I asked this question a couple of years ago but never got a reply so thought I would ask again. I have a painting that I did with traditional oil colors in 1986. I obviously blew the "fat over lean" rule and as a result, I have cracking in the paint's surface. The underpainting was basically a titanium white mixture with a touch of earth tone (probably burnt sienna and/or burnt umber) and the top layer consisted of a mix of ultra blue and burnt umber. The cracks show white through the dark top layer. The back of the canvas is good so I don't think the ground (rabbit skin glue then gesso) has cracked through. It's just the top, dark layer. The painting was never varnished but is clean
My question is, should I try to darken those cracks, let dry and varnish or just watch it get worse and more noticeable?
Thanks for any help anyone can give.
P.S. My web site is www.janetkondziela.com The painting is under Drawings & Paintings in the Portraits Gallery and titled "Two Friends". You can see the cracking under the elbow of the man on the left.
Janet, that is an amazingly gorgeous painting. Hope somebody can tell you how to fix it. It would be a terrible shame to lose that.
Margo Schwirian Fine Art
Thank you, Margo. It took me a number of hours to complete so I would like to make it look the way it was. Thank goodness I almost always work alla prima now with very little overpainting so at least I don't have to worry so much about future cracking. Thanks again for your response.
I've had the same cracking happen to an oil painting. I had never heard of fat over lean at the time, so was a prime candidate for cracking paint. After I read all I could find about fat over lean, I decided to restart the piece on a new piece of board. I kept the cracked one as a reminder of my learning curve.
I wonder if you would want to sand down the painting where it is cracking, and use a fatter mixture to repaint that area? That would not be much fun, but if the area is a small one, might be worth the effort.
Or like you said, just paint on top of the cracks to cover them..
Check out our blog at http://helenalanspinney.wordpress.com/
Thanks for your comment.
The crackiing actually goes all around that left side of the arm. For whatever reason, later I decided that he needed more "heft" and painted about an inch more on that whole side. Since the cracking isn't just under the elbow but going up to his neck too, I don't think I want to sand that whole area. One of these days, when the cracks get too annoying, I'll probably at least darken them. Since the painting is where I see it every day, I am always reminded of the fat over lean rule.
I've switched over to water mixable oils and as I told Margo previously, I almost always work alla prima now so I'm not as concerned about cracking - everything should be drying at the same rate . I take it from your name that you work with the water mixable oils too. How do you like them?
JanetK, I think water mixable oils are the way to go in oils. Easy to work with, little or no scent, and brushes are easily washed up with soap and water. From what I hear, they handle like traditional oils, but I don't have the amount of experience with traditionals to be able to comment on that.
The only real disadvantage, I suppose, is that unlike the oil painters I read about in American Artist and Workshop magazine who often swear by an eclectic list of paints, I don't get to chose and experiment with paint colours from several manufacturers. My local suppliers carry only the Artisan brand of water mixables.
My wife and I both paint with water mixables, We're trying bigger size paintings now Our new paintings will be 24" x 36" canvases.
Janet, I went to your website. You're the one who did the painting of the guy on the diving board reading his magazine. That is such a neat painting. I know I have seen that elsewhere - in a contest or magazine? It's great.
Margo, thank you so much! I've had that painting in one local show (Dearborn MI) so I'm not sure where else you might have seen it. Of course, it is on the home page of my web site so maybe there. That painting is part of a series I did after vacationing in Key West. I used acrylics for it because the colors there are so intense I didn't think that oils would do them justice. The other 2 paintings are on the web site - Key West Tree under the Landscapes tab and Sittin' on the Dock under Portraits tab if you are interested. After I did those, I switched back to oils.
Do you have a site where your work is posted? I would love to see some of it.
Also, do you think that I might get a more definitive answer about my cracked paint if I posted the question under the Oil Forum? I'm rather new to the whole forum thing.
Janet, you can click on the picture (or avatar) or the name next to the picture and be taken to the "bio" page of anyone on this site. On their "bio" page, right hand lower corner, you will see all of the paintings that they have posted to the Member Gallery. Also, if you see a painting in the Member Gallery, and you want to see more paintings by that person, as long as they have entered their avatar name in the tag line on each painting, you can click on that name in the tags and go to one place to view all of their Gallery paintings.
I was wondering what medium(s), if any, you used on the piece in question? And was the underpainting dry to the touch before you painted the ultramarine/burnt umber over it? I suspect it was more of a medium problem than the choice of pigments, although the drying condition would be a primary concern.
If it makes you feel any better, I was surprised when I saw all the cracking in the darks of Salvador Dali's work when I visited a retrospective on him in the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years ago.
Nature knows no borders
Janet, I read on a flyer from Hobby Lobby, that you shouldn't place an oil painting near a heat vent or air conditioner because that can cause the paint to crack due to variations in temperature. Don't know if that could have had anything to do with this.
Thanks for your response. If my memory serves me right, the white pier that they were against was dry when I decided to alter the painting. I very seldom used any medium at all when I worked with traditional oils back then - didn't want the mess - but it seems to me that I was aware of the "fat over lean" rule and added some medium to the ultra blue/burnt umber/burnt sienna mixture, thinking that would be enough to fatten it up. So I guess the white (always Permalba) with a touch of burnt sienna/yellow ochre either wasn't dry enough or had more oil in the paint itself than I thought it did.
I'm still just wondering if I can darken the cracks so they're not as noticeable. Have you or anyone you know done that?
I've always had the painting in my studio or living room where the temperature has usually been kind of controlled. Of course, it's also been on an outside wall so maybe it picked some of the variations in the temperature from that. I'm in Michigan and we do get cold sometimes. For that matter, we get pretty hot sometimes too.
Do you know of anyone who's darkened cracks like that and have they been successful? Shpuld I put this question out in the "Oil" forum, do you think, to see if anyone has done that? I'm currently moving my studio after 6 years to a place closer to home so I'm not in any hurry to take on another project at the moment anyway.
On another note, I saw your work by going to your avatar/bio page. The cat is great, but I absolutely loved the Easter bird. Beautiful colors! I admire watercolorists such as yourself so much. I've done watercolor, but my heart (and wiring in the brain probably) makes me stick with oils.
Thanks for your interest and help.
I don't have the experience to know the answer to fixing the cracks, but I have been asking the question for you in a way. If you go to:
Forums >> Discussions by Medium >> Oil >> Mastering Oils, you will find some interesting discussion -- these may all be things that you already know, or you may pick up some new information. I am learning a good deal from the information. I will be on the lookout for information to pass along to you on that issue.
On another note, thank you for your comments on my painting. I do love watercolor, but I am trying oil now because there are so many things that I do love about oils as well. I am afraid that I am going to have to spend the rest of my life with both of these mediums vying for my heart. Oh well, there are other artist who have used oil, watercolor, acrylics, pastels -- loved them all -- and have lived to tell the tale. I didn't flunk doing my value scale today in oils, so there seems to be hope.
If you get a chance, check that forum out.
Thanks for your kind words when you responded to Margo5 regarding the thread we had been conversing over. I went to your website and looked at the painting you mentioned in your posting to Technical Q and A on Feb. 26. Based on your description of what you had done, you did indeed blow the "fat over lean" rule.
In this case, the painting has two problems: one is chemical, and one is technique.
The chemical problem, as you noted, stems from the fact that both ultramarine blue and burnt umber cure more rapidly than what you had underneath it. If you put out samples of paint of moderate thickness (say, 1/8 of an inch thick, spread with a palette knife) on a clean piece of glass, then leave it alone to dry at its own pace, you can compare how rapidly the various colors begin to oxidize and cure. This is a good experiment for any painter to try. Even if the colors are brand new from the same set and manufacturer, they won't all cure at the same rate.
Titanium white, without additives like clove oil or safflower oil to increase curing time, will begin to "skin over" in 3 to 5 days. Burnt umber will do it in 1 or 2. For titanium white, the "skinning over" reduces its rate of curing by sealing in its fluid center, whereas the burnt umber (which holds less oil to begin with) will set up pretty solid all the way to its base in about half the time it takes the titanium white to cure all the way down. Ultramarine blue, also cures a little more rapidly than the titanium white. So, when you painted the ultramarine/burnt umber mixture on top of the "titanium white mixture with a touch of earth tone" you set the stage for the cracking that followed.
If you want a light underpainting, the best way is to thin out your color of choice with mineral spirit or turpentine, just as you would make a light wash with watercolor by adding more water. When you reach the level of darkness you want, quit. Don't add white to it to "lighten" it, just thin the color out more. The volatile solvent (mineral spirit or turpentine) will evaporate out of it pretty rapidly, and you can paint over it the next day, if you want.
The technique problem has to do with painting dark over light. In oils, acrylics and alkyds, painting light over dark is the best way to achieve the effects you want. This is reversed in watercolor, which being transparent colors, the paper provides the white or light tones, and everything else has to accommodate to it, going gradually from light to dark.
Oil, acrylic and alkyd colors, for the most part, are opaque to varying degrees. Those that are more transparent, like alizarin crimson or ultramarine blue or viridian, for examples, are usually mixed with something else to provide the opacity the artist desires. Think about how colors work: we can only see color by the light reflected from an object. We see trees as green because the leaves absorb all other wavelengths of light except the greens and blues, which our eyes perceive (interpreted by our brains) as "green". A color-blind person might perceive it as a slightly rusty gray. Their brains perceive it differently because of an aberration in the rod and cone cells in the back of their eyes' retinas.
We only see objects at all because they reflect light. That same green tree, as the sun sets, appears to get darker and darker, until after sunset, our ability to percieve colored wavelengths of light is so impaired that it looks near black.
Adding light tones over dark mimics this process. Painting a subject's nose, or modeling the sides of a vase are all the same. We see shapes because of the relative strength of light reflected from the different planes or forms of the subject we're painting. So, if you work from darker tones to lighter in oil painting, you will see how powerful this is. Rembrandt's paintings, portraits in particular, utilize this technique.
As to the specific problem with your painting, it is completely cured by this time, several times over. The cracks shouldn't get any worse, as long as the support is stable or not flexed too much, so if the canvas is relatively tight on its stretchers, it should remain stable. You said the painting was never varnished, which is an advantage, as you won't have to partially remove varnish. The surface, however needs to be given a little "tooth" so your touch-up with stick. Slip a square of chipboard or other card stock between the stretcher bar and the back of the canvas, large enough to provide support under the area you want to repair. You need to provide additional support behind that spot on your table top, (something like folded cloth or a stack of paper the right thickness) to press lightly against the back of the canvas behind the chipboard at the repair spot when the painting is laid on top of the supporting items. You should see a faint bit of pressure from the front of the painting when it is lying flat over this. Get some fine textured emery cloth from a hardware store or building supply center; not sandpaper, because it's too stiff. The emery cloth should be flexible enough that it can be wrapped around a pencil eraser. Use the emery cloth to "sand" the cracks, opening them up a bit, and smoothing the sharp rim of the cracked paint. Think of it like a tiny canyon, with sharp edged rims on either side; you want to "bevel off" or "smooth off" that "crest" at the top of the canyon rim. This also will help you to blend your colors back into the area. If you just fill the crack with paint, it will look just as bad as it does with the white showing through. After you smooth it out, brush it out with a fine-textured dry brush or vacuum cleaner (even better) to remove any loose particles. You are now ready to retouch.
Then before you start mixing colors, spray the area you're repairing with a light spray of retouch varnish; just enough to add a faint gloss when you look across the surface from a low angle toward a light source. The "wet" look will enable you to more accurately match the correct hues of what you already have on the surface. To give a smoother appearance, I also suggest you add a "filler" into the cracks by using a bit of Liquin Alkyd medium (in this case as a repair compound) to act like body filler on dented sheet metal. Paint it directly into the cracks, making it look as smooth as you can. Mix it with a bit of color to make it blend in, then give it about three days to dry completely. Then do your final retouching and color blending. Take your time and feather the edges of the painted area into the surface already painted. You could use a tiny bit of Liquin again, if you want it to dry fast, but I would suggest not using it, because It will be such a thin layer that it probably won't matter. Besides, as it begins to dry, you may see places that will need additional adjustment, and if the paint isn't completely dry, any adjustments can be blended right in and still adhere to the underlying layers.
Give all this about two or three months to dry, then varnish it. Hope this helps.