Tuesday, April 17, 2007


"From a Distance"
Oil on Canvas

Brushwork is an important part of my paintings. It's something that I'm always working to improve, and an area where I still have a lot to learn.

I'm not a slave to detail, and in real life my paintings are somewhat painterly. I believe that each brushstroke should be carefully placed, and that once placed on the canvas it should pretty much remain untouched (believing this doesn't mean that I am a master at adhering to it, of course - that's another matter).

One of my instructors was always on my case to spend more time looking and thinking, and less time actually putting paint on the canvas. He was right - whether painting plein air or in the studio, the more thought you put into each stroke, the less likely that you'll end up reworking things, or "noodling" on the canvas.

I've been really working on getting the texture of my paintings to have a certain quality, and I feel like I'm slowly making some progress. Lately, however, I've been getting annoyed at the way my support can affect the presentation of my brushwork. I typically paint on cotton canvas, and I'm getting more and more annoyed at the way the texture interferes with the look of my paintings. I know a lot of well known landscape artists only paint on linen, because they like the texture more, but my problem is I'm finding that I don't like texture at ALL.

In the detail below, you can see what I'm talking about. See how the brushtrokes on the mountain are thick and speak for themselves, but the sky above has canvas texture showing through? I know I'm being picky, but it drives me nuts! There's a lot of paint on that canvas, and I don't want to see that texture there.

I buy preprimed canvas, and I've started to put two extra coats of gesso on each canvas in order to take some of the tooth out of the canvas texture. It's time consuming, but it seems to be doing the trick. I'm thinking of switching to some type of smooth panel for smaller paintings, but I'm not sure what to do for large paintings. A 30x40" framed painting is heavy enough as is - I don't want to deal with the extra weight of a panel that size. Any suggestions?


  1. I hate the canvas texture too! Actually, I like it when I see it on other artist's work, but I hate it in my work.

    I have painted on panels for a long time and have just switched over to cradled birch panels, which are surprisingly light, even at large sizes. BUT, you probably don't want to paint on cradled panels, in which case you may have trouble with warping if the panel is not cradled. Hardbord is a great surface and Ampersand will create custom sizes for you. If stored and handled properly they supposedly don't warp. I did have trouble with one warping, but there were extenuating circumstances there.

    Anyway, I can give you more info if you want to email me privately.

  2. Tracy - I forgot that you work on panels - I'll have to email you with some questions! That's the problem I seem to run into with the larger panels - the light ones seem to have to be cradled, and I don't want to deal with the extra depth for framing. There's got to be some way to just fix some support to the back to keep them from warping without it being too deep - hmmm...

  3. How about using a palette knife in the skies? I sometimes do that, not to hide the canvas weave, but sometimes I just don't want to see a lot of brushstrokes in a clear blue sky. It's tricky though because a sky done completely with the knife might look out of place if everything else is all brushwork. So, I might go back and lightly brush over it.

    I never tried it specifically to hide the canvas, but it might work for you: applying paint with the knife should be able to completely fill the canvas weave, then lightly brush over that to tie it in to the rest of you painting.

    Your work is really nice, by the way!

  4. Joe - thanks for the suggestions. When I gesso my canvas, I brush the gesso on thickly, then use a knife to scrape off everything but what fills the canvas weave - it seems to work OK for now...