Friday, July 15, 2011


The River Rats came out last Saturday on the banks of the Hudson River
in Beacon, New York.

We call ourselves the “OH RATS!” Club. The name stands for “Old Hudson River Art and Truth Society.” We get together in order to paint and eat and tell tall tales.

From left to right: Mary Sealfon, Jeanette Gurney, Garin Baker, and Susan Daly Voss. Not seen is Eric Wilkerson, Kevin Ferrara, nd Brad Teare (who designed our mascot).

That’s me with an apron because I didn’t want to get paint on my clothes before the show opening. We set up our easels on a point of land that was reclaimed from a toxic waste dump by the Scenic Hudson organization.

I did a 12 x 6 inch oil study of some old rotting pilings. Here’s the start and finish. The board is oil-primed canvas over birch plywood.

While I was painting, a duck and her six ducklings scurried by. These little intimate details of the Hudson River intrigue me just as much as the grand views.

After we packed up the easels, we stopped by the new River Arts Center, where the “Great Hudson River Exhibition” was opening. That’s my painting in the upper left, and Garin Baker’s at the far right.

Where will the River Rats appear next? We’ll be visiting the Rockwell Museum tomorrow! If you’re around, come by and say hello.


Tom Hart said...

That's a great study of the pilings, James. You are a master at painting water (among many other things).

Do you make your own canvas/plywood panels? If so, could you say something about the process (maybe even an article someday)? I'm curious to know the adhesive you use, the plywood thickness (does that vary with the size of the panel?), etc...


James Gurney said...

Tom, thanks for the compliments!

...and good question. In case I don't get around to doing a post about it soon, here it is in a nutshell:

I use carpenter's glue to glue down unprimed or acrylic primed canvas to a 1/4 inch thick 4x8 foot full sheet of furniture plywood. I press the heck out of it with another board and weights, separated with a layer of polyethylene coated paper.

Then I prime the whole surface (for efficiency's sake) with a few coats more of gesso and when it's dry, cut it down with a radial saw to a bunch of smaller panels. These I coat more with gesso, sand the edges, and then usually oil prime them with Gamblin priming white, often tinted with some burnt sienna and ultramarine.

Tom Hart said...

Thanks James for that quick and thorough explanation. What a great system! (If only I still had my radial arm saw... a great tool, that is!)

Obviously you haven't run into any archival issues or concerns with the carpenters glue, eh? I know some folks make a point to only use pH neutral glue, etc.

Any reason you choose plywood over masonite?

James Gurney said...

Hi, Tom,
I've heard various things about the glues, but I've always used something like Elmers or the equivalent. As I understand it, the adhesive in all these glues is poly-vinyl acetate, which is neutral and stable, and the same ingredient in some more expensive art-supply glues.

Conservators, I presume, are concerned not only with acid-neutral glues, but also with being able to remove the canvas and make everything reversible. To that end, I've also wrapped canvas around to the back of the panel and stapled and glued it only on the back surface so that you could cut the canvas free from the front if you needed to.

My main interest is to make sure the canvas doesn't peel up or blister. And I want a solid, secure bond, an extremely durable canvas that can be dropped from 20 feet on a corner or hit by dive-bombing seagull without damage.

Timothy said...


I've noticed that many artists (yourself included) spend a great deal of time in preparing their supports.

In a nutshell, is it worth it?

I know that by doing it yourself you can control the materials used, and more importantly the size, but it seems like an awful lot of time, when you could just buy pre-made canvas panels [or artist's hardboard, like Ampersand's various products]. I know another consideration is the cost: once you've purchased the tools and materials, and assuming you have access to a space wherein to do your constructing, it's often cheaper to do it yourself.

And, of course, there's always the question of quality. I've made 4' x 5' and 3' x 7' canvases, and even putting my best effort into it, they were nowhere near as good as anything I could have bought commercially.

All that said, why do you build your own?

Unknown said...

For me, preparing my own panels is more of a selfish pursuit. For one, I like to have full control of the surface texture. Something that I can't guarantee if I use commercial panels. And two, I LIKE to work the tools and go through the process of preparation. It's almost cathartic to commune with the panel before you paint on it. I "know" my board before the first stroke ever goes down.

Tom Hart said...

As for me, I've rarely found a commercially made panel that's low enough in price to compete with a homemade. Not to mention, as Greg says, that you then know exactly what went into the panel.

My Pen Name said...

most preprimed canvases are not archival according to
(site is being upgraded when i checked the link)
even 'quality' brands.
I would gather the same is true for panels. both can become expensive if you paint a lot.