Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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05/19/2004: "Blending techniques/Mediums/Brushes etc."

I got a comment in my guestbook from Brigitte who wrote: “I'm having a really hard time you have any tips?”. Wow, hmmm….not sure how to answer that. Does anyone else out there have tips for blending?

I guess the first thing I’d ask Brigitte is what medium you’re painting in. Blending for acrylic is way different than oil and nothing like water color. I haven’t painted with acrylic in years but I miss some of the cool stuff you can do since the paints dry so quickly. You can layer one clean layer of paint right over another without things ever getting muddied up…which is a real problem with oil paints. One of the down sides with acrylics is that if you’re trying to create a smooth blending of tones over a large area of canvas, the paint dries too quickly. I’m sure there are probably mediums that you can use out there for extending the drying time of acrylic paints, just like there are mediums for speeding the drying time of oils. I’m sure there are artists out there using acrylic who could give a much better answer than that.

If you paint with oil, I do have a couple of observations. First of all, using various painting mediums can aid blending and just takes experimentation and practice.
I used to use a lot of Liquin for blending (and I still use it in small amounts when I want to thin the paint without using mineral spirits) but now I mostly use Walnut Oil Alkyd. A couple tiny drops will thin the paint making it easier to work with and also adds gloss and speeds drying time (but not as much as Liquin speeds drying time).

Another painting medium that adds texture to your paint if you want to do knife work or have your brush marks show is called Winsor & Newton Oleopasto.

There are a ton of other mediums used for layering glazes (to be used with paints that are transparent or semi-transparent, always check the transparency level of your pigments included on the back of every tube of oil paint) and for other techniques, I suggest reading through what they do and choosing a few that you’d like to try out. Here’s a link to”>Oil Painting Mediums from Dick Blick, where I buy all my materials.

Some paints themselves are stiff and some are soft so just taking note as to how stiff each color is will help when you are trying to achieve a certain consistency to your paint. Also, I use bristle brushes when I want brush marks in the paint, and I use the cheapo Wonder White synthetic brushes for when I want a smooth blend. I mostly do my backgrounds with a pallet knife or bristle brush and my figures with the softer brushes. For the sky I use a soft and wide brush to blend better.

In fact, brush size really affects blending. If you’re going to have lots of subtle, multi directional tonal changes, such as on a figure, you might want to try using a smaller brush and little strokes. For larger areas with less tonal distinction, a larger brush. I change brushes often too, if you only use one or two brushes you’ll muddy things up faster.

I use a lot of white for mixing which some people may frown on but, whatever, it works for me. I like to keep my colors clean, so if I’m painting a figure in Alizarin Crimson, I would primarily only use that pigment for the whole figure, instead of adding blue to the darkest areas, etc. Rick says I don’t “work the paint” enough, but that’s just a preference I have. The areas I want lighter, I add white…

Well, this is how I’ve worked historically, only I read that book “how to paint red hot landscapes that sell” which talks about instead of using white, use a lighter toned color for the highlights. I’ve been trying this lately and it seems to work as well.

Also, if I notice that an area is getting too goopy, it gets tougher to blend nicely. Sometimes I’ll just wipe all the paint off that area and start again. Other times you have to discipline yourself to just put the painting away and let it dry before putting on another layer. Always remember the rule “fat over lean”.

This reminds me, does anyone know how oil with an alkyd in it affects the whole fat over lean rule?

Anyway, that’s probably more information than you wanted but I can’t stop myself once I start writing about this stuff at times. Anyone who has other ideas/suggestions/questions…please feel free to add them to the comments.

Replies: 15 Comments

on Wednesday, May 19th,">Stacy said

Hi Elise, checking past comments, Heidi’s last name is Reifenstein. And my email is">, which would be cool if you could add my name to the list. I don’t know if I’d be much help with the critiquing part, but I’m sure interested in hearing/seeing everything.

Also, you mentioned the co-op gallery. I’ve had some stuff in a co-op, but had the opposite reaction to Jackie’s. I’ve checked out the co-op in the Senate Building several times and know a few of them. I worked with Paula Wright closely for a little while who I think is the only oil painter currently, so your artwork (oils) might provide a nice balance. In my humble opinion, though, I can’t quite picture you’re works (nor mine) integrating in their gallery very well, and from what I’ve seen, there is a lot of authentic Alaskan artwork. About half is visual artwork. Anyways, good luck with it!

One more comment, for Under the Devil’s Club, I noticed you reworked the figure and the background. I do prefer the lightened background now as it is, but I don’t so much like the monochrome figure without the yellows and accents such as on the lips.

And for blending techniques, I assume painting? In oils? I guess, I’d also ask what she prefers to paint. The figure, landscape, photorealism? There is glazing (indirect, use of several glazed layers to create a luminous, optical effect), wet into wet (direct painting), or alla prima (where all decisions are made at once). I’d see what Brigitte is trying to do before going into more detail.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Elise said

Hi Stacy,
When you say you had the opposite experience of Jackie (regarding co-op), what did you mean exactly?

Also, what did you mean about "authentic Alaskan artwork"?

After talking to my friend Jennifer last night I realized that I have been in that gallery many times actually. I guess I never realized it was a gallery, if feels a lot more like a store similar to many of the other stores that sell art and knick knacks to the tourists.

I think my stuff might be very different from what they currently have but I've decided I'm going to apply anyway. I've been considering using a service like Zazzle to make cards and even if they would take a couple smaller pieces it would be a regular outlet for getting my stuff seen by a larger audience.

And if they don't want me, I won't have to feel that devastated, since, as you stated, my stuff is really different than what they normally carry.

Thanks for your comment about the blue figure in "under the devil's club" actually another blogger made the same comment and I had intended to add back in some green highlights after the blue dries...I'll post it again once I've done that.

As for the blending techniques, yes, it does depend on many many factors. I don't really know what kind of painting she's doing so I mainly just wrote about my own personal process, which is a total hog-podge of techniques I've picked and choosed from over the years.

Brigitte, are you out there? Could you tell us a little more about what and how you paint?

on Thursday, May 20th, John said

Despite what Die-hard oil users think/say I've found that acrylics don't dry fast enough for my pace of work. :) They dry the fastest when dilluted with water, simply evaporating from the surface. And the cheaper the acrylic, the faster it dries (unfortunately the cheaper it is, the less lightfast it is, the less consistent it is as well).
But, Golden Acrylics take a long time to dry, you could throw a glob onto a canvas and it might still be wet tomorrow. The actual drying time is about 30-90 minutes with no medium, water, or retarder. Golden also makes medium which if added to cheap paints or good ones slows the drying time down some, and they make an acrylic gel retarder, you add a drop or two fo it to your paint and it'll be drying forever. I've recently begun switching from the crappy winsor and newton galleria paints to golden acrylics which are almost as expensive as oils, but they contain much more pigment, are lightfast, and just better in too many ways to list.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Elise said

Isn't it amazing the difference between low and high end paints? I've recently gone from using Windsor and Newton Winton oil colors to M Graham and the difference is amazing.

As for the acrylics, I must have only ever used cheap ones because I remember them drying while I was practically mid stroke. I'm amazed that a glob of the good stuff might still be wet a day later. However, if you want the paint to stay wet longer, why use acrylic and not oil?

I'm always curious why people who paint with acrylic prefer it to oil?
Any insights?

on Thursday, May 20th, John said

When I started making paintings I chose to use acrylics because for the ten years prior I had been painting models with acrylic paint so I already had that much experience with handling the paint. I am still using acrylics because:
they dry faster (not fast enough), I don't want a painting to still be drying when I go to hang it up somewhere.
You can use water as both a medium and a solvent, use a little, it's medium, a lot, it's a solvent (tho interestingly the chemical used to remove dry acrylic is acetone [available in nail polish remover], the chemical to clean up the acetone is water), they can be watered down to the point of being watercolor, with just water.
I don't have to have a metal garbage can to toss my rags in. I don't need a well-ventilated space to work in. I don't have to worry about where I'm gonna dispose of my solvent. At school they have metal tubs to pour your old solvent into and they filter it and use it again, I have friends who have no idea what they're going to do when they're out of school and have nowhere to safely dispose of rags, solvent, etc.
And despite the good ones being expensive, they're still cheaper than oils.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Elise said

Man, now I want to switch to acrylics too!

As for your friends who don't know what they'll do after school in terms of disposing of rags with solvent etc. There are water based oil paints now, although I've never tried them.

Also, I have pretty much quit using solvents altogether. I haven't used mineral spirits in years. For clean-up, I dip brushes in walnut oil which loosens everything up. Then I wipe them off on a paper towel (one towel goes a long way actually). Next I use a combination of dish detergent, like lemon fresh Joy, to clean out the remaining oil. It works great and might be hard on high end brushes but I pretty much use synthetic brushes which can really take a beating.

I used to use Liquin to speed drying, which really was a stinky nightmare requiring lots of ventilation, but now I use walnut oil alkyd with does essentially the same thing only is non-toxic and not stinky. I'm sure there are some techniques that I'm no longer as reliant on now that I am pretty much a non-toxic studio, but I enjoy my lungs and want to keep them around for awhile. Still, the no fuss no muss quality of acrylics that you mentioned does sound enticing.

The fact that acrylic paints costs less is also attractive, although you've probably noticed that acrylic paintings *generally* sell for less then their oil equivalents. I'm not sure why that is...

And again, I don't want to give the impression that I'm OBSESSED about using art to make money, it's just that I've never been good at all at the business end of fine arts and I want to some day, knock on wood, be able to make a living at doing what I love more than anything in the world...So I've started thinking more about the economic issues I've managed to avoid for 30 years.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Stacy said

I had to make a general comment off John’s comment. Despite the advantages to acrylics (dis/advantages to both acrylics and oils), it *should* be merely a preference to the capabilities of the medium and yourself, but for some, it can’t be.

It is unfortunate that, yes, you need good ventilation for oil painting, and that good practices are in place, but if you don’t have the capacity to have these (i.e. ventilation, metal can, etc.) it is sad to think that some people may be missing out.

I don’t think that your friends should be so worried that they quit painting…

Here is an interesting tidbit I found:

“After talking with painters for 25 years, I realized that artists can oversimplify "art hazards." Many believe that "oil paints are hazardous and acrylic paints are not hazardous."

I always respond: I would eat any color in oil before I would eat that same color in acrylic.

Think about this: Ultramarine Blue oil color is made from ultramarine blue pigment (complex silicate of sodium & aluminum PB29) ground into vegetable oil (linseed oil, poppy oil or safflower oil).

Ultramarine Blue acrylic color is made from the same ultramarine blue pigment ground into plastic. The linseed oil is a component in my dog's food; the plastic is what the dog dish is made from!

So color for color, the pigments used in artists' colors are not necessarily hazardous. Linseed oil is naturally occurring vegetable oil. Perhaps because acrylic paints can be diluted with water, artists think using them is safer (of course, not for the environment. I do not recommend artists wash any materials down the drain).

But no doubt, water is much safer than solvents.” – Robert Gamblin

Elise, I joined the Glacier Gallery Co-op that is at the Nugget Mall a few years ago, not anymore though. It was not quite the enjoyable experience as I had hoped it would be and as Jackie had written about. I imagine that the Juneau Artists’ Gallery would be a great place. And what I meant about authentic Alaskan work (visual artwork, not jewelry…) was that they were Juneauites and other Alaskans producing quality artwork of Alaskan images, not massed produced stuff or people in Montana who sell stuff here. I tried selling a lot of notecards with black/white Alaskan images (printed, cut, scored, folded, etc myself), but they didn’t sell well with the public. I ended up selling most of my stuff to friends and people I knew.

on Thursday, May 20th, Howard said

I'm a big fan of Golden acrylics too. I've been using their Fluid acrylics for a couple of years. It doesn't have the body of normal arcylics that come out of a tube, but it's amazing for making glazes which is what I usually do. It is so pigment dense that a couple of drops can go a long way, and they have interesting things like tranparent yellow ochre and stuff. All great for doing washes of thin colour
One thing to keep in mind about oil paint, because it takes so long for it to dry having it on your skin for any length of time may allow for chemicals in the paint to be absorbed through the skin. It may happen with acrylics too, but because they dry so fast it's not a big of an issue.
I'm not really sure how toxic the minerals in paint are these days. Even though some keep the names of toxic minerals they no longer are made with anything really harmful.
OH NO! I'm just reading the lable of one of my golden acrylics, " Warning, this product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer." so I guess it's all bad

on Thursday, May 20th, Howard said

I just popped over to their site and found this info:
California Warnings

Recently some citizens of the State of California became concerned that art materials contain chemicals that are listed in the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (otherwise known as Proposition 65) as being known to cause cancer and/or reproductive toxicity. If chemicals on these lists are in products sold in California, the product label is required to provide clear and reasonable warning to that effect. The Act exempts products that do not pose a significant risk from the labeling requirement. However, as described above, “significant risk” is debatable. The result is that we have consented to apply warnings, regardless of relevant risk assessments, to all products which contain any Prop 65 –listed chemicals, where such are listed as ingredients on the product’s Material Safety Data Sheet and/or label. These labels were in place for shipments leaving our facility after October 6, 2000.

Chemicals on the Prop 65 Lists include cobalt, nickel compounds, cadmium compounds, chromium, lead and crystalline silica. For products containing these chemicals, we have agreed to label with the phrase “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer” (or “reproductive toxin” or both).
So I guess that it's not really anything specific to acrylic paint since both types may contain these products.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Elise said

I got my BFA in printmaking and we were taught to wipe our plates with the palm of our hands! I used to get ink all over my hands and arms and at the end of the day wash off under a spigot of turpentine.

Not to mention the covered acid baths so when you'd lift the lid all the acid vapors would take off a layer of epidermis. (It’s how I've kept my youthful beauty) :O

I've mentioned most of this earlier in my blog but it wasn't until someone reminded me that our skin is our largest *organ* and that it absorbs everything, that I started to think, hmmm, maybe this isn't such a great idea.

I was REALLY REALLY into ceramics for many years and in that case the clay powder can be deadly on the lungs, not to mention the glazes...I think all art materials are out to get us. As (I think) Dio mentioned awhile back, they believe that's why Van Gogh went batty and cut off his ear. So the lesson here is to keep your knives and scissors under lock and's at least one dangerous thing in our studio we can minimize the risk of.

on Thursday, May 20th,">Stacy said

There are still toxic paints today, but at least there are so many alternatives that artists can choose from!

With paints, like the cads and cobalts that are rich, it is hard to replace those with something less, but if you use latex gloves that'll solve problems with getting it on your skin as well as those solvents, which is what I used to do. And when sanding paint, wearing a mask.

(I used to be very careless with solvents. Hee hee, all sharp objects are locked away!)

on Friday, May 21st,">Elise said

I have an excellent respirator mask that I use when I sand and bottom coat my sailboat. It makes me look very post-apocalyptic but it does the job nicely. I never thought of it before, but I suppose I could wear it on the rare occasions when I need to do solvent based washes.

on Friday, May 21st,">John said

Never knew that oil paintings sold for more than acrylics. That doens't bother me. I thought about the expense issue for a moment and realized really how much cheaper acrylics can be since I/my comrades have never seen oil paints in jars, but we can get nice big jars of acrylic for sooo much less than buying an equivalent number of tubes. I was aware of the danger of getting paint on the skin, I can be a very messy painter at times (oh look, I still have paint on my legs from last night) I've been known to paint with my fingers, the thought of safety never really enters my mind. I just do what needs to be done. However, vapors from solvents would make me high, and while that's not an altogether bad end in itself, passing out, or dying from inhalation in an enclosed space is. They say being an artist is one of the most dangerous careers there is just due to the materials we use, I know the acrylics aren't that much 'safer' than the oils, it's just a matter of personal taste.
There is a school near me that requires all it's art students to use acrylic because of environmental and safety concerns, and while these are good concerns I suppose, I don't think it's a good reason to mandate that one use acrylic. Conversely where I go to school, they let you choose, but none of the teachers is primarily an acrylic user (save for the sculpture teacher), and most of the students use oil too, so basically all my technique is self-taught. Which is why I'm sticking with them, ten years painting models with it, plus 2ish years making paintings = 12 years experience.

on Friday, May 21st,">Elise said

Not letting people use oils for saftey reasons is not right. I'd be really upset if I went to that school.

you mentioned "passing out, or dying from inhalation in an enclosed space" reminds me of when I lived (illegally) in a tiny windowless room in an office building with my friend Rick. We slept on a foam pad on the floor and washed our hair in the maintenance closet. We had two easles, all of our paints and supplies in that room, plus we both smoked back then, as well as drank a lot, and we used terpentine as well as other toxic mediums and solvents. I'm suprised we never ended up killing eachother. I'm sure that little stint took some additional years off me life as well.

Ah, the memories...

on Friday, May 21st, John said

Theoretically me and two others are going to cram into a 500 sq ft (or maybe less) studio space, and while we won't be living there, we all smoke, and drink, and all three of us would commonly be working there at the same time, and I'm the only acrylic user. Of course this is NY with anti-smoking laws as draconian as California (except our weather sucks so going outside in the winter is worse than in california I'd imagine) and technically we can't smoke inside, however, knowing other people who have worked there, the landlords don't really care, we just gotta pop a window and towel the door.