In this video I experiment with a palette knife for the first time, and talk about how that helped force me to simply details, and also how to flatten warped canvas paper for when you need to make straight lines.
I really like painting and drawing buildings so two of the reference photos I had printed are castles. This one is Highclere Castle which most of you will probably recognize from Downton Abbey from Downton Abbey. It’s on my ever growing list of places to go see. If it looks amazing in photos I can’t imagine in real life.Purchase Original Painting
The links were in the last post but I put them here again: The first set of instructions I’d found on Will Kemp’s blog in reply to him and the ones I found later on Golden’s site on a page about testing surfaces in general.
Above is the scanned pieces of tape, right click > open image in new tab, to see them in full size.
The adhesion test video is in the next post.
This was the chart I kept for the drying tests. Temperatures were around 12 C for those days like I mentioned in the video. Probably around 20 C inside, maybe less (heater is off at night).
Regarding the “watercolors” I know I called them a watercolor substitute, but it’s more like they’ve substituted watercolors for me specifically because they’re slower drying, portable, and won’t crack. But they’re more like something between gouache and oils and yet they have a distinct sticky feel (like warm honey). They’re more opaque then watercolors, but they stay wet longer, and yet they have that tendency to stay in that sticky watercolor stage on paper. My mix is about 1:1, more and they flow too much, less and they’d dry in the box because it’s not airtight (if the box were airtight I could use less).
I also like them because I can paint at the consistency they’re at without accidently over diluting them with water like I usually do watercolors. For example, for a sky, I’ll outline the object, then I’ll go back on the paper and spread the color around with a water-brush there.
One thing I forgot to mention is that you should use professional grade acrylics for them if you want them to keep their opacity. Additionally if you like gouache you can mix in a bit of titanium white with all your colors to make the even more opaque.
I will do a video with them in the future.
I did a lot of research several tests before trying the techniques I tried here. And the painting seems to be stable for now, but I can’t guarantee anything, please do your own tests with your own materials and draw your own conclusions. Usually if there are problems it tends to happen within the first few days. As of now (two weeks), the painting is stable enough. The paint has not cracked or peeled (not even from purposely trying to peel it with tape), and the plastic (it’s HIPS plastic) is in great condition (the medium heat from the blow dryer did not bend it out of shape). Update: I did do a swab test (softly rubbing a wet cotton swab on the surface) at two weeks and I did get some very minor lifting in the background, but still nothing with the tape and nothing where I then painted the light in with gray over that red background. So I don’t think it’s something to worry about as long as I add an isolation layer of pure medium over everything. Whatever lose pigments remain from the under-bound paint look like they’re easily contained by another proper layer of paint. Overall it satisfies me. I’ll report back further once I add this layer.The only thing is I painted all the way to the edge and the paint is kind of ragged there, liable to being accidentally peeled from handling roughly. Before I didn’t paint to the edges because I used the edges to handle the canvas paper. I kept doing that for a while even though I started to secure my pages because they were already marked for it. But for this I thought there was no point, well now I realize it’s probably better to continue that habit.
Also all the water made the plastic stick to the paper I was using to hang it from. I managed to unstick it and rub it off with just some water, but some of the gesso came off. I repainted it, and it’s all fine. Not really the fault of the plastic (just the sheer amount of water would have ruined a painting in canvas paper), but more bad planning on my part.
Propylene Glycol (Retarder)
The complete chart will be available in the next post when I post the tutorial on the stay wet palette and I’m planning on redoing it, along with more detailed strength tests, in the summer. But basically, I set out propylene glycol in different proportions to very cheap crafts acrylic (from 3:1 to 1:3) and they have all dried within a week and have not left the paint sticky in any way. And it’s winter here where I live so it’s not that it was hot and that helped it.
The paint films also seem remarkably strong (only tested through touch). I expected more problems at the higher ratios but there weren’t any. A thin brushed on layer of pure PG also evaporates within a couple days and can be made to evaporate within the day by blow-drying the painting on medium heat for a few minutes. It’ll still remain sticky for a few hours, but you’ll have helped the initial moisture evaporate and after that it should be completely dry by the next day and not sticky at all. The paint didn’t reactivate or anything at that point.
I also tried some similar quick tests with water. There was no noticeable problems when diluting excessively as long as the paint already had some base to adhere to (the recommended is usually 50% for mediums, less for tube paints). Canvas paper works out of the box and so would anything pre-primed. Plastic needs some gesso (I used 2 coats) or a relatively thick underpainting (if you did the entire underpainting diluting only with medium, that would probably work as well) and should also be sanded beforehand to provide a better physical bond for the paint. But once you’ve got that thick base of paint with a good mechanical bond, you’re good to go.
Additionally I found this reply by Golden (scroll down past the video) regarding water saying that at least with their paints this isn’t true and you can get away with going much more than 50% with tube acrylics and they’ll still have decent adhesion. They also described some methods for testing this similar to what I’d used. Also they confirmed as I suspected (because when you do hear about acrylics peeling it’s always on a recent painting), any problems with adhesion should be apparent fairly quickly, within days. That’s why I’m confident the skull painting is fine at this point. Update: I found a better instructions for their test, that’s a bit different from what was suggested in that link.
HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene) Plastic as a Painting Substrate
I used 0.5mm plastic for this painting. More than half a year ago I put two pieces of plastic on my window, 0.3mm and 1mm taped with masking tape, with one part covered in a thin layer of gesso.
There has only been noticeable yellowing (it’s too little to properly photograph) on the exposed plastic. 0.3mm did worse than 1mm. When I took off the masking tape (which by that point had turned a disgusting yellow) and took off the gesso with some alcohol, the plastic looked brand new, and unlike paper would be, was not contaminated by the yellowing masking tape.
Based on this I would keep 0.5mm plastic to do studies. It’s about the same price, if not cheaper than canvas paper per cm, at least where I live. Leave 1mm plastic for a good painting. And 2mm for something rigid that can replace canvas (1mm is still very flexible).
I wouldn’t use this for a commission or sell a painting on plastic without warning the person, at least not at this point in my tests, but I am looking into the more expensive UV resistant plastics for those situations. I’m also going to test whether it’s possible to wrap the plastic in canvas, much like MDF panels are, but without the downsides of MDF (it’s always humid where I live and I have an ever growing hatred of anything made from MDF), at which point there should be no UV related problems with such thick protection from the canvas.
These I feel are just a better replacement for papers / canvas papers (which warp, crease, and yellow if in contact with non-archival stuff), cheap bad quality canvases, expensive woods, and unavailable woods (they don’t sell birch where I live, the blasphemy) or unavailable alternatives (I can’t find the name, but there was this brand that made some sort of archival plastic board, or at least they claimed it was archival, never tried it, but it was interesting. Edit: Found it.. Edit2: Found a similar board.).
The bigger issue than yellowing I think before these tests satisfy me is how strong the plastic remains. I know from experience trying to make PVC bows that if the PVC is old the tube will shatter with relatively minimal pressure, but this is kind of hard to test with small pieces of HIPS, and even if I were to put out bigger pieces to test, a sheet is not a tube, and HIPS plastic is either flexible under 1mm or super rigid at 2mm. So I haven’t thought of a good way to do it yet. It would need to involve various samples and some level of precision when applying pressure. And if I had the stuff to test that, I probably wouldn’t be trying to find cheap alternative substrates…
Additionally I tried painting straight on the plastic on the glossy side, the matte side, and the matte side sanded. I would avoid the glossy side unless you thoroughly sand the gloss away. The acrylic seems to stick okay to the matte side, but it’s easily peeled. If you sand it though it offers incredible resistance. Just remember how badly acrylic like to stick to plastic palettes, that’s how it sticks, now imagine it’s sanded. The bond is pretty strong. Just be careful when sanding, especially machine sanding, to wear a suitable mask to protect against the dust.
If you like to read very technical stuff, Golden wrote an article once on plastics as a substrate which you might find useful. Unfortunately they don’t note whether the plastics tested had any built in UV protection.
PS: Not sponsored by Golden or anything. I just genuinely liked their products when I lived in the US and they also have an incredible amount of research and information on acrylics. I haven’t seen any other companies do anything like it and it was a big part of what attracted me to the brand in the first place.
Sorry for the lateness I had a lot of trouble uploading because it was so long. There might be some audio gap/jumps because I had to split the video into parts to upload and the youtube editor is horrible for stitching them back together.
Springy Sketching Pen (Coming Soon)
Torso Tutorial (Planned)
This post is also available as an instructble.
I added a piece of paper so you can see the glass better. I plan on adding contact paper and painting the back gray.
I think I’ve tried every kind of artist’s palette ever, but none have really worked for me. The best was the typical DIY stay-wet palette (a sponge/paper towels & wax paper in an airtight box), but they all required me to remember to spray them with water every day, the paint would go runny in parts, and the wax paper would start to rip and in general felt weird under a palette knife. I tried a plastic sheet instead of wax paper, but the paint kept less and needed more spraying.
I’ve also tried just using a glass palette (which feels great with a palette knife) and storing away the leftover paint in a little jar (where it mixes to a gray that can be reused), but the pallet had to be constantly spray it so everything was wet enough to scrap off later (dried bits were a nightmare). And I think it only kept in that relatively big little jar because I mixed in a lot of Golden Open medium.
I was seriously considering switching to oils at one point unless I could find/make a palette that worked for me. My only idea was an improved version of the one I had (thinner, better seal, & paint wells that sealed individually against the lid) but it would have been quite hard to make on my own. Then as I was searching around for more ideas I found this palette and I loved the idea of tiny individual containers, but what to use? Most jars I had where to big and all the other plastic containers I could think of were either square (like pill containers), probably not airtight, or had weird grooves (like my contacts cases). Then I saw a soda bottle and this palette was born.
Plastic bottle caps are the perfect size, plus most of them come with a little seal and I didn’t have to buy anything. I tested them during a long painting session (for me, ~3 hours) and they were just perfect. They hold 5-7 ml depending on the cap btw.
They’re technically not doing anything to keep the paint wet, but I can mix more paint than I think I’ll need, either in the bottle cap itself or on the glass palette. Anything that’s larger than a spoon-full keeps wet for an hour or so without spraying. Than anything left over is stored. I still use the plate of glass for smaller variations and mixes, but they tend to be small and temporary. If they dry, it doesn’t matter. It’s a thin layer and can be wiped off usually (if I’m using Open medium) or scraped off after the session. When I’m done painting for the day I just screw the tops back on and put everything away. No worrying that I have to use the paint within 2-3 weeks (which is around what the others lasted), adding an alarm to remind myself to spray them keep them wet, or having them go all gross and runny. They’ll probably keep indefinitely, but just in case I’m currently testing one to see how long the walls coated in paint (with the Open Medium) will stay wet (it’s still wet a week in). They’re also really easy to clean because they’re round. If you’re using clear bottles you can tell what color they are like that or you can label them on the tops/bottoms.
Soda Bottles – Preferably clear bottles. Note that different sizes/brands will have slightly different sized caps. Also try to get the ones that have a seal on the inside.
Plastic Glue Gun – I don’t think crazy glue would hold up well to the humidity (also it fogs clear plastic if you want the bottoms clear), but you could try. I tried model glue, but the paint would start to leak after a few hours. The glue gun worked the best. An alternative might be epoxy glue (update: tried, does not work well, it looks it does but comes off) or silicone.
Plastic Sheet ~0.5mm – I used a piece of white HIPS plastic (Styrene) for model making. But you could use just about anything that you can cut with some scissors. I’d avoid too thin though if you can. It can be hard to grasp and press to the cap before the glue cools, and when I got it quickly it got really hot and warped a bit. Update: I have since made a lot more of these, this time with thin flexible plastic. I had one of these past ones leak. The rest were fine, but the thinner plastic contours better to the rough edges. First I tried the type of plastic old VHS boxes came wrapped in, but that peeled off, so I bought some transparent flexible plastic they sell at the local hardware store, it’s about 1mm thick. Seems to have worked better
Something to Cut the Caps Off – You could just use a hand saw or a razor blade, but it’s a pain for more than a few bottle-caps. I tried. The plastic is quite thicker where it needs to be cut than the rest of the bottle. I ended just doing a batch of caps with an angle grinder.
Razor Blade/X-Acto Knife – For trimming excess plastic.
Scissors – To cut the bottom circles out of your plastic. This will probably dull your scissors so don’t use your good ones.
Sandpaper – Not necessary if you got the cut nice and level.
Making the Cap Containers
Cut the Caps Off
It’s best to get the cut as close as possible to the lip/edge, especially if you’ll be using a thinner glue. A thicker glue gives you more leeway. Also before you cut them, take the caps off. I made the mistake of cutting with them on and I had to wrestle some of the caps off. Somebody had shut them really tight.
Trim any excess plastic with an razor blade. Sand them if necessary. If you used an angle grinder like I did, the plastic kind of melts and forms these weird layers (I don’t know if you can see one above on the last cap, like a little white triangle). Cut those off if you get them.
Cut off the Safety Rings
Or whatever those are called, so you can have a little window to see your paint colors. Be sure to store your bottle caps away from light unless you leave those rings on and you can’t see any paint at all.
Cut the Bottom Circles
Separate the caps by sizes and then trace your bottle-caps onto your chosen piece of plastic and cut them out. It’s easier with scissors (though it might dull them).
Using hot glue I found it easiest to put a thick line of blue onto the cap, then press the plastic to it. If you mess up, just wait for the glue to dry, peal it off, and retry. Some glue will seep inside, but it shouldn’t be too much. Don’t try to fix it by melting it to the edge with the gun, it just makes more of a mess. They’re easier to clean if you just leave it alone. Any glue that’s seeped on the outside edge can be trimmed.
I didn’t always place the plastic perfectly center so after I was finished I trimmed the entire bottom edge with a razor blade, then ran the hot glue gun over it to smooth it down (the hot glue tends to lift/stretch or rip instead of letting you cut through it).
I’m using them lose now, just resting them on top or by my glass palette, but they could be glued to an existing palette. I’m considering making a line of them with just the main colors I use because I also find it easier to get paint out of them than out of the tube.
Another thing they come in handy for is keeping different medium mixes. You can dip the brush in and it doesn’t really matter if you contaminate such a small amount. Same thing with dipping into titanium white.
I also have a partial time-lapse video of the first painting I tested them with. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a comfortable place to put the camera, you can’t see the palette, and I only filmed an hour or two. But you can see I’m mostly using the spray for the painting itself, the other times to dilute a glaze mix on the glass. I only sprayed the actual bottle caps the 2 times I stood up to get something and left them open. You get a fair bit of warning if the caps need spraying. The paint around the edges will start to thicken and dry first, but that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and the paint inside will still stay wet. You could not spray them at all and just peel off any dry paint around the edges at the end of a session.
As for my drying test, see the last bottle cap. That small amount of paint (with Open Medium) was still wet after a week, so I think that’s a huge success. Had I done that in any previous stay-wet palette it wouldn’t have lasted more than a day without spraying.