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Painting Best Practices workshop

I recently attended the “Painting Best Practices” workshop in Portland, OR, taught by George O’Hanlon of Natural Pigments. The buzzword for the course was “longevity.”  Build your painting to last!  George is on a mission to help artists learn more about painting materials and their preparation so that the life of their picture is long and it lasts through the centuries.

Many paintings today are failing after only one, five and ten years.  Pictures are cracking and flaking off from a number of causes, including chemical, biological and mechanical failures.  We learned how to build a painting system that works:  how to choose a sound support – one that handles transport, has low response to changes in humidity and temperature and is chemically stable and visually acceptable.  Topics included: Laying the ground (adhesives, grounds, best practices for preparing wood panels, metal panels, copper panels, canvas, etc), Paint film and how it degrades from different painting techniques, Painting mediums and reasons for using different types of mediums…solvents, varnishes.  He even spoke about Studio Safety.  There is no such thing as Nontoxic.  Protect yourself every day and take precaution against exposure.

Since the workshop I have resolved to radically reduce my use of odorless mineral spirits.  For the past two weeks I have been washing my brushes in vegetable oil.  What? you say?  Yes, it works.  It takes a little longer, and I wash them afterwards with a bit of artist soap and water, but my brushes have never been happier.  They spring into action without any little hairs splaying about.  Safer for me and better for the brushes.

The workshop covered so much more than I have mentioned here.  If you get a chance to take it I would highly recommend it.  You can find out more information on some of the technical issues discussed in this course on Mathew Inness’ blog post,

Here’s a (graisille) master copy of an Isaac Levitan painting, “In the Woods in Winter”.  My squeaky clean brushes did all the work!

winter, snow wolf, trees, landscape

Copy After Isaac Levitan by Lolly Shera

Renaissance Techniques Create a Mountain Scene

The fog rolls in on a misty morning walk around Mt. Si, in the Snoqualmie Valley, WA.     Last blog post I showed you the underpainting for this painting done with one color, Shale, from Vasari.  It’s purplish umber color is neutral enough that it can go either warm or cool.  For this painting I chose a cool color harmony.

Let me describe the steps to create this painting.  To start out,  I glazed in a very light blue layer for the mountains and let it dry.  Then, I laid in an opaque layer  for the sky, using white and naples yellow, with a touch of transparent orange.   Next,  I painted the trees with transparent paints, glazing layer over dry layer.  After that, I adjusted colors and temperatures with velaturas and scumbles.  The last step was brushing the sky color over the tops of the trees, shrouding them in fog.

The many layers of transparent and translucent paint help to create a luminous quality that I like.  As the light passes through the transparent layers it hits the white canvas panel and refracts back out.  The refraction creates a “vibration” between the colors.

This technique of laying down many layers of transparent and translucent paint is not a new technique.  During the 14th century many artists used the techniques of Master artist, Titian, known to apply as many as 30 or more layers of paint.

( Yet Unnamed ), 12″ x12″, oil on linen