Fat over lean

So you’ve embraced the two related studio aphorisms I discussed in this recent post: fat over lean, and make the lights thick but keep the darks thin. In practical terms what does this mean?

Oil paint, tube paint, is stiff and unmalleable. Adding oils and solvents to the paint makes it manageable. But these additions rob paint of body. Thin paint, while fine for the dark tones, hurts the lights and middle-tones.

Artists compensate for this lost body by adding chalk, sand, wheat, glue, and wax among other things to their paint. Is that the solution? A toolbox of tools depending on the situation?

Many artists answer this question with a resounding yes! Some use separate materials for the low-, middle-, and high-tones. Or separate materials for cool and warm tones. I think this is too much refinement. But if an artist works enough in an area to perceive these different conditions, who am I to gainsay him?

A middle approach, one that I use, navigates between extreme refinement and no refinement whatsoever. I use a medium that satisfies 90%+ of my needs. Many of the paintings displayed on my blog here are completed with the medium–no other additive.

What about the 10% that isn’t covered by the medium? For those situations, I season my medium. To impart extra power to the lights, I add a smidgen of sun-thickened oil (NOT stand oil). With sun-thickened oil, paint retains body even when heavily thinned.

For the painting on the easel in this photo, Along 4th Street, I added a very small amount of sun-thickened oil to my medium for the highest lights, such as those in the orange bag.

When I need extra transparency in the dark tones, I add a smidgen of flavored turpentine to the medium. Flavored turpentine is turpentine with a small amount (10:1) of Venice turpentine or other balsam added to it. In the painting, the hands and arms of the woman looking at the viewer have a bit of the flavored turpentine added to the medium.

Here is my palette with the solvents, mediums, and seasonings I regularly use. One large cup hold OMS and the other turpentine.

Palette and medium cup

One small cup contains the medium; another some flavored turp; and another sun-thickened linseed oil. The other small cup contains just linseed oil, which I dip my brushes into whenever I put them down so they don’t dry out. I coat the glass palette with a small amount of linseed oil to make cleanup easier.

As I mentioned, many of my paintings are completed with the normal medium throughout. For the paintings where I do use seasonings, I use them as additives to my normal medium and then only in the last layer or two.

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