Canvas Preparation, Portraits and More...

It has been a very busy week! Lots of things happened and probably the most exciting one was the WA portrait group exhibition ‘Skin Deep’ in Kidogo Arthouse, Fremantle. Lovely space to exhibit but with very bad hanging system, but who cares if you have that many people constantly poking their head in to see what’s on. Someone canceled the exhibition that was scheduled after ours and we got offered another 10 days for exhibiting. Not bad, so now the show will go until the 6th of February.

I spent Sunday in Kidogo doing a portrait demonstration and finally I have started on the portrait of my lovely sister in-law Jean, holding even a more beautiful granddaughter Grace. For a long time I wanted to paint Jean and now finally I have found the perfect moment in her life, when she looks radiantly happy and proud. I have chosen a rather soft approach to this portrait, with as much realism as possible. I will use minimal colour palette using glazing and scumbling to build the forms. I may even leave some parts of the background unfinished.

Jeans portrait served me well as an example for last weekend’s workshop.

I had a lovely, focused and talented small group of artists attending. The small number allowed me to let them paint a subject of their choice on any size of canvas and in the technique they personally liked. We focused our attention on detail, proper preparation and starting all the portraits with tonal under-painting. Eight hours are not enough to finish but what was done, was done extremely well. Keep following my Facebook and blog to see the finish portraits.

The lunch we shared was as good as their work. Sure, we felt tired when we finally came home but it was extremely satisfying and a pleasant weekend. Well done!

Now, let me come back to the canvas preparation, the discussion we started in the last post.

I like to keep things simple and straight forward so everyone can follow, but like everything else there are a few options:

Firstly, different supports will need different preparations before we start putting paint on them. So lets talk firstly about canvasses.

I will presume that we all buying canvases that have already been pre primed with intermediate layers, called size and ground. Acrylic emulsion grounds are called gesso, and when we buy canvas it is usually written on them that they have 2 or even 3 coats of gesso.

I tend to be on the cautious side and recommend you buy a good quality gesso and apply at least two extra coats on the canvas yourself.

Gesso is a white (can be also tinted) acrylic paint mixture consisting of binder and chalk or gypsum, or pigment. It is used to help the paint adhere properly to the canvas.

Gesso is usually very thick and unless you like to have a textured surface to work on you will need to dilute it with water. To be economical it is best to prepare several canvasses at the same time.

Take a separate container and dilute the gesso with distilled water (it will last longer in storage) till you have the consistency of pouring cream and apply with a foam roller on the canvas. The foam roller will give a smoother layer than a brush, which tends to leave brushstrokes. Run the roller in one direction then the other to be sure to cover all the surface. Let it dry and apply a second coat. If you like to have an extra smooth surface, apply 3 or more coats and sand with 000 sandpaper in between the coats.

If you are after a textured surface, leave the gesso thick and apply with a brush or spatula.

Keep the leftover gesso in the fridge.

Jana Vodesil-Baruffi