Newsletter #3

Newsletter #3

Howdy!

Welcome to my artist’s newsletter !

TL;DR

I’m holding a RAFFLE for newsletter subscribers only, details below. I also talk about a new painting, two people who inspired me this month (a celebrity and an artist), and my Artist’s Vision. Next, I share a joyous plea to be the artist I always wanted; a muse-poem; and three of my articles about pastel techniques.

Results

It has been a very busy month. The creative breakthrough I wrote about last time has not abated. Motivated, I’m in the studio almost every day for several hours. It’s become my new favorite room in the house.

Therefore, I have finished a new painting! It started as a larger study for a multimedia piece using the same source photo, but became a completed work in its own right.

Photo of a painting of a mountain overlooking a valley. The mountain is shades of green, with a dark green forest spilling over the ridge and down across the middle. The valley is mostly in bright to dull yellows, and there is a fissure running laterally across it.

This mountain is at one end of Italy’s Piano Grande. Here, the valley is full of yellow lentil blossoms, and a fissure caused by tectonic activity—it’s not a river.

News

  • Enter a raffle to win a print of my latest painting! It needs a title, so I’m open to your ideas. To enter, reply to this email with your title suggestion(s). If I pick yours, you win a print! (If you don’t have a title idea, you can also enter; just reply with the word “raffle” and I’ll add your email to the hat. If I don’t pick anyone’s title, I’ll randomly draw a winner from all entries.) Deadline to enter: Monday, September 4, 2023. The winner will be notified by email on September 6.
  • Put my creations on your desktop, tablet or phone. Download wallpapers by clicking on the images below (fits screens up to 2560 wide). [This is a benefit for people who’ve signed up for my artist updates. I invite you to sign up, too! Learn more here.]
Two mountain ridges. The nearest is gray-green, the farthest is in shades of blue, with snow. The sky is pink.
Photograph of a grassy mountain clearing, nearly surrounded by a dense forest of very large spruce trees. In the center of the clearing is a wood house.

Inspiration

Arnold

Yes, the bodybuilder / actor / politician. 

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve been grappling with my determination to succeed as an artist, coupled with my age. Since I have a long history exploring personal productivity, I came to the realization that I need to create a clear vision. Coincidentally, that same day I sat down and watched the first episode of the current mini-docuseries “Arnold,” which turned out to be just what I needed for inspiration.

I know enough about success to know Arnold Schwarzenegger is an outlier. Not only was he talented and determined at a very young age, but he was also incredibly lucky. That said, none of his success would have come about if he hadn’t started with his vision:

“My confidence came from my vision. . . . I am a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go, then the rest of it is much easier. Because you always know why you are … pushing and going through the pain barrier, and … why you have to struggle more, and why you have to be more disciplined … I felt that I could win it, and that was what I was there for. I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to win.”

— Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast

I am also here to win. Therefore, I wrote the following audacious and determined vision statement:

My Artist’s Vision

To be an exceptional, remarkably successful ARTIST.
I will dominate with grace.
Nothing will interfere!
Nothing will dissuade me.
I will not compromise.
I will revel in the process.
I will see defeats as momentary, and turn them into wins.
I will only perform my best.
I will make my way and I will meet my goal!

Note: When I shared this with friends, one asked, “what about making money?” Rest assured, when I say successful, that includes making a living creating art. I do not shy away from the business side of my chosen profession.

With my clear vision written, I have begun to speak it aloud to myself, daily. I will make my way and I will meet my goal!

Remedios Varo

Two weeks ago, I discovered the late surrealist painter Remedios Varo (Wikipedia). Originally from Spain, she spent time in France, and the last 20 years of her life in Mexico, where she is well known.

This article on Varo piqued my curiosity with its discussion about her varied techniques, three I’d not heard of—decalcomania, grattage, and soufflage—but also inlay and (ta da!) textured gesso.

Since I’ve been playing with textured gesso, I am curious about other less-common ways I can affect the surface and texture of my artworks. Therefore, I have already received and started devouring the companion book, from the current show at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Challenges

“There are two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction. When we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

― Wendell Berry

Truly, I don’t know which way to go, next. My journey has begun.

Blog posts in the last month:

  • You Always Wanted to Be an Artist – During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, I wrote this joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
  • Memento, a Poem – This short poem was inspired by something remarkable. Written in response to a creative writing prompt—anything in 50 words, using the term “gossamer”—I include the back-story, too.

Techniques

For artists:

  • Working Safely with Pastels – A no-nonsense, straightforward guide to working safely with soft (chalk) pastels. I cut through conflicting information, draw on safety data from several pastel brands, and offer an inexpensive, highly effective solution for airborne pastel dust.
  • Make Pastel Sticks from Broken Pastels – Artist Tip! Did you know you can collect pastel dust and broken bits, and easily re-form sticks with it? Here’s a quick DIY guide on how to make pastel sticks from broken pastels.
  • Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 4 – In my fourth set of experiments with painting over fine art photographs, I had fun applying pastels to layers of gesso, textured in interesting ways with a heat gun. Learn about the process and my key takeaways.

I Appreciate You!

Don’t forget to reply with your painting title idea(s), or simply the word “raffle” to enter!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reply to this email with questions or comments. It’s great that you let me keep in touch with you!

💋
Marlene

P.S. See what I’m sharing (no account needed!) on Mastodon.artGlass.photo and my web site, BreitensteinArt.com.

You Always Wanted to Be an Artist

You Always Wanted to Be an Artist

Writer Ray Bradbury titled one of his short stories, “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” a lyrical line that has danced in my head for as long as I can remember. It comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem The Song of Wandering Aengus. Yeats composed three beautiful, short stanzas to describe a life of yearning, striving, and searching, all for an elusive desire.

Pastel painting of six green apples, on a dark patterned cloth, two of them blushing with tinges of red.
A painting from way back in college, one of the very first pastels I ever did. © Marlene Breitenstein, All Rights Reserved.

Like the character Aengus, I’ve carried a lifetime of longing for a single thing: I’ve always wanted to be an artist.

During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, last November I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.


You Always Wanted to Be an Artist

Right?
So why aren’t you being one?
Photography is great, it’s an art, you love it, you’re good at it …
But I expect more from you.

1

Painting, love you long time.

Since your youth, you’ve admired painters.
As a teen, you read their diaries and writings,
And spent your weekends—not at parties—but at
Art museums and galleries, looking at paintings.
On your wall, you hung posters and post cards of, yes, paintings.

Then, you stole a book. Sort of.
It was the first library book about the Impressionists you saw,
And you didn’t return it.
(Paying for it later, it still sits on your shelf.)
When new exhibits came around, you were there,
Eating all the beauty and wonder with your eyes.
You looked at every single piece of art
In every single museum
Available to you,
Repeatedly.
You made an effort to understand modern art,
Even when you couldn’t.

2

You have always wanted to be an artist.
(Also, a poet, a writer, a dancer, even an actor.)
But you’ve always wanted to use your hands
To make art.
To lose yourself in making art. You used to do that, remember?
Remember that feeling of being lost in creating.
Before judgement,
And before insecure people visited their shortcomings on you.
(Before the jealous friend made you hide your light,
And an ex told you weren’t being an artist the right way—as if!
Before you learned how little most artists make,
And before, before …)
Forget all that!

Remember these instead:
Being a child lost in drawing, coloring books, paint-by-numbers,
And book-corner animations. Those times when
You copied drawings, drew animals from photos;
Drew what you saw at church, instead of listening.
Drew from sculptures and paintings.
Painted from paintings. Photographed paintings…

Set aside persecution, cast off doubt.
Step away from the experiences and people
That drove you away from something you loved
—And still love
Though it might seem hard to find that love
Without shame and fear of judgement.
But! The creative person inside loves you, and is smiling.
She remembers that pleasure of losing yourself
By immersing yourself in art.

3

Remember, too, what you mused over as a child?
The things your mind and imagination touched on,
Ruminated over, wondered about?

It’s time to touch base with that musing nature again.
To be free to meander and
Look and muse, explore and muse,
Walk and muse, read and muse,
Just to look at things,
Look look look and muse.
Find your muse.
To rediscover your many muses, work with them,
Let them stir you, rouse you.

After all, you’ve always wanted to be an artist.

I know you can remember that feeling,
Finding wonder in the things surrounding you.
Light bouncing golden off the pavement,
And how it glowed on a wall.
The sound of rustling leaves, and wondering,
What does the source of the wind looked like?
A turn of phrase in a book that carried you,
Inspired, into a daydream.
That is what it was like,
To be lost in creating.
It was sensual, magical, mystical, delightful.
Remember that feeling.
Nurture it.
Imagine it!
FEEL IT!

4

You loved it.
While creating, time was timeless.
You were in the moment,
Not in any story
Other than the story of the moment.

That moment was golden, innocent,
Connected to nothing but self and doing,
Doing and ether, ether and mystery, the mystery of how.
How the ability came, how the inspiration arrived,
How the marks made the results.

Because it is a mystery, it’s a knowing without knowing how.
You’ve known it was born in you, never to be taken away,
Something that will live in you for as long as you live.
And because of your knowledge now, you know it’s
Part of ancestry, a thread that goes back beyond history.

No wonder you always wanted to be an artist!
So now that you can remember,
It’s nearing the time to work through what’s happened,
One way or another.
To pull that thread through the eye,
Unravel the knot that blocks its passage,
Do what it takes to see your imagination and creation come forth.
And, soon enough, it will be time to do the work. So…

  1. Remember.
  2. Then work through.
  3. Then do the work.

One step at a time, though.

Right now, let’s just remember that ART FEELS GOOD.


After Being Reminded that I Always Wanted to Be an Artist

The night I wrote that, I slept like a baby.

Subsequently, I’ve done a lot more writing, which has taken me back to good memories, times I felt connected, safe, and loved. Conversely, I’ve recalled difficulties, explored why I’ve been stuck, and scribbled or typed raw expressions of frustration. Sometimes I’ve ruminated on the quizzical nature of other people, and their impacts on me.

These forays into the past have often been streams of consciousness, letting whatever-it-is pour out of me, going wherever it will, and carrying me along.

Surprisingly, expressing myself to myself has proven to be less emotionally heavy than I had feared. For years, decades, I’d shy away because I thought something dark would come out.

Instead, I’m finding light. Often I feel energized rather than dragged down, even in the midst of revisiting negative experiences. Within, there is a sense of fortitude and healing.

Best of all, I feel movement, and that movement is forward.


Thanks for your time and attention, both are valuable. 🙏🏻
I invite you to view my photographs and paintings, and to learn more about me.


If you liked this post, you have options:


© Marlene Breitenstein. I welcome your inquiries about purchasing, licensing, or republishing my work. I take my intellectual property seriously. This post and its contents, unless otherwise noted, is owned by Marlene Breitenstein. It is not to be reproduced, copied, or published in derivative, without permission from the artist. I’m nice, but I do not hesitate to pursue copyright infringements. Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 4

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 4

Howdy! If this is the first post in the series that you’re seeing, here’s some background. Lately I’ve been experimenting with painting on photos, to combine two of my strongest skills as an artist. My intended process is to use pastels over fine art prints of my photographs, though I’m likely to add other media too. It’s been an interesting and very informative period of learning.

If you’re also considering painting on photos, reviewing all the parts of this series could give you a jump-start in devising your own process.

Experiment Plan for Painting on Photos

In Part One, Part Two and Part Three of this series, I selected a high-end photo printer, ordered print samples on various papers and substrates, researched painting methods, and gathered supplies. Then I conducted several experiments, using five Hahnemühle fine art photo print samples from White Wall, and their UltraHD photo print. The tests included trying tapes for masking, using soft pastel on the papers (with and without fixative), testing so-called clear acrylic gesso over the prints, applying pastels to the gesso, and texturizing the gesso using a heat gun.

Reviewing the list below, I’ve already completed steps one through six.

  1. Direct dry pastel application in five layers, from hardest to softest pastels.
  2. Another direct application in five layers, using only the softest pastels.
  3. Applying the softest pastel layers with fixative, for a little tooth.
  4. Applying Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso smoothly, to gauge effect alone.
  5. Testing the gesso with layers of pastels.
  6. Applying the gesso with the heat gun, to create texture.
  7. Testing the textured gesso with pastels.
  8. Layering gesso and pastels, with fixative.
  9. What happens if I finish the painting with a layer of gesso?

This time, I’m completing the last three steps in the plan: experimenting with mixing layers of textured gesso with pastels. In this experiment report, you’ll see I’ve mashed the last three steps together. But first…

Work Space Pointers

Speaking from some (silly) experience, I have thoughts about preparing your work space, for painting on photos with pastels:

  • Cover your surface with a large piece of paper, or perhaps plexiglass, to protect it. (Careful with plexiglass and excessive heat.) Also cover the floor with something washable or disposable. The wall, too, if it needs to remain free of art-making splatters.
  • Have the heat gun plugged in and ready to use, making sure the cord is long enough for free movement.
  • Make sure all containers, brushes, pastels, blending tools, and other supplies, are on the other side of the table from the heat gun. Better yet, somewhere else completely.
  • Ensure that you won’t be dragging the heat gun’s cord over important parts of the painting, or into supplies.
  • If needed, fix the artwork (paper) to a board, to make sure it doesn’t blow around when using the heat gun.
  • Apply pastel, then clean up the work space. Remove any extra pastel dust from the painting by taking it outside (yes, outside!) and gently tapping it from the back. Clean pastel dust off work surfaces with a damp cloth. Otherwise, the heat gun will make all the loose pastel dust airborne, to land wherever, and worse, to be breathed. More about working with pastels safely.
  • Next, pour out some gesso in a smaller container, then CLOSE THE LID on the bigger jar.
  • After applying the gesso, cover the smaller container and the brush, to keep moist and protected.
  • Immediately use the heat gun to texture the gesso. Adjust temperature as needed; today I needed to turn it down to setting 3, from yesterdays 3.5.

#7, 8 and 9: Textured gesso layered with pastels

Thick Gesso, Thick Pastels

Let’s start with a closer look at one of the test surfaces I created last time, using gesso and a heat gun:

Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print.

First, I applied several colors over the thick gesso, layering the pastels a little.

Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print, with thick pastel applied.

Next, I blended the pastels using a piece of pipe foam insulation, turning the foam to avoid polluting the colors.

Experimenting with painting on photos: Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print, with thick pastel blended.

Since this gesso was thicker, when I rubbed the pastel it gained a sense of depth, and took on an inner glow. This reminded me a bit of encaustics.

I like the appearance at this stage.

Then I applied a second thick layer of gesso rather haphazardly, just to see what would happen after texturizing with the heat gun. Yes, the brush picked up pastel dust, which was a pain in trying to keep the gesso clean. Here is the gesso, wet:

Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print, with thick pastel blended, more thick gesso applied.

Once I’d texturized the gesso, the thickest areas left pretty large blisters, not all of which collapsed as they cooled:

Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print, with thick pastel blended, more thick gesso textured.
Texturized thick gesso on a test photo print, with thick pastel blended, more thick gesso textured, with bubbles.

Frankly, after trying this, I don’t see a need to add a second layer of gesso. One is enough under a subsequent layer of pastels.

But let’s not stop there, these are experiments, after all!

Adding Even More Layers

Yes, I went ahead and tried adding another application of pastels. This time, I layered the pastels quite a bit, which compressed the bubbles:

Experimenting with painting on photos: texturized thick gesso, layered, with layered pastels over bubbles.

Now—with the pastels on top again, and contrasting with the previous layer of complimentary colors—this also looks interesting. At this stage, I didn’t blend the colors.

Next, just to know what happens, I again applied gesso. However, this time I applied one coat over the whole photograph…

Texturized thick gesso, layered, with layered pastels over bubbles, wet gesso applied.

… and then I textured it again. This was the end result:

Experimenting with painting on photos: texturized thick gesso, layered, with layered pastels over bubbles, final gesso textured.

My opinion: Dull. Cloudy. Meh.

Skipping right to step #9, the answer is no, gesso should not be the final layer when painting on photos. Bummer, as it will still be necessary to apply fixative, and cover the painting with glass. (Unless I discover something else.)

Takeaways

  • One layer of gesso, textured or not, can easily be enough to add interest, when painted with pastels.
  • If a first layer of gesso was thinly applied, then painted or blended with pastels, a second textured layer could be useful under a second layer of pastels.
  • Blending pastels looks good on a layer of thick gesso, adding depth and glow.
  • Spraying the blended pastels with fixative, then applying a layer of complimentary colors and fixing again, would undoubtedly work nicely as a final layer. (I didn’t do this here.)
  • Brushing gesso over pastels almost always disturbs the pastels and lifts colors.
  • Anything more than a thin layer of gesso and a thin layer of blended pastels, obscures the photograph below.

Thin Layers of Gesso and Pastels

Again, starting with a surface I created last time:

Texturized thin gesso on a test photo print.

Here, I applied single layers of pastels, blending some and leaving some as is. Yeah, this is ugly, but it’s not about the end result, it’s about the process:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Texturized thin gesso on a test photo print, pastel applied.

Next, I simply painted over it with another thin layer of gesso. You can see that the pastel lifted and smeared quite a bit, leaving residue on the base paper.

Texturized thin gesso on a test photo print, pastel applied, wet gesso over.

I simply left this to dry without texturing.

Experimenting with painting on photos: Texturized thin gesso on a test photo print, pastel applied, final gesso dry.

BORING.

Takeaways

  • Don’t use this method.

Emphasizing Texture, in Gesso and Color, when Painting on Photos

Here’s the starting texture:

Texturized thick and thin gesso on a test photo print.

This time I decided to try stress the texture. First, I applied three colors of pastels in stripes:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Layered, texturized thick and thin gesso, with textured pastel application.

I think this looks pretty interesting as is, and where the gesso was thinnest, some colors and tones from the photo are slightly visible (upper right quadrant). If I apply gesso and color more sparingly, this might be effective for letting the photo come through.

Curious about the result, I rather aggressively applied gesso over the upper half of the image, which again lifted the pastel:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Layered, texturized thick and thin wet gesso, with textured pastel application.

After texturing this layer of gesso, you can see (below) that the pastel is quite smeared. Interesting if that’s a desired effect when painting on photos, regrettable if not.

With a much lighter touch, I applied a layer of gesso to the bottom half, so as not to disturb the pastel:

Layered, texturized thick and thin wet gesso, with textured pastel application, painted over with gesso.

After texturing, it isn’t smeared. However, the lighter touch also meant more gesso remained:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Layered, texturized thick and thin wet gesso, with textured pastel application, final gesso dried.

Since I’m playing with texture here, I drew a few pastel circles, applied some thick gesso, and inscribed lines in it. On the uncoated side (left), I was curious whether the pastel would kind of melt into the previous layer of gesso, if simply heated. This is before texturing:

Layered, texturized thick gesso and pastels, with inscribed gesso.

And this if after applying heat:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Layered, texturized thick gesso and pastels, with inscribed gesso textured.

The pastel on the left did not “melt” into the surface. However, the gesso impression on the right remained, as expected.

Takeaways

  • Thin gesso (textured or not) with a light application of pastel allows a little of the photo to come through.
  • Purposefully textured pastel strokes over textured gesso can yield an interesting effect.
  • Heavy-handed gesso application blurs the pastel, and vice versa.
  • Thoughtfully applying or drawing into the gesso may add interest.
  • Pastel does not “melt” into an under-layer of gesso when heated.

Mega-blistering

Starting with:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Layered, texturized thin gesso on a test photo print.

I then applied and blended a purple color, and painted on gesso in thick swirls:

Experimenting with painting on photos: Swirled, thick, wet gesso over a photo print and blended pastels.

Once heated, yielded big blisters that rose and collapsed in interesting ways:

Textured, swirled, thick gesso over a photo print and blended pastels.
Experimenting with painting on photos: Textured, swirled, thick gesso over a photo print and blended pastels, with bubbles.

Since I’ve been playing with complimentary colors, I applied yellow:

Textured, swirled, thick gesso over a photo print, pastels applied over bubbles.

Then blended the yellow and applied gesso over half:

Textured, swirled, thick gesso over a photo print, pastels applied over bubbles, more gesso applied.

This time, the yellow seemed to disappear. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the pigment? Maybe too much was picked up when applying the gesso?

Experimenting with painting on photos: Textured, swirled, thick gesso over a photo print, final appearance.

Takeaways

  • Gesso bubbles can get kind of interesting, and ridiculous.
  • They’re fragile, too.
  • If I used fixative on the pastel before applying a second layer of gesso, it would probably remain undisturbed.

Conclusions (for this stage of painting on photos)

It’s all fun and games, until the art gets obscured.

I mean two things by that:

  1. Anything but a light layer of gesso and pastel will cover up the underlying photo.
  2. A final layer of gesso is a no-go.

That said, THIS WAS FUN! I’ve never been interested in doing abstract work, but I can see why this kind of playing-with-art-supplies leads people in that direction. I could drown myself in color and texture.

But I have other desires, goals and intentions with my art at this stage in my development. And now I’m a lot more informed about how I might proceed in painting on photographs.

Another Conclusion

None of this is necessary for painting on photos! I could simply paint directly on the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag—or one of the other receptive papers—with pastels (or other media). As I learned in Part Two, the Photo Rag will take several layers of hard-to-soft pastels, and if sprayed with fixative in between, at least five layers of the softest pastel, Schmincke.

Texturizing is interesting, though, so I’ll continue to experiment with it down the road.

I hope you found this interesting, and possibly a short-cut to developing your own processes.

Thanks for your time and attention, both are valuable. 🙏🏻
I invite you to view my photographs and paintings, and to learn more about me.


If you liked this post, you have options:


© Marlene Breitenstein. I welcome your inquiries about purchasing, licensing, or republishing my work. I take my intellectual property seriously. This post and its contents, unless otherwise noted, is owned by Marlene Breitenstein. It is not to be reproduced, copied, or published in derivative, without permission from the artist. I’m nice, but I do not hesitate to pursue copyright infringements. Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.

Newsletter #2

Newsletter #2

Howdy!

Welcome to my artist’s newsletter , I’m delighted you’re reading this. Let’s start with…

Results

A Breakthrough! The last month, I’ve been reflecting, writing, researching, and experimenting. In doing so, I’ve found the key to unlocking a creative block I’ve combated for 30+ years! I’ve never had any problems with photography, but I’ve had decades of struggle with painting, and with my identity as an artist. Combining photography and painting, is proving to be the answer. The outcome is that I’m motivated, feeling very positive and possibility-minded, and have been immersed in creative action. I’ve also been blogging like wildfire, as you’ll see below.

News

  • Featured! I’m delighted that an image of mine was featured in an article highlighting rural photos, by Glass! In my related blog post, I dive into why rural is important to me, share a few more of my submissions, plus 18 terrific photos by other Glass photographers. Take a look.
  • Wallpaper for your desktop or tablet. Download three wallpapers at the web version of this newsletter (fits screens up to 2560 wide).
    [This is a benefit for people who’ve signed up for my artist updates. I invite you to sign up, too! Learn more here.]
Buttercups (yellow flowers) on a dark background.
Photo of a mountain top rock outcropping called Nünihorn.
A mountain called the Gross Lohner, at dusk, with deep blue clouds.

Inspiration

Mentors. Since 2020, I’ve had an informal mentor in the wonderfully thoughtful and brilliant Edo Amin. Now, I have a second mentor, a professional photographer who I’ve become acquainted with online. I am so thankful! If you’re considering finding a mentor (multiple mentors are recommended):

  • Listen to “The Photo Mentor and Mentorship,” with pointers useful to anyone.
  • Write down a list of things you want to know, or get help with.
  • Practice asking questions the right way.
  • Interact with more with people you look up to, in-person or online. A casual mentor is likely to appear.

Challenges

Thoughts on Copyright Protection — I am concerned about art theft. Here, I discuss types of copyright, intellectual property rights and protection, as well as infringement and enforcement, with pointers to helpful resources. (This blog post got a thumbs up from a copyright lawyer.) Read more.

Shutter Happy: A Tale of Too Many Photographs — We’ve been traveling a lot, which led to this post. How does one balance the easy creation of photos, with the reality of sorting, storing and processing them? Get some tips. Read more.

Techniques

I’ve been quite busy conducting tests and blogging about…

Experimenting with Painting on Photos

  • Part 1 — Where I explore professional printing services, fine art papers, painting methods, supplies, and execute my first little experiment … which was a complete failure.
  • Part 2 — Next, I devise a plan, and share my second set of experiments. The process was very informative.
  • Part 3 — Experience experiment frustration with me, learn some fun personal info, and harvest all the takeaways, without all the hassle.

I Appreciate You!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reply to this email with questions or comments. It’s great that you let me keep in touch with you!

💋
Marlene Breitenstein

P.S. See what I’m sharing on Mastodon.artGlass.photo and my web site, BreitensteinArt.com


© Marlene Breitenstein. I welcome your inquiries about purchasing, licensing, or republishing my work.

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 3

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 3

Moving right along, I’m ready for the next stage of experimenting. (If you haven’t read them, here’s Part One and Part Two of this process.)

Today, I’ll be applying a clear gesso on photographs, to gauge its transparency. Next, I’ll see how the gesso behaves with soft pastels. Finally, I’ll learn what happens when I texture the gesso with a heat gun.

I’m continuing with the five Hahnemühle Giclée photo samples I procured from White Wall: Baryta, FineArt Pearl, Torchon, Photo Rag and William Turner. Further, I cut a square corner out of my much thinner UltraHD glossy sample print, to test as well. How will it hold up to heat?

Experiment Plan for Painting on Photos

As a refresher, here’s the overall plan. I’ve already completed steps one through three.

  1. Direct dry pastel application in five layers, from hardest to softest pastels.
  2. Another direct application in five layers, using only the softest pastels.
  3. Applying the softest pastel layers with fixative, for a little tooth.
  4. Applying Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso smoothly, to gauge effect alone.
  5. Testing the gesso with layers of pastels.
  6. Applying the gesso with the heat gun, to create texture.
  7. Testing the textured gesso with pastels.
  8. Layering gesso and pastels, with fixative.
  9. What happens if I finish the painting with a layer of gesso?

#4: Experimenting with Applying Clear Gesso to the Photos

Previously, I read about a number of top brand “clear” and “transparent” gessoes, and settled on Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso. On its promotional material and the product label itself, W&N states this gesso is “completely clear when dry.” Naturally, transparency is important to me, so the photo shows through the gesso with minimal change.

However, concerned that the sample Giclée prints might be damaged by applying a wet medium, I decided to spray them with the Schmincke pastel fixative first. As a “control,” I left a corner of each unsprayed to see if it reacted poorly. (Granted, the fixative is wet too, but it’s not being applied with a brush that could push pigment around.)

Preparing for experimenting with gesso on a photo: spraying the photo with fixative first, leaving a corner unsprayed for comparison.

Wet

Here’s how the gesso looks, shortly after being applied:

Experimenting on Photo Rag paper: gesso applied.
Photo Rag with wet gesso.
FineArt Pearl paper with gesso applied.
FineArt Pearl with wet gesso.
Torchon paper with gesso applied.
Torchon with wet gesso.
William Turner paper with gesso applied.
William Turner with wet gesso.
UltraHD paper with gesso applied.
UltraHD with wet gesso.
Experimenting with Baryta paper: gesso applied.
Baryta with wet gesso.

Dry

AARGH! Here’s how the gesso appears, after drying overnight. Needless to say, I’m not terribly happy with four of the six results.

Photo Rag, gesso dry.
Photo Rag, gesso dry.
See big
Experiment winner!
FineArt Pearl, gesso dry.
FineArt Pearl, gesso dry.
See big
Another experiment winner!
Torchon, gesso dry.
Torchon, gesso dry.
See big
Meh, so-so.
William Turner, gesso dry.
William Turner, gesso dry.
See big
Oof, not good.
UltraHD, gesso dry.
UltraHD, gesso dry.
See big
Waste of an expensive print.
Baryta, gesso dry.
Baryta, gesso dry.
See big
NO WAY.

As you can see, Winsor & Newton’s repeated claim of “completely clear when dry” isn’t quite accurate.

Photo of Inigo Montoya with his famous quote, "I do not think it means what you think it means."

Takeaways

  • On the plus side, the W&N Clear Gesso creates a toothy, matte finish, which should be great for grabbing and holding numerous layers of chalk pastels. In this regard, I am positively impressed. No need to mix marble dust or pumice into a wet medium for tooth.
  • Because the gesso is matte, all sheens from the glossy surfaces are obscured, rendering them rather pointless when being painted over.
  • Fortunately, contrary to how regular ink jet prints bleed and smear when wet (Giclée is a form of ink jet), none of the photographs tested appear to have blurred from the application of the gesso.

Ranking the Papers by Gesso Clarity

The Winners

Photo Rag, gesso dry.
Photo Rag, gesso dry.
See big
Best for painting on moodier, shadier, or lower-light photos.
FineArt Pearl, gesso dry.
FineArt Pearl, gesso dry.
See big
Best for painting on photos that benefit from an inner glow.
  1. Perhaps the best result of gesso clarity is on the Hahnemühle PhotoRag, an already matte paper, with the smoothest of the matte surfaces in this trial. Luckily, I was already favoring this paper for its relative lack of texture, so I’m really happy that the gesso is nearly clear when applied in a thin layer, only every so slightly darkening and dulling the photograph. Further, if I want to leave parts of a photograph completely untouched, this would be the least noticeable transition between gesso and pure print. The paper itself is not as bright as others, so this should work best for moodier, shadier, or lower-light photographs+paint applications.
  2. Interestingly, when painted with the W&N Clear Gesso, the Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl retains its merit. The gesso is pretty translucent, with just a hint of dulling, and cloudiness in the darks. While it obscures the surface refraction of the pearlescent finish, the print still looks quite good, with an inner glow. I will also be using this paper for painting on photos, since it’s a great choice when the photograph would benefit from a feeling of refractive light.

The Rest

  • Next in line is the Hahnemühle Torchon, which didn’t take the gesso badly, but it looks a bit dull and milky, despite the already matte print.
  • In this test, it was a tie for the next worst performance of the W&N Clear Gesso. Sadly, the printed image on the William Turner was markedly dulled and obscured by the gesso. Similarly, the UltraHD glossy was muted, and unsurprisingly, for its cost and sharpness, using gesso on it seems a waste. (These two papers and printing methods are really gorgeous, so I’ll also save them for straight-up photo prints that won’t be painted on.)
  • Regrettably, the gesso performed the worst on the Hahnemühle Baryta, looking the milkiest against the largely dark image. (Would it look similarly cloudy on the other papers, if their images were as dark? Perhaps.) While I won’t use this paper for painting on photos, it’s a lovely paper for dark photographic prints.

Can I Make the Gesso Clearer?

Disappointed that gesso on the Baryta is so milky, I wondered if that would reduce if sanded. Therefore, I filled the sandpaper block with 120 grit paper and sanded a little. First, I tried brushing away the residue. Next, I tried moist-wiping away the residue.

Um, NO, definitely doesn’t help. I suspect a finer grit wouldn’t, either. Why did I think this would work?

Experimenting with sanding the gesso.
Gesso sanded in two small patches (middle right).

#5: Testing Gesso with Pastels

Moving on, I applied five layers of Schmincke pastels, the softest soft pastel, with no fixative between. Here’s how it looked on one of the samples:

Five layers of pastel on the gesso.
Five layers of Schmincke, the softest pastel, on the gesso (lower left from red to pink).

Unfortunately, with no fixative, the fifth layer started smearing.

Takeaways

  • The gesso could only take 4 pastel layers.
  • I won’t bother testing with fixative, surely that will work as before.

#6: Gesso + Heat Gun = Texture

Now for the trickiest test! I’ve never used a heat gun; this will be interesting. (Don’t try this at home, kids! I’m just blogging about this for my own reference later. Not responsible for the injury of others, etc., etc., yadda, yadda.)

Heat Gun Method

Looking back at Cory Goulet’s instructions, her recommendation for creating texture in the gesso is to (I paraphrase):

  1. Pour a little gesso into a container. Using a wide brush, gently apply a smooth layer of gesso over the pastel, carefully as to not muddy the gesso or lift the pastel. (Only apply to a small section, and texturize it as described below, before moving on to another section.)
  2. Keep in mind that the thicker the gesso layer, the more texture, but also the cloudier (Goulet was using Liquitex, but this seems true for Winsor & Newton too, alas).
  3. Safety third first! Know how to operate your heat gun properly and carefully, before proceeding. Be sober. Avoid loose hair, clothing, curtains, and jewelry. DON’T TOUCH THE TIP OF THE GUN WITH ANYTHING!
  4. Start with the heat gun on the lowest temperature setting, and the gesso just applied. Very slowly, sweep the gun over the gesso to texturize as desired (rippling, bubbling). Gradually adjust temperature setting and movement speed, if needed. (I ended up using a higher temperature.)
  5. When done, cool the heat gun, and cool and fully dry the gesso before adding pastels.
  6. Flatten buckled paper under a weight, if necessary.

See Goulet’s article, linked above, for more details.

Experimentation Hesitation

Naturally—being the appointed family campfire-maker and fireplace-tender in my youth, then graduating to being a fire dancer, I have an informed respect for heat and fire. (Crazily, I have singed my eyelashes, but not my eyebrows, doing a buzz saw with fire poi.)

Curious? Here I am, performing with two stars on my skirt, black boots, and a ponytail.

(But I digress…)

Back to the experiments at hand, I proceed with caution.

Believe it or not, I’m a little nervous about using a heat gun. I must be doing something right.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

This is how it turned out on the initial round. First, I learned that the lowest heat setting just dries the gesso without texturing it, even if I hold the heat gun still over an area of gesso. Same with heat level number 2. And number 3…

Experimenting with a second layer of gesso, before heat gun test.
The UltraHD paper with a second layer of gesso, before the first heat gun test.
Second layer of gesso after heat gun test.
After the first heat gun test, on the lowest setting. No bubbling or rippling. (I marred the gesso by accident.)

Experimenting Success!

Finally, I turned the heat up to 4. Texturing occurred! However, that was a little too hot, so I lowered the setting to 3.5, which seems perfect for my heat gun.

A thick layer of gesso applied.
Here’s the Torchon paper, with a second layer of gesso, before applying heat. Bubbles are from the brush.
A thick layer of gesso applied.
… and the UltraHD paper, also before a heat gun test. Bubbles are from the brush.
Experimenting with gesso and a heat gun: textured gesso on the left, a fresh and thin layer of gesso on the right.
The UltraHD paper, after the higher heat on left, and with a new thin layer of gesso, right. See big
Several papers after being tested with low and high heat.
Four papers after the high heat test, with thick and thin gesso applications. See big

Takeaways

  • The bubbling and rippling from the gesso being heated is an interesting effect. Unfortunately, the gesso was made less clear by heating, where texturing formed. Oh, well.
  • This process is a lot slower than I anticipated. For some reason, I envisioned high-force blowing, like a hair dryer, or a torch lighter, but nope.
  • As phenomenal as they look, the UltraHD photo prints by White Wall are not great with heat. The emulsion can separate from the thin paper.
  • Fortunately, the Hahnemühle Baryta, Torchon and William Turner had no issue with the heat gun; no damage to the image and very minor paper buckling, due to the gesso’s wetness.
  • My Makita HG6031V heat gun should be set to 3.5 (out of 9 heat levels), to get the gesso to ripple and bubble.
  • Naturally, a thin application of gesso will bubble faster. Bubbles form along lines left by the brush.
  • If the brush has left bubbles, they don’t go away with heat. This is a plus, if desired.
  • Thick applications of gesso pool more, and ripple and bubble in random ways. Likewise, they are nearly impossible to see through, so should only be used in areas where transparency doesn’t matter.
  • Any indentations in the gesso are retained. Accordingly, experimenting with texture could be worthwhile. Try intentionally adding texture before applying heat, to introduce patterns, movement, focal points, etc.
  • This should go without saying, but don’t touch the gesso until you are certain it’s dry. Also, once dry, any bigger bubbles can deflate when pushed, so only touch with intention.

Reflection

After waking up the next morning, and having processed some of my emotions from these tests, I have to say I’m really quite disappointed with the overall lack of clarity with the gesso. I feel misled by Winsor & Newton. I was expecting something like a gel medium that dries clear, even when thickly applied. Expectations are dangerous, I know, but W&N set the bar high!

Further, I ordered the gesso directly from Winsor & Newton, so it would be fresh and authentic, to be certain I wasn’t getting an old or fake product. And, of course, thinking I’d be using it for a long time, I ordered the largest size offered, to “save money.”

Of course, I can’t blame the gesso for changing to a white color when heat is applied. That said, the fact that it’s not the “completely clear when dry” it says on the label is really false advertising, in my way of thinking. I may write them a letter to express my disappointment. Bah! Humbug!

Still, I’m really pleased with the fact that a thin coating on two of the papers worked well enough. Again, I’ve learned a lot from this round of experimenting.

What’s Next?

Fun! I’ll be with layering pastels and gesso, to see what painting on the surface is like, and to play more with texturing in a thoughtful, purposeful manner. Stay tuned for the last installment!

Thanks for your time and attention, both are valuable. 🙏🏻
I invite you to view my photographs and paintings, and to learn more about me.


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© Marlene Breitenstein. I welcome your inquiries about purchasing, licensing, or republishing my work. I take my intellectual property seriously. This post and its contents, unless otherwise noted, is owned by Marlene Breitenstein. It is not to be reproduced, copied, or published in derivative, without permission from the artist. I’m nice, but I do not hesitate to pursue copyright infringements. Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 2

Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 2

Background

If you’re new to my blog, at this stage in my artistic development, I’m experimenting with painting on photos. Being both a photographer and painter, I want to combine these strengths! My preferred painting medium is soft (dry) pastels, which I plan to use over professional Giclée prints of my own photographs.

Unfortunately, pastel can be smudged unless placed under glass. I’d like to avoid that, since even expensive museum glass feels like a barrier to visual entry. Therefore, I will likely resort to using a wet medium in the process, to hold and bind the pastel, and perhaps as a final coat. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m experimenting on gorgeous photo samples that I ordered from the award-winning printer White Wall. They presently use five Hahnemühle papers: Baryta, FineArt Pearl, Torchon, Photo Rag and William Turner. Later I’ll move on to testing the aluminum surfaces I ordered, also from White Wall.

Recap of Part One

Earlier this week, I posted Part 1 of this process. There I discussed choosing White Wall, investigating paper surfaces, reviewing methods for painting on photos, and gathering supplies. Then I experimented with tape for masking, to see what would happen when I pulled each brand off the fine art prints. The results, with the tapes I tried, weren’t good.

That experiment done, next I needed to devise…

An Experiment Plan, for Painting on Photos

Yesterday, I nearly dove into applying pastel to one of the papers. However, I realized I’d better be strategic, or I’ll use up my small samples too quickly. Making the most of this opportunity calls for a thoughtful approach, to get comprehensive results.

Five sample photos with pastels.

My Plan

Based on the painting methods I’d reviewed (see Part 1), I decided to break my ideas for painting on photos into stages. I added steps as I went along, and this is my plan, so far:

  1. Direct dry pastel application in five layers, from hardest to softest pastels.
  2. Another direct application in five layers, using only the softest pastels.
  3. Applying the softest pastel layers with fixative, for a little tooth.
  4. Applying Winsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic Clear Gesso smoothly, to gauge effect alone.
  5. Testing the gesso with layers of pastels.
  6. Applying the gesso with the heat gun, to create texture.
  7. Testing the textured gesso with pastels.
  8. Layering gesso and pastels, with fixative.
  9. What happens if I finish the painting with a layer of gesso?

Considering the small 4.3 x 4.3 in. (11 x 11 cm) sample prints from White Wall, that’s a lot of testing!

For this blog post, I completed steps 1-3 above.

Direct Dry Pastel Application in Layers

Different pastel brands have different hardness, and it’s best to layer from hardest to softest, so that the paper’s tooth isn’t saturated too quickly. Once that happens, additional pastel layers won’t stick.

Considering the pastel brands I have on hand, that means testing pastel layering in this order:

  • NuPastel Color Sticks (the hardest pastels)
  • Faber-Castell Soft Pastels
  • Rembrandt Soft Pastels
  • Sennelier Soft Pastels
  • Schmincke Soft Pastels (the softest pastels)

[Note: If you have different brands, this is an old comprehensive list of pastel hardness. Newer brands won’t be listed.]

Colors from five pastel brands, from softest to hardest.
The pastel brands I own, from softest to hardest.
Oops, I misspelled Sennelier, i before e.

Naturally, I won’t be using all those brands for every artwork. I mostly use NuPastel, Rembrandt and Schmincke, simply because I currently own more colors in each. Further, I may want to use a lot of Schmincke and none of the others, for the same reason.

#1: Five Layers of Pastels, Hard to Soft

For good measure, I started with one layer of each brand listed above. This is how it went, in my first experiment of actually painting on photos.

First, a single color of NuPastel applied:

Photo samples with one pastel color applied.
One layer of NuPastel color, applied to each photo paper. The top two photos were scratched by the pastel stick.
NuPastel scratched a Hahnemühle Baryta Giclée print.
NuPastel scratched the Hahnemühle Baryta Giclée print. It also didn’t stick to the paper much.
NuPastel scratched a Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl Giclée print.
NuPastel scratched the Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl Giclée print. It stuck to the paper even less.
NuPastel on Hahnemühle Torchon.
NuPastel on Hahnemühle Torchon, which is semi-textured.
NuPastel on Hahnemühle Photo Rag.
On the Hahnemühle Photo Rag, which is smoother.
NuPastel on Hahnemühle William Turner.
NuPastel on Hahnemühle William Turner, which is very textured.

Next, after all five brands (five different colors, hardest to softest) were applied, this is how the papers looked:

All five papers with five layers of pastel applied.
All five papers with five layers of pastel applied, from the hardest to softest brands of pastels.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle Baryta.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle Baryta. Once the extra was knocked off, only a little remained.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle FineArt Pearl.
The same five layers of pastel on Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl. Once the extra was knocked off, almost none remained.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle Torchon.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle Torchon. A fair amount of paper texture shows through.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle Photo Rag.
Again, five layers of pastel, this time on Hahnemühle Photo Rag. Very little texture shows through.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle William Turner.
Five layers of pastel on Hahnemüle William Turner. The most texture shows through.

Then I tried blending the layered pastels using a bit of pipe insulation:

All five papers with the five layers of pastel blended.
All five papers with the five layers of pastel, blended using a bit of pipe insulation. The pastel on the Baryta and FineArt Pearl (top) was mostly erased. A nice, translucent layer remains on the matte papers, allowing the photograph to show through.

Takeaways

  • Glossy and pearlescent surfaces—Hahnemühle Baryta and FineArt Pearl—won’t hold pastels (not even one layer), without some other medium applied to create tooth. Further, the harder pastels will scratch these surfaces if applied directly. When rubbed with pipe foam insulation, the pastel is nearly erased.
  • The matte papers—Torchon, Photo Rag and William Turner—are just fine with five layers, consisting of each of the brands.
  • Naturally, the textures of the matte papers affect the pastel appearance, with:
    • William Turner being the roughest
    • Photo Rag fairly rough
    • Torchon the smoothest
  • When applied pastel is rubbed on the matte papers, the five layers of pastel spreads well. That said, one would generally blend one layer, or the earliest layers, when applying pastels, and then leave pastel strokes showing on later layers.

A Note on the Dulling of Pastel Color through Blending

Dry stick pastels are essentially crystalline, hence their luminosity. I’ve read that blending (rubbing) breaks down their structure and dulls them. Honestly, I’m not sure if I buy that. After all, the pigment in its raw form is ground very fine, before it is mixed with binder and formed into pastel sticks. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems that any crystalline structure is already powdered in the process. Would rubbing, then, do any worse damage to its structure?

If a color seems duller after being blended, I think there are other causes. Perhaps one may be the result of pushing the pastel into the paper fibers, leaving less color on the surface to catch the light. Alternatively, dulling of the color could occur when it blends with other colors underneath—whether other pastels, or a base color in another medium—leaving it less “pure,” with reduced vibrancy. (Surely, this phenomenon has been formally studied by color manufacturers, as they test the application of their colors to various surfaces.)

: Five Layers, All Schmincke (the Softest Pastel)

For experiment number two, I applied five pastel layers using only the softest pastel brand, Schmincke.

The matte papers with five layers of the softest pastel, no fixative.
The matte papers with five layers of the softest Schmincke pastel, with no fixative. You can see on the second photo, the Photo Rag, that the fifth color barely stuck. On the bottom, the William Turner, it stuck some. However, the paper was pretty saturated, and the last layer of pastel smeared.

Takeaways

  • Without any fixative, all five matte papers can accept 5 layers of Schminke soft pastels, but do better with less.
  • Unsurprisingly, with the Torchon—the smoothest—it started to feel like it was getting saturated at the third layer, seemed mostly saturated at the fourth layer, and barely took a fifth application.
  • Surprisingly, the William Turner—the roughest—also started to get saturated, but not until the fourth layer. The fifth layer behaved better than on the Torchon, yet started to smear.
  • Only the Photo Rag seemed to take five layers of the Schmincke well.
  • I might not want to use so many layers on much of the photo prints anyway! But it’s good to know the limits.

: Painting on Photos with Five Schmincke Pastel Layers, with Fixative

Knowing that the paper fibers could get easily saturated, I started by spraying the left side of each paper with Schmincke pastel fixative, and again spraying each pastel layer after it was applied.

The Baryta darkened slightly, after the fixative was applied. The Pearl also showed a very minor darkening.

The Baryta partly sprayed with fixative.
The Baryta partly sprayed with fixative (from top to the red line), showing a little change in the darkness.

After five layers of the softest pastel brand were applied with fixative, here were the final results:

The matte papers with five layers of pastel applied.
The matte papers with five layers of the softest Schmincke pastel, this time using fixative before and between each layer. All the pastel layers worked. Here you can see that the middle paper, the Photo Rag, is the smoothest, and the William Turner on the right is the roughest.
The Baryta and Pearl papers with five layers of pastel applied.
The Baryta and FineArt Pearl papers with five layers of the softest Schmincke pastel, this time using fixative before and between each layer. All the pastel layers worked.

Takeaways

  • Starting with fixative was probably not necessary with the matte papers, but it was essential to the layering of pastel colors on glossy and pearlescent prints.
  • Spraying in between every layer made it possible to build five layers of the softest pastel, on every single Giclée print!
  • The fixative slightly darkened the glossy and pearlescent papers, especially where they were already dark.
  • No noticeable darkening happened on the matte papers.

Well, that’s it for today! I’ve already started the next round of experiments with painting on photos, but they will save for the next report.

Thanks for your time and attention, both are valuable. 🙏🏻
I invite you to view my photographs and paintings, and to learn more about me.


If you liked this post, you have options:


© Marlene Breitenstein. I welcome your inquiries about purchasing, licensing, or republishing my work. I take my intellectual property seriously. This post and its contents, unless otherwise noted, is owned by Marlene Breitenstein. It is not to be reproduced, copied, or published in derivative, without permission from the artist. I’m nice, but I do not hesitate to pursue copyright infringements. Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.