Donna Aldridge, international award-winning master pastelist and oil painter, fine artist, has work in collections in 25 countries and teaches painting workshops nationally and art classes in Kansas City.
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Studio Tips
for the
Oil Painter

Donna Aldridge
© 2001 Donna Aldridge

Butchard Pond I Oil on Canvas 48" x 56" Collection: Mr. & Mrs. John C. Morris. TX

From DaVinci

Keep a mirror in your studio area, facing your easel if possible. DaVinci advised “turn your painting to a black glass (mirror) and it will appear as though another master had done it and you will see its flaws.”

This decidedly different (reversed) view puts your painting into a new context and can 'shake up' a taken-for-granted acceptance of problems in the work. It can also give you the advantage that the painting seems twice as far away, giving you a better overall view of your piece. Very helpful!

Solvent in the Studio

Gamblin's Gamsol oil painting solvent has a number of advantages over other options, tho economy might not be one you would at first think to include, however I noticed an interesting phenomena when I began using it.

Typically, at the end of the painting day, I place an air-tight cover on my working solvent container. The next day I open it, pour off the solvent, leaving the pigment sediment behind, which I then wipe out with paper towel and carefully dispose.

With mineral spirits or Turpenoid, I would not be able to pour off all the solvent for reuse because the sediment would begin mixing with the last of it and I would have to discard it as well as the sediment. It was a bit messy sometimes and always required several paper towels to clean out the container and make it ready to receive yesterday's clarified solvent again.

What I found using Gamsol was that the pigment sediment at the bottom of the container would, for the most part, consolidate overnight and allow me to pour off virtually all of the Gamsol into the clean, temporary container, then remove the consolidated pigment sediment and occasionally a few loose particles, wipe any traces away with a single paper towel section, then return the Gamsol to the container ready to use again in moments.

Faster, no wasted solvent—which is easier on the environment along with the pocketbook, less paper toweling required to use and buy again sooner, less trash built up, less time spent, AND you still have the greatest advantage: considerably to drastically less toxic vapors given off into your studio for you and yours to breath!

There are additional positives to using Gamsol which you can discover thru your art supply dealer or this link to Gamblin Artists Colors Co.

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Solvent Container in the Studio

Using an old-fashioned crock jar with curved interior bottom for your oil-painting solvent is handy in several ways. The crocks are neutral in color and classic in design, so not distracting sitting by your palette, strong and heavy so almost impossible to tip over—even if you leave several brushes sitting in it for a few minutes, inexpensive, and the curved bottom lets you clean out pigment residue far more easily than from most other containers.

Masking Edges of Paintings on Slides

When photographing your oils, consider creating a matte black wall on which to hang your pieces so that you will not have extraneous details to mask out.

If you do need to tape the slide, it is still far easier to do so with the clear edges established by the black background. Paintings photographed on solid background make trimming photo-prints much easier, too!

A special silver mylar tape is made for taping off slides. It is highly preferable over any other tape and is specifically designed to accept the heat from the slide projector. Do not use other tapes.

Mylar tape for slides is available at art or photographic supply stores.

HEPA Filter Fans

A HEPA Filter Fan is an excellent investment for any artist's working space when using painting materials which include solvents, sprays or particles of pigment, etc. released into the air. Honeywell makes an excellent product and more brands are being introduced to the market. These filters make a tremendous difference in air qualitly and therefore your health and comfort.

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Maintaining or Restoring Brushes to Good Condition

Brushes, very old or even almost brand new can get end up in bad condition. It's really hard to paint well with the bristles clogged with old paint, stiff and hardened, and/or badly curved out of shape, splayed out and sometimes dried out. You probably (unless you are wonderfully remarkable) have brushes that could benefit from a good dose of TLC.

Begin by investing in a good brush cleaner. I've been tremendously impressed with Winsor/Newton's Brush Cleaner & Restorer! Soak your brushes in a glass container with the liquid poured in first and only enough to go up to the ferrel. Be careful to not get any of the liquid onto your brush handles—because it REALLY does remove paint! If your bristles contain a lot of paint or if it has hardened over a long period, you will likely need to soak your brushes 24 hours or more. If the brushes have only been thru some less than ideal cleanings a few times in a row, a few hours should suffice.

You'll want to check occasionally—every few hours, to see how they are coming along. Once the brushes seem to give up a lot of their old paint into a paper towel, it maybe time to give them a good soap and water bath.

If brushes are still holding a bit of old paint, consider another day's soaking.

Lather them up and rub the bristles back an forth either in the palm of your hand, if you have only a few, or if you are cleaning a lot, find something that will give a bit of resistence but not damage the brushes—such as an old soft plastic soap dish with ridges. My personal first choice is to use a "textured" soap originally created for both everyday use (washing hands to use in the tub or shower) and for daily or intense cleaning brush cleaning: Robert Burn's Busy Bee Honey/Bees Wax Soaps, handmade in small batches with ground coffee beans or corn meal. This soap washes my brushes better than anything else I've used, including very popular brush-cleaning soaps available in art stores at 3 times the price! The texture is gentlely assertive agaist the bristles as I pull them back and forth — and the emulsion created with the soap cleans excellently, yet gently for our brushes as well as our skin!

It's time to rinse once you've soaped and rinsed till NO more color comes out. Rinse extra well and finish with a good swish of the brushes into a light solution of vinegar water, which is slightly acid and the soap is not—so helps get rid of any remnents of soap deposit, plus the very mild pH change is a benefit to the hair in your brushes.

Shape your brushes. Blot them well with paper towels to remove as much water as possible. Many simply shape their blotted brushes with their fingers with nothing but the moisture from washing. Some shape their sables or smaller bristles by running them between their pursed lips. I find that using a strong hair gel (made for styling human hair) is perfect for giving any of our brushes a brand-new, store-bought finished shape! For someone who loves using brand new brushes as I do, this is a constant treat! To apply, work the gel into the bristles, dry off your hand then begin to shape the brush by running the bristles with gentle firmness between your thumb and forefinger several times, pressing out excess gel in the bargin. Wide bristle brushes may be shaped by pulling the bristle between the sides of two adjacent fingers. Fan brushes may be flattened perfectly by laying flat on a table surface and weighting down with another flat item. Prop the handle up a bit to make sure you maintain a straight line tip to top. As with a brand new brush, run the gelled brushes through your fingers a couple of times to knock out the sizing before painting.

For damaged brushes which need more shaping, you can shape them as above, then wrap with masking or other firm tape, carefully nudging the bristles as you go, tucking them into shape. Allow the tape to wrap above the tips of the bristles enough to pinch together to form a closed tip.

Let the brushes dry. You want to always dry them on their sides rather than standing upright on their handle tips which lets the water seep down into the ferrel.

Really cheap and/or poor quality new brushes can also benefit from the gel treatment because of the way which even one-time-used brushes can look like the worse bad-hair day you've ever seen. The gel at least gives them a chance to behave somewhat helpfully, but probably best to return a new bad brush back to the art store if you were given to understand it was a quality brush. If you paid less than a dollar for it—just use the gel and be glad it still has it's hair!

Well-cared for brushes can last for years. That is, until the well-used brush finally wears down, as is the future of any great brush. But in the meantime, they can maintain a healty, responsive life of service to you!

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On Choosing Frames

When choosing exhibition frames, you might want to take into consideration whether your paintings will stay in their frames long term or, as some do, change out the paintings often. This could lead you to different choices in some of your materials, tools and handling

Shipping boxes are another consideration. They can be investments in themselves. One frame or another can be the factor that lets you use a box on hand or need to order a new and larger one. Great if that does not matter, but if it does, like the old sign says—Think Ahead!

Some artists work consistently in one set size, letting the body of the work be interchangeable from frame to frame, or if style varies, at least glass, etc. remains the same and might be purchased in quantity for savings.

Other artists make each painting a unique size and proportion and each frame a new adventure.

If you are trying to simplify you life in the studio, setting a standard of size/proportions for your paintings is one good way.

If you live thinking “So many gorgeous mouldings, so little time”, adventure in ever new frame styles may be your best direction!

Before Shipping Works to Shows . . .

When sending off a painting or two or three or more, do gather full information about timing, packaging and other requirements from the shipping company. Each differs in several ways. Particularly check very precisely about their insurance for artwork. Some dramatic differences exist here and you need to be aware.

Many artists are paying for insurance that they would not be able to collect on because they are shipping a painting rather than a load of empty frames (multi-produced merchandise).

Also—read again very carefully the entire prospectus of any exhibits you are juried into. Some have some very stringent rules and, again, each differs. Do pay attention! It will make life so much easier and more pleasant!

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Please Note:  All artwork and materials contained on this website are copyrighted by Donna Aldridge.  No image or picture may be downloaded or copied without written permission from the artist.  Many of the painting images you will see on this site may be available for sale in original or in print form by contacting Aldridge Studios.

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