How I Work
Although I am primarily an oil-painter, I love to experiment with all sorts of materials and various approaches.
Thus, one day I will speed through a painting in a hasty, almost urgent alla-prima manner, without any preparatory drawing. On other occasions, I carefully plan portraits, sometimes transferring the composition with a grid and superposing many, many coats of translucent glazes, taking off some of the paint again with the sheerest layer of a Kleenex tissue, in order to achieve a porcelain-like glow and deep, lush colors.
I must admit however that the “emergency” state comes more naturally and maybe bears more joy for me while painting.
Only using the finest artist’s quality oil paints, such as Michael Harding, Old Holland, Mussini, Sennelier, Rembrandt, Lukas 1882, Winsor & Newton, Zecchi and the like, my standard “go-to” palette would consist of Titanium White, Ivory Black, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Phtalo Green and either Prussian or Ultramarine Blue. Although I have tried the “less is more” approach for a while, using as little as 4 or 5 colors for my paintings, I lately unearthed my joy of experimenting with more colors again.
For portraits, I would probably add Cadmium Yellow Dark or Cadmium Orange, Terra Rosa, Venetian Red or Caput Mortuum, maybe Burnt Sienna, Terre Verte, Burnt Umber and sometimes a violet, either Dioxazine or Cobalt Violet.
For flower paintings, I recently discovered my love for Old Holland’s Scheveningen Rose Deep – a fantastic, bluish dark pink, that turns into a splendid hot pink when adding a little white.
Landscapes, on the other hand, call for a variety of beautiful greens and ochres, as well as for the right sky blue. I recently rediscovered Chromium Oxide Green and Cobalt Green, which both mix nicely into the duller grass and leaves color of our local landscapes. The same applies to Cerulean Blue Genuine – add a little white and you have a Bavarian summer sky, whereas I find the sky close to the Mediterranean to be less turquoise, more like Cobalt Blue. Another “fresh” addition to my palette is the beautiful yellow ochre light – either from Rembrandt or Zecchi, it has the pale blonde color of wheat in August.
There are so many marvelous colors, I could go on and on…
In general, I paint either on primed linen canvas or on panels such as Gesso boards. Seldom, I might use specially designed oil painting paper, which is more convenient while travelling or during workshops. Almost always, I will tone my painting surface with some kind of imprimatura, either some reddish brown or varying greys and preferably in a translucent layer, though not always.
In general, my paintings are signed, titled and dated on the reverse and sometimes signed or monographed on the front as well.
“Start with a broom and end with a needle” – this John Singer Sargent quote pretty much sums it up. I like to start with the biggest bright bristle brushes I can get away with, depending on the size of the painting, and will later use soft sable filberts and rounds, sometimes fan and liner brushes, too. When doing studio work, I will use a huge amount of brushes so that my colors stay bright and fresh. In the field, I use only a couple of brushes in order to travel light. For cleaning my brushes, I first take off most of the paint with a rag, then dip them in organic brush cleaner and finally, wash them carefully with Savon de Marseille soap.
Like many other painters I know, I have been looking for the miracle medium for years and believe me, I have tried a lot of them. The older I get, the more I am convinced the miracle ingredient is work…
But back to the mediums: I mostly use odorless solvent in the beginning and add more oil as the painting progresses, either “plain” cold pressed linseed oil, stand oil or preferably sun-thickened oil. Amidst the lot of other mediums I tried, I find Dammar varnish interesting, because it creates beautiful enamel like colors; in a mixture with a little beeswax (as in one of Michael Harding’s Mediums), it gives deep colors with a matte finish. However, I try to avoid resins these days because they tend to smell too much for my comfort in a small working space. In order to speed up the drying times of my paintings, I combine my regular oil colors with some alkyd paints from Winsor & Newton (especially black & white) in the initial stages of the painting. Most of the time, this allows me to continue working on my painting the next or the following day. Sun-thickened oil speeds up the drying time as well.
OTHER TECHNIQUES I LOVE
Aside from oil paint, the materials I love best and use the most are watercolor, gouache, pencils, pastels (both soft and oil pastels), fine liners and more rarely ink.
I do sometimes use acrylics, but mostly for mixed media works, rather than as a standalone. Recently, I experimented a bit with Flashe Vinyle, a matte, more gouache-like acrylic from Lefranc & Bourgeois, which I actually quite liked. Acrylic markers are fun to use, too.
In the past, I have tried out a variety of other techniques, such as egg tempera, lithography, linocuts, gilding, mosaics, modeling with clay and so on. Experimenting with pigments and homemade paints (oil, egg tempera, gouache and pastels) was part of the process as well.
Having worked as a photographer for many years, I find it quite natural to gather my own reference material with a camera. I do however prefer to work from life, which is both more interesting and more challenging.
Fleeting moments with beautiful light in nature or a vivid expression on a model’s face are hard to keep for the many hours needed to finish a painting, so photographs come in handy. When taking pictures as reference material, I view them not as a finished product, but as a starting point for my inspiration. A too perfect a photograph could almost be a hindrance… Even for my series of paintings inspired by films, I do not work from film stills, but take snapshots from my TV screen and incorporate the ensuing pixel aberrations and strange color reflections into the finished paintings.