Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Hunt for a Non-Toxic Solvent: Part III

By Justin Gerard

Back in May of 2011 I wrote an article on Muddy Colors detailing my on-going search for an oil painting medium that would provide me with the following characteristics: 

1. Workability - That the paint itself allows for the smooth, buttery application consistent with that of traditional oil paints.

2. Archival-Longevity - That the final product will not suffer from any unreasonable, long-term degradation. (cracking, colors fading or darkening, wrinkling)

3. Fast-Drying - That if needed, a thin layer could be touch-dry, ready-to-paint-over, within 24 hours, but the medium itself stays workable for at least 8 hours.

4. Non-Toxic - That you can work solvent-free and in a non-toxic studio environment.

It was easy to find a medium that would offer three but seemed impossible to find a suitable one that would offer all four. Now finally, four years later I believe that I may have found a solution:

Enter: Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Fluid 

The folks at Gamblin recently created this medium by adding an soy-based alkyd drying agent to Safflower oil. Safflower oil is wonderfully fluid and a pleasure to work with, but has the drawback of taking forever to dry. So for painters who are interested in painting indirectly using several layers, it can be problematic.

How is Gamblin's Solvent-Free-Method more similar to solvents than other mediums? Previously I had been using mediums based on either sun-thickened linseed oil or M. Graham’s Walnut Alkyd medium. Compared to these mediums, this medium is incredibly fluid and much more workable.
It is much easier for me to get quick coverage of an area, and then simply not add any fluid if I want to slow down and paint an area with more control.
I found that if I need to carve out an area that I had already painted, (to sharpen the edges of a glaze for instance) that it allowed me to do this far more easily than other traditional mediums.
In general, I found that it allowed for a broader range of brushwork techniques than other mediums.

How is it different from working with actual solvents? 
Compared to odorless mineral spirits it is still highly fluid, though not quite as fluid as OMS. I did however, find that it was close enough for my purposes.)
The main difference that I can see is that OMS evaporates as it dries, so your layer is extremely thin and there is very little build up. With Gamblin Solvent-Free Fluid you will have slightly more build-up since the medium does not evaporate and remains in the paint. Because of this Gamblin recommends never mixing more than 25% Solvent-Free Fluid with your paints.

Is the drying time noticeably better than traditional mediums? 
Yes! I found that thin layers were dry in about 24 hours. While this was generally slower than OMS mixed with galkyd, liquin or a cobalt dryer, it was still much faster than other traditional mediums. I would compare it to the drying speed of M. Graham’s Walnut Alkyd Medium but with far more workability.

Is it easy to clean? 
Yes. Gamblin recommended using Safflower oil for cleaning brushes so I decided to try that and was really pleased with the results. You definitely don’t need any turps or solvents to clean with this medium. If you need to get your brushes clean for longer storage, a simple bathroom cleaning glove and a bar of soap and water will suffice to get your brushes perfectly clean.

A note on cleaning: The medium itself will stay open on your palette for several days. The tiny cap in the picture above stayed open and usable for several days, even while the thin layers on the canvas dried overnight. This amazed me since I had not sealed it in any way and planned on throwing it out the next day (which is what I would have been forced to do with other alkyd mediums).
This is good news as it means that even if you forget to clean your brushes the night before you will have no trouble getting them clean the next day.

A second note: Gamblin’s Safflower and their Solvent-Free Fluid look the same. This confusion led to studio mishaps, where Annie and I accidentally used the wrong one and couldn’t figure out why our paintings hadn’t dried in a week.
This is why the bottles now have hastily scrawled titles to keep them separate. Never again. 

Would you recommend it? 
Yes I would. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with so far and has gotten me excited about oil painting again.
My final verdict is if you do not have any trouble with turps and mineral spirits, you might find that OMS mixed with galkyd or liquin will work better for you. But if you are wanting to go non-toxic and solvent-free, then I would absolutely recommend this product.

I will add one last word of caution that this is a new medium which has not had time to be heavily tested for its long-term archival quality. As with any new medium, we can't know exactly how it will look in 100 years. But the ingredients list seems clean and simple (which is always good for oil paint) and I feel like Gamblin is a trustworthy company which tests its products heavily and has a long history of providing excellent, archival painting materials.

If you have found an oil painting medium out there that you believe meets the 4 challenges above let me know in the comments and I will test it out!

Further Reading:
Link to Part I and Part II
Link to Dan Dos Santos Write-Up on Studio Safety: Solvents
Link to Gamblin's Mediums section

Monday, July 6, 2015

36 Assignments In...

David Palumbo

The sketch is arguably the most critical stage of an illustration.  Conjuring thumbnails, narrowing the concept, clarifying the message, all of it boils down to the sketch: the blueprint for what will eventually be the final piece.  For me, lazy sketching tends to result in client misunderstandings, technical frustrations, slower execution, and (worst of all) lukewarm finals.  I respect the sketch phase.  Up until a year ago, it was also the one step I absolutely dreaded.

Before last fall, I did all of my sketching in Photoshop.  Thumbnails were pencil and paper and sometimes those would be scanned in as the base layer, but the real work was all digital.  Composing demands a flexible mind.  As pixels, shapes can be dragged, resized, and shaded fast and easy.  The ability to react, and often react again to what that reaction resulted in, with an ease and flow is extremely useful.  My problem is that I just don’t really enjoy working digitally.  Something about it has never felt very satisfying to me.  Combining that with the very abstract thinking that sketching requires and the pressure of, as I’ve already said, a strong sketch being absolutely critical to a strong painting, it’s no wonder I would procrastinate sketch days as much as I possibly could.

“Maybe I should work on that job that isn’t due for a few weeks yet.  Maybe I should catch up on emails.  Maybe I should watch some movies and go get lunch and look at Facebook…”  Eventually, of course, I would sit down and do my sketches, but I found that I really had to draaag myself through them.  Even when I was excited about the project, I still avoided and procrastinated sketching.  I was resigned to the process which had been serving me well (enough) for so many years.  Working out preliminaries in physical paint often seemed like a fun idea, but also seemed terribly impractical.

my most recent digital sketches with the traditional final, from last August

I can’t say for sure where the interest in sketching in paint started, but I believe the thing that finally tipped me to try it out was a box of preliminaries by Robert Maguire that were being sold for obscenely low prices at San Diego Comic Con.  I have always loved seeing these sorts of miniature illustrations whenever I come across them and, for whatever reason, these in particular inspired me.  It occurred to me that sketching might be more fun if I could do it this way.  At this point I’ve done hundreds of 5x7 inch figure studies so I knew that I was comfortable at that scale.  I decided to try doing something similar on the next job where I’d have some creative flexibility and a comfortable deadline.

Early Concerns

I decided my surface should be the same as my typical go-to (Masonite primed rough with acylic gesso).  I wanted to work monochrome, but decided a colored ground would help give the pieces a bit more tonal variety and allow me a “spot color” if I needed it, so I coated each panel with cadmium red acrylic.  This method was something I was already testing on my “re-cover” series and the success of those encouraged me.  The tricky part was altering my workflow.

my first oil sketches with final, from last August

For years, my process had been: thumbnails, sketches, client notes, reference, move to final.  I could still work that way, but jumping into sketches without reference felt too chaotic.  Additionally, I wanted to maintain the early stage flexibility that I found so usefully with digital tools and that could get pretty messy in oils.  In the end, I decided on a strategy which I worried might be counterproductive or inefficient.  I felt it was worthwhile to test though.  The new workflow would be: thumbnails, reference, digital composite (what some call frankensteining), oil sketch, client notes, move to final. The pushing and pulling would be handled in the reference composite and then it would all get tied together into something presentable (and representative) in the oil sketch.

There were a few obvious drawbacks here.  The first and most obvious was I would have to shoot way more reference than before.  Instead of shooting for the chosen idea, I was working up multiple ideas.  This also ran the risk (which has bit me a few times so far) of having the client want completely new sketches in a new direction which meant bringing the model back in for a second shoot (and paying for that second shoot).  There was also a slight concern about letting the reference drive the sketch as oppose to the other way around.

The upshot of all this was that once I had approval, I could dive straight into the painting with no delay and it would be as close as possible to the approved sketch because my reference was already assembled.  It felt like a fair exchange, all things considered.

I’m happy to say that first set worked out.  It worked out so well that I haven’t done a single digital sketch in the ten months since.  As it turned out, the new workflow didn’t really slow me down but did have some surprising benefits.

Why I Love It

One of the obvious perks to this whole thing is having little originals instead of digital throwaway roughs which nobody besides the client would ever see.  I knew that would be the case and it was a big selling point for me.  I hadn’t quite thought through what it meant though.  My general policy on sketches is not to submit anything that I wouldn’t be excited to paint.  I want to love every idea because one of them is going to get picked and I don’t know which.  But that also means that, on average, two others don’t get picked.  Usually that means they fade away as if they’d never existed.  On extremely rare occasions I might pursue one anyhow just out of love, but mostly they’re absolutely forgotten a month later.  When each one is an actual little painting, they all get to live.  Maybe not large and in full color, but they all end up getting painted and, as a result, still feel as though they‘d been “realized“ in a satisfying way.

That leads into the second surprise: When you are painting every sketch, you weed out the mediocre ones much sooner.  The result here is stronger sketches to select from and, in the end, stronger finished paintings.  There are several times where I’ve painted up a sketch which seemed perfectly sound as a thumbnail, reasonably interesting as a photo comp, but just didn’t have it as a painting.  In some cases I could see what was missing and take a second swing, in other cases I could leave it be and try another direction.  In the end though, none of them went out for an approval.  If I’d been doing them digitally, I’m 100% certain that I would have sent those ideas out because they seemed pretty good at first.  They seemed pretty good because the little things I wasn’t sure of fell in the “eh, I’ll figure that out with reference” or “it’ll make sense in paint” categories.  But now I can see where that is the case and where it definitely isn’t.

On the subjects of figuring it out with reference, it turns out that’s a pretty good thing to do early.  Now, I’m aware that we all have different tastes, habits, strengths, and weaknesses.  Some people don’t want to reference early because it stiffens them up.  So fine, I say know yourself and act accordingly.  For me, I find the opposite is the case.  It doesn’t hurt that I am recently fascinated with photography and enjoy learning and practicing as much as I can to improve that skill.  Whatever the case, I’ve found that bringing in models with a set of mostly-there ideas, but none of which I’m actually bound to yet, gives me room to explore, improvise, tweak, and experiment.  It also seems possible to me that sometimes a sketch which might not have seemed the leading concept as a thumbnail suddenly takes on new strength when you put some lights on a model.  One of my favorite recent pieces was almost a throwaway thumbnail.  It had potential, but it veered off course from the client’s brief.  I shot it anyway just because I thought it might be worthwhile and BAM, I knew it was the winner the second I saw the results.

One last little perk, and it may be anecdotal (like any of this isn’t), but I feel like clients are more prepared for painterly finals if they review painterly sketches.  Since I started sending oil sketches, I can’t remember any clients asking me to arbitrarily tighten up brush strokes, smooth the render, or any similar requests which normally make me a bit bonkers.  I put thought into my brushwork and want for that work to show in the final.  I aim to have a painterly quality.  My digital sketches had rough strokes too, but it was more sloppiness than grace.  The implication being “this will be cleaned up for the finish” and everyone is left to their own interpretation of what that will look like.  The oil sketches, on the other hand, really mimic the feel and quality that I’m ultimately going for in a way that just makes sense.  In general, these seem to be far fewer third act surprises and the clients seem to appreciate that almost as much as I do.

And the final surprise is that none of this seems to take any more time than my old process.  I have a few theories why, but the one that makes the most sense is that I actually sit down and enjoy my sketches now instead of wasting hours (days?) avoiding them.  Who knew allowing yourself to have fun when you work could actually give better results?

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!

J.C. Leyendecker painted this image for the Saturday Evening Post's Independence Day cover, 100 years ago. Below are some preliminary studies for the final illustration:

Friday, July 3, 2015

ART ESSENTIALS: Arrogance! (and Doubt)

by Greg Ruth

The conceit of making art is commonly a tightrope walk between the two valleys of Arrogance and Doubt. Crossing successfully to the other side insists we both engage and temper each of these to form a directed passage through the treachery of creating a work so we can turn at the other side of the journey, look back and see what we have done with clear eyes and a distinct vision. There's many teachers, critics and peers that will discourage hubris, or arrogance in making art, but I would argue both are absolutely essential to the act. While this whole premise is an exercise in extremism to make a point, the real purpose here is to recognize the inherent need to be big and bold when making your work. That you can be internally arrogant without being rude about it outwardly. Whenever we make our work we are presuming our own notions of how we see the world, onto the world, and rather than look at that as a negative I want us to take a moment to see it as an essential good. Doubt too must always be present and must at times lead the journey for the journey to fin it's best possible end. It's an affected thing to reduce the creative process like this, but it helps to whittle down something so big and effervescent into something overly reductive so we can grow it back to its needed size. So bear with my doubtful hubris, and don't be afraid to disagree with any of it. 


Geronimo rallying the tribes from INDEH
Arrogance- or if you prefer, simple chutzpah- is the primary force in making art, and has to be present for the act of art-making to even begin. Essential to every artist, and secretly delighted by all. Arrogance plays an essential role in the life of an artist. It like all measures and vehicles for the exploration of art can go too far and not far enough of course, but unlike other aspects of the nature of art, this is not one of choice. It is inherent in the act- a phenomenological Thing in Itself. We must court and dance with arrogance both when we make art and when we present it publicly. (Personally I hold to sculptor Toshio Odate's insistence that art has a requisite public aspect to it or else it ceases to be art and instead is more an act of private self indulgence. He often cited the idea of a tea cup filled with ostentatiously large holes: place it on a pedestal and its art waiting to be filled with the un-spillable ideas applied by the viewer, keep it secreted away in your cupboard and its just a terribly useless teacup.)

The act of making art is largely the enactment of creating something that no one else has made, clothed in the voice of an artist presuming he or she has something interesting to offer. It has for it a bar set above the usual mundane concerns of everyday life. Art neither nourishes, clothes or shelters us. It is scorned by those lacking a vision to appreciate it for this reason entirely. Like love in many aspects art is unquantifiable and ineffable. How then can one justify making something that is not inherently functional? How can one craft such a thing with the arrogance to presume it is despite these practical claims, worth bothering with? How dare one make such a presumption. It relies upon a near hubristic ego mania to presume that one vision, the artist's vision is both worth the time to craft the piece and worthy of occupying some of the limited time of the viewer, reader or audience. The artists demands of the viewer to be seen, his/her works are, as their first purpose, demanding of attention. They have to be. Art is the ignored quiet child in the back of the classroom that has to raise its hand, stand and deliver even and especially so, if no one else in the room assumes it has anything at all to say. Art requires convincing of others to engage with it, it sells itself and demands of others something even willing participants must be coerced into bestowing. Time and attention, observation and consideration. Further to insist upon others to forfeit money that would be otherwise used for the more tangible needs of survival, art is committing a distinct act of salesmanship. It's convincing to squirrel to disregard the nut in favor of a bauble it doesn't actually need to survive winter, but wants anyway. It takes a good measure of arrogance to pull off such an audacious trick. it takes even more to presume others won't see it as such.

In the making of art, the artist has to adopt and hug his or her own braggadocio about what they may be making. The marks and strokes, chisels strikes and smudges on a flawless and beautifully clean surface are a complete expression of this. To look upon it and decide it is not complete until the artist sullies its uniformity with a mark takes a good deal of swagger, whether we know it or not. A level of controlled arrogance can give us the confidence that's required to take us into new directions, or to find succinctly our voice as creatives people. Arrogance taken too far creates that opposite. If we neglect a measure of taming our own hauteur, we shrink and become less expansive. Less observant and clear. Less capable. We as artists must be brave within ourselves at this stage in order to dig deeply and find what it is we intend to express- whether its music, dance painting or film. Arrogance can be a comfort and a guide when we're lost in doubt,. It can be a beacon for us when there's no other reason to get up and work again. It whispers in our ear that we have something worth saying, that it matters and that it's important even when there is no outside support to help us do this. More important still when we are faced with outright discouragement for doing it at all. Arrogance fuels us to pick up and try again when we inevitably fail at our craft. it nudges us forward to stand in a room of strangers and tell them why it matters, and why it's important they pay attention to what we're doing. It fuels us in a publishers office when we sit across from an editor having invented some pretend world, or invented idea we expect and hope they will pay us to bring to life. To stand in an opening inside a gallery receiving visitors to see what imaginary joys we have pulled from our personal sandbox. Arrogance insist to us secretly its own essential nature even when we are being scolded for it from others. The opposite of course is death to the act of making art. So we must, we have to embrace arrogance as a requisite tool of our trade. Tame it, bridle it and mount it, never forgetting who is the horse and who is the rider.


Walt in the grip of the Shadows from THE LOST BOY
Doubt is the other basic essential pole of artmaking. it's not the opposite of arrogance, but it is the countervailing force that can rescue us from arrogance's foulest temptations. Out apprehensions about ourselves drive us to pause and question our choices. left unchecked it can suffocate us into atrophy and surrender, but harnessed and used to its full measure, doubt can deliver us from the fiery pits of self indulgence and claim alterations and directional changes that we otherwise might have to rely upon our audience to deliver. if they bother to. Where arrogance dutifully lies to us, doubt can be a source of honesty. It is the quality of making work that allows us to rise up and out of the place from in which we are making something so that we may see it, observe what's working and what isn't.

Doubt can be our guardian in the strictest Castanedan sense that can swiftly become a guard. Once protector now jailer, doubt can be allowed to flourish too wildly undermining our essential bravado in making work and presuming we have something to say about it. Doubt, while not the primary element, delights in utilizing more tools of trickery and deception to get its way. Like Arrogance doubt is a creature that wants to eat the world. Controlling it, harnessing it is, like with arrogance, an act of throwing a lasso over a tornado and riding it towards a new horizon. But never forget its desire is to consume, and so it must be always left hungry, chained and controlled or it will engulf everything in you. It even has the audacity to express itself as pride, for what is false modesty but disguised arrogance and self importance? Doubt subverts arrogance and uses it to make its own ends come to be. It can choke off your ability to see your own work, to make new work, to branch into new territories and experiment with new ideas. When let loose upon your world it can fill you with so many questions as to grind to a halt the artist's ability to think at all. It can prevent the artist for failing to stand up and make a case for his or her work, to bypass opportunities to do so and to receive praise and accommodations for the work the artist makes. It is tricky business indeed, dangerous and treacherous filled with the promise of more failure than success. But this is where arrogance come sin to pick up the pieces and sidle onward. When properly controlled doubt is your own personal editor and navigator. Incertitude can keep us honestly on the path arrogance fuels us across and is what can allow us to open ourselves to new interpretations and understandings of what we're trying to do. Doubt can be arrogance's needful bridle, and the disquiet it brings later can save us from a thousand pitfalls and elevate us higher than we deserve.

As a recent example... In making INDEH for example, both of these comes into full and daily play with each other. Presumptuously assuming I could sit down with Ethan who had spent more than a decade writing and building a library of facts and narratives on the subject of Geronimo and the Apaches, and scuttle it all mixing and remixing it together into a new story demanded a level of arrogance and doubt on an unprecedented level. Taking on as an anglo this native story, with all its abuses co-optings and betrayals insists upon the presence of both. Sitting down and drawing, shaping and writing the book with Ethan, allowing for that creative intimacy to full unfold and to take that direction it demands of us both to paper and ink, could not happen without both. Daring to then convince others it is worth reading or taking their food money to buy it, to go out and do press and interviews about it pretending confidence when there may be none could not occur without a hefty mixture of doubt and arrogance.

I can no more express the idea of artistic ego without including in some form the dance between these two aspects. I don't think any artist successful int heir career, can. The world insists we rise up and do so humbly, and celebrates it while scorning it at the same time. Arrogance can shield you from the sneers and jealousy of others where doubt wishes to feed, and doubt can throw needed water on the raging egotistic fires of arrogance non stop praise creates. Moderation in all things is considered the acceptable ideal, but in making art, moderation is death to creativity. We must be bipolar and manic in our wild swings between doubt and arrogance if we're to survive the journey, and even to enjoy it. Art should be a wrestling match and a battle we wage upon ourselves if we are to exact it's highest aspirations. As long as you remember to hold the reins return to the saddle and control the swings, you will surprise yourself with what you come up with in art and in life, even enough one hopes, to give it another try and show it to others again. And again.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From Montreal with Friends

By Donato

We have all experienced that wonderful feeling of running into old friends in the least expected of places.  Well it happened in Montreal this past week.   I rounded a corner, and there in front of me was someone whom I have know for years, but never had the chance to say hello to in person.  This was not exactly a living person, but rather a painting by Briton Riviere of St George And The Dragon which I have looked at for years but never had the pleasure to see first hand until this past weekend.  What a stunner!

Briton Riviere       St George And The Dragon
As you can imagine , it was thrilling to 'discover' this work, especially as I was only passing through the museum on a fast track with my two daughters in tow.  And as much as my children do not mind their father dragging them to an art museum, I had to drop them off with their mother while I went back for a second, in depth, conversation with this work!

A few other wonderful discovers filled the same room as the Riviere, shown below.  My apologies for the poor quality of the jpgs, I only had an older iPhone 4 with me at the time.  This once again proves to me that no matter how much I think I know what to expect out of a museum I have visited many times over the years, inspirational discoveries are always lying in wait!

Gabriel Max       The Raising of Jairus' Daughter
Check out that fly on the young girl's arm!
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret         A sister piece to a work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
And to top it off, I had the pleasure to spend an evening with REAL friends (not the dead ones I visit too often in museums) whom I have not seen in a couple of years, Jean-Baptiste Monge and Margo!  They live in the city of Montreal and were busy preparing prints, art and a new collection of Jean-Baptiste's sketches for the Montreal ComicCon this coming weekend.  Check out JB's amazing work on his website, http://www.jbmonge.com , if you are not yet familiar with it, and order up his new book before they disappear!

Jean-Baptiste, Donato and Margo


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Harpy Queen

-By Jesper Ejsing

'Harpy Queen', by Tyler Jacobsen & Jesper Ejsing

Tyler Jacobsen and I were signing at the Magic the Gathering Grand Prix here in my hometown of Copenhagen last week. When we found out we were going to the same event we came up with the idea of trying to paint a painting together. I have always wanted to do something with Tyler and was happy he felt the same way.

We sketched a bit back and forth until we were both happy with the image idea. The file went back and forth over the Atlantic via dropbox and we just added onto what the other one did. It felt really easy to take something Tyler started and just refining or enhancing it a bit. In the end I have no longer any idea of who did what. Except the angle, that is all Tyler.

It was a great and very educational experience to have to continue on another artist´s painting. And we are looking to try it out again very soon.

stages of sketches and progress of the final 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Artist of the Month: Diebenkorn

William O'Connor

After WWII in America abstract expressionism ruled the art world.  Rothko, Newman, Hoffman and of course Jackson Pollock, who was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1949, being called "The greatest artist in America."  Undoubtedly these artists helped to transform the art world, and along with mid century modern architects, musicians and designers, the aesthetic of the post war world dramatically changed.  Figurative and representational art had not only become unfashionable, it was taboo.

Artists who bucked this trend often faced ridicule and obscurity from the art establishment.  O'Keefe, Freud, Neel, A. Wyeth, Khalo, etc, all had to wait decades and the advent of the post modernist movement for their work to be noticed.  One of the most influential of these artists was Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

Diebenkorn had returned from WWII and begun his career in NYC embracing the new abstract expressionism.  Traveling and teaching he eventually settled down in California in the mid sixties and began to work figuratively. In 1967 he began his famous Ocean Park landscape series which he would work on for almost twenty years and produce more than one hundred paintings.

Diebenkorn's landscapes are a beautiful bridge between abstract field paintings and traditional representational art.   Deeply inspired by artists like Matisse he has simplified the environment focusing on the forms of bright sunlit California color.  Like looking out a window he breaks the space with architectural elements, swimming pools, roads, trees and even figures, into harmonious compositions.

Today Diebenkorn's paintings grace the collections of some of the most prestigious museums and fetch millions at auction.  I still often look to Diebenkorn to better understand composition, dividing the canvas into simple forms and colors.  I highly recommend any student or artist interested in composition to take look at Diebenkorn's work.