Thursday, July 2, 2009

What do you mean "fat over lean"?

Since much of the painting we do in class involves applying many layers of paint I hear this question often from my oil painters. I'll see if I can solve the mystery for you.

First let me explain the difference between fat and lean. Fat paint has more oil in it than lean paint. Lean paint is simply paint that has been mixed with paint thinner or turpentine. A good way to remember this is to pair these words in your mind: Fat = oil & Lean = Thinner.

The rule (especially when working with layers) is always to paint fat over lean. The most important reason for this is to keep your paint from cracking. Oily paint dries more slowly and is more flexible. If the fat layer is painted underneath the lean layers it expands and contracts while drying and the lean paint on top will eventually crack and flake. It may happen in a few months or it may take years but if you want your art to last --remember the rule--.

I tell my students to build the first layer (your foundation) with paint that is mixed very thin with turpentine or mineral spirits. You may use either water or a water mixable thinner if you are using water mixable oil paints. In some cases we may thin down the second layer also. Next, you can use paint straight from the tube. You'll probably mix your colors but try not to add any oil. Later layers have oil blended in. In the last stages of the painting there may be a great deal of oil and other mediums as we are often painting with transparent glazes.

Let me recap. When painting in layers start with a very fast drying under-painting. Thin your paint with turpentine or a fast dry medium. Next use undiluted paint just as it comes from the tube. Subsequent layers should have oil added You can keep adding more oil in successive layers but they should never have less oil than those underneath.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Art of Seeing

There’s a trick to Seeing the way an artist does. It’s a trick of the mind not the eyes. It’s even teachable. Once you can See as opposed to just looking,both drawing and painting become amazingly easy. You just paint what you See. On the other hand, if you can’t See it you can’t paint it. I’m not talking about visual acuity here. You can have 20/20 vision and not be able to See like an artist.

In class I discuss several exercises to learn that trick of Seeing I’ve been telling you about. They come highly recommended. The great Leonardo da Vinci wrote about some of them in his notebooks on the art of painting. I’ll bet you even indulged in one of them when you were a small child. Ever lie on the grass staring up at the clouds? Did you imagine pictures in the clouds? I did! I saw castles, dragons, seahorses and puppies up there. That’s one of the easiest ways to start. It trains your brain to work in a different way.

Another way to develop your artist’s eye is to focus on the spaces between things instead of the objects themselves. Pay special attention to the shapes of the sky between the leaves of a tree for example. Notice the shapes between branches. See the spaces between trees. Look around you and study all the in-between shapes. It can also be helpful to observe the outer forms of groups of objects. Perhaps that bouquet of flowers is roughly triangular in form. You’ll find this will help immensely when drawing or composing your paintings.

Try turning a picture upside down and drawing it. Use a complex line drawing for this. I find coloring books useful for this exercise. If you haven’t drawn well in the past you will probably amaze yourself when you turn your drawing upside down and compare it to the right-side-up picture you were copying.

As you try out these tricks of Seeing, be aware of how you feel. Chances are you are experiencing a slightly altered state of conscious. You are shifting into right-brain mode here. That is the state of mind that is best for drawing. It is characterized by a sense of timelessness. You may stop thinking in words altogether. I find this state of mind both relaxing and energizing.

I suggest you read “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “The Drawing on the Right side of the Brain Workbook”. There are many more exercises to help develop your ability to See in that special way in both of these books. Remember this. Whatever you can See, you can paint. All you have to do is paint what you See.

"Painting embraces all the 10 functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest."

Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crossover Skills

I recently recommended an article in a watercolor magazine to one of my students. She asked in an incredulous voice how it could possibly be any use to her as she paints in oils. Well now, that got me thinking. I’ve run across that attitude before and it’s time to do my part to end this particular prejudice.

It doesn’t matter if your medium of choice is watercolor, oil, water miscible oil, acrylic, alkyd, casein, tempera, encaustic, or Genesis paints. You are still painting. You use many of the same skills regardless of the paint. Yes, there are differences but artists employ the same principles of composition, color, value, texture and perspective in all painting. Even sculptors, photographers, cake decorators, garden landscapers, stained glass artists, floral arrangers and architects use those same principles. You can apply what you learn from all the other disciplines to your own work. In fact you should make a point of learning all you can if you wish to grow as an artist.

I find that a familiarity with sculpting lends a greater sense of depth, form and dimension to my painting. My knowledge of color mixing comes in handy when I’m working with polymer clay. An understanding of complementary colors is useful in my work with textiles and jewelry design. I enjoy studying the work of other artists in various fields. I get ideas everywhere and everything I learn enriches every form of art I do.

Of course, as long as you are painting you’ll probably be using a brush (at least part of the time). Certainly many of the brushstrokes we use are applicable to other painting media. Painting is painting after all.

You might also get ideas about new surfaces to use. There are new materials that accept a wide variety of media too. Perhaps you’d like to try handling your acrylics like watercolors and painting on paper instead of canvas. Both acrylics and oils can be used on metal and you can get wonderful effects with that. The possibilities are endless.

Watercolor and oils can both be transparent mediums so some of the techniques work for both. Thin down oils and use them on paper. The oil will bleed but the effects can be interesting. They can be opaque as well. Try painting gouache thickly like oils. Explore making marbled papers. That’s done with oil paints floated on water. Play!

Some media can be mixed. Try using colored pencil and watercolor together. Use acrylics under your oils. Try pastels with watercolor. Experiment. Learn. Create with abandon!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Care and Hanging of Artwork

To transport, put your painting in a plastic bag, then wrap with padding for protection. Use towels, blankets, bubble wrap or other padding. Wrap the artwork in plastic first because lint and fibers from fabric may stick to the varnish.

Do not place anything on the surface of your painting. You may mar the surface or the weight can cause it to warp.

A hot car is a dangerous place for your finished artwork. Avoid leaving it in the heat of either the passenger compartment or the trunk. Varnish can blister.

Paintings on canvas are vulnerable to denting, stretching or tearing. Never lean them against a table corner or any other sharp object.

Never display paintings (any media) in direct sunlight. Colors may fade and art under glass may overheat.

Do not hang your art over or too close to a heat source. This includes radiators, vents and fireplaces. Heat, smoke and ashes can damage your artwork.

Damp or cold locations can also be harmful. Think twice before you hang your work in bathrooms, kitchens and porches.

Don’t put water on the surface of any finished painting.

Do not touch the surface. Oils and acids from your fingers can cause damage or be difficult to remove.

Dust, if necessary, with a clean, dry, soft brush or lint free cloth.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pat's Pix

Pat, one of my most prolific students travels a great deal and takes wonderful photos everywhere she goes. The photographs are art all by themselves and make great painting references. Here are a few of her paintings.