Materials are much more important than many realize. Basically, it’s having the right tools for the job. Buying the right materials and using them correctly allows you to experience:
Much more professional looking and higher quality work
Greater ease of painting (and you’ll get it done faster . . . )
Achieve the results you want, and not experience “this is how it turned out”
In terms of conservation, you will have a painting that will last; not crack, fade or delaminate prematurely.
It will save you a ton of money and frustration . . . as well as help lower your impact on the environment.
So here’s a few tips. I cover all of this and much more in my “Methods & Materials Boot Camp.”
Paints: Quite simply, purchase the best brand(s) you can afford. It will save you a lot of money and frustration. Better-quality paints not only have good pigment (which is what you are really paying for), it moves around and blends easier and you wind up using a lot less. In my recent Color Mixing Workshop, students saw first hand not only the quality difference, but a significant difference in the actual colors. Brands such as Gamblin or Windsor & Newton and Utrecht are good quality that won’t send you to the poor house.
Brushes: First, take care of them! If your brushes are stiff with old paint, have missing or splaying hairs, or you purchased a “value pack,” it’s going to be really hard to get paint to move around the way you want. And please, never leave them sitting in turpentine; not only should you eliminate toxic solvents from the studio, but letting brushes soak in turpentine or OMS will destroy them quite quickly. You may as well throw that money right out the window. There’s a way to clean your brushes without ever putting them in turpentine, which will keep them pliable and the hairs in place.
Canvas/linen/panels: It’s critical to use the right type of surface for the style of painting you do. Finely detailed work requires a smooth surface, such as oil-primed linen or a high-quality gesso panel. Impasto-style work needs a textured canvas that the paint can hold onto and not slide around. Correctly priming and toning a store-bought canvas can make a huge difference in the final look of your work. And please never, ever “gesso over” an old painting and start over. It will look awful, and in a short period of time the underlying painting will begin to shadow through and then it will start to delaminate.
Mediums: Probably the most understood materials in painting. Stand oil? Cold-pressed linseed oil? Liquin? What do you use, how much, why, and when? In short, it all comes down to adhering to the Fat-over-Lean principle, which is simple: Keep the first layers “lean” and use the least amount of medium that you need to get the paint moving around.
Palettes: Is your palette messy and disorganized; are you unable to find that perfect colour you just mixed? Getting into a few simple habits will alleviate these problems, make the experience of painting so much easier, faster and you will not waste paint! Also, I show you how to season and care for your wood palette, if that is what you use.
Turpentine and it’s cousins: The stuff in the green can that is “citrus-based” turpentine is fine for cleaning your brushes, but never use it when thinning your paints or mediums! Learn why and also, techniqes for creating a healthier studio environment.
Varnishing and framing: These two things can “make or break “ a painting. Take a beautiful painting, improperly varnish it and then put it in a cheap frame and you will have wasted your time and money.
These are just a few tips, and just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the hows and whys of material use and techniques.
If you are new to painting, or simply never learned the proper way to use oil painting materials, please join me on Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27 for the Methods and Materials Boot Camp that will be here at my studio. This is a hands-on class where you will not just hear about these important things, but actually practice and experience them for yourself!
Photo by Barbara L. Peterson for portfolio b.