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Old 10-20-2004, 12:16 AM   #1
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Lead Priming and the Test of Time




Throughout history, there have been many instances of artists, great and not so great, who have experimented with a wide variety of mediums, grounds and surfaces. Some of those experiments turned out to be quite disastrous.

Reynolds, for example, was known to have had paintings deteriorate almost immediately upon completion. Many works painted by artists in the last hundred years are in much worse shape than paintings from the seventeenth century. Odd Nerdrum was recently sued by a patron because his painting was literally sliding off the canvas.

Artists looking for "the secrets of the old masters" have assumed that there was a secret ground or medium which would provide "the answer." The truth is, the old masters used sound techniques and could flat out paint and draw.

Using oil paints with almost any ground will give you a physical bond. The oil paint grabs onto the texture or into the pores, however, a physical bond may not be enough. The paint can delaminate and separate from the ground. There is a distinct possibility a painting could literally peel off.

Traditionally, oil painters used lead oil priming over rabbit skin glue as the ground for their paintings. First on wood and then on canvas, This method has been utilized since since the infancy of oil painting. The priming gave the oil a surface to bond to. The rabbit skin sizing acts as a buffer and keeps the priming from discoloring.

When you use lead priming you get both a physical as well as a chemical bond. Paint and ground become one allowing your portrait the best chance of standing the test of time and the potential to one day be an heirloom.
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Old 10-20-2004, 07:33 AM   #2
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Actually, there are examples, not only of the ground but the use of lead white in paint increases its archivability.

Many old paintings are in good shape where lead white is used in a greater percentage, ie. the flesh areas. However there is a lot more deterioration in the other areas where less is used.

All my canvases are on lead grounds.

Marvin, what are you using for canvas these days?
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Old 10-20-2004, 11:18 AM   #3
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Sharon,

Yes lead white had been used I believe from the get go. It makes the strongest film and is more flexible than other whites. On this thread I was talking primarily about painting grounds because it seems that lately there has been a trend to try oil painting on a wide variety of synthetic materials. In this case I think the old way is the best way, but that's just me.

As for canvas, I'm currently using a lead primed portrait grade linen canvas that I purchased at Soho Artist Supplies on Grand Street in New York City. What do you use? For the record, I use Flake White #2 by Michael Harding as my choice of white.
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Old 10-20-2004, 11:54 AM   #4
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Marvin,

I use Claessens 13dp. The roll I have is lead primed, but I don't know if they make lead primed anymore.

Thanks for posting your source.

I prefer canvas because I am addicted to those little bumps which give texture to fabrics like tulle.

As to new materials, if people want to use them, that's great. I am all for trying new things and I think people should. But plastic has not really stood the test of time as a painting substrate, and the adhesion in the long term of paint especially oil, to a polymer or plastic is a big unknown. There is the embrittlement and out-gassing problem as well, pointed out by the curator of the National Gallery in Washington. Embrittlement and out-gassing can be controlled, by completely covering the plastic substrate, but adhesion remains an open question.
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Old 10-20-2004, 12:10 PM   #5
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Claessens no longer makes genuine lead priming due to certain laws in Europe. They use some kind of alkyd concoction now. Not nearly as good. I believe NY Central also sells lead primed canvas.

Where I come from, we used a very specific term when reffering to out-gassing.
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Old 10-20-2004, 12:23 PM   #6
Carl Toboika Carl Toboika is offline
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Marvin,

The rabbit skin glue also plays an important role in keeping the acidity in the paint from rotting the canvas as well.

The expanding and shrinking of linen is a real problem for aged paint layers that have gone brittle due to time.

Polyester will not expand and contract once stretched, paint will not rot it, it should outlast linen or cotton. At least some conservators are using it to reline old work.


However it has a mechanical weave. It does not absorb water, so does acrylic primer stick well?

Acrylic primer under oil is still a question over umpteen years, as no one knows for sure yet, even the makers of the paint admit to that, and at least one plans on tests of this. Though acrylic does protect the fabric from deterioration due to the acidity of oils.

If you want "lasting" ... paint on a panel (even canvas glued to a panel) as movement of the support is named the number one enemy of lasting.

I still gamble on acrylic primer, since it is easy and readily available. Panels are a nice solid unyielding surface, which I actually like, unlike most Artists.

Rabbit skin glue/lead white primer/panel is probably a lot better and nicer to paint on so long as you let the lead white primer dry a long time.

It stinks to be Odd N. if that happened to his work. Stuff should at least last your lifetime plus a generation or two, just out of professional pride if nothing else.
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Old 10-20-2004, 05:11 PM   #7
Allan Rahbek Allan Rahbek is offline
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I am sorry that Flake White is not for sale here in Denmark. Is it correct that it will dry over night with no addition of dryer ?

When you size a bigger canvas, it can be wise to size the edges first and let it dry before sizing the whole canvas. This will prevent the linen to draw itself out of shape along the staples or nails.

Allan
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Old 10-20-2004, 07:18 PM   #8
Linda Brandon Linda Brandon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin Mattelson
Reynolds, for example, was known to have had paintings deteriorate almost immediately upon completion.
Marvin, do you know why, specifically? I've been trying to find this out.

One of my little hobbies is taking old paintings off walls on the sly and seeing what's going on in the back of them. I have seen mildew, rust, paint eating through, punctures, fraying, you name it... all on linen. I have seen linen rotting on expensive 5 year old paintings. I'm not convinced it's due to "lack of care".

I power-sanded one of my ABS panels to reuse it as a ground and it took me a full fifteen minutes to remove both the physical paint and the dye that seeps into the surface. Whomever tries to eliminate my work from the planet in the future has this to look forward to.

Marvin and Sharon, I am just going to have to make one of these panels for each of you and you can give it a whirl.

Just try to out-gas me,
Linda
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Old 10-20-2004, 07:46 PM   #9
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Alan, I never have sized my canvases of applied the lead primer. I buy presized and preprimed linen. I don't have the space to let my canvases cure. When I move and get a larger studio I would love to do this. Different flake whites have various vegetable oils added and this would effect the drying time. Flake and CP Linseed Oil would probably dry overnight.

Linda, I hope you were using a dust mask when you were sanding.

I believe that Reynolds used Megilup, the precursor to Maroger medium. He was known to experiment with a variety of materials so it's really anyones guess. I'm sure that there have been studies done by qualified scientists as to the specifics. It is my understanding that prior to the 18th century there is little evidence that anything other than linseed oil and, to a lesser degree, walnut oil were used.

I believe that there are no magic mediums or grounds. I can get the paint to do what I want it to with just linseed oil. So why not stick with what works? When these new materials and mediums have been around one hundred years maybe I'll try them then. I think all this medium hopping distracts the focus from where it should be.

Like Sharon I love the texture of canvas to drag my brush against. I hate working on perfectly smooth surfaces. But to each his own. I just wanted to remind folks that the old way is a very good option.
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