Category Archives: painting instruction

Will your artwork last?

One thing that has concerned me since I first became a professional painter (over 35 years now) is the quality of the materials that I use and how to make sure my art lasts.  This is important to me not because of my ego but to ensure that my customers can expect a painting to last for years, even decades or centuries with proper handling.  I educated myself early on about the greatest causes for deteriorating artwork, especially works on paper.

Some of the greatest causes for paintings to fade or change are:

  • Sunlight! Yes, while the sun is great for so many things, it is not good for paints or papers.  Even over a long period of time, it will fade the colors and break down the fibers of the paper or canvas.  Sun will even fade wood over time.
  • Damp enviroments invite mold and organic changes to the supports.
  • Insect damage. Those little silverfish love to eat paper.
  • Using cheap materials. This is my personal pet peeve.  Why put all the time and effort into creating a work of art and use cheap materials?  Doesn’t make any sense to me.

What can you do as an artist or art owner?

  • Always choose the best materials you can afford. For instance, if you’re an artist, use artist-grade paints rather than studio or student-grade paints.  The artist-grade paints contain more pigment and better quality.
  • If you’re creating works on paper, use 100% rag, linen, or cotton fiber. These will hold up decades longer than  pulp papers.  Wood pulp contains chemicals which deteriorate almost immediately.  Remember that pile of yellowed newspapers in the garage?
  • Ensure that the matting and framing is archival or museum-grade. I always use museum rag mats and archival backing.  If the work is under glass, you can help prevent sun damage by using UV filtering glass.

So, if you are an artist, take pride in your work and make it with the best materials you can afford.  If you are an art collector, ask the artist or gallery about the materials or framing.  If it isn’t framed, have your framing shop frame it archivally.

My personal experiment.

Many years ago I decided to test my materials by putting samples in a south-facing window of my studio.  Both of the samples shown are on 100% cotton rag paper.

This was the test. Two pieces of Arches 100% cotton rag with ink and paint samples in a south facing window

I was testing four things.

  • How well the paper withstood the direct sunlight.
  • How the watercolor paints held up.
  • If there was fading to the computer printed color paints.
  • If any of the commercially available inks and ink pens held up to the sun.

The time frame for this experiment has been about fifteen years.  I folded the art pieces over and they have just been sitting in the window for that long.

This is the outside of the mini watercolor painting. I was surprised that the red didn’t fade over 15 years. It is usually pretty fugitive.

Each piece was folded over with part of the experiment covered by the fold. In this case, it was an old mini painting. As you can see, the actual watercolor paint held up pretty well.

On the inside of this piece, I tested several commercially available pens as well as the standard India ink. Some faded totally away while some others held up surprisingly well.

As you can see, there is some small damage to the paper along the edges.  I attribute this mostly due to water damage from condensation of the window, not to direct sun.

The watercolor paints (Winsor and Newton) held up surprisingly well.  I was somewhat surprised that the reds held because that is a color that has a great tendency to fade.

And the pen inks.  What can I say?  Some, like the Zeb Roller Ink totally faded.  But others, like the old standby India ink and newer Vision Elite haven’t changed at all.  That is good news.  I’m now testing a carbon ink from Japan and have high expectations for that.

In this test piece, I printed color ink from my computer onto rag paper. Pretty faded, eh?

The fading is even more noticeable when the covered part is revealed. Note to self: don’t use standard office printers for original artwork.

The computer printed paper totally faded. So much for archival inks. My experience has been that the black computer ink will last but not the colors, however, inks may have changed over the years.  And I’m sure that commercial-grade printers and ink will fare better.  But best to ask if you are purchasing a print.

The takeaway is to use or buy quality art materials and frame them in a way that will prevent damage, particularly from sunlight.

Please note:  I am not a scientist so this was just a personal experiment.  Use your own judgement in the end.  Check out this article from scientists who are actually fixing old artwork.  https://www.livescience.com/13536-winslow-homer-van-gogh-fugitive-art.html

One hour painting challenge

Painting in plein air is a great time to challenge yourself with a limited time to complete a work.  Usually you’re painting quickly anyway due to the changing light and conditions.  In this piece, I decided to limit myself to one hour.  I even set a timer.

Wild daylilies

Orange daylilies grow wild here in southern Indiana and can be found along nearly any country road in June.  They’re so beautiful and hardy.  This patch of flowers I actually dug up along the road since, surprisingly, our farm had zero of these elegant and lively flowers.

One morning I noticed the light pouring through the trees which seemed to spotlight this flowerbed.  I also loved the dark background of the bushes behind the flowers which seemed to make them stand out even more.

Wild daylilies plein air, Kit Miracle

I decided to work in acrylic which is not my strongest medium to work with.  The pochade box is a Sienna which is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship in itself.  As an aside, I will say that I was not prepared for this painting venture; I had to keep returning to my studio for supplies that I had forgotten. (Note to self:  make a list of supplies for each medium and keep everything together.) I also limited my palette to four colors plus white.  I could have eliminated the green and just stuck with the primary colors.  I would also have used an acrylic paint retarder medium as the paint kept drying too quickly.

When I set the timer, I dove into the work by doing a quick sketch and using larger brushes.  I tend to cover large amounts of canvas for the initial lay in, going back to add details and tweak things.  That’s my method but you may work differently.  The whole point of the timer and this exercise was to force me to make decisions more quickly and not get overly fussy.  Having too much time is not always beneficial.

Wild daylilies, Kit Miracle, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12

Shooting for bright colors and the contrajour light, I think I accomplished my task.  What are your thoughts?

Self-Portrait with Still Life

 

Self-portrait with still life (2)

Self-Portrait with Still Life, 24 x 30, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Most artists create a self-portrait every few years so I painted this one last month.  I had recently purchased this old mirror and thought it would be interesting to set it up as a still life.  My portrait isn’t really the first thing the viewer notices (I hope).  The challenges with this painting is that there are two light sources: one on the still life in the foreground and one me as I paint.  An additional challenge was to prevent other light sources so I had to black out the windows.  This meant I was literally painting in the dark.  Check out the step-by-step view of the painting process at this link. Self-portrait with Still Life – step by step

Gardening with Scottie

Gardening with Scottie, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Gardening with Scottie, 20 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

I recently completed this winter still life painting.  That is, when it’s cold outside, I usually paint inside.  The theme for this painting is planning my spring garden.  There were many challenges, especially all the circles and ellipticals as well as that dang ceramic dog.  I’m not sure I’m done with this yet as I keep tweaking it every time I walk past it in my studio.  Check out the demo for Gardening with Scottie.

Cropping subject for landscape painting

Kit Miracle, Irises, 10 x 10 oil

Kit Miracle, Irises, 10 x 10 oil

I was in my studio last Saturday evening and wanted to paint but I didn’t want to start something big.  So I went through some photos I had downloaded from my camera earlier this year.  I came across a scene of some irises in a backyard.  This is near where I park when I visit the library.  Lesson here:  always be prepared for a good photo op.

Street photo of irises in a backyard showing the part I cropped for the painting.

Street photo of irises in a backyard showing the part I cropped for the painting.

The variety of irises pictured here is beautiful.  At first I was going to do a long horizontal but reminded myself that I wanted to do something quick.  Hummm…. think smaller.  I pulled out a small prepared canvas, only 10 x 10.  Then I looked for a square composition in the canvas.  OK, so you’re really not supposed to paint to the canvas size but the other way around…but who cares?  It’s my painting and I’ll do what I want.  The composition wouldn’t have been the most apparent but I really think it turned out well.  This took about two hours to paint with a final touch up on Sunday.  What are your thoughts?

Cropped part of irises street photo

Cropped part of irises street photo

Plein Air Painting In the Neighborhood

Mentor Road, Birdseye, Indiana, oil on canvas, 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

Mentor Road, Birdseye, Indiana, oil on canvas, 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

Writers are often advised to paint what you know.  I believe that this advice holds true for artists, too.  You know your own neighborhood best, the most attractive features, the back roads, and the best seasons to view the scenery.

My neighborhood, as the title of my blog implies, is a rural one.  This time of year the farmers are baling hay.  Those big round bales often remind me of the wonderful haystacks of Monet, and their rotund forms litter the fields until they’re tidied away in neat rows.

A couple of days ago, I rode around the neighborhood looking for likely painting spots, especially with an eye to catching some hay bales still lying in the field. Other criteria for me are where can I park and will I need permission to go onto someone’s property.  Most people are very gracious about allowing  artists to venture on their land but it’s always best to ask if you can.

Today I returned to a likely spot.  Actually, I had intended to climb into the field but found that I liked the view from the road better, especially with the roof of a house showing which added an interesting focal point.  The painting went well and I came away with a pretty complete piece.  Some challenges were the wind so I had to improvise a weight for my portable easel.  Also, the flies were ferociously biting me.  Glad to have brought bug spray which is always in my travel bag.  And finally, I am positive that the manure spreader which passed my position three times, intentionally spilled a bit on the curve on which I was painting. Really!

Anyway, here is the final product and a few preliminaries.  It was painted on a toned canvas, 18 x 24, and took about two hours.  Feedback is always appreciated.

Hay bales, one potential view

Hay bales, one potential view

Final view chosen.  Loved the overhanging tree, the shadows and the contrasts.

Final view chosen. Loved the overhanging tree, the shadows and the contrasts.

First laying in on toned canvas

First laying in on toned canvas

Final painting with scene behind.  About two hours.

Final painting with scene behind. About two hours.

Improvised weight to hold my portable easel in the breeze.

Improvised weight to hold my portable easel in the breeze.

Car studio.  Easier than packing everything and a lot roomier.

Car studio. Easier than packing everything and a lot roomier.

Using red gel to determine values in your paintings

Sometimes using a piece of red gel (acetate)-  as in lighting gel – will help you see the values of your subject and painting better.  This seems to work best with landscapes as the red gel counteracts the greens, just leaving the values.

I’m not quite sure where I came across this idea but I always carry a piece of red gel with me.  You can acquire leftover pieces from most theaters in your area, even some universities. They use the gels to color the lights for the stage. Or you can buy it new on Amazon.com or at a theatrical supply store.  If you use a viewfinder, there is even a really neat gismo which you can buy at www.pictureperfectviewfinder.com which has the red gel built in, along with some value markers and different size openings for standard painting sizes.  Try it.  You’ll like it.

Piece of red gel, about 4 x 6

Piece of red gel, about 4 x 6

Folded over Picture Perfect View Finder showing the red gel and composition grids.

Folded over Picture Perfect View Finder showing the red gel and composition grids.

The Picture Perfect View Finder

The Picture Perfect View Finder

Back side of the viewfinder

Back side of the viewfinder

Landscape without the gel

Landscape without the gel

Landscape with red gel showing values

Landscape with red gel showing values

Using the red gel to look at computer photo

Using the red gel to look at computer photo

A landscape painting with the red gel

A landscape painting with the red gel

A landscape final version showing the values in the photo on the computer

A landscape final version showing the values in the photo on the computer

Plein air painting with acrylics

First of all I will admit that I am not an expert in acrylic painting.  Yes, I’ve painted watercolors for over 30 years and have tackled oil painting for about ten years.  But I’m pretty new to acrylic painting.

I got into acrylics painting artwork last year when I had some commissions which needed to be completed quickly.  Mainly I was looking for something durable but which dries more quickly than oils.  And after my last foray at a multi-day plein air event last month where I seemed to get Titanium white all over everything, I thought acrylics might be a good idea to try.

I have a beautiful little pochade box which I purchased last year but have never used so this was to be my designated acrylic box.  (For now.)  I loaded it up yesterday morning and drove out to a place down the road that I’ve been eyeing for a future painting site.  It was so peaceful and I arrived just before the sun arose.  I will say that the hardest part was attaching the quick release to my tripod, but after several attempts, I finally got it.  Not too thrilled as it wiggled a bit but otherwise it worked.  Then I unfortunately sat on my only plastic water container and smashed it.  Humph!  Artist ingenuity jumped up and I cut the bottom off a bottle of water.  Worked perfectly.

The next test was the new mini Stay Wet palette that I added too much water to the sponge.  The paper palette wrinkled a bit but I could work with it.  Lesson here:  try new equipment at home before you hit the road.

Here’s a photo of the beautiful rolling fields that I was trying to capture.  I find that I really only have two hours to make a go of a painting before I lose the light but this was enough.A sunny early morning photo 1000

And here’s a photo of the field painting at the time I packed up.A sunny early morning photo - 2-1000

When I got back home, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the colors or composition of the painting so decided to work on it some more.  You can see where I lowered the clouds to emphasize the dawn.  Then I pushed back some hills and brought forth some of the sunny highlights. A sunny early morning painting2-1000 I’m not totally satisfied with the overall painting but I usually have to live with them for a while.  It doesn’t seem to have the personality of the scene I was trying to capture but barring that, isn’t too bad.  What do you think?  Which one do you like best.

So, lessons learned from my first acrylic plein air painting adventure.

  1. Test out new equipment first before you take it into the field.
  2. Be adaptable.
  3. Acrylics are nice in that they dry much quicker than oils but are more opaque than watercolors.
  4. And….don’t sit on your water container!

How to convey a feeling in painting

Winter in Mentor, Final, 12 x 24, oil on Canvas, Kit Miracle

Winter in Mentor, Final, 12 x 24, oil on Canvas, Kit Miracle

Artists usually have some reason that they paint a subject.  This could be a desire to convey beauty, despair, record something historical, or whatever.  In this painting, I wanted to convey the bone-chilling cold one early morning this month.  Check out my step-by-step page.

Making friends with green

French Lick Creek, final, oil on canvas, 24x30, Kit Miracle

French Lick Creek, final, oil on canvas, 24×30, Kit Miracle

Green is one of the most difficult colors for most artists to handle.  However, if you’re going to paint landscapes, you’d better make friends with green.  I think the biggest mistake inexperienced artists make is not really looking at the color.  Green comes in many varieties – yellowish, orangey, silver, blue, purple.  Even just looking closely and slightly emphasizing what you see will help you immensely.  To learn more about the painting above and to see a demo, check out the page French Lick Creek, making friends with green, demonstration.

FrenchLickCreek,detail1 FrenchLickCreek,detail2 FrenchLickCreek,detail3 FrenchLickCreek,detail4