Saturday, June 30, 2007

Apple Trees & White Paint

As a painter, I spend a certain amount of time waiting for things to happen. Followers of my blog and members of the online art forum, WetCanvas, have heard all about how I waited for my apple trees to bloom. When they finally did bloom -- weeks later than I thought they would -- I launched into a frenzy of painting.

I also wait for paint to dry. The common ironic phrase, "as exciting as watching paint dry," portrays it as a boring task. Lately, however, I've taken great interest in watching paint dry. The reason has to do with the color white. There's a lot of white in apple tree blossoms.

"Apple Tree, Big House & Fog" 8x10, oil, en plein air

I was surprised at how long some of these apple tree paintings took to dry. Some of them, nearly a month done, are still tacky to the touch. The problem has to do with a switch I made in my white paint.

I've been a long-time fan of Permalba white. Soft and easy to squeeze out of its plastic tube, it worked well for me. However, in cold weather, I found that it becomes stringy. Recently, my tastes have changed, and I think its generally-goopy texture also makes it hard to control for detail work. So, about the time I started the apple tree paintings, I decided to mix my own white.

I had in stock a tube of Grumbacher titanium and another of Grumbacher zinc white. I think the titanium, which is nicely opaque, is also too stiff, and the zinc, though buttery, is not opaque enough. I reasoned that by mixing them, I could combine the best of both.

"Apple Tree & Fog" 8x10, oil, en plein air

And therein lies the problem. Both of these whites are slow-drying -- especially the zinc white. I was using a 1:1 mixture of zinc and titanium. Less zinc and more titanium would give me a mixture that dries slightly faster. However, to make it dry as fast as Permalba, which has a length of drying time I'm used to and comfortable with, I'd have to add a drier. Lead white wouud work, as it dries very quickly.

At any rate, I have not found a satisfactory mixture. I don't particularly want to add yet another component to my mix, such as an alkyd resin or a siccative, either of which makes paint dry so fast you don't have time to get bored. Doing so would mean carrying yet another bottle out to the field.

The answer may not lie in finding a satisfactory mix, but in learning to live with the goopiness of Permalba or the slow drying time of my own mix. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I offer my two, still-tacky-to-the-touch apple tree paintings. (As always, you can click on the image for a bigger version.)

(Don't forget about my new book, Through a Painter's Brush: A Year on Campobello Island. See my website for details.)

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