Monday, July 23, 2012

Another little trick I know 3

I don't paint much with a knife, well sometimes, but..... I scrape with my knife a lot. I like sharp tools, in my workshop, I like my brushes sharp, and I sharpen the edge of my palette knife too. I use the sort of knife that has an offset blade. I get mine from Jerrys Artarama and I buy the  Liquitex knives. I expect there are fancier knives out there but these work for me. I have snapped off way too many cheap knives where that offset neck meets the leaf shaped blade that were made by the Chi-Coms . The Liquitex knives seem to be of a better metal and I haven't had that problem with them. I like to scrape the surface of my canvas to take the surface down to  a smooth finish before resuming working on a dried canvas. I use an alkyd medium so my paintings dry quickly. The alkyd (Liquin) that I add to my medium makes the paint a little rubbery too and that makes it scrape well. I can slice the ridges and pentimenti from my canvas better than if I don't use an alkyd medium.

I use a sharpening stone from the tool department of a hardware store or big box vendor. I put a little sharpening stone oil on there and hone the edge of the knife that will be doing the work. As I am right handed that would be the left hand edge as viewed from the top. I work it until it is fairly sharp. I don't need or want, a razors edge, that might cut me as I work with it, but it is a lot sharper than your  palette knife.  Give it a few quick passes on the backside of the cutting edge to remove the hook like ridge that builds up there after honing the working edge. Just a couple of passes will do that.

My sharp palette knife takes the painting to an almost glass like surface even if there are ridges of paint left from yesterdays ministrations. Often I will hold the tip of the knife blade pinched between my fingers and bend the blade into a scythe shape to slice off an individual ridge of paint.

I slip a little Masonite panel behind the canvas to protect it if I have to scrape over where a there is a stretcher bar. If you don't do this you will leave a mark on the front that will show through your paint as the knife chops into the surface when it encounters the hidden stretcher bar beneath.

I went seascape painting this last week. I escape all the summer greens by heading to the water . Here is a a video of that. I take a lot of these little movies, they are better than still photography for studying the action  of the surf. This is from my Sony Cyber-Shot camera not a digital movie camera. It will take a long enough video to catch the entire action of a couple of waves.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A letter from William Paxton

 I will return to my little tricks series, but first a for an interesting artifact from art history.

I was allowed to reprint this nearly 100 year old letter courtesy of Tom Dunlay, a well known New England impressionist painter. I suppose I should explain the players here, they are;

William Paxton (1869–1941) the author of the letter, I have decorated the page with a few of his paintings. A major American impressionist painter. He was a student first  of Dennis Miller Bunker and then in the Parisian atelier of Leon Gerome, a member of the Boston  School group of painters and a founding member of the Guild of Boston Artists. He was a National Academician and successful portrait painter commissioned to paint both Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge. Below is his painting Tea leaves from the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Henry Brooks (1898-1981), a student of Paxton who  was touring Europe with,

R.H.Ives Gammell , painter, teacher and writer, author of  "Twilight of Painting". Incidentally, my teacher as well. Also the teacher of Tom Dunlay who provided the letter for us to read.

 19 Montvale Road
Newton Centre

Dear Brooks;

Your good letter made me quite envious of your luck.

The Ingres exhibition must be intensely interesting— at least
it would be to me. Of course you'll have to swallow hard to take in
some of his color, but if you consider it as a means of emphasizing
his drawing it becomes very interesting, and I think you'll get to
like it.

The Vermeer head that you speak of and the Mona Lisa are, to my
mind, the two top notch performances in modelling in the world. The
Da Vinci charms me more, but the Vermeer is surely more truthful in
total effect.

Here I am writing like "dear teacher" and probably boring you
stiff, but even at the rist (sic)of that I'll ask you to examine the way
in which every picture which interests you is made.

The beauty, greatness, style, or whatever the salient quality
of a picture is, you'll get anyway, but, if you don't look sharp, the
way it's done, will escape you.

It's fine to sit open mouthed while the conjurer takes the rabbit
from the hat, but if you want to be a conjurer it's up to find
out how he does it-

That fact is a rather grubby comparison but I want to make it
clear that the artists task is to create the emotion rather than to
be moved.

No doubt one who has never felt emotion is incapable of
communicating it to others, but most of us have felt it, and

William Paxton

few can pass it on. Don't let the old master over awe you, and don't
get cheeky with them either. Most of them had something or they
wouldn't be Old Masters.

Look at them as you would look at your friends work: find the faults
and praise the qualities. There is no reason • for a different standard
of criticism than the one you use for your contemporaries.

You may lose some pleasure by finding how the wiser are pulled but
think of the pleasure you can give others if you \ learn how it's done.

As I look over this that I have written I'm tempted to throw
it away as it seems neither original or new, but as I want you to
know that I'm keenly interested in your work, and this will perhapes (sic)
show it, I'll let it go.

The pulchritudinous Edna is still on the job and occasionally
expresses her yearning for your return and also that of Gammell. It seems
only fair to state that her affections seem divided.

By the way: when you get to Venice be sure to see the
Museo Civico (spelling doubtful). There are samples of drawings
by Tielapolo(sic) and delightful things by Guardir (sic,Gaurdi) and Longhi. There
is no news to write. . . .

"The purple days of drouth expand like a scroll opended out
again.1* Well—I "drink to you only with minor eager" for obvious

With best regards to everyone interested and particularly

 to yourself and Gammell, I am,

 Yours truly;

 William Paxton

July 7, 1921.


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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Another little trick I know 2

Here's another little trick and it's a great One! I went to an artist's party in Rockport years ago. I was with a group of  younger artists sitting and listening to Paul Strisik. He described this trick for cutting down a roll of linen. He used a band saw, but I use a chop saw (that's an electric miter saw, Stardust)

I put a pen mark on the roll to mark my cut, and WHACK!

 I chop a roll down so  that I can stretch canvases the same size with virtually no waste. This roll was cut to 27" so that I could stretch 18 by 24s or 24 by 30s. I allow 3" so there is selvage to turn over the stretchers. I open this truncated roll on the floor and place the assembled stretcher on it. Then I draw a line about 3" above the stretcher and cut that much off with a scissors. Easy. No waste either.

 Here is the finished product. Another advantage is that the roll now fits into a suitcase. I throw a few stretchers and a canvas pliers and staple gun in there under my mink, and I am ready to go. When it is time to fly home again I take the paintings off the stretchers, and wrap them back around the roll. Since I use Liquin when I travel, the painting are all dry except for the last days work. I usually give that to whoever put me up on the trip or have a local confederate mail it back to me when it dries.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some painting tricks I know 1

At the workshop this last weekend a student suggested that I should write a series of short blogs that would be about "tricks" of the trade. They suggested a series to be entitled 100 painting tricks. I am not sure I know a hundred of them, but I do know a few. So I will do some  and see how it goes....

I tube my own paint which I get from RGH ( link in my sidebar)  mostly by the quart. For years I have been carefully labeling the tubes. But they always get so painted up in my box that I can't read them anyway. So I don't even bother anymore. Now I squirt a little paint from the tube and mix it with Liquin on my palette. Then I paint a stripe about the neck of the tube using a number 4 flat. It is quick and easy. Then I stand them upright in a corner of my box for a day or two till they dry. Now I can identify  the tubes without all of that cumbersome reading.and they look really cool too.

Even if you don't tube your own paint, if you have a messy paintbox like I do, this might be useful to you. Incidentally that is the fabled pornstar pink there in the back row.

The Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Massachusetts is presenting an enormous show of over a hundred paintings by Aldro T. Hibbard which will run from October 6th until November 11th. There will be a full color catalog available too. Here is a painting by Aldro, one of my heroes.

 Hibbard has been long neglected by the museums and art establishment, this is the only show in many years of his work.There are few opportunities to see his art, and the best of Hibbards work will be there.. If you have never seen his paintings other than in reproduction you will be amazed.  My teacher, R.H. Ives Gammell counted him among the ten greatest American landscape painters and I agree.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

tubing paint again

My shipment of paint arrived from my colormaker today and I think I will show you how I get it into the tubes. When you read this and look at the pictures it looks like a lot of trouble but with a little practice it goes very quickly and I enjoy tubing it up. I get about 6 or 7 big tubes out of a quart of paint. I try to keep enough paint on hand to last for months. I start to feel insecure when I don't have a big store of paint in my taboret. It is probably a hold over from the old days when I often didn't have enough money for both food and paint and hard choices had to be made.Most of you are not going to tube your own paint. Unless you use LOTS of it . There's plenty of good paint available from the many suppliers online and for most of you, of course, that's the answer.
I buy the empty tubes from Jerrys Artarama or Pearl Paint.
I order my paint from RGH Artists Oils. They sell 65 ml. and 250 ml.,jars, pint, quart, half gallon and gallon quantities of a very wide selection of different colors. Check them out at;
I think they make excellent quality paints and I particularly like their cadmiums. They are extremely affordable as you can see on their web site. Tell them I sent you, please.
I buy boxes of nitrile gloves from a nearby auto parts store because this is a messy business. I use nitrile gloves a lot. They don't seem to be as clammy as the plastic sort. They are cheap and disposable. I shovel the paint into the open end of the tube with a flat palette knife. I try to put the knife well into the tube and scrape the paint off on its lip. I inevitably get paint on the outside of the tube, but that's OK, I can clean it off later with mineral spirits.

I repeatedly rap the cap end of the tube sharply on my palette to get the paint to the front of the tube and eliminate any voids. Only fill the tube about four fifths of the way so as to leave room to close it up. I am using 175 ml. tubes in these pictures but you can buy small tubes as well. I use so much paint that I almost never buy small tubes. I do put up a few small tubes for use with my pochade box (pronounced "pochade"). I don't use pochade boxes very often though, as I like my big Gloucester easel and I am willing to put up with carrying the weight of a heavy paintbox because I often work on larger canvasses outside than most painters.
Next I close up the end of the tube squeezing out any extra paint that is there.
I then lay the tube on my palette and press the side of my palette knife down firmly on the tube about
3/8 of an inch from the end.

I lift the tube to vertical putting a nice clean fold in the end. It works like a box brake bending sheet metal, as shown below left. Then the next step is to crimp the folded over end with a canvas pliers. My canvas pliers are from the late 19th cent. or perhaps the early 20th century, a friend of mine found them in a junk shop more than 30 years ago and made a present of them to me.They are a far better design than the new ones They have a ordinary coiled spring unlike the new ones which have a sort of leaf spring, consequently they open when the pressure on their handles is released.
They are however not chromed, they have that old timey drop forged look. I really squeeze those pliers hard to crimp that end, and sometimes I will turn it over in one more fold and crimp it again. Below you can see the finished result.

After cleaning any excess paint off the outside of the tube with a paper towel dipped in mineral spirits I label the tube using a permanent marker. I recently began to paint a stripe of the color mixed with varnish or liquin to make it dry more quickly, around the top of your tube. Then it will look like a tube of Old Holland paint or like its from one of those fancy boutique manufacturers all the thoracic surgeons' wives use. I like the way my paint box looks, open on location. When other artists look in there, all they see are my non commercial tubes . Looks tough as hell.
It also is useful to know if you want to premix certain colors that you may be routinely cooking up on your palette.