Things I didn’t know, or can’t figure out

Some days I feel like the Oldest Living Member of this club; other days, I’m shocked at the things I don’t know.

Home Farm, by Carol L. Douglas, is available through the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

There’s a rule for mixing acrylics and oils:  you can go over acrylic with oils, but you can’t go over oils with acrylics.

Acrylic paints and gesso have been available since the 1950s. In art-conservation terms, that’s no time at all. However, thousands of oil paintings have been done over acrylic gesso and imprimatura. Since these bottom layers are separate, future conservators will be able to peel off the acrylic and reline the paintings.

Fog Bank, by Carol L. Douglas, is available through the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

I’m more dubious about underpainting in acrylics and doing the top layers in oils. I used to see this in the last millennium but then it fell out of style. I was shocked to see a student doing it this summer. I think it’s bad practice on two counts:

  1. Good painting technique is intended to last for centuries. We don’t really know how those two paint systems will interact over the long haul.
  2. There’s no reason for it. Proper alla prima technique will give you good, clean, immediate color using conventional oil paints for all the layers.

But that’s based on my gut, not on science. If anyone has a scientifically-based opinion, I’d love to hear it.

Beaver Dam, by Carol L. Douglas, is available through the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

Most of us paint on acrylic-primed canvas these days, but Centurion(and others) make excellent oil-primed canvases and boards. These must be toned with oils because of that no-acrylic-over-oil rule. This year, a student at my Schoodic workshop primed her boards with Gamblinnaphthol red. Luckily, she also brought other boards, because the oil-primed ones never dried in time. This week, she showed me that they were still tacky.

It wasn’t the weather; Maine has been in a drought all summer. And her paint application looked fine to me. An internet search gave me no clues. Readers, if you have any ideas, please share them.

Over the summer, two students pointed out that they can’t buy Prussian Blue in acrylics; it’s only available as a hue. I contacted Golden Paints. Their expert told me, “Prussian Blue pigment is highly alkali-sensitive. Waterborne acrylics are alkaline by nature. So, this pigment is not stable in waterborne acrylic binders. This is why we make a Prussian Blue Hue in our acrylic lines. The same is true of Cobalt Violet.” Since I eschew hues, I now recommend phthalo blue instead. I’ve been painting for longer than Golden has existed, and I never noticed that.

On Monday, I challenged readers to a water-media exercise over the next 45 days. One of my oil-painting students asked me for recommendations for gouache. I use Turnergouaches, but never thought about why, since it’s not my primary medium. I texted a few painter friends for recommendations. Among their suggestions were M. Graham, Winsor & Newton and Holbein, but nobody was passionate about it. If you are, I’d love to hear from you.

Sea Fog, by Carol L. Douglas, is available through Folly Cove Fine Art.

Meanwhile, I suggested a limited palette of colors and hog-bristle brushes. The beauty of gouache is that you can use it on almost any substrate. I just paint in my sketchbook.

Speaking of that challenge, several people asked where they should post their resulting paintings, so I created a group on Facebook. This is an open group and you don’t need to be my FB friend to join. I invite you to post your paintings and comment. We all learn from each other.

Jennifer Johnson (who started this) told my Tuesday Zoom class that she had been doing these exercises over the weekend. “I’m already seeing a difference,” she said. Her brushwork is freer, and she feels more confident about her colors. I knew it would make a difference!

I have one more workshop left this season: Find Your Authentic Voice in Plein Air in Tallahassee, Florida, November 9-13. There are enough students to go, but there are still openings, so I’d be excited if you signed up.

From there on in, it’s all Zoom, Zoom, Zoom until the snow stops flying. My Tuesday morning class is sold out; there are still openings for Monday night Zoom classes.