Sinking in (canvases)

I always try to be as efficient as possible with my paintings. But I’m also cheap. The combination of efficiency and cheapness has frequently caused me headaches. Instead of saving time and money, I’ve wasted both in my often wrong-footed efforts to save money.

I prefer smooth painting surfaces but instead of buying the ultra-smooth premium linen, I often buy the much cheaper cotton. Linen is 6 – 10 times more expensive than cotton so this saves A LOT of money. But as artists know, cotton canvas is not smooth. This means I have to spend time preparing the canvas surface. I justify this extra work because I manually doctor the surfaces anyway, even on premium linen. I’ve yet to see a “professionally primed” surface that suits me.

I apply an additional layer of oil ground to get “professionally primed” linen to my liking. Cotton takes 2 – 3 layers. Each layer has to dry and then get sanded. The extra time investment typically results in an adequate painting surface. But sometimes–for whatever reason–the final surface is subpar. When this happens, I won’t recognize the problem until after I start painting.

On bad canvas surfaces painting becomes a chore that requires extra time to counteract the surface’s bad qualities.

In other words, to save a buck, I waste my precious time manually preparing a mediocre surface that actually increases painting time, which means even more wasted time.

This painting, Come Along, has one of the bad surfaces. Extra work means extra paint layers which introduces new problems such as “sinking-in.” Paintings that exhibit sinking have patches that appear dull and lifeless–the “sunk” parts.

To finish the painting, I applied an isolating layer of copal varnish. The isolating layer prevents new paint from sinking into earlier layers.

Isolating layers is not something I invented. Indeed, many artists routinely use them regardless of whether or not they experience the sinking phenomenon.

Anyway, after the isolating varnish dried I was able to quickly finish the painting. If you want to use isolating varnish, thin the varnish with turpentine or alcohol. Mineral spirits can cloud the varnish which is to be avoided at all costs.

  1 comment for “Sinking in (canvases)

  1. Love your paintings and ideas.
    just a couple of thoughts/queries from an amateur.

    As we know Linen can last hundreds of years without rotting, unlike cotton which is attacked by fungi.
    I can never go back to cotton.
    During the Pandemic I spent a considerable time researching the things discussed in your article. The Smithonian has a lot of info on paintings and archival topics.
    I found an incredible resource in the research and papers produced by GOLDEN PAINTS.
    A company that makes ACRYLIC PAINT.
    Almost blasphemous.
    Their publication – JUST PAINT is great reading.

    They also make OILS as we know – Williamsburg.

    As you may be aware they have a lot of research on combining Acrylic painting with Oils- in stages and methodologically of course.
    They have also investigated painting supports for oil as well as acrylics.
    I have given up on OIL baSED/OLD technology PREP for my oil paintings. Got rid of Rabbit skin glue and most old tech solvents/aids.
    I use Golden Acrylic gloss mediums for sealing the support followed by a HIGH grade ACRYLIC primer. GOLDEN thinks these products/chemicals, based on their testing may have lives measured in HUNDREDS of years, especially when protected from UV.
    NOTE; They test their paints and simulate virtual UV exposure “equalling decades of UV exposure in a few weeks”. They are very helpful people.
    Since I am in AU I use a local supplier for my primer- LANGRIDGE ACRYLIC PRIMER.
    Three to four thinner coats in a day (very fast drying) with HIGH BUILD- so thick the brush can stand up in the primer ( max Titanium Dioxide in this paint!!!! ).
    Water washup.

    This primer has GRIP so don’t spill it on anything as it’s VERY HARD to get off.

    After sanding , paint straight over the top with either an acrylic base coat or in OILS.
    This prep can be done easily in a day – unless your paintings are large:)
    I think Gamblin may make as similar product ( 2 years old research !!)
    Golden make a SANDABLE GESSO which some have told me is BRILLIANT and v high quality.
    You may know all this already – just an opinion.
    Keep painting.


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