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  • Brush Washing Soap

    Every time I am talking with a new group of students, maintenance of materials comes up, and invariably everyone will ask what soap is best for brush washing.  I have avoided writing this blog post for about two years.  That said, as this question keeps coming up over and over again in workshops (it did last week in the Gottlieb class) and finally I figured I should just put it here so it’s searchable.

    In the US here are the winners for brush maintenance…. these are the two I keep at the sink:

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    Fels Naptha was the historic choice of brush washing soap of the Boston School painters- as Tom Dunlay recounted on Facebook, Ives Gammell used it, as did his teachers, teacher’s teachers and so on.  It’s a laundry soap, not in with the hand soap in the supermarket.  What’s unique about Fels-Naptha is that unlike many other major soap brands, they have not changed formula and become a detergent product, it’s still glycerin soap.  It is hard to find glycerin soap these days in America.  John Carlson recommends in his guide to landscape painting to wash brushes after cleaning in kerosene, and clean the surface of dirty paintings with Ivory Soap.  Ivory of course still exists, but I would strongly recommend not cleaning your brushes or painting with it, it’s a detergent/lotion blend product now and will leave crazy residue in your brushes- and I shudder to think what it would do to the surface of a painting.

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    The other brush washing soap I use in the studio is Lava.  Lava is a heavy duty cleaning soap with pumice blended into it, so if there’s old paint in the ferrule, or the brush really needs a good cleaning, Lava is what I’ll use.  That said, sink washing is the most aggressive thing you ever do to a brush, so I try to use Lava on a brush infrequently.  It’s great for cleaning but will probably wear down the hairs with time if you use it daily.

     

    Honorable Mentions:

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    The Masters Brush Cleaner-  this is wicked nice brush washing soap, it’s what it’s designed to do, and also has pumice for tough-to-wash brushes.  That said, like all art materials, it comes at an added premium.   If you have a trust fund, or if you like literally pouring money down the sink, I would recommend that you use this stuff.  In my experience though, there is nothing that this soap does that the above two can’t do.  I haven’t bought it for years, and like other ‘branded’ artist materials (cough cough GAMSOL cough cough cough) it is essentially exactly the same product you buy in the hardware store or supermarket, just 5-10 times more expensive.

     

     

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    Murphy’s Oil Soap is an amazing product, it has many uses (I often clean my wood floors at home with it, but also my friend Rob Bodem uses it when he’s making casts of his sculptures), I know some love it for washing brushes.  It’s never worked for me for washing brushes, and it’s also terribly expensive.  Some folks like it though- maybe I just can’t get used to a liquid soap for cleaning brushes.  Still, deserves a mention here.

     

     

    Come to think of it, there is one other soap worth mentioning:

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    This is the soap I used for years in Italy, SOLE (yellow type only, the white one has some lotion or something which remains in your brushes).  It is probably the Italian version of Fels-Naptha, another bar laundry soap (though I do not think it has the addition of naphtha, or like Fels is recommended for treating poison ivy, especially since they don’t have poison ivy in the mediterranean).  Like Fels Naptha, it’s dirt cheap and in the supermarket, not the art store.  I only now, writing this post realized that they are probably analogues.

     

     

    Feel free to argue with me in the comments about what brush soap you like, but be forewarned, you are probably wrong.

     

    *whew* silly blog post on brush washing over with

  • Velazquez Copy at the MFA

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    please note my baroque era drop cloth and trader joe’s bag, just like diego’s

     

    Last week I spent some time at the MFA with Adrian Gottlieb working on a copy of a portion of Diego Velazquez’s ‘Don Baltasar Carlos with a Dwarf’ from 1632.  Adrian jumped at the chance to do a copy at the museum, as apparently in California they do not allow master copy in any of the museums, of course limiting the amount of in-depth study you can do.  It’s a great way to spend a couple of afternoons.

    Below is a photo I took of Adrian at work copying a Rembrandt

     

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    Weekly student Nadine Geller, and artist friends Frank Strazzula and Kamille Corry came by the museum while I was starting in my copy, their photo below.

     

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    Above is the full painting, below my copy of the dwarf’s head.  I wanted specifically to copy the very colorful midtones in the painting, I have been painting very high key for the past couple of years, so thought it would be a good example to study.  Unfortunately the lighting in the gallery was very yellow, which made any sort of one-to-one copying of color a bit of a crapshoot.

    After spending a couple of days with the painting, I could really sense Diego’s ambivalence towards the young king and caring for the little person I spent time copying.

     

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    I would have liked to spend one more day refining the copy, as it is it’s a bit rough, but as an educational study I already feel like I gained a lot.  It’s a 20×16″

    There are few things simultaneously more humbling and educational than doing this sort of thing.  I try to do at least one a year, and every time tell myself I should do them more often.  Click here to read a previous blog post from early this year on doing a Frederick Judd Waugh copy.

    And since we are on the topic of copying paintings, below is an Antonio Mancini copy I did back in 2010 or so- I don’t think I ever posted this one on my blog.  It’s not a top-shelf Mancini, just because of the subject more than anything, but the technique was absolutely outstanding, learned much about paint application doing this one.

     

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  • Self Portrait

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    Here’s an image of a recent self portrait I just finished.  Just a quick snapshot, better photo to come after it’s varnished.  Below, a close up of the face that shows the textures of the painting a bit.  It’s about 24×20″, metric stretchers.

     

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  • Teresa Oaxaca Class June 2016

     

    End of June was Teresa Oaxaca’s second class in the studio, click here to read a blog post on her class last year.  

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    Last year’s course at my studio was a portrait drawing class, this time, one-shot portrait painting.  We had a great group, and many returning students from 2015’s class.  The group seemed very happy, Teresa runs her class with a lot of good energy, she’s as passionate about painting as she is talented.

     

     

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    Oaxaca demonstrated at length, and worked with everyone individually as they worked up their ~6 hour paintings. The students did well, and I think overall showed quite a bit of improvement.  I spent some time sketching with the group which was a lot of fun.

     

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    It seems like every workshop something fun food related happens, this time was no exception- this time, student Jay Wee (pictured above with Teresa) brought a big bag of Island Creek oysters up from Duxbury, which I opened for everyone at lunch over the weekend.  Definitely an extra perk, who else runs art workshops with a raw bar at lunch?  huge shoutout to Jay 😉

     

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    Extracurricular activities brought Teresa another commission while she was in Boston, and a bit of time drawing with my son in the evening while waiting for me to get the grill going.  Look forward to the next time Teresa will come teach, she is off to Europe for the summer.   Image of her portrait commission below:

     

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  • Antique Easel(s)

    Last weekend I bought another antique easel, an F. Weber crank easel.  I now have three of them.  They are not easy to find, so I thought I would do a blog post explaining how I’ve been going about getting them.  Also, I thought it was worth putting a few pictures online for folks to check out (there is very little real information to be found on antique easels online)  Here is a link to a previous blog post on the first of these old easels I found, back in 2012.

     

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    I call them the three graces.  Just kidding, that’s silly, they’re ‘the nice easels’.

     

    For the past few years, I have been buying used easels, antique and not, because I always need extra easels for my classes.  First, a few words on the cheaper new h-frame model easels out right now-

    Click here for a link to the Winsor and Newton ‘Shannon’ model H-Frame easel– This is a fine easel.  It is sturdy enough, lightweight, and folds up smallish- it’s rack and pinion, so clicks into place and stays there.  It doesn’t go up super high, and the mast is tall, so you will need a tall ceiling.

    Click here for a link to the Best Richeson ‘Dulce’ Lyptus easel.  This is another good h-frame- especially good for sight-size and smaller ceiling heights as the tray goes way up, and the central mast can go down independently.    I do have a problem with the ‘best’ model easels though- the central shelf is fastened with a plastic knob that comes loose, and the whole thing comes slamming down like a guillotine.  That really sucks, so I keep a heavy clamp underneath them to keep them a bit more sturdy.

    Blick is now selling a studio h-frame that is inexpensive, and basically identical to the W&N shannon.  While it is identical in size, it is far more rickety, and entirely unstable.  I would save your money and get the shannon if you can.

    My favorite ‘new’ studio easel is the Mabef 06 this is a medium-size easel that can accommodate both huge and small pictures.  Sturdy.  I have three of them.

    An easel should really last a lifetime, so I don’t mind buying them used, even one of the newer models above.   That said, I love finding old easels like the above because they have features you just don’t find today- this antique easel was in very rough shape.  I took it all apart, sanded and oiled all the wood, glued and screwed everything back together, and had to have a friend custom build a bunch of new parts for it in his machine shop.

    Here’s what I know about it: The good folks at Martin/Weber helped me out, and I can say with confidence that this is a very early version of the Number 20 ‘Rembrandt’ Winding Studio Easel produced by F. Weber Co from 1903-1919.  (Number 20 was the only one with drawers).  I am guessing that it is much earlier than my other two as there are some major differences- the casters (wheels) are made of wood, not plastic/rubber.  The tray length is different, and the design of the base and frame of the easel interlocks differently (weakly, but beautifully hinged, instead of bolted).  The pegs on the mast are all wood, with a metal washer, rather than all-metal.  All three of them have to have been produced before 1919, as after that date the company name changed to “F. Weber Co, Inc.” and the nameplates would reflect that.   The other two are either the Number 17 or 18 model Rembrandt easel.

    If anyone has access to the Getty Archives, they have the weber old catalogs, you might be able to find more information:

    http://archives2.getty.edu:8082/xtf/view?docId=ead/950018/950018.xml;chunk.id=scopecontent_1;brand=default

     

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    Look at those drawers.

     

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    Like my other Weber Easels, it has the unique spiral cast-iron peg mounting crank rather than threaded rod that was already popular at the time.

     

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    Beautiful solid base for storing a drawing board or canvas, and ornate hinges

     

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    Embossed ‘F. Weber&Co. Artist & Draughtsman’s Materials, Philadelphia’ nameplate, clearly older than my other two models

     

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    compare the above simple nameplate from one of my newer Weber easels

     

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    The easel has a simple system for doing small canvases up at eye-level

     

    As I said above, the easel was lacking some pretty major pieces- I had my friend and neighbor Todd Cahill of Steamachine Sculpture make them– he had to make 3 new pegs for the crank, thread a new piece of rod for the clamp that holds the canvas down as it had stripped, and invent a new tightening Knob mechanism for the mast support.  Todd does incredibly precise work, functioning steam engine kinetic sculptures and works with old belt-driven metal lathes and all sorts of wonderful machines I can’t pronounce.  Here is a video of Todd showing what he does, and clicking here will bring you to another video, which shows a bit of our studio complex and surroundings.  Todd has been very helpful to me with my odd studio projects (he saved the day on a couple of my sculpture stands I built back in December), but the guy is a fascinating artist.  He just had a show of his drawings and process at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation.  Todd’s drawings are beyond impressive, and you should see them in person to appreciate the meticulous linework.

     

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    My number 20 Easel was missing one of these cast-iron knobs- if the early model even had them

     

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    Todd built me this in wood, and i stained it to match. Metal detailing on the other side.

     

    So- the reason I go to all the trouble and expense of restoring these antique easels is because they just function better than new ones tend to.  They have a sturdy crank system, and they are seriously built to last.  They are also beautiful, the last time I did a blog post on them in 2012 I had a string of designers write me trying to buy them.  There is a trend of putting Flat Screen TV’s on antique easels, and though they would have paid me good money, I am a romantic and can’t imagine parting with them.  You can’t help but daydream about who has used it before you.

     

    Here is my advice on easel searching:

    This is the hard part- learn to recognize (often from bad photos) the basic easel designs you are interested in.  Is it an H-Frame?  Does it have casters?  Does it have a crank?  Compare, for instance, an Anco-Bilt antique studio easel to the pictures of mine above.  One hundred percent of the times I have bought an easel online I know more about the easel than the person selling it.  There are little elements of the design that give away what it is, and photos online are almost always terrible.

    Patience.  There are not a ton of them out there.

    I have a search set on craigslist to ‘easel’.  Any other keyword is too specific.  You will need to wade through tons of ikea kid’s easels, plastic easels, and presentation easels.  That said, it’s the way I have ended up buying nearly every used easel in this room.  I use this each particularly if I am traveling to another area and I will have room in the car.

    Freecycle.org works pretty well in Boston, check it in your area.

    The antique shops will have easels.  Sometimes overpriced, sometimes not.

    I search on Ebay for ‘antique easel’ or ‘vintage easel’.  This has turned up some nice ones.  Try to find one nearby though, that can be hard.

    If you end up shipping one, use a trucking freight company.  It will save you literally hundreds of dollars.

    Also, I have gotten good at inspecting the easels when I go to buy them- I ask myself,  ‘how much work will it be to get this thing working?’  Will it just need some glue and a couple of screws, or something more?

    When you get the easel, decide if it needs to be taken apart and repaired (it usually does, whether new or old).

     

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    See the tiny nails coming out of the tray and clamp?  That allows you to paint all the way to the edge.  I love those.

     

    If anyone finds anything out there, leave a photo in the comments.  And designers, just buy one of the Restoration Hardware reproduced crank easels, and hire an artist to use it for  a few weeks 😉  Leave the antique easels to people that will use them.

  • Show at Tree’s Place

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    Fishing Shack in Allen Cove, 35×43″ (90x110cm)

     

    This Saturday May 21st there is a show of my work opening at Tree’s Place Gallery in Orleans, on Cape Cod.  It’s a two-person show, the other artist’s work featured is Marcia Burtt.  The opening is from 5-7:00 and I will be there- the show runs through June 2nd.  If you’re in the area, stop by for a glass of wine and a chat.

    Below are a couple of other paintings in the show that are not in the online catalogue:

     

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    Spring in Gloucester, 16×20″ (40x50cm)

     

    Blue-Rocks-Mist

    Morning Mist, Blue Rocks 24×30″ (60x75cm)

     

    Pomegranate-Slice-5.5x7.5

    Halved Pomegranate 6×8″ (15x20cm)

     

    Click here to see the online catalogue for the show.  

  • Plyos, Rain

    This painting of Plyos, Russia from 2014 left the studio last week and I realized I never put a finished photo on my site. The client asked me to write a short description of the piece for them to have, so I thought I would post it here.  This has long been among my favorite of my studio landscapes, but strangely had never been selected for a single exhibition.  Glad that it’s gone off to a good home.

     

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    Plyos, Rain oil on canvas 2014 35×47″ (90×120 cm)

     

    In spring 2013 I was invited by the Museum of Landscape in Plyos, Ivanova Region, to paint in Russia as part of a cultural exchange/art initiative called зеленый шум or “Green Noise”.  Plyos is a quaint village on the Volga River, (one of the ‘Golden Ring’ cities about ~8 hours northeast from Moscow), today a tourist destination with strict architectural cultural preservation and as its centerpiece, a museum and statue to the great Russian landscape artist, Isaak Levitan (1860-1900).  Levitan had long been one of my favorite artists, and I had read about Plyos for years-although most Russians I met had never heard of the town.

    Each year the ‘Green Noise’ program would invite foreign artists to paint with Russian counterparts and have an exhibition with the work at the end of the trip.  I jumped at the chance-Levitan’s pictures of Plyos rank among his best, so of course, I had to see it.  

    Unfortunately it rained every single day with two exceptions: the day it was snowing, and the one day we weren’t allowed to paint as we had to take part in the inaugural ceremony.  Generally speaking, I prefer to work indoors if it’s raining, but we had no choice during the trip to continue work as each of us had to produce paintings for the exhibition at the end.  I did 13 paintings during the trip, and ‘Rain, Plyos’ was eventually painted in my studio outside Boston from the studies in early 2014.  

     

    For comparisons sake, here is an image of the 24×30″ (60x80cm) painting that I did on-site during the trip:

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  • Recent Drawings

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    charcoal pencil and white chalk

    Here’s the third installment of my far too infrequent blog postings of my recent work, drawings.  I’ve been good at putting images on my Facebook and Instagram but should probably be updating my site more often.  I’m considering rebuilding/restructuring my site again, as so much of what I post on here has been about guest teachers demos, and random thoughts.  Maybe I need two blogs-but I don’t even update this one often.

     

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    These are just sketches, all but one done between critiques while I am teaching in the studio on Tuesday evenings.  I don’t paint the figure or portrait very often these days and sketching is an easy way for me to keep my eye analytical.   I love drawing the figure, it’s what initially pulled me away from doing graffiti as a teenager.  Plus, the human form translates so well to all of the other issues in painting- whether portraits, landscapes or still lifes, it seems to inform everything and keep me interested in my other work.

    None of these are really ‘finished drawings’ and most serve just as a record of the 2-4 hour classes that I did them during.  I switch mediums a lot while I’m doing them to keep challenging myself- I have a toddler who still doesn’t sleep through the night often, so if I work with charcoal pencil or metal point, which doesn’t really lend to erasing, it keeps me focused (or incredibly frustrated) at the end of a long day.  Some of these are done sight-size, some not.

     

     

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    silverpoint and white chalk

     

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    graphite and charcoal pencil

     

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    silverpoint and charcoal pencil

     

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    charcoal and charcoal pencil

     

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    charcoal and white chalk

     

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    charcoal pencil, silverpoint and white chalk

     

     

     

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