Thursday, April 20, 2006

Preparing The Surface

There are two supports that I use to paint on, paper and a hardwood panel. Years ago I used to use canvas but it is just too expense. I also have a very heavy hand so the flex and give of a stretched canvas just doesn’t work that entirely well for me. When I’m using oils I also incorporate oil sticks to either add additional color or get more of a drawing quality. For soft and oil pastel the rigid surface is a necessity. With oil pastels I can do them directly on a hardwood panel and not have to worry about framing them with a mat or putting it under glass.

For the hardwood panels, I buy ¼” X4’ X 8’ sheets at my local lumberyard. I have them make a couple of preliminary cuts just for my ease of handling. Once I get them home I cut them to the sizes that I want. If you have a heavy enough hand, you can also cut through them using a utility knife. For the cradles I use 1” X 2” clear pine. I cut them to length, put some glue on them, and tack the plywood down using a brad nailer, then fill in the holes with putty. Later, I give them 2 coats of sealer and finish with 2 coats of gesso. I use a foam roller for this because it gives the surface a little texture so that there is some drag for the brush. The last step is to cover the surface with a toned wash.

With paper I use pretty much the same process with a few variations. Many years ago I used watercolor blocks. There were really great for ease of use. I could gesso them without worrying about stretching the paper. Once again, cost became a factor. I have experimented with various papers over the years. I am currently using a paper made by Strathmore. It is not an art paper but one made for the printing industry. It has a nice texture, 2 deckled edges, measures 26” X 39”, and is pH neutral, which makes it archival. I got it through a printing shop that I used to work for, at cost. Because I bought a ream it came to $150.00 or 30 cents a sheet.

On the sheet, I lightly mark off the size I want to paint, usually leaving a 2-3 inch border all around. I next use a commercial painters tape made for delicate surfaces to mask the area. Any remaining area that is still exposed, I mask with brown craft paper (cheaper than using the tape). The clean borders give the piece a nice finished look without needing a mat. After that, I seal the surface and gesso the same as above. The only major difference happens if I am using soft pastels or artists’ crayons.

In the case of pastels and crayons, I add powdered pumice to the final coat of gesso. Usually 1 part pumice to 2-3 parts gesso and I thin it slightly (no more than 20%) with water. This gives the surface a wonderful sanded effect, much like using 600-grit sandpaper. In the case of soft pastels I can build up numerous layers without having to use fixative. I also stain the surface with an acrylic tonal wash before I start blocking in the painting.

The barn painting was a commission that was done in oil on a hardwood panel. The landscape is done in artist crayon on the paper mentioned above using the preparation mentioned. Both are finished with Kamar varnish.


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