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MITRA Forum Question Details

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  • Painting over a 10 year-old underpaintingApproveRejectUn-ApproveSubscribeUn-Unsubscribe
    Question asked 2019-08-15 02:38:56 ... Most recent comment 2019-08-16 16:50:35
    Oil Paint

    ​Hi all,

    I did an underpainting (self portrait) about 10 years ago. It was one initial thin layer either scrubed in tube paint or with a bit of OMS added. I think it possibly was the former as some areas have a slight sheen, but most of it is matte. I would have used the same process across the entire canvas, not with OMS in some areas and scrubed-in paste paint in others. I was reasonably accurate as far as drawing goes but no details. I didn't use OMS much then, as now.

    For some reason I put this aside to dry and couldn't get the drive to re-start it due to a lengthy illness in the family, then eventually forgot about it. I am almost certain it was W & N acrylic gesso triple primed. It is a stretched canvas and there is no indication of paint/oil penetration to the rear of the canvas. It is life-size from top of a cap to below belt and I am reluctant to throw it away as it was part of my art journey at that time. The canvas probably needs tightening a bit.

    I have read some of the discussions here about pentimenti; scraping, sanding and wiping with OMS and would appreciate your comments on my proposed method: 

    (1) Clean the whole canvas with OMS on a lint-free cloth. Let this dry. (2) As there are  no raised areas/impasto, or indeed any surface imperfections, I would then sand it lightly to give a uniform matte surface. Taking care not to damage the acrylic gesso. Clean any particles off completely and (3) wipe it down again with OMS. Let this dry, then (4) apply a thin layer of titanium white. (5) Let this dry (fingernail indent test) then start painting in thin layers of paste paint straight from tube until I get to the desired finish.

    Probably I should start a new painting but I want to re-use this existing canvas. If one day it 'fails' then that's fate I suppose. 

    Many thanks in advance.

Answers and Comments

  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​If you are not trying to salvage the original image and are only repurposing the fabric and stretchers for sake of thrift, I recommend taking the canvas off the chassis, flipping it over and priming the reverse. Unless there is evidence of oil paint striking through, you should have a nice, receptive surface to prime. I guarantee the labor will be considerably less than what you're proposing!

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2019-08-15 16:30:37
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment

    ​Mathew, many thanks your prompt reply. However, I really want to finish this painting for a variety of reasons (not just to be thrifty).

    I used to stretch my own canvases and make canvas panels but have completely gone off this work now. I had another good look at the canvas in question and it is in pristine condition (I used to share a mutli-purpose room and my art stuff was all crammed in one small section. Fortunately I now have a much larger dedicated art studio. The relevance of this is that I used to cover my canvases to protect them and so they have not got any dirt or grime on the surface, as I double-checked this today).

    Therefore I think I can dispense with the initial OMS cleaning and go straight to a light sanding, clean of any particles; then clean with OMS; then apply a thin, undiluted, layer of titanium white. But, not thick enough to hide the underpainting completely. 

    PS: this morning I just found another, much larger, underpainting of my wife that I also started about 10 years ago. I tend to work on at least 2 paintings at the same time due to the slow drying time of tube oil paints. I intend to treat this the same as described above.

    Appreciate your comments again,


    2019-08-15 22:15:54
  • EditDeleteModerator Answer

    ​I understand, it sounds like you want to preserve a faint image of the underpainting. You are likely aware that working back into an old canvas is pretty different from methodically proceeding from a fresh underpainting, ébauche, or frottis through subsequent stages to the complete work. If working into the long-dry, sanded paint is appealing, fair enough, but if you are essentially just preserving the drawing/design, there are other ways to accomplish that with a freshly primed surface (charcoal transfer, for example). Also, I'm not so sure top-coating everything with titanium white is the best approach. If you are only sanding to remove textural relief, and the goal is to leave a faintly visible remnant of the original, in my opinion it might be better to just sand further until the acrylic priming has been exposed, then work into that "ghost" image. 

    Matthew Kinsey, Utrecht Art Supplies
    2019-08-16 16:26:19
  • ApproveRejectUn-ApproveUser Comment


    many thanks for your assistance again. I will follow the latter advice.

    2019-08-16 16:50:35

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