Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Finishing Touch: When a Painting Finds a Home

As promised in an earlier newsletter, I thought I'd share a couple pictures of paintings in their owners' homes. This is what truly finishes a work of art... when it finds a home, the picture is complete! Commissioned portraits, especially, are often designed with a specific wall or space in mind. It's very gratifying to see the finished painting in its frame, hanging in the space that it was meant for.

If you own one of my paintings and would like to share a snapshot of it in the room where it's hanging, please send me a picture! I would absolutely love to see the art in its home and share it here on my blog! Please send pictures to:, and thanks in advance! :-)

The first picture features a 30" x 24" painting called, "The Young Explorer." The owner (the mother of the 18-month-old little girl) decided to hang it in her music room, and I think it looks fabulous there!

The second image is from another client's dining room, which she painted and re-decorated just for the portrait of her son. I think the finished painting makes a wonderful statement and is a beautiful centerpiece to the room.

It is the perfect time of year to commission a portrait. If you are interested, please visit my website at, or email me at


Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Painting: "A Venetian Spectator"

Today I finally finished one of my paintings from this summer's trip to Italy. I enjoyed working on this one from start to finish, and found myself continually imagining up stories about this old woman's life, and what she might have to say if I were to sit down and have a conversation with her. Her expression could read any number of ways, from sour and grumpy (i.e., "Those damned tourists!") to thoughtful and lonely or simply enjoying the fresh air. Either way, I purposefully juxtaposed the old woman with a very cheerful scene at her window: brightly blooming flower pots, topped off with a rainbow-colored pinwheel. Of course, flowers, green shutters and pinwheels are familiar sights in Venice and other Italian cities, but I felt that this image had something special about it that was worth capturing in a painting.

"A Venetian Spectator" - 30"x24" - oil on linen

Originally, the old woman was looking out from a very boring window. I decided to take her and put her in the scene that I created in the painting. Here is one of the original shots (a slightly different pose in this one but it gives you an idea of the original setting):

 I looked all over for the perfect reference photos (Steve had taken at least a thousand pictures of windows!). Here are a few of the images I considered, but none of them ended up working out.

I did at last find an image of a window that I could use. Thanks to Photoshop, I was able to piece my reference materials together, making sure that the lighting matched. I was able to place the pinwheel and flowers exactly where I wanted them. I am very happy with how this painting turned out and look forward to sharing more of my works in progress soon. :-)

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Studio Filled with Potential!

Taking a look around my studio today, I counted twelve works in progress, or paintings that I've started within the past two months or so, and have yet to finish. Three of them were started just this week, and two of those were started yesterday! I'm not going to share pictures of every single unfinished painting; some have more potential than others. Some will be finished very soon because I'm excited about them; others may never see completion but will instead get sanded off and painted over.

As a 20-something, my life is in a stage of constant change. During this decade, there are so many things that happen: we graduate college, get married, buy a house, have kids, change jobs once or more, and essentially leave all of our childhood familiarities for the new and different. If I look back at the past three years since leaving my home state and moving to Texas, it's quite remarkable to see how much my artwork has progressed. Just look at some of my past blog posts -- you'll see the difference, too!

What's my point in telling you this? Well, each painting is an opportunity to learn something new, to experiment or try something different. The goal is to take my artwork to the next level and make each painting better than the last. As long as I keep this goal in the back of my mind, I can't fail. Some paintings might turn out better than others, but at least I'll have painted with intention. We think that painting is supposed to be relaxing... but that is the difference between a hobbyist and a true painter! When I "check out" during a painting, that's when I start to fail. Instead, my mind has to be utterly focused on the task at hand, without distraction. How many of us spend our time picking away at our work, or as some describe it, "licking the canvas?" How many of us actually try (and I say try because with the exception of a very few, this is impossible to perfect...) to make every single brush stroke count? As painters, we should be absolutely exhausted at the end of the day!

Well, that's what happened to me yesterday. I began two new paintings, employing some of the methods I learned at my latest workshop with Clayton Beck. I decided to go with the flow on these, and allow my style to change somewhat if it serves the painting better.

The first is a huge canvas (54" x 36") of a full-length girl, seated on a wooden chest in front of a bookshelf. The shelf is filled with old classics, art books, and various objects, including a stem of orchids, a brass pitcher, and a bust of Michelangelo's "David." The girl is holding a note and appears deep in thought. The painting is still untitled. I'm leaving her expression and pose up to interpretation, but am still working on  story line of my own. Anyway... it took me literally all afternoon to block this in. I only used white, terra rosa, and ultramarine blue for the block-in, and limited my values, especially on the figure. In the next painting session, I hope to begin developing the values more, while incorporating accurate color temperature. The light source is very warm, which is somewhat different from the usual daylight bulbs that I work with. I believe the warm lighting appropriately creates a more intimate atmosphere for this setting.

Here she is: the first image is the scene as it's set up in my studio. The second is my painting on the easel from the actual vantage point that I decided on (I'm doing this thing from life). I had to sketch the image on with charcoal before starting any of the painting. It was just too large to try eye-balling! Click the image to see larger:

I began a second painting yesterday, some time in the evening after my husband got off of work. I have been badgering him for months now about modeling for me. We've been married for three years and he's never modeled for a portrait! Finally, last night, he was willing to sit for at least the start of one. My idea with this portrait was to bring out his wonderful quality of being a good problem-solver... and that will actually be the title of the painting: "The Problem Solver." He'll be holding a rubik's cube and looking out directly at the viewer. That's just his personality: direct, bold, strong. And since it would take me forever to solve a rubik's cube, I have to brag on my husband just a little - he can solve it in about two minutes!

Since the model lives with me (ha!), I am doing this portrait completely from life. I was only able work on it for about 40 minutes, but here is what I accomplished during that time (the dimensions are 24" x 24"):

More progress pictures to come. I'm very excited about all my projects, even if a dozen seems like an overwhelming number! I love what I do, and feel privileged every day to come into my studio and paint. I hope those of you reading this are also inspired to do what you love, and do it to the best of your ability. :-)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Preparing a Linen Canvas: How To

I've been getting a lot of e-mails lately asking me how I prepare a linen canvas, and also why I prefer it over cotton canvas. So, from now on I hope to simply refer these requests to this blog post. Hopefully this helps! If you are gluing linen to panel, that is a different thing. For our purposes today, I am referring to stretching, sizing, and priming a linen canvas on stretcher bars, not panel.

My reasons for using linen: linen is very different from canvas, not only in its texture and weave, but also in the way it is prepared and how it feels to paint on. Linen is much smoother, especially if prepared properly with a size such as rabbit skin glue or PVA glue, and an oil-based gesso rather than acrylic. The oil primer really makes for a smooth working surface, whereas acrylic gesso tends to "eat up" your oil paint during the first several working layers, causing the paint to lose its luster. This can be very frustrating. Although linen is generally much more expensive than canvas, I don't think I could ever go back to canvas. Once you've tried it, you'll realize too that there's no going back!

by Anna Rose Bain

  •           Linen:  Many artists purchase pre-primed linen, but I always buy mine raw. I find that being able to stretch and size my linen is much easier and produces better results if I do it all from scratch.  I’ve tried many different kinds, but my favorite linen to work with is Claessens portrait linen. Linen can be expensive, so make sure you look for an online coupon code before you buy! 
  •           Stretcher bars: You can get stretcher bars of any length through just about any art supply store or website. I often buy them from Hobby Lobby, but my favorite stretcher bars for heavier-duty, larger canvases, are from Utrecht. For any canvas bigger than 24x36, I recommend using a cross brace, attached with T-bars.
  •           Double boiler
  •           Plastic drop cloth or garbage bags
  •           Sizing: There are a number of excellent options on the market, including PVA size, and acrylic polymers such as GAC 400/GAC 100 from Golden. My product of choice is good old traditional standard, rabbit skin glue. I know, it sounds cruel – it IS actually made from rabbit collagen… but this method has been tried and true for centuries. Not only is it is the best coating to protect a canvas from the linseed oils in paint (which would naturally destroy canvas fibers over time), but it also makes the canvas so tight that you can pluck it like a drum. You can purchase rabbit skin glue from Daniel Smith or Utrecht. It comes in powder form.
  •          Scissors
  •          Marker or charcoal pencil
  •          Stapler: I have a couple that I purchased from Hobby Lobby in the canvas/painting department. They are called “EasyTackers” and call for No. 3 or Arrow JT-21 staples.
  •           Rubber mallet
  •           Measuring Square
  •           Fine grain sandpaper
  •           Gesso brushes (one for the rabbit skin glue, and one for priming). They should have soft bristles and be fairly large, at least 3 inches wide. For sizing, you may also use a sponge instead.
  •           Oil primer: I use Gamblin's oil painting ground (formulated with alkyd). Lately I have also started using lead ground, which is extremely pleasurable to paint on but requires at least 3 months to cure (and I'm just not that patient!).
  •           Bucket
  •           Putty knife
  •           Odorless mineral spirits
  •           Paper towels
  •           Wood paint stick or stirring rod for mixing


1) Assemble your stretcher bars, using the square to make sure they are straight.
2) Line up the stretcher bars with your linen on the floor; using a straight edge and a marker or charcoal pencil, draw a line around the stretcher bars on the linen, measuring about 1.5”-2” all the way around your stretcher bars, depending on how thick they are.
3) Cut the linen to size.
4) With the canvas still face down on the floor, staple the linen to your stretcher bars, starting with one staple in the middle of each side. If you intend to size with RSG, leave a good amount of slack in the middle. This is different than stretching a cotton canvas, where you stretch it as tight as you can. However, if you plan to size with PVA or GAC-100, make sure you DO tighten the linen as much as possible. In my experience, acrylic polymers are not as effective for tightening your canvas, so you must plan ahead, knowing which size you'll be using.
5) Continue to staple outwards towards the corners, pulling the linen evenly and out from the center before each staple, and working all the way around rather than one side at a time.
6) Once you’ve reached the corners, fold them around neatly (see my YouTube video below) and staple them secure.

7) When the linen has been stapled on completely, brush any lint, specks, or hairs off the front of the canvas before moving on. If you have pets in your studio, this can be a problem to watch out for! If you are sizing with acrylic polymer, wipe the linen gently with a damp rag, and allow it to dry. This will give you some of the extra tightness you need.

This is a what a neatly folded corner should look like

1) Lay your canvas out on a plastic drop cloth, on a flat surface
2) If you are using PVA or acrylic polymer (instructions for GAC-400 and GAC-100 can be found on Golden's website here. They recommend one coat of GAC-400 followed by one coat of GAC-100 for adequate protection), skip ahead to stage 4.
Using a double boiler on the stove, prepare rabbit skin glue according to directions. Some directions require you to soak the RSG overnight, others don’t. I’ve tried both and found that as long as the mixture has had enough time to dissolve, whether overnight or on the stovetop, it still produces great results. Keep the burner on low, never allowing the mixture to boil. It should be heating for at least 30 minutes before it’s ready to use.
3) When rabbit skin glue is completely dissolved and nice and warm (but not boiling hot), take the pan off of the boiler and prepare to brush the mixture onto your prepared canvas. 
4) Using a 3-inch gesso brush, apply the glue generously to your canvas, starting in the very middle and working your way out. Make sure to brush onto the sides as well. You will instantly see the canvas begin to tighten. Sometimes I use a sponge instead of a brush (you’ll want to wear rubber gloves if you do it this way!).
5) Allow canvas to dry several hours or overnight. If the canvas starts to warp because it’s been stretched too tightly, hold down opposite corners with weighted objects.
6) When dry, lightly sand canvas.
7) Apply a second coat of sizing. Leftover rabbit skin glue can be re-heated, but make sure you use it up within no more than a day or two, as it can go bad after a while.

Linen canvases still wet from first coat of RSG

1) Keep your prepared canvas on the plastic drop cloth.
2) Put about 4 parts oil ground and 1 part odorless mineral spirits in your mixing bucket, and stir with a mixing stick or plastic utensil (something disposable). It should be a smooth consistency but not runny. If you are using alkyd oil-based primer, you can skip mixing in the mineral spirits and go straight to step 3.
3) Using your putty knife, apply the oil ground in thin, smooth strokes across the top of your canvas, working from top to bottom in one direction (as opposed to from the middle outwards, like the glue).
4) Smooth your knife strokes with your gesso brush, also moving in one direction. Make sure you prime the sides of your canvas as well.
5) Allow first coat to dry. When dry to the touch, lightly sand your canvas, wipe the surface with a slightly damp, lint-free rag, and then apply a second coat of oil ground, this time brushing it perpendicularly to the direction you applied it before.
6) Allow this second coat to dry. If desired, a third coat may be added, but usually two coats are fine. Because of the alkyd component, Gamblin states on their website that their oil ground only needs 7-10 days to dry before it's ready to paint on. I've found that it needs more like 3-4 weeks, otherwise the second coat will still have some tacky/sticky spots. Lead ground, which can be applied in the same manner as the oil ground (with the exception of sanding), takes 3-6 months to fully dry.
7) Before painting, do the "fingernail test." If you poke the canvas gently with your fingernail and it leaves a mark, it's not cured enough to work on. 
8) Happy painting!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Clayton J. Beck, III Workshop at the Woodlands Art League

My head is still spinning from the overload of information I received at last week's three-day portrait and figure workshop with Clayton J. Beck, III at the Woodlands Art League. I felt extremely privileged to be there and grateful for the instruction, as it was a totally new way of thinking and painting for me.

Clayton Beck is, as my friend Michael would say, a "Schmidling," meaning that he studied under Richard Schmid once upon a time during the "golden age" of Schmid's teaching at the Palette and Chisel in Chicago. Beck now teaches there, and through his classes and workshops, he carries on the methods used by the 19th-century American artist John Singer Sargent as well as several of Sargent's contemporaries such as Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla. Richard Schmid is arguably the greatest living painter, and so, to study with him or any of his former students is a HUGE privilege.

One of the many demos of Clayton's that were on display during the workshop. So inspiring!

The workshop consisted of two evening sessions with a figure model, and three full days of portrait work. Clayton's emphasis for the duration of the workshop was on values, so much so that he didn't bother to correct drawing mistakes or deal much with color (even though he's known for his ability to paint gorgeous colors!). I took a LOT of notes, but instead of writing them all down here, I'll simply share a few of the more important highlights:
  • Instead of getting wrapped up in line work to start, look at your subject in a deep squint. If you can capture the stuff you initially see in your deep squint, then you'll be all right.
  • Don't think about what things are, but rather, what they look like.
  • Never start a canvas without knowing what direction you're going in.
  • Have a realistic understanding of your own abilities and how you will react to the scene in front of you, within the time frame you are given.
  • Sometimes it's better not to have a concept. Let the model relax into the pose - yelling from eight different people to "move your arm," etc., creates tension for the model. Instead of making the model stay stiffly in the position you dictate, paint parts of the figure by opportunity. If a hand is out of place, work on something else.
  • Consistently compare areas of your painting to each other. Everything MUST relate. The harmony is in the light source, in the same way that a piece of music is written all in the same key.
  • Envision your painting from start to finish. You have control over how your painting will turn out - it is not an accident!
  • Think of everything you see as a value, an edge, or an angle, rather than a hand, hair, a mouth, etc.
  • There's no such thing as half-tone or middle value. There's only light and shadow. Look for the darkest part of the light and the lightest part of the shadow. This is where you begin your painting. Your whole world as an artist should be a division of light and shadow.
  • Work only as quickly as you can with accuracy.
  • Plan ahead; as you lay down color, know how the next brush stroke will relate to it.
  • Don't get distracted. Stick to your original idea, and finish it out.
I really enjoyed Clayton's teaching style (um... he's rather like a drill sargeant!), and I hope I get to study with him again. Here are some pictures from the last part of the workshop.

Day 3 (I was working too hard on days 1 and 2 to take many pictures, ha!): Clayton painted along side us. Here is his amazing portrait of the model so far... you can see that he established his lightest light (on our left) and darkest dark (on our right).

The model's 2-year-old son kept sitting on her lap, but he held pretty still while entertaining himself with her phone.

Clayton added an impromptu sketch of the little boy in about 20 minutes!

Here is the finished painting.

Here are my efforts from day 2 of the workshop, with our model, Pete. I was focused primarily on finding "the darkest part of the light and the lightest part of the shadow." Later I started adding in color temperature.

Day 3: My attempt at painting the model with more time spent on developing my values more gradually. The result is really a solid-looking head. I can't wait to take this method even further!

While I have a pretty solid background in classical drawing and technique (solid enough to sell my work and make a living at it, thank you very much!), I'm always excited about learning something new and adding to my painting repertoire. I've been thinking about this workshop ever since I got back from it last Friday night, and I have a feeling I'll be digesting the information for months - perhaps years! The thing that really struck me is that I had never understood how Sargent (...or Richard Schimd) painted. I always felt that their methods were completely out of reach and beyond me - that I'd never learn how to do it. I never even bothered copying a Sargent painting because I didn't know the method. Now that I've caught a glimpse of it, I'm more excited than ever to try my hand at "painting like Sargent" here at home! So now that I'm back, I've been downloading high-res images of works by Sargent, Zorn, and Sorolla from the Art Renewal Center. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ARC, it's a fabulous resource for artists!

Well, onward... I have a lot of work to do! :-)
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