Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seagos materials updated

© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery
Edward Seago The Urn from Edward Seago by Ron Ranson ( available on Amazon )

Here's another Seago. If you click on it, you should be able to see the rough prepared texture of the ground. Even in areas that are just stained with color like most of the left hand side of the painting, there is already thick impasto. This little trick allows for a lot of nice handling.

Lets say you wanted to do some paintings using Seagos methods, how would you go about that? Here's what I would suggest.

A whole lot of the colors Seago used are archaic, impermanent or unavailable so some substitutions need to be made. This is not really such a big deal as it is the artists mental processes that determine what his work looks like more than his pigments . If you had handed him the palette I am about to suggest I guarantee you he could have made a Seago.

  • Yellow ocher most of our yellow ochers today are actually lab made or whats called mars colors. That's not a problem. I think they are better, however if you want a real yellow ocher Sennelier makes one. You probably won't like it, compared to the ocher we are accustomed to today, it will seem dirty. I got a tube once and I was surprised by the difference.
  • Alizirin Crimson is still available today but it is impermanent and has been replaced by quinacridone or "permanent alizirin" a much better product. If you haven't moved to the permanent alizirin I recommend you do.
  • Ultramarine, French type preferably
  • Blue black is available from several manufacturers, no one makes a real indigo today so far as I know. The real thing is impermanent . However Winsor and Newton, Williamsburg and others make an approximation that works just fine.
  • Chrome Yellow was a lead based color and is now extinct. It was impermanent and has been replaced by cadmium yellow. Permanent yellow would work here also.
  • Viridian is of course still manufactured and is expensive, but easy to find. RGH makes a very affordable one.
  • Indian red is a common earth color available from most color makers.This has a surprising amount of pigmenting strength.
  • Vermilion, I have written before about this color. I used it a lot when I was young but it is deadly poisonous and is no longer widely available. It is mercuric sulfide, lead is one thing, mercury is a whole nother animal, don't use it. Many manufacturers make a vermilion hue that is based on cadmium and they are pretty good. People still argue if they are as good, but they will certainly do.
  • Burnt Sienna, Winsor Newton makes a nice one.
  • Flake white. Use titanium, I guess, don't get me started. Old paintings have a lovely sort of look because of flake that is unobtainable in no other way. Soon we will be unable to buy flake anyway, and the difference will be academic.
Seago bought all of his colors from Winsor and Newton. The other thing besides his choice of colours that greatly influenced how his paintings looked, was that peculiar ground. Here's how he made it. He heated real rabbitskin glue based gesso and when it was hot he stirred in White lead from a can.Then he laid that onto panels with a stiff brush. The thick priming material preserved the visible brushstrokes. Its hard to believe you can mix water based gesso and oil paint, but you can, and I have done it. Besides having a textured surface it also has a weird absorbent quality that makes the paint set up REAL fast.

I have also stirred oil paint into acrylic gesso and used that. I have no idea if that is archivally sound, but it works and lasts at least several years unchanged. I do not recommend you do this. If you do and its a problem don't come whining to me, because I warned you.

The most reasonable and probably the soundest way to arrive at that sort of a textured ground is to choose a thicker brand of titanium white (Utrecht in a plastic tub for instance ) and add a small amount of alkyd to it so it will dry in your own lifetime, and lay it down thickly onto your panel with a bristle brush You will have to do a few to get the hang of it . White lead works best for this too, but I think we had all better learn to do without it.

This incidentally MUST be done on a panel, the flexing of a canvas under this thick priming is sure to crack. So never on canvas, OK?

Tomorrow the great critique project begins.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

Do you really think our great protectors, the all knowing government, will make Flake white illegal? I have heard this, but as I pretty much use Cremnitz White for every painting I do. I mean, once I hear it was poison I stopped spreading it on sandwiches and started just using it for painting.
Maybe I should I buy a life time supply?

Also, I use Alizirin Crimson. I tried the permanent alizirin but hated it. I suppose I should try again. Someone once told me that the newer forms of alizirin were more permanent, even the supposed impermanent ones.
I guess I believed it because I wanted to.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I think the government will make flake white unavailable.Be careful what you say about the government, they are listening.I am worried about our solvents being taken away. Soon we will all be painting with fruit juices.The argument for them will be,"they are biodegradable".
I think Alizirin is one if the cases where the new is just way better than that which it is replacing. The real alizirin is "blacky" and has a bloody kind of color. It handles awfully. The aliz. perm is I think a far superior color.
I actually use a quinacridone red from RGH in that slot and I am happy with it. Nothing beats rose madder genuine, but it is very expensive,and has only weak pigmenting strength but a lovely warm glowing hue. Until recent scholarship reversed it, alizirin was thought to be a good replacement for rose madder and more permanent. Now it is felt that alizirin is less permanent than Rose madder.Even if alizirin was absolutely permanent I would prefer the Quinacridone to it.

r garriott said...

Great information on paint/pigments, some of which is news to me. I have had favorite colors discontinued by manufacturers a few times, and that is always disappointing. Thank you for posting this!

jeff said...

There is a company out in California that sells and makes flake white.

Natural Pigments for those interested in historic pigments and paints they pretty much have it all.

They make three types of stand oil that I like a lot I use a medium viscosity and the high.

They also make a flake white the way it was made before the industrial revolution. That is using lead and manure and clay pots. It's pricey, and sold in solid cakes.

I don't think lead will be disappearing anytime soon as it is still used in a lot of industrial processes.

One can paint without solvents, just oil and wash the brushes in a good soap, like linseed oil soap.

I personally use turpentine and spike oil(smells great) to make my mediums and OMS to clean my brushes. But if I had to I would use walnut oil or safflower to clean my brushes. I would use these oils because they have a very low flash point which is something to think about when using rags and oils.

I like real Ocher's myself and I sometimes make mine from pigment.
My Burnt Sienna is one I ground my self and tubed up. I don't do this a lot due to the time it takes.
But sometimes I run out and I have the pigment on hand so I make ot from scratch.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thank you.
I have had colors I used discontinued also.
I am growing more and more fond of the simplest colors. There is a great restraint and dignity to be had with a few very basic colors. And they are cheap and dependable.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I prefer my studio trash having a high flashpoint, less of a fire hazard.
All those oils will spontaneously combust. I have known it to happen to a friend of mine, but he was finishing floors with linseed oil. His rags burst into flame. He had however been smart enough to leave them in the fireplace, just in case.I don't know of any oil painters having a problem, do you?
Natural pigments,why, ain't nothin more natural than lead, hell its an element. I have actually been to their site. I don't want to deal with making my own paint. Particularly I don't want to deal with lead in a powdered form. I have no problem with it bound in oil, but the danger of aspirating it is too great to work with it in a dry form . I wonder if it would be possible to bring in people who are already dead to grind this paint?

jeff said...

I only grind earth colors and titanium white. I also use a dust mask.

I have known of a few painters who had this happen but had one of those fire proof trash cans. It contained the rag flare up.

Walnut does not seem to do what linseed does, rags with linseed heat up and it's amazing how fast this happens. I'm not sure what the flash point of it is I have never had any problem with it. I buy it from the health food store it's pretty cheap compared to who much art stores charge for it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have used the Alkyd walnut oil that Graham makes. I liked it. It does have a disclaimer on the side that it will spontaneously combust and that made me reticent to use it in my studio. I always have paint rags around..

Unknown said...

Thanks for the materials list. I may try his palate just to force me to be more reserved with color. The texture thing sounds great too, but I'm not sure that I have the skills to take advantage of it yet.

You a Celtics fan like the rest of the Boston area? They played pretty good last night.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't follow football.

Bob Carter said...

Chrome yellow is kind of a double wammy. The pigment is lead(II) chromate, PbCrO4, which contains hexavalent chromium (the "chrome" in its name). Hexavalent chromium is now recognized as a carcinogen. If the lead doesn't get you, the chromium might. Nonetheless, I did my PhD in chemistry back in the late 60s studying chromates, and I'm still here to tell about it. So with appropriate precautions even toxic materials can be handled safely. After all, many of the great artists of the past, who used these materials, lived to a ripe old age. And then again, some of them who were less aware of the hazards didn't. The impermanence of chrome yellow is probably a result of the reactivity of chromate with other pigments. Chromate is a very strong oxidizing agent.
On alizarin crimson vs. rose madder, both are impermanent. I know some artists who pay the big bucks for rose madder genuine, and it is lovely stuff (when you get over the nose bleed). Madder root is a natural source of alizarin. The difference from straight alizarin crimson, in which the pigment is chemically synthesized, is that natural madder also contains significant amounts of the pigment purpurin. It's this mix of pigments that gives rose madder genuine its subtlety. Quinacridone, as you point out, is a great permanent replacement. Rembrandt makes something they call permanent madder deep, which I like, that has pyrrole rubine (PR264) as its pigment. It's a semi-transparent paint, whereas alizarin is usually considered transparent.
For those who get off on all this technical stuff about pigments, there's a great web site for looking up the pigment numbers, color index generic names, and assessments of permanence:

Malcolm Allsop said...

In the UK professional artists following in Seago's footsteps often use a mixtures of household primer / undercoat with whiting (powdered chalk) mixed in. This replicates the materials Seago used. In his later life Seago even used powdered Snowcem ( a kind of outdoor paint used for painting rendered buildings) mixed into the rabbit skin size.
There's a helpfull DVD on Seago's technique available from