The Craftsmanship of Oil Painting

Three days with George O'Hanlon and his wife, proved to be one of the most educative, intensive and best art classes I've ever taken. Their "Painting Best Practices Workshop", felt more like a condensed Ph.D program than a workshop.

Held at the Florence Academy of art in Jersey City, it was a double whammy for me to be surrounded by incredible, classically inspired art while learning the "nuts and bolts" of how to build a conservationally sound, well-crafted painting that would last.

Unfortunately, learning these skills is not a given in art schools, in fact, it really is not taught. Teachers have different techniques, material requirements and methods of creating and teaching oil painting. This confusion of materials and techniques (which is often for the sake of effect and not a well constructed painting) can lead to painting "failures": In other words paintings that crack or delaminate, stretchers that warp and much more. These failures, if they can be corrected by a trained art conservator, are very expensive. This class focused not just on the correct use of artist materials, but how to use those materials in order to prevent the known causes of painting failures. All of this material ultimately came from years and years of experience and research from art conservators and science.

We started from the ground up (literally) in learning about the advantages and disadvantages of every kind of support: canvas, linen, wood, Dibond, copper and more. He even went into the details of how wood should be cut from the log in order to prevent the wood from splitting. But that was only the beginning. We got lessons in chemistry, physics of every material an artist uses. We dug into the physical and optical properties of oil paint, drying times, opacity, flexibility and pigment load. Lessons on grounds - the correct uses of (traditional) gesso, acrylic dispersion and oil grounds were taught in depth and we learned why an oil ground, especially a lead based oil ground is best for most supports (but not all). We also covered - in depth - the correct uses of: artist mediums, varnishes, brushes and even proper framing techniques.

I walked away from this class with far more knowledge than when I walked in. And I was glad to know that overall, my practices had been sound. But I learned things I never would have - such as Titanium white (a colour I've used for years) is less durable and flexible than lead white, the reasons why there is "sinking" and how to prevent it in my paintings and how to choose the best varnish for the work that I do and the mediums I use.

For any artist who wishes to be a true professional and takes pride in the craftsmanship of their work, this workshop is an absolute must. If you are interested, just click on this link to read more about the workshop and find out when the next one will be offered.

Recent Posts