint is not made with permanence in mind.  It is not designed to adhere to a flexible fabric like canvas or to be a foundation for receiving paint (absorbency).  In fact, most are specifically formulated to break down within set period of time (7-20 years) – they want you to re-paint your house once in a while.  Commercial/industrial products are designed for specific purposes and use a wide variety of chemicals that will have unpredictable results when used by artists.

Q:  Is it true that if I use pencil for my drawing that it will ‘come through the layers’ in my oil paintings?  Gerry

A:  Well, sort of, but not really.  Pencils are made with graphite (a fine powder).  It will not physically travel through the layers of the paint but it will smudge and mix with the first layer of oil paint if it is not properly fixed with an initial layer of varnish/glaze.  This does not mean that it will not be visible underneath thin layers of oil either if that’s what you mean by ‘coming through.’  Remember that oil paint becomes more transparent with age, this effect is called ‘pentimento.’ Ink from normal pens on the other hand will physically travel through layers of paint and rise to the surface in most paintings.  This is because most inks are dye based and so they tend to ‘bleed.’  The best ink to use for your drawings on the canvas or panel is India ink, which is dissolved in shellac.  Once it is dry it will stay put.  You can also do a preliminary drawing or line painting using acrylic paints before starting your painting in oils, or, you could just start painting; if that’s the type of painter you are…

Dear David,

I have recently begun to experiment with a heavy modeling paste under my oil or acrylic paintings.  As the work often becomes quite large this adds to the general supply cost.  I currently work on canvas with three hand-brushed gesso coats, the modeling paste becoming the fourth coat.  I have used several jars of Golden paste and also just tried the Loomis brand, DeSerres.  Either seem to be fine, I just wondered if there was something else “out there” that I should know about? I enjoy reading articles that you write when I see them-do you have a central location for previous FAQ’s?
Thank you for your time David.  Sincerely, Susan

Hi Susan,

I am not sure what you are asking about the paste.  I can tell you that modeling paste, or molding paste as it is sometimes called, is not very flexible like the gel mediums used for making texture and therefore more likely to crack when used on canvas… I always mix some gel medium with my paste when using it on canvas.  If you want to save money, try the Tri Art stuff and buy in bigger quantities.
Bye for now, David

Hello,
I am wondering about the long term viability of oil paint over an existing acrylic painting.  I have already done it, using thin oil paint layers, and everything seems fine.  But I am wondering about the long term.

Thanks,  Emilia

Hi Emilia,

That is a good question, and I get asked this often.  Many painters use an acrylic underpainting for their oils.

Oil and acrylic paints don’t blend or adhere very well to each other permanently.  Because acrylic paints are porous and oils have a shinny non porous surface, oils will adhere better to acrylics than vise versa.  So painting oils over acrylics is better than applying acrylics over an oil underpainting, at least in the short term.

Problems may arise over time because oil paint becomes increasingly hard and brittle with age and acrylic paints stay soft and flexible indefinitely.  If there is any movement of the support (canvas), this will cause the layers to separate and the oil paint will crack.

Imagine if you were to paint the oils onto a plastic bag and then you stretch the bag once the oil paint has dried.  This is an exaggerated example, but you get the idea.

Because of this, it is much safer to paint oils over acrylics on a rigid surface, like hardboard, rather than a flexible surface, like cotton canvas.

Dear David,

I have been working in oils for a few years now and have recently been experiencing headaches and slight nausea. After not painting for a week these symptoms have disappeared. Do you know of any books or other sources of information about the toxicity of painting materials? I realize that opening windows and using fans can be helpful and I wonder if there are certain masks that are also beneficial. Perhaps you have already written about this matter; I would greatly appreciate whatever information or suggestions you might have.

Sincerely, Louise

Hi Louise,

I did write about that sort of thing a couple of years ago (may 2002 issue).  There is an excellent book on toxicity of artists’ materials called ‘artist beware’ by Michael McCann.  It shouldn’t be too hard to find.  I think I saw it at the amazon site recently in fact.

The symptoms you describe are not uncommon for people working in oils.  What type of solvent are you using?  it is the solvent more than the paint that causes such reactions.  some people have switched to the water-soluble oils for this reason.  Ventilation is a really good idea.  Yes there are respirators too that can be used.  People who use spray varnish and pastels use respirators especially.  good luck, David

Hi David,

Thanks for the information about toxic materials. I am ordering the book by McCann that you suggested.  I’ve been using Eco-House Odorless thinner. I’m thinking of changing to water-soluble oils, but someone has just told me that their pigments, too, may have some toxicity.  Anyway, I’m getting myself a respirator to see how that works.

Thanks again, Louise

Hi Louise,
the pigments are by far the most toxic element of any artist’s material.  It is very important to realize that the same pigments (phthalocyanine, cadmium, cobalt, etc) are used in all artist paints including oils, water-soluble oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, and all should be treated as toxic.  pure pigments are a powder and once the powder is mixed with the binder, linseed oil in this case, you would have to eat the paint to get sick (easier to do than you think).  but the pigments do not give off toxic vapors so they are not the cause of your problem, it is likely the solvent. this is why manufacturers are making water-soluble oils and why a number of  artists are switching over to them.  It is also quite possible to paint in oils without the use of solvents, depending on your style of painting.  I know that Neil Paterson SFCA teaches oil painting without the use of solvents or mediums.

Q:  I read your column in the Art Avenue and would like to know what is the best way of storing acrylic paintings (stretched canvases).  At the moment, I have mine standing upright by a wall, leaning slightly on each other so that the pressure is light.  Nonetheless, sometimes a few of them have their paint pulled off when I remove them from the pile.

In addition, I would like to know what is the best way to transport them in a car–eg., what materials should I use to protect them.

A:  standing upright with minimal pressure is for sure the best way to store them, a storage rack with separators would be ideal so that no painting touches another.  You should not put them face to face.  Most galleries store them upright like you said but they put cardboard or foam-core boards to separate each painting so they won’t stick to each other.  Acrylic paint is thermoplastic:  it is hard when cold and soft and sticky when hot.  If two paintings are touching each other and it gets hot they will adhere to one another.  Even after it gets cold again they will remain stuck.  Art supply stores sell a type of wax paper for putting over charcoal or graphite images so that they don’t smudge, that might work too for separating the paintings, but I haven’t tried it.
You should be able to transport them the same way as you store them without too much problem – upright preferably, or flat if there are only a couple, and keep them separated with something that they won’t stick to.  thanks for the question, cheers, David

David,

I saw your article at www.artist.ca on paints and using pure pigments.  Are there mfgs who specialize in pure hues? That is, can they produce very narrow spectrum paints?
I’m interested in the interaction of paint and light by using a color-changing light source and having certain colors ‘pop’ in and out – I’ve been working on some ideas in this area but printing technology
limits the effects so I began looking for paints whose purity was very high.

Kevin

Hi Kevin,

You didn’t mention what type of paints you will be using (oils, acrylics,…).  This makes a difference.  The concentration of pigment to binder (linseed oil, acrylic resin and so on) differs in each medium so you might want to consider this.  For example, the highest quality pure cadmium color may be more intense with oils than with acrylics because linseed oil can ‘hold’ more pigment, ie. the color (pigment) is more saturated. Watercolors have a high concentration of pigment but the paint relies on the white of the paper to make the colors bright and cannot be loaded thick enough to create a real pure color sensation. Dry pastels are high in pigment if you buy the best ones but you cannot overlap colors in transparent layers with pastels and I don’t know if that is important for your project.

You might want to consider buying good quality powdered pigments and mixing your own paints with water and fresh egg yolk (Egg Tempera paint) this will give you the highest concentration of pigment and therefore the most intense colors.  Be careful though, the pigments in their powdered form are very toxic and the powder is easy to inhale.

Otherwise, look to buy the most expensive paints in any medium and you will be sure to get the most chemically pure, saturated colors.  Beware of inexpensive paints that claim to make ‘professional’ quality but make inferior paints, their colors will be muddy and dull.  As I mentioned in the article ‘Light Rules’ only get pure pigment colors, that is, colors that list only one pigment on the label.   A company may make 120 different tubes of paint but you can be sure that only about 1/2 of these will be pure pigment colors.

good luck, david

Here is an exchange I had with Martyn.  It provides helpful hints for all of us who occasionally get paint where we don’t want it…

Hi David,  We have dried acrylic paint on our carpet.  We have trimmed the carpet and have removed the hard excess on the top.  But can you suggest any solvents to remove the residual please?  Many Thanks, Martyn

-try rubbing alcohol.  If that doesn’t work acetone (nail polish remover is mostly acetone) is stronger and has been known to dissolve dried acrylic paint.  let me know if it works…

…Thanks for replying so promptly.  However, we tried brush restorer on the
patch and it worked a treat.  It dissolves the acrylic and then lots of soapy
water cleans up the mess

-that is a good thing to know.  What type of solvent(s) are used in the brush restorer?  What does it say on the label?

…The product is Polycell brush restorer.  It may be only a UK brand.  The tin says it contains: Methylene Dichloride and Naphtha.  If others try this method I would suggest trying it out on the material (carpet in my case) first as it could react adversely.

Regards, Martyn

Permanence: Who Cares?

I was painting in oils on an unprimed cotton canvas to see what effects I could get when my university painting instructor told me that the acid in the oil would cause the cotton to rot and become brittle, in other words, it would not be permanent.  “Permanent?”  I paused, “Really?” “Then I guess it will be the problem of the conservationists some day” was my answer.  This was my introduction to the concept of permanence and its relation to works of art.

Later, when I became interested in the techniques of the so-called ‘Old Masters’ I learned that permanence was indeed a topic a great concern for them and their clients.  They took great care to insure that their paintings would last for hundreds of years.  They carefully chose their materials and used them in ways that were proven over the centuries to stand the test of time.  Often the artists signed contracts that specified which materials (pigments in particular) would be used to create a painting.  That is not to say that all old paintings are in good condition, but in general the artists were aware of the implications of their choices when it came to materials and techniques.  This awareness gradually faded over time as artists became less involved in the actual manufacturing of their materials.  Now very few artists are educated in this aspect of their work.

It has indeed become the problem of the conservationists and it is thru them and their writings that we are becoming aware once again of the effects of our creative choices.  Louis Pomerantz, a conservationist in Chicago, wrote a groundbreaking book in the early 60’s to try to alert artists to the significance of permanence in artwork.  The book is called “Is Your Contemporary Painting More Temporary Than You Think?”  He was inspired to write it when he noticed that he was spending more time restoring contemporary paintings than he was on paintings done hundreds of years ago.

Museums are full of paintings done by modern artists that are in very poor condition and are quickly becoming unrecognizable because of unstoppable deterioration due to the use of unstable materials.  Paintings that are considered to have great artistic and cultural significance are being lost forever.  We all know of artists, some very famous, using household paints and commercial products, found objects, and even perishable food products in their works.  The dilemma faced by museums and their staff, collectors, and art lovers, is what to do, if anything, to keep the art in its original state for as long as possible.  Clearly, most of these people believe it is the responsibility of the artist to choose their materials carefully to ensure permanence.  This is where the question of permanence becomes a philosophical issue.  Many artists do not expect their paintings to last and don’t care – they are not concerned about permanence, and if this is a conscious, deliberate choice, then it is a legitimate one.   Occasionally, however, the issue also turns into a financial one.

Museums, galleries, and collectors often end up spending a lot of money on restoration to keep their investments from deteriorating.  There have been a number of court cases where galleries and artists were sued because paintings began to fade, crack, or fall apart.  So, once again, we are seeing the emergence of artists having to sign contracts or being held financially responsible for the permanence of expensive works of art and commissions.

Now this is where the question turns to the situation faced by the artist of modest fame, and the amateur artist.  Probably 99% of us fit into this category.  Why should we care about permanence?  No one is asking us to sign contracts guaranteeing that our paintings won’t fall apart.  Consider too, as history has shown; only time will determine who will be regarded as significant in the centuries ahead.  Bougeureau’s paintings were selling for one quarter of a million dollars U.S. at the end of the 1800’s (imagine how much that would be in today’s dollars!) and he was one of the most renowned artists of his time.  Van Gogh was a nobody.  Yet how many people have ever heard of Bouguereau?  Will Picasso still be considered a great artist in two hundred years?  I can tell you that a lot of his painting will be in very poor condition.

I was lucky to be teaching at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts after I graduated and I came into contact with the conservationists working there.  I discovered that they knew more about materials and techniques than any artist or painting instructor that I had ever come across.  More importantly, they were a source of resource material and literature on the topic.  I began my years long study and research to try to learn as much as I could about the ‘craft’ of painting.  My idea was that the ‘art’ of painting was a lot easier to learn as it was the main emphasis of every painting class or workshop that I was aware of and there seemed to be endless resources in the writings of art historians and artists.  Reliable information about the ‘craft’ of painting, that is the physical and chemical properties of the paints and their applications, was more elusive.  I later obtained a Masters Degree in Art Education and the ‘craft’ of painting was the theme of my monograph.  I was not particularly interested in permanence, but learning about it was an automatic result of learning how to use the materials to achieve all of the effects that we recognize in the work of the great painters of the past.  I just wanted to be a better painter.  I am also not one of those people on either side of the argument that says artists should take responsibility for the permanence of their expressions.  The choice is up to each artist.  As an artist I appreciate the ability to make a choice based on the simple facts of the permanence of materials and their interactions with each other and with the environment.  That way, if I decide I want the painting to last I can chose my materials accordingly, if I am doing experimentation or simple studies or exercises I may decide to use cheaper, less permanent materials.  Then again, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money on materials to make a permanent work of art.  That is also nice to know.  My objective in teaching these facts and writing these articles is to offer artists the same ability to make knowledgeable choices.

I remember reading about one of the American Abstract Expressionist painters who was invited by the conservation department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York to come and look at the state of his paintings.  He was shocked.  The conservationists wanted to know how far he thought they should go to keep the paintings from deteriorating beyond recognition.  It would eventually mean laying them flat and under glass.  Many artists of the past may have, if they had had the proper information, made different choices to preserve their expressions for future, others, perhaps not.  For some of us it is just nice to know that your choices will make a difference to the longevity of your work, and to know what your choices are… any questions?

SELF TAUGHT ARTISTS…

By David Langevin

We often hear painters refer to themselves as “self taught.” What they usually mean is that they had no formal training in a University or College art program. The reality of the situation, as anyone who has taken painting courses in these programs will attest to, is that we are all self taught when it comes to learning how to paint.

A 1990 survey of University Fine Arts Programs across Canada revealed that none of them offered courses that specifically emphasized technical training in materials, or courses on the business of art and the art market; two aspects of an artist’s profession that most would consider essential. Currently, programs focus on art theory, art criticism, the creative process, and art history.

Technical training for painters refers to the physical and chemical laws that govern the application of paints and mediums, and their interactions with each other. It is about how paints and brushes are made; the difference between Ivory Black and Mars Black, or Flake White and Titanium White; how Turpentine and Mineral Spirits differ, or Copal and Damar varnish, and so on. It is about how artists like Titian, Rembrandt andMonet achieved their effects with oils and what pigments and mediums they used. This kind of information must be learned, for the most part, outside of the academic system. For anyone who is serious about painting you run up against these very practical matters almost every time you pick up a brush. If you are serious about making a living as an artist you run straight into the business of selling art and selling yourself – the art market. If they don’t teach you about these vital issues in most art programs, where and how are you going to learn them?

The artist’s education has indeed changed over the centuries.   If you showed potential as a young artist during the Renaissance in Europe you would have to apply to be taken on as an apprentice in the studio of a Master. There you would learn the painter’s craft: Preparing materials for the studio from the raw ingredients; grinding pigments into powder and mixing it with the binder; preparing mediums, canvases and panels, and so on.  All the while working hard to develop your artistic skills with intensive drawing exercises.  It would usually be ten years or more before you would have the opportunity to actually work on a painting. By the time you were allowed to help out with the underpainting of a minor commission piece you were an expert in the knowledge and handling of materials and techniques.

Artist’s training changed in the 18th century with the shift from Master/Apprentice Studio to the Academies.  These institutions were much closer to our modern system with a teacher and a room full of students. What was gradually lost in this new format was the direct information regarding materials and their application, and equally important, the direct contact that the artist trainee had with a successful master painter and the day to day business affairs related to the professional career. By the time the Impressionists learned how to paint in the 19th century they had a minimum of instruction regarding materials and techniques. Instead, the Academies emphasized style and subject matter, the very thing that the Impressionists rebelled against. Moreover, by the beginning of the 19th century we saw the introduction of the Artist’s Colorman who became the manufacturer and distributor of materials for painters. So painters lost the intimate knowledge of the materials gained by making them themselves. They were also left to make their own way in the art market without the benefit of the contacts and experience gained by working with an already established studio.

The last few decades has seen a resurgence of interest in the technical training of painters, particularly in Europe.  It is mainly due to the excellent work done in the field of art conservation that has helped us learn more about how painting materials can be used.  In fact, it is conservationists like Eastlake and Maroger who wrote some of the first modern’ how to’ books on painting materials and techniques. Most are out of print but can still be found in some libraries (especially museum libraries) or on the bookshelves in the conservation departments in bigger museums. The standard in the field is still Ralph Mayer’s The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, now in its 5th edition.

Another great resource that we have in our modern society is organizations like the FCA. Here artists can get together and share information, knowledge and experience. Less experienced artists can learn from established professionals through workshops, talks, and more informal contact.
During the renaissance and even later in the Academies, you didn’t choose to be an artist like we do today; you were chosen.  Now we have many institutions, resources and organizations at our disposal to help us learn our craft.  You just have to be willing to learn and seek them out for yourself.
This is why most artists today really are self-taught…

Hi David,

Do you have any advice about shipping acrylic paintings on canvas?  Is there any material you know of that will not stick to the surface? I have heard lots of horror stories about various plastics and paper coverings adhering to the painting.

Also, do you know how to construct a “museum collar” for shipping?  I have heard of these but never seen a diagram to make one.

Thanks for any information you would be willing to share.

Susan

Hi Susan,

I have shipped hundreds of acrylic paintings and I don’t have a problem with sticking.

Acrylic paint is thermoplastic though and will act like glue when the conditions are warm, like in a hot transport truck, so making sure they are not touching anything they will adhere to is important.

I simply pack them in brown packing paper, then bubble wrap, then cardboard.  I never pack two painting so that they touch each other, each one is wrapped individually when there is more than one in a package.  I also make sure that the painted surface of the paintings are facing inside the box to reduce the risk of harm if the box is damaged.

Acrylic paintings are the easiest of all mediums to restore if they do get damaged or stick to something so I am never very concerned.

I have never used a ‘museum collar’ and don’t know how to make one.  Check with the conservation department of your local public art gallery, they might know.

Hi David,

I have person interested in purchasing my artwork thru the web.  I have never sold art internationally and would appreciate if you could provide some information.

What is the best method for shipping and receiving payment??  Are there any issues with customs when selling artwork internationally?  Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Yours truly, Kurt

Hi Kurt,

You need to receive payment before you send anything.  Since you probably don’t accept credit card payments you should have them send a certified cheque, or a money order.  A personal cheque is ok but you should wait for it to clear before shipping the painting.  I have a paypal account that I use for transactions as well, that is very handy.

You can use a courier service like Fedex or UPS for international shipping.  You have to decide if you are going to charge shipping or include it in the cost.  The biggest problem with shipping artwork is getting it insured.  Most couriers will not insure it without written ‘proof’ of value, i.e. a professional appraisal.  That is a pain in the…  They are right to insist of course because you could claim any value and insurance fraud would be a breeze.  I just package the #@$%^$# out of it and don’t worry about it.

You have to fill out a customs declaration and the receiver is responsible for any taxes or duties at their end, and you should probably let them know that in advance.  Therefore, the receiver may appreciate a lower declared value (insurance is a non issue anyway) as many countries, like Canada, charge fees, duties, and taxes based on a percentage of the declared value.

Hope that helps, best of luck, David

Q:  I read your column in the Art Avenue and would like to know what is the best way of storing acrylic paintings (stretched canvases).  At the moment, I have mine standing upright by a wall, leaning slightly on each other so that the pressure is light.  Nonetheless, sometimes a few of them have their paint pulled off when I remove them from the pile.
In addition, I would like to know what is the best way to transport them in a car–eg., what materials should I use to protect them.

A:  standing upright with minimal pressure is for sure the best way to store them.   A storage rack with separators would be ideal so that no painting touches another.  You should not put them face to face.  Most galleries store them upright like you said but they put cardboard or foam-core boards to separate each painting so they won’t stick to each other.  Dried acrylic paint is thermoplastic:  it is hard when cold and soft and sticky when hot.  If two paintings are touching each other and it gets hot they will adhere to one another.  Even after it gets cold again they will remain stuck.  Art supply stores sell a type of wax paper for putting over charcoal or graphite images so that they don’t smudge, that might work too for separating the paintings, but I haven’t tried it.

You should be able to transport them the same way as you store them without too much problem – upright preferably, or flat if there are only a couple and the weight is not excessive, and keep them separated with something like cardboard so that they won’t stick to each other.  Thanks for the question, cheers,
David

David,
I have been painting for about 3 years, not in well ventilated area. I do not buy really expensive paints (2 to 5$) I was wondering if they can still make me sick. I really get headaches and just don’t feel well when I am painting. My daughter brought it to my attention yesterday when I was showing her some work in my office and she said the smell was so strong. I would like you to let me know.
Thanks, Bonnie

Hi Bonnie,

Cheap paints can make you just as sick as expensive paints. Probably more so since there are more fillers and additives. All types of paints give off vapors from chemicals and volatile solvents, some types more than others.
What type of paints are you using? Oils, acrylics…
Some artists have exhaust fans installed in front of their work area or easel to pull out the vapors. You can also use a fan in the window to do the same thing.
David

I use a mix of Neon(apple Barrel) Metallic (Anta’s) and of course the Acrylic’s of Academy and Liquitex (Basics). I work on canvas and work in a 12×12 or so room. I know when I use the Neon it is really strong vapors. I will just have to start using a fan, or something. I thank you very much for answering my question.
Bonnie

Try painting with only one of your paints, like the Neon, for a day or two and see how you feel. You will likely feel better with some than others. Get rid of the ones that don’t make you feel good. Smell is a good indicator, good paints don’t smell strong and few people complain about ill effects when working with them.

Q: I now feel confident and can move forward and try to do much less mixing on the palette in order to achieve a more vibrant surface and depth. I really appreciate having your list of colors! I also read your “Light Rules” article. I think this is the best thing since sliced cheese. I feel that I could have wandered around for years not knowing why the luster I want from the colors is not there. If you don’t mix colors on the palette, is it through glazing that you manage to ‘blend’ the colors? Also, can you tell me what you mean by putting a veil between the glaze layers?

A: If you look at my paintings you will notice that the luminosity and sense of depth and inner color and light is created by using alternating layers of transparent layers (glazes), translucent effects (veils), and opaques. These three methods of applying paint are effective tools to ‘push’ and ‘pull’ on the viewers attention in the composition. Glazes ‘eat’ light, they pull the viewers eye into the composition and create a sense of depth and mystery as the colors from underneath show through. Opaque passages of color appear to jump off the surface rather than recede; veils create a more neutral effect.
A Veil, also called Velatura or Scumble, is simply a glaze with some white or other light opaque color added to it to make it semi-transparent. The addition of a veils between layers of glazes adds more ‘light’, tempers the colors in various ways, and tends to ‘cool’ the color effect, even if it is a ‘warm’ veil, that is, one made using warm colors like yellow or red.

Q: I’ve avoided using black since so many have said that it should be excluded. I see your point very well about the blacks though and will try to bring them in too. And what the heck is wrong with the umbers? Whenever I use them they appear to be a flat, dead hole in the canvas. I haven’t really tried the black, but I would imagine they might make a similar black hole? Is placing glazes over the top of the umbers and black the solution to the blank, flat appearance they give?

A: I was also told not to use blacks and browns when I went to art classes. In fact any combination of browns, blues, and greens etc used to create a ‘black’ hue would lack the luminosity, transparency, intensity, and crispness of a single pigment black color straight from the tube. The same is true of any mixture of two or more pigments used to make a color, that is why I use only single pigment colors and rarely mix them together. This was a rule of thumb for great painters for hundreds of years until the unfortunate introduction of the color wheel a couple of centuries ago and the theories of color mixing that have been built up around it.
Some pigments do appear more flat and matt than others, both in acrylics and oils, and not just the browns. I use lots of gloss medium in my glazes and veils so I don’t have ‘flat’ areas of color. Also, remember that good quality paints cost more but they are brighter, more intense in hue, and more transparent, or opaque, depending on the color, than lesser quality or ‘student’ grades of paint.

Q: Is there any reason to choose to use the transparent color over the opaque one? Is it important to try to use the transparent colors for glazing?

A: Use them both to create different effects as noted above. Glazes made using transparent colors will be more transparent of course, and also more luminous as the small transparent pigment particles will actually transmit light through the paint layer. For a minimum number of colors I recommend at least one opaque and one transparent of every color. That way you will be able to create any effect imaginable.

Q: I’ve heard that there are quite a few painters who have given up on acrylics and gone to oils, even after years of painting in acrylics. Is it true that oils have a richer and more intense color quality, and that there is nothing like the oily appeal of oils?

A: It is true. Acrylics will never be as vibrant or luscious as oils. I learned to paint in oils and still do alot of my paintings in oils. Still, each medium has its strengths and weaknesses; it is a matter of understanding the specific qualities of each medium and using them to their best advantage for the work at hand.

Q: Can you describe the different white and black pigments and their properties please?

A: In Acrylics we have Titanium and Zinc white, in oils there are four to choose from: Titanium, Zinc, Lead or Flake white and, Foundation white.
The most important consideration with oils is that each pigment reacts different with the medium and this affects drying times and the flexibility of the paint layer. In acrylics, the visual properties (hue, transparency) will be the same as in oils except that all the pigments dry the same way so there are no issues with mixing and placement above or bellow other colors – for more detailed info on this topic see my “Fat over Lean” article at this link

Flake white in oils is made with Lead and it is faster drying and more flexible than any of the other whites, or any pigment for that matter; this makes it ideal for underpainting. It also has a different texture and density compared to Titanium or Zinc; it is heavier and tends to feel more smooth and buttery under the brush. It is not as ‘white’ either, but rather tends to me more yellowish than Titanium and especially Zinc. Flake white is also a good white to mix with your colors as it accelerates and regulates the drying of the various pigments in oils.

The newer ‘Foundation’ white that several manufacturers are making now has similar properties to flake/lead white and is made with a fast drying alkyd modified oil and Titanium pigment instead of the traditional lead in oil.

Titanium white is the all round mixing white for most artists and has drying properties in oils that are somewhere between Lead and Zinc. Zinc white is the slowest drying, most brittle of the whites in oils so it is not recommended for use in the underpainting. It is also the coolest, or whitest, of the whites in hue.

There are 3 black pigments mixed used in oils and arylics: Carbon (Lamp), Bone or Ivory Black, and Mars (Oxide). I know a lot of artists like to mix their own blacks by using other colors, but those who know me know that I use pure black pigments in my paintings because no mixture of various pigments will ever be as crisp, intense, or transparent as pure black straight from the tube.

Carbon or ‘Lamp’ black as it is sometimes called because traditionally it was often made by collecting the soot from oil lamps, has a high tinting strength, is quite transparent and cool in hue, and has a very high oil content color in oils. It is therefore a slow drying ‘fat’ color and not good for underpainting.

Bone or Ivory Black, so named because it used to be made from the carbon of burned animal bones, is a moderately high oil absorption paint and so is a bit faster drying and leaner than Carbon black in oil paint. It is usually the most transparent of the 3 blacks and so is good for glazing.

Mars or Oxide Black is the warmest in hue and most opaque of the blacks and also the fastest drying, most ‘lean’ (lower oil content) and most flexible in oil paint.

Hi David, 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?

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 pure pigment colors on the market, more for oils than acrylics.

I don’t know where you can find a list of single pigment colors. 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 the color chart on Golden’s website 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. A color like Jenkins Green is not a single pigment color and will have the index: PBk 9 / PY 150 / PG 36 – a mixture of black, yellow and green pigments.

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 browns. 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.

Understand also, that although I rarely mix colors together on the palette, I use lots of glazes and veils to create an extraordinary ‘mix’ of color effects. For greens for example I will glaze yellow over blue, orange over green, or black over yellow, and so on., sometimes with veils in between the layers.

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:

-Carbon Black
-Titanium White + Flake (Lead) White for oils
-Cadmium Yellow Light, or Hansa Yellow
-Cadmium Yellow Dark
-Nickel Azo Yellow
-Cadmium, Vat, or Pyrrole Orange
-Cadmium Red
-Quinacridone Red
-Quinacridone Magenta
-Iron Oxide Red
-Transparent Iron Oxide Red
-Yellow Oxide (Ochre)
-Transparent Yellow Oxide
-Burnt Sienna
-Raw Sienna
-Burnt Umber
-Raw Umber
-Phthalocayanine Green
-Chromium Oxide Green
– Phthalocayanine Blue
-Anthraquinone or Ultramarine Blue
-Cobalt Blue
-Dioxazine Purple

I have a couple of questions here from Karen and Pat about Greens. Painters and paint manufacturers have been trying for centuries to put together a natural looking, pure pigment green paint color, and with limited success. Read on…

Q: I have a question that has to do with the permanency or non-permanency of Chromium Oxide Green (is Terre Verte the same thing?) It’s the only pigment on my palette about which I am uncertain.

A: Professional grade chromium oxide green is rated as very permanent. It is a stable color in all types of paints. Terre Verte or “Green Earth” is not the same pigment, but that needs to be qualified. Terre Verte is a natural clay colored by iron and manganese and was a very popular color during the Renaissance. It has low tinting strength and is transparent and has limited use in oils, except for glazes. Nowadays, it is rarely used to make colors as the best clays are hard to come by and expensive. When it is used for oils it is often strengthened with oxide of chromium, hence the confusion.

Q: I really love the Sap Green that you use. You said it was Windsor & Newton. I am assuming that it’s from the Finity series, which I noted on the internet. It is the only one I can find in Windsor & Newton. The only greens I have are Chromium Oxide and Pthalo Green and I don’t really like either one of them for the piece I am doing right now. I realize that I can mix the paint to get sort of the right color, but your advice is to keep the colors pure. Can you please let me know if it is Finity or not?

A: Yes it is. And it is one of the only colors in my palette that is not a pure pigment color. It is two pigments co-precipitated to make a single hue – as close as you can get to a pure pigment color as far as I can tell. To my knowledge, Winsor & Newton is the only company that makes this color. It is an excellent, natural looking, transparent color – great for landscape painting. Chromium Oxide and Pthalo Green have limited use in for landscape painters. Still, I most often prefer to make my greens by using combinations of blues, pure greens, blacks, yellows, browns, and oranges, glazed over one another in various combinations to make an exciting array of greens in my landscape pieces. This way the colors have all the depth and intrigue but still remain separate, pure. Try it out. Mix a blue and a yellow to make a green. Then, take the same blue and paint it on thinly over the white canvas, so it is transparent. Then, mix your yellow with some glazing medium and paint it over the dried (this is vital) blue. The resulting green will be far more interesting and lively than the mixture.

1. Paint on a good quality ground (gesso) that is thick enough to prevent oil seeping through to the support.

2. Paint on a rigid rather than a flexible support whenever possible (see #19).

3. Paint fast dryers under slow dryers.

4. Paint ‘lean’ (low oil content) pigments under ‘fat’ (high oil content) ones.

5. When painting in layers keep the under layers thinner and leaner.

6. Paint oils over acrylics if you must but not the other way around.

7. Do not paint over a layer that has a dry skin but is soft and wet underneath.

8. Oil paint can be thinned with only small very amounts of solvent.

9. Do not add extra oil to your paint.

10. Use a good painting medium to thin paint and make glazes and veils.

11. Use Retouch varnish sparingly.

12. Keep the underpainting light and bright (see # 17&18).

13. Do not apply the paint too thick.

14. Heavy texture and collage effects are best done with acrylic paints and mediums.

15. Do not use old paint that has begun to dry and is stiff and rubbery, it will not adhere well.

16. Paint around things rather than over top unless you want the underpainting to show (see # 17&18).

17. Remember that oil paint darkens and becomes more yellow/brown with age.

18. Remember that oil paint becomes more transparent with age.

19. Remember that oil paint becomes more hard and brittle with age.

20. Use soap to clean hands and brushes, not solvents.

21. Wait between 3-12 months before applying picture varnish, depending on the thickness of the paint.

22. Do not hang or store oil paintings where they will be exposed to humidity or large temperature fluctuations.

23. Never use water to clean an oil painting.

24. Use the best quality paints you can afford.

25. Do not mix low grade and professional grade paints in the same painting.

David,

I’m from Ireland but have spent some time in Canada and discovered your work in the Hampton Art Gallery in Kamloops, I was immediately attracted to your style of painting. I recently visited your website and think its awesome how you help other painters along with advice and tips like you do, I would have loved to have gone to one of your workshops!

I’m an acrylic rookie and have a few questions as well – I hope you don’t mind! Is the Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS ok to apply directly over an acrylic painting or is it best to have an isolation coat? If you’re doing glazing should the underpainting also have GAC 700, or another medium, in it? When you glaze snow do you mix some paint with the glaze medium or do you use it straight?

Thanks very much, Roslyn

 

Hi Roslyn,

Thanks for the kind words. Do not put the UVLS varnish directly on your acrylic paintings – you do need an isolation coat (2 parts Golden soft gel medium (gloss) to 1 part water) is a good isolation varnish. The solvent needed to remove the UVLS varnish during restoration would damage your painting. Follow the instructions on the jar.

The underpaintings do not necessarily need any mediums in them before you glaze over them.

Depending on the type of snow I am painting I use different amounts of medium, or none, usually Golden GAC 100 or 700, and sometimes regular gloss medium. The amount of gloss medium I add makes the snow more or less transparent so the underpainting shows thru in varying degrees. Not a lot of snow in Ireland I don’t imagine!

The “Glazing” medium by Golden is formulated specifically to slow the drying time, or ‘open’ time, of your acrylic paint. It is not the same as a regular medium. You can mix it with your gloss mediums or GAC mediums to do transparent effects like glazes and veils, or just mix it with the paint in varying amounts to slow the drying time of the paints. It is not well suited to use as the only medium to make glazes and I wish they would not have called it ‘glazing liquid’ for that reason, it is confusing for many painters.

Have fun with your acrylics. David

Hi David,   I am looking to take a canvas painting –  I’m not actually sure if it’s acrylic or oil – on the airplane with me. It’s currently stretched and mounted, but I was wondering if it is safe to take  it off it’s frame and roll it for transport.    Thanks for your help!        Rachael

Hi Rachael, How big is the painting?  How old is the painting?  If you are not sure if it is an oil or acylic it is best not to roll it.   David

Hi David,

I found out that the painting is acrylic, and  it’s recent but completely dry.  It’s roughly 4 feet by 3 feet I think.  The artist assured me that there will be no damage to the painting and  that this is standard shipping procedure – does that sound right to you?

Thanks for your help!  Rachael

Yup, it is OK. It is not standard shipping procedure for valuable old oil paintings but it will be fine with an acrylic painting.

Hello David,

I am a doll maker and use vinyl parts for dolls. I am> looking for a medium to paint the vinyl. Oil paints don’t really dry and cure. They can rub off. I also tried heat> set paints but do not like the look of them.  Acrylics don’t have the delicate transparency required for baby skin, for instance. Casein paints appears to have the right touch. Can you tell me if they will adhere to the vinyl? > Thanks, Vieve

Hi Vieve,  interesting question.  Casein paint is not nearly as adhesive as oils and acrylics, so they probably won’t do.   I would stick with acrylic paint.  they can be just as transparent as oils if you use good quality paint and a transparent medium to with them.  they should adhere as good as any paint.   good luck, david >

Q:  Do you use black in your paintings?  I was taught that you should make your own blacks and dark colors with mixtures.  Donna

 

A:  If you have seen my paintings you know I like dark colors and you bet I use black!  For those of you who have read my article “light rules” or taken my workshops, you also know that I rarely mix colors.  For hundreds of years great painters, right up to the Impressionists, did their best to avoid mixing colors if they could use pure pigment colors instead.  Rather, they achieved their effects by applying pure colors directly on the canvas, either superimposed in transparent and translucent layers (glazes and scumbles, or veils) or by mixing them minimally directly on the canvas with the brush or palette knife.  All the secondary colors and beyond were done in this way.  They would make exceptions and mix together two or more colors in certain areas of the painting that they wanted, for aesthetic reasons, to look dull, or brownish and grayish.  Any mixture of browns and blues or whatever you like to approximate black will produce a dull, heavy color.  A pure pigment black like Carbon black will give a crisp intense black.  Mixing colors will never get the same clarity, transparency and definition you will get by using a pure black.  For shadows and transparent glazes, a black will have an incomparable effect.  The different blacks all have different properties as well.  The Mars Black and Carbon Black are more opaque, while the Bone or Ivory black are more transparent with less tinting strength as well.  The Mars black tends to be the warmest of the three.  So, of course, I have all of them in my palette.  Then again, I like black.

 

Hardware Store Materials

Hey David,

I was talking to a US based artist who sprays a coat of “rust-oleum” enamel paint to Ampersand gesso ground panels. It makes for a great smooth, non-absorbant, but toothy (using a flat paint) surface to paint on. It got me to thinking about simply spraying a couple of coats directly on an untempered hardboard. It seems to be such a strong protective coating that there would be no need to ‘size’ the board first or apply gesso. I am curious what your thoughts are on this. I am painting in oils.  Brian

Hi David,

It was suggested to me that I could use primer paint from the hardware store instead of gesso as it serves the same function and is cheaper.  I know they use it at the local art school.  What do you think of this practice?

Thanks, Karen

If permanence is a concern and you would like your paintings to last for more than a couple of decades then you should only use materials that are specifically made for professional artists (not student grade) as they have been tested to remain stable for at least 100 years.

Any product that you buy at the hardware store, un-tempered hardboard panels being one of the only exceptions, is likely made with a number of ‘unstable’ chemicals that will have unpredictable and adverse effects on the art:  Yellowing, cracking, flaking, separation of layers, and so on.  Most hardware store paints and coating materials are specifically engineered to be short-lived and deteriorate to encourage you to buy more product after a few years.

If you are a student, or just practicing and learning, and permanence is not a concern, then use whatever materials are the most practical and affordable for the task at hand.

Humidity & Cleaning an Oil Painting

Hi David,

My gallery called today asking me a technical question.  I answered the best I could but I felt it deserved your expertise.  The Gallery is adding on a storage room on the outside frame of the building.  It will be insulated but not heated. They were concerned with humidity, condensation, and dampness (maybe these are all the same thing).  The problem should be minimal as they are doing everything to create a completely dry space there.  How do paintings stand up to the possibility of these problems?  The paintings are mainly acrylic on canvas.  My concern was that the gesso or canvas could become moldy.  I wasn’t sure about the acrylic paint itself.  I would really appreciate your opinion so that I can pass on an informed answer.

Thanks so much David, Donna

Hi Donna,

Your observations are correct.  Humidity can be a problem for paintings.  Paintings prefer a dry environment that has a constant temperature – this is the most important factor.  An unheated area can have large fluctuations in temperature and that causes condensation (humidity that turns to water forming on surfaces when cool and warm air get together) and this is a how mold and mildew can become a issue.  It is not usually the painted surface that is attacked but rather the supports – canvas, paper, and wood.

Temperature fluctuations can also be a concern for acrylic paintings because they are thermoplastic.  That is, they are hard when cold and sticky and soft when hot.  They must take care that the acrylic paintings are not touching any surfaces (esp. other acrylic paintings) that they will adhere to.

They might consider a space heater for the area and even a dehumidifier.

Best wishes, David

Hi David,

I would like to know the process of cleaning an oil painting and if any touch-ups would be required to the painting itself after a cleaning?

Donna

 

Hi Donna,

If the painting is dirty or has a difficult build up, use some mineral spirits.  Dampen a soft, smooth, lint-free cloth with it and rub gently one small area at a time, perhaps 2 square inches.  Do not put too much so as to wet the paint excessively as it can seep through and loosen the paint from underneath.  If the painting is on canvas it helps to have a support under the area you are cleaning so that you are not applying too much pressure to the canvas.

Hopefully the painting has been varnished in which case you will not be cleaning the paint itself, but just the varnish.  The painting should need any touch ups.  Never use water to clean an oil painting.

 

 

Latex house paint in artists paintings

I am often asked if it is OK to use regular white house paint or primer instead of gesso and the answer is if you are doing exercises and practice pieces and are not concerned about how the painting will look for future generations, then it is fine.  Here are a couple of questions on this topic:

David,

I have been using latex house paint in my paintings on canvas. I am watering the paint down, mixing it with mediums and pouring it onto the canvas. I am curious about the longevity of this medium, will it crack or will it fade? So far so good, I have had some paintings for 2 years and they have lasted. Any suggestions or concerns?

Thank you for your help. Sincerely, Jessalyn

 

Hi Jessalyn,

It will crack, fade, and do any number of unpredictable things that good quality artist materials would not do.  House paint is designed for house painting and has many materials and additives that will react in potentially undesirable ways in the long term.

Mostly, house paint is not made to last, in fact, most often it is specifically engineered to break down within a few years to encourage people to repaint their walls.  Regular house paint was a favourite medium of some of the famous American Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1940’s and 50’s.  Most of those paintings are in poor shape and some now need to be displayed horizontally and under glass as a result.

Permanence, or longevity as you call it, in art is measured in decades and centuries, a couple of years is not a good indication of permanence.  Still, if you are happy with a few years, then house paint is fine.

Hope that answers your question, David

 

Hello David,

I enjoy your column in Art Avenue and have a question.  I paint landscapes in oils on board and until recently used luan panels.  Prepping the panels with several coats of oil base tinted wash, then painting directly to board.  Over the past year I have become increasingly disappointed with the poor quality of the available luan (splitting) and recently switched to 1/4″ Baltic Birch.  In order to build a tooth onto the surface I am applying about 4-6 layers of gesso in a crosshatch pattern, then several oil base colour washes and also gessoing the back to prevent warping.

Question: I am planning several paintings in the 4′ range and can see myself going through a lot of gesso (very expensive). Do you think I can base out the front of the panels with a couple of sealer coats of good quality interior latex undercoat paint, then gesso? I assume house painting the back is not an issue, however, I am concerned about the front. House paint + Acrylic gesso (oil paint compatible) + Oils.

Thanks for your consideration.  Richard

Hi Richard,

You are correct in your assumption.  House paint on the back is not a big issue, but not a great idea for under your painting if you are concerned about permanence.

Commercial house paint has many ingredients that may not be compatible with permanent painting techniques for artists:  driers, leveling agents, anti-foaming agents, preservatives, and so on.  Plus, it is hard to predict how they will react as they are not designed for that purpose.  They may yellow, lose their adhesive strength, become brittle and crack or flake off.

Hope that helps, david

LEAD WHITE IN OILS

Hello David,

I really enjoy reading your columns in Art Avenue. Thank you! In one of the issues someone was asking about the application of lead white oil ground.  I was extremely surprised to read about it because I thought you couldn’t buy lead white oil ground, anymore. I used to buy it from a store in Toronto when I lived there. He brought it in from some secret supplier. I felt like I was buying contraband.

I finally finished my supply of lead white a couple of years ago. I called a few art stores in Vancouver but none of them had it so I gave up and with great reluctance, switched to Gamblin Primer. It doesn’t have that great grip that white lead has and I don’t fully
trust its interaction with oil paint.Do you know where I could buy lead white ground? Has it actually been reinstated and I didn’t know?!

All the best, Sally

Hi Sally,

Yes, most manufacturers stopped making lead white paint and primer shortly after it was discovered that house paint containing lead was a health hazard.

I found it an inconvenience to paint in oils without the incomparable properties of lead white paint, also sometimes called Flake White, or Cremintz White.  It is by far the most durable, flexible, fast drying, and buttery smooth of all the three whites used in oil painting, and is indispensable for grisailles and underpaintings.

We have, of course, discovered that most pigments used by artists are at least moderately toxic, some highly so, and so there was no need to discriminate exclusively against lead white (see the Art Avenue issue article entitled “the Toxic Painter” from May/June 2011).  So yes, you can buy Flake/Lead white paint, and Lead White Ground again but it is hard to find.  The last can of Lead White Ground that I purchased was made by Winsor & Newton.

Most manufacturers have decided to replace the lead with an alkyd based paint.  So, the Gamblin ground that you refer to, and the often seen ‘Foundation’ whites are a mixture of Titanium Dioxide (white pigment) and an alkyd based oil mixture.  The alkyd mediums dry fast and are flexible like the lead white paints/grounds, but they don’t yellow as easily.  Unfortunately the Foundation White does not have the same smooth, buttery texture and heavy impasto nature of the traditional Flake/Lead white.  Still, I would not hesitate to use the Alkyd based oil grounds like the Gamblin one as a primer, they are perfectly suited for the purpose.

Happy Painting!

 

Q:  Will an acrylic paint adhere to a fibreglass canoe? There is someone who wants me to paint on a canoe that will be used as a sign.   The canoe is fibreglass and it would sit outside.  They want it to last for many years.  Is that possible?  I want to know before I say yes to this idea,

A:  Yes it will adhere to fibreglass but not well if the surface is already painted and/or very smooth. If it is painted or too smooth you might want to have it sand-blasted to give it some ‘tooth’ first.  It would also be a good idea to add some Golden GAC 200 medium to the paint, esp in the first layer or two.  This medium will adhere well to most surfaces.  Be sure to give it a few coats of good varnish after it is dry.  I would recommend Golden MSA Hard Varnish.  Sounds like a fun project.  Have fun! 

A:  What are your thoughts on mixed media with acrylic? I don’t mean anything crazy, but for some acrylic paintings, I’ve been

tempted to enhance certain limited lines, accents, and areas of accentuation, after the acrylic has thoroughly dried, with oil pastel. Would I be better off forsaking this, and putting more attention to getting it right with acrylic to begin with? I’ve also thought of using a non-waterproof black ink with wet acrylic, for the deep black, but also the texture effects it could allow me to create; is that something you’ve experimented with?

A:  Mixed media with acrylics is fun and one of the great advantages of this synthetic polymer medium.  I have done alot of collage and mixed media techniques over the years.  Having said that, oils and acrylics don’t mix very well if you are concerned about permanent effects.  Likewise, non-waterproof inks will ‘bleed’ thru the layers of paint in an uncontrolled fashion and are not usually light fast (they will fade in a few short years).  Try using India Ink instead, which is a pigment based ink rather than a dye based ink and so it will not bleed or fade. They are also making Acrylic inks these days which would, of course, be ideal for this purpose. 

Q:  I’ve done a fair bit of plein-air drawing, but my experience with painting in plein-air is limited. Do you have any experience with trying to paint in near-zero to below-zero temperatures? I’m really excited about getting out and painting in the open, but I’m not sure how much acrylics would suffer from the temperatures, and I have zero experience of oil paint at the moment.

A:  Both acrylics and oils are suitable for outdoor painting in the winter under most conditions.  Both will dry slower as the temp drops. At a certain point they will freeze but at those temps you probably won’t want to stay outside to paint anyway.

The Infamous Color Wheel 

When I teach a workshop I often ask the question:  “have you ever had the situation where you spend a lot of time mixing the perfect color only to realize that you didn’t make enough for the job at hand and you know it will be almost impossible to reproduce it?”  Most people say yes.  Then I tell them that it never happens to me because I never do that, and that mixing colors, like yellow and blue to make green, is a very recent practice in the history of painting.

It is a shocking revelation for many, especially since the color wheel and the ‘art of mixing’ has been such a large part of the painter’s education in the past few decades.

When I took art class in high school, we learned about the color wheel.   I thought it was fascinating that you could make all the different hues using only the three primary colors.  My first set of paints was a ‘basic’ set with the three primaries, two browns, a black, and white.  I made quite a few paintings with that limited palette in my earliest years as a young painter.  Later in college and university painting classes I was encouraged to develop my skills by using as few colors as possible, and was discouraged from using the browns and blacks entirely.  It was even suggested to me by a couple of profs that that is how the Impressionists worked (Not!).  I remember in one of my first painting courses we spent several classes mixing the three primary colors in every conceivable combination to end up with a massive array of color variations.

The color wheel itself was not even the idea of an artist but a scientist, who, like me in high school, had just discovered the theory of light and color as it related to the light spectrum.  The first illustration of the dreaded wheel appeared in a scientific essay he wrote a couple of hundred years ago explaining color theory.  I did look into the matter a few years ago and I can’t remember the details of how it evolved, but somehow artists became obsessed with the idea of the color wheel and a limited palette and by the middle of the 20th century this practice had taken on almost religious significance for many painters.  Certainly, artists often use a limited number of colors to create their paintings but mixing them together on the palette to make secondary and tertiary colors, well, that is indeed a modern practice.

In another article I wrote on pigments (“Single Pigment Colors”, Art Avenue, July/Aug 2010) I pointed out that all the great painters of history worked with no more 12-18 colors for many centuries up until the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century when that number almost doubled giving rise to the advent of the striking renditions of the Impressionists.  We have, in recent years, tripled that number again, giving us a palette of around 100 single pigment colors to work with, each with unique properties; Rembrandt would have been thrilled.

As I demonstrate in my workshops, when you mix two or more colors on the palette you are actually multiplying the effect of a wide range of visible hues in each pigment and the result is a dramatic loss of transparency and color intensity.  That is why the artists of the 19th century and earlier went to great lengths to keep their pigments separate, either in opaque dabs and ala prima mixtures directly on the canvas, or in transparent and translucent layers (glazes and veils).  This way, the eye optical mixes the colors and creates the desired range of colors effects without losing the dynamic properties of light and color.

Although I do have dozens of single pigment colors in my studio, especially the various browns from different manufacturers which are all quite unique, I often do make paintings using no more than 3 or 4 colors – I just don’t mix them together on the palette.  I haven’t mixed red and green to make brown since those early days in art class.  I only mix two colors together if I am making a neutral gray tone for compositional effect.  Indeed, I am teaching a workshop in October on making paintings with a limited palette.

Do this simple test and you will understand why I am not a fan of the color wheel method of mixing colors:  Mix red and yellow together to make orange and paint it out on a white canvas, then beside it paint out some pure Cadmium, or Pyrrole, or Vat Orange.

I know this topic can be a bit controversial for some, but it is not a creative debate, it is a scientific and technical axiom:  Mixing two or more colors together subtracts light and intensity from your paintings.  So, if you want your paintings to have the maximum luminosity and color intensity, as well as transparency, use only single pigment colors and don’t mix them unless your intention is to create a duller, more muted effect in the composition, or if you need to make that special color that just works.

 

 

 

6 Comments on “Misc”

  1. Jenny Prahl

    David, I am not the best at sketching. My heart isn’t into it because its not my forte. My best work is when I project the image on the canvas and get the basic dimensions, shadows, highlights etc then I can take it from there with the painting. I have never worked on a grid. How do you get your sketches started? Are you against the projection process? I know you probably free hand everything now. What is your recommendation for getting an accurate sketch?

    1. david

      I don’t have any objection to using a projector. Learning to draw well makes it much easier to sketch out the elements of the composition for sure, and it makes you a better painter. “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” is a good place to start.

  2. Dana

    Hi David, I love and really appreciate your Technical Q&A, thank you so very much for doing this !!!!
    I have a question for you,
    After i have completed a painting and varnished it, i often find myself wanting to go back and rework it.
    I paint in oils and acrylics. My oil paintings are varnished with a coat of gamsol.
    My acrylic paintings have an isolation coat and then polymer varnish.
    I was wondering if a coat of clear gesso over the area would work for both oil and acrylic paintings.
    ( Ideally i should decide if a painting is done before I varnish, but you know how it goes… there’s always something we see later)

    1. david

      NO, gesso will not adhere to the varnish, or any paint layer for that matter. You must strip the gamsol before repainting on your oils as the paint will not adhere well to the picture varnish. I cannot say for the acrylics as you did not specify what type of isolation and final varnish you are using. I have info on this topic in the Technical Q&A section on my site. Email me if you get stuck.

  3. Barb Krell

    Hi David, I just found you blog and am curious if you are having any workshops in the Greater Vancouver area in 2017. Sure would like to get in on one if you are.
    I have one questions if you don’t mind – what do you mean by paint around things not over them? Is this negative painting?

    Thank you,
    Barb

    1. david

      Hi Barb, my workshop schedule is all booked up for 2017 and no workshops in the Lower Mainland. Nanaimo in April would be the closest. Check the calendar page on my site early in the new year for times and places. D

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