Sunday, October 18, 2020

Organic Binders

Pigments are ground and mixed with a drying oil, commonly known as a vehicle or binder. They are called binders because they suspend the pigment in the oil, making it easy to apply the paint on the painting surface. Eventually, the oil dries as it absorbs oxygen, sealing the pigment to the surface. There are several types of organic binders used in painting, but I will review the most common of them. These include linseed, stand, sun-refined or sun-bleached, poppy seed, walnut and safflower oils.

Linseed Oil

The most commonly used binder and oil medium is linseed oil. Linseed oil is made by pressing the ripe seeds of the flax plant. There are two types of linseed oil, hot pressed and cold pressed. Inexpensive linseed oil is made by applying extreme pressure and heat. After hot pressing, any oil left in the seeds is extracted using solvents. The solvent is evaporated, the remaining oil is then added to the hot-pressed oil which undergoes a refining process. Cold-pressed linseed oil is made with some pressure, but no heat. It is the purest form of linseed oil because it has superior binding ability and is less likely to become brittle with age compared to hot-pressed oil. Refined linseed oil is oil refined with sulfuric acid and water, removing more of the impurities. It does not bind as well as cold pressed.

Linseed oil is used as both a binder and as a painting medium. It is usually the preferred choice for clear painting oils because of its durability. Manufacturers usually base their binder on linseed oil and may mix in or substitute poppyseed oil according to their preference. Though linseed oil dries quickly at first, the complete drying process takes several years. As it ages, linseed oil dries into a tough, leather-like film that hardens and becomes more transparent with age.

Stand Oil

Stand oil is made by heating linseed oil to 525-575° F and holding that temperature for a number of hours. A molecular change occurs, though it doesn’t change the physical properties of the oil. Stand oil is a heavy oil, similar in consistency of honey. It is usually mixed with several parts of turpentine, resulting in a paler color than other linseed oils. Artists prefer stand oil mixed with thinners as a glazing medium, a paint mixing medium, and with varnishes. Because of its unique ability to dry to a smooth, enamel-like film free of brush strokes, it is a superior binder for glazing. And, mixed with other ingredients, the resulting medium ages well and is nearly non-yellowing.

Sun-Refined or Sun-Bleached Oil

Sun-refined or sun-bleached oil is made by combining oil with an equal amount of water and then exposing it to sunlight and limited air exposure for several weeks. At the end of this period, the impurities will settle to the bottom and the oil is filtered and separated from the water. The result is a thicker, more viscous oil, which hampers its binding abilities, but speeds up drying time. This type of oil is more suitable for a clear varnish, glaze, and painting medium. However, it is more prone to yellowing than cold-pressed and refined oils. 

Poppyseed Oil

Poppyseed oil is a colorless to straw-colored oil pressed from the poppy seed. It is most often used as a binder mixed with whites and pale colors as it is less prone to yellowing than linseed oil. However, compared with linseed oil, it dries much slower. The film is spongy and has a tendency to crack, especially when the pigment is layered. Poppyseed oil is most often used by artists in direct or alla prima single layer painting.

Walnut Oil

Walnut oil is derived from the stale kernels of the common or English walnut. The film of walnut oil when dry is stronger than Poppy oil (though still not as strong as linseed) which makes it a better oil to use in the initial layers of paint. It is a great oil to use when painting detail and it has a similar drying time to linseed oil. Though it dries as quickly as linseed oil, it has a tendency to grow rancid with storage and is not recommended as a paint medium.

Safflower Oil

Safflower Oil is also used to make whites in some brands because it is bright and clean with less tendency to yellow than linseed oil. It takes 2-3 days longer to dry than linseed so is recommended only for use in the final layers of a painting.

More on Binders

Linseed, poppyseed, walnut and safflower oils may be mixed with one another. You can find binders mentioned here at most art supply stores. You should experiment with them, but keep in mind the properties of each and their shortcomings.

For more information about binders, check out The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer.


I will talk about the different mediums available for painters.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

What is Oil Paint?

We buy a tube of oil paint, untwist the cap and put a small pile of it on our palettes without a second thought as to what goes into it. But it wasn't always this easy.

In Southern Europe, early man mixed animal fats with earth and stain to form the very first oil paints and applied them to grotto walls. During the 15th century, Belgian painter Jan van Eyck, mixed linseed oil and oil from nuts with diverse colors.

Later, artists would purchase the dry lumps of color, much of it in rock form, and grind it into powder before adding oil. Soon after, vendors sold the powdered pigments and oils so the artist was able to mix their own. In the late 1800s, paint became available in tubes, a convenience for artists who painted en plein air.

Today, oil paint is composed of dry oil pigments ground in a natural drying oil such as linseed. They usually include additives such as plasticizers, driers and wax to improve flexibility and make them consistent in texture and drying speed. Some brands of paint are allowed to age and then additional pigments are added to achieve consistency.

Grades of Paint

There are two grades of paint:
  • Professional Artist Quality
  • Student Grade
Professional or Artist Grade offers larger range of colors and have the best color strength: Have high concentration of pigment that is finely ground with the best quality oils. As a result, the colors are brighter and have more covering strength on the canvas. They are also the most expensive of the oil paint choices.

They are commonly cataloged into six series by rarity and value, Series 1 (or A) being the most plentiful and least expensive, and Series 6 (or F) being the rarest and most expensive. Professional grade paint brands include:
  • Rembrandt
  • Schmincke Mussini Oils
  • Holbein
  • Blockx
  • Old Holland
  • Sennelier
  • Williamsburg
  • Daniel Smith
  • Grumbacher Pre-tested
  • Michael Harding
  • Utrecht
  • M. Graham
Student Grade oil paint has limited colors and is made in large batches.

Student Grade oil paint tends to use more inert fillers such as chalk and less pure pigment. The result is less vivid colors, less tinting strength and less colorful effect overall. Student grade cadmium colors are sometimes called “hues.” Student grade paint brands include:
  • Winton
  • Grumbacher Academy
  • Bob Ross
  • Daler Rowney Georgian
  • Windsor Newton Artist’s Oil Color (Pro/Student)
  • Gamblin 1980
  • Van Gogh
  • Blick Studio

Drying time

The time it takes for a color to dry depends on the amount and type of oil added to the pigment and the color. Generally, earth colors dry the fastest. Cadmium colors, alizarin crimson, blacks and white dry the slowest.


Colors of the same name from different manufacturers will vary in color, cost, consistency, permanence, and drying rates.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Blind Contour Drawing

Contour drawing was first taught at the Art Student’s League in New York by Kimon Nicolaïdes in the 1920s and 30s. He used it and other exercises as a way to train his students to observe their subjects more closely. His methods are still being taught in art schools today.

Blind contour drawing involves carefully observing the outline and shapes of a subject while slowly drawing its contours in a continuous line without looking at the paper. By doing so, you are forced to draw what you actually see instead of what you think you see.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Secret of Good Artwork

Let’s take a moment to talk about what it takes to produce good art. Many of you began studying art at an early age, maybe you took a class in high school or college, but later quit to get a job that pays well for as we all know, it’s tough to make a living as an artist. Or, perhaps you were busy raising a family and didn’t have time to pursue it.

Like a lot of people, I waited a few years, but I always knew I’d return to painting someday. Twenty-odd years ago, I began taking courses and began to draw and paint a lot. Over the last few years, I’ve had people ask me, “How long did it take you to paint that?” And I would tell them, “About twenty years.” Of course, they would frown and say, “Okay, but right now, how long did it take?” The thing is, there’s no way to convince someone who doesn’t understand that creating a pleasing piece of artwork didn’t just happen when I first picked up a brush. I have a lot of paintings that never saw the inside of a frame, and some that shouldn’t have. It took me more than twenty years and more than three hundred paintings to learn how to paint the way that I do. And I’ll never stop learning. In another five or ten years, my style will probably change and the same picture would look completely different.

Slash by Marc R. Hanson.
During those twenty years, I studied with some of the best painters in the East, including Don Demers, Stapleton Kearns, Mark R. Hanson, Richard Schmid and Albert Handel. The reason that I chose these artists is that I admired their style of painting and I wanted to learn how they accomplished their work by watching and listening.
20010637_Big by Stapleton Kearns.

After a few workshops, I noticed that there was a pattern to their information, even though they each had their own individual style. Just about all of them said that, with some knowledge, you will mostly learn by producing a lot of work. The more you do, the better your art will be.

I may have discarded some of this class information, or replaced it with something else, but a great deal of it has stayed with me over the years, and I find myself repeating their instructions to myself as I go about creating art. I highly recommend taking workshops or classes with those artists that you admire, pay close attention to what they say, read and reread their books, and buy their videos. Watching demonstrations is a great way to understand their process, and if you can do it in person, that’s even better. It is much harder to learn on your own. And don’t expect to remember everything in the beginning. There’s a lot to think about.

The Wisdom of Ira Glass

Ira Glass is the host and executive producer of the popular National Public Radio show, This American Life. Each week, This American Life is broadcast to more than 1.7 million listeners across 500 different radio stations. But it wasn’t always this way.

Glass talks about the process of learning creative work very eloquently:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work, they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or month, you are going to finish one [story]. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just got to fight your way through that.”

Read more about Ira Glass...

Consider Yourself Challenged!

Okay, I've heard from a few of you, but I'd like to hear from those who have kept silent while enjoying my emails. So, what are you waiting for? If you've been drawing, painting, doodling, etching, coloring with crayons, sewing, knitting, embroidering, sculpting, making origami or any other type of creative art, send me a photo. Send your photos to and I will post them in my next challenge email.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Blind Contour Drawing

Contour drawing was first taught at the Art Student’s League in New York by Kimon Nicolaïdes in the 1920s and 30s. He used it and other exercises as a way to train his students to observe their subjects more closely. His methods are still being taught in art schools today. 

Blind contour drawing involves carefully observing the outline and shapes of a subject while slowly drawing its contours in a continuous line without looking at the paper. By doing so, you are forced to draw what you actually see instead of what you think you see.
Blind Contour Drawing Exercise

You should definitely try this! If you do, please send me a photo of your results, including a photo of your subject. Let me know what thoughts are running through your mind and your observations as you move your pen/pencil around the page.

For this exercise, you will need the following:
  • A pen or drawing pencil
  • A drawing pad
  • A timer
  • A simple subject. I suggest your hand, a shoe, or a grouping of fruit. Anything fairly simple will do.
  1. Place your subject at a 90 - 180-degree angle away from your forward drawing position, to the left if you are right-handed, or the right if you are left-handed. You need to be looking away from your paper.
  2. Set your timer for ten minutes.
  3. Set your pen/pencil on a point on the pad and look at one area in your subject.
  4. Begin drawing, don’t look at your drawing pad and don’t lift the pen/pencil from the pad.
  5. Go slowly. As your eyes follow the line of your subject one millimeter at a time, your pen/pencil will move at the same slow speed.
  6. Follow the outline and inner lines of your subject, including the details within the subject, changing direction, without lifting your pen/pencil. Try to follow the lines as if you were actually touching the object with your finger. Feel the item as it curves here, depresses there, and as it twists and turns.
  7. Do this without stopping until the timer goes off.
When you look at your picture, it will look like a crazy jumble of lines, but if you look closely, you will see an interesting pattern, one that includes a lot of details that you may not have realized if you had not learned to see it.

Instead of provoking anxiety, blind contour drawing is meant to help you practice your observation skills. If you approach the technique with patience, it can even be a calming exercise. Look at it as a sort of exercise in meditation. The pen goes down on the page and your eye goes to a specific point in your subject and your eye and the pen move in sync.

There’s just something about moving that slowly and that focused that makes you empty your brain of everything else. You will begin to see things differently and your skills in seeing and drawing will improve.

My effort here to do a blind contour drawing. I admit I had trouble doing this very slow and ended up redrawing the images of the carrots, so there are two sets here. I used a Pentel pen, Doing this is a great way to slow down your eyes and check shapes and relationships.

According to Nicolaïdes, “Because pictures are meant to be seen, too much emphasis (and too much dependence) is apt to be placed upon seeing. Actually, we see through the eyes, rather than with them. It is necessary to test everything you see with what you discover through the other senses – hearing, taste, smell, and touch – and their accumulated experience. If you attempt to rely on eyes alone, they can sometimes actually mislead you.”

You can read about this and a series of other drawing exercises created by Kimon Nicolaïdes in his 1941 book The Natural Way to Draw: A Working plan for Art Study.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Urban Sketching

I enjoy sketching, especially when I have a long wait, like at a doctor’s office, jury duty selection (not when the judge is in the room!), or I’m on vacation, at the beach, or at an outdoor concert. It’s fun, and you can use any type of medium, of course, the more portable the better. This type of informal sketching is commonly known as Urban Sketching.


Urban sketching sounds like you would be sketching city landscapes, but it really encompasses more than just high rises and busy streets. Urban sketching is the act of drawing while on location in areas that you live in or are traveling to.

Many artists through the years have practiced some sort of Urban Sketching. Some museums even display sketchbooks, including those by Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, William Turner, John Singer Sargent, and Eugene Delacroix for example.

Sketchbooks often serve a purpose other than for pleasure. Artists would work out ideas for larger works, sometimes doing several sketches of subjects from different angles and with different combinations. Most famous artists carried some sort of sketchbook with them at all times, drawing and making notes. The sketchbook became a type of picture diary.

You can draw in almost any medium. I happen to love using Faber Castell Pitt artist pens, which are like fine-tipped markers and are easy to use, clean and very portable. They come in a huge assortment of colors and are a blast to use.

I love to go to the summer free outdoor concerts and draw the musicians and the audience. I draw quickly and keep it simple with only a few details.

I also use micro ink pens for line work. They come in different colors and different size nibs.

You can sketch at your local farmer’s market, museums, beaches, churches, picnics, parks –you name it, you can sketch it! It’s a great way to document the world you live in.


I have a watercolor sketchbook as well. It has a special paper made to absorb liquid. With a small watercolor kit, it’s a great way to do a study or capture a moment in time. And, I just discovered watercolor pencils, which are great fun and are even easier to carry. You can draw the color on the page and then use a water brush to wet the color and blend, just as you would a paint brush. 

   It doesn’t matter how good a sketcher you are. The beauty of urban sketching artwork is the informality of it. You can sketch anything, anywhere, and you don’t need to produce a finished design. You will find that your drawing accuracy will improve with practice, and so will the way that you look at things. 

I have several types of sketch pads in a variety of sizes, but mostly I use a soft cover moleskin sketch book, size 5”x 8” for drawing, and a hard cover moleskin, size 5” x 8” made for watercolor. The small size fits into a purse or my carry bag with my box of pens.

A great site that promotes Urban Sketching is Urban Sketchers, “an international nonprofit dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location drawing.” The group maintains a network of blogs and online groups where urban sketchers can share their drawings and stories and interact with one another.


I will share some artwork sent to me from several of you. There is some amazing work being done out there.

Class Schedules

There's no update on class schedules. For now, you can view my scheduled classes on my website, though things may change as we get closer to fall.
Stay safe and be well.

Consider Yourself Challenged! 

I know that you have been doing something fun and creative while you sip wine coolers or ice-cold beer during these warm spring days. If you've been drawing, painting, doodling, etching, coloring with crayons, sewing, knitting, embroidering, sculpting, making origami or any other type of creative art, send me a photo. You have one more week to think about it and create something. Send your photos to and I will post them in my next email.  

Tell Me What You'd Like Me to Cover

I hope you enjoyed this session of Urban Sketching. Feel free to share with others.
What would you like to see or hear more about? Which of the instructions did you enjoy the most?
Email me: or just hit reply.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Color and Reflected Light

COLOR, it’s everywhere and as long as we can see, we all experience it from the moment we open our eyes. They say that the human eye can detect around ten million hues. When we paint, we all strive to capture a small percentage of it, and often get frustrated in the process. We squeeze out luscious piles of color onto our palette in anticipation of capturing the beauty of a subject with it. Sometimes, we hit the colors on the mark. Other times, we get frustrated as we struggle through a painting when no matter what we do, we can’t seem to find the right mix. And, to make things worse, it’s not just local color, but also reflected color and the temperature of the light that we need to take into account when deciding on a shade. 

Color Choices

So, what is it about color and our color preferences that excite us? Color evokes strong emotional responses in all of us, but not necessarily the same types of responses. Blue may mean calmness and relaxation with visions of the ocean or a beautiful lake to one person, while denoting sadness to another. Depending on our life experiences, our preference for color can be psychological. For example, white might mean pleasantly clean and sterile to some who feel comfortable with a clean antiseptic environment, but cold and icy like a chilly winter day to others. Cultural traditions also influence our preference to color. If you look at color in clothing, for example, you may find that some of the cultures closest to the equator where weather is warmest tend to wear very strong, bright colors, while those in much colder climates tend to wear more subdued neutral colors.

Local and Relative Color

light creates the local color or colors of an object because each object possesses certain chemical properties or qualities that absorb some rays and reflect others How much an object absorbs and reflects determines the color of an object. However, we cannot go by local color alone. As artists, we need to put away our preconceptions about color and look at the relativity of color, i.e., the relationship of color to its surroundings. Changes to color happen when the light source changes, for example, when a sunny day (warm light) turns into a cloudy one (cool light), or when other colors that surround a subject change.

The Influence of Surrounding Colors

A subject’s colors are directly influenced by the color of objects that surround it. This color is possible because of reflected light. Reflected light helps to model form and gives variety to our shadows. A white building may take on the color of the bushes below and around it, because the light from the sky will bounce off of these objects and project on the surrounding objects.

The color of the Wadsworth Mansion in this painting was not pure white, though I’m pretty sure that if you asked the workers who painted the building what color they used, it would be some variation of white, such as titanium. The day that I painted it, the trees and flowering bushes around it projected a warm orange glow upward that originated from the sunlight that was in front of me, slightly to the left and somewhat high in the sky. There was very little direct light on the front of the building.

Reflections and Adjacent Objects

In the still life, the warm yellow of the lemon was reflected onto the cool bluish white surface, and the red skin of the apple and the peel of the orange reflect onto the normally white dish near the fruit as well as onto the fruit adjacent to them. 

Color Relationships

The six color squares are a good demonstration of the influence of surrounding colors. The orange color in the center is exactly the same for all six squares, yet depending on the color that surrounds the orange, the orange square appears to be a different shade. Note also that the stronger the color that surrounds the orange, the more it influences the perception of the orange hue. 
This is one example of how color values can draw attention to an object or provide a more subtle color shift. One color can become darker, lighter, warmer or cooler in relation to another color. When painting, try to relate and compare all of the colors in your composition to one another. Ask yourself, Is one color lighter or darker than the other? Is one color warmer or cooler than the other?


I’m going to share my moleskin and small sketchbook sketches of people and places that I do for fun and practice. I'll talk about the types of media that I use when doing quick sketches.