As a painter who seeks the best materials, I have now found the best quality oil ground linen canvas. When I first learned about oil grounds, I was immediately fascinated with the material. There's no comparison between the acrylic "gesso" grounds and the surface of an oil ground. But even with oil grounds, I have found a startling difference between titanium white grounds and lead white grounds. For me, titanium grounds have a high absorbency that catches the paint and sucks it in, while lead has a buttery type of surface that allows the paint to glide. I've tried many varieties of commercially prepared oil ground, but was always disappointed by not being able to order lead and a custom tone of gray (which I prefer).
I am very familiar with preparing my own grounds and my previous practice was to prepare my own lead primed grounds. I'm glad I know how to prepare my own grounds, but this process is time consuming, very messy and difficult to get right all the time. Nevertheless, I am an artist that believes in the importance of materials. I believe the same philosophy applies to chefs: no matter how good of a chef you are, you can't make a good meal out of bad ingredients.
So I reached out to Mr. Angel De La Cruz via email to inquire about getting a lead primed, gray toned, oil ground. Angel wrote back to me very promptly and said he actually had a roll in stock that matched my specifications. I was very excited, but a little nervous. Would the gray be the right value? I didn't want something too dark or too light. Long story short, the canvas is absolutely perfect. The tone of gray is spot on, not too dark or too light. The linen is double primed also which creates a smooth surface, but still has the tooth of the fabric-- perfect for portrait work. I've included some photos below, but it's difficult to capture the quality of this canvas in photos. I know the canvas is also very well sized because none of the oil ground has seeped through to the back of the canvas. For anyone who doesn't know about oil grounds: you need to have a size (a glue) to act as a barrier so that the oil ground won't reach the linen or canvas because that can cause degradation over time.
It's very important to keep these traditional artistic practices alive which is why I only want to support companies that make great quality materials. Angel and Ben are wonderful to do business with and I'm so happy that I found them. I want to thank companies like A E Art Canvas Priming, Natural Pigments and Rosemary and Co for keeping these traditions alive.
The roll that I ordered is: #13 Linen, 57"X 6 Yds, DP Gray Lead. I don't want to list the price in case their prices change, but I can tell you that it was very reasonable considering what most other companies charge for oil grounds. I don't think that they have a website (which is cooler in my book) but you can contact Angel and his son, Ben, at the address and email below:
A E Art Canvas Priming
605 East 132nd Street
Bronx NY 10454
Just started a new self portrait, using a canvas that I recently made with Natural Pigments lead oil ground. The beginning is always rough and I'm not going for any detail at this stage. I think of the beginning like the understructure of the painting. Portraits have a lot going on, but they need to progress gradually. It's good to keep the beginning malleable instead of committing to some exact detail such as a highlight. The painting gets more delicate as more modeling is added so it's not good to jump to details right away. The beginning has some slight indications of general details, but nothing concrete in case I have to adjust some proportions.
As I said, I'm using a lead oil ground; lead oil grounds are very different from titanium oil grounds. Lead has a really nice level of absorption that also repels a good amount of the paint laid on top. I've noticed that titanium white grounds absorb a lot of the paint and it feels like you have to pile on the paint just to get any level of impasto. If you're a painter that likes thick paint applications then I encourage you to use a lead oil ground.
I'm going slower with this painting and with more of my old intuitive approach. I still like alla prima painting, but I can't get the level of detail and modulation of tone with pure alla prima. I already paint fast and I feel the need to slow myself down and let it dry when necessary in order to build up the detail. I'm excited to work on this more and will post more as it progresses.
I'm doing some tests with a recipe I found in volume IX of the John Singer Sargent catalogue raisonne published by Yale. This final volume contains an extensive analysis of Sargent's materials and methods written by Rebecca Hellen and Joyce H. Townsend. I highly encourage anyone who's interested in Sargent to check out this series of books.
I'm a purist when it comes to materials because I have tested out a ton of different paints, surfaces, mediums, tools, etc. and always come back to the more old school materials. I've learned that the materials that I use to paint have a pronounced effect on my final work. I also like doing research to learn about some of these methods.
The canvas recipe from this book says to apply a heavy layer of size to the linen (canvas and linen are both fabrics used for painting, but the term canvas can be used to describe a linen canvas as well). Size is a glue that acts as an isolating barrier between the oil ground and the fabric. The size is really important because the oil ground would eventually ruin the linen without it. The first layer of size is heated in a double boiler which you can see below and (following the books instructions) I'll apply a second layer of cold size with a palette knife once this first layer dries.
Apparently Sargent preferred canvases with this heavy layer of size and two thinner layers of ground. I haven't used this yet, so I'll have to report back with the results; but I am guessing that this heavy size layer will cut down on the absorbency of the ground and allow the paint to sit more on the top layer. I'm not sure if I'll like this so I only made two smaller canvases to test it out. It's all about experimentation and seeing what works.
For ground, I use Natural Pigments Rublev Colours lead oil ground. It's a great product and provides a lead surface like what Sargent would have used. I'll report back with the results of this experiment later this week..
I picked up and toned a bunch of cheap acrylic primed canvases a few weeks ago and I'm finding that they're really helping me alleviate the pressure of making a painting. I highly recommend anyone who's going through some artist block to pick up a large pack of canvases and just have fun. Of course, I prefer an oil ground linen (preferably Fredrix 125 DP Kent) but I feel a certain amount of anxiety that comes with painting on a really nice canvas. I want it to be perfect and then it inevitably ends up way too timid and far from perfect and.
I don't feel this pressure when I use cheaper materials, I feel more confident because it feels like what do I have to lose? I try to remember that my supplies are meant to be used and saving paint won't do me any good.