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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Editing What You See

Editing and simplifying the subject matter is an important part of painting .  Moving trees or other objects in a landscape can  make a better composition.  Black shadows in photos must be changed with half tones and temperature variations.  The planning process may involve mental notes alone, sketches, or the use of apps.  (See my post on the latter- June 2, 2017)

Here are two examples.  In both cases I made changes before and as I painted.  I did not make sketches or use my iPad to edit.

The first is a painting from this reference photo of a sunset in the Bahamas.

Because of the low light is there isn't a lot of color in the scene.  The dock, palms, and distant foliage are essentially black, though there is some light on the boat/structures on the far side of the water.  I can't tell what some of the structures are, though the mast to the right indicates some kind of sail boat.  I loved the sky and wanted to paint it pretty much as is.

To change the composition a bit I cropped the sky and made more dock visible.  This still avoided a horizon in dead center.  I added some color, both warm and cool, to the black shadows and lightened some of the values while still keeping them in the shadow family. (Remember that the lightest shadow value should always be darker than the darkest value in the light.)  I played up the light on the boats, improvised the sailboat that was not really discernible, and took the liberty of highlighting parts of the dock.  A little bit of rim lighting there is believable and keeps the posts from disappearing into the darks behind them. Last I put sun reflections on the water which should have been there but in reality were very subtle and diffuse.  This painting was also an experiment with chromatic black* in order to justify a recent purchase.😆  The greens were made with black and a bit of yellow.  The other darks were mixtures of black with other colors, such as burnt sienna.

The second example is a plein air piece from a nearby golf course.  I took a photo before painting which I always do, unless I forget.

I do not like painting golf courses.  They are artificial and too manicured for my tastes though that is purely personal.  But this course is close to home and when closed, painters are allowed to wander freely.  It was a good cloud day.

I chose a square format, for no other reason than I love doing them.  A landscape format would have been perfectly fine.  This was 8"x8" and the session lasted about an hour and a half.    My canvas was toned with burnt sienna and I used this for the underpainting also. The darks were ultramarine blue mixed with burnt sienna.  To avoid the look of the golf course I made the terrain flat, which is how the natural landscapes are in my area.  I eliminated all man-made structures.  I kept the horizon low because I wanted the sky to be the real star of the show.  I made sure that the grasses did not look mowed or uniformly green.  I didn't move the trees because I liked the way they led me through to the ground beyond (fairway!) and the sky.  I exaggerated the warm blue in the sky close to the horizon because I love the way this looks on a partly cloudy day.  I think I succeeded in making this look more like a field than a golf course.

I hope these examples were helpful.  Thanks for looking!

*chromatic black is factory made using 2 complements- quinacridone red and phthalo emerald.  This makes a vibrant transparent black that doesn't deaden other colors when mixed (like ivory black tends to do.)