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Thursday, 22 September 2016

From St Catherine's Down - final, definitive, last, completed, done, version.

Right - I've finished it.  This is the final product - it needed a little dark in the mid-distance, and a little warming up in places; I shouldn't have used stark white - perhaps a little red, orange or Naples Yellow mixed with it would have helped.

But anyway, I have now adjusted it, glazed it, and it now looks as it did to me on the day I was up there.

Thanks to me for my photograph and sketch, and to Barry Fitzgerald for his photograph.  I would paint on the spot, but I just can't lug equipment about; hard enough lugging myself about.

Thanks also to Michael Harding, the paint-maker, without whose Cobalt Blue this would have been a lot more difficult.

By the way, I do know the picture is somewhat skew-whiff: it's my lack of camera skills that is to blame.

Oil on canvas board, 16" by 12"
From St Catherine's Down


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Latest work in progress

Actually, I'm not sure how much farther I want to take this, assuming I take it any farther at all - it could probably do with a few glazes, to warm it up a bit but if it does look a bit chalky, it is a painting of a chalk landscape, so there's something rather fitting about that.  I could perhaps have mixed a little Naples Yellow or even Buff Titanium with some of the whites - but there it is, I didn't.

I confess that - while one's never satisfied - I'm not entirely displeased with this.

I watched a couple of painting demos on YouTube this evening - well, three.  The first one was Bob Ross, quite an early film - from 1984, I think, when his technique was much less developed than it later became.  I don't listen to Bob for painting advice - he had his technique, to fit into less than half an hour of TV time (which I certainly couldn't do, by the way), and mine is very different.  But I do find him extremely calming - I get very wound up sometimes, and listening to him, and watching him, is oddly satisfying.

The other couple of demos were of paintings in Alkyd oils by one Michael James Smith - again, a totally different technique to mine, and I don't use Griffin Alkyds (by Winsor and Newton: when used with Liquin, especially, it's an extremely fast-drying paint).  I was fascinated by his approach to painting trees - he lays down a dark substrate, a mix of Ivory Black, Ultramarine, Burnt Umber and so far as I can tell - the demos are somewhat snippety, and not helped by the music he uses to accompany them: I'm a bit too deaf to mask it out and hear all of the commentary; and I don't like the music, either, which doesn't help - a touch of Yellow Ochre and/or Winsor Lemon.

When he comes back the next day or for the next session, he applies a glaze of Liquin over the now more or less dry paint, and then with a quite small brush applies the leaves in a series of dancing strokes with lighter paint, and a quite small brush.  I don't think I'd have the patience for that, although he has acquired a speedy technique; and the results look (on screen at least) very realistic.  It approaches hyper-realism perhaps - not everyone's cup of tea; and I'm not keen on using black for the darks, even mixed with ultramarine.  But if it works, it works....  later on, he introduces the likes of Cerulean Blue (Hue), Sap Green, and more Titanium White.  Worth a look.

But in oil particularly, I prefer a more textured approach and am not overly-concerned with realism - I'm after the impression and the feel of a place; no reason why you can't get that with a very realistic approach, but it's something I find a little too painstaking  - I'd be afraid of working a painting to death.

Anyway, here's my WIP (Work in Progress), an oil of a spot on St Catherine's Down, composed from my own sketches and a photograph by Barry Fitzgerald, my friend and professional photographer based in Tralee, Co. Kerry, in Ireland.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Things to avoid in oil painting: and my landlady's 86th Birthday card

I offer these reflections for what they're worth, and I'm not sure how much that really is.  Technical caution concerning oil paint, though, is probably a word to the wise.

There is concern over the use of Zinc White in oil, particularly in the lower layers or priming of a painting.  In fact, it's always been obvious that Zinc White in the underpainting is a bad idea, because it's an extremely slow drier - and the last thing you want in paint over which you're planning to add layers is slow drying; not only does it hold you back, it also increases the risk of the paint film cracking later.

The new concern - or relatively new - is to do with the formulation of metallic soaps, areas of instability in the paint which can cause delamination: in other words, can lead to the paint just lifting from the canvas and falling off.  Zinc White is far more likely to form these soaps than other whites, like the traditional lead white, or at least forms them much more quickly.   But Zinc has been mixed with actual painting grounds, the so-called "gesso" surface on which one paints; it was also mixed with some lead whites, and it was assumed that this was a sound enough practice (its intention was to make the paint more workable and less prone to yellowing) since the negative characteristics of Zinc would be overcome by, eg, Titanium, or lead.

There are now question marks over this, which have come to the fore over the priming of artists' canvas.  That priming is usually acrylic these days - but there are those who suggest that this is still a potential problem.   I simply don't know if they're right or wrong.

 Unless you make your own sizing and prime your own canvases with the material of your choice, and none is without drawbacks, any canvas or canvas board you buy is likely to be primed with an acrylic paint containing  Zinc; it won't be pure Zinc, but will be mixed in proportion to Titanium White; the latter should be the major constituent, but looking at my own Daler-Rowny container of acrylic gesso, there's no information on it to give any sort of clue as to its composition.  So - this is not likely to cause any problem with acrylics.  I don't think it's very likely to cause any problem with oils either - but to achieve the longest life possible for your paintings, oils should be painted on rigid panels rather than flexible canvas: one of the best would be canvas glued to wood or other rigid boards.   Canvas, which is easily damaged anyway, is very prone to being affected by climatic conditions, temperature, humidity: these factors can hasten the deterioration of oil paintings, cause cracking, promote the creation of metallic soaps.

Acrylic on canvas seems a much safer bet.

Is this worrying too much?  Perhaps it is - but even so, in any work I'm offering for sale, I now avoid Zinc White, which I would never have used in priming products (knowingly) or early layers anyway; and on the whole I use rigid panels rather than stretched canvas for oil painting.  Keeping an eye on these technical questions can make one extremely neurotic - and the lack of certainty makes it worse.  But at least if you know there are potential issues, you can make up your mind how to respond to them, or whether to respond at all.

And in the meantime, here's my landlady's 86th birthday card, from an oil sketch; and it's true, you wouldn't know she was 86 (if she'd only wear her hearing aids...).