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artisticly ignorant questions for my ever-patient friends - Terrafactive Armageddon

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August 11th, 2007

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02:19 pm - artisticly ignorant questions for my ever-patient friends
I've been given a combination set of art materials which contains some oil paints and accompanying accouterments (brushes, pallet & pallet knife, and a couple of bottles of what I think are thinner or cleaner or such). I've done some reading and research and have at least ascertained that I will need some sort of prepared canvas on which to apply them (should I ever venture so far). But finally figuring that out leads me to think that a lot of the references make some assumptions that I know more than I do about the process in general.

So I have a couple of questions for my more artistically inclined and knowledgeable friends that I haven't been able to get answered to my satisfaction. First: what is the shelf-life on this kind of thing? I know oil paints don't so much dry as oxidize, so will they have set up in the tubes over the several years I have been carting them about in a box? Second and more importantly - because this is the thing I really haven't been able to get a handle on - how labor intensive is this as a medium? Compared to say, watercolors?

I'm sure that sounds naive, but I've never worked with anything besides watercolors or water-soluable acrylic paints, and as I read along about preparation and work space and so forth wrt oils I'm starting to think they aren't exactly the sort of thing I can conveniently play with for an afternoon and then put away again. If that is the case I want to know before I've gotten myself and the utility room covered in toxic chemicals. I don't want to spend more time on prep and clean up than I do on actually trying to be creative right now, or it will be more discouraging than it's worth in terms of exploration.

You may have guessed correctly that this is part of my working through the book The Artist's Way. Yes, I'm still plugging along - this is about week 7 - and I've learned some interesting things about my assumptions and unexamined ideas about art, at least. So it's been good in that way. I'm probably still not doing it "right" but since she has a section on how stifling perfectionism is, I'm doing my best to ignore those intimations and do what I can do to get what I can out of it. Eh.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2007 12:01 am (UTC)
I may be a hair out of date, but I always preferred oils to other media. You have to spend a bit more money to get your surface, although canvas boards work fine and cheaply for things you're not trying to save for the ages...

What I love about them is the workability. With acrylics and watercolors, you have an extremely short time that you can affect what you've laid down - once it's there, it's there.

With oil you can walk away from it for hours or even days (depending on the thickness of the paint and any additives), come back, grab a brush and rework it - mix a bit more red in, whatever. Not repainting over what you already did, but working with the paint that's there.

If you decide you've blwon it completely, you can grab a palette knife, scrape the canvas, and start over. This is why they find completely different paintings by x-raying old oils - because you can reuse the canvas so easily.

One of the other joys is scale. Working in a large scale pretty much requires a slow-drying medium as well as a sufficiently large surface. Watercolor paper is pretty limited in scale - trying to keep it at the right dampness and getting the paint on appropriately limits your size. Acrylic can be used on a large scale if workability and blendabilty aren't important - fine if you're doing imitation Pollocks or even Mondrians. For your Warhols you can use house paint :-D

Granted, I have definite and obvious prejudices here. Hopefully some others will pipe up and give you their views as well.

I should also note that oils are at the bottom of the heap on the ease of cleanup and safety/toxicity scales. Don't wipe paint on bare skin or point brushes in your mouth *grin*
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2007 10:12 am (UTC)
I envy the oil painters ability to add layers and layers of paint to a work, but I've never been a fan of the fumes. That's why I've always stuck to water colors myself. (At least I did before yarn and fiber took over my life)
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2007 11:55 am (UTC)

All about... paint!

Oil paints in the tube have a variable shelf life based, probably, on whether or not air can get in. If the paint is still flexible, you can use it. If it is still sort-of flexible, you can revive it with mineral spirits (or turpentine -- odorless mineral spirits are generally considered safer, though they are not, actually, in my opinion, odorless) or with linseed oil, or with some other oil-based medium.

You want to use them in a well-ventilated area and keep a cover on the mineral spirits when you are not actually using them. They are not not terribly dangerous, but they are kind of noxious. Betty Bigelow showed me a trick where you can re-use the same mineral spirits for a very long time by letting the paint settle out and pouring it into a fresh container. Then, while it's still wet, you wipe out the other container.

Oil paints are more trouble than watercolors because they will dry on your brush and in the tube and on your clothes and furniture if you aren't careful, and also they require a whole oil-based spectrum of cleaning and thinning media. Watercolors pretty much need... water. They never dry out in the pan, and if they dry out in the tube, you can pretty much break open the tube and pretend they're pan watercolors.

Acrylic paints are both more and less trouble than oil-based, because they don't require special media, but they do dry very fast, which makes them even more likely to ruin your brushes or clothing. This fast-drying property makes them a good choice for an underpainting, or a painting sketch, or something like that. Watercolors dry even faster. You can put oil-based on top of water-based, but not the other way around.

Acrylic paints are useful as a binder for paper and other bits of things for collage work. You can get super-thick acrylic media that is specifically for that purpose.

Acrylic and oil paints are both relatively opaque (depending on how much they are thinned), and water colors are relatively transparent. You can also get a type of water color called gouache, which has pigment mixed in to be more opaque.

Water colors are typically used on heavy paper, where the pigment soaks in a bit -- on anything other than paper you couldn't really see them. Unless the paper is stretched out while still wet (taped down or part of a watercolor block) it will be buckled once it dries. If the paper is not thick enough, it will sort of dissolve once it gets wet.

Acrylic and oil paints can be used on all sorts of things -- canvas, cardboard boxes, wood, paper. To use the traditional cloth canvas, it needs to be treated with gesso first. Gesso is basically a white (or colored) acrylic paint, of a thinner consistency than tube acrylic. Oil paints require the gesso layer on cloth or paper, or they will soak through and damage the underlying material.

As far as end result goes, oils are my favorite. I don't like how quickly acrylics dry, and I don't like how they smell (like ammonia) and I don't like the kind of dull rubbery quality that they have. I like the way watercolors look, but they require a lot of care as the layers are put down -- you have to be very restrained, and if you mess up, really, your only recourse is to break out the acrylics for some real opaque action. Or, maybe Prismacolors.

Hope that helps.

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