Updated: Sep 11, 2020
I want to talk about painting mediums... you know, those people that can see into the past or the future and communicate with the spirits on the other side of the veil, or rainbow bridge, or 5th dimension or whatever it is. Not really, I was asked to dumb my post down for the non painter, so I was kidding... paint mediums can be interpreted like astrology signs, what’s your medium (referring, perhaps, to watercolor, acrylic, oil, gouache, pastels, casein, graphite, or colored pencil just to name a few... House paint, for example, and there are muralists that paint in that medium). But, the mediums I was referring to are not so much the art flavors or vehicles (oil, water, acrylic polymer) as much as the additives. People put stuff in their paint. It used to be mostly oil painters but acrylics have come a long way, baby! There are heavy bodied gel, impasto (thick), textured (sand), and other mediums just to name a few, glitter for example. Glitter is a bad, bad word these days (gets everywhere), literally... if you are unfamiliar with the disco ball glitter bath bomb fiasco story, google it.
Oil mediums have been around a lot longer, some anyway and I am not talking about just oils. There is marble, chalk, beeswax, black oil, stand oil, sun dried oil (all derivatives of linseed or flax oil), cold washed oil, alkali modified oil, clove, lavender (spike), walnut, poppy seed, safflower oils, tree resins (damar). There are some newer candidates like Alkyds that are so chemically complicated or at least hard to pronounce that I am only going to say, yeah... complicated, they are polymers and fast dryers made in part from linseed or soy bean oils, but it quickly diverges into some serious 1,2,3-cis bam boom chemical names that made my mind pull a muscle when I googled, “what solvent cleans up dried Liquin?” Needless to say I could not find the answer for a group member in a painting Facebook group who had spilled some on a shelf. No mayonnaise removes crayon from drywall.
Not so much a medium as clean up on isle 3 are the solvents, turpentine, odorless mineral spirits (OMS), paint thinner basically, including new environmentally less toxic plant based solvents from terpenes (the stuff plants make to deter herbivore and insects from eating them). THC in pot is related to terpenes, as is the smell of pine needles and orange peel, for example. The big problem with solvents are volatile organic compounds (VOC) that can cause cancer with extended exposure. That said there is a moment afoot, away from toxic substances in oil painting, like newer water mixable oil paint and just using linseed or some other oil (turpentine did not come along until much later in painting history), but there was lead white, thank you ancient Romans. The original process for making lead white paint is fascinating and involves horse manure and more specifically ammonia from horse urine (stack process). Then there are the other heavy metals (paint “is” made from minerals and chemicals) like cobalt, cadmium, titanium, and zinc, in addition to lead. It’s a really interesting topic, I really don’t do it justice. So yeah, cadmium-free yellow is a thing, now. Cadmium artist paint was almost outlawed in the European Union market but cooler heads prevailed... bottom line, wear nitrile gloves or wash your hands, but don’t eat your paint, don’t even lick the bristles of the brush to get a nice point. And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the more esoteric words like Maroger, Oleogel, Liquin, Gamsol, Gamvar, GAC and new stuff like PVA (I’m guessing poly vinyl acetate)... that have replaced old things like rabbit skin glue.
I didn’t mean to go off on a medium tangent... and there is more “stuff” heaps more... like fillers in cheap paint aluminum sterates or something like that. I guess the point I’m trying to make is, I’m learning about this stuff as I’m going along... things are changing... take supports, for example. People started with painting on rocks in caves or their bodies (body painting, war paint) and then came wood panels and metallurgy like the copper supports... the Venetians went big and canvas was innovated and spread to the Dutch painters... today things are getting high tech, aluminum composition panels that are stable under temperature and humidity changes. I should mention that copper, wood panels and these newer products like medium density fiberboard (MDF), plywood, and melamine panels are some but nowhere near all the new stuff, Gatorboard (foam core coated with paper) and even papers are being used to glue canvas to as supports or direct painting. I should have mentioned gesso and primers and grounds but suffice to say... rabbit skin glue (rendered animal hide) is no longer the state of the art.
Mongoose, sable, badger squirrel and swine are not so lucky, as the traditional paint brushes use animal fur and sadly, not sustainably for the most part. They are maybe shaving domestically raised sable tail (like an otter or ferret) but who knows under what level of humane cage life. In comes the synthetics and the reason I wanted to write this post (save dessert for last). So nylon bristles have been around for a while now (40-50 years?) but things have gotten better. Natural hair is considered superior to synthetics but a lot of research and chemistry has been going on behind the scenes and now we have things like golden taklon, synthetic sable and squirrel. I started out with acrylic paint and Liquitex came out with this wonderful line of brushes for acrylic paint. Then I changed or progressed to oil paint and the brush liquitex bristles just splayed and curled back when dipped in the cleaning solvents. I switched to the more traditional oil brushes made from hogs hair bristles (you know, like old scrub brushes). Today, I know that I could have just cleaned my synthetic brushes in linseed oil and avoided solvents, but like I said, I’m learning as I go along and doing as much as I can short of art school to be well self taught. Which brings me to learning new things about art, painting, color, line, edges, composition, composition of paint, canvas, and even about brushes every day. So I’m watching a YouTube video about brushes last week by Ken Goshen, younger than myself, and probably went to art school... anyway, he talked about which kind of brush to use for what, like blocking in big rough shapes and passages, initially, with bristle brushes and then doing the middle part of a painting, color, lines, edges with synthetic brushes that aren’t as stiff and won’t lift the underlying paint strokes and paint like stiff hogs bristle does, and then doing the finishing touches and fine motor refinements with the soft sables. Like I knew or at least learned recently that holding my brush at a very low angle allowed me to deposit paint over paint, but like any American suburban artist lost in the throng of artists, I have way too many brushes... so I’m looking at my jars (crocks) of brushes and I separated out the acrylic only brushes and reviewed my stock of oil friendly synthetics and sables (none) and so I ordered, yet, more paintbrushes this week... some Rosemary synthetics, some Trekells synthetics and some synthetic sables (soft). My 3 Trekells arrived today, much smaller than I imagined, and very springy. I had ordered two different types of their synthetic bristles as I did with Rosemary, before going hog wild. There was a sale on Black Swan synthetic Sables for Labor Day but I only ordered the $1.25 try it two brushes. I was tempted to get the twelve piece set for $20 which is normally $80 but I was good... we’ll see if it works, if it helps me have a better tool than what I was using, if my art improves. Last week I decided to move away from stretched canvas to canvas glued to board... my paper laminated Gatorboard was delivered in a hurricane torrential downpour... a 1/2 gallon of water drained from the cardboard box after like 5 minutes after delivery as I carried the box to the garage. Art...
"Give a small boy a hammer and he will find that everything he encounters needs a pounding." Abraham Kaplan 1964, since modified to ‘and every problem begins to resemble a nail.’