Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dealing with "Sinking In"

I got a lot of questions from my last post about Rublesol Light, oiling out, and sinking in.  I thought I'd treat you all to some off the cuff verbal diarrhea about my opinions on the matter.

Sinking in is just awful.  You put all this work in to making your painting a shining gem, and then twenty-four hours later it looks like complete crap and there's not enough wine in the house to convince you your art career isn't a lost cause.  I can think of four ways to deal with sinking in:
  1. Oiling out: Not a great idea (whether your "oiling out" layer is oil or any other painting medium).  Applying isolated layers of oil to your painting, which then become sandwiched between paint layers, is not great practice.  It will lead to problems that get art conservators' panties in a bunch, like yellowing and delamination.  I have to point out that in my vocabulary, oiling out is different from laying down an oil couche (French for "layer" and pronounced "koosh" in civilized parts of the world, "couch" in America, and "chesterfield" in Canada).  Oiling out is when you saturate the surface of the painting with oil so that you can take a look at it.  This oil then dries, and the next paint layer goes over top.  Painting into a couche is when you oil out the specific area that you are going to paint overtop of that day.  This brings back the colours so that you can see them and match them correctly (very important, especially around the perimeter of the area you are working on so that there is a seamless transition between today's work and the rest of the painting) and makes blending and fine detail easier.  The oil that is laid down in a couche ends up being incorporated into this new paint layer and does not dry as an isolated oil layer, but helps make this new paint layer fatter than the previous layer.
  2. Retouch Varnish:  During a studio visit once I saw a gorgeous portrait painting that had been retouched with spray Dammar retouch varnish in between each of about a dozen paint layers.  The beautiful thing was cracking and flaking right off the canvas before the painting had even been completed.  Similar to having isolated oil layers in between your paint layers, having isolated varnish layers is also a bad idea, and probably a worse idea, since varnish/resin doesn't have as much tensile strength/flexibility as oil.  Hence the flaking and cracking in the beautiful portrait painting.
  3. Tackling sinking in before it happens: Using a painting support with a very low-absorbency surface or painting very fat will help prevent sinking in.  Personally, I don't worry about sinking in enough to bother preventing it, but if, for example, I'm working on a painting in which a dark background is a very important element visually (ie, all my values have to be gauged off of that background) then I will mix stand oil into my paint on the palette before I apply it at a ratio of about 1:4 or 1:3 stand oil to paint (do not add OMS to the mixture to increase flow.  This will make it sink in).  This works really well.  The only thing is that subsequent layers of stand oil-y paint need more and more oil added, as per the rule of painting fat over lean.  There are other mediums on the market that seem to help prevent sinking in if you mix them with your paint.  Like I said, I don't really care enough to bother and I don't like adding mediums to my paint if I can help it.
  4. Rublesol Light/Essential Oil of Petroleum: This is a zero-repercussion way to saturate the surface of your painting and make it look like it will when varnished, if only for about fifteen minutes.  It gives you a chance to take a look at your painting, photograph it, restrain yourself from throwing it in the fireplace, or show it to a studio visitor.  You can use it at any stage of the painting so long as the paint is dry.  It will not leave any residue.  It is also not a silver bullet.  It's just a really useful tool to have in your arsenal.  If you have some handy in your studio, you will eventually get to the point where you are using it almost everyday for one thing or another.
My parting advice on sinking in is, let's not let it ruin our day.  Make the painting read right the day you're working on it with fresh paint, and don't panic when you come back the next morning and you have a coyote ugly moment.  Just get to work on the next section of your painting and don't lose time chasing around the sinking in and trying to fix it every day.

13 comments:

  1. So what do you do when you have a sunk in area before you varnish the painting? Other words how do you even out the finish before the final picture varnish? Really appreciated.

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    1. But that's just it. Why does it need to be evened out? If we know it looks right because it looked right the day we painted it, or it looks right when we use the Rublesol Light/Essential Oil of Petroleum, then we don't need to compromise the integrity of the paint layers by doing things like oiling out and using retouch varnish.

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    2. Perhaps Jim finds himself in the same situation as I often do - sending a painting out to a show or gallery before it is dry enough for a final varnish. In order to bring back the depth and richness, I have used retouch varnish as a top layer. Thoughts? (Other than that I need to consider that my painting is not really complete and show-worthy until it is varnished, and plan my painting schedule accordingly)!

      Thanks for the Rublesol tip. That will be immensely helpful for photographing the work!

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    3. I've never really understood why retouch varnish is okay but a final varnish layer is not. It's still varnish, and it's still going on prematurely, and it's still potentially cross-linking with the paint layer. I just go straight to varnish, myself, even if it's a bit premature to do so. I have paintings to sell and deadlines to meet, and premature varnishing is only really a problem if the varnish is ever removed.

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  2. I'm not sure I'm buyin' any of this. I have painting that I painted 30 years ago on which I have used about every method known to man to "juice" up values during the painting process. . . oil out (with several formulas), retouch varnish, even straight liquin (ugh) . . . and to this day, none are flaking, wrinkling, falling off the canvas or getting demerits from the paint inspector, who, by the way, I haven't seen for . . . oh . . . 30 years. I'm happy you like your new stuff, but your glowing report sounds a bit fishy . . . commercially fishy.

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    1. Thanks for that. I'm recommending a product that is available by several different producers, none of whom are paying me to do so, and people can buy it from wherever they like. I received a free sample from George O'Hanlon after I asked him to start stocking it. He wanted me to make sure it worked as well as the other stuff I'd been using by Pebeo and Sennelier. I did a review because I pinky-promised him that if he went through all the work of tracking down and stocking this product just for me, I would flog it like nobody's business. However I'm extremely suspicious of you namedropping Liquin and retouch varnish on my blog. How do I know you're not a shill working for Big Paint? Hmmm?

      Wonderful that you haven't had a problem with your very, very young paintings. If a painting is well-cared for you often won't see problems for a long time no matter how badly it's been put together. But many artists are not so lucky. If you'd like to hear about them, go make friends with a conservator.

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  3. Goodness . . . I did not mean to upset you. I did not know how to refer to that un-namable paint dryer except by a name familiar to almost everyone. Yes, 30 years is not a long time. My point was/is that 30 years is more time than the apparent short life of this new product . . . which, by the way, I hope works wonders for everyone. My comments were more of a personal lament . . . if oiling out and retouch are verboten after having been on the market for many years, where else can we turn. Time is the enemy where oil painting is concerned. We won't really know for several hundred years whether this new product is "IT." So let me apologize. If my comments upset you, I retract them all. My goal is to do a good job without disturbing the painting genie who, in my dreams, eternally swims not far below.

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    1. You used an anonymous profile to leave sarcastic comments and attack my integrity. I only promote products I believe in and I turn down offers of sponsorship.

      Essential Oil of Petroleum completely evaporates and does not incorporate into the paint layers. We actually don't need to wait centuries to find out what it's effect will be on paintings.

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  4. Kate, sorry in advance for this. I have grown a probably irrational fear that I'm not creating structurally sound paintings. I overthink things. OCD. Sinking in is a constant hassle. George has recommended a bodied oil as a remedy, which is goopy and unpleasant. George also said in his workshop a sign of a weak paint film is a dry painting that looks glossy before being varnished, which seems to indicate an excess of oil within the structure. It has been recommended to me that layers should dry matte, as that indicates there is room for the successive layers oil to absorb and bond with lower layers more successfully. I typically lay in with a touch of Oms or just scrub thinly straight paint, and overpaint each layer into a thin couch of 50/50 Oms/linseed, making sure the prior layer is hard dry as George recommends. I had been using oleogel to couch, but I found I was encountering the weak paint film problem with a little too much build up of oil, probably by not being thorough about wiping the excess, and also the oleogel was tough to spread on larger and more textured areas. My real concern/ misunderstanding, is maintaining a flexible overlayer, if the majority of added fat from a couch is getting reabsorbed by lower layers especially if an upper layer is a little more of a thinner blending type, closer to a glaze, it seems that in addition to a couch paint on the palette would also need a bit of fattening as the layers progress to account for loss through sinking. Of course as more layers are applied the sinking in would be lessened, but finding the balance between too much and not enough fat is very unclear, especially when the painting is done and ready for varnish, it's still relatively absorbent, and the varnish just sinks a bit too. I've read that conservators remedy this by spot varnishing additional layers to the drier areas, but if the painting is shipping soon that balance isn't always possible. Painting is the only thing I give a shit about, and I want to have the utmost integrity with my material and procedures. I appreciate yours and David's blog and your care for painting. Any additional insight you could shed on this or your own procedure would be helpful, I'd ask George but I think he gets irritated with my questions, and sometimes the working artists have a little more on the ground insight.

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    1. Sorry for not responding sooner. This comment escaped my notice. Why does sinking in bother you so much? When you lay down your couch, the colour is restored and you can work just fine, can't you?

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  5. What disturbs me, and I think others identify, is the disparity in advice/information/promotion that is prevalent on this subject and leaves most of us in confusion. Well meaning and successful artists share their experience, manufacturers insist their product is the answer, and workshop teaching artists promote a third solution. All tout the chemical or mechanical justification for their choices. There used to be a terrific website representing the voice of conservators out there (AMIEN), of which George H was a participant, but alas, it is silent now. Those folks have the future in mind while they are examining the past and I trust their insights more then those of product producers. They see the long term consequences. Otherwise, we are stuck doing whatever works for us and hoping that the advice we got from that other well-meaning artist, or that cheeky blog, was sound. Bring back AMIEN.org.

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  6. It took me quite a few years to trust my judgement enough to leave sunken in areas alone. Now I just take it to mean that the paint is dry in those areas and ready for another layer. It's also really cool to watch everything pull together when putting on the final varnish!

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  7. I've been laying down a couch over a detailed gray underpainting on my portraits. The couch is pure linseed oil (as per the method of Alexei Antonov). But even if my gray layer has dried for three weeks, when I wipe that linseed oil couch to leave the barest minimum before painting, I end up removing some of my gray paint layer! I really can't wait two months for the underpainting to be dead dry before I put on the linseed oil. So, if I use Oleogel, do I need to wipe it off too before I start painting? It would be so much better if I didn't have to wipe the couch and mess up my previous layer. Would sure appreciate some sound advice on this.

    Larry

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