Monday, January 12, 2009

James, Oil Paintings, Then and Now

Before the 19th century painting was a much more arduous task then it already is. Aside from the task of painting the picture itself, creating the colors in the painting and varnishing the painting were obstacles that the artist had to overcome. Today artists use paints that are already mixed and contained in aluminum tubing, to keep the paints from drying and losing the desired color. The way in which artists used to have their colors ready was to have their apprentice mix ingredients from, organic and inorganic pigments, mineral stabilizers, oils, and varnish. The apprentice would do this by grinding the paints together on glass, stone or marble. After the task of mixing the colors the job of varnishing the paintings was next. Today paints are mixed with chemicals to keep their color and be protected through time. Artists of old resorted to many different forms of varnish to protect their works. The Mediterranean’s used paints called encaustics, which was a varnish of beeswax or they would mix oxides of iron, copper, magnesium into the paints.

Tempera paints were created by putting egg yolks as varnish. Vegetable oil and olive oils were used as varnish, but were not completely effective as drying time was much slower than the tempera paints. Many mediums were used to varnish, such as lead added to paints, and tree derived oils, but it is with the discovery of linseed oil in the 15th century, by the artist Jan Van Eyck that would start the standard for oil based paints as a thickener and varnish.

Today most all paints are produced in factories, and are chemically engineered to have a reliable wetness time and viscosity. These paints are chemically enhanced by the adding of elements and minerals. Aluminum hydrate, is used in blues and greens, cadmium is still highly sought after for its bright colors it produces. Cobalt, lead, zinc, and titanium, are all used as thickeners, and color additives.

1.) An Oxide is a chemical compound, with at least one oxygen atom and at least one other element.

2.) Aluminum hydrate:Gelatinous precipitate formed when a small amount of alkali solution is added to a solution of an aluminium salt.

It seems today’s painters have great luxury in being able to concentrate primarily on their paintings, were as in the past artists were artists and chemists worrying constantly on weather their chemical make ups were in the right proportions to give them the desired effect. I don’t think that knowing what I now know about paintings and how the paints were created I have greater respect for older paintings than I can ever now have for a modern painting. Although the bulk of paintings I have seen in my life have been very old, and my distaste for modern abstract has always made me a bigger fan of the old renaissance and before art work, I can now chalk up another reason as to why I very much like and now respect the art of old a little bit more than anything that I have already seen, although I hope that I will one day be proven wrong by some sort of modern “masterpiece”.

The article did say that some people use white lead to prime their canvases and that it is still very possible to create your colors, and to paint in the old style. So I would now very much like to see this form redone by someone or even try my hand at it at some later time.

Rick Mullin- "Oil Paint", September 24, 2007. Pg. 106.

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