Thursday, September 1, 2011

The anatomy of a painting.

When I started painting I scoured, positively scoured the internet for information on painting, supports, supplies and archival information. For every bit of data I can across that was worthwhile I found huge swathes of information that was... sub par. On top of that I never really got to see the intricacies of what went into painting; why use a pva size and not rabbitskin glue? Why use a alkyd primer and not a titanium white? why use black oil and not linseed? Poppy? Safflower? Heat-bodied walnut with turps?! AGGGHHHH!!!

And then my head would explode.

After I spent the next few hours carefully putting my head back together (not unlike one Mr. Dumpty, first name: Humpty) I carefully trolled through what information I had and did several test runs to see what worked and what didn't.

So, this blog post will be a start to finish (in three parts) chronicle of one painting. From the preparation of the support and ground to the final touches:

Degas "Dancers in Blue" 10" x 10" oil on linen

The first matter of business was to select a support. Don't get me wrong, I like stretched canvas. But I wanted something with a bit more resistance to the touch. sometimes the firmness of the support makes painting easier for smaller more detailed work. The canvas I used had some wrinkles was well, and it's been my experience that stretching canvas doesn't remove wrinkles. So I used a 10" x 10" square of birch plywood with a 1/4 inch cradle.

so... strong.....

Yet so.... thin!

Yes, so I cut a piece of Utrecht 66J fine texture single weave linen. Fine texture single weave makes a thin painting surface without all the Goddam bumps to hind the application of paint.

Square canvas, square support. It's
like I went to college or something.

So, with the canvas cut it was time to size the linen. Linen requires a barrier between it and the paint otherwise the acidity of the oil will, over time, eat through the linen like a bunny through the gate that you put up to keep it from eating you new pair of shoes that You Bought Expressly Because YOU NEEDED A NICE PAIR OF SHOES FOR YOUR SISTERS WEDDING!!!!


So I've recently switched to the use of PVA glue because hide glue tends to absorb moisture from the air and over time may shrink and expand causing cracks in the painting. So after a coat of PVA, I need to adhere the canvas to the support. Again PVA glue was my choice for similar reasons stated above. Incidentally, PVA is a acid neutral glue similar to Elmer's. However it is a lot thinner.

This resulted in unforeseen problem. Namely the bloody canvas failed to adhere to the support. As such i attempted two methods of trying tog et it to stick

Method # 1 Pressing it by hand:

The man (aka me) trying to keep
a good canvas down.

I can tell you from experience this method of attempting to smooth the canvas down with hand pressure is only successful if you are trying to do two things.

1. Get glue on your hands.

For this, pressing the canvas down with your hands if very good. The heat of your hands caused the glue to cure on everything but the canvas. So you can be sure that the use of this method of adhesion will prevent any glue from drying on your canvas and provide maximum coverage on your fingers. If you happen to have any hair on your hands or arms be assured they you won't by time you remove the glue. PVA is surprisingly an excellent alternative to wax.

2. If you are attempting to tire your arm out.

Again, the above method is excellent for attempting to wear your arms down in to worthless stumps. Combined with glue covered fingers it is excellent for rendering your entire upper body useless and makes that face push-up you have to do to get out of bed the next morning all the more enjoyable.

Method #2 MacGyver

I was considering using some spare string and
a paper clip to make an atomic bomb and
blow the damn thing up after this.

Again. this method was also fail. While i didn't have glue covered hands, I still had to do the morning face push-up due to EXTREME arm fatigue.

(Warning: useful bit of information coming up)

So I did a bit of research. The reason you don't use Elmer's glue is because of its acidity. As mentioned before (acid+canvas = bunnies+VERY EXPENSIVE SHOES). But its all I had so... do I dare? Then I came across this bit of info from Ross Merill, who is the chief conservator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.:

"I wouldn’t recommend using Elmer’s white glue since it’s acidic. But when you think about it, the plywood, Masonite and fabric are all acidic, as well, but to a lesser degree. If you decide to use Elmer’s, mix a half cup of powdered white chalk (available at hardware stores) with a cup of water. Then add that to a quart of Elmer’s glue. Adding the chalk directly to the Elmer’s glue will result in a very thick paste. If it’s too thick to thoroughly mix, add just enough water to make it workable. This chalk (calcium carbonate) will neutralize the acidity of the Elmer’s glue."

Chalk is basically calcium carbonate. Which I have on hand for making traditional gesso. After mixing the calcium carbonate I ended up with a glue/chalk mixture something around consistency of maple syrup:

Although it moves like maple syrup
it's not.

You can easily see the viscosity here, what you
don't see is the PVA, because its too thin to
show up on film. Not unlike Calista Flockheart.

Much like the farmer who had a dog, I exclaimed "Bingo"! The new glue mixture was thick enough to hold the canvas in place. Enough for me to prime anyway...

The next installment will give a run though of the set-up and paints. Stay tuned or I'll send my killer attack bunny after you:

She May look cute, but she'll bite your face off.
And then your shoes.



  1. I've never seen the Pretty bunny look so fluffy or disheveled. No wonder she's on the war path!

  2. LOL I think I can hear your voice as I read.

  3. How can you accuse that sweet little bunny of destroying your shoes? Pretty sure you just got hungry while you were sleepwalking.
    And I'm glad you don't use rabbit skin glue!