By Haley Bassett, December 23rd 2020
Hello, dear reader, and welcome to part two in this series where I will be sharing some handy tips that will help take your painting practice to the next level. You can find part one of this series here. Some points may seem obvious, while others might surprise you. That said, there is no one way, or right way, to paint, and everyone has individual methods based on their experience and preference. These are just some of the tricks that have helped me improve as a painter and professionalize my art.
Never, Ever, Throw Out Paint
While it can be difficult to manage the lavish pay and prestige that is heaped upon us as artists, and the impulse to toss excess materials away can be strong, it is important to try to find uses for extra paint and scrap canvas for environmental reasons.
Most of that was heavy sarcasm, but the environmental concern is real. Painting materials are undeniably damaging to the environment as many paint pigments are made of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and cobalt that enter our waterways when we wash our brushes in the sink. These heavy metal pigments, which are the same no matter what painting medium you use, are the reason why it is so important to wear protective gloves when painting. Repeated exposure to these metals can cause chronic health issues in the long term. Remember, paint belongs on your canvas, not in your bloodstream.
To avoid washing poison down the drain, and to save yourself some cash if you aren’t already swimming in it, it is important to use up as much paint on your palette as possible. The first and most obvious step is to be conservative with the amount of paint you put on your palette. Secondly, once you’ve finished painting for the day you can mix together all the leftover paint and use it as a ground color on a new canvas. The resulting color might look a little funky, but it will usually be neutral enough to make a good imprimatura, the first layer of paint. You can also clean the bulk of the paint off your brushes by running them over another canvas. You might have gleaned by this point that it is extremely useful to have multiple canvases primed and ready at once.
Now that your palette is clean, you’ve scraped as much paint off your brushes as possible, and you have a couple of ground-colored canvases ready for your next project, it’s time to clean your brushes. You can do so the traditional way with solvent and a brush-cleaning tank like this. Never throw out the solvent from the tank. Over time paint sediment from your brushes will settle to the bottom of the tank. Pour the clear painting solvent on top into a new container, and use the remaining paint sludge as—you guessed it—a ground color for a canvas. Now you have a clean tank and brushes, fresh solvent, new canvases ready to go and no toxic paints in the garbage.
The other takeaway from reusing extra paint in this way is the value of the imprimatura itself. I highly recommend painting on a ground color. First of all, it is a good way to “set the mood” of your painting and save time. Is your painting a sky full of fluffy clouds? Then a cool, calming blue ground color will start your painting off right. Additionally, painting directly on to a white canvas will throw off your color mixing, as comparing your color to a white canvas will make it appear much darker than it is. Painting on white will also make any missed spots stick out like a sore thumb.
A ground color is a good way to avoid the “paint by numbers” look that is a common issue for new painters. Resist the urge to cautiously fill in discrete shapes of colors, as this will cause your painting to look incohesive and result in gaps where the white will show through. Part of the beauty of painting is its fluidity, and the painter’s ability to layer and blend. Remember that you are painting, not drawing with paint.
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