Monday, January 7, 2008

Technique Nuts and Bolts

Todd N. of Ontario, Canada emailed me yesterday asking about the paints, supports, mediums, and drying times for the Dinotopia artwork.

I admit that I haven't really explained my oil technique yet. I've been meaning to get to it, but since you asked, here it is.

All of the paintings in the Dinotopia books are done with traditional oil paints. I use Gamsol turpentine to thin the paints. To extend the flow of the paint, I sometimes add a little Liquin painting medium. This alkyd medium accelerates drying time, but it dries to a matte surface, which needs varnishing at the end. I use Kamar spray varnish for the final varnish after the painting has completely dried.

The mixing surface is a roll of white polyethylene-coated freezer paper, set up in a sloping palette arrangement. I use kerosene in a peanut butter jar for cleaning the brushes.

For some of the larger paintings I work on an acrylic-primed cotton canvas glued to ¼ inch birch plywood, but most of the paintings are worked out on heavyweight 100% rag illustration board. I use three different textures: smooth, medium, and rough surface. The brand I use, “Columbia 1776,” is, to my knowledge, no longer being manufactured, but there are equivalents out there. Below: canvas primed with a tint of light red gesso, with the sealed pencil drawing and partial oil block-in. Note pre-texturing in lower left.

I don’t use tracings, light tables, or projected photos. Rarely, on large paintings on canvas, I’ll use an Artograph projector to blow up a compositional line drawing that I’ve worked out at a smaller scale. The drawing above was projected from a sketch.

Nine times out of ten, I’ll do the drawing in pencil directly on the illustration board. As I work out the drawing, I erase it often with a kneaded eraser until I'm satisfied with the linework and I’m ready to paint.

I then seal the drawing, first with Krylon workable fixative and then with Liquitex acrylic matte medium. The latter can be applied fairly thinly with a brush and then squeegeed off with a piece of mat board. That thin layer of acrylic medium will keep the oil paint from soaking into the board or disturbing the drawing. It’s at this point that I may pretexture the surface with acrylic modeling paste. You can see the texture above next to the orange figure.

Over that sealed pencil drawing I sometimes block in with acrylic in the first layer to save time. I then begin with thin washes of oil. I often cover the surface with a complete tone (or "imprimatura") to get rid of the white and to set the basic color mood of the scene. Sometimes I'll block in with a complementary color, especially under a painting with a green tonality. Then I proceed with a quick overall block-in and a final rendering, usually working area-by-area, starting with the center of interest.

The nice thing about this way of working in oil is that you can lay down the paint opaquely, transparently, or a combination of opaque and transparent. While the paint is wet you can scratch through with the brush handle to get light accents.

I don’t usually use accelerators or fast-drying mediums, except for the Liquin itself. Rarely, if I’m building up a light impasto with thick paint that has to dry by the next day, I’ll add a drop of cobalt drier to the supply of white paint. Since white paint insinuates itself into all the opaque mixtures, the drying agent does its work, and the whole painting is dry to the touch within 24 hours.

By the way, if you like this nuts-and-bolts stuff, check out Jeffrey Freedner's helpful comment about the palettes of the old masters at the end of yesterday's post on color. Thanks, Painterdog.

Todd, I hope that answers your question!

Tomorrow: A handy tip for perspective.


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this, I've been really curious about how you woked and have been making the wrong assumptions. I'll be sending some of my painter friends to this post. I foun the statement : "Nine times out of ten, I’ll do the drawing in pencil directly on the illustration board." really interestin. There's been a debate on my blog about how much you put into the original sketch and how much you invent on the final painting. The Arthur Rackham VS Edmund Dulac debate. I'm surprised how many people have thier whole paintings worked out first.

Joe Jusko said...

This was really interesting! I've been wanting to play with oils for a long while now since there are effects and techniques that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in acrylic. I follow your blog regularly, and always find it fascinating and educational! Thanks!!1

Kactiguy said...

Great post. I always enjoy seeing another artists process. I learn so much. Really makes me want to pull out my oils.

Nathan Fowkes said...

Have you considered going digital? (Please say no:)

Enjoying the blog,


ZD said...

Thanks for sharing all this stuff. A lot of successful artists don't share their process.

Unknown said...

Greetings! I just discovered this blog while browsing on for books by various Artists. I was astounded by how generous you are with your insights on painting in this blog. The material is fantastic.

I started out quite young in a Studio Art program in college but, unfortunately for me, turned to other pursuits in my life. It's been a long, long time since I tried my hand at oil painting but getting back into the basics with information like this makes it seem a little more possible to me. Thanks.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for the helpful info! I have always admired your work and have been curious about the "nuts and bolts" of it. I am an illustrator too, and am going to experiment with these ideas to see if I can make the early stages of the oil painting a little quicker. I usually do the under-painting with a turpenoid wash. But an initial pencil drawing would be preferable. Anyway, more nuts and bolts posts will be appreciated and read.