In the September 2006 issue of American Artist, oil painter Kate Lehman discussed how she utilizes a traditional technique for her paintings. Lehman’s interest in reflective grounds also has led her to experiment with copper as a painting surface. We present an excerpt from the article.
by John A. Parks
Lehman’s interest in reflective grounds, as she used in the painting Portrait of an Artist, has led her to experiment with copper as a painting surface. The glow of the copper gives an entirely new sense of dimension and depth to her work, and Lehman uses it to full effect by leaving areas of the surface bare, as in Self-portrait.
|Portrait of an Artist
2005, oil on panel with gold ground, 27 x 27. Courtesy Spanierman Gallery, New York, New York.
2006, oil on copper, 6 x 4. Collection the artist.
To begin, the artist creates a rough surface on the copper plate by scrubbing it with the rough side of a sponge in a circular motion. Since copper is very smooth, this step helps give the surface more tooth and makes it easier for the paint to adhere. After she scrubs the surface, Lehman washes the plate with dish soap and then wipes the surface down with rubbing alcohol, allowing the liquid to evaporate. The artist notes that at this point, it’s very important not to touch the copper plate, since fingerprints will show up later. Once the surface is clean and the alcohol has evaporated, Lehman rubs the copper with fresh-cut garlic, a technique that supposedly helps the paint to adhere. Traditionally, the copper plate would be covered with lead white to help future layers stick to the surface, but since the main attraction to copper for Lehman is its color, she opts for the garlic.
When it’s time to paint, Lehman uses very soft brushes—because bristle brushes don’t cover the surface as well—and paints in thin layers. She uses balsam medium to both cover the areas she wants to keep empty and seal in the copper and help prevent oxidation.