Sunday, December 8, 2019

Hanging Systems for the Studio

When my husband and I built our current house- the first and last time we hope-  having a home studio was a top priority of mine.  Up to that point I had first used a spare bedroom as a studio in a previous home and rented space for 2 years while we were in a smaller house and building.  Besides buying a bigger easel, I wanted a hanging system that would display my framed paintings as well as works in progress.  I was tired of moving picture hangers and making new nail holes every time I needed to add paintings or change the arrangement, and I never found a good way to hang unframed pieces.

After some research I chose Walker Display Picture Hanging System which is used by several of our local galleries. Here is their website-  Walker Display  Here is how it looks on a wall in my studio-

This is just part of one wall, I have two walls of display.

I chose these components, but there are a number of options-
Picture molding with a sleeve hook, the molding painted to match the rest of the woodwork.  Metal molding is also available.

I used a combination of fiberglass and steel rods because the fiberglass rods bow when holding heavier paintings.  The fiberglass rods come in clear if desired.

I also use a combination of these parts-
This is for hanging framed paintings.  The wire on the frame rests in the trough of this piece so only one rod and one holder are needed even for larger paintings.

Though these are matched like this in the website catalog, I use a long holder and panel holder together for panels, the long holder on the bottom and the panel holder on top. This is more stable, especially for larger panels.  I like to hang my wet panels so I can study them.  I also use the hangers when photographing my panels.  The pencil is there to keep the metal holder from overlapping too much of the painting in the photo.

I can tell you that this system is strong, durable, and infinitely flexible.  They now offer a metal cable as an option instead of a rod.  A downside is the visibility of the rods, if that matters to you.  All of the above components must be hand tighten but it is not difficult.

Another good option is Gallery System Art Displays.  Website is Gallery System
I had the opportunity to do a one artist show at a local realty and this was the system they had installed.  Here is what the relevant parts look like-

The metal cable is thin but strong.  The push button hook self locks, so no elbow grease is required to get a reliable hold on the cable and adjustments are simple.  I had to hang the paintings myself so I can attest to the user friendliness of the system. The thin cable is not very visible, so from a cosmetic standpoint it is superior to the Walker product.  The down side is that 2 cables are needed for each painting.  Even a small painting does not tend to hang level on one cable.  So when hanging one must be careful to keep the hooks perfectly level and hanging one painting above another is tricky but certainly doable.

Here is one wall of my show to give you an idea-

Lastly, I am familiar with another system that is used in our Town Hall.  Our art guild has a rotational exhibit there and several of us, myself included, are responsible for re-hanging the work several times a year.  (This led to a previous post about framing hardware.) This system is AS Hanging Display Systems-  AS Hanging  As with Gallery System Art Displays, two cords or cables are needed for each painting.  The clear nylon cord is almost invisible which is very nice aesthetically.  The cords curl at the ends so must be tucked behind the painting for a clean look.  Steel cable is also available with a self locking hook similar to Gallery System.  The mini hook is the least expensive but has a weight capacity of 12 lbs. each and must be hand tightened via screw eyes.  I really don't like this feature, so if budget does not prohibit I recommend going with the self locking hooks or buying a combination and using the self lockers on heavier paintings.  As you can see below this is visually very pleasing.

That is all I know about hanging systems.  You can't go wrong with any of these, but personal preference and what you want them to do for you will influence your choice.

Thanks for reading, and see you next year!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Try Experimenting With Different Formats

In September I showed an example of a landscape commission I painted on a square canvas.  Typically landscapes are horizontally oriented but they certainly don't have to be. Consider some of the extremely vertical landscapes in traditional Asian art.  I'm now seeing this in the work of contemporary artists as well as horizontal formats with a 1:2 ratio, e.g. 12"x24".  Or even a 1:3 ratio.

I have tried my hand at some of these recently and it has been fun as well as a learning experience.   If painting in the studio I look through my "art ideas" photo file and edit by cropping them different ways to see what might work.  Basically I look for a better composition within the image.


Photo of a beach on Cape Cod-  what interested me most was the horizontal arrangement of the colorful umbrellas.  The foreground didn't add much.

                                                      Cropped version-

                                         And from this the painting on a 6"x12" panel-

Next a photo of waves on our local beach-  I love the energy and movement of the waves breaking from the center to the right in the upper half of the photo.

                                                         Cropped version-

                                         And the painting on a 6"x12" panel-

As for vertical formats, I have not tried this with a landscape other than tree portraits which easily fit.  Here is a plein air example, 10"x8"-

For an even more vertical format I tried a cat portrait 16"x8"- I think his tail makes it all work-

Obviously I cropped the original photo quite a bit.

Try looking at your photos that you like but have yet to inspire a painting.  They might work well in a different format.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Improving Paintings with Glazes

I am mostly an alla prima or direct painter.  By that I mean that I paint wet into wet as much as possible.  I often paint small paintings in one session.   Though I studiously (though not always successfully) avoid over blending, a bit of wet on wet mixing can result in interesting painterly effects.  Painting wet over dry is more challenging for me though I have to do it on larger pieces or when I rework older paintings.

Glazing is the application of transparent layers of color over dry paint.  There are many ways to do this and I'm sure that some artists would say that my way isn't right, but it does work.  Simply stated a paint color is diluted with a medium and brushed over dry paint to add, enhance or change the color.  The old masters painted a gray underpainting, called a grisaille, and added many layers of color glaze on top.  The way light travels through all of these layers results in a luminosity or glow that cannot be duplicated with directly applied paint.  Of course this greatly slowed the painting process because each layer must dry before another can be applied.  We now have mediums with alkyd resins that dramatically decrease the drying time.  Even so, glazing multiple layers on top of an underpainting is not as fast as painting alla prima.

I never do the above, but I have glazed some of my finished alla prima paintings to make improvements or corrections.  The entire painting can be glazed or just a part.  I either use Galkyd lite, a product made by Gamblin, diluted with a little clean Gamsol, or Liquin made by Winsor and Newton, again thinning with a little mineral spirits.  These are added to the color I have mixed to make it transparent and the glaze is applied with a brush dabbing a bit with a towel if necessary.  If I decide I don't like the result I can remove it right away with mineral spirits and try again or forget the whole thing.

Here is a painting from a recent workshop.  The exercise was to use only 3 colors, in this case asphaltum*, yellow ochre and white.  (I know, white isn't really a color, but you get it.) The object of the exercise was to get the values right.  This is sort of like a grisaille, but the paint is thicker and is  not just black or brown mixed with white.  It is a tonal alla prima painting.

This is an architectural detail of a house in the Caribbean that my husband and I love and I wanted to keep it.  The real house is pink so this little study didn't do the colorful building justice.   I decided to glaze it later with several layers of pink and orange to show the warm glow of the end of day sunlight.

Though it may not be obvious in the photo, the painting is luminous and obviously more colorful.  I used some thin darker glaze to vary the shadows cast by the palms.  I also made a glaze using Naples yellow light to brighten and warm the lightest areas.

Here is an example where I used glazing to improve parts of a painting.

I glazed a warmer blue (horizon blue) on the lower sky to brighten it.  This is difficult to see in the photos, but I glazed violet (ultramarine blue mixed with cad. red and a bit of white) on the shadow sides of the tree trunks and the shadow areas of the foreground.  I warmed the weeds in the foreground with a light yellow glaze.  I like it better with more lavender, which was already present in the upper portion of the sky.

And last is a painting that I glazed entirely with Indian yellow.  I decided that the overall temperature was too cool and I wanted more color harmony.


I especially like what the glaze did to the asphalt and the car.  

I hope this gives you some ideas.  It is easy to experiment and then wipe if things aren't working out.  Save your tonal studies so you can practice.  

Thanks for reading!

*asphaltum is a transparent brownish-black made by Gamblin.  We were supposed to use burnt umber in the exercise but I forgot to bring some so used this instead.

Monday, September 9, 2019

An Approach to a Large Commission

I hope you had a great summer.  We were challenged here on the southeast coast with yet another hurricane and evacuation, though it was better than expected.  Besides the usual summer things I was busy with commissions, just like last year.  I'm not sure why this time of year but it is becoming a pattern.

Among other things I was asked to paint a large local tidal marsh scene for a new home in my area, coastal South Carolina.  The clients weren't exactly sure of the size but thought it should be at least 36" wide.  They had looked at the galleries in Charleston and had photos of some paintings they loved.  Their budget precluded buying something this size in a gallery.  I am able to charge less because I do not pay a gallery commission which is 50% in our area.

Sometimes clients are very specific about what they want and even have their own reference photo.  This couple was very different in that regard other than showing a preference for scenes with lots of water and dramatic light.  This I gleaned from the photos they showed me from the galleries.  They also wanted a lot of blue in the painting.

I looked through my reference photos and came up with an idea.  Here is a local marsh at high tide, so lots of water-

I love the reflections and the distant trees and thought I could play up the grasses in the foreground to add more depth.  But the sky and light are a bit on the blah side and not anything like the paintings they loved.

I looked through my "skies" file and found this-

No shortage of drama here but the foreground and water patterns aren't very interesting. The solution was to combine the references.

When doing large commissions I have learned a valuable lesson.  Start with a small study and get the client's approval.  This can save headaches and prevent miscommunications.  It definitely did in this case.  Here is my first study, 11"x14" for a proposed 30"x40" painting.

I was happy with the sky.  I chose a golden marsh because I thought the warm/cool vibration would work well and also because the clients had told me they didn't like green. Our marshes are this color in the late fall.  I put a lot of reflected light in the water which I was sure they would like.  I sent them the image for review.

Turns out they had decided that a 30"x40" wasn't going to work in their space and they wanted a 36"x36" instead.  Also, they wanted some green, just not certain greens or too much green.  A color change is not difficult of course but this was going to call for a different composition.  I have done a fair number of landscapes in a square format so that really wasn't a problem for me.  Here is my second small study, a 12"x12".

Same sky and reflections, more green in the foreground and middle ground but I kept the distant gold.  This image was approved so now I could get to work on the big canvas.

I never looked at the reference photos again while painting from the two studies.  I kept them on my painting stand by the big canvas while working.  I kept the 11'x14" close by because I liked some of the colors and brushwork in that one.

As I painted I sent the clients progress shots in case they wanted to give feedback.  Here is the finished painting-

In summary, this is what I have learned over time regarding large commissions-

1.  If the clients aren't sure of what they want, ask for examples of paintings they love and try to determine why they love them.

2. Paint a small study for approval before you start.  If it isn't what the clients want, keep working small until everyone is happy.  It isn't a waste of time- familiarizing yourself with the subject saves time when you go large, and the small studies sell too.

3.  Keep in touch while you are working on the piece.  Clients love progress reports.  That way they know you haven't forgotten about them.  Even if the deadline is far in the future I like to keep in contact.  I have heard a lot of stories about artists who "go dark" after agreeing to do a commission.  Clients may lose interest or decide to buy from someone else.

Though challenging, I like the fact that commissions already have a home to go to rather than adding to my storage issues.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Painting a Series

Years ago one of my workshop instructors recommended painting a series to the group. He often started a new painting every day, each with similar subject matter and worked on all of them together until they were finished, as many as 20 paintings. Everything he learned from one could be applied to the next.  For him the obvious utility was to produce a group of related paintings for a gallery show, but he also said that doing this would make us better painters.  All these years later I have yet to do this in the methodical way he described.  However I have revisited many themes, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time, and I have learned a lot about specific subjects.

I love bicycles.  They are interesting and not easy to draw.  I live near Charleston, SC. The College of Charleston is downtown near the historic district.  Bikes are everywhere.  I love to go to town to take photos, particularly on days with good light.  Below is a series I have painted over about 4 years.

I started with single bikes, trying to figure out how to draw them.

Then I tackled some groups- the first is a small study, the second a 16"x20" version of the same scene.

I have played around with details of the city.

I have revisited the same locations for different arrangements.

I started taking similar reference photos when I traveled.  This one is near SCAD in Savannah.

Recently I tried a scene in which the bikes were not the main event.  This is a well known landmark in Charleston, also an attempt at a nocturne.

What I have learned from this-

1. When drawing bikes, get the wheels right first, making sure they are the right distance apart and the right shape (they are often ellipses rather than circles).  Then add the frame.

2.  Groupings are more interesting when there are splashes of color.  I am partial to turquoise and red, but they can't all be colorful.  Push the color on just a few, the stars of the show.

3.  Don't worry about all the details when painting a group.  Even if all the handle bars don't match up with a specific bike it doesn't matter- the more chaotic the better.

4.  Suggest a few of the wheel spokes with a fine round brush, don't try to paint all of them.

5.  Play up metallic highlights, especially on baskets and handlebars.

6.  Bike shadows are great- include them when you can.  I have seen wonderful paintings of bike shadows without the bike itself.  I will try this sometime.

Thanks for reading!  Have a great summer- this is my last post until fall.

Monday, April 22, 2019

What's on the Back of the Painting

An artist's primary goal is to produce a successful painting.  That is and will always be front and center. But the devil is in the details and making a professional package is a significant part of the impression you make with your art.

I was slow to come to the table about how my paintings looked on the backside.  My hanging hardware wasn't always the best.  I often forgot to label the back of the painting appropriately.  These things are important too, especially if you are putting your work out there for sale.  It is also important for posterity if you give your work to family or friends.

I am a member of an art guild.  We hang regularly in a very nice public place and I am one of those responsible for the hanging.  I have been very surprised at how many experienced painters neglect the back side.  Not only does this detract, it makes a world of headaches for those who hang the art.  Galleries and juried shows have very strict rules about this so it is good to learn them early on.

Here is what I now do and recommend-


This is called  D ring picture hanger.  It is also sometimes called a mirror hanger.  These can be bought for a very small amount on many websites.

This is how it looks installed.  All you need is a small hand-held electric drill or a screwdriver.

They should be the same distance below the top of the frame.  Like this- about a third of the way down is recommended.  I prefer the wire to be slightly loose but not too loose.  If very tight it can be difficult to get on the hook.

Whatever you do, do not use the following hardware pieces-

Sawtooth hanger- no gallery or juried event allows this and it is not a good option.

Screw eye- not very stable, too easy to twist and turn, looks bad.

Don't even think about it- the very worst option.  Yes you can wire around it but it is un-hangable on many hanging systems and looks very unprofessional.

Last, make a label for the back with the following information.

Title of Painting
Your Name
The year it was painted
The medium

If your painting is a gift or commission for a special occasion you might consider making a personal note as well.  Or suggest that the gift givers do this if applicable.

Attach your business card on the back in case the buyers want to follow your work or reach you in the future.

Happy Painting, and don't forget to make your work look great on both sides!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Traveling With Gouache

I am not a water medium artist.  I am pitiful at watercolors and I truly admire those who do it well.

I love to paint when I travel but do not do it nearly as much as I'd like.  Taking my oils is a fair amount of trouble, though I have fine tuned the packing process as best I can.   Here is how I do it-  Packing for a Painting Trip  My gear requires the use of a larger suitcase that is fairly heavy and must be checked.

I just traveled with a gouache set up for the first time.  Here I will share my experience.

Before the trip I took a 2 day class (through Horton Hayes Gallery in Charleston, SC). This was extremely helpful to me.  I already had the paints but had only used them once due to my frustration with the medium.  After the class I felt much more comfortable. Gouache is an opaque water color and it is easier than watercolors for oil painters because one can still paint dark to light and paint over mistakes.  Thinning with more water makes it transparent which allows more flexibility.  The colors come in 15ml tubes (white is available in 30ml).  A reasonable number of tubes will easily fit in the quart ziplock bag required by TSA leaving a little room for something else.  I was a bit put off by the price, but when gouache dries it can be reactivated with water, thus there is little waste.

To prepare for the trip I cut pieces of watercolor paper and taped them according to the desired sizes- 6"x6" and 6"x8".  I used the back of a used up sketchbook for my support and clips to hold the paper in place.  The cardboard, clips and a small stack of papers easily fit into a manilla folder for packing.

I packed a small watercolor palette that securely snaps shut, a variety of brushes in a rolled carrier, a collapsable cup for water, a rag (to dispose of at the end of the trip) and a small spray bottle for water to reactivate paint as it dried.  So this is the rest of what I packed, minus the rag-

No heavy easel or tripod.  No panels, just one piece of cardboard.  Oil paint is heavier than gouache and the tubes are larger.  I brought a carry on roller bag and a "personal item" per airline regulations and had no problem fitting this in.

Once there it was easy to get comfortable to paint.  My set up fit on a beach chair.  I, of course, fit on a lounge.

Here are two of my studies.  I plan to do larger oils using these and my photos.

I have a long way to go but learning will be fun.  Another advantage for me was that doing these quick small studies while traveling with non-painters made me more likely to paint. If you haven't tried this, go ahead!

My supplies-

Winsor and Newton designer gouache, set of 10 (plus I added a couple of colors I like to use and left the gaudy green at home) This is good quality paint.  Gouache set

Collapsible cups with lids (set of 4 so you can share) Collapsible cup

Small spray bottle- any drug store.

Watercolor palette (airtight) Palette

Brush set (mine came with carrier, don't know if they still do)  Brush set

I found this while researching products, haven't bought one but think I might.  Take a look-
Travel tote

Best gouache class ever-  scroll down on this link for info-  Gouache class- Charleston

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Some Things Regarding Solvents

A number of oil painters have switched to water mixable oils in order to avoid the use of solvents.  Several of my friends who have done this say they are dealing with it but prefer the consistency of traditional oils.*  However, traditional oils can be used with natural oils instead of solvent, so I remain unconvinced that switching over is necessary.

I do use solvent while painting, both to clean my brushes and to slightly thin the paint for my underpainting.  At first I used turpentine but within a short period of time switched to Gamsol, Gamblin's odorless mineral spirits.  Gamsol has two safety features- a high flash point (reducing the risk of fire) and a slow evaporation rate (health safety).  A slow evaporation rate is of some economic value as well.  There are other odorless spirits on the market but I am not familiar with them.  For a detailed discussion of safety issues related to solvents I recommend this article-

From time to time I am asked what I do with the gunk that forms on the bottom of my mineral spirits container/brush washer (I call it a turp can).  Also, what do I do with used solvent.  I use a medium size Holbein metal brush washer in the studio and a small one for my plein air backpack.  Some of my friends prefer the extra large for studio work. At the time of this writing it appears that these containers are in short supply, but the company still posts all sizes so I assume they will continue to make them.  These are pricey but worth it. The first can I purchased was inexpensive and one of the latches broke off almost immediately.  The Holbein are reliably air tight as long as you keep the rubber seal out of the sun when you paint outside (i.e. put the lid in the shade or under something while the can is open).

                            Holbein metal brush washers, sizes small and medium

Here is my procedure for reusing solvent.  Skip this paragraph if you have the situation under control.  After 2-3 sessions I pour the used solvent from my turp can into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Wearing gloves, I clean the thick paint residue on the bottom with paper towels, wiping until fairly dry.  I put the paper towels in the trash to dry before discarding.  I keep about 6 jars of settling solvent going in my storage cabinet.  After cleaning the turp can I refill it with used spirits decanted from another jar that has completely settled.  Because there is gradual evaporation with use, I have to add new mineral spirits to the can periodically, but I reuse the spirits indefinitely.  I never dispose of solvent and I maximize its use.  In 10 years I have yet to completely fill a jar with the solid residue, but once I do I will take it to a hazardous waste disposal station.

Below, I am decanting the spirits in a jar that has settled.  The next image shows the gunk that has settled and become a solid.

And below are the newly decanted spirits.  Very clear and ready for use.  The level is low so I will add some new spirits.   


Now for a housekeeping issue.  With time solid material will build up in the can and more importantly on the piece inside used to wash the brushes.  After long neglect mine recently looked like this:

I know, don't say it... the holes are almost plugged and the piece only fits into the can with difficulty.  I soaked it overnight in Murphy Oil Soap with some added water.  This was a tougher case than usual, but here is what it looks like now-

So I am back in business with a resolve to do this more often.  It works very well, but if you wait as long as I did some elbow grease will be required.  You can do this to keep the can nice and shiny, but I don't care about that.

Murphy soap is also great for soaking brushes with dried paint, and of course to clean hardwood floors.  Unlike many products, I like the way it smells.  It is carried in groceries and hardware stores.

I hope this was understandable and helpful.  Thanks for reading!

*If this is the situation you are in with water mixable oils, check out this OPA blog post about water mixable oils by Christine Lashley
Working Out the Kinks