Archive for the ‘Discoveries’ Category

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Watercolor Paper Stretcher – Version 3

November 1, 2016

My previous version of a paper stretcher worked well enough, but it was a bit awkward and bulky in the design, so I came up with another modification.

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I replaced those 4 strips of wood clamped to the outside edge with several small strips of wood glued to the back of the frame and flush with the outside edge. Now I don’t have separate strips of wood to carry around or lose.

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In place of the screw clamps, I’m now using 2 inch binder clips attached to these strips of wood. I can fold the wet paper around the edge, and use the clips to hold it place. Now I don’t have to tape the paper to the back when it dries in order to remove the clamps. I can leave the clips on while I’m painting.

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The metal handles on the clips are also removable, which makes the frame sit better on an easel or flat on a table.

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This frame is 16 x 20.” I may build a larger one, and have the four 1/8 strips go along the whole length of the outer edge so I can place the clips wherever I want. I didn’t have enough scrap wood for that this time, but this will work just as well.

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Homemade Casein Fixative

October 27, 2016

I’ve been meaning to make fixative out of casein for some time now, but until recently I haven’t done much art in a medium that need it. Today, I was in a conversation with an online friend about types of fixatives, and this subject came up, so I thought it was a good time to make some and test it out. Conclusion: it works very well.

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If you’re possibly new to the term “fixative” and its use, it’s a coating that is added on top of dry media (charcoal, pastels, graphite, etc.) to keep it from smearing. Most commercial fixatives come in aerosol cans that use an acrylic resin. There’s a commercial brand of casein fixative on the market called SpectraFix. I’ve tried it, and it works okay; although, I’m not too fond of their pump sprayer.

I first heard of using casein as a fixative in a book about Paul Gauguin and his pastels where he learned this technique from Camille Pissarro. I later found a recipe for it in the Reed Kay book “The Painter’s Guide to Studio Methods and Materials.”
1 part by volume casein solution
2 parts by volume grain alcohol
5 parts by volume (distilled) water

The casein solution I used is the same as I always make for a base medium to start from. I describe it here in my most recent batch I made back in April. It has a couple drops of Thymol preservative in an 8 ounce mixture. It’s very easy to make. This batch came from raw milk, but it can also be made from dry casein powder, which I’ve talked about before. The grain alcohol I’m using is Everclear, which is 190 proof. A good clear Vodka could also work.

Mixing it was simple enough, so to apply it I used the Preval sprayer I wrote about a few years ago. I’ve used it occasionally for spraying primers and it works great. I found that the spray comes out with a little more force and volume than most aerosol cans I’ve used. As such, I knew to step back about 2 feet with the art surface upright, and move across the art in a quick sweeping motion; starting the spray off the art and finishing off the art.

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The plastic sheet above has the fixative on it, and the sheet below it has none, so you can see how it turns the plastic very dull. When sprayed on paper, even black paper, I don’t see anything. Held up to the light, I can’t see any reflections. Each coat dries very quickly, under 10 minutes. When soft pastels were sprayed with two coats, I didn’t get any smearing.

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At first, I got worried when I sprayed the grey pastels above. The whole image almost disappeared, but it came back as the fixative dried. It lost a little of it’s brightness, but otherwise worked fine. On the white paper sample, the color pastels didn’t seem to change value at all. It also works well on soft graphite pencils and charcoal.

I would have no concerns using this fixative on my finished work. I could also layer it; although, I would be reluctant to build it up too much – 3 to 4 coats max. The water content could cause paper to buckle, especially thin paper, unless it was stretched or taped down before the drawing was started.

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Preview: Drawing on Liquitex Clear Gesso

October 19, 2016

In my ongoing exploration of drawing surfaces, I recently picked up a bottle of Liquitex Clear Gesso. An online friend was looking for a way to prime wood for oil paint but still let the grain of the wood show through. I suggested this product, and noticed that it was also recommended for drawing with pastels or other dry media.

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Here I have painted a small square of the gesso on a sheet of black poster paper, and drew on it with a selection of different pencils; pastel, watercolor, graphite and charcoal. The media has a gritty sand paper texture like Ampersand’s Aquabord, or other similar acrylic primed surfaces that are made to have more tooth than regular acrylic dispersion (“gesso”) primers. It feels a little rougher than the Acrylic Ground for Pastels made by Golden. I suspect there’s acrylic resin mixed in to make it clear, since the Pastel Ground has silica and looks grayer when it’s wet. You can add water mixable paints or inks to color this gesso if you wish, and it can be thinned with water.

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The particles catch the light and will give the surface a slight sheen at an angle. It’s thinner than regular acrylic gesso, more like acrylic medium. To avoid brush marks you might consider thinning it and applying multiple coats to make the strokes less noticeable, or use a sprayer. An eraser won’t work well removing any marks, but you can dab the surface and lighten them with an eraser. I noticed that if this gets slightly scratched it will leave scratch marks behind.

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You can also paint on this with acrylics, gouache, casein, or oils. The tooth will give the paint something to adhere to on any hard slick surface, but it’s recommended that the surface first be sanded before applying the gesso, which might be noticeable through the clear gesso. My main complaint with these rough surfaces for painting is that they really chew up my brushes.

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Lip Balm Tube Holder for Oil Pastels

September 9, 2016

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Okay, here’s my latest experiment. I was online looking for some more gum arabic powder to make some gouache, and I found a new supplier to try out, Mountain Rose Herbs, who had a good price. While on their site, I saw they had various containers too, including empty lip balm tubes. (People make their own lip balm? Okay.)

As some of you who have been following my blog may know, I make my own oil pastels. Seeing these empty lip balm tubes you can probably see where my idea went, so I bought a few to try out as oil pastel holders. The order came in the mail yesterday.

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The first thing was to melt the block of charcoal pastel I had made into a liquid using a coffee cup warmer and a muffin tin. I thought I might want to make the pastel a bit harder, so I shaved off a bit of encaustic wax too. I found a piece of plastic from some packaging that made a better funnel by using a snipped off corner, and poured the wax into the tube.

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So, how well does it work? Not bad. It poured in fairly easy, but the wax hardens quickly, and this left some air gaps in the tube. I need to find a better tool to push it down and fill it with more wax. The tube is small (1/2 x 1″), but they’re cheap (.30 each) so I can make several at once. The cooled wax will easily push up, but not back down by turning the dial at the bottom. It does make a nice holder, and is not messy to use.

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New Design for Watercolor Paper Stretcher

September 6, 2016

I thought up a new project to update my method for stretching paper on a wooden frame instead of taping it to the face of a board. I had made a post on this subject several years ago showing a cheap and easy way that I have been doing this. That works fine, but the pins or staples on the sides can eventually damage the frame to such a degree that I have to make another one. So I thought I’d try out a new design using wood clamps. This is my first rough of that idea.

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What I’ve done is build a small strainer type frame similar to that used for stretching canvas. The size is 16 x 20 inches. I’m using 3/4″ square strips of poplar, and thinner strips for the inner bracing. I have longer strips to fit the outer edges, and I’ve built small “C” clamps made of wood and 4″ bolts to grip the paper.

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Here’s a shot of the the whole assembly from the back with the clamps in place. I’m using 300# Arches watercolor paper. It had been soaking in a tub of water for 10 minutes. The paper wasn’t quite long enough to wrap all the way around the shortest distance; only up the sides. In this case, I’ll have to keep the clamps on those two sides until I’m finished painting. With paper at the correct length, once it dries I can tape it to the back, and then remove the clamps with the tape holding it tight.

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Here’s the front. I noticed that I had the clamps pressing against the paper on the top, and you can see marks they left in the paper. I pulled the clamps back a bit, and re-wet the paper to smooth it, and that got rid of the indentations. I think I’ll modify the clamps so that they have a beveled edge that can’t touch the paper. I might bevel the inner frame also, just in case.

This has only been drying now for about an hour, and I can already feel the paper getting very tight. I’ll check it in the morning to see how well it holds up. I can paint on this with any water based media without worrying about buckles or warping in the paper.

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Appreciating Artist Anthony Ravielli

April 15, 2016

Anthony Ravielli was an artist for books, magazines, and advertising. I’ve found a couple examples of his paintings, but the vast majority of it is drawn in an engraving style that appears to be done on scratchboard.

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He worked for many years with Sports Illustrated, drawing “how-to” illustrations for a range of activities, such as golf, baseball, and fishing. Many of these were later collected into books that are prized possessions of lovers of these sports.

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He also illustrated many educational children’s books on subjects of science and biology.

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Ravielli passed away in 1997 at the age of 86.

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Testing Kalona Brand Milk for Making Casein

March 26, 2016

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I was recently introduced to a person who makes her own cheese, and in out conversation I mentioned that I like to use raw milk from a local dairy farm to extract my own casein to make a paint medium. She suggested a particular commercial brand of milk I could try that she uses for her cheese process. It was called “Grassmilk” from Organic Valley, and was carried by a local natural foods store where I live. I went by there this morning, but unfortunately, they didn’t have the fat-free version that I needed. However, there was another brand from Kalona that had all the same features.

The one small drawback to using this for making casein is they are required by law to add palm oil for the vitamin A. Raw milk suppliers don’t have to do that. The amount added is very small, however, and I think I can safely wash out most of it in the processing. They don’t add soy oil for vitamin E that other commercial brands do, and a bonus is that it is non-homogenized (“cream-top”) and vat pasteurized at low temperatures. Non-homogenized is important since it makes the casein easier to extract, and VAT pasteurized makes the casein firmer than the typical ultra-pasteurized process of most commercial brands. The Kalona is more expensive than the raw milk I was buying, but the store is closer and easier to get to. If you’d like to make your own casein, but don’t live close to a dairy farm that sells fresh cow’s milk, these brands may be a good alternatives for you.

Soon I’ll make up a batch of casein from this, and see how it works out.