Thursday, February 11, 2010

Painting Oil on Paper

"Grand River: Humble Beginnings", 11x14", oil on paper

I have often asked myself why students feel compelled to perform by doing "paintings" instead of practicing which makes so much more sense if one is trying to learn. I've always felt there must be some logical reason but have been hard pressed to figure it out. In my classes I stress the need to practice ninety
(90) percent of the time and perform ten (10) percent. I'm sure I must sound like a broken record sometimes as I try to get this point across.

It occurred to me that cost might be at least part of the problem. The psychological need to justify the cost of paint and canvas, ergo, finished paintings vs. practice sketches. If this is true, then there is a solution. Paint on paper! It's cheap and certainly readily available in every household. Proper preparation on archival paper combined with correct painting procedures studies thus created may stand the test of time for permanency.


Any kind of paper may be used but it must be isolated from the oil paint or the oil will eventually rot the paper. When working this way, I personally use high quality archival watercolor paper but have also been known to create quick color workups and sketches on cardboard, mat board,Foamboard, Bristol board, copy paper, etc. Here's how.

First, for paper that buckles when wet, slightly dampen the backside with a damp sponge (do not saturate) then lay the paper, wet side down, on a Masonite panel that is some larger all the way around then the size of the paper. Tape the edges down with brown packaging tape and make sure all edges are secure. Brush a thin coat of Acrylic gesso onto the paper with a craft brush making sure that all surfaces are completely covered. Gesso may be thinned a little with water for easier application. I use a scumbling movement with a craft brush to make sure the gesso gets into the minute valleys of the paper. Allow to dry. You may recoat with a second thin coat if necessary. The paper is then ready for painting after it has dried and is smooth as a drum.

A word of caution, paper, by its very nature, is an unstable surface, in other words, it expands and contracts as it absorbs moisture from the air and as it dries. For this reason, do not paint heavy layers or your paint will eventually crack. It's best to use no more than 2-3 thin layers of paint. For my initial lay-in of darks I use a small amount of Liquin to thin the paint preserving transparency in my dark passages and encouraging quick drying of the first layer. By personal choice, artists might add color to their gesso to establish an even mid-toned support.

With this easy inexpensive method, many studies may be created for the cost of a single canvas. The low cost of paper should help everyone to practice, practice, practice. How else do we become skilled and masters of our medium?

In "Grand River: Humble Beginnings", above, I was concerned about color relationships and did this study quickly to see how various color relationships would work for a near to sunset painting. This study shows more delineation than is usual for me because it was done between classes and I had time to do a little more before folks arrived. In general, compared to a completed painting, my studies are painted quickly and simply.

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