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Materials Required For Portrait Painting Explained

Oct 31, 2007
The materials needed by the beginner for portrait painting are but few, but these should be of excellent quality and carefully selected. The materials required are: a canvas, a selection of brushes, linseed oil and of course a wide selection of paints. Once you have these materials you are ready to go.

Canvas

I prefer linen. It is a great aid to good painting, as the paint moves more freely and does not pull all the oil out of the pigment, leaving the painting dull and flat. However, for demonstrating and practice I quite often use good grade (hard) cotton.

Many students use prepared "panels" of canvas mounted on heavy cardboard. Each should be given a light coat of white shellac. Professionals more often prefer canvas bought by the yard or the roll and tacked onto the canvas stretchers obtainable at all dealers. I recommend this, or stretchers with canvas already in place.

Brushes

Like the Old Masters I choose the round bristle brush and use the side of it to apply the paint with a scratching movement (except when drawing the eyes and other fine details). This allows all the tones to come together in a soft blend, and your pigment will stand out and sparkle instead of pasting down to an enamel effect.

With brushes known as "flats" and "brights" - both of them thin - there is a tendency to flatten and paste down the color unpleasantly. Also, the flat stroke will invariably leave raised edges which call for some care if they are to be blended properly with the surrounding tones. (I do, however, use a flat brush for drawing.)

Care of Brushes

If you paint for two or three days in a row, just stand or rinse your brushes in kerosene. (Don't stand them for long on their points.) When storing them for any length of time, wash them thoroughly with soap and cold water. Make sure the paint is out at the heel (next to ferrule).

Mixing Medium

I have found students more confused about this material than any other. Some have read so much about mediums, and have experimented with so many, that they have not had time to learn to paint!

For the present, forget prepared mediums. Use artists purified linseed oil. Modern methods of refining have overcome nearly all of its former tendency to yellow. If you want a heavier medium to make your paint stand out from the painted surface, substitute stand oil, which is sun-thickened linseed oil. Though turpentine is a popular medium, especially when mat (dull) effects are wanted, avoid it as it will thin and wash out the desirable dense quality of the pigment. Its only legitimate use is in the drawing stage for wiping errors from the canvas.

To obtain full advantage of the natural brilliance of your paint, use it as it comes from the tube. If it refuses to spread or move freely, mix in a minimum amount of linseed oil.

Now you are ready to paint!
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