Friday, April 8, 2011

Even more painting Studio Tech by Paul Baldassini

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“Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communication, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”     —Ansel Adams

Studio Tech 4
How I compose and paint
I compose and shoot all of my reference images with a Canon G10 — a wonderful little digital camera for under $400. To the stock camera I have attached a Lensmate G10 hood and extension, 72mm UV filter and occasionally a Polarizing filter.  Mostly I use the Auto settings but using the Program Mode set to an automatic one F-stop bracket over- and underexposure is the best way to collect all of the data necessary to composite an accurate reading of the subject.  This can easily be done in Photoshop and will produce an image that more realistically mimics how our eyes perceive color and lighting conditions outdoors.  After all of my post-image production is done in Photoshop, I convert the image to grayscale using the Channel Mixer function and/or channel-blending operations.  (You can read all about how I compose my images in Photoshop by visiting the Resource pages on my website at  There are many FREE Studio Notes that are available as downloadable .pdf files).  The grayscale image is then scaled up to actual size and output to lightweight presentation paper on a large format inkjet printer. The print is then trimmed and attached to my panel with a large piece of Sally’s Graphite Transfer Paper sandwiched in between. I then trace the essential lines and shapes with a red ballpoint pen and my drawing is nicely transferred to the panel and ready to be underpainted.

For my underpainting I prefer a transparent monochrome value painting or  imprimatura and draw directly with an earth-colored paint, usually Blockx Burnt Sienna Deep, although lately I have been underpainting with Sennelier Quinacridone Magenta and I really like it a lot.  My overall painting technique is an eclectic mix developed after a long and continuing study of the great 16th century master Peter Paul Rubens and his contemporaries, the Antwerp School of Painting (Jacob Jordaens, Anthony van Dyck, Bartholomeus Spranger, to name a few), and contemporary painters too numerous to mention here.

Influenced and conditioned from many years of painting only in watermedia, my underpainting proceeds much as watercolor. A white-primed panel with the graphite transfer drawing replaces cold-press watercolor paper, and OMS and diluted oil paint replace water and diluted watercolor paint.

Using mostly flats, some small filberts for details, lots of OMS and rag at the ready for wiping out, I block in the entire composition.  I paint as much with a rag over my fingers as I do with a brush.  The oil paint stays fluid on the panel for hours and can be easily be wiped off without disturbing the graphite drawing and repainted, if I’m not satisifed with something.  This combination of wiping out with a rag and controlled loose painting with a brush is a great way to establish a tonal underpainting.  When done, you have a toned panel in which not only the composition has been fully realized in monochrome, but all shadow, highlight and value issues have been worked out. Below are underpaintings in Burnt Sienna Deep and Quinacridone Magenta.

 With the composition and value study completed all thats left to do is apply color, using a combination of glazing, scumbling and direct painting.  You can read much more about about this on many of my previous in-progress Blog postings.

The panel is allowed to dry for a couple of days before beginning the color overpainting.  I won’t elaborate in great detail about that except to say that using my jelly medium (Old Masters Maroger Medium is the ONLY brand worth using), I first “oil up” the area I’m going be working on and then, using a combination of glazing, scumbling and direct painting proceed to paint over the entire panel a section at a time.  The medium stays tacky and accepts pigment beautifully for hours and dries overnight, ready to repeat the process for another section of the painting the next day or whenever.  I sometimes may have to apply a very light application of Retouch Varnish the next day if any colors have “sunk in” and dulled.

Lastly, after at least a month of drying I apply a protective varnish to the panels. I use Old Masters Mastic Varnish and occaisionally Dorland’s Wax medium, which buffs out to a lovely satin finish.

Thanks.  Please visit again and send me your comments.


More painting Studio Tech by Paul Baldassini

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“To live a creative life, we must lose
  our fear of being wrong.”    — Joseph Chilton Pearce

Studio Tech 3
My oil brushes are Winsor & Newton Monarch flats and Filberts, sizes 0 through 12. I’ve recently tried some Princeton Art & Brush Co. short filberts and they’re quite nice. For scrubbing in larger areas of background color I use old large Langnickel Series 404 filberts that can really take a beating.  I also use a lot of cotton rags (old white bed sheets make great rags) and always have one in my left hand — I’m actually right-handed —  as I paint ready to wipe out lighter areas.  Watercolor brushes include Winsor & Newton Series 7 Sable sizes 12 through 2, Grumbacher No. 6142 Sable 3/4- and 1/2-inch flats, and a 1 1/2-inch Strathmore Series 386 Wash brush.  I also use bristle oil brushes for scrubbing out and textural effects along with an Incredible Nib.  My watercolor paper of choice is Arche 300lb coldpress which never warps and can really take a beating. Saunders Waterford 300lb is very nice also.

Not enough time for plein air painting
Although I consider myself a studio painter, I also enjoy painting out of doors (en plein air) and find that it significantly adds to my ability to translate my source material to canvas.  In fact there is no greater feeling of accomplishment for me than to successfully complete a small panel outdoors and take home a winner. But that is rare, so here’s why I don’t do more painting out of doors: 1. I am just not very good at painting en plein air  2.  My favorite times of the day to paint outdoors are early morning and late afternoon (the best light and shadows). An outdoor painting session can last a good 2 - 3 hours, not including getting to the destination. It takes a full half day commitment to plan and execute a decent field study and unfortunately I am just not able to get out often enough and paint at those times of the day because of parental obligations and/or commercial deadlines.  3.  The incidences of deadly forms of melanoma (skin cancer) is rising dramatically around the world.  I just don't trust being exposed to full sun for 2 or 3 hours at a time even wearing SPF 30 sunblock.

That said, when I CAN get out to paint in the field I use an Easy L Versa horizontal pochade box, tripod, and umbrella from Artwork Essentials. I modified the inside of the box by fitting a piece of photo-gray matte board to the bottom over which a piece of 3/16-inch glass has been fitted and caulked with clear solvent-resistant caulking. This makes nice large mixing area and perfectly mimics the ergonomics of my studio set-up.  My field palette varies, but usually includes Cadmium Yellow Medium (Rembrandt); Cadmium Orange (Winsor newton); Fanchon (Napthol) Red (Williamsburg); Perylene Crimson (Williamsburg); Burnt Sienna Deep (Blockx); Viridian (Williamsburg); Ultramarine Blue French (Williamsburg); Indigo (Williamsburg) and Titanium Zinc White (Gamblin).  I don’t use any medium when painting outdoors and keep my OMS in an 8oz. Anderson Stainless Steel Airtight Brush Washer.

For painting outdoors in watercolor I use a Weber Italia XG portable watercolor easel.  This is a very nice easel but has a serious design flaw that warrants immediate attention.  The mechanism that attaches the tray that supports the watercolor paper to the tripod is made out of a cheap plastic and is easily broken.  I had a local machine shop create replacement parts machined out of solid aluminum that’s far stronger than the original mechanism. I traded a painting for the labor. Outdoors, I use a John Pike palette and a pared down palette of colors from my standard watercolor palette, and take along lots of water and paper towels.

Thanks for visiting.


More painting Studio Tech by Paul Baldassini

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“The meek shall inherit nothing.”     —Frank Zappa

Studio Tech 2 
Painting supports and preparation
As I mentioned earlier I prefer to paint on a rigid surface and my choice of substrate for large studio work is 1/2-inch MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). Home Depot sells 2 x 4 foot pieces for under $8 and I cut them to size on my table saw. These panels are noticeably heavier than a stretched linen canvas of similar dimensions but they never warp and require no cradling. My method of preparing a panels is as follows:

Panel only. Using 150-grit sandpaper, rough sand one side of the panel and apply two coats of Sandable Hard Gesso (I use Golden) or Premium White Latex Exterior house paint (I use Behr from Home Depot) to that side and the edges, sanding in-between coats. Since the 1/2-inch panels don’t warp there is no need to apply Gesso the back.  Whichever one you use, mix in a bit of Raw Sienna or some other yellowish acrylic paint to tint the first two coats or won’t be able to see final coats of the Williamsburg Oil Painting Ground on top.

When dry to the touch I apply two coats of Williamsburg Oil Painting Ground thinned with just a touch of solvent to make it a bit easier to apply. Baking the panels out in full sun will make them dry to the touch in a couple of days, otherwise it could take over a week to put on the second coat. A light sanding between coats if optional depending on how smooth a surface you desire. You can produce an almost burnished eggshell-like finish with multiple coats and sanding with 600-grit sandpaper but I find that sanding with  320-grit between coats works just fine. Let dry, even after baking in the sun for at least two weeks before using.

Linen mounted on panel. Cut a piece of linen about an inch or so all around larger than the panel and have it ready nearby. Using 120-grit sandpaper, rough sand one side of the panel and apply one coat of Sandable Hard Gesso to that side and the edges. When dry, spread a on a generous coat of bookbinders glue (I use Lineco Neutral pH Adhesive) with a high-quality housepainting brush all over the surface. Carefully attach the linen making sure that the threading runs in a parallel direction to the length of the panel. I use my hands to make sure that there are no bubbles and the linen is firmly attached. Then I dip the brush in some glue and grind and paint it into the entire surface of the linen. Then, using a 4-inch Speedball soft rubber brayer I roll all over surface back and forth slightly stretching the linen until I’m sure it is firmly attached with no bubbles anywhere, crimping and pressing all around the edges.  When done I cover the surface with wax paper, lay another piece of MDF on top and place heavy books or objects on top and let dry overnight.

The next day, remove the weights and wax paper. Using a single-edged razor blade carefully trim away the excess linen. Sand the rough surface down so that its smooth and run the sandpaper over the edges a bit. Apply two coats of Williamsburg Oil Painting Ground as described previously and let dry, even after baking in the sun, for at least two weeks before using.

A palette that works for me
I struggled for years to find a palette of colors that works for me. Seemingly endless substitutions of colors that I read about some other painter was using, warm-cool palette, limited palette, expanded palette, must have this color, must use that color and so on. I tried many tubes of paint from many manufacturers and now have a huge collection of tubes of paint I’ll probably never use again. If you’re reading this then you know what I mean.

So, after years of trial and error, and countless coloring mixing swatch charts, I finally have a stable palette of colors that I’m comfortable with, and can reliably mix the right colors when I need them.  Below is one of the color swatch charts.  They are a LOT of work and you’ll use up a LOT of paint but they are definitely worth doing. You’ll be amazed at the extraordinary range of colors that exists within your personal palette, many of which you may never have mixed before.  Send me a note and I’ll tell you exactly how to do it and where to get the 1/4-inch painter’s masking tape that you’ll need plenty of to do it right.

Arranged along top edge of my palette from left to right the tube paints I use are: Gamboge Lake Extra (Old Holland); Cadmium Yellow Medium (Rembrandt); Raw Sienna (Williamsburg); Chinese Orange (Sennelier); Fanchon (Napthol) Red (Williamsburg); Quinacridone Magenta (Sennelier); Perylene Crimson (Williamsburg); Burnt Sienna Deep (Blockx); Viridian (Williamsburg); Ultramarine Blue French (Williamsburg); Indigo (Williamsburg); Warm Grey (Sennelier); Titanium Zinc White (Gamblin).

For a medium I use Maroger Painting Medium from Old Masters, Flemish formula.

My watercolor palette is pretty much the same pigments as the oil palette with a couple of additional colors. They are: Indian Yellow Orange Lake Extra (Old Holland); Cadmium Yellow Medium (Old Holland); Quinacridone Gold (Winsor Newton); Chinese Orange (Sennelier); Permanent (Napthol) Red (Holbein); Perylene Maroon (Daniel Smith); Quinacridone Magenta (Winsor Newton); Quinacridone Burnt Orange (Daniel Smith); Phthalo Green (M. Graham); Ultramarine Blue (M. Graham); Indigo (Holbein); Quinacridone Violet (DaVinci) and Brown Madder (Holbein).\

Thanks for visiting.


Painting Studio Tech by Paul Baldassini

 Please contact me via email:

“Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.”     — John Maxwell

Studio Tech 1
My current studio is in the basement of my home in Middletown, CT. The large, dry basement has been remodeled with about 2/3 of the space taken up by my studio and studio storage. Like most basements in the average American home, the ceiling is only 8 feet high which, for the most part, dictates the maximum height of my paintings, rarely more than 24 inches. Which is just fine for me since I like to paint on wood panels and can purchase 2 x 4 foot "handy panels" at just about any lumber yard and cut them down to size. This I do in my shop, which takes up the back half of my attached garage. I do all of the messy stuff there including preparing panels, stretch linen canvas, or on occasion, make stretcher strips and frames.

Shop & tools
In the shop are a handful of industrial-quality power tools including vintage 1953 5 1/2 hp Delta 10-inch, Unisaw, Delta 14-inch bandsaw, Delta 10-inch motorized miter box (aka chop saw) for cutting frames, Cummins Machinery 5-speed drill press, heavy-duty Milwaukee router, and a light-duty Stanley dome-top router. Rolling chests of drawers contain a great many tools including hand-planes, chisels, hammers, screwdrivers, scribes and measuring tools. Hanging from racks are dozens of Jorgenson wood clamps and bar clamps of various sizes. These I use to build cradles for panels or build frames when necessary. Frames are assembled using an old Stanley No. 400 Mitre Vise.

I assemble stretcher frames or cradle panels using premium wood glue and a pneumatic Porter-Cable BN 200A 18-gauge Brad Nailer. To stretch linen canvas I use a Stanley-Bostich EHS-300 Electric Tacker, 5/16-inch T50 staples and wide-mouth canvas pliers.

Maximum use of a minimal amount of space
The small floor plan conveniently accommodates two painting areas: a rolling easel for oils and a pneumatic-lift drafting table for watercolors. In between is a heavy rolling 26 x 48-inch work table with a 1/4-inch glass top for storage of paints, brushes, mediums and solvents. In the opposite corner is a professional graphic arts workstation with twin monitors, trackball and digital stylus. There is an Epson Stylus Photo R2400 inkjet printer used for producing the high-quality photographic prints for my photo restoration clients and reference prints for my studio paintings.

Opposite my easel and drafting table is a large glass sliding patio-style door which provides ample east/south-east light most of the day. Additional lighting is is provided by two 4-foot overhead industrial light fixtures each fitted with two OTT-LITE VisionSaver fluorescent tubes. 65-watt Phillips Daylight floods provide overhead lighting.

Low-tech meets high-tech in the studio
My easel is an antique French-made upright floor design of unknown manufacture. It is large and heavy and features a machined steel hand-crank mechanism for effortlessly raising and lowering the transom that holds the canvas or panel. Under the transom is a built-in paint box on top of which I have added a larger modified transom that measures 12 x 36 inches. On top of that is a piece of 1/4-inch beveled-edge plate glass which serves as my palette. In between the transom and glass is a piece of photo-gray or neutral matte board whose value is similar to an underpainting grisaille. This arrangement is ideal for me for several reasons: 1. It sits directly below my painting surface so I can easily mix colors and apply paint.  2.There is minimal distance my arm has to travel to get to the paint or that my eye has to move to see it — for the most part, just up and down.  3. Its easy to clean with a scraper blade, solvent and a rag.  Below is  a photo of easel and work table.

The part of the easel that holds the top of the canvas or panel in place has a dado along the top edge in which slides a 32-inch wooden bar onto which I affix and hang my reference image. Almost always a photograph, and occasionally a sketch, it conveniently hangs to the left and a little above eye level and requires very little eye movement to see it — for the most part, just left to right.

While painting I also keep the same reference image displayed on the large display monitor (a new HP  ZR24W incredible graphic arts display monitor) — usually in grayscale — just in case I need to open up a shadow to examine detail that appears overly dark on the print, and to compare values. I can also zoom in to enlarge an area of my reference image to clarify and reveal detail indistinct in the print.

Thanks for visiting.