August 22, 2004
The philosophy of these lessons: Look, Learn, Practice
Chapter 17 of "The
Way To Happiness" deals with Competence. I've found that
too many limit their own progress as an artist with the concept
that they "haven't got the talent." 90% of being
a good professional artist is about looking for yourself,
learning (including good study habits), and practicing what
you have learned to become Competent. If you are interested
in a free copy of "The Way to Happiness", please
email me for one.
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"There is reason to believe...that acrylics are not
suitable for the underpainting of oil colors."
letter from Robert and Martha Gamblin of Gamblin Oil Colors
published in The Artists Magazine, January 92 (p. 8)
For many years, artists have been using acrylic-based gesso
primer on canvases intended for oil painting. Now it appears
that this may not be desirable. For exercises, use what works.
However, as you begin to be concerned about longevity, you
need to inform yourself about materials which you use. "Oil-primed"
canvases are now beginning to be more available if you know
to ask for them. You can also stretch and prime your own canvas.
You'll encounter the words sizing and priming used in conjunction
with each other, and you may be confused by this. Traditionally,
the oil painter who was going to work on canvas had to "size"
the canvas first to protect it from the oil and resins which
would otherwise rot it rapidly. A "size" is defined
as a thin, pasty substance used as a glaze or filler on porous
materials such as plaster, paper or cloth. To "size"
is to fill or stiffen with size. "Priming" is a
slightly more general term meaning "to undercoat, size,
or otherwise prepare (a surface) for painting. A traditional
material used for sizing canvas was rabbit skin glue. For
flexibility, its still often considered the best, although,
because it is a hide glue, it can be attacked by rodents and
bugs. After the glue base has thoroughly protected the canvas,
the oil painter could then "prime" the canvas with
an undercoat of lead white, the preferred undercoat traditionally
because of its flexibility and covering power. Acrylic Gesso
for many years took the place of both size and prime coats,
since it provided a barrier between the cloth and the paint
and a base coat on which to paint. For many applications,
it's still preferred. It's being questioned by traditionalists
simply because insufficient time has passed to judge whether
it will stand the test of time and whether oil paints will
continue, over time, to fully bind to it. There is more discussion
on this matter, but this is a brief sketch.
3. Practice: "Learning bears fruit when it is applied."
You may be starting to paint with color, and color is seductive.
I suggest that for homework you do at least one exercise
in black and white. Go back to using only three tones
plus white. You do not have to limit yourself to black to
do this. As a matter of fact, you can use any pair of complementary
colors, for example, orange and blue. (To make this easier,
use Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna). Mix a very "black"
mixture, a dark grey or charcoal mixture, and a light grey
mixture. Focus on the dark to light composition in your exercise.
The example shown here was done in oil in only three greys.
Doing this kind of exercise requires that you make some conscious
decisions about composition.
The reason that I advocate that you return again and again
to this sort of "value" exercise is that it focuses
your attention on composition. That does not mean that all
compositions must be reduced to a "pattern" of lights
and darks. Please don't interpret it that way. But form is
frequently conveyed to us by our sense of the shapes or edges.
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