Recently I was asked to clean an oil painting I painted in the mid 1980′s. The owner had it hanging over a fireplace for all of 25 years and it looked like an old master, not in a good way that is, but in a way that spoke of years of accumulated mahogany coloured smoke. It was framed without glass and relied on a layer of varnish for protection. After cleaning it looked great and I had it reframed – a frame is a piece of furniture and fashions change, so I got a more modern styled frame. This time however, I had it framed under glass. I think in this situation, over a fireplace, glass will allow the owner to clean the picture-glass as often as she likes, and not every 25 years by an ‘expert’.
I was always bothered by varnishing an oil painting. Expecting an artist to “wait a year before varnishing” just seems extreme in todays world. Yet the technique is ancient, “so expect delays”. The issues with the modern additives like Liquin or other Alkyd media which speed up drying are at variance with varnishing. If speeding up the drying is such an issue that artist materials suppliers produce a substance for this purpose why do they still recommend we wait a year before varnishing. Since I started using Liquin I have been framing under glass. The painting is ‘oiled out’ with Liquin and no varnish applied. I’m not the only person doing this. Sally Chupick ( http://sallychupick.com) commented on my post about ‘oiling out’ saying this is what she does. My advise is, if you intend to varnish in the traditional way use only traditional materials (no Liquin or the like).
This is the video of the painting of ‘Brambles in the snow’. Before I actually got into the painting I flooded the surface with raw colour and White Spirits. This was allowed to evaporate with the help of a hair dryer. I must caution you about this practise. White Spirits is highly flammable. The vapour is explosive at high concentrations. The motors in electrical hair dryers are constantly ‘sparking’. Get the picture (excuse the pun). Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation.
As I said in the previous post I did a lot of scraping and scratching with a palette knife to achieve a jagged, sharp look, in keeping with the theme of the painting. This got me thinking about texture and the beautiful tactile surfaces of oil paintings. It is sometimes overlooked by artists preoccupied with the image or the message they are trying to convey. A painting should be beautiful regardless of the message. Ugly may be ‘cool’ at the moment (‘hip’ for slightly older folk, ‘all the rage’ for older again), but the painting should’t be ugly. Think of Goya, horrific images from an horrific time, and yet the paintings are beautiful.
This painting has nudged me in a slightly different direction, technique wise, and with my unease about the Alkyd media and varnishing, framing etc. I will do a bit of thinking before the next painting.