Thursday, February 2, 2017

Fly in the Ointment, Gnats in the Painting

"The Watchman" 12x9 oil

But first:  If you haven't taken my workshop survey, please do!  It'll only take a moment and is completely anonymous.  Here is the survey:

Now, on to today's topic.

A few years ago, I took a painting trip to Zion National Park in Utah.  Just after sunrise one cold morning, I headed out to one of my favorite locations along the Virgin River.  I set up and began painting in the shadow of the canyon rim.  It wasn't long, though, before the sun rose over the top and cast its warmth on me.  But I wasn't the only one enjoying the sun.  Clouds of gnats gathered around.  They were so thick I had to stuff paper towels in my ears to keep them out.  But I couldn't keep them out of my paint—or my painting.  Many small souls lost their lives that day.

A reader asked me recently what to do when this happens. After observing a polite moment of silence, you may be tempted to dig the insects (or other debris) out of your painting.  But as meticulous as you might be, you'll likely smear a carefully-placed brush stroke or worse, crush the insect and spread wings and body parts, making your job even tougher.

The best option is to wait until the painting has dried or nearly so.  With the point of a knife, you usually can pick out the deceased cleanly.  In some cases, a light brushing is all it takes.

As for your palette, there's not much you can do.  Gnats and other insects seem to be attracted particularly to my white (Gamblin titanium-zinc, made with safflower oil) and my cadmium yellows (also made with safflower oil.)  I just push them aside and keep going.  When I get home, I clean up the paint as best I can.  Spraying your palette with insect repellant is not advised, as art conservators have not yet evaluated how DEET or citronella affect the stability of oil paint, nor are they likely to do so in the near future.

Note:  Pastel painters will be encouraged to know that their medium of choice is not prone to acting like pheromone-laced flypaper.

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