When MIT’s Dewey Library was renovated in 2009, I was invited to create paintings for its lovely pristine walls. I did a color exploration series: 4 30×30 views of Building 10 in different palettes. And the work still resides on the 2nd floor of Dewey Library (Bldg E53 if you are in the neighborhood) and I’ve imagined that people occasionally take a peek.
Early this summer, I learned that those paintings are seen. I was asked to paint another, using the same motif although a bit smaller at 16×16 inches. I was invited to paint the retirement gift for Dr. William Kettyle, the Director of MIT Medical.
The painting was unveiled at Dr. Kettyle’s retirement reception last Wednesday. My apologies for the quality of the photo – the situation was a bit beyond what my phone could handle. The presentations showed clearly the great respect and affection Dr. Kettlyle’s colleagues hold for him. Wonderful speeches full of love. I was honored to make my contribution.
This summer I developed a sensitivity (sensitivity = ranging from lightheaded dizziness to all out room-swirling vertigo) to solvents (paint thinner, with and without odor, turpentine, and mixtures that contain them).
I carried on through the plein air season, first focusing on not standing downwind of my solvent filled brush jar and then starting to experiment with alternatives. Painting existed long before the petro-chemicals on which we rely, but the “old ways” look pretty obscured by the sands of time.
I want to consider all sorts of alternatives, please if you’ve been exploring solvent free oil painting, I’d love to hear more – and art supply companies certainly have seen this growing sensitivity as a niche market worthy of exploration. But before I discuss what I’ve found, here’s a quick overview for non-artists as to how I used solvents in my painting. First of course, solvent cleans up: the classic pot that holds the dirty brushes, and the damp rag to wipe down the palette, assorted spills and paintings that can’t or shouldn’t be saved. Solvent is also an additive to many medium mixtures, both purchased and artist mixed. Including solvent thins the mixture and speeds the drying time. Both can be highly desirable traits. When initially starting a painting I sketch on the canvas with paint (usually Indian Yellow with a touch of Dioxazine Purple for a lovely warm brown) that has been substantially thinned with “thinner” to create an imprimatura.
Admittedly, I could just bid a fond farewell to my oils but I’m not feeling it yet. I’m told acrylics have improved considerably since I was in college and I should give them a try. Not loving the idea. Too plastic. Acrylic gouache has some nice qualities but dries annoyingly quickly. I do love my traditional gouache (originally the French opaque version of the English transparent watercolors ) water-based, and portable and lovely for intimate work. Oh, the downside? mats and frames with glass unless I break with the display standard. Hmm, there is a box of oil pastels around . . .
So, where did I start . . . first switched out the can of odorless turps to hold the dirty brushes for a can of food grade safflower oil, this is not for mixing with the paint (the painting would never dry!) – just swishing dirty brushes.
Something I’m not clear about, and if anyone knows, please chime in below, I’ve heard that painting oils (stand and linseed oils) can already contain solvents although not listed as an ingredient. Possible for uniformity? Then I bought the available solvent free mediums manufactured by Gamblin and M. Graham. and have started to give them a try.
Gamblin makes solvent-free fluid and gel, both containing safflower oil. Both described as having moderately fast drying rate and increasing gloss. Not sure I want to increase gloss.
M. Graham’s Walnut oil is slow drying, yes! and its Walnut Alkyd Medium is not so much. But its glossy. And reminds me about spontaneous combustion of oily rags.
I used the Walnut Alkyd Medium for the imprimatura of the sage and pear painting. It worked. But glossy.
I’ll update on my experiments in the future. Haven’t used these 4 enough to offer more info.
In the past year, I did some rather abrupt downsizing, and moving. This included storing paintings in a barn that I thought would be safe and very short term – whoops! I’m back in Vermont to sort through boxes, and make an inventory of what’s up here (I’m taking a quick shot of each painting and putting them in a folder named In Vermont.) Most of the paintings are just fine but these 4 are both cracked and badly covered front and back with mold. So fare thee well my pretties.
A fine day in City Square, Charlestown. Art in the Park is an annual event sponsored by the Artists Group of Charlestown
Vermont was at its best –
painting, inspiration, friends and wonderful, dramatic skies but not too much rain.
Art New England is a 3 week program of art workshops from Mass College of Art held at Bennington College, a picture perfect summer retreat. (as of today, 7/26 – its not to late to sign up for a few workshops offered the last week.) Workshops are held at VAPA, Bennington College’s Visual and Performing Arts Center, I enjoyed the company of wonderful painters – old friends! new friends! – too corny? the very generous instruction from Stanley Bielen, and mostly had a great week. Accommodations are in the dorm – a bit spartan maybe but I like how non-distracting it is. The dining hall’s food is generous and tries hard to accommodate the many eating habits of today. And really, for a week I don’t cook or wash dishes, what’s not to love!
Here are some of my paintings, works on both canvas and gessoed or “matte-mediumed” paper:
Before my week at Art New England, held in Bennington, Vermont, I stopped outside of Brattleboro. I visited the Rock River Open Studios, where I saw the plein air paintings of Georgie Runkle and the animal portraits of Caryn King, spent some restful time gazing at the West River, and painted a quick sketch of same. Ah, Vermont. Lovely as ever. Nice cheese and lots of art; if only it weren’t so cold in the winter.
My paintings, Charlestown Morning, 2012 and Damming the Charles, 2013 at Danforth Art until August 2!