Category Archives: oil painting technique

Celtic Knot / masking fluid on oil paint tips

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All it requires to use masking fluid on oil paint is time and patience. Here’s how.

Prep the canvas. The stretched canvases in the stores have a coat of gesso, but they’re a little rough. I sand my canvas, coat it with gesso, sand it again, another coat of gesso and a final sanding. Mix a little water in with the gesso so your paint is smooth as possible. I usually spread this canvas prep part out over a couple days. The smooth surface helps when painting lines.

Tint the canvas with thin oil paint. I used alizarin crimson. Add drops of turp slowly mixing them into the paint till you have thin paint. It doesn’t have to be too too thin, or the color might rub off later, but thinning the paint with turp spreads out the oil and the masking fluid will adhere to it nicely. If you have medium mixed in with the paint that might make the surface more oily and then the masking fluid wouldn’t flow off the brush well. So only use turp.

Give it a week to dry before painting the masking fluid on the tinted canvas. I put some soap on my brush before dipping it in the masking fluid. It helps with keeping the masking fluid flowing off the brush and not gumming it up.

Basically it’s the same as using masking fluid with water base paint, so I don’t know why they say it doesn’t work with oils. You paint right on top of it and peel it off after the paint dries.  The hardest part is waiting for your paint to dry so you can take off the masking fluid and reveal your creation! hahahah Sometimes it’s easier to take the masking fluid off. It just peels right up in a long strip. Sometimes it’s a little messier. That’s probably because my paint wasn’t dry enough.

If you don’t have the patience for slow drying oil paint, acrylic might work. I like oil, so, I had to give it a try.IMG_1969

I love Celtic knots. This book shows you how to draw them. You could put the book on a copier and blow it up to the size you need, but I like to follow the patterns and work it out like a puzzle. I drew my pattern with charcoal on brown wrap to the size I wanted. It’s an easy design to copy. Then went over it with magic marker to make my lines thicker before transferring it to my canvas.

I really appreciate this guy, George Bain for figuring out the patterns and publishing them, because I’ve used these designs so many times over the years.  And the original Celts, who came up with this type of design were genius!

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Norfolk Port Authority / unfinished masking fluid on oil paint experiment

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This would be easy if I knew what I was doing.  But it’s driving me insane!! The weather isn’t cooperating either, so it’s taking weeks just to make a little progress.

I thought about how to paint a big bright winter sky. Winter skies have the brightest colors of the year, I think, with the orange sunlight coming through the atmosphere on a long slant.  From this view, the sun would set close to the center of my painting, which isn’t good. When I was in art school one of our teachers said, “Never paint a blazing sunset.”  I’m not sure if he said that because a bright red sun is what they called “the red circle trick” at the Academy. It’s bad for a composition because the eye goes to the red circle and stops there. It makes  a static composition. The eye doesn’t go around the painting to any other focal points.  That’s how the stores get you to go to the sale items, by placing a red circle over them. Or maybe his objection to painting a blazing sunset was that it’s impossible to duplicate the beauty of the colors. Or maybe he thought it was a cliché, because I remember he said never paint a barn. He said barns are a cliche and it’s true. A lot of jurors will reject a barn painting no matter how beautiful the painting is, just because they’re tired of barns. I’ve painted barns anyway.

So, an afternoon sky is what I’m shooting for here, and I glazed over it on 3 or 4 different days, trying to make a good blend from orange to blue. Then if I see the kind of clouds I like, I’ll have a background of sky ready.

Meanwhile, one day when I had a glaze down on my sky, I sketched in the Port Authority with gray paint. It’s just a skinny strip of land going way out there with rigs far away and some closer. My paint lines weren’t straight or even enough since I did them freehand outside, but I planned to use masking fluid on this painting. When my gray paint was dry I went over the rigs with the masking fluid and sharpened up my lines. Then continued to do sky glazes on top of the masked off rigs. IMG_1964

This close up shows my layers of sky glazes on top of the masked off rigs and strip of land. I’d really like to take the masking fluid off it today because it’s raining and snowing here again. The paint is dry and I’m tired of waiting for nice clouds to add. After I take the masking fluid off, I’ll go over the rigs again. This masking fluid step, if it does work out, was to sharpen up my drawing a little, since it seems easier to paint a straight skinny line with masking fluid than with oil paint. I hope you can see what I’m trying to get with this experiment.

And I have another experiment started, which will be dry in a few days. I could call this sky finished. Forget about winter clouds. It would be great to finally finish it after looking at it unfinished for weeks and waiting for good weather, or for my paint to dry.

If you think you have the patience to try this technique, I’ll post instructions for masking fluid on oil paint soon. I’d like to see what another artist would do with it. But, waiting for oil paint to dry does take patience sometimes.

how I rig up my taboret for plein air painting at the beach

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I looked at plein air easels in catalogs, and saw most of them don’t have spikes on the legs. They also have tiny pallets. I have an easel with spikes, It’s saved my painting from falling down in the wind a lot of times. I wonder why spikes aren’t always on plein air set ups. And why the tiny pallets? How’s an artist going to mix up colors and thin them down with turp for a glaze? I guess that might be one reason plein air impressionists don’t use a palette knife to mix paint, their pallets are too small. I usually spend a lot of time preparing my paint so I need a big enough palette to mix a few colors. I bought a palette for watercolor or acrylic and discarded the sponge it came with. I have a piece of glass with duct tape on the back to mix on. I can see my colors and values better on the gray duct tape than on a white background.

They make the plein air kits so it all fits in a box you have to lug out to your location. Maybe most plein air painters don’t go over sand dunes or down long trails. A few years ago I bought this beach cart with wide wheels. That’s how I can take all these heavy supplies down a sandy trail. I lay my cart on it’s side close to my easel on the left because I’m left handed, and put my palette on the side of my cart. It’s off the ground high enough that I can easily reach it, and it was windy this week but my palette stayed wedged in that spot and didn’t blow down. I had to keep a hand on my painting at all times, and when I stopped painting I had to take it off the easel and put it on the ground so it wouldn’t blow down. Even so, sand gets into my paint and sticks blow on it that I can brush off most of after the paint dries.IMG_1956

This is my camera’s perspective of the scene. It looks far away compared to my naked eye perspective, and the colors look more gray. It got a little cloudy so the shadows aren’t showing up in this photo. This is why I don’t use a photo to get my sketch.

Instead of starting my painting from the weak perspective of the camera, I hold up my sketchbook and try to imagine it’s transparent. I decide how much of the scene is covered by my sketchbook and measure my perspective by comparing nature to the size of my paper. I try to decide where I want my horizon line to be on my sketch and how far I can extend my sketch on each side. How many trees can I fit in the painting, how much sedge, water, etc.

Even though I am trying to match the colors and values of nature so that I can make the illusion of depth, I can’t copy nature exactly.

I recently read an article about a plein air painter who says don’t copy nature, just do your own interpretation of it. His paintings were monochromatic. What’s the point of going out to paint in plein air if you’re not trying to match the colors and values of nature? I can’t see anything more beautiful than nature as it is. My own interpretation comes through in the painting even though I am trying to copy the beauty of nature as I see it. That artist with the big write up in a magazine has a much larger ego than I do if he thinks his monochromatic fuzzy flat paintings are somehow better than real life.IMG_1954

This is my painting with one layer of glazes over the whole canvas. You can see the difference between my naked eye perspective and the camera’s. My perspective is up close and personal compared to my photo. So, what is real? It could be entirely something else from the naked eye or the camera.

Whitehurst Lake in Nov. / oil

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See the photos below, stripping off the layers of glazes all the way back to my underpainting.

As I was working on this, I read a science fiction story my daughter wrote. She had a real good idea, STOPPING TIME. That’s the illusion I’d like to put into my viewers’ heads.

I often think about modern Impressionists when I’m taking my sweet time finishing a painting. The Impressionists feel like they have to rush. Their goal is to capture a moment. To me, that sounds impossible. Like a Kodak moment, like the shutter on a camera. Click, and you have the image in an instant.

It’s true, they complain because the light changes so fast. They don’t take the time to work the paint by mixing colors with a palette knife. They squirt the paint out of the tube and stick the brush right in it, mixing the colors with the brush on the canvas. That is why they have to worry about muddy colors.

Impressionists, what’s the rush? You can go to your scene a little early for the best light and mix some colors to the shade you need. You can put a glaze on the painting thinking it’s close to right. Then when you go back the next day at the same time, the light will be the same as the day before, and you can easily make corrections since the paint has partially dried overnight. You can put another glaze right over top of the previous one without smudging the colors together creating mud. You can go warmer or cooler, lighter or darker so easily. Then the eye of the viewer blends the colors and you get depth in your shadows. And the lightest and brightest colors are on top in thicker paint.

Sometimes people tell me that what I’m doing looks like magic. They see me in the same place day after day with my painting slowly evolving. I always tell them, it’s not magic. It’s an illusion. I started thinking, maybe I can make the viewer think I can stop time.

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This is my painting with one layer of glazes covering the whole canvas.

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This is my underpainting in gray on a violet tinted canvas.

A  few years ago I bought a tube of violet so I could paint some purple flowers. The violet in a tube is brighter than a violet I can mix with any red and blue. But I rarely paint purple flowers so that tube didn’t get used. I decided to tint my canvas violet instead of gray, as I did before, just to use my violet paint before it dried up.

When I tint a canvas, I thin the paint with odorless Turpenoid so it’s like a wash. It makes the pigment not bind with the Gesso. The purple pigment is kind of powdery on the canvas and rubs off even when it’s dry.  When I do my underpainting, I’m using neutral grays but the violet lifts and changes the gray. Then, I get the feeling the paint is sitting a tiny fraction of an inch off the canvas. After I put some glazes on top of my underpainting, I think they are sitting on top too, like the violet makes everything lift, visually. So, the violet is kind of fun to work on.

The underpainting is a necessary first step in this way of painting. I estimated I had 8 hours in it at this point, because first I sketched it with charcoal on paper. Then I sketched it with charcoal on the violet canvas before I started to do the underpainting.

I have to take the time to do these steps. I doubt I’ll ever learn to paint fast. I have the time to go back to the beautiful place any day and stay as long as I like. So this way of painting that was pushed on me when I was young at York Academy of Art, actually suits me fine, now, but when I was in art school, I rebelled against the Academy. hahaha

microscopic star dust life form, reproducing

IMG_1862gold leaf and beads on oil paint

This is another experiment using masking fluid on oil paint. They say it doesn’t work. They say masking fluid beads up on oil paint. I think they are misinformed about that.

I started with a red tinted canvas and painted the masking fluid on my Spirograph design blocking out a red line. Then painted the blues and greens over top of the masking fluid. I added quick drying medium to my paint but still had to wait a couple days for the it to dry before taking the masking fluid off . Then I put gold leaf on my red lines and put beads on the canvas.

I used 2 different sized lids to stamp the violet circles in the background. For the larger beads, I cut little slits in the canvas and pushed the beads half way in, then hot glued them on the back. I sewed the small beads onto the canvas.

The most difficult thing about using masking fluid on oil paint is opening the bottle. You have to press down on the lid and turn it. I hear a click but the lid doesn’t unscrew. After trying to open the bottle for a while, my hand gets tired and I get out some tools because I want to break the freaking lid. Then finally I can open it after much frustration.  I mean, COME ON! Winsor Newton. Can’t they make a better lid?!

About the life form; It fell out of the sky into the ocean. Now it is reproducing and will probably choke out all life on Earth !  Are you scared? I just scared myself! hahahah

Distelfink Walks Labyrinth

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This is my 3rd experiment with masking fluid on oil paint.  I masked off the dark red border on the labyrinth and the gold leafed lines on the bird. The 24 carat gold leaf came out looking real warm on top of the dark red outline but it shows up a cool gold in my photo.

It’s a difficult, time consuming process making the masking fluid  work on oil paint. I wouldn’t recommend other artists try it. It takes a lot of prep time and patience. I’m still working out the bugs. I’m not sure if it’s showing in this photo, but you can see the weave of the canvas  through the dark red lines. If someone examines the paint closely, they’ll know I used some kind of stencil when they compare the thick textured paint to the lines.

I don’t have a lot of experience with gold leaf. It’s something I tried to do long ago and had the gold leaf all these years in my art supplies. I remember hearing you need a smooth surface for the leaf. That’s why I masked off the lines for the gold leaf. The paint can get thick and textured on the rest of the canvas, but should be smooth under the leaf.

The Distelfink is a folk art bird from PA. They mean good luck. Distelfink is PA Dutch for Thistle Finch. They’re native in Europe, not PA, but their images are all over Southeast PA.  I’ve always enjoyed drawing them. And I  enjoy the challenge of drawing geometric designs like the Greek key and Celtic knots. Making the labyrinth work out on the size I want is a math problem and takes me a while to figure out, even with the picture of a labyrinth in front of me. These are two designs I have used since I was a kid, so they’re a fall back design for my experiment.

So,  while the weather isn’t good over the winter, this is what I’m working on. My ultimate plan is to make an icon with oil paint and gold leaf, using a portrait of Edgar Alan Poe. The more practice I get, the better my chances are of success with the icon for a show in the spring at the Poe museum.

Distelfink on Hex / masking fluid on oil paint experiment #2

That was fun.
That was fun.
I'm not finished with this.
I’m not finished with these.

I can’t remember who first told me masking fluid doesn’t work on oil paint. It might have been long ago and I didn’t try it until this year. When I was shopping for a masking fluid to try, I asked the art supply store people if the more expensive Winsor Newton masking fluid is a better product than the ordinary friskit masking fluid and they said the Winsor Newton brand might be easier to lift when the paint is dry. If you leave the cheaper product on for a few days it can stick.  The guy working there asked me what kind of paper I was using. I told him I wanted to try it on canvas with oil paint. They said it doesn’t work on oil paint. I said I’m going to try it and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, I’ll use it for something else.

I think it’s working ok on oil paint.  It was on the canvas over 2 weeks while I waited for the first layer of paint to dry. I mixed fast drying  Winsor Newton Liquin medium with my colors, but forgot to mix it with one of my glazes, and that blue took forever to dry.

This is the Distelfink on the red canvas with one layer of masking fluid and one layer of glazes.
This is the Distelfink on the red canvas with one layer of masking fluid and one layer of glazes.

I bought a deerfoot brush and dabbed the glazes on top of the masking fluid. The deerfoot is a nice brush to use for a glaze. It doesn’t entirely cover the color underneath.

That’s the blue background that took weeks to dry.

I want to paint eyes on my 2 Distelfinks then use this one on red and try another experiment. The last thing I want to try with it is putting gold leaf on the red outline of the bird.

It’s all part of my bigger plan to make an icon of Edgar Allan Poe. When I do my icon, I need an elaborate border for Poe’s portrait with oil paint and gold leaf.

So, why do they say masking fluid doesn’t work on oil paint? This isn’t too bad. If I try again,  maybe I can get the icon project to work out. I did a layer of masking fluid, a layer of glazes, then another layer of masking fluid and another layer of glazes. I had to wait  a couple weeks for it to dry and the masking fluid peeled off nicely.img_1831

This photo shows another experiment started with masking fluid on a tinted canvas. You can see the masking fluid is a little shiny on top of my charcoal sketch of flowers with 2 little distelfinks.

masking fluid on oil paint experiment

Yeah, that works. (kind of)
Yeah, that works. (kind of)

A few years ago I saw a painting by Maxfield Parrish, “Masquerade”, in Atlanta at the High Museum.  I was amazed by his technique.

Dang, this photo's not  clear.
Dang, this photo’s not clear.

All those little diamond shapes are sharp. And people think I paint tight! hahahaha  I wondered how he did it. The only thing I could guess was that he used masking fluid but people told me masking fluid doesn’t stick to oil paint. This painting was in the back of my mind for a long time. I saw a video about Parrish’s glazing technique but it didn’t discuss his technique of painting corners. The video gave me a lot to consider about glazing. I’ve been glazing with oil paint for a few years and I want to try more ways of glazing. The video also stressed Parrish’s use of varnish. I can’t use as much varnish as Parrish because it’s so strong my neighbors will smell it in their apartments too. I go outside to paint varnish but when the weather gets cold it takes a long time to dry.

Last week I planned some paintings to work on over the winter when I can’t get outside to paint as much. I bought a bottle of Winsor Newton water color masking fluid and tried it on a piece of an oil painting that I don’t like.  I drew a hex sign for my experiment because I’m PA Dutch and I’ve always liked to draw hex signs. I’m not superstitious. To me they’re a decoration. It’s fun to spin a compass around and make a perfect circle.

The PA Dutch put hex signs over the door to their barns to keep evil spirits out. Once I asked how a hex can keep out a bad spirit and was told that the spirit would think it could get into the barn through the hex sign, mistaking it for the door. It would hit it’s head on the hex sign and give up and go away. I can’t verify the PA Dutch really believe that. I’ve been away from that culture a long time.

ok, I digress. I want to try my experiment again using masking fluid on oil paint. This time, my surface will be smoother and I’ll use a ruling pen to paint my skinny lines.

A Spray of Goldenrod by Charles Courtney Curran

At the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk VA.
At the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk VA.

It’s a great show of American Impressionists titled “The Artist’s Garden”. I drove to Norfolk yesterday to see it. The show ends in the beginning of Sept.

It’s exciting to see old Impressionism. There’s a lot of variations in the different artist’s styles. These artists had academic training. You can see it in the beautifully drawn female figures. An artist doesn’t get this kind of results by tracing a photo. This took years of figure drawing practice.

I wanted to see if the old Impressionists used glazes, and yes, I see layers of glazes in a lot of the paintings. Modern Impressionists don’t use glazes. This painting shows a lot of variation in the way the paint was applied. Some is glazes and some parts are painted thick.

The old Impressionists didn’t have a formula. I doubt this was finished in one day. They had inspiration. They were daring and groundbreaking. Modern Impressionists are in a big hurry to finish paintings because they think it makes them look “prolific”. They have a good level of successful paintings that are marketable because they have a formula, which they might call “streamlining” a painting, or “simplifying” or something like that. That’s why all modern Impressionists work looks the same. Modern Impressionists are on some kind of art treadmill. I want to paint like this guy, Curran.