"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Photos lie

I started this painting in acrylic from a photocopy of a photo and am in the process of overworking the acrylic with oilI have said before to small and large groups who would listen, and I say again: "Photos lie." This is not meant to disparage photography, which can operate very well as an art form in the hands of a capable and experienced photographer. But for the "great unwashed" (including myself) who have gotten our hands on a camera and use it to record impressions of the world around us, it's important to know its limitations.

The picture inserted here of two small children on a beach is something I've worked on entirely from a photocopy of a photo. I started the painting on an unstretched canvas in acrylic and I'm now working over the initial acrylic in oil to enhance the small subtle details.

I recently received a publication put out by Golden Acrylic Colors which contains some substantiating information. I quote below.

"Acrylic paints can be used to create colorful and detailed surfaces on which to add a digital print. This method works around the color-gamut limitations inherent in digital printing, which ultimately still relies on a four-color CMYK process. For example, even newer 6 color systems like Epson’s Ultrachrome™ inks, create expanded ink sets by merely adding transparent versions of Cyan, Magenta, and different Blacks to the base selection. Acrylics, on the other hand, have access to hundreds of individual pigments that can be further modified with Gels and Mediums to generate any degree of translucency you might desire. This provides you with a tremendous amount of control and leaves a significant range of colors, including the special effects of GOLDEN Iridescent and Interference paints, beyond the reach of printing inks alone. The same is true with texture, where you can use acrylic Gels, Mediums and Pastes to produce a wide variety of surfaces that impart a tactile presence not easily achieved by other means."

Many of my current students are using acrylics, and for them I recommend looking the above publication on-line fully. It covers some of the capabilities of Acrylics.

But more generally, and on the theme of "photography lies" I would like to point out that the "gamut" or range of color used in photographs is limited by the inks used to produce them. Those inks are limited by the printing process. Many of you now own inkjet printers and you know that if you want to print out a color print, you have to have four colors (or a maximum of 6 in the newer printers): cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Any color in the scene you are capturing by camera will be normalized to fit some mixture of the three colors and black that your printer contains.

Any artist knows, however, that, unless you choose to paint with a limited palette, you have a much larger variety of colors available. And, in your original paintings (whether it is in acrylic, oil, watercolor, pastel) you have the ability to use this wide range of colors to either duplicate the "reality" that you see in nature or create your own vision.

In addition, acrylics have a wide range of auxillary capabilities: (iridescents, interference colors, textures and pastes) that the photographic or printing field is currently totally unable to capture. (You can see more about this in the above-referenced publication or get on a mailing list to receive the Just Paint newsletter by going to Golden Acrylics homepage and filling out the e-form located in "What's New.")

As a last note, however, although it is frequently practical to work from photos when learning or practicing the art of painting, keep in mind that the information contained in a photo is severely limited. Therefore, my advice is: (1) when possible, whether painting a scene, a still life or a portrait, paint from the thing itself; (2) when working from photos, take your own reference photos and remember that even they lie and; (3) keep in mind that the "reality" of your art is yours to create.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stretching a canvas

A student asked me the other day how to stretch a canvas. Many people buy pre-stretched canvases these days since they are readily available. However, if you are doing a number of "exercises" it is less expensive to work on a piece of unstretched canvas mounted on a drawing board or other support with masking tape. (I've even known some artists, who like to work very large, to mount a canvas directly to the (wallboard) wall of their studio with plastic under the canvas, using staples. Then, when finished, they stretch the canvas.

If you are working on unstretched canvas, and you want to be able to stretch it when finished if it comes out good, leave at least 2 inches all around the finished face of the canvas. The easy way to do this is to take a stretched canvas (or a pair of stretchers) and mark the profile of the artwork on the piece of canvas you will be using.

When you have an image that you want to stretch, you will need a heavy duty stapler, a pair of canvas pliers (not absolutely necessary for a small canvas if you have strong fingers but it does make things easier) and a pair of stretchers. Make sure that the stretchers are absolutely square, using a T-square or just putting the assembled pieces into a frame to ensure that they are all at right angles. You can put a couple of staples through each corner to ensure that they stay true. Nothing is more discouraging than to complete your stretching project only to discover that it's not a regular rectangle but some sort of wierd parallelogram.

Start the process of stretching by positioning the image on the stretchers and then putting a staple in the middle point of each side (as shown). Note: the traditional method was to use tacks. Staples have replaced them since they are easier. If you choose to use tacks, use the copper tacks. They don't rust.

Don't pull the canvas "too" tight. You don't want to break the paint film by straining it. Just make sure that it's taut in the middle.

Once the 4 sides have one tack and you have ascertained that the image is not askew, begin to move out from the middle on all sides in turn, putting a tack on each side of the middle tack on first one side, then the other, then the two opposing sides. There's no particular science to this. Just make sure, as you go along, that you are keeping the canvas taut in the middle.

At the corners, make a neat flat tuck and staple in position.

Finally, pull the excess canvas around to the back of the stretcher and staple in position. (Note: you'll find that many of the commercial stretched canvases cut off the excess canvas. I don't recommend this because it makes re-stretching (should you ever need to do that) difficult. The "better" commercially available canvases have begun turning and tacking the excess canvas.

As a last note, many commercial canvases now being marketed are called "gallery style" canvases and don't have any staples on the sides. The canvas is wrapped around the side with no staples and tucked in the stretchers at the back. This is in keeping with the popular push to paint the sides of a canvas and omit the use of a frame entirely. I don't know how to either prepare this kind of stretched canvas or to unstretch it if I wanted to. Being old and conservative (yes, finally I admit it!), I tend to avoid this and pay for frames. A good reasonable source for frames is Graphik Dimensions, whose on-line store is called pictureframes.com. They include a range of prices. While you can buy online, I recommend sending for their catalog by calling 1-800-221-0262. (I am not being paid to advertise them).