Fear of Varnish – Part 2

Varnishing Photo

Varnishing Acrylic Paintings

In the previous Fear of Varnish blog, I explained the proper procedure for preparing and varnishing an oil painting (the way I do it anyway). In this blog I’ll cover the proper way to varnish an acrylic painting. The recommended procedure has changed several times since 1953, when the acrylics we use today first became available to artists, so even if you think you know the right way to varnish an acrylic painting, you might want to follow along. I utilize the latest discoveries and recommended procedures in my process.

Acrylics, including acrylic varnishes, harden, but never truly dry, as oil paints do, instead, they remain slightly tacky. You may have noticed this yourself, if you ever laid two of your acrylic paintings face to face and then separated them. Recently it was discovered that on a microscopic level, acrylic paints actually attract dust to them and then attach that dust to the surface of the painting, through this tackiness, dulling the painting over time. So, the old method of finishing your acrylic painting off with a coat of acrylic varnish, will attract dust to the surface and dull your painting over time.

For this reason, experts began to recommend applying regular removable oil painting varnish to acrylic paintings as the final protective layer. They later discovered that removing that varnish to clean an acrylic painting, if it became dirty, was removing micro particles from the surface of the acrylic painting, along with the removable varnish.

Given the above, experts now recommend a couple layers of permanent acrylic varnish, followed by a couple layers of regular oil painting removable varnish. This way, when removal of the oil painting varnish takes a micro-layer of acrylic surface with it, it will be taking it from the sacrificial transparent layers of acrylic varnish, not from the surface of the painting itself.


Applying the Barrier or Sacrificial Layers

Allow your finished acrylic painting to dry for at least 72 hours. Make sure the surface of your painting is free of dust or dirt and apply the first coat of non-removable acrylic varnish, either brushing it across the painting horizontally or vertically. You only want to apply a thin layer and don’t over brush or overwork it. Overworking this varnish can cause it to cloud. Acrylic varnish comes in gloss, matte and satin finishes. You can also get it in a spray can, if you prefer that to brushing it on. Let the first coat dry 24 hours and apply a second coat of the permanent acrylic varnish. Apply this coat by brushing it in a direction perpendicular to the direction you brushed in applying your first coat. Allow this final layer of permanent acrylic varnish to dry 72 hours, before proceeding to the application of the removable painting varnish.


Applying the Removable Painting Varnish

Once your Barrier/Sacrificial layer has dried for 72 hours you can apply your removable varnish layers. Like with the acrylic varnish, apply the first layer either brushing on the varnish in a horizontal or vertical direction. Apply your removable varnish layers thinly and don’t over brush or overwork them. Doing so can leave brush strokes in your varnish layers. Removable painting varnish is also available in gloss, satin and matte finishes. You can get it in a spray-can version, if you prefer that to brushing. Allow this layer to dry for 24 hours, then apply a second layer of the removable painting varnish, brushing it on in a direction perpendicular to the direction you used with the first layer. For more detailed instructions on application of the removable varnish see the blog Fear of Varnish.

Happy varnishing!

Fear of Varnish

Varnishing Photo

With our local open studio tour, Sierra Art Trails, on the horizon, it’s time to think about getting some varnish on all those dry, but unvarnished, paintings in my studio. I’m reminded of all the recent conversations with other artists about the varnishing process and of all the confusion and misinformation out there. So I thought I’d share the latest and greatest information on the subject, uncovered by my own ongoing research, the methods I currently use in varnishing.

The process of varnishing and preparing for varnishing is a little different, depending on whether you’re varnishing an oil painting or an acrylic painting. I’ll cover varnishing an oil painting in this blog and varnishing an acrylic painting in a future blog.

Varnishing an Oil Painting

Normally, an oil painting needs to dry for 6 months to year before you can apply the protective painting varnish. The length of drying time necessary is dependent on the thickness of the paint that’s been applied. The best test I’ve discovered for telling if an oil painting is dry enough to apply varnish is to put a little turpentine on a rag and lightly rub one of the thick applications of pigment on your painting (If you’ve used Titanium White in your painting, it’s a good color to test, as it’s one of the slowest drying paints). If any of the pigment appears on the rag, it’s not dry enough yet for varnish.

If you use Gamblin’s varnish, Gamvar, you can varnish sooner. Here’s the test they recommend for determining when you can varnish: lightly press your fingernail into one of the thick applications of paint. If it makes an impression in the paint, the painting is not ready, if it does not, you’re ready to varnish.

Oiling Out

Before you varnish, however, an oil painting should be “oiled out.” I’m surprised by how may artists I know have never heard about this. What is “oiling out” you ask? Oil paint can “sink in” to your painting surface, as it dries, giving an uneven sheen to the surface of the painting, with some areas more matte than others. This is because some of the oil binder in the oil paint has been absorbed into the painting ground. Many factors contribute to this phenomenon, an in-properly prepared ground, how much or little medium or linseed oil was used in the painting process, etc. If you apply your protective varnish to a painting in this condition, the varnish can be absorbed into the matte areas of the painting, just as the oil from the oil paint was, telegraphing the same uneven sheen across the surface of the varnish that the painting had before you applied the varnish.

So, before you varnish, you want to “oil out” your painting. Actually, since oiling out, unlike varnishing, can be done as soon as your painting is dry to the touch, it’s a great aesthetic interim step anyway, evening out the sheen across the surface and providing a better presentation for exhibition, before the painting is dry enough to varnish.

Oiling out is accomplished by applying artists painting medium to the surface of the painting, either by gently rubbing the medium into the surface with a lint-free rag or brushing it on the surface and then after 2 minutes, removing any excess medium with a lint free rag. If after oiling out and allowing the painting medium to fully dry, your painting still has matte “sunken in” areas, you can do a second oiling out. Here is how Windsor & Newton demonstrates the process: https://youtu.be/4oSU6PLEPpw. Here is how Gamblin demonstrates the process: https://vimeo.com/51473622.

Varnishing the Oil Painting

Once your oil painting has dried for the prescribed period of time (6 months – 1 year) and you’ve “oiled out” the surface of your painting (the oiling out medium must be dry to the touch), you’re ready to apply the varnish. You want to make sure you’re applying a removable painting varnish. In addition to enhancing the color and richness of your unvarnished painting, varnish protects your painting from elements in the environment that it’s exposed to over time. If, many years from now, your varnished painting has become dirty, it will be the protective varnish that has taken the abuse, not the painting itself. A removable varnish can be dissolved away with mineral spirits and a new clean layer of varnish applied.

You also want to be sure the varnish you choose is described as clear and non-yellowing. You don’t want to apply varnish on a rainy day. Doing so can sometimes cloud varnish. Application is recommended with the painting lying on a flat, horizontal surface. Since varnish is not very viscous, it has a tendency to run, while wet, so your painting should remain horizontal until the varnish has dried. Traditional varnish has a powerful odor and the vapors aren’t great for you. Unfortunately, all recommend you apply varnish in a room without a lot of air movement to prevent dust traveling around and landing on the varnish as it dries, which mean applying it with doors and windows closed. So, you’ll want to choose a location where you can apply the varnish then leave the room, close the door and not return until the varnish is dry. I’ve made the move to Gamvar, as it’s virtually odorless. Most recommend, “tenting” your painting while the varnish dries, to prevent dust landing on the surface. I do this by using four bottles, jars or cans of equal height, as posts, placing one at each corner of the painting. I then take a piece of cardboard or mat board, slightly larger than the painting and balance it on the four these four posts.

Varnish comes in gloss, satin and matte versions and you can mix the various versions to arrive at a custom sheen. Varnishes can be applied with a brush or sprayed onto the painting (Gamblin’s varnish, Gamvar, is brush on, only). Follow this link to see Windsor & Newton describe their various varnishing products and demonstrate applying varnish with a brush: https://youtu.be/ZNucC0XCRhc. Follow this link to see Gamblin demonstrate applying their varnishing product with a brush: https://vimeo.com/91544967.

Armed with the above, you should feel confident that you’re taking advantage of the latest information, when varnishing an oil painting. In the next blog I’ll discuss the slightly different process involved in varnishing an acrylic painting.

The Balancing Act

Bare Tree and Pond Image
In progress pastel painting, “Bare Tree and Pond.”

I chose to use pastels during last month’s Yosemite Western Artists pleinair outing. It had been awhile since I’d worked with the medium and I committed to perform a pastel painting demo in June. I like to have a lot of new samples, in the medium I’ll be using, to display during demos, so it will be pastels from now until the June.

I spend most of my time painting in oils, but last year I painted in acrylics all year long in prep for a week of taking park visitors out to paint Yosemite, on behalf of the Yosemite Conservancy’s Art Center. They didn’t want me taking groups out to paint in oils for fear they’d irresponsibly dispose of their solvents.

I work in a wide variety of mediums, oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels (haven’t dabbled in encaustics, yet), always have. I think I’ve discovered something useful to all artists in my experience doing this.

With great painting the elements in your subject matter determine application. You apply paint different when painting water than you do when painting trees or rocks, for example. Here’s where balance comes into play: whenever you become comfortable with any given medium (balance), you begin to take its application for granted.  It becomes too easy to rely on past “pat” successful application approaches, instead of letting elements determine fresh methods of application.

When you work with a medium you haven’t touched for awhile, you have no choice but to work with the attributes particular to that medium, redetermining application approaches. You’re a bit out of balance for awhile. The attributes of pastels, for example, force different application solutions when painting water, trees or rocks, than working with oils does. Acrylics, another unique set of attributes, as is the case with watercolors or graphite pencils or encaustics, etc.

When you return to your original medium of choice, you do so with fresh eyes (having been away from it for a time) and possibly new application approaches. For me, anyway, this ongoing introduction of imbalance, through use of a variety of mediums has kept me moving forward and cut down on repetition. I highly recommend it!



Who’s Teaching Who?

(Image: Drawing from upside-down reference. (Left) Reference: Picasso’s Stravinsky, (Right) Student Drawing)

I’ve volunteered as a teaching artist in the Mariposa School System for the Mariposa County Arts Council this year. I’m teaching art to two 5th grade glasses, one hour a week, over twelve weeks. I’m a little more than halfway through the session right now.

I started them off with several right brain drawing exercises: the dual human profiles that create a vase in negative space, drawing a complex image, while viewing it upside down, contour drawing without looking at your paper, etc. (one of my high school art teachers, Betty Edwards, actually wrote the book on right brain drawing techniques). Enough for them to gain a glimpse of what it feels like to draw in the right brain zone, as a seasoned artist does. Few of them could stay in the zone long, so in a short time, during every session, the buzz of talking would rise and I’d have to focus them once again, reminding them that they couldn’t be working in the right brain and talking at the same time. The left brain handles all communication. The right brain is incapable of conversation.

We soon moved on to single point (vanishing point) perspective, discussions of the events and developments that triggered the transition from representational art to abstract art, systems utilized in abstract art, actual painting using these systems and last week, team work on a large collaborative painting (the most fun, so far).

Working with these individuals, about to transition into adolescence, has been a joy and eye opening. In these two classes of 24 to 30 students each, only a small percentage, 2 or 3 students per class, show a focused interest in art. I’m guessing this aligns with the percentage of our society, as a whole, that shares this level of interest. Naturally, these students of focused interest also show the most potential (also a likely reflection of society).

More than this, to some degree, the art exercises reveal the personalities and psychological states of the students. The whole class appears to truly enjoy learning about and participating in art, but a couple students have difficulty following instructions, others ignore the exercise and draw or paint what they want, one or two ask a lot questions, a couple are insecure about whether they are doing things properly, another seeks precision, there are a couple of clowns, one does not participate and another’s actions reveal them to be working out some problems.

I wonder if exercises in other subjects reveal similar things, if the same students exhibit the same behaviors consistently across all subjects or if students respond differently to each subject? Makes me wish I had more time with these kids. Would love to see who each of these individuals becomes in the future.

New Ground

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Swinging Bridge Image
“Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Swinging Bridge,” 30″ x 40,” oil on canvas, framed, $4,250.

I just finished an abstraction of the view of Yosemite Falls from the Sentinel Swinging Bridge. I work with abstractions as often as I do with representational pieces (actually more), but this one was more challenging.

My abstract forms are usually developed through multiple viewpoint perspective (MVP). For those unfamiliar with MVP, it’s an approach where the artist considers their subject matter from, not just a single point of view, but, instead, from all sides, creating images that represent multiple perspectives of the subject at the same time in a single image. The approach was pioneered by Picasso and Braque through their explorations with cubism.

Anyway, MVP depends on the viewer’s knowing what the subject matter looks like in its original state, before it’s abstracted, in order to be able to appreciate how it’s been abstracted. In a scene like this one, completely comprised of natural organic elements, representing elements from all sides can go unrecognized, so I had to depend on other systems of abstraction. I leaned heavily on geometric, organic and reductive abstraction here to arrive at my final solution. These methods of abstraction are generally called upon, to some degree, in all my abstractions, but this subject required me to rely on them exclusively.

Being forced to work without MVP took me out of my comfort zone, making me more insecure, a good thing for an artist. An indication that you’re exploring new personal territory and not relying solely on solutions that have been successful for you in the past. I highly recommend it.


All Over But the Shouting

It was a busy week setting up my solo show, A Pair of Trowzers, at the new Gallery 5, in Oakhurst, CA. Many of my pieces are large and have to been transported from my studio to the gallery a couple at a time strapped to a contractors rack installed on my pick-up truck. I had to resign myself, early on, that not much new painting would be accomplished that week, as all waking hours would be needed to mount the exhibit. I’m pretty spoiled in that area, holding myself to at least 4 hours of dedicated painting time a day (from 4pm — 8pm). If other crisis prevent me from getting into the studio earlier in the day, I always at least have those 4 hours to hold onto. Not this week! Hey, getting a solo gig is always an accomplishment, so you’ve got to “roll wid it!”

We were successful in getting all artwork transported to the gallery before the rains hit that week, so, we had that going for us! Don’t know how many of you have been involved in the nuts and bolts of mounting a show, but there’s usually several days of moving the pieces around, leaning them against the walls to see how they work in the space and against each other. Well, I tried something new this time. When I discovered the gallery owner/curator, Jon Bock, had a floor plan available to me, I decided to build a quick a dirty 3D model of the space using Google Sketch Up and attempt a virtual organization of the exhibit. I feel having done so saved me a day or two in actually putting things together in the gallery. I only transported pieces I new I was going to use and I had plan for how it all fit together. I was CCO with several computer game companies from 1989 – 2011, so I’ve had a lot of exposure to 3D modeling and animation software. I wouldn’t recommend the uninitiated from sitting down and learning a 3D app just to accomplish this, but since the skills were in my toolbox, it was a no-brainer for me. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll stop by and view the show.

Here are the particulars:
A Pair of Trowzers
February 18 – March 26, 2017
11am-5pm Daily
Gallery 5
40982 Highway 41
Oakhurst, CA 93644
559 683-5551
Artist’s Reception, Saturday, March 18, 2017, 6pm-8pm

I’m back in the studio painting again now, my natural habitat.

Dead Tree & Shed Image
In progress demo by Trowzers Akimbo

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, March 1st, will be the second night of four in my Painting Workshop at the Artists’ Loft, in North Fork, CA. If you missed last weeks first class, but wanted to be part of this workshop, don’t worry, you can start with this weeks installment and we’ll catch you up. Last week I walked the group through my personal 3 stage indirect painting approach, with a demo, and got everyone started on their own paintings. This week will start the one on one discussions, providing attendees with answers and help on the specific issues they’re facing with their own individual pieces. The workshop is open to all experience levels and oil, acrylic, watercolor and soft pastel mediums are all welcome. The cost is $35 per student per week, with sessions starting at 6pm and continuing to 8pm (our end time is soft, as we stick around until all questions are answered).

The Artists’ Loft
6pm – 8pm
Wednesdays, Feb 22 – Mar 15, 2017
32870 Road 222
North Fork, CA 93643

An Art Conversation on the Radio

As promotion for my upcoming solo exhibit, A Pair of Trowzers, Gallery 5 owner and print maker, Jon Bock and I traveled down into the San Joaquin Valley for an interview at KFCF 88.1 FM radio. The Sierra foothills are gorgeous this time of year, green grasses more reminiscent of Ireland than California. Our heavily snow-capped Sierras dominated the northern horizon. It was a perfect day to travel.

KFCF’s Free Speech Radio home is a modest converted 50’s residential residence just off the Tower District’s main drag, in Fresno, CA. Stepping through the front door, I suspected this would be an atypical Fresno experience. Warm greetings from the local radio personalities set us at ease. Jon is an old friend of the establishment, but this was my first visit.

Early at KCFC PhotoWe were a bit early and the host of our segment on Art Attack, Janet Alexander Flores, had not yet arrived. A little time to chill with a cool bottle of water.

Janet arrived, introductions, a quick catch up on personal events with Jon (Jon and Janet have become old friends), sound checks and we were off. The half hour was less interview and more a 3-way conversation on art between friends, as we reviewed our backgrounds for the listening audience, then touched on my upcoming show, the opening of Jon’s new Gallery 5, Yosemite Renaissance, Sierra Art Trails open studio weekend, Yosemite Western Artist’s upcoming Tri-County show and concerns about likely changes to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and how that would effect arts funding.

Headsets and microphones aside, the conversation continued, off-air, for another hour.

I’ve stumbled on an oasis of like-minded intelligent souls in an increasingly intolerant world. Thank you KFCF for a very pleasant, reaffirming afternoon.

A Pair of Trowzers at Gallery 5

Trowzers in Truck Photo
Photo © 2017 Kathy Marks

A new Gallery is about to open at Gallery Row here in Oakhurst, Gallery 5. The new gallery is the effort of Jon Bock. This will be gallery number three for Jon, behind his thriving Williams Gallery West and Stellar galleries.

I was honored to be asked to mount the opening show at Gallery 5, a solo exhibition of my work, which will include equal amounts my representational and abstract works, the reasoning behind the show title, A Pair of Trowzers.

A Pair of Trowzers Photo
Photo © 2006 Kerby Smith

I’d like to take full credit for the title, but in the interest of full disclosure, it was originally coined by my friend, award winning photographer and fiber artist, Kerby Smith. Seeing my large paintings hanging in the trees, 11 years ago, during Sierra Art Trails 2006, Kerby asked if he could come by and photograph them the following day. The result was this photo of me bookending my work, which Kerby titled, A Pair of Trowzers.

The title was too perfect a fit not to ask Kerby if he’d mind my using it for the upcoming show.

A Pair of Trowzers will be up at Gallery 5, 40982 Hwy 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644 beginning this Saturday, February 18th and will run through March 26th, with an artist’s reception on Saturday, March 18th.

I hope you get a chance to stop by and see all I’ve been up to.

You can view a short preview in the form of a rough 3D mock-up I created to map out the show at: https://youtu.be/m9-NkEGvSXw.


Have You Discovered Art21?

Art21 is the PBS broadcasted series on fine art in the 21st Century, now in its 8th season. Each week it deals with a sampling from current fine artists in a different world city. Last week it was Mexico City, next week will be Los Angeles, 2 weeks ago it was Chicago, etc., etc.

Don’t ask me why it’s taken me so long to notice it (actually I have a vague recollection of coming across it several years ago, but it somehow got pushed out of my tv watching queue). Anyway, I’m back and aware now.

It’s a great insight as to why the artists are doing what they do, in their own words, right out of their own mouths. Fascinating!

Learn more at: http://www.pbs.org/program/art21/