TIPS & INFO for all media
plus a variety of other topics
- In A Galaxy Far, Far Away
(methods for denoting distance)
- Food Fight! (types of artists' paints explained)
- It's a Snap (photographing artwork)
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
How is it that we know when one object is nearer and another farther away? When observing the real world, this is not something that needs to be thought about; our perception is immediate and automatic. The same should be true of our pictures and there are methods to ensure that it is.
Artists exploit a variety methods to help denote distance and depth in their pictures. We most often associate these techniques with landscape art, where they are pursued aggressively. But they are equally effective in still-life and figurative paintings, although they are usually used with greater subtlety due to the shallowness of the space.
The purpose of this essay is not to provide in-depth instruction on the use of each technique discussed, but to provide an overview of possibilities for further study and practice. When brought into play skillfully, the result can be an image that conveys a highly convincing illusion.
Modern linear perspective was developed by Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi in the early 1400s. Brunelleschi’s science was based upon a few elemental principles.
“Of identical objects, the near appears larger than the far” is the most basic premise of scientific perspective. A nearby pole, for example, looks thicker and taller than a similar pole some distance away.
The nearest pole looks quite thick compared to those farther off. Notice too that the posts seem to get shorter as the row stretches into the distance.
“All things recede to a vanishing point located on a logical and consistent vanishing axis.” The vanishing axis in most cases is the horizon line, which is at the level of your eyes. The sides of buildings shrink to a vanishing point on this line. Railroad tracks and roads narrow to a vanishing point. A row of doors, windows, or poles dwindle toward the horizon and, if they stretch all the way to the horizon they are reduced to nothing. In other words, at a great distance an object may look vanishingly small, hence the term “vanishing point.”
This alley in Padua, Italy narrows to a vanishing point (V.P.) on the horizon line (H.L.). Doorways and arches also get shorter in the direction of this point.
Linear perspective is a powerful tool for creating an illusion of depth, and it is exploited more than any other technique. It is not particularly difficult to master the fundamentals of linear perspective, and it does the artist well to acquire a clear understanding of the principles behind it.
If one object partially covers another it is called “overlapping.” A near object always overlaps a more distant one, and never the other way around. When a tree is in front of a building, for example, it hides part of the building behind it. Likewise, we know a tree is behind the building when the structure occludes part of the tree. Overlapping, such as that seen in the set of photographs that follow, is a striking method for establishing what is in front (nearer objects) versus that which is behind (objects farther away).
At left is a scene as it normally appears. On the right it has been edited to more clearly illustrate the fact that the tree trunks overlap the front lawn which, in turn, overlaps the house, and that the house overlaps the distant trees and sky.
When the use of linear perspective is not a possibility, such as in a landscape without buildings or roads, spatial layering is an excellent alternative. Where vanishing lines carry the eye into the distance with linear perspective, contrasting bands transport the viewer into distance through layers of space.
Spatial layering is equally useful not only in landscape art where it is often employed, but also in portrayals of the human form, still-life, and architectural subjects.
The section on the right is a portion of the original color photograph with horizontal stripes of greens, pale and dark blues, and grays. Each band is like a layer of space, with one band overlapping another as though they are treads on a staircase that step the viewer into the distance. The same effect is also evident in the high-contrast stripe down the middle of the image. Each shift from darker to paler or from paler to darker represents a step into another spatial layer.
Spatial layers can be vertical as well as horizontal. At right is a detail of rows of overlapping columns that efficiently suggest layers of space. On the left is the image in its entirety with perspective clues included.
This is an example of spatial layering applied to a still-life. Each brilliant patch of color signifies a spatial layer. Spatial layering in this case is highly successful even though the fruits in back are much larger than the pepper and flowers in front.
Relative positions on the picture plane are a good indicator of nearness or farness. An object that sits lower in the frame is understood as being nearer to us than one that is seated higher in the picture plane. This is true even when a more distant object is same size or larger than the nearer object.
The rim of the bread dish (red line, closer) is lower in the picture plane than that of the saucer (violet, farther), which demonstrate their relative locations. Even though the mug (blue) appears to be the same size as the honey jar (green), their baselines make clear that the jar is closer.
The far tends to be paler than the near. This is particularly evident when the air is hazy or misty as in the following photograph.
The most distant mountains are palest, while the nearer ones are deeper and more intense. This photograph is also a fine example of spatial layering.
CHROMA AND SATURATION
A color is saturated when it is intense and brilliant; its opposite is a tepid color. Other terms commonly used are high-chroma (brilliant) and low-chroma (dull).
The color of nearby objects is usually richly saturated, while the colors of things far away are generally more neutral or grayer due to the influence of the interceding atmosphere; the effect is often referred to as “atmospheric perspective.” For instance, a barn across the street might be a bright, fire engine red, while a barn on a hill three miles off that is painted the same color may appear to be merely a reddish gray.
There are exceptions to this idea. In most situations the colors of distant objects are indeed less saturate than near ones, but in some circumstances distant objects can be just as brilliantly tinted as those nearby. The reason, again, is air. Throughout most of the day, dust and moisture in the atmosphere scatters light and thus making the colors of objects far away appear lackluster. However, at sunset or sunrise the sky takes on ruddy hues. This is particularly apparent in the direction of the sun. If we are looking toward the sun, remote objects may look fiery or strongly orange due to the pronounced influence of the red-orange-yellow light of dusk and dawn.
So, it is perhaps better to think of distant objects as assuming the colors of the distant light rather than as simply getting duller or grayer.
In most circumstances, distant objects look more gray than nearer ones. At left, for instance, the grass and trees of the nearby hill possess rich greens and browns, while trees on the hill in the middle-ground are barely green at all, and those on the most distant peaks have gone completely gray. The effect is due to the color of the atmosphere. Thus, distant objects take on ruddy hues at sunrise and sunset.
“Blue recedes, red advances.” This is a common expression that describes the concept that we perceive cooler colors as being more distant than warmer colors.
Human beings have spent most of their evolutionary history as outdoor creatures. Consequently, our sense of sight is well attuned to conditions found in the open air. Outside, there is a lot of blue air between your eyes and a distant object that make the object far away appear more blue than another, closer object. Thus, of two purple boxes, the nearby one looks redder, or warmer than the one at a distance, which appears bluer.
All these mountains are blanketed in greenery, but the nearest (A) appears warmest (yellowest), those in the middle (B and C) bluer, and the most distant (D) completely blue (coolest) in keeping with the principle that “blue recedes and red advances.”
In most situations, the idea of a cool distance and warm near-ground works quite well – but not in all. It is most effective for the landscape painter working beneath a sparkling blue sky. Not all skies sparkle or are blue, however, and not all paintings are of the landscape.
A painting carried out at sunset when the sky is tinted orange or pink can directly contradict of the warm/cool principle. Thus, in this case, blue might advance and red may recede, the exact opposite of the accepted convention.
In keeping with the “blue recedes and red advances” standard warm earthy colors and greens coat the nearest mountain in the photograph at left, while cooler blue-greens, blues and violets shade the more distant summits. In the picture at right the reverse occurs, with coolish greens and blues in the foreground and hot reds and oranges in the background.
Rather than the traditional concept, a more effective way to think about color and distance is as follows: “The more distant an object is the more like the distance it is, and the nearer the object is the more like itself it is.”
DETAIL AND PATTERN
The ability to pick out details decreases with distance. Very close up, it is possible to see individual tiles on a wall or covering a patio. At a modest distance, the separate tiles dissolve into a pattern and they are seen more as a texture rather than a conglomeration of individual tiles. Extremely far off, even texture may disappear, becoming nothing more specific than a homogenous surface.
Our ability to distinguish detail decreases with distance. Individual stalks of grass can be easily discerned when they are nearby. In the middle distance, though, it becomes difficult to pick out separate shoots and they start to blend together. Farther away the field of grass becomes a blanket of texture, and beyond that texture disappears.
DEPTH-OF-FIELD & SFUMATO
Due to limitations in the acuity of human vision, objects close at hand are generally seen with greater clarity than those far away. Consequently, nearby items appear precise and well defined while distant objects seem, to the contrary, soft and blurry, as though viewed through a veil of smoke. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci who was the first to observe and write about it, called the effect sfumato, which means “smoke” in Italian.
Leonardo was also aware that things become indistinct when they fall outside the range at which the eyes are focused. In other words, if your eyes are focused at a distance of three to five feet, anything not within that span will look blurry, including objects that are nearby. Modern photographers refer to this as “depth-of-field.”
We usually see objects that are close to us more clearly than those that are far away, as in the picture of cherries. Due to how human and camera lenses work, however, it is also possible that something nearby will be out of focus, while those things that are most in-focus fall into the middle distance. The photograph of women shows just such a situation.
Contrast between light and shadow is more pronounced nearby than far away. The shadow side of a house across the street can be quite dark against the sparkling brilliance of the side of the same house in sunlight. By comparison, the shadowed wall of a house perched on a distant hill will be a modest gray against a slightly paler wall that is illuminated.
Contrast decreases with distance in this photograph of desert rock formations. The difference in value between the shadows and the lit areas of sample “A” are far more stark than the differences in sample “E.” “A,” of course, is much closer than “E.”
There are lots of kinds of paints – oil, acrylic, water – along with varieties of each. The serious painter should acquire at least a passing acquaintance with as many as possible. To do otherwise is to deny yourself the opportunity of discovering a form of paint that you might otherwise have developed a passion for.
TOSS THE OLIVES
Three sorts of oil paint are made: traditional, alkyd, and water soluble.
The main ingredients in all of them are pigment (the coloring agent) and binder (to hold the pigment particles together and to the painting surface). In traditional oil paints, the binder is usually linseed oil. Binders for alkyd and water soluble oil paints are molecularly altered oils that give the paints distinct performance characteristics.
Several types of oil-based paints are shown. From left to right are Winsor & Newton brand traditional oil paints, Holbein Duo Aqua water-mixable oil paints, and Griffin alkyd paints from Winsor & Newton.
A solvent is used in conjunction with almost every kind of paint. Solvent thins the paint and rinses painting tools. Odorless paint thinner and turpentine are solvents for alkyd and traditional oil paints. Called volatile solvents, since they evaporate rapidly, many individuals are sensitive to their vapors and react to them upon contact with their skin. Water is the solvent for water soluble oil paints.
Each oil paint variant requires its own type of painting medium. Painting medium changes the consistency of the paint, modifies its drying rate, alters its handling characteristics, (usually) adds translucency, and – depending upon the formula of the medium – enhances or minimizes the glossiness of the dried paint.
A wide range of oils and mediums are available for use with oil paints. At left is refined linseed oil, although stand linseed oil, sun-thickened linseed oil, cold-pressed linseed oil, poppy seed oil, and walnut oil are also commonly used. Galkyd painting medium by Gamblin company, on the right, is one of several alkyd-based mediums available from a number of manufacturers. At center is linseed oil that is specially formulated for use with water mixable oil paints.
An oil-based medium is typically used with traditional oil paints, although an alkyd painting medium like Liquin is also acceptable. Alkyd paints perform best with an alkyd painting medium.
Specially formulated oil-based painting mediums are made for use with water soluble paints; these mediums are compatible with water, allowing the artist to avoid the hazards of turpentine and odorless paint thinner. Ordinary linseed oil and alkyd mediums may be used instead with water soluble oil paints; however, once this is done the paints can no longer be mixed with water and volatile solvents must be used to thin the paint and clean tools.
Traditional oil paints dry rather slowly, requiring 24 hours to several days, and a few colors can take as long as a week to dry when applied in a substantial layer. Because they dry slowly, traditional oil paints allow the artist plenty of time to blend patches of color smoothly into one another, employ wet-on-wet techniques, or scrape and wipe paint off the picture to make alterations.
Alkyd paints permit all these same methods to be used, but for a more limited time. Within an hour or so, the paint begins to grow tacky, reducing the ability to freely manipulate it. In about 24 hours the paint is dry-to-the-touch. Many illustrators favor alkyd paints since they handle in a manner similar to oils but dry swiftly enough that the picture can be delivered in a timely manner to meet the client’s deadline. Some painters dislike the slippery and greasy character of alkyd paints (they feel like petroleum jelly).
Water soluble oil paints are a boon to those who want the benefits of painting with oils without the health risks associated with traditional oil painting solvents. They tend to dry more swiftly than traditional oils, usually being touch-dry within a day or two. Water mixable oils cannot be manipulated for as long a period as regular oil paints, growing tacky within a relatively short time. This is particular so when they are mixed with water alone; used with an appropriate painting medium the water soluble oils dry at a more acceptable rate.
A selection of opaque, semi-transparent, and fully transparent colors are available in every type of oil paint (traditional, alkyd, water soluble). Thus, direct painting methods can be used, including impasto, as well as indirect techniques like glazing.
TOSS THE CUSTARD
Acrylic paints are made of pigment and a polymer (plastic) binder. They can be thinned with water, which is the solvent for acrylic paints, plus a wide assortment of acrylic painting mediums is available.
Acrylic paints are available is a number of forms. Illustrated here, from left to right, are soft body, heavy-body, and liquid acrylics.
Available in several consistencies (Heavy-body, soft-body, and liquid), all acrylic paints dry swiftly, within 5 to 15 minutes. Manipulation of acrylic paint must therefore be carried out with dispatch. Since they dry so quickly, the opportunity to blend colors or work wet-on-wet is severely impeded. Retarders are made that slow the drying of acrylic paints, but the artist still has only a brief period in which to complete any operations. A recently developed product, Open Acrylic paints from Golden Artists’ Materials, remain workable for an hour or more in thin layers, and many hours in thick deposits. This allows oil painting techniques like blending and wet-on-wet to be exploited. Open Acrylics can also be reactivated with water for a limited time after they have dried, resulting in some interesting effects.
Golden’s Open Acrylic paints combine working characteristics similar to oil paints with the rapid drying rate quality of traditional acrylics.
Artists who work with traditional acrylic paints take advantage of the facts that there are no fully opaque acrylic colors and that the paint can be made more translucent with the addition of an appropriate painting medium. Artists exploit this characteristic to thinly layer colors one upon another in the manner of a glaze.
Acrylic paints of all types tend to level out as they dry, and retain little evidence of brush marks. Super Heavy Body by Liquitex, as well as similar products from other companies, is unusually thick and preserves brush and knife marks for those who desire a textured surface. Heavy-body acrylics are the consistency of custard or pudding, and feel and handle somewhat like oil paints. Soft-body paints are similar to the heavy-body variety, but are a bit more creamy and dry to a perfectly flat finish. Liquid acrylics are, as they are labeled, liquid, and remain workable for a reasonable length of time so that they can be manipulated as one would gouache or even watercolor paints.
TOSS THE JUICE
Aqueous paints like watercolor and gouache are composed of pigment with a binder of gum arabic. No special painting medium is necessary, only water, to bring the paint to the desired consistency. Watercolor is available in hard cakes or as a moist paste in tubes. Gouache is always sold as tube paint.
Watercolor paints can be obtained as dry cakes or pans, such as in the compact travel kit seen on the left, or as a moist paint in tubes. At center are tubes of gouache paints.
Watercolors are typically applied in thin, transparent layers of paint well diluted with water; thick passages of paint are avoided. Gouache is basically watercolor paint with a white pigment added to increase the paint’s opacity. In thicker layers it is fully opaque, while in very thin layers it in nearly as transparent as watercolor. All aqueous paints dry rapidly, generally within a few minutes, and can be re-moistened with water to further manipulate them.
Three basic methods are used with watercolor paints. In the direct technique, color is mixed to the degree of intensity desired, painted into the picture, and allowed to stand without further modification. Layering is an indirect method and is carried out by putting down a light wash of color, allowing it to dry, and then painting over it with another thin film of color to adjust the first. For wet-in-wet techniques, the paper is often kept moist to facilitate the bleeding and blending of colors to create soft effects.
When thinned with an abundant quantity of water, gouache can be used like watercolor, except it is not so transparent. The result is a smoky effect when one color is laid thinly over another, particularly when the top layer is paler than the one beneath. When very little water is added to the paint, it can be applied in opaque passages.
Since watercolor and gouache can be reactivated by moistening with water, the picture can be edited at any stage.
TOSS THE EGGS
In its most basic form, traditional egg tempera is prepared by the artist by combining dry pigment with a mixture of egg yolk (binder) and water (solvent). Prepared egg tempera paints are now offered by a few manufacturers. They are sold in small jars or tubes in a liquid state ready for use.
Traditional egg tempera has been in use for thousands of years. Until recently, it was made in the studio by the artist by combining dry pigment (left) with water and egg yolk (center). Only recently have manufacturers discovered how to produce and preserve egg tempera paints that remain moist in the tube for an extended period (right).
Egg tempera dries almost immediately to an absolutely permanent, transparent film. Once dry, it is impervious to most solvents, including water. Pictures made with egg tempera are built up from many layers of transparent paint. Color transitions are effected through control of how those layers are developed. Historically, small soft-haired watercolor brushes are used and the paint is put down in a series of cross-hatched marks in a manner very similar to drawing. Many artists refer to egg tempera painting as drawing with color. Modern practitioners have taken to also using larger brushes and brushes of other materials to spread broad washes of color or to create a variety of textural effects.
IT'S A SNAP
Photographing paintings and drawings can be complicated or simple. This is a simple way.
OUT LIKE A LIGHT
Illuminating artwork is the most difficult part of photographing it. Glare, reflections, shadows, and color distortions need to be minimized.
Glare is the artist-photographer’s enemy. It has grossly distorted the color of this painting and made it difficult to fully appreciate.
The best kind of lighting is the sun, since incandescent and fluorescent light alter color. Choose an overcast day or a shaded area. Keep your painting away from anything that may reflect its own color onto the picture, such as a red brick wall. Also make sure your painting is not facing a bright, reflective surface, such as that white, metal-walled warehouse across the street.
This artist has found an ideal location in a well-shaded alley with minimal potential for glare on the surface of the painting. Note the neutral color of the paving and building walls.
Glare can be reduced or even eliminated with the help of a polarizing filter that screws onto the camera’s lens. A polarizing filter has a rotatable ring that, when rotated to the best orientation, makes glare disappear. (Camera settings must be made with the polarizing filter mounted if reliable results are to be obtained.)
The rich colors of sky and landscape that had been washed out by glare are now fully revealed with the help of a polarizing filter.
Keep the background simple. People want to see your painting, not your lovely rose bush. A plain, gray wall is ideal, but any neutral tone will do. If you don’t have one of those, tack up a piece of fabric, a sheet of cardboard, or a sheet of foam board behind your artwork. If you want a black backdrop for slides, use black velvet, which reflects no light.
Orient the picture to minimize glare or uneven lighting. Stand back from the painting and squint to better see any hot spots. Once satisfied, take your shot.
TAKE A SHOT
The camera must remain absolutely immobile when shooting your picture. Use a tripod if you have one, or set the camera on a stable surface. Do not hand-hold the camera unless you want blurry photographs.
To ensure that you end up with a sharp, blur-free image, use a tripod or set your camera on a steady, stable surface.
Adjust the angle of the camera or picture so that they are parallel to one another in both vertically and horizontally directions. Otherwise, keystoning will result. Keystoning means that the artwork in your photo appears narrower at one end than at the other. Image editing computer software now makes it possible to correct many defects in digital photographs, including keystoning. Keep in mind, however, that reshaping the photograph to compensate for keystoning – however modest the adjustment may be – still results in mild distortion. When keystoning is severe and the adjustment radical, distortions become obvious. Therefore it is wise to avoid the need for editing as much as possible by setting up your camera and painting carefully to start with.
The set-up for this photograph was very poor, resulting in severe keystoning.
To check for potential keystoning, look through your camera’s viewfinder. The edges of the picture should line up with the viewfinder’s frame. If one end of the artwork appears more narrow than the other, either the camera or artwork must be tilted differently.
For instance, if the top of the image is more narrow than the bottom, it means the top of the painting is farther from the lens than the bottom and must be tipped forward.
In order for the photograph to be the right value (i.e. not too dark and shadowy, and not overly pale and bleached), lens opening and shutter speed must be set appropriately.
Do not trust the automatic features of your camera for this purpose. Camera settings for landscape photographs, for example, are based on the assumption that 40% of the frame is darkish green grass, and 60% is occupied by a bright blue sky. Other options are meant to accommodate specific situations, such as back-lit and portrait. None of these is suitable for taking a reading directly from the artwork. Instead, you should set up your camera for daylight shooting and take a reading from a gray card. This is simply a piece of cardboard of a specific shade of gray. You can obtain one from a camera shop.
To determine what the correct exposure should be (a combination of shutter opening size and exposure time), use a gray card. Laid across the gray card shown here are a strip of color control patches (for accurate editing and reproduction of colors) and a grayscale (to facilitate adjustment of values) that would be photographed along with the painting or drawing.
In using a gray card, set it in front of the center of your picture. Focus the camera on it and let the internal meter take a reading to set confirm the “white balance” of a digital camera. Once set, you can take pictures of several paintings or drawings in succession unless the lighting changes, such as when clouds move in and reduce the amount of sunlight. If something of this sort occurs, you must reset the white balance before continuing to shoot pictures.
Note how a lack of a white balance setting (top) or an incorrectly chosen setting (middle) can result in color distortion. The true-to-life colors of the photograph at bottom were made possible by setting the white balance properly with a gray card.
Even with the use of a gray card, it is prudent to “bracket” your photographs. To bracket, shoot one picture according to the white balance setting, then take four or more additional exposures with slight modifications to the settings as follows.
The center photograph was taken with settings determined by the camera’s meter. At left is a longer exposure (more light), and at right a shorter exposure. The three bracketed images allow the artist to choose the one that most accurately resembles the original subject.
With several photographs to choose from, each with slightly different light settings, you are more likely to get at least one in which the colors of the photograph are close to the actual colors of the painting.
LOTS OF BITS
Always set your camera to the highest resolution possible so that your pictures can be reproduced effectively in printed materials such as exhibit invitations. Galleries and juried exhibitions also frequently require that you submit high resolution images.
After you have photographed your artwork, make duplicate copies of the images for the purpose of doing touch-up work on the copies; retain the original “raw” images as well. Once an image has been edited, a low resolution copy can be made for use in emails or on a web site.
FIX IT UP
A digital camera is more forgiving than one that uses film. Actually, a digital camera plus image editing software on your computer is more forgiving than film.
Photoshop (splash screen at left) is a powerful but costly image editing software program. Gimp (program window with logo on the right) is available as a free, down-loadable file and includes all the features the average artist needs to adjust photographs of artwork.
Poor digital photographs can never be made great, but they can be made better with image editing software. Blurriness can be reduced, keystoning eliminated, color adjusted, and brightness corrected. What can’t be done is the removal of glare or reflections.
Photoshop is a powerful and well-known program made for professionals. Nothing so elaborate is needed to edit your photos. A good program that provides all the tools and features you might want, including support for Photoshop filters, is GIMP. GIMP is available as a free, down-loadable file from the Internet.
- Cerulean Who?
(genuine vs. imitation
- Stayin' Alive (health &
safety for artists)
I generally recommend genuine colors over imitations, but there is one impersonator that is actually useful.
Imitations, often labeled as “hues,” are economical alternatives to costly authentic colors. They are made from mixtures of inexpensive pigments that approximate the true color. “Hue” versions, however, are rarely as brilliant or clean as the genuine color, and they are always different in character (i.e., lacking the same nuance, not as opaque or transparent, and so on).
Naples yellow is frequently imitated, for instance. Inexpensive cadmium “hues” are popular replacements for highly opaque and powerful cadmium reds and yellows. Cerulean blue “hue” is a less pricey option over real cerulean blue.
Genuine cerulean is an opaque, subtle sky blue. It is a beautiful and useful color, but it is also one of the most expensive. For example, Gamblin’s genuine cerulean currently retails for $35, the highest price point in the company’s line (and even more expensive in some other brands). It’s no wonder, then, that many students choose Gamblin’s more affordable cerulean blue “hue” at just $12.
Cerulean blue (simulated above) is a warm, slightly greenish blue, but costly. Inexpensive imitations are useful replacements for phthalocyanine blue when it is intended to dilute the phthalo blue with white paint.
There is a surprise in store with imitation cerulean, though: it is so powerful that it overwhelms other colors it is mixed with.
“Hue” versions of cerulean are typically composed of phthalo blue combined with a touch of phthalo green, plus a lot of white. Even though they are heavily diluted in white, the phthalo colors still exhibit their awesome strength. They are the most potent of all artists’ pigments.
Imitation cerulean is never a good replacement for the genuine article. Nonetheless, it has its uses…as a replacement for phthalo blue. When you intend to use phthalo blue and reduce it with white paint (which is almost always the case), cerulean “hue” can be used instead since it is basically phthalo blue already mixed with white. This means you need not plow through tons of white paint nor take up your time in making phthalo blue paler since cerulean “hue” is essentially a pale phthalo blue.
health & safety for artists
Like any activity, making art entails certain risks and hazards. And, as with any pursuit that may bring us harm, the wise practitioner learns about the dangers and what can be done to minimize them. For the most part, applying common sense will keep you safe.
A few basic rules for handling art materials are:
Most of the materials we use are not especially harmful. Still, some should given extra respect if one is to remain healthy and safe.
For oil painters, the fumes from volatile solvents are the most serious threat. Long-term, regular inhalation of solvent vapors can cause permanent damage to the respiratory and nervous system. Most solvents, if not well ventilated, will produce lightheadedness and dizziness. In high doses, coma and death may result.
Work only in well ventilated areas. An open window is usually adequate, but dilution ventilation is recommended for some materials (two open windows at opposite ends of the room, with an exhaust fan in one window). Forced ventilation (such as a spray booth or working outdoors) may be required for a few substances.
An inexpensive box fan effectively exhausts solvent fumes to the outdoors. Open a second open window on the opposite side of your workspace for improved efficiency; this arrangement is called “dilution ventilation.”
IN A FLASH
Another concern with volatile solvents is the possibility of fire or explosion. Evaporation rate and flash point determine how likely it is that these events will occur. The “flash point” is the lowest temperature at which a solvent is likely to ignite. A faster evaporation rate together with a lower flash point equal a higher likelihood of fire. For safety, it is best to treat every solvent as a fire risk and store it in a metal container away from heat or direct sunlight.
Following is a list of solvents and materials commonly found in artists’ studios, their hazards, and recommended safeguards.
The label on a can of paint thinner warns of fire hazard and danger of inhaling fumes.
Due to the emission of toxic fumes and droplets, and an offensive odor, always spray fixative or varnish outdoors or in a dedicated spray booth.
PANTIN' AND PAINTIN'
Some of the binders and solvents used to make artists’ paints and drawing materials entail health hazards. Individuals who react to the solvents used with oil or alkyd paints have two options. Try rinsing brushes in refined linseed oil instead of paint thinner or turpentine. If you still have a reaction, you may have to switch to acrylic paints.
Because they give off no noticeable odor, most people are unaware that acrylic paints give off harmful fumes as they dry and become complacent in handling them.
GETTIN' AN ITCH
Dry pigment should never be inhaled; even those that are not toxic can irritate the respiratory system, and those that are poisonous can cause severe injury and even death. In the form of paint, however, most pigments are relatively harmless. Still, there are a few colors of paints that require special precautions, such as wearing gloves or a barrier cream, and those are discussed below.
Cobalt blue remains a useful and popular color in spite of the ailments associated with cobalt. Cobalt is also a component of cobalt violet, cobalt green, and cobalt yellow, as well as cerulean blue. Other names for cobalt yellow include “gamboge” and “aureolin”
Most artists’ paints present no particular hazard. Lead white is one of the exceptions. Shown is “cremnitz white,” a form of lead white paint. Lead is also an ingredient in genuine Naples yellow. Lead accumulates in the body and may eventually lead to serious nerve tissue and kidney and kidney damage. Death is a possibility with extreme exposure to lead.
- Painting Straight Lines
- Prep Paper for Oil or
- Painting Over Old Pictures
(Painting Straight Lines)
I love your paintings!
How do you paint PERFECT STRAIGHT lines in your paintings? Do you use tape, ruler, etc… or just the brush?
(Painting Straight Lines)
I use slightly different techniques for paintings than for drawings.
In a drawing, to get a vertical line I let gravity do most of the work. With my drawing on an easel, I extend my arm fully so that my charcoal or pencil just barely makes contact with the paper. Then I allow my arm to drop straight down at a moderate and steady rate as I draw the line. In most cases, I am able to get a reasonably straight vertical line this way.
Horizontal and diagonal lines are done a little differently. Again with my arm extended and moving steadily at a moderate rate, I keep my eye on the spot I am aiming for. I do not look at my hand. By this means I almost always can make a straight line that goes where I want it to.
Before going on to describe the methods I use when painting, there is an important point that must be made. None of the lines I draw or paint are perfectly straight. It would be more appropriate to describe them as being straight-ish. Some artists do use aids such as straight-edges, rulers, and the like and there is nothing wrong with this. However, I find that relying on such devices in the finishing stages of an artwork gives the picture a mechanical look, as though done by an engineer or machine. I much prefer that my lines be slightly imperfect so that they have a more human quality.
With the mahl stick’s cushioned end resting on the canvas, this artist is running his brush along the stick to paint a straight line.
Many of my paintings are on the large side, so the methods I use for drawings aren’t always fully reliable. Consequently, in plotting out the picture on canvas with charcoal or pencil, I use an aid such as a mahl stick. Once the drawing is established though, all work is done freehand using the drawn lines as guides.
(Prep Paper to Paint with Oil or Acrylic)
I am packing for my New Mexico trip and got everything on the list that we discussed. I'm good to go~! My backpack measures 14 -15" wide by 19" long. I can cut the watercolor paper to suit. I bought cold press 140 lb. paper. I have gesso (mixed) and acrylic gel medium. But how to prime?
(1) Do I gesso or do the acrylic medium?
(2) Will the gessoed paper curl or buckle? The acrylic gel paper?
(3) The gesso needs how long to dry?
(4) Can I roll up the paper and transport it in a tube? Or do I need to transport it mounted flat on the foamboard?
(5) After I finish and all paintings are dry, can I roll them up to take home?
(Prep Paper to Paint with Oil or Acrylic)
You can paint with acrylic directly on paper without doing any preparation. However, paper is very absorbent so many artists first coat it with gesso or acrylic painting medium to obtain a better surface.
To prepare the paper treat both sides; it is more likely to curl and buckle if you do only one side. Use a flat, wide brush (3" or so) and apply the gesso by brushing in one direction (back and forth, for example) with overlapping the strokes slightly. Allow to dry completely (15-30 minutes), and then gesso the other side of the paper. When this has dried, put a second coat of gesso on both sides of the paper by brushing crosswise to the first application (if the first coat was brushed on side-to-side, the second coat should be up-and-down).
Prepare heavy watercolor paper for painting with acrylics or oils by applying gesso with a broad brush to both sides of the paper.
To minimize warping and buckling, I use 300-500 lb. watercolor paper. The heavier the paper the less likely it is to buckle. Depending on the brand, the 140 lb. paper you got may warp slightly or buckle a lot. Smaller sheets of paper are likely to buckle more severely than larger ones, so gesso first and then cut the sheet into smaller pieces to fit your backpack.
Prepared paper and finished paintings can be rolled, but not too tightly. Even though it may be touch dry within a short time, allow the gessoed paper to cure overnight before rolling it. You can also mount the prepared paper on foam board for transport, then it will be ready for use when you get where you're going.
(Painting Over Old Pictures)
I have a question regarding used canvas. What do you do with canvas that was previously painted, but you're not happy with the painting? Can you just paint over it entirely? And since different colors have different degree of translucency, would you be able to hide the previous image completely? Or do you think it's not worth the effort to reuse the canvas?
----- Candy Yeung
(Painting Over Old Pictures)
When on a budget (as most of us are), reusing old paintings can save a lot of money. Like you and I today, great masters of the past tried to minimize their expenses, and one way they did so was to paint over their old pictures. In general, however, I don’t recommend painting over old paintings when the new picture is intended for exhibition and sale. But, for studies, sketches, or student works the practice is acceptable and economically prudent.
Old canvases can be resurrected by painting right on top of the old picture, provided the media are compatible. Acrylic and oil paints may be safely applied atop acrylics, but it is not technically sound to work acrylic paint or acrylic gesso over oil paint.
Some artists find it distracting to paint over an old image, and therefore cover it up with white acrylic gesso (in the case of an acrylic painting) or oil paint (if the original picture was done with either oils or acrylics). If this is the route you decide to take, it is recommended that the old painting first be roughed-up by scraping with a palette or painting knife; this will give the new paint a more toothy surface to adhere to. Other artists do not find it disconcerting to paint directly onto an old picture, and some (such as me) actually make use of the underlying color by incorporating it into the new painting.
The artist has painted a new portrait over a rejected earlier one. To execute the new painting, the artist had rotated the original 180 degrees so that remnants of the shoulders of the old figure are now visible at the top of the picture. Turning an old painting upside-down is helpful in reducing the distraction of an old image when painting over it.
There are, of course, drawbacks to either approach. The most obvious is the difficulty of completely obliterating the old image, or at least those parts that interfere with the clarity of the new one.
This canvas has been given a new coat of gesso over the old picture. Note that the coating appears uneven and is gray in places rather than white.
Coating an old picture with white paint or gesso only reduces it to a vague pattern of darker and paler patches, but cannot restore the surface to an even and brilliant whiteness. Whether treated with a white coating or painted directly onto, there may be places where the old picture shows through the new one to an unacceptable degree. In such cases it may be necessary to build up the new paint to a considerable thickness. Keep in mind also that, in oil paints, even the most opaque colors can’t always obliterate what’s underneath, and in acrylic paints there are no truly opaque colors.
There are two other important potential problems with painting over an old picture. The most immediate of these is the surface character of the original painting. Even if the color can be obscured, marks made by brushes and painting knives, along with variations in paint thickness, will still be evident in the new picture and must be taken into account when designing and painting the new image.
Over the long term, there is the issue of pentimento. Paints become increasingly translucent with time and eventually the underlying image will begin to show through the newer picture on top, even when thick and opaque colors have been used. You may have seen this effect in older pictures of interiors where the checkerboard pattern of the tile floor is visible through the figures painted on top. However, if you do not expect your pictures to be admired by future generations, it is not an issue for concern.
Winslow Homer's 1875 painting, Milking Time, is an excellent example of pentimento. Although painted only little more than a century ago, the upper layers of paint have become so translucent that the underlying band of dark, plowed earth is clearly visible through the woman's dress.
Overall, the economic benefits of painting over old pictures frequently outweigh other considerations, particularly for the prolific artist.