Friday, June 24, 2016

Harold Speed Discusses Grounds

Welcome to the GJ Book Club. Today we'll cover pages 242-245 of the chapter on "Materials," from Harold Speed's 1924 art instruction book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.

I'll present Speed's main topics numbered in boldface type. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

In this section of the chapter, Speed discusses grounds for oil painters. By "grounds" he means the prepared surface that you paint on.

Whistler, detail of oil painting (Source MOMA)
1. Advantages of a brilliant white surface.
Better permanency because oil paint always becomes more transparent with age, so a dark ground will show through and influence the painting in time. Oils also darken as they age, so if they're painted on a white ground, if they darken and transparentize, the two effects mitigate each other.

Disadvantage is that it's not always a sympathetic surface because it can be hard to judge values and colors against the bright white.

2. Recommended toned ground
Mix ivory black and raw umber to make a neutral color, thinning it with turpentine and applying it with a clean rag. Wiping with the rag gives an even tone and brings out some of the grain of the canvas.


3. Texture of ground
Speed says, "A perfectly smooth surface is not often used nowadays, although beautiful work has been done on it in the past. It is essentially the surface for very thin painting and high finish when soft brushes are used. The paintings of the pre-Raphaelites were done on such canvases.

4. What the ground should do
The surface texture should "pick the paint off the brush evenly without any scratchiness." And it should "hold the first touches painted sufficiently firmly for other touches to be painted evenly across them, without picking up the under paint unduly."

Speed complains about canvas manufacturers making prepared canvases with a slippery, soapy surface, which makes the paint slide around uncontrollably. A prepared canvas shouldn't be slippery and smooth; it should have a "bite" to it, a slightly gritty feel.

5. Coarse vs. fine canvas
A coarse canvas is good for large, simple masses of color—"the grain of the canvas breaks up the surface slightly and gives it a little movement, whereas on a smooth canvas, it is dull and lifeless." Beginners should start with a medium-grained canvas and then experiment with rougher and smoother options.

6. Absorbent canvases
Although paintings done on absorbent canvases may dry matte, the surface will absorb the oil, which tends to darken with time. Absorbent surfaces are suited to high key paintings, but they're not as good for dark subjects.

Dry, matte-surfaced paintings should be framed under glass, as dirt will settle into the rough surface of the paint. When Speed says, "Dirt is the great enemy of permanency in our modern cities," remember, he's talking about a London that was regularly blackened with coal smoke, and it really damaged paintings more than today.


Next time— Palettes
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In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (with a Sargent cover)," and there's also a Kindle edition.
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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nature Fest at the LA Natural History Museum

Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Natural History Museums love artists! This weekend the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will host a "Nature Fest." Members of the local group of LA Urban Sketchers and others from Plein Air painting community will be painting and sketching at the location.

Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Museum scientists and dozens of Southern California nature organizations will be on site to answer questions, and there will be behind-the-scenes tours of the ornithology collections.

Painters are normally prohibited from painting in the Museum's outdoor nature gardens, but during this weekend, they're allowed.

Ongoing programming includes roaming performances, hands-on activities, landscape artists in residence at work, as well as a chance to take a photo with "Charles Darwin."

Nature Fest at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, June 25 and 26.

Time Lapse of Urban Life


The Lion City II - Majulah from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

This video combines a lot of sophisticated time lapse techniques to provide a dynamic vision of life in the city.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spider Flowers

At the NY Botanical Garden last weekend, I decided to get close enough to a couple of flowers so that I could study their structure, and not just paint them as faraway blobs. 

A group of flamboyant spider flowers or cleome drew me into their orbit.

Cleome, casein on canvas mounted to panel, 11 x 14
I chose casein on canvas because it allows me to overlap opaque strokes without picking up previous layers. This was especially helpful on the oval petals and the long filament-like stamens.

The palmate leaves get smaller as you go up the stem. In some of the lower areas I painted a variegated base color for the leaves and then pulled them out by painting the dark negative shapes between the leaves. 


I shot video coverage of the painting, which I'll release later. I'm thinking of doing a video feature called "Painting Flowers in the Wild" (which is quite different from painting cut flowers indoors).

On Sunday afternoon, the gardens were full of artists because it was Plein Air Invitational day. It was fun talking shop with experienced fellow painters. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Painting a Victorian Couple in the Garden

Rod and Gretchen, colored pencil, watercolor, and gouache
Rod Caravella and Gretchen Fenston posed for me in Edwardian attire at the New York Botanical Garden, as part of the fun surrounding their summer exhibition "Impressionism: American Gardens on Canvas." 

Photo by Susan Toplitz
Last weekend was the Plein Air Invitational, with over 20 outstanding plein air artists coming to the gardens to paint on location. As soon as there's an online gallery of the results, I'll post a link.

Thanks to all who attended and the staff and volunteers at NYBG who engineered the magic.

Deadline Coming June 24 for the Weed Challenge


Friday is the deadline for the Weed Painting Challenge. It's free to enter, all media are accepted, and if you win, you get one of the rare "Department of Art" patches.

Here's the previous post: Weed Painting Challenge
Facebook Event Page where people are posting their results.

And there are some amazing results that people are posting. But don't be intimidated if you're new at outdoor painting. You'll get lots of feedback and encouragement from the community. We're all trying to push the boundary of what we can do. I'll go through and press "like" and comment after all the pieces are in.