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Friday, August 1, 2014

On My Bookstand: The Companion Book to Alla Prima II

ON MY EASEL: Friends, oil study, 11" X 14", on acrylic primed canvas board, a Richard Schmid no-no.
 Nonetheless, practice, practice, practice

The Companion To Alla Prima II, by Katie Swatland, a colleague of Richard Schmid's. It is a book about Richard's materials, tools and  techniques. In other words, it's a technical book on fine art painting from surface preparation to the final finish varnish. It was just releases and is currently my morning reading.

In the first chapter,  Richard says:

It cannot be stressed enough the profound effect that a surface can have on the behavior and working properties of our materials, and how helpful exploration in this field can be to the painting process.

On page three, all the acrylic primed canvas boards I bought for daily sketch exercises had become a waste and had to be discarded IF I wished my paintings to last for centuries.  Lead primed was the only acceptable painting ground. This was distressing--but I did want to know how RS achieved the marks he made on his canvas and I did suspect it had something to do with how he prepared his canvases.

By page 35, after cutting the canvas bolts to desirable sizes, mounting them to cardboard (lighter to carry out on plein air adventures), putting on rubber gloves, opening the windows and mixing the lead primer in a masonry jar with a tight, sealed lid, I had questions: "Is acrylic primed canvas so horrible?"  

No and yes.  No, if you don't care about the longevity of your paintings. Yes, if you do. 

Acrylic is inflexible. Over time, (how long, nobody has said because nobody knows. Atmospheric changes play a part), it will crack and any oil layers on top can separate and fall off leaving only a ghost of what was there. An acrylic base is porous. The staining pigments can never be removed entirely. Erasing errors for making corrections is  impossible.  Lead primed surfaces, however toxic to dogs and children, offer:  

ARCHIVAL PERMANENCE--Elasticity--durability--flexibility--and the lead ground is non absorbent. The paint sitting on top allows for complete erasures if major corrections are ever required. (Maybe you have to make corrections, but I never do. :-))). As I interpreted the text, a lead primed surface is compatible with movement and adapts to atmospheric changes over many years, whereas acrylic primed canvases don't. 

SURFACE QUALITY.  Lead priming your painting surfaces yourself allows you to choose the texture you want and manipulate it as you wish. The whole surface does not have to be consistent.  RS's broken brushstrokes in some areas and not in others were predetermined when he finessed the nearly dry lead primer with a trowel and brush making some areas smooth and others rough.  Ah ha!  I knew there was something tricky about those beautiful brush strokes and the way they grabbed the ground. 

I have never wanted to make my own painting surfaces. It's hard work, messy and requires lots of space, which I don't have. Yet cut, primed canvas mounted to cardboard for light-weight toting appeals to me for those open studio sessions I signed up for in the Fall.  Having a textured ground that adds interest to brushwork really appeals to me, indeed Richard's brushstrokes were what made me a fan, so I might give it a try?  I put Lead Ground in my shopping cart at Blick's.

Schmid's bottom line is fine art begins with a sound foundation. You know it and I know it. The average art buyer has no idea. They judge a painting by it's cover. What they don't know is the cover is not only the artist's skill with drawing, values, color, edges and harmonious composition, but also the a result of the quality of the base structure. 


  1. Lead? As in remove-from-pencils-because-it-is-so-dangerous lead? And where does one find that? Complicated. I guess when I am Matisse I will worry about my paintings lasting for centuries.

    1. He's not eating it, He's using it for its textural value it's effect on his brushstrokes and edges, its long life chemical properties. His studio is not like yours or mine. He's got a business going there with rooms--with giant work tables, drying racks for many canvases and lots of ventilation no doubt. He also uses turpentine when most every oil painter I've met is using mineral spirits or Turpenoid because turpentine has such a noxious odor. Turpentine evaporates faster than mineral spirits and will lift cleaner. I care that my paintings hold up and I'm not Matisse. Good craftsmanship with a medium is just part of painting--we just have to remember to keep our hands away from our mouths and not to rub our eyes. The Cadmiums aren't to be treated lightly either.

  2. Dear Linda this subject is close to my heart.
    Near my house there is an art gallery representing, on the spot, excellent painters, listed on the market a lot of Euros, a square inch of canvas.
    It is quite usual that the masters of realism (the kind of art that sells more .... even in times of crisis) with acrylic primers, continue then with oil and sometimes even inserting egg tempera ....
    Looking at these expensive works on display in the window ... in full sun ...
    I wondered about their future.
    Now you tell me about this through a text written by people of absolute competence ... so I know that my intuition had led me, not far from the truth.
    Too often works of modern painters are in need of restoration as we are the oldest paintings that seem to enjoy good health!
    The watercolors that are protected by a glass   between acid-free cardboard at the end facing the time better than many mixed media.
    By the way ... here the big names have gotten into the habit of declaring their paintings officially "technique
      mixed ", in fact for the mixture of acrylic and oil that is in the works .... in a world of jurors who considers" mixed technique "a watercolor, if there is
      trace of a pencil, even in the signature!

    I Love these little girls! I wish you happy work on ancient "primer" way. I look forward your practice- thoughts on this!!!

    1. We all put in a lot of effort with regards to drawing accuracy, color and value mixing, handling our brushes to make just the right mark; it makes sense we would care about the chemical compatibility of our materials. I don't really want to get involved in crafting my own canvases at this stage in my life, but I do care that the paint I do apply to canvas stays where I put it for a very long time--long enough for my children to pass the paintings down through generations. I understand Schmid's concerns. I am curious to give the lead ground a try on a small scale. I ordered three Lead primed Belgium linen canvases and some lead ground so I can add two more coats as Swatland suggests. I am will to let them dry in my storage room as described till they are ready for use. I really want to see how the paint straight from the tube applies. In the meantime, practice, practice, practice drawing from life--and if from photographs, only from the photographed images as shown on my computer monitor. I am a very curious lady. --these two little girls fascinate me. I love their expressions--and the glow of their skin tones in the strong, nearly over head sunlight. Another candid back lighted photograph to dry me nuts!

      And yes, direct sunlight is not good for oil paintings especially if linseed oil,was used as a painting medium. The strong light yellows the linseed oil and changes the color. Schmid likes paint right out of the tube--no painting mediums used to make the top layers more fluid. Linseed oil, however, is the fastest drying of the oils used in oil painting and the fluidity varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. The Gamblin website has some interesting articles on oil paint materials.

  3. I love, love, LOVE how you did the hair, I wish I could come and watch you work. Your progress, to me, is astounding. As for the technical stuff > > > > > straight through my brain, I'm afraid.

  4. It's not really all that technical. He likes to control the texture of his canvas surfaces, wants to be able to totally remove errors and wants the paint to stay on the canvas as he put it on for centuries. He's willing to do what that takes. I do like quality surfaces. It's one of the reasons I took up oils again.

  5. I love the progression in this portrait of these little girls, Linda! It's coming along so beautifully... love the colors and light...I look forward to your next post!!!

    1. Thanks Hilda, but I'm dissatisfied with their skin tones. The value difference is almost right considering the brilliant backlighting (once again) . It's the reflective light that's giving me a headache. While the upper portion of their faces is warm, there's cool tones in the lower portion from the light reflecting off the water. I'm going to let it rest for a bit-- maybe forever?

  6. When I saw "The Last Supper" for the first time, I was saddened to learn that Leonardo had used an experimental paint, which affected the longevity of the masterpiece. I think you make an excellent point for your artists to consider. As for the girls, I can tell much about their personalities just by looking at the portrait. Great work!

    1. I love the personality in those two--tough to capture, but I'll probably keep trying. They remind me of my own best friend and all the fun we shared.
      How long your work is going to last may be thought of as being presumptuous? I mean, none of think our work is masterpiece quality--but that isn't up to us to decide. It is up to us to keep it on the canvas in case we sell it and just IN CASE WE ARE DISCOVERED AT SHRAFTS AND BECOME GIANTS IN OUR FIELD OVER NIGHT. Knowing what is sound and unsound chemistry is part of artistry. It also helps to expand creative options. Maybe paint falling away or cracking and revealing a sound ground that's well painted can be used for expressing an idea. Life is made up of layers.

  7. Love the "friends" painting-in-progress. I hope you will let us know how you like the lead-primed surface. :)