Impasto techniques

I was in New Orleans recently and noticed that impasto is very prevalent. I’m generally not a fan of impasto but New Orleans artists use it to good effect. With acrylics I think impasto is a little easier because the drying time is less. An acrylic gesso can be applied first, built up almost like sculpture, and then paint on top. Most artists use oil paint on top because, for whatever reason, it’s easier to sell as an oil painting. I’ll stick with acrylics.

The art in New Orleans is often very impressionistic. Some of it a little too much so but most of it I like. Some artists that I really love are:

The colours are striking. Many of the buildings are also brightly coloured so I think that’s why it shows up in the art. I’m going to try to push my technique in the direction of this use of colour if not impasto.

Brush Garden

I use as cheap a brush as I can get away with. Expensive brushes are nice but I tend to leave them out too long. I try to clean them but they are never the same.

I can often find pretty good brushes in house paint stores. There is a Sherwin Williams near me and I got some great and cheap brushes there. They are used for detail work in house painting and they work great for general painting work. I think they would work equally well for oils and acrylics. I’ve seen similar brushes in other home painting and hardware stores. Sometimes the ferrule is a little loose but I don’t care so long as it holds paint.

I tend to use oil painting brushes because they are often stiffer and that works better for me. Maybe because I started years ago with oils and have only recently switched to acrylics. I like Filberts and rounds but use whatever seems right at the time. I have a good collection of old brushes that are often helpful. Fingers can work just as well but not my style.

Here is a picture of my present brush collection. These are only the ones I presently use because I recently went through them and threw out all the really ratty ones. I think the trick is to get paint on the canvas. The way that you get it there doesn’t much matter.

Sketches or Photographs?

I was watching a documentary about Raphael done by the BBC. Overly dramatic but apparently accurate. I was particularly intrigued by the depiction of Raphael sketching The Entombment of Christ many times (some of which have survived) and finally graphing the result to transfer it to the canvas. Way too much time and effort.

Now although I do an occasional sketch it’s easier to take pieces of photographs and move them around in Photoshop until they look about right. I’ve seen some incredible Photoshop work but I find it easier to just start painting. The thought process involved in making everything work together is easier for me when I paint than it is to do it in Photoshop.

I usually work from photographs. Sometimes from the Internet and sometimes from pictures I’ve taken myself. With the digital age it costs nothing to take a photograph. It used to be that every time you clicked the shutter it cost about $1.00. Now it costs nothing so take another picture. Take detail photos for every part of the image. This might mean 200 photos. I take them home and put them together in a Photoshop collage. Then I paint. When I run into an area that needs more detail I refer to one of the detail shots. I have a collection of flower pictures that I refer to if I want to change the flower type or colour in an image.

Size Relationships

Why is it I have trouble determining what should be bigger or smaller in a painting? It’s easy if there is a perspective component; if an object is in front of or behind another object. I’m working on a sleigh with two horses at the moment and the size of the hooves has been a problem. It may be because I’m not used to drawing horses or perhaps these particular horses have big feet. I have enlarged the hooves of these horses three times. Actually they do have big feet, they are draught horses. Not Clydesdales or Percherons but they definitely have big feet. Not that I know much about horses. Just look up draught (or draft) horse breeds on Wikipedia. There are hundreds of them.

I take heart that I’m not the only one to have such problems. Horses drawn by some old English artists have petite feet (and often heads). I think it was a bit of a style back then but it may have come about because of difficulties judging the relative size. Some of these paintings, old masters or not, are beautiful.

This doesn’t seem to be as difficult with portraits. I think it’s because we are so used to looking at people. Apparently monkeys can easily recognize all of their own troop. To me they all look the same. Jane Goodall could apparently recognise all of the chimpanzees that she was observing. Regardless I have difficulty judging the relative sizes of various body parts of various animals. I expect I would improve if I painted a bunch of horses. In the meantime I’ll continue with my old standby: if it looks wrong, change it.

What We Value

I have another site that I built a few years ago and it’s all about Court Swords. I’ve been feeling for a while now that it is connected in some way to this art site. But I couldn’t think why I might feel that way. I now think it’s connected by what we value.

Swords have been valued as a weapon and an equalizer. A small man (or woman) can practice with a sword until they are the equal of anyone. You can make the same argument about a gun but guns are crass in comparison. Swords can be beautiful in their own right but often owners (when they had the money) embellished them with wonderful art. Court swords were carried by nobles in a royal court; they had money and they needed a pretty sword. Many of these aren’t really usable as weapons but they did serve as status symbols. A painting can serve the same function.

If you own a painting by a great artist then you can brag about it to your friends. You need an established expert who can tell everyone that it is great art and, of course you need a great deal of money. A sword would be equivalent to contemporary art; you just need a fair bit of money. The advantage of a sword is that you can take it with you wherever you go. At least you could in the 18th and 19th century. Police now might be a little suspicious. Bragging rights required one to spend as much money as possible on the sword. Depending on how much you had this could include precious stones and all manner of incredible engraving. The sword could be considered male jewellery assuming it wasn’t needed it as a weapon. Court swords usually weren’t much use as a weapon. Aith art you need a house to put it in. A small price to pay given that royal courts are now rather passé. In Vancouver of course you need to be a queen to own a house.

It’s interesting that now for a relatively small amount of money you can own art that you like, put it in your home and brag about it. Technology has changed our values. Interesting cars are much less money now than a few years ago. There are still some very exotic and expensive cars but most of us are not in that league. Art is the same, you can now own good art very inexpensively. You can still pay exorbitant amounts for it but art is in many ways the great equalizer. It’s now possible to own art that in the recent past would have been impossible for most of us.

Where does this urge to apply art to everything come from? It is prevalent in every human society so far. Art was valued for what it represents and perhaps as a communication tool for whatever gods you need to impress to put meat on the table. Maybe there was also a tribal chieftain who needed something to brag about. Now you can own art that means something to you.



You can look at court swords here.


I just read an article in my local paper about an artist who is using a CNC machine to carve his art. I was surprised that my first thought was ‘cheat’.

How is this a cheat? I use tools to paint (brushes). I buy my canvases. I don’t crush and mix my own paint. There is something to be said for using a chisel and hammer on wood but maybe making my own brushes would affect my painting. Vermeer likely used some sort of Camera Lucida so who am I to judge.

It’s interesting how we define ‘art’. During the Renaissance artists would spend years apprenticing and learning the trade. This has likely been the case for most of human history. Perhaps someday we will be able to separate the creative from the tools we use to create. It shouldn’t matter whether we are using a computer, paint, wood or cement, the art is still a creative additive process. It seems to me that in some ways technology is freeing us to create as we wish; it is separating the creative process from the building/making process. Back to the case of the carver. Would it be better if he made his own tools in a blacksmith shop? Or better yet used various sharpened animal bones to do his carving? I don’t think so. The process used to make the material match the idea is immaterial.



Are acrylics archival?

There is certainly lots of information out there on this topic. Acrylic in and of itself isn’t particularly archival but artists’ acrylics are as archival as any other artist’s paint and maybe more-so. The pigments themselves are archival, some more so than others, and there are more of them. Acrylics use all the traditional pigments and newer, sometimes better ones. I think oil painters tend to be traditionalists and stick to traditional pigments. New pigments are just so ‘NEW’. My problem with oils is that the oil used is organic in nature. Usually Linseed, Poppy, Walnut and Safflower and there are probably others. So being organic they can be subject to degradation over time. The one thing that can be said about most of the old masters is that they were great experimenters. There are synthetic oils used in paint usually referred to as enamels but I haven’t seen their use in artist’s oil paint.

The one thing we don’t have is hundreds of years of history with acrylics. The manufacturers have done a great deal of testing that accelerates conditions the paint is exposed to over time. But this isn’t a replacement for actual time, so time will tell. Early acrylics definitely had some problems but they have been worked out over the last 60 years. Oils have had problems too but they were mostly due to how various artists mixed them and these problems were hundreds of years ago. With modern chemistry and techniques I opt for acrylics.

I paint because I enjoy it. I don’t paint for others or with much thought of money or a lasting legacy. Acrylic paints work well and have advantages so I like using them. If some people think they aren’t worth as much, I don’t care, it’s their money so they should buy art that they think is worth it. I’m not painting to eat; if I were I would starve.

I have heard from a few sources that acrylic paint uses less pigment than oil paint. This is silly since many manufacturers make both so why would they hold back on pigment with acrylic. Seems to me they could sell more, command more of the market, charge higher prices and make more money if they used the same or more pigment (most pigments are cheap). This doesn’t affect how long the paint lasts. There is nothing I’m aware of that limits the amount of pigment that is incorporated into acrylic paint. It’s like baking a cake. How much of any one ingredient can you put in?

Here are a couple of links that give more information:


Wet Duck