Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shopping for Oils? Read the Labels.


Experimenting with  my Flat Brushes # 4 and 8. A light, flat-out stroke made
with brush held with the long handle extended, turned and twisted and drybrushed itself into this "doodle.
I was also experimenting with a palette limited to two colors and black and white ala Zorn. 
But before you do, do know your brushes. Flats, #1, 5 and 8, are on the list for my Venetian Techniques painting course this Fall. I only own an 8 and what looks like a 4 and a 2--but those were good enough to  let me get a freeforall feel for the Flats before sizing up the quality of the paints in my box.

They were poor according to Michael Wilcox, founder of The School of Colour and author of The Artist's Guide to Selecting Colours, a book highly recommended by Richard Schmid.  My mistake was I never, ever, turned the tube over and read the label. Why would I?  I had no clue as to what those numbers meant.  I just wanted the color, I wanted.  I was an uninformed shopper. No more.

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Enlarge this photo and you might be able to read the information that's important before selecting a paint. 
M. Graham & Company's label has all the information.  Gamblin's label even has health warnings included.
Dick Blick's label is off side, but has all the necessary info too.  What is confusing to me about these three
paints made by different paintmakers is each company uses a different binder. From Blick to Graham: Safflower oil, Alkali refined linseed oil and Alkali Refined Walnut oil leaving me confused as to what makes one oil better than another?
For my Venetian Technique class, I bought Gamlin paints based on  knowing linseed oil has been used for centuries--but
then I have also heard it yellows with time?  Maybe that's where Alkali refined makes the difference? I also have used it before and like its consistency and the way it comes out of the tube.


As the chemistry of painting grounds affects the longevity and the look of our work, so does the chemistry of our paint.  I don't know about you, but I was a C student in high school chemistry. At that time in my life, I didn't know that any chemistry interested me. After years spent in architectural design and construction, I realize that I am as interested in the sound construction of a painting, as I was in the sound construction of homes.  I believe structures of paint or wood and brick should be soundly built from the ground up or clients get mad at you.

In the beginning, I bought these mediums to try.
Now, I don't know.
 I am interested in grounds that receive the paint well and allow for the correction of errors.  I am  interested in paints that don't  fade or darken even if the painting is hung outdoors in brilliant sunlight. I appreciate  paint that doesn't crack and fall off the canvas with changes in humidity and  the expansion and contraction of wood surfaces and stretcher bars that are affected. Paint that refuses to come out of the tube without an assist from a tube wringer or gushes out with a lot of oily filler that oozes all over the palette makes me moan and groan.  I want paintings that will last in good condition for decades--if not centuries. It has nothing to d with dreams of immortality; it has to do with excellent craftsmanship and satisfied patrons.  Wilcox's book, a short afternoon's read, discusses the chemistry of modern manufactured oils, watercolors, acrylics, gouache and alkyds,

We all know by now how  unstable Alizarin Crimson is so we've been buying the tube marked "Permanent."  But how permanent is it?  Do we really know the paintmaker corrected the chemistry and didn't just add the word to make us feel more secure so we'll keep stocking up? We don't--not unless we understand the writing on the back of the tube.  Wilcox, a chemist, doesn't like any of the Alizarins. He prefers the much more stable chemistry of Quinacredone violet and red. He has other preferences too in the other color families and tells you the science of each one and why he recommends one color over another.

Where once I stared out the window of my chemistry class bored to death, familiarizing myself with the science of color (light) and paint grabs my interests. I am spending way too much money on paint to buy junk.  Now, what about those painting mediums?  Both Schmid and Wilcox say use the paint right out of the tube and don't mix it with anything.

All of us would love to shave our painting costs down by buying "Student Quality" paints, but
our ego says, "NO. NO. NO! Artist is who I am and 'Artist Quality' is what I'll buy." Well,
we don't have to spend artist quality prices for all of our colors. Shouldn't we know which
pigments are made the same way?  Wilcox's guide is an eye opener.




 

20 comments:

  1. That painting looks awesome, if it isn't finished, don't overwork it.

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    1. Thanks Roger. It's done. It started out as an experiment with a number 4 flat brush just to see what kind of marks could be made with the brush held in various positions, etc. After just a few dabs, squiggles and twists, images appeared and the brush exercise became a doodle-- then a painting. It looks to be finished to me. Anything more would be way too much. I had a great time with my Flat Filberts and I now know what a Filbert brush is and can do. I never paid attention to what brush was called what. I bought shapes I thought looked okay. My favorite was an angled flat. I like bristles that aren't too stiff. And it never occurred to me to use dry, clean brushes to alter the appearance of loaded brush strokes till I read it in Schmid. I am having quite an informative summer. Love it!

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  2. Dear Linda, I agree with Roger on the painting ... awesome ... do not touch !!!
    As for the colors, they are years that I fight with labels and chemical companies producing watercolors because they had to change a lot of things on the basis of health (no cadmium, no chromium) and on the basis of permanence. The colors are paid very differently in the same brand, depending on the series to which they belong as permanence. The colors of a student having a single price, reserve surprises ... the watercolors guru of all this are Bruce Mc Evoy on the website "handprint" and Hilary Page in her book on colors.
    Now I learn from you that is the same for oil colors ... because they are the medium auxiliary products for all (even watercolors have medium auxiliary dedicated ...) are often useful for manufacturers to earn some money more and are not always so useful to the painter. The shops that sell materials for fine arts offer(free) brochures prepared by the major manufacturers of watercolors to read up on the subject, with very precise tables that tell all of the colors and even the comparison with the old products are no longer traded on getting new products with a similar effect ...It 's funny how the various parts of the world are traded products and how each product has its own logic. Thanks Linda of all your information that flow and make life more interesting for the incurably curious as me !!!

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    1. I knew you would appreciate this post Rita. You are as curious as I am. Wilcox's book gives the scoop on all paints--oils, watercolours, acrylics, and something I am not familiar with called alkyds ? He is a trained chemist and a painter, watercolorist I think, who went off to investigate his medium and ended up testing all of them. Schmid wrote praises, so I was curious and ordered his book. He's written quite a few. He stands on the philosophy that painters must know the science of their paints as the old masters who made their own did. He also thinks painters should make themselves familiar with the physics of light and color. Knowing the science and the physics along with the disciplines of drawing will contribute to better work. Wilcox's newest book discusses glazes, another technique I really know nothing about. When I wanted thinner glazes in with acrylics, I more often used more water than one of the paint mediums and in so doing, do doubt added a weak layer that probably doesn't have a long life? Having never taken painting seriously in art college, I did just have fun with it.

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  3. Good post on the quality of pigments. I went through the same information search when I had just started in watercolors - I still have Wilcox's book tucked away.

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    1. Now I'm curious about binders, varnishes and glazing. I have never glazed, yet I have signed up for a class on Venetian Painting Techniques of the Renaissance painters. Wilcox, a watercolorist as well as a chemist, has just published a book called Glazing. I think it might find its way to my reading table. I really like to know my tools and materials. I want my great, great grandchildren to know who I was and where their talent came from. Egotistical? Maybe. But why not.

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  4. This painting is AMAZING Linda!!!. Sign and frame!!

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    1. Thanks Hilda. I went as far as I wanted to go. It's finished.

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  5. Hi Linda,
    Wow!!! How unique and wild-and-crazy can you get! Have you been channeling Picasso and Bacon again? I think you've unlocked the hidden style most of us are always hoping to find.
    Great read on paints, too. So much to know and so little time.
    Have a nice weekend.
    Sincerely,
    Gary.

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    1. You too. Exactly! But if I'm going to spend great gobs of time and money on something, I prefer to know exactly what I'm doing. Turns out, the paints I was buying were student grade, but sold as artist grade. I'm glad I found that out--not that anything I painted turned out to be precious, but in case they did, I would have wanted the chemistry to be sound. The lucky thing was I regarded everything I was painting as practice considering it's been years since I worked with these materials anywhere near as intensely as I am now.

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  6. I love the painting. For some reason it reminds me of Kirk Douglas--maybe that van Gogh movie. I have been buying "real" paint for a long time now. I did begin with student grade, but --it is very easy to feel the difference. :)

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    1. Yes. I suppose so. --I always used what I thought were artist grade colors till I bought Winton. Stocked in the artist grade section of a dealer, I assumed they just didn't carry The more expensive Windsor Newton and Winton, being made by Windsor Newton was probably okay? Nowhere on the tube was it marked Student grade and I had no idea how to read paint labels. I did get the drift when I got the paint home and it wouldn't come out of the tube without using the tube wringer. But not all my Winton tube colors behaved this way. I didn't question the paint's quality till last week when Todd Burroughs, the instructor of the Venetian Technique class I'm taking,noted on his supply list not to bring any Winton colors to class. He was the one who confirmed what I suspected. They are student grade, but were sold as artist grade in this art supply store. It was a story of too good to be true pricing and my ignorance of how to read paint labels. For class, I bought Gamblin, from your home town, and Old Holland. But Dick Blick's artist grade paints are properly marked and so were the tubes I bought from Utrecht. It's just the Winton that's been removed to the paints to sketch with only box.

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  7. Your painting is very expressive. I like the freedom of the brush marks.
    I got the Wilcox book on paint when it first came out. It has been a few years now. He may have changed a few things, but the basics have to be the same.
    Good stuff to know. I have stopped using all the cadmiums - only made possible by using the books guidance.

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    1. Why? Poisonous? I'm not going to eat the paint. I'm going to paint with the paint. The same with Flake white with it's lead content. Wilcox pointed out that on many of the paintings from the old masters, only the Hands and faces didn't crack with age and that was because the skin tones had been mixed with Flake white--also collars or cuffs remained in tact because they were Flake white. When I read years ago that there was discussion about removing the cads from the market, I wrote in protest to such nonsense. We have many poisons in our households--like substances with bleach stored under the kitchen sink--that could do us in if ingested, as Wilcox pointed out in a video interview I just watched. We are adults. We know how to use them and how to keep them out of the kids' hands. Wilcox recommends all of the Cadmium yellow is labeled properly, e.g. Cadmium Yellow Light, PY 35; Lightfastness I: Excellent.

      Funny story: I once made a paint sculpture from baked sheets of acrylics, wire and my dead car' alternator. I draped the Cadmium yellows and reds on the wire in a creative way, mounted the structure to a crude wood board and hung it on the wall over the couch in the den never thinking anyone or anything would touch my masterpiece sculpture. Next morning, all the paint was gone. Dooley ate it. There my son's cat sat, perched on the windowsill, licking his paws. He was totally unphased by the sizable portion of poisonous Cadmiums he had just devoured.

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  8. Love the story of the cat eating the "masterpiece."
    Regarding "not eating the cadmium paints".
    I am a messy painter and regardless of gloves or barrier cream protection I seem to get it on my face, arms etc.
    After wearing a medical patch that I could slap on my body and the ingredients would be absorbed through my skin, I had a light bulb moment of the connection of absorption...any type, but especially lead white and the cads. I paint daily so it adds up.
    The real danger lies in pastels. What part of particles in the lungs do they not understand? Don't even have to be cads. I know two pastel painters who have had problems and one who's lung had biopsied proof !
    Anyway, Linda, this is only a comfort level for me and I don't expect it to be for anyone else so am not trying to reform the art world. It is all a crap shoot anyway.

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    1. Yes, and then there's DNA, falling off ladders and ticks and Mosquitos from living too close to the woods Something out there is going to get us and none of us will be happy on our death beds no matter how old we are. Life is one grand risk. --I am paying particular attention to Schmid's orderly way of working. I know I was too loose with the materials and that, I think, I s not a sign of professionalism is, to me, taking control of your craft. --an interesting fact from the old days is that women were the only one making the lead based paints. Says a lot about how women were valued in history.

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  9. love the painting, doodle or not. a bit confused about the 'Flats (Filbert) Brushes....did you use flats or filberts or both? I too get paint everywhere, skin, clothes and yes, even in my mouth on the end of fingers, but life is too short to worry. I paint and so what will be will be.

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  10. oops, not finished. Your posts are nevertheless very interesting, so thank you for investigating for me!

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    1. Oops myself. I must have been looking at the Filberts and writing about the Flats! And just exactly what is a 'Bright? " Not me, quite yet. Next book. :-)).

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