Friday, January 31, 2020

Eleventh hour

Attention procrastinators: NaMoPaiMo registration closes tonight at midnight. If you've ever thought about painting a model horse, now is the time. NaMoPaiMo is the world's biggest and best model horse painting party!
Also, this gorgeous bay Michelangelo is now at auction on Stephanie's Facebook page. Bidding ends tomorrow evening, so don't wait too long! 
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for your continued support of NaMoPaiMo. I can't wait to see what you do with that Arabian!
Stephanie Blaylock with her 2020 NaMoPaiMo horse
Alright, back to cleaning my studio. NaMoPaiMo is hours away, and I can't wait to start painting!

All about oils, part two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here is part two of Allie Davidson's What Should I Use to Paint my Model? article. Thank you, Allie, Shane, Heather and Kimberly for rounding out the discussion on oil paints!

Shane Langbauer - Wiggle Workz
My medium of choice is oils, usually from the brands Rembrandt and Grumbacher Academy. I didn’t start out using oils, as I had always heard they were finicky and challenging, with a steep learning curve. The medium just sounded too intimidating! However, I always admired models finished in oil colors: they were bright and vibrant, with the most amazing buttery smooth shading and details. I remember stalking Jennifer Scott’s, Chris Flint’s, and Carol Williams’ studio pages and websites for little tips and tricks on how to use oil colors, which supplies to buy, and any little tidbit of information I could get my hands on. I collected all the tutorial books I could find, including Carol Williams’ Color Formulas and Techniques binder and Chris Flint’s painting guide. I studied these books closely, which helped me develop my own techniques for painting in oils. 
Covergirl resin painted by Shane Langbauer
One of my favorite traits of oil colors is their inherent vibrancy. The colors are intensely rich and can be easily mixed to create unique shades. This affords me an endless color palette, which also means I can start with just a few colors and end up creating any number of coat and marking shades. Additionally, oils can be subtly translucent, allowing the artist to add washes of color and achieve an incredible depth of hue. Another significant perk of oils is the ease of mixing in Pearl-Ex pigments for added sheen or color-shifting effect. The versatility of this medium is a principal reason it has become not only my favorite, but my standard practice. 
Tater medallion painted by Shane Langbauer
Despite their many advantages, and my own estimation that oils have created some of the hobby’s finest paint jobs, the reputation that initially made me hesitate to use them is generally justified. Oils do require patience during the learning curve, a tolerance for trial-and-error, and a degree of persistence. One of my earliest attempts with oils, during my real novice stage, was to paint a warm-shaded black Breyer stablemate: I envisioned this glorious black warmblood with high socks and tons of ermine spots. I prepped and primed the stablemate in red oxide primer, then just layered on the oil colors – much to my eventual chagrin. I ended up with brush strokes everywhere, patchy blending, and drying times that never seemed to end. I didn’t touch oil colors for months after that! Eventually, once I had decided I wanted to be a serious painter in the hobby, I started using oils to add fine shading and detail to my airbrushed customs, which worked much better for me as I got a “feel” for how they applied, blended and moved. As I grew more confident applying oils, I “graduated” to using them over airbrushed base coats. I now use oils almost exclusively, adding hints of powdered pigment for dimensionality here and there. 
Independence resin customized by Amanda Brock and painted by Shane Langbauer
Another problem many artists encounter with oils is their long drying time. Without a drying agent of some sort, you may be waiting weeks for a thin coat to fully cure. That can be somewhat prohibitive. Over time, I found that adding a small amount of drying agent, such as drying linseed oil, would let the paint fully cure within 24-48 hours, depending on the weather. Humid days in the summer would make the paint dry a bit more slowly, while dry winter days would result in quicker dry times. I found I could work with a 1-to-2 day drying time, especially when I was alternating between a few pieces simultaneously.
Reflective medallion painted by Shane Langbauer
I can’t imagine I will ever stop using oils, as they always yield the (in my opinion) perfect paint job – smooth, vibrant, detailed, and eye catching! They have helped me achieve uncountable live show championships, and even a NAN title. They’re also fun – and no ridiculously sensitive and breakable airbrush required! 

Heather Bullach - Equine Confections Studio
The number one thing I love about oils is the ability to work in both directions with value, not just light to dark as you do with pastels (which I used for nine years prior to my switch). They just seemed so much more intuitive to me than the slow building of pastels, where it was difficult to go backwards if you veered off course or got too dark.
Freddy resin painted by Heather Bullach
I also love not having to spray sealer between numerous layers. Oils are also fantastic for dapples and roans. I find it so much easier to be able to paint dapples on a coat color and work back and forth with darks and lights to build depth and contrast. Richness of color and blendability are also wonderful benefits. You may need a few coats to get full coverage, but you can start with a color that is close to the final coat color rather than building from the very lightest color present in the coat.
Whirlwind resin painted by Heather Bullach
Oils are definitely not without their challenges. Though far fewer layers are generally necessary, you must wait anywhere between a day to several days between each layer.  So each piece may take longer overall, but not necessarily longer working time. I typically have several models going at a time so that I can work on one while another is drying.  The application and blending can be tricky to get the hang of, but any medium is going to come with its learning curve.
Anise resin painted by Heather Bullach
My general process is to thin color with a bit of refined linseed oil, also adding a touch of cobalt drier or Galkyd to speed drying a bit. I apply paint in thin layers, smoothing a bit as I go, then gently buff over everything with a large, very soft, fluffy brush to smooth brush strokes and blend color. I allow color to dry and repeat until desired color is achieved. 
Takeshi medallion painted by Heather Bullach
The final layers are often much thinner applications, and only applied in necessary areas, for example shadows darkened a bit, highlights brightened, etc. vs a full layer of paint over everything. Once the final layer is dry and has sat for a good week or more, I seal with Testor’s Dull Coat and add detailing with acrylics. Acrylics over oils is often considered a no-no as oils don’t “dry” as much as they cure, but working in very, very thin layers drastically reduces any risk of cracking or lifting. I’ve had zero issues when making sure to use sealer as a buffer between the layers.

Kimberly Bleecker – Total Imagine Equine

I have been painting since the '70s and have used all sorts of mediums, but have found oils work best for me. I really want that "live" flesh look and oils glow. Also, I have found I can get the true results with them.  I do use acrylics on the hooves and white (except the roaning). I used to use oils on the hooves, but I get the same results with a water base and it's faster. 
Valentino resin painted by Kimberly Bleecker
Often people do not work with oils because they take longer to dry. Well, in my case, it can help to see the model with fresh eyes. Adding a drier to each mix of course helps. Also, I work on ten to eighteen models at a time. There is always something dry to work on. 
Rose Reiner resin painted by Kimberly Bleecker
There are some colors that require six or more layers. I sand each layer to be sure there are no brush strokes. (Allie:  I want to interject here so people understand this comment about sanding because on Kimberly’s recommendation, I do it now too, but I usually sand only once after about the 3rd layer.  By sanding, she means micro-sanding with very very fine sandpaper.  I usually use 800 grit and go very lightly.  This removes any paint marks and lint.  Yes you will scuff your finish, but after a few layers, any scuff marks are covered, and sometimes are covered in one layer). It ruins the finish, but it will be painted over. Layers are thin. Different types of brushes and the way to use them helps. I do ruin brushes. Even the ruined brushes have their use. 
Uppenovah resin painted by Kimberly Bleecker
Another down side of oils is that they can be pricey. Also, one cannot find all the colors you need made by one company. I use oils on all scales, including micros. If one is not in a rush, oils might work well for you.

Thanks again, Allie, Shane, Heather and Kimberly. We'll discuss pastels in the next post!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

All about oils, part one

Before you paint, you need to plan. This is why the NaMoPaiMo registration form asks people to commit to a color and a medium. This isn't a problem for experienced finishwork artists, but new painters often struggle with choosing a medium. Which one is easiest? Which is cheapest? Which is the best? These are questions we hear over and over on the run up to NaMoPaiMo. In this series of guest posts, Allie Davidson asks some of the hobby's most accomplished artists to discuss the pros and cons of their favorite medium. Today, it's the oil painters!

What Should I use to Paint my Model?

by Allie Davidson

That is probably the top question asked by people who want to leap into the world of customizing their models.  Welcome!  I hope this article will help make that leap easier. As a long time customizer myself, I think it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our hobby.  Have a great idea for a model?  There’s nothing more satisfying than learning to do it yourself.

To write this article, instead of relying on my own rather narrow focus of oils and recently some pan pastels, I contacted some hobby experts on various mediums commonly used, and what they believe is the pros and cons of that respective medium.

Before I hand this over to the panel of experts, it’s important to note that to become proficient at any medium takes practice.   Don’t give up.  You have to give yourself time to learn and trust your medium; to understand the first few layers may look awful but know that it’s all part of the process.  All mediums require layers whether it’s oils, pastels, airbrush etc.  You will never achieve the perfect finish in one layer.

I wanted to first highlight some fantastic advice from Jennifer Scott of Aspen Leaf that should be considered before making a decision:  I always advise people to find their starting medium by looking at what models appeal to them most. Do you prefer horses done by pigment artists, airbrush artists, oil artists? Most top level artists use a mix of mediums with an emphasis in one particular. For example, I use predominantly oils, but I’ll use every medium at my disposal on the piece to help in certain ways. Every medium has a super power. Use it.

Many times my models will have a combination of oils, pastels, pencil, acrylic… whatever it takes to achieve the color I’m going for.  Mixed medium works, the only caveat is to seal (most people use Testor’s Dullcote) between layers.

So let’s dive in! Part one of this series is all about oil paints. They're easier and less scary than you think!

Jennifer Scott - Aspen Leaf Studios

Jennifer Scott
If you are a fellow #TeamOils admirer, let’s talk about some of the properties that usually appeals to an oil person. First, there’s the sheer brilliance of color. Oils have a brightness and purity to them that doesn’t have to be fought for. Luscious color is easy with this medium, and color blending is smooth and beautiful! They are also the most durable. They stick to almost anything and stay stuck. You can rub set oils and they won’t come off. But it’s also their thickness that helps the durability. You are definitely putting good coverage on your model, so working small means it’s going to be more difficult unless you really thin them.
various pieces finished by Jennifer Scott
Yet even with those strengths, so many people are afraid to try them! Why? Because they’ve heard all about: a steep learning curve, long drying time, brush strokes, dust in paint, smell, and the need chemicals to clean like mineral spirits or turpentine. Let’s make these things a lot less scary!

1. Learning Curve: Oils do take longer to get the hang of than other mediums, but that’s because there are just so many ways to use them! So in essence, it takes longer because you’re developing many skill sets at once. And the word skill never goes hand in hand with instant. There can be some pretty major “ugly stages” and you just have to keep pushing through. I promise it’ll get beautiful if you just keep going. Maybe not on one piece though. It’s important to learn what you can from a piece, call it finished, and move on to the next. This is more in general than specifically to oils, but I find a lot of beginners want to make their early pieces look perfect and so never finish them. Fact of life: your early pieces are not going to look all that great. Go in with low expectations and treat those initial pieces as what they are – teachers. They’re not going to be your million dollar sales pieces right away. They’re going to be the ones that show you how to get there over time.

Sweet Basil, Morgen Kilbourn Hazel resin painted by Jennifer Scott in 2010
a really nice horse, but not as nice as her 2020 work
2. Drying Time/Particulates in paint: Why did I list long drying time as a con? Because even though you have plenty of time to play around with paint and get it exactly the way you want it, it’s also plenty of sitting time for things to get into the paint. Now, the mistake most make here is that they instantly try to get out any hairs or dust specs that landed on their wet paint. All this does is grind them in further and now they’re truly mixed into the paint and not going to come out. Just let them be! Leave them alone until the oils underneath are fully dry. Then you can just lightly rub or blow them off as they’re still only barely sitting on the surface. I do not have a spic and span painting area. I have two Saint Bernards and there is hair and dust everywhere. The thing you are going to want to keep clean is the surface you are painting (your model – so make sure it’s dust free), the small area it’s sitting on, and your paint mix and brushes. I use throw-away things like paper towels (the blue shop towels are great!) to paint on and tin foil as my paint palette (a tip I took from Mel Miller but you can use things like wax paper as well). If these are dirty and linty, they get tossed and a new fresh sheet gets laid out. Never try to reuse paint. Mix fresh every time for smooth lint-freeness.
Jenn's painting table
3. Brush Strokes: These are super easy to avoid. If you get them, you’re using too much paint. Simple as that. Remember, too thin is better than too thick. You’re not going to cover a piece in one layer, or even two. Maaaaaaybe you can with three once you know what you’re doing and depending on your technique. Be patient and build up to coverage in layers. I have a soft large square brush I use to softly smooth my work down after each session to further help remove any brush texture left in the work.
Smoothing out those brushstrokes!
4. Clean up: Oils may not be just soap and water, but they’re really not that much more difficult to clean. I have a glass cleaning jar with the metal agitator to rub brushes on. You pour your mineral spirits/turpentine/paint thinner in this and when not in use, it has a lid to keep it contained and fresh. If the smell bothers you, there are odorless versions of these cleaners. Once I’m finished with a session, I will clean my brushes in that jar to remove as much paint as possible. When it looks fairly clean, I’ll then treat my brushes to a liquid soap and water wash just to be sure and remove that oily feeling left over. Remember to shape your brushes before putting them away! I mentioned the paper towel surface and tin foil above. With these being throw-aways, there’s literally no cleanup time spent there. I have a metal palette knife I use to mix my paints with and I just wipe it clean on the paper towel after each use and that’s enough.
Anise, sculpted and painted by Jennifer Scott, 2020
Hopefully having instructions on how to work out those difficulties gives you the confidence to dive in. It’s a really great medium to work with! No other medium has that smooth, gliding feel as you work with the paint that oils do. The blending is so smooth and soft and easy and you never have to rush and stress to get it. You can take as much or as little time as you need by adding driers to the paint, and your colors will always pop. They play so nicely with all the other mediums too! Just add a little fixative/dull cote between layers that you change up the mediums on and you’re good to go. I think oils bring out the best from all of them, but that’s my very biased sentiment.

Melanie Miller - Mel Miller Equine Art
Melanie Miller, photo by Julie Ward
The benefit of painting with oils is their superb blending capabilities and long working time, which allow the painter to leisurely adjust and refine overall shading and finer details. The downside is the drying time.  If using driers (Allie: dryers are for example Liquin or Japan Dryer), you can paint a layer a day, if not, you may have to wait a week or a month between layers.
Mickey, Breyer Shannodell custom by Melanie Miller
Winner of the 2017 BreyerFest Best Customs Contest, Finishwork
If using oils paint, it’s a good idea to have a dust free space to leave the horse while it dries. As far as how oils look when finished compared with other media, oils tend to have a glow that is very naturalistic.  It is much more difficult to achieve sharp edges than with acrylics, so they will not excel at, for example, sharply detailed eyes with the same ease acrylics do.
Escar Go For Broke, Breyer Emerson custom by Melanie Miller
You may have heard that you cannot paint acrylics over oils, but this is not true in the case of model painting.  Because we are painting on solid, firm surfaces and use thin layers (as opposed to thick layers on canvas), all you need to get the best of both worlds is a layer of Testors Dullcote (or Model Masters lusterless) between layers of oils and acrylic.
Melanie Miller's 2019 NaMoPaiMo model
acrylic over oils

Lynn  Cassels-Caldwell - Snowdrift Studio
Lynn Cassels-Caldwell
PROS: Rich pigmentation. Fade resistant. Blends extremely well. A little paint goes a long way. Layers extremely well. Proven permanence.
CONS: Slow drying time. Can be messy.  
Aashiq resin painted by Lynn Cassels-Caldwell
I personally prefer to pain with oils because of its quality, performance and flexibility of available techniques. It’s a proven medium having been used successfully for hundreds of years for traditional painting. It can be applied thick, or built-up in many thin layers. I like how the colors behave when mixing; it’s quite predictable especially when using the classic colour wheel. It’s also relatively safe to use. There is no spraying until the model is finished, no dust and it does not require toxic thinners to clean up. Plain walnut oils and soap and water will clean the brushes.  
Lynn Cassels-Caldwell's 2019 NaMoPaiMo model
Drying time is slower than most other paints, so I generally have several models going all the time. Even so, the layers are generally thin and often dry overnight.
various pieces finished by Lynn Cassels-Caldwell
Coming up next: more oil painting pointers from Shane Langbauer, Heather Bullach and Kimberly Bleecker.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Almost wordless Wednesday

I took a lot of pictures of the carriage horses of Bruges, Belgium. Some were for tack reference purposes, but most were just for fun. Here's a sampling from both categories. Enjoy!

The horses of Europe: Robby

Our horse was a tall, black gelding named Robby. His driver rolled the R in his name, making it sound far more exotic than it looks in print.
We climbed into the carriage and headed out into the traffic a bold trot.
The pace was so quick, one of Carol's gloves blew off her lap and onto the street. Goodbye, glove!
Our driver's alternated between telling us about the history of Bruges and yelling at the cars, bikes and pedestrians that got in his way.
It was amazing.
Halfway through our tour, we reached a street lined with carriage horses. 
Our driver guided Robby into an empty space and told us it was time for Robby's break.
He pointed out a nearby bridge and told us to go walk across it. "Very romantic," he said, once again rolling his R's.
The view from the bridge was nice...
but I was more interested in the view on the street.
No surprise, we spent most of Robby's break hanging out with him and the other horses. 
When he was fully rested, we climbed into the carriage and made our way back to Market Place.
This started out strictly as a horse thing, but it also turned out to be an affordable way to get a private tour of the city. I would absolutely recommend a carriage ride to anyone visiting Bruges.
Thank you so much, Robby!
P.S. We retraced our route after the ride and managed to find Carol's glove!