Covering up your sins


Dear Artist,

After my recent letter about canvas, re-stretching, etc., there were lots of follow-ups from readers. Bill wrote: “I’ve had two false starts on a canvas where I changed my mind, gessoed over and started again. This third time I’m deadly serious and have gessoed again so it’s opaque under normal light. However, if the canvas is against a window I can see my previous efforts. What do you recommend to make it completely opaque? I will be using acrylics. Or should I not worry about it?”

Thanks, Bill. I’d worry. Transparency often comes with the cheaper cotton canvasses currently being manufactured down to a price. You didn’t tell me what type of canvas you’re working on. Linen is the most naturally opaque and generally obviates the problem. It’s by far the most permanent. Egyptian mummies wrapped in it 4000 years ago are still keeping nicely. The linen “Shroud of Turin” might be even older than the 14th century that carbon dating seems to indicate. In any case, it’s still in pretty good shape considering what it has been through.

But you’re probably talking cotton. Not only will the ghost image bother you, it may creep up and become more prominent over time. I feel these under-images (sometimes called “palimpsest”) jinx the paintings that go on top of them. I “fireplace” them rather than try to cover earlier sins. A decent burning-at-the-stake is justice for badness.

That being said, if you’re dedicated to making that canvas immortal, you need to gesso further. Sand lightly to take off some of the bumps and slubs. Carbon black and Titanium white acrylic added to water-based gesso helps opacity. Light pearly grays are excellent primers anyway. Two or three thin passes with a roller are better than one thick brush job. Before painting begins, isolate with a coat of clear acrylic medium to prevent potential creep.

You may be talking synthetic canvas. Polypropylene, nylon and polyester can be mighty transparent. While resistant to sagging due to moisture, all suffer from poor paint adhesion. Of the three filaments, polyester seems to be the best for stability, freedom from ultraviolet light degradation, and adhesion. Over-painting of precious, sullied or poor quality canvasses, even when you need the palimpsest, is flirting with the devil.

Best regards,


PS: “Prepared canvasses come in traditional standard sizes. For example, ‘Bishop’s Whole Length’ is 70 x 106 inches. “The ‘Kit-Cat’ size (28 x 36 inches) was originally designed for hanging in a low-ceilinged room. It was named for an 18th century London club that met in an eating house kept by one Christopher Cat, and whose members were painted by Sir Geoffrey Kneller.” (Ralph Mayer)

Esoterica: Confident painters are fussy about their surfaces — smooth or shiny for portraits, rough for more expressive brushwork, etc. Don’t just grab what’s locally available. In cotton, look for 10 or 12 oz., rather than the standard 7 oz. Online outfits like Dick Blick offer a range of Fredrix and Masterpiece cotton products as well as the spectacular Yarka Russian linen. There’s lots to love in quality, properly-prepared canvas surfaces.


Primers for synthetic canvas
by Mark Gottsegan

Your assertion that synthetic canvases suffer from poor adhesion is not true. If these products are properly pre-primed by their manufacturers, they can be very good. The synthetic fiber materials cannot be successfully primed by the average artist. The manufacturers use a heat-set acrylic dispersion binder in their primers.


Questions about linen
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Red Bow”
original painting, 12 x 15 inches
by Brigitte Nowak

Given the cost of cotton canvas compared to the cost of gesso, paints, time, etc., I have usually found it more effective to relegate my mistakes to the bonfire or trash heap than to attempt to paint over them. That said, good quality linen, about five times the price of cotton, is more painful to discard. As a note, I’ve been having increasing difficulty in buying good quality linen locally (Toronto), until an artist-friend suggested a fabric store, rather than an art-supply store. Two questions: (1) should I be concerned about using “regular” linen (which I prefer to prime myself) and (2) while I have used “oil painting ground” to prime my canvas, I find acrylic gesso faster and cheaper: any thoughts on using this for oil paintings?

(RG note) Thanks, Brigitte. Regular sailcloth linen or linens other than specific or decorative twills will work fine when primed properly. I’m in favor of water-based primers for both oil and acrylic. Golden, Lascaux, Liquitex, Tri-Art and Winsor and Newton offer excellent products. A popular choice for the new traditionalists is the highly recommended Gamblin Oil Painting Ground. It is superior in flexibility to the traditional lead/linseed oil grounds that have unbearably long drying times.


Conversing with the canvas
by Elsie H. Wilson, Fitchburg, WI, USA

Having grown up with an artist mother who worked in oils on canvas, I remember that often mother would change her mind about what she wanted to do and would grab her palette knife and scoop still-wet paint right off her canvas and go on. But, when she had an area that she had let dry before she changed her mind, she would “make something” of the area of the painting. She viewed her painting as a conversation between herself, as the artist, and the painting she was creating. A good conversationalist is a good listener as well as a talker. During WWII when art materials were expensive and sometimes hard to come by, she rarely ever tossed a painting out. Even then, it was kept to “test out ideas” on. As a watercolor artist now, I live in a world of “happy accidents” and letting the water and paint do part of the work. I do have a pile of “stinkers” that I use the back of for practice, trying out of ideas etc. Yes, some works that I have over-worked way too much and are real lead-weight junkers, they hit the trash (or, if you are a slash and burner, the fireplace or woodstove).


Dealing with ‘dumpster darlings’
by Pat Weekley, Clovis, New Mexico

When I paint a dumpster darling I take it off the bars and deposit it in the appropriate place and re-stretch. Sometimes there is something about a painting that I like even though the total work is not successful, so after taking it off the stretcher bars I roll it up and save it… I have quite a collection now… I never consider a painting a complete failure… I learn from each one and that lesson is quite valuable. Also I have taken a large painting and used a portion of it for a smaller work and found this to be a pleasant surprise.


Worth the work
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Weddington, NC, USA


“Center of the Known World”
oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches
by Mary Susan Vaughn

I use the 12oz cotton duck canvas for many of my paintings and stretch them myself using the heavy stretcher bars for larger paintings. I agree that Linen is the best, and although difficult at times to stretch and prepare, is well worth it. I have found, though, that the heavier cotton duck that you buy in rolls are dense and excellent quality and keep the light from shining thru to previous ghosts on the canvas. Also, although I haven’t tried this and I don’t know how effective it would be, (this was the first thing that came to mind when I read about this artist’s dilemma) he might try painting gesso on the back of the painting as well. Has anyone ever done this? And if so, what is the possibility that the gesso would do damage to the integrity of the canvas and the painting itself over time?

(RG note) Thanks, Mary. Yes, direct gesso could do damage to the back of the canvas. If artists insist on this idea, they need to size first to isolate the new gesso ground from the fibers. Better to leave the back of the canvas to the air and prime properly in the first place.


Palimpsest and pentimento
by Barbara Holliday, Kelowna, BC, Canada

Regarding your reply to Bill and his problem of a former attempt at a painting being visible through his new one, wouldn’t the word ‘pentimento’ be more appropriate in this instance? The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines it as “The phenomenon of an earlier painting showing through a layer or layers of paint on a canvas, “whereas ‘palimpsest’ refers more specifically to “a piece of writing material or manuscript on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for other writing.” There are numerous examples of pentimento in the works of old masters, most famously those of Rembrandt and da Vinci. The word, which in Italian means ‘repentance,’ is one that has always delighted me — so delightfully evocative!

(RG note) Thanks, Barbara. And thanks to everyone who corrected me on that. Pentimento is of course the proper word. Palimpsest has crept into the painting business from the literary, which means, as you say, “overwriting” — more specifically in the old days when parchment was at a premium — “writing between the lines.” I am in repentance.


Harnessing the power of pentimento
by oliver, TX, USA


“Flower Nymph”
surreal photograph
by oliver

Why not figure out how to use this process in the final piece? Many photographers “layer” with differing densities and “opaqueness” strength or what have you to create their work.


“Temple Barbra”
surreal photograph
by oliver




In the ’70s and ’80s I used to do a lot of this type of work in the analog darkroom. My current approach to art is a little different but here is a couple example of the “ghost” image contributing or part of or… The final work from my often thought about but not returned to Symbolic Logic series… I will someday I think — but there are so many photographers working in surrealism and symbol manipulation and there is a great big wider world of art to explore… (Goes back to Steiglitz I guess and playing off the recording nature of a camera…) I just make ART! Why not let the under images shine through? You’ll have to remember the old compositions and symbols etc…


Real artists start afresh
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Leafing Through Flowers III”
still life painting
by John Ferrie

It is this type of advice that infuriates me. If a chef is making Creme Brulee and accidentally tosses a rotten egg in the prep bowl, he doesn’t try and save it. He tosses it all out and starts again! Artists need to know their limits and re-gessoing a canvas is tacky. Not only will the other painting come seeping through, the finish of the painting will not be the same as the rest of their collection. A gallery will spot the sore thumb a mile away and so will a client. Imagine that phone call when they put the painting in a window while changing a light bulb. But most of all, the artist should know better! Canvas is cheap! Take the canvas off the frame and stretch a new one. Nothing is cheaper than an artist who doesn’t do a fresh painting. Artists need to do quality work from the word go. If the work lacks quality, the artist’s work will never get the recognition.


Paints matter
by Anthe Capitan-Valais, Flourtown, PA, USA


“Phila Horticultural Center”
oil pastel on panel, 14 x 11 inches
by Anthe Capitan-Valais

I find that not only the canvas but the paints matter. The only successful cover-up stories I have are when I have sanded the underlying paint down to the canvas and reapply gesso. The only acrylics that I find handle this and are extremely saturated with pigment are the Golden Artist’s Colors. These acrylics as well as their gessoes tend to be more opaque.

(RG note) Thanks, Anthe. I’m a Golden fan too. But I also look around and test other manufacturers. M. Graham Acrylics is a smaller firm that makes acrylics in similar quality with other desirable nuances. Recently I bought a pile of Pebeo acrylics. These come in modern, hangable tubes with snappy tops. In the “studio” version they are blindingly inexpensive. The pigments are noticeably weaker in tinting strength although, with the presence of fillers, the body is generally okay. Reading the small print I notice that these Pebeos are made in China. Further, Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, (see below) recently did an extensive comparison and found Liquitex Titanium white to be superior to all others in covering power.


Unhygienic practice
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada


“Granville Island Marina”
acrylic painting, 36 x 24 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Recently my dad came for a visit and after a few days of unbearable idleness and numerous comments that a house without work opportunities is unacceptable, he demanded to be put to work in the studio. I pointed out a pile of stretched canvases “gone wrong” and asked if he could remove the canvas from them, intending to reuse the stretchers. The next day I came to the studio there was a neat pile of straightened old canvases, another neat pile of painstakingly removed staples and another pile of stretchers. When I told him that the canvases are going into garbage so he could have just ripped them out, he was shocked and was very disturbed for having had something to do with this. For him, disposing of canvases was unreasonable, wasteful and foolish — he disapproved repeatedly all through the remaining days of his visit. I took his complaints into consideration and painted a few acrylic paintings on top of re-gessoed canvases. But there is just something about it that I don’t enjoy — it reminds me of doing something unhygienic.


Paintings in need of ‘history’
by Deb Strong Napple, Cheltenham, PA, USA


“Seated Self-Portrait”
oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
by Deb Strong Napple

I often recycle failed canvases or panels by painting over them with the scrapings from my palette (I paint in oil, so gesso won’t do the trick over an old work.) Sometimes I sand down the especially bumpy parts, but usually I leave the brushwork. Rather than “jinxing” the painting as you said, I find that the remnants of the old painting offer another layer of interest to the new work on top. The bumps and scrapes add great surface texture, and remind me to stay loose as I paint. Sometimes bits of the previous image are visible; when they are they can bring surprising new ideas to integrate into the new work. I like that the paintings now have a feeling of “history” behind them.



Let sins show
by Kathryn Wiley, Bethesda, MD, USA


acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
by Kathryn Wiley

I like to let small parts of my sins show. Of course everyone’s style is different, but I’ve had some success just painting over an earlier effort, without gessoing it into oblivion first. It starts as an exercise in ignoring what’s already on the canvas, useful for learning to focus on the work of the moment. Some of my best paintings show bits and pieces of the previous painting’s colors or shapes, and the effect can be quite intriguing. A number of friends do this and find it works for them as well. The technique can be used on either abstract or representational pieces.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Covering up your sins



From: Rick Rotante — Nov 16, 2007

I love to re-use canvases. I use cotton. Stretch my own, gesso twice, don’t sand and tone with a neutral brown wash. I use oil paint. When I was just starting out, with not much money for supplies, I thought re-using a canvas was amateurism. But after half a lifetime painting and finding some of the greats have re-used canvas ( multiple times) I’ve lost the mental stigma of re-use and since found I like the texture I get from a re-used surface. Even after sanding, the new paint skips and drags in such a way as to add more texture. As for transparency, I’ve never found that a problem. I can’t think of one time when I’d hang my paintings in front of a light source anyway. It’s a non-issue. In the old days paint and canvas were hard things to come by for artists. Wealthy patrons like Royals or the Church would commission a painting and the upfront money would buy the supplies for the work. They had to grind the pigment, add oil and mix just enough for the immediate moment. They couldn’t store paint like we can today because the tube wasn’t invented yet. I’ve read stories about commissions being rejected. What was the artist to do with the canvas? He re-used it and sold it to someone else with the old image underneath. It was done all the time. I believe it’s the reason alternative surfaces came into use. Painting on wood for instance. Cheap and readily available. Galleries today x-ray old masters and routinely find multiple images. In fact these paintings seem to be more valuable because of it. If I should have such good fortune after my death, to have my work on the auction block and they x-ray the canvases, they will have a field day. Every profession re-uses their supplies. Writers, re-use paper, carpenters break down old jobs and re-use the wood. Why wouldn’t an artist do the same? I’d say conservatively half my old work now lies under many of my newer sold pieces. Unless you are among the fortunate few who become successful out of the gate it’s too expensive to discard your “sins”.

From: Faith Puleston — Nov 20, 2007

So what is a “real” artist, John (Ferrie)? Picasso certainly reused canvases – sometimes several times – and I think you would have to admit that he is a “real” artist. And I’m not even sure if that creme brulée would be so much worse off with an egg in it. Maybe it would stop being a creme brulée (but no one would know or even care) and the chef would rename it – call it a sweet omelette or pancake, use it as a cake filling…. He would not chuck it out while thinking to himself: “I’m a real chef so I throw good ingredients away.”

From: Mary Wood — Nov 20, 2007

I have to agree with Faith and say that I find John Ferrie’s comments rather arrogant. I purposely paint multiple layers on my abstract paintings and love the richness of texture and colour that emerge. I also have no difficulty painting over old paintings. Clients also seem to love the results and often comment on the wonderful hints that emerge from below the surface. To me the resulting paintings are a metaphor for human life and even the life of the land, where generations and centuries are often hidden and only come to light with study and careful observation. I should say that I also paint preplanned, single layer, flat very graphic paintings and would never paint one of them over another painting because the previous brushwork would clash with the single layered image. Different strokes for different folks, John.

From: Jane Champagne — Nov 20, 2007

Having been in one of Mary Wood’s classes years ago in Southampton, I have seen her layer and transform a merely ordinary painting into a multi-layered, almost three-dimensional truly original work…watercolour and mixed water media in this case. An inspiration — and Mary, I hope you’re still taking those great leaps of painterly faith!

From: Brad Greek — Nov 20, 2007

I’m totally at a loss here as far as having much experience at this dilema. I am one that believes each piece was created for a purpose. Something about that subject inspired you, so you created it. It deserves to have its own life. So you don’t particularly like its outcome. Show it around first, get others’ opinions. Look at it for a time, hanging in your kitchen. You will be surprised how many will like what you dislike. I watch my artist friends endlessly paint over their work. What a shame. Now if you are just doing studies for larger works, or just playing around, expect mess-ups and don’t do it on your good materials. I use pre-primed canvases, I’ve yet to use gesso for anything. I’ve been painting for over 35 years.

From: Wayne Hooker — Nov 20, 2007

I sculpt in stone and metal, so I can’t speak to the canvas issue, only to the process of manipulating material, expressing something called art. Metal is somewhat forgiving, stone is not. With stone, my exploration is done through drawings and time, lots of time studying the rock. Even with that, the rock will often reveal its hidden self, exert its will, change my direction, sometimes in a surprising discovery. These are “ah ha” moments. Early on, I would become discouraged when I miss-hit or misread the stone. Now I see it as part of the process. What changed? My perception. What has this to do with the canvas debate? Nothing. I just love that artists can discuss any aspect of their work and soon enough it will turn to a heated debate. No right or wrong, just passion. There is no artist without passion, only art. An English professor once told me, ‘Write the best way you can, the rest is your business.’ Useful advice in any artistic pursuit.

From: Mike Bagdonas — Nov 20, 2007

I agree with some of the other comments that an artist can and should reuse old canvases. I guess if you paint so tight that you can not have a tiny bump peeking through from the underpainting then you should stick to fresh new canvas each time out! I believe a great painting is loose, vague in certain places with great beauty created by little skips of the brush with thick paint across the canvas. Some of my best paintings were done over other paintings. Sometimes I have not even scrubbed a gray across the painting to cover the under painting but just painted over it. What a treat that is, but you should at least turn the underpainting upside down when doing this. No white showing through but unique color traces that enhance the new painting. I love it!

From: Ernest Ochsner — Nov 20, 2007

I’m concerned about the earlier comment on the flexibility of Golden gesso. My understanding is that is the problem with acrylic gesso under oil. With the ground being more flexible than the paint layers, the paint has a tendency to crack and even peel off of the canvas. Is my information wrong on this? If so where do I find the correct research to disprove the earlier info?

From: Barbara Cruikshank — Nov 20, 2007

I love the names of certain sized canvases, see above – do you have any other poetic names for other canvas sizes? I love the name “Double Elephant” for a particular watercolour sheet.

From: Karen Martin Sampson — Nov 20, 2007

Just a note for Wayne Hooker; I read a similar quote a while back except that it stated “Write the best you can, the rest is NOT your business.” I have found this philosophy to be true in my own work. Last year I was about to abandon a pastel I had worked on for a week or so as I wasn’t sure of the direction it was going in but a friend urged me to continue in this somewhat uncharted territory and I did “my best” with it. I ended up liking it well enough to consider keeping it so at an outdoor art show I put a high price tag on it thinking no one would spend that kind of money. It sold almost immediately and two more people who had seen it came back wanting to buy it.

From: Lynn Milucky — Nov 20, 2007

Wow! I am so thrilled I had the momentary flash to add your newsletter yesterday!!! Today’s note caused my review of other articles and it has been the best companion of upliftment with my coffee this morning~ Thankyou so very much…I love it!

From: Faith Puleston — Nov 20, 2007

Some if not all paintings need time to mature. No skilled watercolourist would leave a painting at the draft stage. It often takes many layers to achieve depth and skill to know when saturation point has been reached (especially important with oil pastels!). Certainly, oil paintings develop through scumbling and glazing and other techniques applied in layers. Why not use a discarded canvas (whatever reason the artist may have had for rejecting the previous work) even and especially if it bears a record of surface “maturity”? People spend oodles of cash on various thickeners, cements and gels to slap on texture and create effects. Acrylics have provided choices undreamt of a century ago. I expect I am no exception when I admit that many of my paintings have an “undergrowth” of leftover paint from my palette and are not seldom born of a previous effort or deliberate “doodling” and experimentation. It’s often useful to start with a layer of complementary colour to achieve splendid depth in a painting. While I agree that some pristine white or pastel backgrounds cannot easily emerge from a previously coloured surface, and you cannot easily reflatten a raised area once it is there, I’m quite sure that many many paintings have emerged thanks to rather than despite what was already on the canvas.

From: John Ferrie — Nov 20, 2007

Dear Mary and Faith, If you’re painting abstract paintings, then who cares what is coming through from a painting before. And as far as eating creme brulee made with a rotten egg, go ahead, I’ll wait for the second batch. And just so we are clear, I am a “real” artist, I live in my studio, I went to art school, I work as an artist everyday and it has come to define me. You might have actually known that if you had hit the link to my 300 page website that is linked to my comment. While I do not consider myself “arrogant”, I am self assured when it comes to the quality and integrity of being an artist.

From: Helena Tiainen — Nov 20, 2007

Maybe we all should stop telling each other how to make “proper” art. Not all art is intended to last for centuries, not all art is concerned over every bump and ridge. It all depends on the artist’s intention. Too much traditional thinking can blind one to possibilities. We live in an era concerned about recycling and reusing materials as much as possible. The next “big wave” just might be a lot of art made mostly from recycled stuff. I think each artist should follow their own heart and not be so concerned over what others say. Physical life in this world is frail and so is art. Some artists may even intend the falling apart of a constellation to be part of the process. And yes, many masters have painted many paintings on one canvas and never suffered from one showing thru except when x-rayed. If one paints over old paintings maybe one needs to handle the process differently and use thicker layers of paint. I think an artist who deals with this dilemma would figure out how to go about it by themselves. I personally tend to change composition while painting and this has never affected the outcome negatively. I consider any bumbs and texture that show thru from the underpainting to be part of the history of the painting as a totality. And no buyer of my paintings has ever complained.

From: Roberta — Nov 20, 2007

I always paint over paintings I am dissatisfied with. I simply utilize the color and design of the old painting with the new painting, so it is incorporated as part of the new painting. Some of my most satisfactory work are paintings I’ve done this way. The underneath color adds depth and mystery. The underneath design is incorporated with my new design. I have made my livelihood with my art for many years, so have done this many times. I see no need to discard “failed” work—not because I can’t afford a new canvas, but because I love the challenge of making the failure into a success. Roberta

From: Sue Rochford — Nov 20, 2007

Nothin’ gormless about Gormley. Spend a couple of hours checking out his collection on-line and give up art altogether. Note though that Gormley has been working hard regardless of our appreciation or non-appreciation of him – is this a true artist?

From: Julie Roberts — Nov 20, 2007

This talk of creme brulee is making my mouth water! Mary and Faith, next time you are in a fine restaurant or on a cruise order one and you’ll love it. John, fine artist that you are, go out and have one soon – you deserve it! The thing I love about this site is there are many points of view on every subject presented and I can always find someone to aline with mine. P.S. Turn a plugged nose to rotten eggs.

From: Sue Favinger Smith — Nov 20, 2007

If you are sanding down canvases and you have used Cadmium paints, be sure to use extreme caution. Cadmium pigments, when in dust form and inhaled, are a health risk. Better to just buy new canvas.

From: Dennis Marshall — Nov 20, 2007

If I am in a creative rut I take an older or even a more current painting that hasn’t worked out and begin painting. I have found that this helps me to jump start the creative process. Acrylic paint enables me to work over paintings without having to worry about fat over lean, etc. I usually work on pre-stretched canvases which are a meduim weight. If I am painting a landscape there can be unwanted textures from the previous painting even with light sanding. I do my best to incorporate them into the new painting. I have found that with the standard pre-stretched canvases, there is only so much paint they can hold before you create a ‘dead-zone’. I define a dead zone as an area of the painting were the canvas texture is completely filled in and you end up with a plastic look and cannot really put down any more paint. To avoid this I keep myself aware of how much paint I am putting down.I will also make use of gloss medium to extend the paint without adding volume.I read at the Golden web site that many pre-stretched canvases are not holding up too well.Some of the companies making them are cutting corners on quality. I try to buy heavier weight canvas which have the excess canvas stapled to the back.

From: Scharolette Chappell — Nov 21, 2007

The more texture the better for me, I’d never think of burning a canvas, though I have burned pastel drawings on newsprint or brown craft paper in ceremony to release the energy given in the piece to the world. This gesture of love was not because it was a mistake, or a bad drawing, only that it was my best one and if love could be spread this way then it went out as a prayer of touching hands with one another. If the mind could be open enough to receive such a gift then it was upon the winds. If not, then it made some ash that returned to the earth where it came from, the earth receives her own. It’s all about giving and accepting the gifts. The well never runs dry, dip in today and see for yourself. The more you give the more you have to give. loveyaschar

From: Jim — Nov 21, 2007

Why throw used canvases away? Paint over them. I find great pleasure in painting over dreadful “starving artists” paintings bought in thrift stores for a few dollars and the frames are not bad either…I use a tinted wash to bring them around. People have commented asking how I got the dense texture in my oil paintings…my secret… recycle… go green!

From: Tatjana M-P — Nov 21, 2007

Just a note regarding someone mentioning that painting in acrylics need not be concerned with “fat over lean” rule. I have noticed that painting a layer of very “lean” acrylic (a naturally very lean red oxide slightly diluted with water), over an acrylic layer which was mixed with some gloss acrylic medium, produced tiny bubbles that dried as small holes all over the painted area. I take this as a violation of “fat over lean” so I make sure that upper layers contain more acrylic medium (especially for the dry pigments) than the lower layers. Perhaps this can be used as an intended effect, but I am not sure what could happen over a long period of time – the bubbles may be a sign of poor adhesion and the whole thing may crack or peel in the future.

From: Tatjana — Nov 21, 2007

Acrylic is a relatively new medium and there is no extensive knowledge base about the archival issues – maybe we can start a database based on artist’s experiences?

From: Karmen — Nov 21, 2007

Regarding painting over old canvases, I have found the following to be true: if the new painting is a thick, textural work then go for it. A previously painted surface is nice to paint on – less absorbent, and bits of the old painting can show through, as others have mentioned. However, if you paint in a smoother style, you’ll probably regret it, not because the color shows through, but because the lines do. This has happened to me more than once, and always to a painting I really like. I find that in spite of sanding and scraping, lines on canvas are really hard to get rid of. I’ve seen it too, in the art of some well known painters, where in an area that should be a smooth creamy sky for example, you can see the faint outline of a previous mountain or a former tree! Sometimes this is only apparent in the right lighting, like under a gallery spotlight. So I save the unsuccessful paintings for thick, abstract work, or I toss the failure and re-use the stretcher bars, or I cut it up, and re-stretch the part I like. All three techniques have worked for me.

From: Wayne Hooker — Nov 23, 2007

To Karen Sampson: I guess the philosophy could work either way, but I write to publish. And “what” I write is my business, but “how” I write is the editor’s (and ultimately the reader’s) business. They can’t tell me how to write but they do decide if my work sells or not based on my ability. Actually, your comments seem to bear that out. We write, paint, sculpt, the best we can, and it is for others to judge–not the theme, but the quality–based on their subjective reasoning. In other words, no matter what the message, the artist’s work is ultimately at the mercy of the audience.







My Valentine Roses

oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches
by Dianne Levine, Bedford, MA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Carsten Groa of Denmark who wrote, “I do not like your advice about solving bad painting success by “fireplacing” the canvas. You must think about what happens when burning paints and when we have rests of paint to get rid of. Not all pigments are safe to handle that way if any at all.”

And also Anne Drewry who wrote, “There is also colored gesso which, if coated with acrylic medium, should solve the problem. The red, which has an orange cast to it, is a great color as a surface as the glow it produces shines through.”

And also Laurel Johnson of Canada who wrote, “I once drew a picture on a canvas with a red Sharpie felt pen. That ink would bleed through anything. Avoid it at all costs.”

And also Karen Cooper of Spencer, IA, USA who wrote, “I just read the burn-at-the stake phrase. I am pretty sure I could also read between the lines that Bill should pull the canvas off the stretcher before the incineration episode, so that he could re-stretch the frame with a new piece of canvas. I think it gives a bit of freedom to know that if (when!) I screw up it’s only the canvas needing a good torch job, not the stretcher frame.”

And also Karen Weyandt of Atlanta, GA, USA who wrote, “It’s interesting that you used the word ‘sins’ (in ‘Covering up your sins’). ‘Pentimento’ is the word that refers to the trace of visible images beneath the surface painting. It translates in Italian to ‘repentance’.”

And also Alex Nodopaka of Lake Forest, CA, USA who wrote, “When I was young and more foolish than I am now I thought of making my early mistakes at painting invisible by all sorts of manners and saving the costs of replacing canvases. With advancing years and some minimal wisdom I rationalized that future generations might be interested in my process of development and discover with the help of X-rays my masked attempts under layers of gessoes. Now that I am almost brimming with wisdom I suggest to selectively torch used canvases with the help of Vodka but to photograph the process. When finished, varnish the results. You might now have a REAL masterpiece.”

And also Hannah Pazderka of Edmonton, AB, USA who wrote, “My parents have a painting (of a brook in a clearing) in their entry way. In a particular light you can see the outline of a house where the main tree now stands. Strangely, rather than devaluing it, it makes me like the painting more!”

And also Claudia Roulier of Idledale, CO, USA who wrote, “Try Kilz, it’s guaranteed to stop creep of everything.”

And also Peter Maher who wrote, “Like a lot of painters I frequently restart paintings but I never worry about any of the previous paintings showing through. I find that vestiges of previous efforts give the finished final piece a sense of history. I know of some painters who actually make conscious efforts to get this effect! Some of us like to show everything, warts and all!”

And also Sherry Shelton who wrote, “Could you address verdaccio? I want to share the information with my students.”

(RG note) Thanks, Sherry. Cennino Cennini (1370-1440) mentions verdaccio in Il Libro dell’Arte. A mixture of burnt sienna, ochre, lampblack and chalk, it had a neutral or greenish brown colour similar to raw umber. It was used by the early Italian fresco and tempera painters for outlining, shading and underpainting.




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