Tad Spurgeon oil paintings
Numenist, anachronist, maroon.


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A weekly look at process and work in progress.

august 23

      First quarter of the moon, the heat finally beginning to let go a little bit here, a great old fashioned summer day yesterday. Had a few really stopped days this week, followed by a few good ones. Never sure what this is about, but part of the August factor, just have to go with it. Stopping always provides an opportunity to get more perspective, more of an overview, and this can really help in terms of seeing what wants to happen next. Feels like I've never known more, or less, about what to do next. Like, it could all go anywhere. This usually means that a new pattern is forming, but this can't be rushed, it arrives when it arrives. This week showed me that, even though starting new work always sort of opens up Pandora's Box, this is fine in moderation. After a certain point there's no choice, the older work can't be resurrected to the level required by the present. Don't really love the tension involved in this, the endless itch, would like more resolution, but have learned from both new and indirect work, so maybe resolution would be boring. This aspect of process is beyond words anyway, what wants to happen happens, and the process accrues more information. I may want to get there quicker, but if the river didn't meander, it wouldn't be a river. Cooler days are coming, it will get easier to work again. Just as August is always a challenge, September always feels like getting out of jail.


      Went in town on some recreational errands yesterday, took a walk over the Ben Franklin Bridge, a place with lots of space and light, and a lot going on all at once. I'm not the hugest fan of heights, or of bridges that shake with the heavier traffic, but it was better this time.


      I took a lot of photographs as a kid in Philadelphia, this is one type of material that interested me, still plenty of it around. Not sure what type of material is there for paintings yet, but keep looking.


      An image I'd worked on off and on for years, was never quite satisfied with it, decided to let it go and start a new one with a different composition. Like this much better. Am approaching it slowly, I think my enthusiasm for the image created a situation where I was always overpainting it, or overshooting it. There's always a lot to learn in something simple and close like this, no place to hide yet it has to get beyond rendition. Two layers on it, much more to go. About 7.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      I'd wanted to go back to the figures on the beach, focus more on the figures, do something loose in one layer. Made this with a more saturated medium, but overshot things a little bit, it was kind of a pain to work with, did the small stuff well but not the large stuff. I like the general feeling of the colour, but the complexity of the composition was hard to puzzle out. If it's cropped tighter, less long, the umbrella begins to work better. As it is it works better the umbrella removed. So, an improvement but more to learn about this, might grind this back and rework it thoroughly, might leave this alone for the time being and just do another one. About 6.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Something older of Farr Cross in Vermont that just came to light. It was fun to redo this after a year or so, felt how much I'd learned. More to go, a little too lyrical in the sky, a little more detail in the land. About 8x16 inches, oil on gessoed paper on panel.


      When I got back here last year I did a few local landscapes that turned out well, but these are dependent on both the material, and on simplification. This is layer three on this one, I liked late light and the reference to the older outdoor studies in Rome. It came together a little but there are still some questions, the single red roofline on the upper right is taking over. About 9x15 inches, oil on Arches Huile.

august 16

      Last quarter of the moon, a little cooler, some lovely mornings this week before the furnace kicked in. Plugged away, as stated I do not love August but if you show up long enough, even your own discomfort seems to become more spacious, almost comical. It's always good to question, rather than attempt to justify, my own resistance, but not always easy to do. The resistance sneaks in, full of righteous indignation, before you know it you're yelling about everything, the all-American pastime. But also one that doesn't accomplish anything. New moon on Friday, there have been a few mild ones recently but this one was jet propelled, kind of a chaotic day, a kerfluffle of newness that has yet to settle down. But that's fine, plugging away always leads to a point where there's a larger shift. At the same time, I want these shifts to be organic, natural, so they're always small, have to pay attention. For a long time now I've wondered how the landscape work would become further resolved, but began to see it more clearly this week. It's about balancing a lot of different things, so it makes sense it would have taken a while. I've just got an inkling, but in August, an inkling is a Victorian novel. Also began a somewhat overdue a swipe at the summer's accumulated detritus. Well, I guess there isn't any other kind of swipe. I don't revel in or glorify the messy studio. But it happens. Up to a point, I can understand the coziness of chaos generated by one's own process. But only up to a point, then I have to go after it. So, later in the week, after hunting in vain for several things I had just seen days before, did a round of that, along with starting a batch of new panels. Continued to adjust the medium, small tweaks of the emulsion but they're behaving as expected. Like how it performed in general but need to do more with it to be sure. Well, maybe not "sure", how about less totally uncertain? This is not a place I love, but I visit it often enough and it seems to generate growth. I think this is because, if certainty is the light, doubt is the shadow. Removing doubt may be more comfortable, but it literally removes a dimension from the experience. Not knowing is always the gateway to the next level of knowing. But this not knowing place is not ignorance, or confusion, either. It's a kind of receptivity, like saying, I thought I knew the answer, but now I've realized it was only part of the answer. The frame of reference expands, and even though nothing has changed, everything is different. This type of consideration, or observation, of course, is the basis of the examined life, the process I work with or document in paint. I mention this because I'm running into more people who say, "What's not finished about that?" and I realized this week that the answer is, "I don't know, but I'm in the process of finding out."


      Got involved in making panels this week for the first time in a while. I've been trying to resurrect older images off and on, but some recent beginnings have suggested I'm at the point in the bone pile where letting go would be wiser in many cases. So, did a round of removing canvas from older images. As is often the case, death and rebirth, realized how one of them should have been painted all along. But it needed a certain ratio of panel that I didn't have. So, the process began. I tend to go a little ape when this happens, make a lot, but that's okay. There's a lot of minutiae to doing this, maybe the biggest thing I've learned over the years is to attach a layer of canvas to the front of the panel first so the ultimate surface isn't quite so mechanically flat or perfect. Also, one of the panels I took apart was so old it had been made with acrylic gesso. That's pre-millenium! I used to add a little water and marble dust to this to make it more matte and open, but the process of removal showed that the paint was more firmly bonded to itself than to the ground. Admittedly removal involves some pretty extreme stress to the paint film, but the paint itself, six or seven years of layers, did fine. Something to keep in mind. Also, huge event, got a new staple gun. Years ago my old Arrow became too much for my wrist during these panel bouts, so I went to an electric one, but it really began to be persnickety, I spent more time clearing jams than stapling. Well, looked around on Amazon and it turns out I'm not the only one with this issue! Some pretty funny posts about badly designed staplers. Anyway, had found one by Duo-Fast that everyone loved, but I've got a lot of T-50 staples to use up, so paused. Then ended up at a great hardware store this week, Stanley's on Ridge Avenue, I guess it's East Falls not Manayunk, and looked at what they had. Got a manual one called Surebonder, the design had a good vibe, noticed it was made in India, not China, and that put it over the top. It's been great so far, not hard on the wrist at all compared to the T50 and the way the staples load is really ingenious.


      A place in Vermont I documented a lot, couldn't really paint there because it was actually at a pretty busy intersection, paved road just behind this view. Near the end of the day, an image I'd always liked but been puzzled by, it had gotten too dark, but thought the recent medium could overcome this and it did. Not done, but a layer that felt like a shift in a better direction. An image I'd like to make at a slightly larger scale, say, 12x20 inches, but it's a really good idea to puzzle these out small first. I don't know, larger is certainly easier in terms of the scale of the paint, getting the relevant details. Maybe with a slower beginning like the one below, less paint, it might work now without a study. About 9.5x14.5 inches, oil on Arches Huile on canvas. This will be glued to a panel next.


      New beginning, an image of Farr Cross in Vermont, the old road before the "improved" it, sigh, all dirt, no gravel, making this from before the millenium. Had always liked this but it was from May, so featured the Oz effect. Did two layers, the first was really thin, a good choice for this image, allowing lots of decisions and changes without much paint. Kept going with denser paint but low chroma, like the overall feeling although not sure if the cloudband can rise to quite that extent on the right. So, this could take a few more layers to develop or I could go in with a denser medium and try to complete it. I knew you were going to say that. About 8.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

august 9

      Summer continues to continue. The months have personal moods, August is historically not the most halcyon of times, I'm always a little wary as a result. Pacing the cage, wondering not so much where the lions are, but whether the ecstasy will ever get ahold of me again. A little less relentless this week, into the fourth quarter of the moon, I'm pretty much waning as well, have a number of deferred errands to do in the week to come, may take a few days off, make panels and some new tubes of paint. Got a decent amount done this week all things considered, am slowly becoming more accepting of the process in all its iterations, less focused on the results I always end up chasing over the horizon anyway. This continues to be about paying attention to what is actually happening, rather than what I, in my infinite wisdom, expected. This process is a lot like those Russian dolls, levels that are hidden each inside the other. When I find a new one, it always changes the entire frame of reference. So it's kind of a paradox, because, while the levels are inside one another, each one is bigger than the one before it. But was this structure there all along, or does the search itself generate it? I guess what matters is that there is always more to find, more to learn. Sometimes it's a little daunting, realizing that whatever I know is conditional, not the answer but only part of the answer, but this same situation is also pretty sustaining. Like the summer itself, on it goes.


      Got one sheet of the lead white processed and tubed, used some aged linseed oil I refined, this paint is an interesting combination of dense and mobile, but not at all thick or glutinous or ropey. A lot more to learn here, may grind the next batch with oil that is thicker, this may supply more elasticity. Still, this was very fun to work with, has a lot more potential than I've explored yet even as it is.


      Got re-involved with handmade paint in general this week. This comes and goes, sometimes it drives me crazy, other times it seems crucial. Resurrected a few tubes of earth colours that had gotten too tight, thought about what to make to cross the current system with what I've been doing with the remaining Blockx colours I have. Not sure how much point there is in making something like Pyrol crimson, it's way more expensive from Kremer than Blockx, but maybe worth a try. Do want to try making a tube of blue that I like, this would be unique, I'm always mixing blues, but think I have a formula that might work now. At the same time, it's refreshing to go back to the earth colour palette, not that much has been done with the full potential of these colours recently.


      This one went through a first layer with too much oomph. An image I've done before, tried to muscle through a smaller one. But ultimately ground it back. Put a few layers on it, more backfill than conclusive. But this week brought it forward using lots of different colours of white and more mobile paint overall. For me it's a fine line between paint that is too mobile, and paint whose density is interesting to layer. There was always something I wanted to understand with colour, something to do with the way reflections help unify white objects, I didn't want it to get too fussy or relentless, but wanted a foot in that particular technical door. Some smaller things to adjust, but in a better place than the original could conceive of. 11x14 inc hes, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      This one suffered from a good first layer, I really thought it was launched. And perhaps a decade ago it would have proceeded, unimpeded, to a specific destination. But somewhere along the way I became more interested in understanding things than finishing them to plan. I think this was because it was clear that colour had dimensions in it that were firmly out of my grasp, locked away in the dusty Old Master vault. Well, I don't really want that Mancini type of command, it gets a little much, relentless subtlety is as wearying as relentless anything, but I wanted at least some aspects of it available. A little blue now, a little subfusc, I've been holding off on all the fallen petals, there are lots of these but they're kind of chaotic to paint around. Think they're necessary, though, without them it's a little too pure.


      Another version of a favorite early peony, an absorbent ground, got two layers on it in thin handmade paint. No blue in this, I always like the look of this palette after using blue for a while. This way of beginning is pretty crude, the paint is firmly attached but am beginning to question the way the way the surface impedes movement. This may be because I'm more able to rescue things at this point than a decade ago. Still, the slow beginning often leads to a more conclusive finish. We'll see, I may need to break the table line on the left as well. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      One thing I tried with the gessoed panels was putting a lean putty and lead white mixture over them with a broad knife. This both sealed the surface and eliminated most of the linen's texture, perhaps went a little too far. Anyway, this panel had been aging for a while so I ground it back with oil and sandpaper, wiped it well and then with alcohol. Got two thin layers on it, one slightly dark, the next with white, this approach would have seemed too facile for me before, but know I know that most of these images are going to take a long time anyway, might as well start them further along, with less paint, more rendering. 12x16 inches, oil on linen over panel.


      Got two thin layers on this image of the local cat, a genuinely wise and kindhearted being. Handmade paint on a handmade panel, first time I'd used my own ivory black, made it with aged hand-refined linseed oil, it was strong compared to the Blockx I've been using. I think this might have been part of the older system using earth colours, aged oil accepted more pigment, making the colours stronger. I liked how the homemade lead white performed, although its combination of density and movement took a little getting used to. More to go, I'm a little more confident with this one so it's blockier, but the expression is of course the important part, centered in the eyes. The eyes with their sense that, even though I'm undeniably human, there just might be hope. Original image below, four layers, both are 6x12 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

august 6

      Continuing with the handmade lead white experiment. Began to grind the damp pigment in three year old hand-refined linseed oil two days ago, but it was too wet, decided to stop and let it dry out overnight. So, this part is a little tricky, the pigment is coarse and holds more water than it appears to hold. Still, the damp approach is logical for someone who made the pigment themselves. It dried out overnight, was then able to finish it the next day with a little more oil, the old oil really absorbs a lot more pigment. Still, there's some water in this paint. Left it a little coarse, it has a very nice combination of density and movement, is not glutinous. I'm not sure how much of the "nacreous plumbonacrite" effect I'm going to get, but this is not like any lead white I've made or purchased. We'll see what happens, plenty of variables still. Also, left it a little loose since it's only going to get thicker as it ages in the tube, but it has plenty of body. Am thinking about the painting to make with this, I need to make some black, then have all the colours handmade in hand-refined oil, on a handmade ground, on a handmade panel. Just for fun, as an experiment. I can stop whenever I want to.

august 4

      The box contained five 1/16 sheets in coils, I decided to just process one of them, and learn about how to do it. The change from metal to carbonate was about 75 percent at four weeks, maybe a little more. It looks like it makes about two large tubes of paint per sheet, maybe three. Photo shows the first wash water, quite blue from the lead acetate, and the second wash water, this brought over the finer pigment as well, which is now settling out. I put the pigment itself in paper towels to take up most of the water, these are of course now toxic as well. I'll grind the damp pigment into paint today with four year old linseed oil and see what happens. This is immature pigment that theoretically has more of the famous nacreous plumbonacrite in it, and has not been thoroughly washed. The wash water I'll let evaporate, although it might be interesting to try the Liebig drying oil procedure with the first wash water, then fill these containers with more wash water or stuff that goes to the toxic waste facility. So, the focal issue here is not making the pigment, but processing it safely both in personal and environmental terms. I wear a serious mask, gloves, had the pigment wet all the time, but at this point, must admit I don't exactly love this. On the other hand, have wanted to understand the original pigment and process better for a long time. There is a lot in print about it, much of which, as always, is boilerplate. Which brings us to one of my favorite quotes. You probably know part of it, but the whole thing is not that long, and far more penetrating. Perhaps that's why it had to be shortened!

      "With regard to authority, it is the greatest weakness to attribute infinite credit to particular authors, and refuse his own prerogative to time, the author of all authors, and therefore of all authority. For, truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority. It is not wonderful therefore, if the bonds of antiquity, authority, and unanimity, have so enchained the power of man, that he is unable (as if bewitched) to become familiar with things themselves." -- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum 1620.

august 2

      Week of the full moon, a lot happened in some ways. A sick friend became much less sick as the result of a new liver, pretty much a miracle, hearing an MD talk about intuition was another one. We also had to go to New York for the day on a variety of errands, there may be more about this later, huge day but our system for this type of day is getting better. Sort of a quiet week for the work, no triumphal processions, not a lot of swoosh, just plugging away. But would say that the system continues to improve, the paint will do things it could not do a few months ago in terms of remaining both bright and saturated in layers. Lots of heat, a few searing days where it was still an inferno after dark, the cat inert for hours at a time. Have had a few instances of information retreat, especially around numbers, people at the co-op are generally agreeing that their brain is not working that well anymore. This was always my issue with summer here growing up, the utter lassitude induced by the humidity. Have been listening off and on to the Deepak-Oprah meditations, she introduces them and he gives the substance. They're free online as they're introduced, the current series is about gratitude and how it transforms things. It's about the best so far, encapsulates a lot, Deepak has gotten good at saying deep things in small words and not that many of them. So, I'm trying to look at things more from this perspective. With regard to people, it's easy to see how a given challenging situation is actually an opportunity to grow. In my case, this tends to mean speaking up, something I was taught not to do early and often. This of course meant that I became very good at what might be called background operations, working around things. And there's no question that this has had merit, creating space in situations designed to eliminate it. But, as a functional alternative to the occasional blow-up I experienced as a kid when the level of unacknowledged emotion became too high, there's a lot to be said for a simple, "You know, this isn't working for me." The other party then has an opportunity to reflect, adjust, or say they don't care. In either case, the situation moves on more clearly towards resolution. But, it's harder to understand the merit of the heat. Pause, reflect, slow down because there's little choice? Look forward to October? Maybe it will help us get our act together in order to reverse it. Anyway, I'm not going to look for trouble in the work during the next few weeks, will just hang on, things always begin to look up in September.


      Here's the white lead experiment, week four. It's beginning to delaminate, but I think the box needs more heat and humidity in general. Still, five sheets of 8x12 lead has made an awful lot of pigment already. I want to harvest some of this now, it is mostly plumbonacrite, or, well, more plumbonacrite than the finished article, and may have an interesting quality as paint. So, turns out it's not hard to make it, but have been strategizing recently about the safest way to handle it. Painters are sometimes sort of casual about white lead, it's not that poisonous, etc. but this is exactly where future issues can get built in.


      Have had some e-mails about the salt-refined organic oil not drying well. What?!? It usually turns out that there is a bargain oil involved. These oils have an "anti-oxidant mix" in them, and this mix includes sunflower oil. As a result, this type of oil will not ever dry well! So, check the label! The cheapest safe oil online in quarts still appears to be Jarrow, 100% flax, no additives.


      Using a hot orange in the shadow position as a counterbalance to the coolness of white is at least as old as Rubens, can't think of anyone earlier offhand. This is made from modern organic pigments that are on the translucent side, not cadmiums. Ended up using this later in the week for shadows, moving things higher chroma in general.


      Did another layer on this peony, it was fine but felt a little tame, wanted more oomph and more closure. This got me thinking about things that might be less tame, which caused this week's trouble. I think, given the weather, should have been happy with anything. But then, that became this week's theme: a new approach to oomph, the trouble it caused, and various ways to resolve it.


      Something older that had become pretty hopeless, ground it back and put a layer on designed to be more mobile. Went too far with the mobility and the saturation, this was pretty difficult to work with at first. As the layer got more paint it began to do some interesting things. Still not done but out of the bleachers, back on the field. About 12x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over panel.


      There were two of these, leftovers, peonies begun from life in 2001. I got the first one earlier this year, so have been working on this one off and on. Adjusted the approach used on the tulips, and this paint worked very well, nice balance of coverage, mobility, saturation without too much density or goop. Not quite done, but the best it has been. About 10x13 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      First one this week using the hotter orange, there are several versions of this image in progress. This one had sagged pretty thoroughly but it always seems that's when the rescue operation can begin in earnest. This was interesting because the chroma came up in general to match the chroma of the shadow convention. Lots of adjustments, but again, closer than it's been, no issues with the system except the paint might use a little more density. This is a tricky trade-off, though, will try to approach this next, and incrementally. About 12x15 inches, oil on gessoed panel. This is the quarter inch Baltic Birch plywood, highly recommended for things at this scale.


      Began one new painting, didn't have much oomph for this either time I worked on it, more that nervous heat energy, but do like where it is going. Wanted to understand the colour of the highlights, this is not, of course, white, but still had a lot more going on than I thought. For a while I've been wanting to reduce the scale of the object in the space, so that its identity is more focal, without it looking isolated, or forlorn. This is beginning to return full circle, to the type of realism I began with long ago in the 1980s. Thought I'd begin the roses brighter, but they may need to become a little softer in chroma: right now, the top half of this works, but not with the bottom half. About 14x 16 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

july 26

      Waxing moon, lots of sun, still very warm but less humid week. Not the most cohesive week, I did a lot of layers on older work, and started a few new things that are pictured below. Still interested in developing a system that facilitates finishing, but this of course is turning into a process of its own. The heat sometimes generates more energy than focus, I find myself not knowing what's going on more often in the summer than the winter. But, when things happen, even if they're a little chaotic, there's always a reason, the process moves along even if I'm not sure where it's headed. It's important to be patient this time of year, especially in August, progress has historically been slow. Maybe it would be more accurate to say, felt slow, since something's always happening, the process is always accruing more information. I can guide this somewhat, but not control it. A fine line, but one thing I can tell right away at this point is whether I'm doing what the process wants.


      People generally know that egg white, turned into glair, was used in early manuscript painting, but it also looks like egg white may have been used in oil painting as well, see the book Rubens Unveiled for more on this. This makes sense, since it was readily available and known to be reliable. If you're curious about this, you can make a lean emulsion with a little egg white and a thicker oil, then use this where you might have used the thicker oil alone in a medium. I sometimes use this approach as a couch on small panels, where oil alone would move too much. It starts out a little hazy, but this clears as it sits. It typically produces more movement, but with more density and discretion, more adhesion, basically as though there were some resin in the paint. Egg yolk of course makes things matte in a hurry, and is for panels except in miniscule amounts. But egg white is fine for canvas too.


      Week three with the white lead experiment. I haven't been able to get this to a particularly warm or humid place, so it's going a little slowly. Still, more texture, more fissures this week, will harvest some next week and see what it's like at this stage ground in aged, hand-refined linseed oil.


      A photo Roland sent of his white lead at week six. He's got this outside I think, enclosed but still exposed to more heat and humidity. This is older lead, you can see that the metal was laminated, and is breaking up nicely along those lines. Don't think mine is going to do that, I may puncture it at intervals next time to get more exposure. The original plates were cast, giving a metal with a larger crystalline structure, therefore a pigment with a larger crystalline structure. Then there's horse manure producing formic acid, which speeds the process, I did add a little formic acid to mine. I'm not sure how much of this matters, at least it's not made from lead acetate in China the way all commercial pigment now is. But it's interesting to think about the differences between then and now in terms of the "accurate reconstruction." This is not really possible of course, but awareness of it may help a contemporary process have more dimension. I'm just looking for paint with character. Another thing that Roland pointed out via some research by Dr. Carlyle is that newer pigment is a slightly different composition than older pigment on the coil. So, I'm looking forward to seeing how this behaves as paint, maybe made with some four year old linseed oil.


      Did three layers on this small peony using a slightly different approach to the medium, with the idea of developing a system that would finish things more expeditiously. This involves setting up the paint to be more mobile, but not too mobile, thick, but not too thick, saturated, but not too saturated, etc. The system worked pretty well, so in theory this could be finished at this point, but the system is new, and each of the layers was slightly off in terms of how I had set it up, so there's more to go. Not an issue, if something ever worked out as planned the shock might well overwhelm the satisfaction. I'll consider the system and try it again with some tweaks. 11x14 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Another new start, wanted to make the roses image from last week again, try to get it in one layer, ask what that approach would entail. Slightly absorbent glue gesso, this is more work to start with, you can see from the brushstrokes that it really holds the paint, but very nice for getting more layers or development going in one sitting. I just anchor the major forms with this type of thing, nothing too detailed. The difference here was beginning with more lyrical colour, less value in monochrome, which I think helped.


      After day one it was a little dotty, too much discretion in the paint, the broken colour of the foreground and background competing too much with the flowers. Still, I wanted some of that. Cleaned it up a little the second day, there are some ways in which this will inform the first one pictured last week, also some things from the first one I will incorporate here, it feels little too isolated, a little too barren. Part of the fun of starting a new one, it's never the same. More to do here, but I'll go back to the first one next. About 13.5x15 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

july 19

      A little bit of a break in the heat this week, a few cooler mornings and evenings, now it's returned but it doesn't look like it's going to get worse here, just remain pretty consistent, I'm guessing the first high in the 70s will probably be later in September. Week of the new moon, tried some new things, with the usual checquered results. But made some headway in the end, came up with a new basic putty that I really like, details below. The goal is to keep working towards finishing things, but some of the solutions have gotten a little complicated. It's always good to keep things as simple as possible, so I'm excited about this new development.


      Long ago, the first paint I made and tubed was a methyl cellulose-cera colla paint, derived from some comments in Wehlte. This was like gouache with more body, easy to make bright small studies with. I'd always wanted to revisit the relatively ancient cera colla again in the context of the putty medium. So, made some again, this involves saponifying beeswax with ammonia or ammonium carbonate in water in a waterbath. I tried a small amount of it in a putty, and, like most of the water-soluble binders, it was very interesting, made things quite elastic. But, over a few days, this putty darkened from near white to the colour you see here in the bottom sample. Urgh. This might be by-products of polymerization, the acid oil reacting with the relatively basic cera colla. This isn't disastrous if it stops here, but it's not preferable either, I try to keep everything as non-yellowing as possible. So I began to think of a way to get a similar effect with other water-soluble ingredients in a putty. I've made a putty with egg white for many years, this is really useful, ended up adding a small amount of plain beeswax to it (in oil), and a small amount of methyl cellulose. I was tempted to use gum arabic for its more bouncy rheology, but gum arabic films have tended to darken a little bit over time. This isn't conclusive, could just be the fact that I wanted to use the paint quite translucently. Anyway, went with a small amount of the more reliable methyl cellulose. So, in the putty, maybe 4 percent egg white, a little more than 1 percent beeswax, and less than half a percent of methyl cellulose paste by volume of the oil. This wasn't quite the same, didn't have the elasticity of the cera colla medium, but it did have a solid working character, and definitely dried on the "up" side, which I've come to value if this is not too much at the expense of saturation. I wanted to mention these percentages, because, just as in cooking, there are ingredients whose character within the ensemble makes a big difference in very small amounts. The cera colla in oil experiment is probably not going to work, but it did bring something new into the system.


      Harvested some of the linseed oil that had been in half full bottles on the windowsill, let it go two months, this is about twice as thick as two weeks of aeration, but still a long way away from stand oil. There's really no nomenclature for oil thickness, except degrees Baume I guess, which would drive people crazy. I still use thin oil in putties for underpainting, but for finishing it needs to be thicker, at four years old this oil is non-yellowing and very stable. The thicker handmade oils aren't leveling the way stand oil is. I like this but if the viscosity becomes too much it can be released with a little bone ash. The handmade system is generally a thicker working system, adding bone ash for increased facility is part of the very early Strasbourg Manuscript.


      Week two of making white lead, it looks a little dry but it's working, first layer is beginning to break up, opening up new metal to go through the reaction. The process could probably use more heat, making more humidity, but it wouldn't really be secure outside and the last thing I'm interested in right now is generating more heat inside. There are a lot of tweaks that could happen with this, might be fun but I'm not sure yet what's going to be helpful. Seven more weeks to go, but only two weeks to some of the fabled nacreous plumbonacrite!


      Something I did with the cera colla enhanced putty. The cera colla of course helps keep the value scale brighter, and it hasn't lowered in tone to any extent. I may finish this with cera colla just to have an example to look at, but will still try to get the same effect a different way. Third layer, keeping it vague but with some detail and deeper colour. This is fun to work on because the first, smaller one became so frustrating. Still a small landscape but I like this scale, intimate but not finicky to work on. Farr Cross, early October, long view to the north. About 12.5x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      There are several of these, this is the oldest, also the one that needed the most help. I realized it might work well with the new basic putty I made this week, and it did. Farr Cross, the old road, first snow, December. About 9.5x19 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.


      Another Vermont view I loved but which has taken some time to develop. Wanted to let it go its own way until the sense of shape and the sense of detail balanced one another naturally. Getting closer, looking forward to the next layer on this one, in life this has a nice quality. 10x17 inches, oil on gessoed panel.


      Layer five or six on this one, it's been kind of a puzzle but is slowly going to a more interesting place. 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed paper, time to mount this on canvas.


      An older floral that has been close a few times,and gone awry just as often. Put a layer on it using the new putty, just concentrated on bringing it back into the land of the living, which meant working on the roses more than anything else. Have some ideas for the next layer, this is always better than not having a clue. About 13x15 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

july 12

      Week of humid, brooding weather that finally broke with a large thunderstorm, cooler mornings the last few days and less sticky, high summer, all the little local gardens are riots of colour, caricatures of enthusiasm, flowers all over the pavement in some places. Waning moon, usually a little less oomph available for the work at this time. So, chugged along, lots of summer energy but not that focused. Want to keep going with the more atmospheric work, but also want to finish the better work in progress, much of which is more realistic. I guess I don't see realism as an issue as long as it's a means rather than didactic. Mounted some work on panels, this seems to require a certain mood, combination of optimism and precision, and did some finishing layers. Am continuing to work with wax because of the way it keeps the colour brighter, also did some work with egg yolk for the first time in a while, another ingredient that keeps layers vivid, although just on panels. Felt enthusiastic about the progress of the white lead project and began a few other new things technically. Actually had to buy some materials, mua-ha-ha, more possibilities! Of course, cue voice of reason, there's always a balance here between wanting to learn more, and what is actually going to be helpful to the process. Of course, there's really no way to know what's helpful until it's been experienced for some time. I'll sometimes think, Wait, what about... and go back to something older with a new approach. So, the process goes around in circles, but I guess it's more of a spiral, renewing itself through a combination of the new with the old. This is similar to the combination of thesis and antithesis producing a synthesis. It's unfortunate that this word has come to be associated with things that are substitutes, because its original meaning focuses on the creative reconciliation of opposites in an approach that is not a compromise, but in fact new. The permutations of this are endless, but necessarily happen one at a time. This can relate to anything in the process, from the composition of the medium to the frame of reference for the images themselves.


      Day five of the white lead project, warm overall cast to the photo from the floor. The pattern of blisters on the metal will break open next, revealing new metal to be changed. There's something different near the bottom of the sheet, just above the acetic acid, more fluffy aggregations of crystals.


      If there's one thing I'd love to fix in terms of misinformation, it's about the colour of the oil. The original colour of linseed oil is fugitive: it has nothing to do with the final colour. Linseed oil tends to dry without yellowing based on a combination of a couple factors: it needs to be cold-pressed, it needs to be refined, it helps further if it is aged in the light. An oil that is bleached is done so with bleaching clay, this is not a bad process, but if the bleaching is done to an unrefined oil, the oil is probably going to darken significantly over time regardless of its original colour. So, here's a photo of some oil I refined in January 2013 in Vermont using snow. This is a great process if you happen to have snow. This is oil from the same batch. As you can see, two of them are clear, and two of them are still yellow. But there is no difference in the way they were processed! So, if you are interested in the quality of the oil, concentrate on cold-pressed and refined. If you want to refined the oil yourself, start with cold-pressed and unrefined. The other thing I want to say is that spike lavender is not, repeat NOT, NOT, NOT, non-toxic. The people who are marketing it this way are telling a dangerous half truth that could have significant consequences for your health.


      Another layer on this one from Ocracoke, a little better overall but not much. I got too careful because I liked the sky and didn't quite know how to get the dunes into the same key. This is a function of the medium, this has enough information, need to put a layer on it with much more oomph. About 12x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second layer on this one from Farr Cross, a long time ago. Simplified it in a relatively lean putty, maybe too much sky but that's easy to fix. Will move to more saturated paint next. About 13x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.



Smaller version of the above image, this is interesting to keep going with now and then. Close to done but this is when it's most interesting to keep going. About 8x11.75 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas on panel.


      Same spot, about a decade later, dry spell in early September. A little more saturated, also almost done, therefore fun to play with. About 8x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas on panel.


      Image from the Garfagnana above Lucca, study for a larger one that is actually better at this point. Want to see if I can get articulation in all the values, close to done but it's been close before. About 9x12.75 inches, oil on Arches Huile over panel.


      The therapy image from the Mugello, something from 2011 that came out well in the first layer, tremendously articulated surface I really liked when it was new. But it ended up a little subfusc over time, a function of the paint being on the lean side, with a lower chroma palette, everything cut with chalk, etc. It's tricky to decide if you're going to use a rich medium and try to finish it, or a leaner one to set it up for layers. Somewhat nacreous look from a thin putty couch, not done but on its way somewhere new. 8x13 inches, oil on gessoed paper over canvas on panel.


      One thing I swore I'd never get involved in is pet portraiture, much less memorial pet portraiture, but when your old friends ask you, it's hard to say no. This dog was a semi-reformed biter who went back to his old ways and had to be put down, a situation I felt a lot of sympathy with, many days I'd just love to take a chunk out of someone. So, this was interesting to start, then was damaged in the move, and I just got back to it this week after a nudge from Vermont. This began with some egg yolk in the paint, and I continued that way, using a mixture of egg yolk and oil that had been in the fridge for several months. So, basically a mayonnaise, this works to preserve an egg yolk, the thicker the oil, the better in terms of shelf life. Balanced the egg part out with a little beeswax and damar in oil. Don't have much experience with this combination but this medium was close to right, just a little too tight for the kind of fusion needed in transitions with something like this: a function of the egg yolk, not anything else, another testimony to the power of egg yolk as an ingredient. Mostly just did corrections, more of this to come, the nose is a little too far to the right still, etc. Would love to finish this in the next layer but have a feeling it will simply go half way to the wall again. This is okay, a different situation offering a lot to learn. 14.5x16 inches, oil on gessoed linen over panel.

july 8

      Finally got everything together to begin the white lead process detailed in this video by Attila Gazo of Master Pigments. Following Roland's advice, I pounded the sheets of lead on both sides with a hammer to open up the industrially smushed surface, also scored it with the claw of the hammer. It would be very easy to perforate with an awl too, maybe next time. Photo here of the process after about 12 hours. Only 2148 hours to go!

july 5

      Full moon last Tuesday, relatively mild week here compared to Europe. Summer only gathering force, the heat seems to make things more intense, even a little desperate, did the best I could but a natural 65F remains the ideal temperature to work in. At the halfway point of the year, am not done yet but could not have made these paintings six months ago. Turned the corner with a few images as well, and started a few more at twenty or so inches across. Still need to be patient, moderate, it will only be reliably cooler here in about three months. It is harder to be even moderately enlightened in the heat, the various daily challenges lose their redeeming humor. At the same time, am sort of getting used to it, letting less be enough. Will being, not doing, ever be my first joy? Haha, probably not with painting around. Saw Inside Out, a complex movie with good intentions and some interesting places but too much of the Harry Potter style of manipulation for me. There was no need. Had a great dinner downtown last night with friends at a reasonably fancy Cuban restaurant, solidly homey but inventive menu including pineapple guacamole with plaintain chips and yucca fries with cilantro-caper aioli, yikes, very well done for a larger place.


      Roland sent me some very interesting research this week about the action of acetic acid on lead metal in the presence of lots of carbon dioxide. The research found that several different compounds are formed, all of which are generally called "lead white," but all of which have slightly different compositions and behaviors. So, if the pigment were made commercially, it was made up of the end compound, a variable mix of mostly carbonate and hydroxide, but if the pigment were made by the painter, it could be harvested at various stages, giving access to pigments with different behaviors. This is an extreme close-up Roland made of crystals of initial litharge (lead oxide) being transformed into another intermediate stage, plumbonacrite Pb5O(CO3)3(OH)2. Roland feels plumbonacrite may be important for making a white that is mobile and nacreous. I have almost all my materials together to do my own version of this experiment, will get that underway this week. This is the video Attila Gazo put up about making lead white.


      Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out if something is helpful or not. The idea here was to see if there might be a non-toxic way of making an oil dry more quickly without using a metallic salt in solvent. Here's a sample of hand-refined linseed oil that I added a little zirconium silicate to, the pottery material called Zircopax. I wanted to see if zirconium would help the drying rate and couldn't get zirconium carbonate, this must be in some way dangerous. In theory, zirconium silicate wouldn't do much to the oil, but I'm not sure. This took quite a long time to clear, this is not recommended with commercial oils as these can take even longer, but has also become much thicker than it should be in a bottle this full. On the other hand, the cork is not the best way to seal something from oxygen. I want to try this again, thicker oil is getting more and more important to the process.


      Got two more layers on this image from Ocracoke, the unspoiled island tip of the Outer Banks. Better in life than here, pretty happy with where the sky is, just need to get the bottom half playing in the same key. There's lots of detail in the dunes, not sure how much of it is necessary, just need some reflected light and more sense of dimension. About 12x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      My recurring therapy image from the Mugello. This is one that had a really strong first and second layer, but still didn't quite feel done, a little too warm, a little too drab. Used a relatively dense paint this time, wanted to get at that feeling of light cascading and reflecting everywhere. This took a good photo, light coming from the right as it was that morning, but in life it's a little cool and bright. Although this is exactly what tends to be diminished in oil paintings over time I'm not sure this will move much given how this layer was made. About 13x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper mounted on canvas. I'll eventually put this on a panel before framing it, the paper straight on the panel looks a little mechanical, the canvas interlayer makes it softer.


      Started this image from Farr Cross in Vermont at the larger scale, a place I loved and have lots of nice images of from over the years, but which has really been difficult to resolve in paint. This is something I tried but never got at the smaller scale, so was pretty careful, just blocked in the major shapes in thinly. We'll see where this goes. About 12.5x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Another start from an older image from Farr Cross. An evening I painted this scene and took photos of it, so there's sort of two sets of images. Removed the treelet on the left from the last version, decided to put it into this one but it seems intrusive, makes the field too focal, may have to leave. Not the most inspired beginning but it's all there, all that's needed at this point. About 13x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.

june 28

      Waxing moon, stormy week including rain, downed trees, and blessed coolness the last few days. Plugged away but felt antsy, then got involved with something new that was interesting but also, well, new, lots of questions about how to develop it still. In larger terms am still fighting the battle of process vs. product, have made progress so far this year, but things are slower now with the heat. There's more to go, but "trying" to get there just doesn't work. This is all stuff I read about long ago, not aiming, etc., but it's different when you're in it to this degree, especially when the project feels so close to completion. Still, it keeps on changing, which is great fun, and I'd rather have the next step than improve the previous one.


      Recently put about two dozen eight ounce bottles half full of oil on the windows to thicken, an experiment in sun oil under more control. It's been a month, the oil is losing colour but is still pretty thin. Maybe by the end of the summer it will be moderately thick, that's all I need, then I'll fill the bottles and start the leftover ones again. Anyway, the bottles had small necks so poured the oil in from this Pyrex measuring cup. Of course forget about cleaning it, and a reasonable amount of oil accumulated at the bottom. This is from August, 2011, so almost four years old. I was happy that, at this amount, and in a relatively dark and humid situation, it still didn't darken very much.


      Attila Gazo of Master Pigments sent me a link last week to a very well-done video he put up about making your own Flake white. As you probably know, white lead is basically banned in Europe now and the white lead that exists is from China. Commercially, it's also a different pigment now chemically, mostly neutral lead carbonate instead of the complex mixture of lead carbonate, lead hydroxide, and a few other things that makes up traditional stack process lead white. So, I've been talking about Attila's process with my friend Roland, and Roland sent me this picture of a test he has started. Roland was a little concerned about the procedure generating enough carbon dioxide, but it clearly does. There are lots of different types of white lead both historically and in terms of how the paint made with it handles, lots of subtleties of manufacture, so this will be interesting to begin to explore in the months to come.


      This week's putty, a few days old, getting tight and sticky. Still working with a little bit of wax, starch gel, and fused damar, trying to get it to be firmer in the warmer studio, but otherwise like the look of the surface: saturated but not too shiny, fine overall impasto, sort of a brocaded look.


      For many years I worked with a road in Vermont that had no houses, just a road through farmland, this is in Addison County near the lake. Late summer rain, third layer, looking fior for a certain quality of light and air. I got very beat up by the first small study of this, which thank goodness has disappeared somewhere and can't be referred to. Nothing too elegant yet, but am happy to be this far with a larger one. A little literal, and have a feeling this will take a while to change, but the foundation is there. About 15x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      First beach, layer five, this one started out kind of literal and seems to want to stay that way. Put the figures in, they were way off on the dark sand by the water, but they were too small, too focal, so took them out. Lots of fine colour shifts in the middle, haven't quite gotten this to click yet. A little subfusc here compared to life, some less than suave areas overall, but in the ballpark, feels like this doesn't need change just more paint. About 12.5x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Second beach study, this one began less literally and is continuing that way. The tidal finger in the foreground was too long and focal, I was going to remove it but then stopped with it smaller and chunkier. The sky in this is pretty hopeless, deep horizontal banding, so have to make up a lot there. Like the general feeling of this, and where the alternations have gone so far, but it may take a few more layers to achieve the effect of effortlessness. About 12x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      The scale of the figures in the painting above seemed a little small, so I tried one with a sprinkling of larger people looking for shells on the point. This was a group that really appealed to me, humanity trudging forward, but they were pretty hazy, tried to make them brighter. This was interesting but also sort of frustrating, seemed a little too literal. It would be fun to change this with a goopy layer, but decided to move on for now.


      Re-did the same image with the idea of making it more atmospheric. This pretty much always makes me feel better, it's just a question of how it happens in a given image. Started out with a red chalk drawing on a pretty grippy glue gesso ground, then sketched in the figures lightly, then put a veil of the blue-gray in putty over the whole thing with a knife. This worked because the ground was grippy and the paint was sticky, the figures where literally below the broad blue-gray layer. Cropped the beach on the right out of the photo here, I liked how this one turned out better, more paint, more mystery, but it also brought up some issues about the people themselves. For example, it might be better without the guy in the hat with the teal knapsack, or maybe there's more space between him and the boy, or maybe the gruops all have more space between them. We'll see, juggling like this gets complicated unless you just see a solution clearly. I'll give this idea a rest then do a third one. These were both quite small, about fifteen inches across, having the figures a little bigger might help now that I have a clue about how to execute them.




      Beginning of an image from Ocracoke. Did the first one of these in one layer a few weeks ago but it was a little much. Needed to do some cloudscaping in this as well, so started it out with plain paint thinned with chalk putty. The ground was pretty grippy, glue gesso with some fine sand in it, had to put a lot of paint on to fill it and then wiped about half of it out. Hopefully will be dry tomorrow. About 11.5x20.5 inches, oil on gessoed paper, nice heavy stuff from Twinrocker.

june 21

      Warm week overall, sort of an endless loop of moody, thunderstormy weather. New moon, it definitely wanted something new but wasn't really saying what. We went to the beach for an overnight, back to a place I used to visit as a kid, still sort of quiet and family-oriented area. The beach is such a strange amalgam of human goofiness and natural elegance, always good to experience the spaciousness and light, the mystery in the evening. The stormy weather produced some very different images, began to get to know them this week.




      First new beach image, this was the victim of a medium test that was too literal. I kept going with it, four quick layers on four days, but it's still too literal. Still, learned a lot about where the colours were and weren't. Stormy day, lots of sun at this point but also lots of haze. This is very interesting but requires some pretty pinpoint colour mixing, just beginning to get my foot in the door. There are some images of this spot with a nice extended family group of shellers, wasn't sure whether to put them in and at what scale, but now I think so, we'll see, they may be too small down by the water. Anyway, this is going to change. About 12x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Decided to try a variation of the approach used for the small tree study last week as an underpainting. Used a different type of ground, it wasn't absorbent but the paint stuck very firmly to this for some reason. This made it hard to get anything too specific but also made things much more broken.


      Then got a layer of colour on it, a reasonable number of issues still, some of them pretty large. But the approach is an improvement over the first concept, the gestural figures may need to be bigger in the future, although a smaller scale of mark overall may help this too. I like the broken look better, need to figure out how much to simplify, how much to put in, and how to keep it bright and fresh as the layers proceed. So, something pretty new in a way, a lot to learn about how this wants to develop. About 12x21 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Layer three, Sunday afternoon. Lost the larger figure, drat, but it became too focal. I'd like to keep the tidal finger in the foreground too, but, in terms of the composition leading into the figures, it would probably be simpler to let it go. Less specific, more atmospheric, emphasis on memory as opposed to analysis.

june 14

      Very hot week, leading into what looks like a very hot month. Unseasonably hot? Who can say anymore! People here, myself included, are beginning to get a little fried mentally, there's a lot of unfocused physical energy but the brain just doesn't keep as many balls in the air in the heat. I had a decent week overall, especially for the end of the moon. Did get the Ocracoke painting made on Monday, very close but not done, still, a breakthrough in some ways. Always hard to know what to do when this type of thing happens. I get excited, tend to want to just make another one, a better one, but that doesn't work. So, some midweek doldrums, the dark side, more typical of the waning moon. But I'm getting better at not going into the red zone, there's just no point. The paint is working in a fine line between semi-additive and too slidey, depending on the temperature in the studio. The AC is two rooms away, so the studio is not cool. This may mean a shift to a different approach, since it's only going to get cool again here in October. Maybe a fan would equalize things more. Not sure quite what to do, but that's okay, no point in pushing in the heat, I only get frazzled and ornery. So, more patience in the short run, oh boy! But overall, feel close to a next step both in terms of the paint and completing things with it.


      I don't like having solvent around at all, any solvent, and did a little work with fused damar this week. Tried this years ago but it made things too limpid and mobile, too long an open time. Melted more damar into thicker walnut sun oil this time, it melts at a little above the boiling point of water. This is still mobile but at least it isn't thin. Inconclusive, between the wax in the medium and this stuff in a warm studio I ended up with a couple days of pretty slippery paint. So, something solvent-free to use in very small amounts, especially on stretched canvas. Keep in mind that this supplies no tack, ever, but does add brightness to the paint film.


      I went to making my own cerulean because the pigment from Kremer was so nice, also because cerulean is typically cut a reasonable amount as a way to keep it in suspension. Well, this is probably not the case with Blockx, for example, but for that price you can get a lot of cerulean from Kremer. Anyway, as a cobalt pigment cerulean dries fast, and this tube, after six months or so, was becoming too tight to work with. After a couple weeks of fiddling with it, it seemed surgery was the only option. So, made the incision and pried it all out, added some poppy oil to try to calm it down, and retubed it.


      Left off last week knowing that I wanted to make this image from the beach on Ocracoke Island next. It's odd how sometimes an image becomes focal, has to happen, what's that about? Waning moon, iffy time to start something new, but it really wanted to happen, always a sign. Did this with a variation of the medium pictured last week, it was warmer, that definitely had an effect, the paint was a little more mobile and slidey, but a little, in this context, can be a lot. This system ended up being pretty good for sort of advanced blocking in, but it wasn't additive enough to complete this the way I wanted to. On the one hand, I like the feeling of this, and it is unquestionably the most Beautiful paint I've ever made. But on the other, it just doesn't seem done, and, stylistically, Beauty with a capitol B makes me kind of nervous. When I read aesthetic theory and they start talking about Beauty, it feels like the oxygen is leaving the room, I'm much more comfortable with the Collingwood's approach in The Principles of Art which is more about the living role of art in culture. But let us return to the paint. I did what it wanted to do, and it was interesting, supplying, in larger terms, some high class problems. Mundanely, a lot of things to adjust and clean up but I'm happy to get this far in a first layer. The scale is less finicky, that is definitely a factor. This happened over a red chalk drawing on a somewhat coarse ground, lost some time there, between the drawing and the ground, things were pretty broad. I used to do very thin underpaintings with solvent on an absorbent ground, I liked these but not the solvent; now, of course, solvent is out of the question. But I wonder if an underpainting in watercolour might be a good next step. Nothing tight or fancy, just take the sense of the forms a little further so the initial oil paint can be more certain. Then there's my ongoing issue with damar, whose presence is more obvious in this version of the medium than the one below. Same amount, just a change in the ambient temperature. That's okay too, it may be best to trade specificity for atmosphere at this stage. I'll wait a while, until it seems obvious what to do next. The second layer is often a little puzzling, but it will be fun to see what happens with this one. Decent photo, but a little more oomph or vivacity in life, as usual. About 10.5x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      The medium for the painting above was a little do or die, and didn't have a second open day in the heat. Adjusted it to be leaner for this image from Vermont, wanted to see if I could get something similar, but with more chances. But it was too warm, things slid around both times I worked on it. It doesn't seem bad considering that, just more to go. It's easy for me to get hypnotized by the detail, especially with this place where I worked for sixteen years, so I'm trying to keep this more essential, get at the soft light of a semi-rainy summer afternoon. Second layer here, colour is a little nutty in the photo, want to resolve the transition in the sky, it needs to read as one piece not two. Farr Cross, about 14x20 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      I always liked the shape of this tree, an old image from Farr Cross that I've wanted to work with it for some time. It seemed best to explore it first in monochrome, I wasn't sure whether to do a larger drawing or a smaller painting, chose the smaller painting of course. Made some burnt green earth for this, an old favorite but brighter than I remembered it, a little black as well would have been good. Felt kind of torn at first between the underpainting concept and something more essential or Asian. This became a little bit literal, a function of a few things, nothing to write home about in the art department but I liked the way the system was both additive and subtractive. About 10.5x14 inches, oil on gessoed paper.


      Detail here of the tree trunk, about twice life size, smush supplied by a little starch, fineness by wax, a nice combination in general but I'll leave the wax out in the future for the time being. Although it makes the paint work more finely, it also melts somewhat at the current studio temperature.


      Maybe this is a better composition, might start this at a larger scale this week, keep the values lighter overall. Late evening light, nice sky in the reference, the old, really messy Farr Cross, but I'm mostly interested in the great contraposto of the tree, it will be easier to get at this if it's little bigger.

june 11

      Yesterday's information about the discovery of starch in an 18th century Spanish painter's work, Zacharias Gonzalez Velazquez led to a simple question: what is the difference between starch and flour? Here we have some nice unbleached white flour from the Amish in Lancaster County, mixed with two parts water. Starch begins with flour, which is purified, and heated to the temperature of gellification for about half an hour. This temperature is different for different starches: for corn, 62 to 77C, for rice, 61 to 82C, for wheat 64 to 67C. An example of a pure, readily available commercial starch is the cornstarch used to thicken sauces. If this is heated instead to 62 to 77C with 6 to 8 parts water for half an hour, it makes a dense pellucid gel. When starch is referred to in technical art history, i.e., "We found that Rembrandt used starch in his ground," it is this type of starch, something precooked, then dried and ground. Starched clothing was a big deal in 17th century Holland.


      This is the precooked wheat starch from Talas in Brooklyn, an acid-free material used by conservators in conjunction with PVA glue. When first mixed, this is elastic and rubbery, as you can see. It works better if it's made an hour or so ahead, or the night before. Starch gel can be kept in the refrigerator, but begins to fall apart in a few days. This phenomenon, called retrogradation, can be fixed by a little hide glue, methyl cellulose, gum arabic, etc. A little methyl cellulose makes starch keep a few weeks, more convenient. Starch is great for making emulsions with oil paint, but if you're working on stretched canvas, not panels, you want to keep the amounts quite small. It's actually very tough and flexible with oil, used with vegetable oil to make biodegradable plastics now. But everything gets more brittle over time, except wax, so if you get into this type of painting, it's best to do it, like egg tempera, on panels. At the same time, oil and water do not mix, so even a small amount of starch makes a medium more mobile and thixotropic.

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