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Friday, March 31, 2006

An Unexpected Spring Snow

It was a bleary, snowy day. In fact, it was the first real snowfall we'd had all season in the mountains of southern New Mexico -- and we'd just crossed the threshold into spring! But even though such a heavy, late snow can be a tad depressing when all you really want to see are daffodils pushing up, I wanted to go out and paint. So I went to my studio to prepare my gear...

...And then I looked out my studio window. The old juniper caught my eye. The new-fallen snow and the glint of the sun, which was just starting to come out, just HAD to be painted! I got to work.

It was easy. This one really painted itself.

"An Unexpected Spring Snow" 8x10, oil/panel, en plein air.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Traditional Gesso

In the ongoing search for a new panel, I tried making my own panels -- 1/8" hardboard from Guerrilla Painters and "traditional gesso" from Gamblin. Traditional gesso is rabbit hide glue, gypsum and titanium dioxide, and Gamblin has added marble dust for texture. The drawback of this product is the rabbit hide glue -- you have to heat the mixture in a double-boiler and apply it hot. As you work with it, you have to periodically re-heat the mixture, otherwise it gets too thick to apply.

A perhaps bigger drawback is that the foundation you apply the gesso to must be rigid. Even the 1/8" hardboard may not be rigid enough to keep the gesso from cracking if the board should flex. When I painted the below painting, even though it was on an 8x10 panel, which shouldn't flex much, I detected cracks. Oddly, I couldn't see the cracks when the panel was dry, but when I applied my initial underpainting, I could see cracks quite clearly.

I sanded the surface lightly with fine steel wool prior to painting. The sanding didn't remove the marble dust texture, which is a good thing.

The solution to these two headaches is, of course, acrylic gesso. You don't have to heat it and it won't crack because the acrylic forms a somewhat flexible film.

Again, as with the Gessobord, this surface is very absorbent. A coat of medium prior to painting would be ideal.

(And still, not a bad painting!)

Gessobord Test

Recently, the fellow who made my oil painting panels went out of business. I've been investigating other painting surfaces to find one similar. My first test was with Gessobord -- basically, it's a Masonite (or similar hardboard) panel with several coats of acrylic gesso on it. The surface is like a fine eggshell. Below is the test painting.

I found the Gessobord more absorbent than I like -- the brush drags. The solution, of course, would be to rub a good coat of medium onto the surface before painting. But I don't use medium, so that would be one more thing to carry out into the field.

Still, it's not a bad painting!