Sunday, June 15, 2008

Final Thoughs for Spring Classes

Last Words for Spring Classes

Thought I would post the few things I went over on the last classes for the Spring semester just in case any of my students needed a refresher before we start anew in a couple weeks (June 23rd).

In the Acrylic class we went over using textures on our canvas, I only went over a few because I could probably do an entire semester trying to show all the techniques and materials that can be used to create texture most of which students or myself would never use again so I did choose to show some basics. I have posted a picture on the picture page of the textures though it is hard to see in 2D. I mixed in color so it can be seen against the white canvas board; otherwise, the materials would be either clear or white when dry. All of these materials can be thinned with water or mixed with paint and it will not hurt them but it will change their final look.

First, the blue area is called “resin sand”. It is a very gritty and when dry has the feel and look of stucco. I have used it on a picture I was doing that had a sandy beach. I thinned it out some by adding it to the black gesso I was coating the canvas with and it looked very convincing as a black sand beach in Hawaii. This could be used if you are doing buildings of stucco, rocks, sand, dirt…You are the artist, you make the call.

The light green is super heavy gel medium. Part of the problem with acrylics is they tend to dry flat and many people seem to like the texture of oils better so the paint manufactures have come up with these super heavy mediums – it also comes in pre-mixed paints – for those painters who like to add texture or do what is called “Impasto” using heavily loaded brushes and leaving a lot lumps and bumps like an oil painter can do. Just remember that the thicker paint takes longer to dry than regular acrylics which may work to your advantage if you use to use oils and need paint with a longer working time. I’m not saying that it will give you days of workable time but maybe a few more minutes. Also, remember if you thin this with water it becomes like regular acrylics (medium body) and you will loose the texture when it dries. You might want to have some clear heavy body gel handy for mixing. This works well with palette knives.

The purple area is light modeling paste. It has a kind of porous surface when dry so you might want to seal it with gesso before you start working, however, once the paste is dry (and you can find several different kinds from heavy to light) it can be sanded and carved. While it is still wet you can use other things to give it texture like dragging a fork or comb through it or pressing screen or burlap into it (guess you could leave it if you wanted, you just have to figure out how you want to use it. Experimenting can be fun.

The pink area is done by using the same medium you use to seal you painting (I use a gloss medium varnish) and paper. In this case I used the tissue paper you buy in the gift wrap department but just about any type of paper or cloth will work. First I painted on some medium on my canvas then tore a piece of tissue paper and wadded it up to get a lot of wrinkles and with more medium stuck it to the canvas where I had put the first layer of medium. I painted over the paper with the medium to be sure it was sealed to the canvas. I used the medium as opposed to glue because glue is water based and could dilute when you start to paint on it and it also chips off and could ruin your brushes, the medium works just as well and it a bit more flexible than glue.

In the watercolor class, I gave a demo on cutting a mat. I have a Logan Simplex mat cutter and once you have cut a mat or two you realize it isn’t all that difficult to do and a mat cutter can pay for itself in no time if you just need to have a mat handy.

First we talked about how to choose a color for the mat - and frames for that matter – for a painting. In general, you want to repeat a color that is in your painting. The mat and frame are there to support the painting and not dominate over the painting. This is part of the reason a lot of museums and galleries choose white mats when framing watercolors, photos or pencil work because white is considered a neutral color as is black for the frame. These colors let the painting “do all the talking” but can be a bit boring if you have to look at it every day or if you are decorating a good mat and frame can make a painting jump off the wall.

Avoid “look at me colors” like reds and oranges unless there are a lot of these colors already in your painting so it is not in competition with the mat. If you do have a bright or unique color in your painting you could use it as the accent mat or liner mat (the thin mat under the top mat of a double mat ) but just make sure it helps your painting and not hurt it. Remember K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid

After you have found the color for your painting, it needs to be cut down to size to fit your frame. Art stores like Walser’s will cut a mat board down for you if you ask, though they do charge per cut. You can also cut it yourself its not hard, you just need the room to work. I buy blanks from Dick Blick ( and they come in all sizes.

Measure the painted part of your painting both length and width and add about a half inch to those totals. Subtract the width of the painting from the width of the mat, same with the length and you will get a rough idea of the area you have to work with for the margins of your mat. You want to find a width for your margins that works well for all sides of your painting. If you cannot find a width, for example 3 inches, that will not leave an opening that is too large to cover the painted area, rather than adding more to the width all around which could cut into parts of your painting you don’t want it to, consider adding the extra width to the BOTTOM of your mat. This is actually good practice because having the extra at the bottom visually settles your painting down. So now in our example we will have three sides with a 3” margin and a bottom margin of 3 3/4”.

You will need a straight edge that is long enough for you mat or you can use the straight edge of the mat cutter. Also a pencil and ruler.

ON THE BACK OF YOUR MAT mark top and bottom so you don’t get confused and measure out the margins and draw the lines out on the mat board. Check to be sure that the center area is just a bit smaller than the painted area of your painting before you start cutting, this is so any white around the edges of your painting will be covered when you mat the painting.

If you are using a Logan cutter you will need to set the margin width on the slider at the top. You can start with the three similar sides or the one wider side it doesn’t matter as long as you remember which side you are cutting.

The actual Logan bevel cutter has a silver mark on the outside this will be important to note in the next step. You should have a scrap piece of board under your mat it helps the cutter do it’s job and when you place your mat board under the guide bar be sure that it is firmly pressed against the back margin set rail so as you push the cutter it doesn’t slip and ruin your cut.

With your mat board securely under the guide rail, place the bevel cutter on its track. Place the silver mark on your side of the line closest to you, press the blade through the mat board and make a continuous cut to the line away from you and cut until the silver mark is just on the outside of the line on the other side. When you finish your cut, release the blade and remove the cutter and turn the mat board so that the cut you just made is now in front of you, it should match up pretty closely with the line you drew on that side. If you are doing the 3 matching sides first, make 3 more cuts following the directions above except use the cut instead of the line you drew it will be more accurate. If you need to change the width of the mat’s margin, reset the stop and make the cut(s) as above.

After you have made all your cuts, the center should fall out. If it doesn’t, look to see where it is attached DO NOT PUSH IT OUT! You don’t want to tear the corners of your mat so carefully run a single edged razor or Exacto knife along the cut to the corner to give you a nice clean edge. Tada! You are done.

In class I showed how to do a double mat, it isn’t hard it is just more of the same with a few additions. First, if you know you want a double mat, you need to cut the outside mat margins (the one we just cut) at least a quarter to a half inch smaller all the way around (usually you want about a quarter inch for the liner mat. In our example instead of a 3” and 3 ¾” margins we would set the stop for 2 ¾” and 3 ½” so the opening will be a bit larger and you will need to put the center back in the opening after you make sure it is clean cut from the front of the mat). For the second mat you need to have a mat that is smaller than the first, it can actually be just and inch or so larger than the opening to do the trick. You will need to put double stick tape on the back of the top mat all around the outside of the cuts you made on and also a couple of pieces on the center cut out. Place the inside mat down on the top mat (front of the inside mat to the back of the top mat) making sure that inside mat is stuck down to the top mat and that you have completely covered the center opening you cut. Next you need to draw the lines for you next series of cuts but when you measure, measure using the edges of the top mat don’t worry about the inside mat. These will be the 3” marks for the opening you need for the painting.

Once you have marked all your lines – remember if you have one margin that is wider than the rest be sure that you know which side it is before you start cutting – set the guide bar to 3” (or 3 ¾” depending on the side you are cutting) remove the scrap piece of mat board from your cutter and place the double mat under the guide track and firmly against the back stop bar and make the cuts just like you did for the first mat. When you are done you should have a double mat with a perfect ¼” liner! Remember not to punch it out you may need to run the Exacto blade to free the second cut just as you did the first. Doing a double mat this way you don’t have to try and figure out how to line up the liner and the top mat to get everything even because it is all done at the same time.

I hope this take some of the fear and mystery out of mat cutting, these are just simple cuts but can save some money along the way.

Remember, classes start on the 23rd so if you want to take a class – mine or someone else’s – be sure that you are registered before Wednesday so the class will make its minimum quota. Bring a friend. See ya all soon.

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