Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Louisiana Brahma in the Shade", Experimenting with oil painting mediums.

I came across this image of a little sketch I painted quite a few years ago.  Unfortunately,
I don’t have quality images of  many of my early paintings.  This one is probably late eighties or early nineties.  I was still doing illustration work and had started dabbling in gallery painting with small works, like miniature shows….mostly with a local gallery in Ct.  The reason I’m posting this is because it was painted with an oil medium that I was experimenting with at the time.  It is a topic that recently came up, and seems to come up in classes and workshops occasionally.  I wish I had more of the images done with this medium to show in this post.

I became aware of the great still life artist, David Leffel, when I saw a one man show of his in New York.  He taught at the Art Students League in New York, and later moved to Taos, New Mexico.  I was doing quite a few small still life paintings back then and was interested in the medium that he used, and described in his wonderful first book, “Oil Painting Secrets from a Master“Maroger medium was formulated by a French curator of the Louvre, Jacques Maroger in the 1930’s, and is a now a commonly used medium by many still life and figure painters.…..many probably have studied with Mr. Leffel, or were influenced by his methods. The medium can be purchased on the internet, or made from scratch by cooking materials on a stove…..not a choice I would choose, or advise one to embrace.  I no longer use it on a regular basis.  I recently gave some old tubes that I had left over to one of my students who was interested in trying it.  It is a nice medium that gives paint a luminosity and duplicates, or mimics the effect of the glowing Rembrandt paintings… the hands of an accomplished artist of course.  I struggled with it with mixed results, having some really satisfying results and like many other mediums, not so good results.

There were a couple of reasons why I moved on to other medium choices…. of which there were many.  One was the lead product used in the mixture.  The medium is a formula of Linseed oil saturated with Litharge (white lead).  That was a concern for me….not being neat and tidy in handling of materials, it concerned me that I might ingest or absorb it somehow.  I don‘t know if another formula has been created that does not use the lead product.  The use of lead has been going by the wayside in many paint products. 

The main reason I quit using it…. especially with still life subjects, was because I was not clever enough to be able to separate myself from the look it produced that was so distinctive.  This might not be discernable by anyone else but me, but I felt it was an issue.  The difference with the use of this medium is that some of the medium is mixed into each color on the palette, so the paint has a consistency of mayonnaise.  I did not seem to have that same difficulty with other subjects, like the “Louisiana Brahma in the Shade”, 9x12 oil on linen.  That sketch looks pretty much like the work I do currently with a completely different type of medium approach.  I use the Ralph Mayer formula, and have used it now for many years.  It is one part stand oil, one part dammar varnish, and five parts odorless mineral spirits.  I have tried, or experimented with every medium I could get my hands on at one time or another.  Artist are always looking for the magic in a tube that will solve all their painting issues….and I think that search and experimentation is a good thing, but there is not such magic….at least, I have yet to find it.  I find myself using less and less medium in my painting as time goes on….it seems.  I read somewhere that the best consistency of paint is as it comes from the tube.  Medium is mostly for thinning darks and to minimize the oxidation effect of darks drying lighter in value.  In my opinion, it is not necessary to use a medium in opaque paint…. unless it is very stiff and needs some kind of vehicle in it to facilitate brushwork.

I did do the master copy above from a Leffel still life years ago.  In my opinion, master copies are easier to paint than original works, because all the decisions have been made for you by the Master artist.  Master copies are a whole other blog subject, but I think what is important in master copies is capturing  the essence of the work….not necessarily  copying stroke for stroke.  That is what I tried to do here.  I got as close as I felt  I needed to learn something from the this artist whose work I admired.  I was not interested in my paintings being poor copies of a style that Mr. Leffel is known for.   One takes what is useful from a master copy learning experience, and moves on to the next learning experience.  I think students should experiment with everything and do a process of elimination in picking materials and manners of working.  It is a never ending learning process and even accomplished, experienced artists should remain open to the possibilities.  One never knows what new thing can be learned tomorrow, next week, or next year.  Use your medium judiciously.

These are my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect any universal ideas on this subject.  Thanks for listening to my ramblings.   

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