One More Thing

One caveat to my last post on sizing linen canvas–I stretched a 36″ x 40″ canvas on Sunday and used the Gamblin PVA size on it and did get a few ripples, as it was
a very rainy day. I let it dry overnight and then sprayed the back of it with water and let that dry completely overnight.  The water tightened up any remaining ripples nicely. I haven’t tried stretching the canvas, then spraying both sides with water, letting that dry, and then using the size.  That might be the best order of operations of all. The linen shrinks when it dries, so all ripples should disappear. One note: when using pre-primed canvas, spraying the back with water will tighten the canvas temporarily, but does nothing to keep it from sagging in humidity.

Sizing it up

Today I spent the day preparing my stretcher bars & canvas for a new painting.  If you’re like me, you’ve tried dozens of procedures for preparing painting surfaces.  I’ll spare you the grizzly details of what I’ve tried, why it worked or didn’t, etc.  Instead, I’ll just tell you what I’ve found that I like best and why.

If you want a smooth texture, but not the ultra smoothness of a gessoed panel, Utrecht Belgian Linen #66J is fab.   It is thick and heavy and tightly woven, even though it is only single weave, and best of all, it comes UNprimed!  While that may dismay some of you, who, like myself, were persuaded to use Clausen’s double oil-primed linen right from the supplier, and felt daunted by the thought of multiple stages necessary to even get ready to paint, I can assure you that the end result is worth every bit of the effort.

First, buy the heavy duty Utrecht stretcher bars if the painting will be very large (mine will be 36″ x 40″ and I knew the typical art store variety would warp or bow–I have had that happen and I can tell you it is NOT fun!).  They are so well made and solid!  Then stretch and staple the linen to the bars as usual.

But here’s the best bit–ever had a beautifully stretched linen canvas nice and tight when you start to paint, only to have it bag & sag when it’s finished & hanging on the wall?  Or in a show?  And no amount of restretching will fix it?  Well!  Here’s the secret–instead of sizing the stretched canvas with rabbit skin glue, as the Old Masters did, use Gamblin’s PVA Size, , which completely takes the worry out of working on linen!  Even though the label says it won’t tighten the linen after application, it DOES!  It should be as tightly stretched as you can get it, then, once the PVA size is applied–ZAP!  It’s as tight as a drum!  And it STAYS that way!  Gamblin says it’s ok to paint right over the size, if you like the color of the linen, or proceed to the gesso.  We all know that the constant bagging & tightening of the linen is really bad for the paint film once the paint is dry.  That’s why so many artists like panels, as they eliminate this problem.  But the PVA Size prevents the linen from bagging & sagging, and let me tell you, that alone will have you jumping for joy!

I recently had an occasion to test two linen canvases at an outdoor event, on a day that was beastly hot & humid.  One painting on linen was sized with rabbit skin glue, and the other with Gamblin’s PVA Size.  The sagging ripples across the one with rabbit skin glue were evident to all, and reappear even inside on rainy days.  The other canvas was tighter than tight!

A Work in Progress

    I am beginning a new painting this week and have been working on the composition. I love using photographs for this part of    the process, as they seem to create distance and objectivity.  While many artists prefer to just leap right into a painting with very little planning and see what emerges, that approach is never very satisfying for me.  Somewhere along the way I usually end up wishing I had 3 more inches here or there to create the perfect balance.  After many frustrating years using the extemporaneous, alla prima approach, I finally abandoned it and came home to good old fashioned preparation and planning.  The result is that my paintings are more visually satisfying, and I am much happier with the end result.  So, here I have posted a photographic sketch of one possible composition for my new painting of a dear friend’s sister.  My daughter says that I should omit the barn in the background. Compositionally, perhaps the sharp line of the roof draws too much attention to itself,as everything else is very organic in shape.  I am still considering whether to leave it in or take it out…what do you think?

The Artist’s Muse

Just sold this painting, which has long been a favorite of mine for many reasons.  There is a lot involved in learning to paint portraits.  Besides learning to draw and sculpt form with paint, using color, value, shape, and relationships, what really makes a portrait sing is not only capturing the likeness of the person, but more importantly capturing the spirit of the person.  It is something that is difficult to teach because it is so closely tied to the intent of the artist.  Most artists, I think, are after something when they paint.  They are often pushing at the edges of their skills, trying to create something they envision.  For every artist that something will be different.  For me, it is the quest to capture something of the spirit of the person I am painting.  In this portrait, entitled “Girl Without a Pearl Earring” (after Rembrandt’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring”), I achieved my goal.  I knew that it was visible to all when this painting was exhibited several years ago and the girl’s grandfather came to the opening, not knowing that this portrait of his granddaughter was in the show.  He came up to me absolutely stunned by the painting and said, “You have captured my granddaughter!  That is her!”  It was the greatest compliment I have ever had about my work and meant more to me than the prize that it won.  Now, two years later, he saw it on display again, and bought it.  There is no one on earth I would rather have sold the painting to because he loves it and knows her spirit lives within it.

"Girl Without a Pearl Earring"--Oil on Linen 18" x 24"

Head Study in Backlight

"Head Study in Backlight" Oil on Linen--15" x 15"

A lot of learning how to paint involves learning how to move from one skill to another.  Starting out simple is best, adding a bit more difficulty with each new painting.  Attempting too much too quickly can lead to unnecessary frustration.  I wanted to try painting skin tones in shadow while still getting a sense of sculpting the structure of the face.  The backlighting here provided the perfect setting for this kind of challenge.

I also made the decision to keep the color palette limited.  My choices were primarily determined by the background color, which was green.  Learning to use color can be made much simpler by limiting the colors on your palette, so I decided on a complimentary color scheme.  One of the most intimidating things an instructor said to me when I was a beginning student was to paint exactly what I see.  Yikes!  I had no idea how to do that.  One day the skin tones looked bluer to me and the next day they looked purple!  So I kept changing my painting, trying to paint exactly what I saw.  What a nightmare!  Many frustrating days of painting!  Now I just paint the colors that I think look best and that work together well, and I leave it at that!

Art for the Rest of Us

Most people who really succeed at anything in life stubbornly pursue their own interests, ignoring well-meaning advice to do otherwise.  Free advice is never in short supply.  Usually, however, the artist follows it at her own peril.  This is not to say that wisdom in this pursuit is not required.  It is.

What follows in these pages, then, is the result of just such a tenacious search for my own authentic artistic voice, whether or not anyone wishes to hear it.