Friday, October 16, 2009


The Forest

Oil on Canvas 24" x 16"
This painting is available. Contact me.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Status Update

Here's a small update on the status of my forest painting, which I was able to work on a few more days. This picture is taking on a more literal, technical feel than I perhaps envisioned at first. There is always a tug of war going on behind the scenes, between the urge to bombard the viewer with detail, and to hold back and perhaps be more subtle. A highly-detailed technically polished piece can be very impressive and highlight an artist abilities. It can also reduce a pictures ability to express and communicate a specific emotion or idea. I try to make my pictures mysterious, and quite often that is more about what I choose to highlight and leave out of my pictures.

This picture has been a combination of different techniques. In some places I've wiped down lighter areas, in others begun to apply thicker paint. I've oiled out the darkest areas in the shadow of the foreground, and will mostly leave those alone now. The finishing touches on this piece will be to push the contrast higher, especially the trees in the background that are obscured by shadow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Making Sun-Thickened Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is made from the seeds of the flax plant. It is the strongest of the drying oils suitable for oil painting. Oil is extracted from the seeds under extremely high heat and pressure. The oil is then refined using strong alkali chemicals. The process is cheap, has high yields, and is done on a massive scale by a few large producers. Most commercial artist's paints are made from this oil.

The traditional process of making oil was far different. It was cold pressed and purified without harsh chemicals, usually just water. The process was slow and had lower yields, so it was long ago abandoned by industry.

I began making my own linseed oil the older way several years ago. It is not difficult, only time-consuming. I buy only organic cold-pressed flaxseed oil. an edible health supplement. The oil should be unrefined, and not have any additives. Before the oil can be used, it should be filtered of impurities.

I pour the oil into glass jars about an inch high. Distilled water is added to the oil and the contents are shaken so that they are thoroughly mixed.

The closed jars are placed to sit under the sun for several days. Our roof has a nice flat shelf to one side, so I put my oil up there.

The oil and water will eventually separate. Impurities such as mucilage become trapped in the boundary layer between the water and oil. I carefully remove the oil off of the top. I filtered this batch about three times over.

Properly cleansed, the oil is placed out in the sun again. I pour the oil into small bowls, place them in an old box, and cover it with glass. I've put little spacers between the glass and box so that air can circulate inside easily.

The sun will oxidize the oil, so that it becomes thicker and will dry faster. How long this goes on is up to individual preference. A month is typically required during the summer to get a thick oil. Every day I remove the glass and stir the oil, so that no dry film can form on the surface

The finished product is crystal clear, and has been bleached by the sun to a pale, straw-color. I'm still amazed at how simple and effective this process is. Used in a painting medium, the oil will dry in a few days, versus weeks for the typical store bought variety.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

That's Better

Here is the second attempt, a few days into the start. When its finished, this painting will highlight the stream of light through the forest at that magical hour. I have to admit, this piece has been challenging. The magical hour really only lasts an hour, so I have to work quickly, rely on instinct and memory. I've had to revise and move around several elements to improve the composition.

Here's some background on my technique. I usually start the picture with an outline, done in thin washes of earth color. I mark down where I want the trees to go, and the ground level. Then I go in and quickly fill the rest of the picture. At this stage its just a mass of light green for the tree cover in the background.

It's better to fill the canvas completely early on, even if its wrong, than wait until later. Everything is interactive. It's far easier to see mistakes when comparing a full canvas to nature. rather than a blank one.

The picture will grow and develop organically over the days and weeks it is worked on. It will gradually be layered with thicker and thicker paint. Areas that I've deliberately kept soft will be selectively sharpened. The trick is doing this in a way that keeps everything cohesive, yet still interesting.