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Q&A

Here’s a page to post ques­tions in the com­ments (below—scroll down). If you post a ques­tion about paint­ing or other issue rel­e­vant to the sub­ject mat­ter at All the Strange Hours, I’ll try to answer.

Obvi­ously, I am quite stump-able, as the first ques­tion demon­strates. But if you have a ques­tion, please feel free to post it here. If you are a reader and you have a good answer to someone’s ques­tion, please post. It’s not exactly a forum, but it will do for now.

Caveat

You can find many peo­ple, like me, who give out free art advice on the inter­net. I think I mostly know what I’m talk­ing about, but there is no rea­son why you should take my word for any­thing. For all you know, I could be a clue­less blowhard.

Never take any­thing I or any­one else says about art mate­ri­als, tech­niques, or (espe­cially) art safety as gospel.


45 Responses

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  1. Greg says

    Do you hap­pen to know any details of Courbet’s tech­niques of paint­ing? Or any point­ers to spe­cific books which detail it? I’ve found this much so far, but I do not know the accuracy.

    1. Impri­matura / Under­tone for basic Chiaroscuro
    2. Lim­ited Palette of Umber and Blue —for warm and cools — val­ues 110
    3. Drag­ging Paint over top of sub­struc­ture with both brush and his rev­o­lu­tion­ary use of the palette knife to cre­ate intri­cate sur­face tex­tures, applied in layers.

    4. Courbet painted in a low value range. Black 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 white He painted between #1 and #5 to model forms

    5. Darks where kept very thin and trans­par­ent, lights where built up in thick impasto. The under­tone was left uncov­ered in many areas of the paint­ings which added to the aes­thetic, enabled light to pen­e­trate and should evi­dence of the process.

    • David says

      @Greg – Greg,

      I’m afraid that 19th cen­tury paint­ing tech­nique is not my area of exper­tise (I’m much more of a Renais­sance guy). It’s clear that you know much more about the details of Courbet’s method than I do. I did run across this fun tid­bit, however:

      bq. Courbet, inci­den­tally, was one of the very few mas­ters in the his­tory of art who did not rec­om­mend look­ing at the work of other mas­ters, or copy­ing in muse­ums as a method of learn­ing. How­ever, he con­demned this prac­tice as a pro­pa­ganda move against his arch-enemies the Roman­ti­cists, who tended to be too deriv­a­tive. As a mat­ter of record, Courbet spent years train­ing him­self by copy­ing the works of seventeenth-century Span­ish masters.

      That’s from Paint­ing Tech­niques of the Mas­ters, by Here­ward Lester Cooke.

  2. Bethann says

    I am inter­ested in the var­i­ous sub­strates used by 15-16th cen­tury painters– specif­i­cally wood. Which species of wood was com­monly used and how were the pan­els con­structed? I am assum­ing they had to be con­structed very well in order to have lasted cen­turies with­out warp­ing– a prob­lem I am cur­rently hav­ing. I am using birch ply­wood with Gamblin’s Tra­di­tional Gesso.

  3. Phil Tolin says

    I have been chang­ing from oils to acrylics — not so much for rea­sons of tox­i­c­ity, but because I am basi­cally a slob and cleanup is so much eas­ier with acrylics. With its quick dry­ing time, there’s also lots less trans­fer of paint from my hands to the fur­ni­ture. My wife thinks I’ve improved as a hus­band and human being.

    That said, I have been hav­ing a very hard time paint­ing out­doors. Even with a Sta-Wet palette, the quick dry­ing time is a prob­lem that detracts from the plea­sure of plein aire paint­ing. I have tried adding retarder to the paint, and have not noticed any improve­ment. Spray­ing hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly effec­tive, either. So, my ques­tion: are there solu­tions that I’m over­look­ing or is this some­thing one just has to put up with? If so, I’m tempted to go back to oils out­doors and just be more care­ful about clean­ing up before get­ting back into the car.

  4. David says

    @Phil Tolin — Phil,

    I switched from acrylic to oil and tem­pera some years ago, and I never painted with acrylic out­doors. I used to do a lot of spray­ing my palette with water. The fact is, in dry weather, water-based paints are going to dry out really fast. Unless you are will­ing to con­stantly attend to the nature of the paint, or work with really watery acrylic, the paint’s going to dry out some­times. Egg tem­pera dries out fast too, although a lit­tle slower.

    C’mon. Go back to oils. You know you want to.

  5. taravat talepasand says

    david, thank you for post­ing a blog about tem­pera grassa!

    i work pri­marly with egg tem­pera, i actu­ally find it very easy to use, much like drawing.

    i’m cur­rently work­ing on a larger paint­ing, linen on stretcher bars, sized prop­erly with rab­bit skin glue and oil ground after. i’ve started a very thin layer of just oil paint, very light sol­vent, and a dash of poppy oil. thus my first layer is very lean. i want this paint­ing to have the same del­i­cacy as a fine graphite draw­ing and tem­pera painting.

    i want to work with the oil tem­pera emul­sion, so my ques­tion is: can i use the egg oil emul­sion after my first coat of paint? i fig­ure that the egg is fatty and would work. i’m just not sure.

    also, is it best to mix the yolk with lin­seed oil, not damar.

    any advice or feed­back would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Phil says

    Thanks, David. I needed that.

  7. David says

    @taravat talepasand – Taravat,

    I agree that egg tem­pera is quite wonderful.

    For these pur­poses, egg is very, very lean. So putting it over even a lean layer of oil paint, espe­cially on a flex­i­ble sup­port, would be a bad idea. That would be less of a prob­lem on a panel, but still not optimal.

    I like to use oil rather than resins in emul­sions, but that’s more of a pref­er­ence than any­thing else.

    Good luck.

  8. taravat talepasand says

    thanks david!

    so with a first layer of very thin oil, egg oil emul­sion can not be used on top due to the lean egg? what if my mix­ture is yolk, damar, and lin­seed? isn’t that fatty? urgh, it’s tough get­ting back into oils…i really want to use the egg oil emul­sion but i can’t get a for sure answer any­where whether this is pos­si­ble over a thin layer of oil paint. i see your point that teh egg isn’t fatty enough to put over the oil layer, but if damar is involved could it be the right step?

    am i just bet­ter off using damar and toss­ing the Tem­pera Grassa out the door?

    i appre­caite your advice, feed­back, and big no no’s.

    tvat

  9. David says

    @taravat talepasand -

    Tar­a­vat,

    I would not say “can not be used.” I would say rather that it is not the best prac­tice on a flex­i­ble sup­port. I would per­son­ally not do this on a paint­ing intended for sale or other per­ma­nent dis­play. For a study, no problem.

    As far as yolk, damar, and lin­seed, it would depend on the rel­a­tive pro­por­tions of each. I per­son­ally avoid soft resins such as damar in paint, although plenty of peo­ple don’t worry about that. I use damar only as a final varnish.

    My sug­ges­tion, over­all, is to fin­ish this one with just oil paint—there’s noth­ing wrong with that. Then plan the next one from scratch accord­ing to the lay­er­ing scheme you want to use.

  10. taravat talepasand says

    got it. so i’m gath­er­ing that egg oil emul­sion is best on a sup­port or panel, using chalk gesso and going from egg tem­pera to the oil emulsion.

    i despise var­nish, it causes so many prob­lems, but when it comes to glaz­ing it makes sense. there is a dif­fer­ence between mak­ing your own damar from crys­tals and “pic­ture” var­nish or “retouch” varnish.

    for this paint­ing i want to obtain the kind of detail that i get from egg tem­pera (using small brush work) but with a slower dry­ing time of oil. i’m more con­cerned with the build up of col­ors and glaz­ing in this piece, keep­ing the line work and brush strokes thin and delicate.

    i’m that close to rip­ping off the linen from these slightly warped stretcher bars (seri­ously slanted on one side!) and fig­ur­ing it back to a panel…it appears that flex­i­ble sup­ports are dif­fi­cult and restrict­ing. any thoughts on this?

    i’m gra­cious for your response.

    tvat

    • David says

      @taravat talepasand -

      Tar­a­vat,

      It depends on the emul­sion for­mula, but it is prob­a­bly an appro­pri­ate gen­er­al­iza­tion to say that pan­els are best for paint­ing in emul­sions. Then again, a prop­erly con­structed panel is prob­a­bly bet­ter, over­all, for permanence.

      If by “when it comes to glaz­ing, it makes sense,” you mean that you should add var­nish to your paint when glaz­ing, I dis­agree. Glaz­ing means paint­ing thinly enough that the top layer inter­acts opti­cally with the lower layer or lay­ers. (If there’s a lot of white added to the pant, it’s usu­ally called a “scum­ble” or “velatura,” but the prin­ci­ple is the same.) You can do that with unmod­i­fied oil paint. Dilut­ing your paint with damar or other ole­o­resins doesn’t help and can affect the integrity of the paint film. Soft resins can cause prob­lems if the paint­ing is later cleaned, because the sol­vents used in clean­ing can more eas­ily affect the paint.

      Here’s a post on glazing:

      http://​rourke​vi​su​alart​.com/​w​o​r​d​p​r​e​s​s​/​2006​/​10​/​01​/​g​l​a​z​i​ng/

      For thin, del­i­cate brush work in just a few areas, it is prob­a­bly just fine to paint with emul­sion directly into wet oil paint. You can even do that with plain egg tem­pera (although I’d prob­a­bly avoid it on a flex­i­ble sup­port). You should avoid doing this over large areas to avoid pos­si­ble crack­ing, but for small details it can work well. The tem­pera tends to sink into and bind with the oil paint with­out smear­ing. This requires a lit­tle practice.

      Over­all, I paint on rigid sup­ports much more fre­quently than on cloth. It is def­i­nitely my preference.

  11. taravat talepasand says

    thank you again david for all your insight and direction!

    i know not to use var­nish in my paint, but i have made my own damar and may use it in my final stages of glaz­ing. the glaz­ing post was very helpful.

    how do you feel about poppy oil?

    here is a crazy question…can i remove my linen from a flex­i­ble sup­port and trans­fer it on a panel after i have painted? prob­a­bly not worth it, but i’m curi­ous to know what you think.

    thanks! tvat

    • David says

      @taravat talepasand -

      Tar­a­vat,

      I don’t use poppy oil. It’s not as strong as lin­seed or wal­nut and dries slowly. I find the mar­ket­ing spin about yel­low­ing paint to be rather overblown (old paint­ings in muse­ums have not been spoiled by yel­low­ing, so why should I panic?), so I have no prob­lem with lin­seed, even in whites.

      That’s not to say that there is some­thing awful about poppy oil, at least when used in mod­er­a­tion. I just don’t find that it solves any prob­lems I have.

      You can cer­tainly trans­fer a paint­ing on can­vas to a panel—conservators do it all the time. I have no real idea how to accom­plish that, but I know it is possible.

  12. Colin says

    Hi David,

    What is meant by pick­ing & ston­ing a can­vas? How is it done?

  13. Michelle says

    Hi, I am cur­rently study­ing Visual Arts Stud­ies as a year 12 sub­ject at, in Ade­laide South Aus­tralia. For my stu­dent choice topic I have cho­sen to study the “What were teh sigi­fi­cat social adn cul­tural iflue­ces which ersult i the use of such rich ad ibrat colour through­out Italia paitig durig teh reais­sace period”. Dur­ing my research I came across your inter­net site and was extremely pleased with it’s con­tent and rel­e­vance to my topic. The infor­ma­tion on the site was most use­ful, how­ever I was won­der­ing if there was any addi­tional infor­ma­tion that you would be able to sup­ply me with.
    thak you so much

  14. David says

    @Michelle -

    Michelle,

    It’s a good topic, but I don’t know how to answer. There are thou­sands of books and arti­cles, and thou­sands of museum col­lec­tions, that would be applic­a­ble. Can you be more specific?

  15. David says

    @Colin -

    Colin,

    I thought I had replied to your ques­tion, but it seems not to have pub­lished. Sorry about that.

    Pick­ing and ston­ing refers to prepa­ra­tion of linen can­vas for paint­ing. Pick­ing means using a metal tool to pick out for­eign mat­ter from the fab­ric (this was back before really reli­able machine man­u­fac­ture). A small knit­ting nee­dle, inserted from the back of the fab­ric, can work well for this. The idea is to pull out any fibers or junk that is stick­ing out and would mar the surface.

    Ston­ing involves rub­bing the sur­face of the stretched can­vas with an abra­sive stone—usually pumice. This opens up the fibers and pre­pares them to receive the ini­tial layer of siz­ing (hide glue/rabbitskin glue).

  16. Colin says

    Hey David,

    Thank you for your reply. Good to know. I thought it might have been some­thing along that line (for the ston­ing at least, pick­ing I had no idea) and appre­ci­ate your response.

    Best.

  17. Curious Art says

    @Phil Tolin@Phil Tolin -

    Phil might want to try the new Open Acrylics by Golden. They stay work­able much longer.

  18. Renaissance Man says

    Hi, when i was a teenager, I used to have a pri­vate teacher who taught the old mas­ters style of paint­ing, she was great, but she died. She used to make her own ital­ian and flem­ish medi­ums, before she died she gave me the recipes, but I lost them years ago. I want to try to make my own medium but now I can­not find the recipe. Does any­one know where I can look to find out how to make these two mediums?

  19. David says
    Orig­i­nally Posted By Renais­sance Man
    Hi, when i was a teenager, I used to have a pri­vate teacher who taught the old mas­ters style of paint­ing, she was great, but she died. She used to make her own ital­ian and flem­ish medi­ums, before she died she gave me the recipes, but I lost them years ago. I want to try to make my own medium but now I can­not find the recipe. Does any­one know where I can look to find out how to make these two mediums?

    Ren,

    My sus­pi­cion is that these medi­ums are based on those devised by Jacques Maroger. If you do a web search on that name, you may be able to find copies of his book (now long out of print).

    If you search for “Maroger medium,” you can find com­pa­nies that make ver­sions of his recipe. I’ve used the stuff from Stu­dio Prod­ucts, and it is not bad. There is con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy about whether his medium recipes are prob­lem­atic in terms of permanence.

  20. Renaissance Man says

    Thanks, I did find a cou­ple of books online, I may have to buy one if I cant get it at the library.

  21. Gordon says

    Can you advise me on Egg tem­pera paint­ing please? I started doing an Icon in Cyprus in a class run by a Greek ortho­dox priest, using tra­di­tional meth­ods on chip­board. I only com­pleted half the paint­ing before I had to leave Cyprus. I am now back in UK and have ordered a set of egg tem­pera paints Sen­nelier Egg Tem­pera Starter Set so I can fin­ish the icon. Can I apply them from the tube or must I mix them with egg yolk and water? Thanks….

  22. David says

    @Gordon -

    Gor­don,

    While it would not be the same as tra­di­tional East­ern Ortho­dox icon tra­di­tion, there is no tech­ni­cal rea­son why you couldn’t apply the tubed egg tem­pera paints over hand­made tem­pera. You can thin the tube paint with either water, or a mix­ture of egg yolk and water.

  23. Gordon says

    Thanks, David, I’ll have a go! I had in fact half fin­ished the colours and have done the gold leaf so I need to paint some more colours on the gesso base. Best regards…

  24. T Hoover says

    Gor­don -

    I would love to see your efforts. I have trav­eled to Cyprus on many occa­sions– my hus­band is in the busi­ness of mak­ing color — (more on that a bit). While there I have enjoyed vis­it­ing the old churches and see­ing the beau­ti­ful icons.

    Our con­nec­tions to Cyprus as I said is due to the min­ing of umbers, ochers and sien­nas for use in the pro­duc­tion of color for artists paints (includ­ing Grum­bacher, Wind­sor New­ton, Kolart, Golden, Daniel Smith, Chroma Acrylics), house paints, pig­ments and dyes.

    David– I appre­ci­ate your allow­ing me to com­ment to Gor­don. As to why I found your blog… I was googling to deter­mine if PS RAW was a non-destructive way to process my photo images. I am a pho­tog­ra­pher with a canon 5D. I pho­to­graph wed­dings, fam­i­lies ect. and have been clean­ing up my workflow–

    Thanks again– have a great day– Teri

  25. David says

    @T Hoover -

    T. Hoover,

    Pho­to­shop RAW can be non-destructive, depend­ing on how it’s used. Cam­era RAW is entirely non-destructive.

  26. June Ward says

    I am try­ing to pre­pare linen for oil paint­ing. In Vir­gil Elliott’s book “Tra­di­tional Oil Paint­ing”, he rec­c­om­mended using PVA size and Wind­sor & New­tons Oil Primer for the ground. He says the con­ser­va­tors are say­ing this method will be more per­manant than the tra­di­tional rab­bit skin glue size and the white lead ground. The direc­tions on the PVA size calls for applly­ing the size to the linen, let­ting it dry, stretch­ing the linen and then apply­ing the ground. When I did this the oil primer went through the linen and was vis­i­ble on the back side of the can­vas. Since the whole rea­son for the size is to pre­vent the oil from com­ing in con­tact with the linen, I have assumed that this method does not work prop­erly. The con­sis­tancy of the PVA size is just like water. Do you have any expe­ri­ence with these prod­ucts? It is so frus­trat­ing to have spent money on the linen and the other prod­ucts, not to men­tion the time to stretch the can­vase etc. and to get these results. I am think­ing I should just go with the tra­di­tional meth­ods. Any com­ments would be greatly appre­ci­ated. Thank you, June

  27. David Rourke says

    June,

    I have not worked with PVA size. I gen­er­ally use hide glue, despite its poten­tial prob­lems. Actu­ally, I usu­ally paint on pan­els, which don’t need to be sized.

    Here’s what Gamblin’s web site says about your prob­lem. It sounds rea­son­able to me.

    Q: I see ground strik­ing through the back of my fab­ric. Is this a problem?

    A: You are prob­a­bly using a linen with a more open weave. By cor­rectly scrub­bing the PVA Size into the fab­ric before appli­ca­tion of your ground, the fab­ric is sealed. The ground is fill­ing the space between the fab­ric that is fine. Con­sider apply­ing PVA size to the back of the can­vas too, so that any ground that is touch­ing fab­ric on the back has been sized.

  28. bill nelson says

    I‘m try­ing to reach the skin coloe od an unborn (9 month) infant. can you sug­gest an acrylic color mix?

    • David Rourke says

      Bill,

      There are lots of ways to get where you’re try­ing to go. Lately, my skin tones have been mixes of raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, and white. Not sure what to do with unborn—that would mean very red, I guess. I’d prob­a­bly base the color on burnt sienna and mix from there.

      I’m not sure what to sug­gest with­out fur­ther details on what exactly you’re try­ing to accomplish…

  29. Janice says

    I live in my stu­dio and paint in oils. I use tur­pen­tine for mak­ing damar var­nish for large areas of pour­ing on my can­vas. I am won­der­ing if an open win­dow is enough ven­ti­la­tion or if an air puri­fier will help.

    • David Rourke says

      Jan­ice,

      If you use lots of turps, then I’d strongly encour­age you to make sure you have very good ventilation.

  30. Ajamu says

    David~

    I have most recently been intro­duced to the art of Pietro Annigoni (what a mas­ter­ful painter).

    Are there any books, recipes or videos pro­vid­ing proper instruc­tion on how to apply/use tem­pera grassa as a paint­ing technique?

    Any direc­tion you can pro­vide will be greatly appre­ci­ated. Thank you in advance.

    ~Ajamu

  31. Dave says

    uhm, why is it some artist use raw umber or burnt umber for under­paint­ing in oil? is it to give warmth to the dead layer?? I’m really curi­ous. why not use other col­ors like yel­low or blue. thanks

    • David says

      Dave,

      It’s all a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence. Any color can be used for under­paint­ing. Low-chroma col­ors are often pre­ferred because it’s eas­ier to con­cen­trate specif­i­cally on form and value. Since those are the bedrock of most paint­ings, many painters find it use­ful to estab­lish those first.

      One advan­tage of umbers is that they dry very fast. An umber under­paint­ing allows you to move on to the next stage of paint­ing quickly.

  32. Raquel says

    Hi David,

    I tried to post this on the end of one of your blogs but I don’t think it worked so I’m going to try post­ing it here too.

    Thank you for post­ing this bril­liant arti­cle. I’ve read through the entire blog and all of the com­ments in search of answers which I can’t seem to find.

    I have a few ques­tions that I’m hop­ing you could help me with.

    For the past cou­ple of months I’ve been strug­gling with fatigue — so much so that I’ve not been very func­tional at all. I’ve been to the doc­tors, natur­opaths, herbal­ists and been doing my best to be healthy and we’ve not had any answers other than the sug­ges­tion that i might have a mild form of chronic fatige. Pretty sure I don’t. Only today has it been sug­gested to me that this could be due to the paint fumes in my stu­dio. I guess it sounds fool­ish but I’ve nat­u­rally always assumed that that wouldn’t be the case because I am a third gen­er­a­tion artist and nei­ther my father or my grand­fa­ther ever had trou­ble, and my father has repet­i­tively reas­sured me that he doesn’t think they would affect me until tonight. Tonight he told me that today our gallery staff com­plained that when­ever one of my paint­ings comes into the gallery she feels sick. There are lots of other oil paint­ings in the gallery so it can’t be oils in gen­eral. I use a dif­fer­ent brand of paint to my father and grand­fa­ther because its cheaper, per­haps my paint is harm­ful and theirs isn’t and that’s why they’ve never had trou­ble? Or per­haps it’s the fact that I use a quick dry­ing agent? These are my con­cerns. I’ve been doing some research on the Inter­net but can’t seem to find any infor­ma­tion on the affects or tox­i­c­ity of the mate­ri­als I’m cur­rently using.

    I paint VERY thickly tex­tured paint­ings so for a start I am deal­ing with masses more paint than the aver­age artist. I am cur­rently using a lot of Daler-Rowney Geor­gian Oil paints (cheaper stu­dents’ ver­sion of the stan­dard Daler-Rowney paints).
    I am mix­ing these paints in at a 50/50 ratio with a quick dry­ing agent: Archival Oils brand “smooth gel medium.”
    I can’t seem to find whether my paints are toxic or not on the Inter­net.
    Do you know what type of oil these paints are made from and whether I am likely to be upset by them or rather the quick dry­ing agent?
    If the lat­ter — are there any safe sub­sti­tu­tions out there?
    If it turns out that I am in fact sen­si­tive to plain old oil paints — would wear­ing a face mask help or not really?

    I REALLY don’t want to have to switch to acrylics.

    My apolo­gies — this has got to be the longest post on this blog. David, if you are able to help me I would be so grateful.

    Sin­cerely, Raquel

    • David says

      Raquel,

      Some peo­ple are sen­si­tive to oil paint fumes, some not. Per­son­ally I dis­like the “what the heck is that?” smell of acrylic much more than the smell of oil paint, but each person’s body reacts differently.

      You might try a few weeks away from oil paint and see what hap­pens. Then spend a week paint­ing with oil to compare.

      If oil paint really is the prob­lem then you may con­sider paints ground in wal­nut oil such as those made by M. Gra­ham. You could also try paint­ing with­out the gel medium to see if that makes a dif­fer­ence. This might or might not help.

      Also check out these arti­cles on my site if you have not already:

      http://​rourke​vi​su​alart​.com/​w​o​r​d​p​r​e​s​s​/​2006​/​08​/​10​/​s​t​u​d​i​o​-​s​a​f​e​t​y​-​a​n​d​-​o​i​l​-​p​a​i​n​t​i​ng/

      http://​rourke​vi​su​alart​.com/​w​o​r​d​p​r​e​s​s​/​2006​/​12​/​29​/​o​i​l​-​p​a​i​n​t​i​n​g​-​w​i​t​h​o​u​t​-​s​o​l​v​e​n​ts/

      Best wishes,

      David

    • Kye says

      Rac­quel, I know you posted this sev­eral months ago but I just came across it and might be able to help a little.

      I think it’s your medium, not the oil paint. You say you mix the paint 50/50 with medium. I had a look at the MSDS for your medium and it con­tains hydro­car­bons. Hydro­car­bons can be prob­lem­atic for peo­ple who are chem­i­cally sen­si­tive. Your symp­toms sound like chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity to me (acronym MCS for ‘mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties’) and often peo­ple who are chem­i­cally sen­si­tive suf­fer from chronic fatigue as well.

      Expo­sure is what brings on the sen­si­tiv­ity. That your gallery man­ager says your paint­ings make her feel ill is a red flag to me. I think it’s likely that work­ing around the medium you use has trig­gerd a chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity. If that is the case, your sen­si­tiv­ity will likely have spread to other volatile organic sub­stances as well, espe­cially hydro­car­bon based prod­ucts and prob­a­bly organic pes­ti­cides. Ter­penoids are com­monly prob­lem­atic for chem­i­cally sen­si­tive peo­ple, too.

      I have been chem­i­cally sen­si­tive for decades, due to expo­sure to a toxic soup of things in a fam­ily busi­ness as a teenager. I am vastly bet­ter than I was then, but it takes many years of care­ful work to recover, and you have to be care­ful about every­thing you expose your­self to. Google ‘MCS chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity’ to learn more, or if you wanted to be in touch with me you could con­tact me via my web­site (kyenel​son​.com) and I would be happy to share other resources I’ve found helpful.

      Avoid­ance is your first line of defense while you do the longer work of healing.

      One change I had to make myself, was to move away from any kind of sol­vent based paint­ing or any toxic pig­ments. I ini­tially shifted to straight egg tem­pera and used non­toxic dry pig­ments (earth pig­ments basi­cally) along with some non­toxic tube water­color made for chil­dren for brighter col­ors, which I would use with egg medium. Later I began to use a lean egg oil emul­sion which was still water soluble.

      I first tried acrylics but they are hydro­car­bon based so they didn’t work for me, and my gut feel­ing is that any­one who is at the begin­ning of recov­er­ing from chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity would be well advised to avoid them.

      Tur­pen­tine is not usu­ally good for peo­ple who are chem­i­cally sen­si­tive; you have to be care­ful with with any volatile organic com­pound and this can include essen­tial oils which are com­monly used in alter­na­tive health often and thought of as purely heal­ing. If you like essen­tial oils you may be able to use them with care if you are chem­i­cally sen­si­tive, but I’d learn the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the oils you like in that case, and stay away from those with ter­penoids. Also pay atten­tion to clean­ing prod­ucts you use in and out of your studio.

      I hope this helps, or that you have found other help­ful resources since Jan­u­ary. David, as the owner of this blog would you be will­ing to email Rac­quel and let her know this response is here? She may not have vis­ited again after your response to her, and I would very much like to help min­i­mize her suffering.

      Warmly, Kye

      • David says

        Kye,

        Thanks for your com­pre­hen­sive response. I don’t have an email address for Raquel, but she may still mon­i­tor responses to her question.

  33. pcherf says

    I am embark­ing on an endeavor of a repro­duc­tion of a Mar­garet Mac­Don­ald gesso’d panel. Not sure if you are famil­iar with her work but it the wish of a client of mine to have one of her pieces made. Her process was never doc­u­mented. She was the wife of Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh an accom­plished archi­tect and artist him­self in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. If you see her pieces they are quite involved with beads,stones, paint etc in her works. My prob­lem is I have no
    back­ground in gesso. She used a bak­ers pipe to draw lines. My con­cern is to make sure
    the heavy applied gesso does not crack. Is mdf the best sub­strate for a large gesso’d panel?
    I have been paint­ing since col­lege and have a fine arts degree in paint­ing. I am cur­rently craft­ing high end wood fur­ni­ture. I am very excited to get started on this. I will be mak­ing some small sam­ple to test on.

  34. Carl Chapple says

    Hi David,

    For­give my lazi­ness, but the fol­low­ing is pretty much a cut-and-paste of a ques­tion I recently posted on AMIEN’s web­site. If you have any advice, I’ve be very inter­ested to hear it. I’m in a mild state of panic.

    For a while around the begin­ning of this year I had prob­lems prepar­ing can­vases, as tiny spots of primer kept com­ing through the weave after siz­ing. I have not painted on these can­vases, though I imag­ine that the cause of the primer prob­lem and the sub­se­quent issue of medium soak­ing through those I did use may have been the same — that a batch of rabbit-skin size I started using about six months ago was weaker than usual, so not fully seal­ing the linen when mixed in the ratio that I had pre­vi­ously used. I’ve recently stretched a few can­vases with a slightly stronger solu­tion of size, and that seems to have stopped the prob­lem with the primer. I’m hop­ing it will also stop the issue with medium pass­ing through, though haven’t tested that yet.

    How­ever, my main con­cern now is that I have half a dozen can­vases with wor­ry­ing patches on the backs, and I’m not sure how seri­ous a prob­lem this presents or what my options might be.

    Linen is sized with two coats of (the pos­si­bly too weak) rab­bit skin glue, and primed with two coats of Rober­son oil primer — a titanium/china clay mix in lin­seed oil/alkyd resin. The paint­ings on the reverse were begun with fairly turpsy paint, and con­tin­ued with a lin­seed stand oil/turps medium over sev­eral sessions.

    Blotch­ing on the backs of the can­vases seems to have taken a few days to appear, and has wors­ened with sub­se­quent paint­ing. The positions/shapes of the blotches don’t seem to relate at all to the paint­ings on the reverse, and the paint­ings them­selves appear unaf­fected at the moment.

    If you have any thoughts on this I’d be very grate­ful — par­tic­u­larly about the pos­si­ble cause of this issue, what its impli­ca­tions might be, and whether/how I might stop any harm being done. I’m work­ing on a series of pic­tures for exhi­bi­tion next spring and sum­mer, and would hope to include some of those affected.

    Many thanks.

    • David says

      Carl,

      I’m not sure what to sug­gest. I have not had this hap­pen per­son­ally. I hes­i­tate to sug­gest any par­tic­u­lar rem­edy, as any­thing I am think­ing of might also cause harm.

      I hope some­one more expert than me can be of assis­tance. Good luck.



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