Tonight, I'd like to share one of the most valuable changes I made as a painter. This change has made a huge difference in the way I am able to apply paint to the canvas. It produces more luminous color, better brushwork, and I can honestly say, made the process of painting more fun.
It's a simple and inexpensive thing, too, so you might want to give it a try.
It has to do with preparing your canvas before you ever start the painting. And you don't have to stretch your own canvas, or even start from scratch with raw unprimed canvas. You can use this method on commercially prepared stretched canvas or canvas panels.
Unless you purchase "oil primed linen", then what you are painting on has been primed with acrylic gesso. (it's not real gesso, but that's what they call it, so we'll go with that). This surface is dry and scratchy to the touch and, here's the biggest drawback.. it is very absorbent.
Oil paint applied to this surface will soak in, and unless you apply really thick layers of paint, what you get is more like "staining" the canvas. The solution to this is to apply an oil-based primer that will seal the canvas and allow all that paint and color and wonderful brushstrokes that you work so hard to achieve to stay put right there on the surface! Who wouldn't want that?
So, let's get to it. What you'll need is a large palette knife, a tube of Flake White, and some fast dry medium, such as Windsor Newton Wingel, or Maroger, or even Liquin. The medium is optional, but since white dries so slowly, unless you are lots more patient than me, and don't mind waiting up to several weeks for this to dry, then use the medium. I'd probably recommend the Wingel. I didn't have any Wingel for this photo, but here's the main ingredients - Flake White and a large palette knife.
Note: Flake White is a LEAD-based white. Be aware of this, and perhaps wear gloves when using it.
Put about a quarter-sized dollop of the paint on your palette, and mix an equal portion of the fast dry medium. The paint will be soft and creamy.
Next, take the palette knife and plop some on the corner of your canvas. If you're using stretched canvas, you will want to make sure to lift the canvas away from the stretcher bars so you don't create a line along that stretcher bar - it will be permanent! You can see how I just sort of pushed the canvas away from the back with my finger as I worked.
Take the back edge and flat surface of the palette knife and spread that paint around on the surface. All you want to do is to seal the holes between the weave. You will not need a thick layer or alot of paint.
After you've spread all that dollop of paint, then take the FRONT edge of the palette knife and scrape and push the extra paint towards the middle of the canvas. See photo.. there's a little ridge of paint that develops as I scrape the excess off...
That's all there is to it! Just work your way around all the edges, and then, do the center, and scrape off and discard any excess paint. Again, although you CAN leave texture if you desire it,
all you really need is a very thin layer that seals the holes between the weave in the canvas.
Let this completely dry. ( a couple of days if you used the fast dry medium, or up to a couple of weeks if you didn't).
That's it! The surface should feel smooth and almost glossy. It might take a bit of adjustment to paint on this surface... whereas before you almost had to scrub paint into the canvas, brush strokes will remain on the surface.
This also makes it possible for me to do the kind of block in that I like to do for still life.. which I'll show you in another post.