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What did the old masters use to paint whisker thin long lines with oils? I have seen work by several Dutch masters but also the French Academics like Jerome and company who were able to manipulate paint and produce incredible details in a miniature scale, as if they were using a micron pen loaded with paint. I am trying to keep it simple, and I don't want to get into resins or magic media. I have found so far the best combo is to paint over a couch of linseed oil with paint + stand oil. The best brush so far is the size 0 spectre by W&N, but I am sure that are better brushes out there that work best for this purpose. I know from trying that a lot of the success is in the manipulation of the paint and having a steady hand. Correcting the shape of the paint with another paint, working in layers. Smaller brushes may produce better results + practice. I am able and have produced similar details in my still lifes but the scale is not the same. It gets to a point where the detail is so small that I am not able to do in oils. But if it is a resin, which one would you use. My friend uses Amber from Donald Fels and Venice turps by Kremer pigments. Thank you.
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I cannot specifically state what the Old Masters for this purpose,
as there is little archival documentation and organic analysis is far more
complicated than was once believed. I would suggest that any additions to the
paint were rather simple and not likely to contain high proportions of soft
resins like mastic or the resin in larch turpentine. The reason that I say this
is that fine thin lines applied over dry underlayers are the most susceptible to
abrasion and yield under the actions of strong solvents and extreme pH. These
were precisely the materials used by restorers in the early days. If it was
common practice to add large amount of soft resin to the paint, there would be
few examples of these fine lines on Old Master paintings for us to see today. The
danger of this practice is obvious when examining 19th century maritime
paintings where the rigging is often completely abraded away when the artist
used a lot of resin to accomplish these fine lines and/or when a poor restorer cleaned
the work without the knowledge and sensitivity needed to clean such works.
I would separate the methods of the Renaissance and Baroque
from those of the 18th and 19th centuries when it was
almost universally accepted practice to use mediums with very large amounts of
soft resins. This is an instance where mediums containing hard resins and oils
yielded more stable results than did the mediums containing softer resins (BTW
I not stating that resins are necessary). The less soluble hard copal and amber
mediums (if amber was ever a common paint additive is a completely different
debate) create a paint film that is more resilient to the actions of cleaning. The
oil-fused hard resin mediums did tend to yellow strongly and become brittle if
used indiscriminately. Today we do have alkyd mediums, which fulfil the same
role but are less yellowing and more flexible. Whether you like the way that
they feel and move is another issue. I have generally preferred the fluid alkyd
mediums to those that have a gel-like consistency or an intentional thixotropic
quality in emulation of megilp.
So as to practical application tips, I do think that some
addition of a long oil like stand or sun thickened oil in a suitable amount of
solvent added to the paint will help. The couch of oil will make this easier
but the practice is problematic. This is the same issue as that of oiling out.
Any oil film that is not covered by a layer of paint will eventually darken and
become obvious. This may be minimal if the application is extremely thin, but even
then it will probably become visible in the long run. You may be interested in browsing
through the section on oiling out in “Resources Section” to read a bit more
about this issue.
It seems to me that after the skill of the artist, the most
important factor is the choice of brush. In my experience, the best are high
quality kolinsky rounds with longer brush hairs. There is a reason that there
is a brush made specifically for painting the super fine lines used to depict
the rigging on ships. These very long rounds are even called riggers. Now these
may be too long for your needs but you get the general idea.
Thanks for the recommendations. I am wondering if you could share the Alkyd medium you mentioned. I have little experience with Alkyds, and as far I can see from reading manufacturers' descriptions and artists' experience with the media (Gamblin,W&N, M.Graham) none I have looked at so far, claim to provide or produce the paint qualities needed for fine detail work, which I think would be in the line of: ink like paint consistency, with paint flowing off the brush with relative ease, yet the paint is still highly pigmented to the percentage of vehicle that it covers, and finally the paint holds its shape, without levelling or bleeding.
If I used stand oil or sun oil with turps, what would be the proportions of medium to paint you would recommend, so that I know I am not making the paint too thin? I find 1/1 is a bit too much but that does give the paint the kind of flow I would like. Thank you.
Stand oil is not the best choice if you are trying to avoid
leveling. Its inherent quality is to level. Linseed or Walnut oil sun thickened
mediums, or to a lesser extent, artificially oxidized oil mediums, will be
better for this as they tend to set or hold their shape, and set before
leveling. Probably the best that I have found for this effect for a black or
dark paint is thinning it with a dilute true copal-oil varnish (or possibly a
true amber-oil varnish) as they both set quickly and resist the action of restoration
solvents in the long run. I mention dark oil paint because both of these will
darken substantially and dark pigments will be less effected by this change. I
will probably get some push back on this as these materials are controversial
in the conservation world for many reasons including brittleness, and yellowing. Used in this way and in fine isolated strokes as
described there should be no preservation problems. The problem here is that
true Congo, Zanzibar, and other hard copals (and true amber varnish) mediums are
either unavailable or very expensive. Really, there is little benefit of these
mediums over a high quality fluid alkyd medium for this purpose. I personally
find the gelled alkyds less useful for this purpose.
To the 2nd question, 1:1 mixed with what? 1:1 oil
(or even resinous media) to oil paint is way too fat for anything other than
special effects, and probably too much regardless, unless you are willing to
deal with the eventual strong yellowing that will inevitably occur. 1:1 oil
paint to 1:5 oil solvent may be perfect. It may also be too thin for certain
FINAL effects. We need to maintain a bit of rationality in this and you should
be able to come up with a sensible ratio.