Materials

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I’m a big believer in simple working methods, and dependable, proven materials. I avoid hygroscopic substrates, all unnecessary paint additions, retouch varnish and driers whenever possible.

I paint in oil, on lead-primed wood or copper panels that I make myself. Copper is a wonderful support, and cross-links with oil paint to form a very strong bond. In addition, this chemical reaction keeps the paint looking very fresh. Of course, there’s a downside which in this case is the expense of copper sheet. Still, I think it is worth the effort to produce archival works.

In the last year I began using panels made by InnerGlow. Their panels are well made, tested for archival and structural durability, and much less expensive than the costs of making my own panels.

I prime the InnerGlow panels with lead white, using either Williamsburg, RGH or Natural Pigments lead primer. It’s a different surface to start a painting on, and has some advantages over copper. The disadvantage is that panels take longer to cure, which means planning ahead. But since copper only comes in three-foot wide  sheets, working larger means changing primers and substrates. Not a big deal, once I figured out how to get the surface nice and smooth.

90% of the paint I use is Williamsburg, and the remainder is either Old Holland or Blockx, all high quality paints. I’ve begun using RGH paints also. Very good quality, inexpensive and Rolf will make custom orders at very reasonable prices.

I use very little medium, the least amount possible to achieve the effect I need. I used to use resin mediums made by James Groves, but there are certain effects that are hard to get with them, and some troubling questions about darkening over time. 99% of my paint is dependent on brush work and color mixing, not medium.

I’ve used many of Natural Pigments’ oils and mediums also. Their extra-high-viscosity stand oil is great for certain effects, and mixed with whiting makes a great putty medium. George’s products are all top quality, but none of the NP mediums I tried worked well for me.

I use very little medium, the least amount possible to achieve the effect I need. I used to use resin mediums made by James Groves, but there are certain effects that are hard to get with them, and some troubling questions about darkening over time. 99% of my paint is dependent on brush work and color mixing, not medium. As a matter of fact, I think that’s the secret medium of the old masters, who, by the way, did not all live in the same city, buy the same materials or paint in the same way.

About two years ago, after reading Tad Spurgeon‘s work on washing flaxseed oil, I decided to wash my own. I didn’t start with organic flaxseed oil, as Tad recommends, but used some artist-quality linseed oil that was supposedly refined. After washing I found that one-third of the oil was gone, all fatty acids and mucilage. Tad believes that these impurities are the cause of much of the darkening and other issues associated with linseed oil.

At first I thought his claims somewhat unbelievable but after letting the oil age I think he’s right. This oil is nothing like any other linseed I’ve used. It dries overnight, is clear and light in color, and interacts with the paint differently.

On Tad’s recommendation I added some Burnt Plate Oil, #5, to the cleaned oil, 4 parts cleaned oil to one part BPO. The result is a medium that allows me to hit every effect I want/need in my painting. Opaque? No problem. Thinner passages? Effects that require resins? Can do that, too.

I recently finished a new batch of cleaned oil. (The photo above is of the first wash.) This time I began with organic flaxseed oil. The amount lost was closer to two thirds but I’m fine with that because I know the oil I am starting with has not been processed or preserved, and it’s possible to buy less expensively than artist-grade oil.