I have never painted before - how do you recommend that I start?

I have done some drawing and watercolor, but I would like to learn oil painting. Can you give me some tips on how I should start?

Can you recommend any good books on drawing, painting and design?

How do I paint realistic images?

What are the differences between oil and acrylic paints?

Can I mix oil and acrylic paints? Can I paint over an acrylic painting with oil painting, or vice versa?
I have never painted before - how do you recommend that I start?

First, I would recommend that you draw for at least a couple of months before you attempt painting. I have four drawing exercises on this site - ContourMassGesture, and Mechanics of Drawing - that are good for beginners. I also have lessons in Figure Drawing and Perspective for Artists, that are available for a small fee. If you plan to paint occasionally as a hobby, I would suggest using canvas panels or pre-stretched and pre-primed canvases to start with, rather than stretching your own canvases. These are sold in art supply stores, some office supply stores, or on the Web at www.utrechtart.com. You can buy 37-ml. tubes of the main colors (either oils or acrylics): cobalt or ultramarine blue, ivory black, cadmium or venetian red, cadmium yellow or yellow ochre, permanent green light, burnt umber (brown); and a medium (37-ml.) or larger (122-ml.) tube of titanium white. For oil paints, you will also need refined linseed oil (a small bottle), and distilled turpentine (a small bottle). You can get a small round acrylic or oil painting brush for detail; a larger bright or flat for large areas; and a large filbert (wide, rounded brush), if you wish. (Use the size of brush you feel comfortable with; numbered sizes vary with manufacturer.) You need a container for your medium (oil and turpentine for oils, water for acrylic); I use baby food jars; and a brush cleaner (I use a commercial art brush cleaning product); and a palette - they come in wood, metal and disposable paper - I use a pad of disposal paper palettes - no clean-up! If you can afford it, an easel is good. Standing easels can be very expensive, but you can get a table easel for a reasonable price, that can be folded when not in use. See Painting Materials for detailed information on these materials, and Stretch Canvas for a description of canvas types.
If you plan to make painting a serious hobby or profession, then I would recommend that you eventually stretch your own canvases with canvas fabric and wooden stretchers (See Stretch Canvas). You will need a jar of gesso primer to prime your canvases, and a gesso brush for this, as well as an artist's small hammer, a heavy-duty stapler and staples - see Painting Materials. You can get more colors than the basic ones (blue, red, yellow, green, black, white, burnt umber) - like orange, violet, flesh color, earth colors like burnt siena, yellow ochre, and raw umber (gray-brown). I would also get a few more brushes - round, filbert, and flat or bright - in small and larger sizes. For oil paints, you will also need refined linseed oil, distilled turpentine, and a palette of wood, metal or paper (I recommend a pad of disposable paper palettes - no clean-up!)

Start by painting two simple objects, like pears or apples, in a bowl or plate (see Still Life). Paint at least a few of these simple still lifes, and then you can paint more complex still lifes, or landscapes or figures, once you've gotten used to using a brush and paint, and painting simple forms. Look at a lot of art, to see how others have created images.
I have done some drawing and watercolor, but I would like to learn oil painting. Can you give me some tips as to how to start?

You can either buy canvas panels or readymade stretched canvases, or stretch your own, depending on how much painting you plan to do. If you decide to stretch your own canvases, see the materials and tools you will need at Stretch Canvas. You will need 37-ml. tubes of paint of the main colors, depending again on how much painting you plan to do (blue, red, yellow, green, ivory black, titanium white, burnt umber); and more colors if you feel you will need them. See Painting Materials  and Stretch Canvas for more detailed information. You will need brushes for oil painting - round, bright or flat, or filbert; refined linseed oil and distilled turpentine for a medium; a wood, metal or paper palette (comes in a pad); and a standing or table easel, if you can afford one (aluminum are generally cheaper than wood). You will also need a brush cleaner (there are many commercially available to clean art brushes); and a container for the medium (I use baby food jars).

To get started, I recommend setting up a simple still life with a few objects, such as a couple pieces of fruit in a small bowl. (See Still Life Lesson.) If you put a colored or patterned cloth under the objects, you can have a more interesting "background" in the work; the background will cease being just 'background,' and become as integral to the composition as the objects in the painting. When you get the hang of mixing colors and painting with oils, you can try more complex still lifes, or painting landscapes outside; and then try portraits and figures. Paint what you are most interested in, whatever that is, and look at a lot of art - in books, museums and art centers, to get ideas, to be inspired, and to study how the good painters did it.
Can you recommend any good books on drawing, painting and design?

There are a few good books on drawing that I would recommend: For beginners, I recommend The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicolaides, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards (there is an updated version of this book now.). For more advanced drawing, I recommend The Art of Drawing by Bernard Chaet of Yale University. For design, there is Cezanne's Compositions by Erle Loran, for beginners; and Vision in Motion by Moholy-Nagy for more advanced students. As far as painting books, there are many available in art supply stores and general bookstores which offer techniques for general and specific purposes (portraits, landscapes, etc.). However, I don't recommend these "technique" books for students; they offer short-cuts, rather than information about more substantial design elements and principles; plus they tend to offer a "homogenized, one size fits all" way of thinking, which I believe is not conducive to individual creative thinking or painting. Try to find a book published in a university press, for beginners, but describing design principles and encouraging individual approaches. (The Internet is a good place to find such books - try Barnes & Noble, etc. and search for 'art education' or 'painting instruction'; or search the Net with 'art education book' or 'book painting instruction', and see if any are published by a university press.)
How do I paint realistic images?

To draw and paint naturalistic images (the appearance of objects), I recommend doing a lot of drawing. This takes a little time, but is well worth the effort. You can start with ContourMassGesture and Mechanics of Drawing. After you have at least 2 months of drawing experience, you should start to see some improvement in your representational (realistic) paintings. When you use shading of lights and darks in your drawings, you can then transfer that technique to your paintings, to give objects a sense of three dimensional form. Learning perspective and other spatial cues by drawing from life will give your paintings a sense of space - that some objects are closer to the viewer than others - by the placement, size, overlapping and sharpness/paleness of objects in your picture. (See Design Elements.) Working from life, as opposed to memory or photos, also helps you to learn to "see" nature. And, doing many such studies over a period of time is the best way to learn to observe the scene, people or objects in front of you.
What are the differences between oil and acrylic paints?

Oil paints, which have been in use since the 15th century, use oil as the medium to bind the color pigments together. They were the dominant medium used until recently, when acrylics were developed (in the 1960's). Oil paints have the following characteristics: they generally are slow-drying; they tend to be richer and more luminous on the painted surface; and if applied correctly, will last many, many years. The longer drying time is good for painters who work slowly, like myself; they will remain wet while you are working on the painting, and generally take from 24 to 72 hours (sometimes longer) to dry. This slow to dry quality also means that tubes of oil paint have a much longer shelf life than acrylics; I've had some of my tubes for 20 years - this is economical.
Acrylics are a water-based, polymer (plastic) material, which means that they dry very, very fast - sometimes on the brush while you are working. There are extender/retarder mediums which can be added to acrylic paints to delay this drying time while working, as well as products which can give a glossy coat to the generally more matte appearance of acrylics. A disadvantage of acrylics is that often the colors will change when they dry (to a slightly lighter shade, for example). The shelf life of acrylics is much less than for oil paints. Because of their plastic makeup, acrylics are thought to "last forever"; however, only time will confirm this. Acrylics are, however, the most popular type of paint used nowadays, and probably the biggest reason is that, for painters who like to work fast, the fast-drying acrylic paints allow for putting more color on without it mixing with the layers underneath, as happens with oil paint. With oil paint, the beginner can get frustrated, as attempts to add color to the painting can result in a "muddy" mess of colors, as well as thickness of the paint layer. With experience, however, and various learned methods, oil paint can be mastered. I personally feel that oil is a very "forgiving" medium - more so than watercolor, for instance - because if you paint something you don't like, you can simply wipe it off, or let it dry and paint over it, very easily, without anyone knowing the difference. So for me, it is less intimidating than watercolor - because with watercolor, if you mess up, that's it, so to speak. With oil, you can go on forever, adding new or covering up the old. Acrylics are the same - you can cover the old right away, because it dries right away. If you are unsure which to use, try a couple of tubes of each - separately - because oils and acrylics do not mix together. (Acrylics use water as a medium.) There are new alkyd paints now, which are water-based, yet can be mixed with oil paints. I haven't tried them yet, however, so I can't comment on their characteristics.
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 Art Terms 
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How do I prevent wrinkles when I stretch my own canvases?

Try to purchase canvas from a roll, rather than pre-folded, in a store, and when you bring it home, roll it yourself over a cylinder of cardboard or other material for storing. If you do fold it, fold it very loosely and don't place any weight on top of it which would permanently crease the material. You can order canvas through a catalog (such as from Utrecht); when ordering, specify rolled canvas instead of folded. When you stretch a canvas with slightly wrinkled canvas, the wrinkles will smooth out with stretching and more later with the gesso primer you apply before painting.

With experience, you will learn to get the proper tightness when stretching your canvases. If the canvas is stretched too tightly, it will cause the wooden stretchers to warp into an 'unflat' frame. If not stretched tightly enough, the canvas will sag or wrinkle. Use specially made canvas pliers (sold in art supply stores or at Jerry's Artarama and others online) to pull the canvas tightly before stapling it to the stretchers. When you are stapling the canvas (from the middle to the outside, as described in Stretch Canvas), check often to see that there are no bulges or loose canvas on the painting surface. If there are, remove the staples in the loose area, pull the canvas tight with the pliers, and re-staple the area. The canvas doesn't have to be 100% taut when the canvas has been stretched over the stretchers - when you prime the canvas with gesso (before painting), the canvas will tighten about 3-4% more.
How do I get rid of wrinkles in an already stretched canvas or painting?

Wrinkles which are not severe may be remedied. If the canvas has not been painted on yet, it can be tightened by removing the staples near the affected area(s), pulled taut with canvas pliers (sold in art supply stores or catalog, such as Utrecht), and restapled. It is best, though, to catch the wrinkles before the whole canvas has been stretched.

If the stretched canvas has already been painted on, but not yet framed, there are two possible remedies, although you should proceed with some caution. The layer of paint on the surface of the canvas can be delicate, and it is possible to damage this surface, doing permanent harm to it. One remedy is to dampen the back side of the painting slightly; when drying, the canvas will "shrink" slightly, tightening the wrinkles. I do not 'officially' recommend this procedure, except with a painting which is not of great monetary or sentimental value to you. I have done this a few times myself, in a pinch, and it worked without damaging the surface; but it is not generally a good practice. Another possibility is to remove the staples at the affected areas, as described above; again, however, you need to be careful with the painted surface. Pull gently, and not very tightly - a slightly wrinkled surface is far better than a damaged surface. There is a product available now that can be sprayed onto the back of the canvas to remove wrinkles; I haven't used it so I can't say if it is effective. You can search online or ask your art supply store for this product.
A third (and safer) possibility is to take the painting to an art restorer or good professional framer, to have it re-stretched or tightened. If the painting has been framed, this will be necessary, since the frame will need to be removed and replaced after this process is finished. If the painting is valuable to you, this is the best course to follow.
What is varnish used for?

There are many different kinds of varnish, which are used for various purposes in painting. The subject of varnish is a very complex one, and also can depend on the personal preferences of each painter. I recommend reading The Artist's Handbook to Materials and Techniques, by Ralph Mayer, a big book which gives detailed information on virtually every art material used, and which is updated periodically to include new materials, which are always coming out. The main reason for using varnish is to protect the painting surface from exposure to various elements; other purposes include altering the fluidity of the oil paint, shortening or lengthening drying time of the paint, glazing, equalizing the "sheen" of the paint in all areas of the painting, and to retouch areas of the painting. Varnish comes in liquid and spray form; it also comes in glossy and matte form. Often several different mediums are combined to create one's own preferred varnish medium - oils, turpentine and shellacs. Also, there are bottles of pre-mixed varnish mediums available in many varieties.
There are many variables in combining different materials - which have certain characteristics when used. One might make the paint thicker and more viscous, which one painter might prefer, and another not. Also, certain mediums (like linseed oil) tend to yellow with age; others may have a tendency to cause cracking eventually. These advantages and disadvantages are what make varnishes a very complex and personal issue. My advice is to read Mayer's above-listed book, and weigh these advantages and disadvantages according to your most important concerns.
Varnish can be mixed with the painting medium (oil and turpentine), or applied when the painting is dry, again depending on the painter's preference. I prefer to add it when the painting is dry, as it can tend to thicken the paint and cause a slight "drag" when the brush makes its strokes. Varnish should only be applied when the painting is COMPLETELY dry - this is a minimum of 6 months, for the entire paint layer, depending how thick the paint layer is. For impasto (thick layer of paint), this can mean longer than 6 months. There is a temporary varnish which can be applied when the painting is dry to the touch, to protect the painting until the permanent varnish can be applied.

Examples of oils used in a painting medium include linseed oil and stand oil. Examples of varnishes are copal, damar and retouch varnish.
Another issue regarding varnish is the style of painting used by the artist. Traditional and academic painters tend to use traditional varnishing techniques (those used by the old masters). Modern painters (since the Impressionists) tend to be more casual about their mediums, and contemporary artists sometimes do not use varnish when painting. Again, the issue of varnish is a very personal one - I recommend reading Mayer's book and choosing the medium which suits your purposes. If you are a beginner, I would suggest that you concentrate first on learning to paint - that is enough for now. Once you get some experience, you will know your preferences better, and be able to make a more educated decision regarding varnish.

The experts in art conservation recommend that, regardless of what medium you use, the amount of medium used in painting should be kept to a minimum. This means that, as far as the painting's surface lasting for many years without cracking, etc., the less medium used, the better. Paintings which have been painted with a thick impasto layer tend to develop cracks in time, for example.
Can I mix oil and acrylic paints? Can I paint over an oil painting with acrylic paint?

Oil-based and acrylic paints cannot be mixed. Acrylic paints are water-based. There is a new type of paint out now, called alkyd paint. Alkyd paint is oil-based, so can be used with oil paints. There are also water-based oils, which are not alkyds, that cannot be mixed with oil-based oil paints. You can never paint in acrylic over a painting previously done in oil paint. You can, however, paint with oil paint over an acrylic painting.
How do I prevent wrinkles when I stretch my own canvases?

How do I get rid of wrinkles in an already stretched canvas or painting?

What is varnish used for?

Is there something called the Golden Rule in art?

I have painted some pictures which I think are pretty good. How would I go about trying to sell them, and how do I know how much to charge for them?

How do I get ideas of what to paint?
Is there something called the Golden Rule in art?

There is a concept called the golden section, golden rectangle, or golden (divine) proportion, which is thought to have originated with the ancient Greeks, and developed more during the Italian Renaissance. It was and is applied to artistic principles, as well as other fields, such as architecture and design. The original idea was to create a principle of design and proportion based on a 'divine' rather than man-made notion. I have written more on this idea at: www.ndoylefineart.com/design2.html.

The idea of the golden section was based on a mathematical ratio as a way to divide up the (rectangular) space in painting, architecture, etc. Basically, according to this ratio, if you will be using a rectangle (a painting), the way to determine the best proportion of width to height is by this mathematical ratio, of approximately 1 to 1.6 (i.e., the height will be a unit of 1; the width will be 1.6 times 1. For example, if you have a height measurement of 12 inches, the width would be 19.2 inches). It is thought that Seurat and Mondrian may have used this ratio in their paintings, not only for the outside measurements, but for relationships of spatial divisions within their paintings.
I have painted a few pictures which I think they are pretty good. How would I go about trying to sell them, and how do I know how much to charge for them?

As far as selling your artwork, there are a few possibilities. One is to simply sell them yourself, to acquaintances, etc. In this case, you could price the works around the following criteria: 1) how much the materials cost you; 2) if they are framed, how much did the framing cost you; 3) add the amount you feel you would like to get in profit (based on the time it took you to paint them, etc.). Pricing artwork depends on many factors; but selling on your own would involve thinking of an appropriate amount to charge. Think of dollar amounts, and if they seem too low, go higher; if they seem high, go lower, until you get a happy medium. If you have been painting a relatively short time, this may cause you to start on the lower side of medium. The quality of the painting is also a consideration, as is its size, and the medium used, so for instance, you might charge more for an oil painting than, say, a watercolor painting.
You can also sell your work through a gallery, or at "sidewalk" art shows, local art center shows, and local/regional group shows. Galleries charge a commission (anywhere from 30% to 50%, or sometimes even higher), which you would add to the price you wish to receive for the work. A gallery will keep your work on consignment until it sells, at which time they will give you your percentage of the price. The best way to hook up with a gallery is to visit all the galleries in your local area; check to see which gallery your work would most fit with. Then, ask the gallery owner/manager about their artist review process; nowadays some galleries will accept JPG photos of your work attached to an email. Often you need to make an appointment to bring in your original work or photos of your work (which are good to have, since you will have a record of work you have sold, to show to galleries.) The gallery owner/manager can either accept your work on consignment, or they could tell you that your work is not appropriate for their gallery. You can have an estimated price in mind, but you can ask the gallery owner/manager for pricing advice, since they are familiar with your local area and the prices generally charged for artwork there. Sidewalk art shows are advertised in your local newspaper, and art centers usually have bulletin boards and pamphlets of upcoming shows. You can usually take 100% of the profit if a work sells, but there is often a charge for the exhibition space, payable by the day or weekend.
To get in open shows (anyone can submit work) and juried shows (one or more qualified people view work and select certain pieces) at local art centers, visit the centers. You can either become a member of the center ($40-75 annually), or find out when their open shows are held, get an application form and submit your work at that time for the show. Fees are usually charged to enter shows; sometimes becoming a member enables you to enter shows at no charge. There are open shows, and members-only shows, and these can be either juried or non-juried. In juried shows, you submit either the original work, or a quality photo of works entered (these should be of very good quality, where the work(s) can be seen very clearly). Sometimes you need to deliver the actual work to be juried (or sometimes both photos/ and original work need to be viewed).
There are usually also local or regional art shows that you can enter in your community, which you can find out about at art centers, local newspapers, and local art newspapers, if you have them. (Art galleries will often have samples of these newspapers.) Some shows are sponsored by non-profit groups as a way to raise funds (so they will take a percentage of the sales price, if the work sells). These may or may not have a fee to enter. Art organizations will also hold shows, which are sometimes open to all artists (there will be an application fee). All of these shows are usually juried, which means that a qualified individual (or more than one person) will choose a certain amount from all work entered, to be included in the show. In this case, you will also often need photos of your work to be juried; sometimes original work must be seen by the jury. Professional-looking images will definitely help your chances of being accepted; if you have a good camera, you can take them yourself; if not, a good printing/imaging/photo shop can often take good images for you. It is a good idea to take photos of your work as you go along, so you'll be ready for a show, and you will have a permanent record of your work. If your work will be framed under glass, you should take a photo of the work before it is framed, because the glass will prevent your getting a good image of the work (reflections).
As far as pricing your work, when you visit galleries and art centers, check to see how others price their work, to get an idea. Even so, pricing varies wildly, and is dependent also on whether the artist is a professional, how long they have been working and showing their work, and also the plain-old market value plays a part. If an artist can get a higher price for their work, it is OK to charge a higher price; for instance, if a certain artist's work is popular, it will generally sell for a higher price. On the other hand, if an artist charges more than an appropriate price for a work, this may be considered unprofessional by some in the art community (galleries, artists, etc.). Again, size is a factor. And, oil or acrylic paintings are generally priced higher than watercolor, pastel, pencil, etc. The quality of the work is also important.
Other possible ways to sell your work are the Internet (having a website or other Web presence), and specifically on Internet auctions (like e-Bay). There are host sites, such as Homestead and Geocities, where it is possible to create your own site fairly easily and cheaply. There are also many websites that you can join to display your artwork, usually for an annual charge.
How do I get ideas of what to paint?

When you are a beginner, this will be more of an issue than when you have painted for awhile. Eventually, ideas will come to you more often. It may be in a few months, it may be in a few years, but they will come. The thing is, they usually don't come out of nowhere - they mostly come from something you see, or hear about, and from your work itself. To get ideas right now, you can: 1) go to museums, art centers and galleries; 2) at your local library and on the Internet, look at many artists' work, especially the artists generally accepted as masters, in past times and in the present. Look for images which resonate with you, affect and move you, inspire you. 3) Start with objects you see around you - fruit, flowers, trees, knick-knacks, animals, etc. - whatever you are drawn to. Work mostly from life, rather than photos. You will find that one painting tends to produce another, as you think, "Maybe I'll try such-and-such next time, instead of such-and-such." 4) You can also start somewhere personally meaningful to you. (For example, after art school, I started with old family photos from the 1940's.) The process of working will lead you to develop your ideas, and lead you to new ideas. Try to become aware of what catches or holds your attention - and go there. For example, if you start by drawing landscapes from life - you may find that your interest is particularly in trees, or large simple shapes, or more in color than in drawing. You may start with pencil, then decide that what you really are after is the bold black-and-white of woodcuts or linoleum block prints. Art is a process of getting to know yourself - to become aware of your surroundings and your responses to these surroundings.
Eventually, you will zero in on what is more personally meaningful for you, conceptually and visually, and one thing will lead to another - or to a hundred other things. You can also learn what you don't want to do, through this process, and this is just as valuable a lesson. For example, in doing my still lifes, I did one which was mainly based on horizontals and verticals; so for the next one I decided to go more with diagonals, for a more dynamic composition.
There are also what are called 'invitational' shows, meaning that artists are invited to exhibit by a curator or organization, rather than being able to submit an application.
Figure Drawing
Perspective for Artists
Charcoal Lesson
Design: Sources
When stretching a canvas, where should the canvas be stapled to the frame? Is it better to staple the canvas to the sides of the frame or just to the back of the frame?

I have just begun stretching canvases; what is the best way to display and preserve my paintings? Does it cause damage to remove the canvas from the stretcher bars? Where do you find frames deep enough to accommodate the width of the stretcher bars?

How do I remedy a canvas which is warped?

I have an oil painting that has a few spots on it and would like to know if there is anything to use to try to clean up a painting.
When stretching canvas, where should the canvas be stapled to the frame? Is it better to staple the canvas to the sides of the frame or just to the back of the frame?

The traditional method for stretching a canvas is to attach the canvas to the sides of the frame, with staples or carpet tacks. Normally, stapling the canvas only to the back will not provide sufficient tension and tightness for painting. There are now commercially available specially stretched canvases which are attached on the back, appropriately constructed to provide the right amount of tension; these are generally designed this way so that the artist can continue the image onto the sides of the canvas stretchers (wraparound). This method also eliminates the need for the painting to be framed.
I've just begun stretching canvases; what is the best way to display and preserve my paintings? Does it cause damage to remove the canvas from the stretcher bars? Where do you find frames deep enough to accommodate the width of the bars?

It is not recommended to remove the painted canvas from the stretcher bars; artists sometimes do this, such as when they are transporting large paintings, but this can easily damage the paint surface. (Usually, the canvas is rolled up after being taken off; even this can cause cracking eventually.) Once the paint layer is cracked or punctured, it is extremely difficult to repair; even if painted over, the painting will probably eventually re-crack in the same place.

I recommend having paintings professionally framed, if you can; professional framers carry frames which are the proper depth for stretched canvases. Professional framers will use materials and methods which are designed to preserve the painting. If you prefer to frame your own paintings, you can either use an existing frame, or use molding from the lumber yard. If you look for existing frames, you may have a difficult time finding frames with the depth required to accommodate a stretched canvas; one possibility would be to search flea markets and garage sales for old frames used for paintings. If you decide to make your own simple wood frame, you can use corner molding available in lumber yards. Artists often use this "lattice stripping" or corner moulding to frame their work, especially their larger paintings. This comes in a variety of styles; in flat strips of 1" or 1-1/2" wide, and 1/4" to 1/2" inch thick. The edges can be straight or beveled; other corner moldings which may be more elaborate can also be used. Stripping comes in various color shades, such as pine and mahogany. Sometimes the lumber yard will cut it for you to the lengths you need; or you may have to buy the wood in 5 or 6 foot lengths and cut it yourself.
You can leave the wood strips natural, or you can stain or paint them before framing; they will need to be lightly sanded before painting, staining or use. You can cut the stripping pieces using a mitre box; a simple mitre box can be purchased for a not too high price. This cuts at a 45 degree angle so that the pieces can be joined together; otherwise, you can use a hand saw to cut straight edges, which will meet at the corners of the painting, one side overlapping to create a completely covered corner. You can either make the frame and then attach it to the canvas, or you can nail the four sides separately to the canvas, using thin 1" nails. Again, the preferred way would be to go to a professional framer, especially if you want to show your work publicly. This will also increase the price you can get for your work.
How do I remedy a canvas which is warped?

Warping can be caused by stretcher strips which themselves are warped or uneven, or a too tightly stretched canvas. When you buy stretcher strips at an art supply store, hold them against a flat surface, such as the side of a metal cabinet, to make sure they are not warped. If you realize a stretcher strip is warped after purchase, do not use it.

Sometimes, a stretched canvas becomes warped if its sides have not been stretched evenly. In this case, one corner of the canvas will protrude forward, unevenly with the other corners. If the warping is mild, it can often be corrected by placing it in a frame deep and strong enough to hold stretched canvases, such as those used by professional framers. Also, sometimes the problem can be corrected by bracing the back of the canvas with a strip of wood, or by attaching wood or metal braces across the corners, before the painting is painted. If the warping is severe, the canvas may have to be re-stretched - as long as this is done before the canvas has been painted on. Once the canvas has been painted, re-stretching can risk damaging the paint layer. Once a paint layer is damaged, it is extremely difficult to repair. Even if repainted, the cracking tends to recur eventually. If the canvas has been painted on, or if you are unsure as to how to proceed, I recommend taking the painting to a professional framer or art conservator to be fixed, if fixing is possible.
I have an oil painting that has a few spots on it and would like to know if there is anything to use to try to clean a painting.

Cleaning depends on whether your painting is an original oil painting on canvas, or if it is a reproduction on paper or board. There are various cleaning agents, from soft to more abrasive, however I would recommend that you take the painting to a conservation expert. If it is an original oil on canvas, you wouldn't want to take the chance of ruining it by trying to do it yourself, since different chemicals are involved with the oil paint, the medium used when it was painted, and any varnish products used during and after painting. A cleaner is also a chemical, and the combination of all these chemicals can damage a painting, possibly seriously. An expert will test the painting surface to see what chemicals are there, and also what the stain is composed of, to use the best and safest material to clean it. You can look in your yellow pages for 'art conservation,' 'art restoration,' etc. for a professional, or on the Internet for a conservator near you. If this is a print on paper or board, a professional will know how to clean its paper or board surface safely.
If you would rather not go this route, I would at least take it to a good local art gallery (some do conservation work), or a good professional framer (some of these do conservation work too). If this is a valuable original, or of great sentimental value, I wouldn't recommend that you try to do it yourself. I have cleaned minor spots and dust from my own works, with a damp cloth with a little mild dish detergent (only slight dampness and only a nano-tad of dish detergent (watered down greatly), but I generally do not recommend this, particularly for spots which are hard to remove.
Can hairspray be used in place of fixative spray for spraying pastel and charcoal work?

I am a third year painting student. My end of year assessment is in three weeks, and I am (or 'should' be) producing paintings. I have been feeling frustrated, wondering what I'm doing, believing I can't paint, letting the thinking get in the way of the doing. Your website is inspirational and a reminder to me of some of the reasons I went to art school.

I have done a pastel portrait for a friend, and would like to ship it to her in the safest and most reasonable manner possible. The portrait is not framed, is approximately 24" x 36", and I have used fixative on it. What do you recommend?
Can hairspray be used in place of fixative spray for pastel and charcoal work?

Art conservators warn against using hairspray as a fixative for pastel and charcoal drawings. One of their concerns is that usually the chemical contents of commercial hairsprays are not completely known, so the chemical reaction of hairspray on artworks is unpredictable. Some artists also recommend using caution in using hairspray as a fixative, saying that eventually the hairspray will turn yellow, and ruin the artwork. I would tend to agree that hairspray is not a good idea to use as a fixative. Try to stick with materials that were designed and created to use with art-making.
I am a third year painting student. My end of year assessment is in three weeks and I am (or 'should' be) producing paintings. I have been feeling frustrated, wondering what I'm doing, believing I can't paint, letting the thinking get in the way of the doing. Your website is inspirational and a reminder to me of some of the reasons I went to art school.

I'm really glad that you have been inspired by my website - that is my purpose in creating it. I know that education in the arts can sometimes be frustrating for students, and some schools can have a challenging program that can create stress or uncertainty for students. Part of this is unavoidable; the arts are a subjective field, not easily "gotten right" like math or science; and students are by definition just learning what can be an overwhelming combination of areas - drawing, painting, art history, art theory, design, current art theories, etc. The tendency to wonder about one's abilities, etc. is very common.
Most good artists have gone through this process; and wondering and questioning can even be a good thing, because it means that the artist cares much about his or her output, and his/her integrity. This uncertainty may continue for a long time, but I believe it lessens with experience. As you mature as an artist, you will be able to use the aesthetic lessons you've learned to produce your art; gradually your 'inner voice' will tell you how to make your art, and you will be less susceptible to the outer pressures of teachers and others. (See Getting Discouraged)

This pressure can feel overwhelming, sometimes so much that one is frozen and unable to work, especially while a student. The trick is to somehow work your way through this wall, and there are various ways to do this. A professor once told me, when I was feeling this way, to "just go out and paint the day," rather than agonize about what to paint, or try to create masterpieces. Another way is to allow yourself to do the artwork you most want to do, whatever that is; and you need to listen to your inner self to do this. When we work from our hearts, we do our best work.
I have done a pastel portrait for a friend, and would like to ship it to her in the safest and most reasonable manner possible. The portrait is not framed, is approximately 24 x 36", and I have used fixative on it. What do you recommend?

Any medium that will smear, such as pastel, charcoal or soft pencil drawings, need to be shipped in a way that won't damage their surfaces. These mediums, especially pastel and charcoal, are very fragile; pastel can not only smear, but if not handled carefully enough, can also flake off (if it has been applied thickly). And the truth is that fixative spray will only protect the image to a certain extent.

Actually it is better to ship these works unframed rather than framed under glass, since glass has the potential to break en route. Some shippers recommend framing with a new type of material (not glass, I'm not sure what this new material is - you might check with your framer or shipper to find this out.) I was told by one shipper that with standard shipping (UPS, FedEx, etc.) "fragile handling" is seldom possible, because everything is done by assembly line, rather than handled by humans. So, there are no guarantees as far as fragile handling. To ship an artwork with such a guarantee of fragile handling would cost, one shipper told me, about $1,000.
Having said this, there are ways to ship a delicate work on paper (unframed) that will normally get safely to its destination. My usual shipper (Pack 'n Ship) constructs a very thick cardboard carton for the work; the paper (with excess around the edges so the image isn't affected) is attached to the lower piece of cardboard; there is about 1/2" empty space above the image, and the top piece of cardboard is laid on over this, held up by shims, so nothing touches the image surface. There are various ways to keep the top piece up - one is by means of removable stickie pads that are sticky on both sides - hard to describe in words, but just a "shim" to keep the two pieces of cardboard away from each other. These stickies are placed every 2 inches or so all around the drawing at the outside edges. There are archival stickies sold in office supply stores which can do this. Another way is to use push pins in the same manner; the advantage to this is that the top piece of cardboard can rest on the top of the push pins, and if done correctly this will form a sturdy carton. This is then wrapped securely with tape, etc. I let my shipper construct the carton and wrap it, etc., so I know it is sturdy, rather than try it myself. This can then be sent by UPS, etc. this way, and I have had no problems with this so far.
It is possible for pastel, if applied thickly or otherwise, to flake off during shipment, if it is bounced around, etc., so there is really no 100% guarantee fo shipping pastel. If you live within a couple hours' drive, I would recommend delivering it in person just to make sure it is safe. Chances are, if it is packaged well for shipping, it will arrive OK; but if you are not that far away, it might be better to deliver it.

As far as price, it depends how far the package is being shipped, and how large it is. My stuff has averaged between 11" x 16" and 18" x 24", and runs anywhere from $30.00 to $80.00 to wrap and ship by ground UPS (within the U.S.), which usually takes 2-3 days to get there. There may be a way to lower this price by having a longer shipping time - I'm not sure about this because I've always gotten the 2-3 day shipping time. You can check with a shipping place, or UPS etc. about this. It usually costs a lot more to ship a stretched canvas painting.
I am a beginning acrylic painter. The problem I am facing is that no matter how I seem to mix colors, I can't seem to create colors that are really vibrant. Everything looks so flat and dull after the painting has dried. I am looking for a color that almost "glows" - is it possible to get really vibrant colors with acrylic?

I have discovered pastels, and I love them. But one recurring problem I have is with shadows. For instance, I've just painted three gourds which were on my windowsill. They are mostly orange/yellow in color. What do I use for the shadow areas? The grooves in the gourds are quite dark, yet I'm suddenly timid at reaching for those dark purple/blue colors. I'm afraid I'll muddy the brilliant oranges.

I am using the Golden Section to create a composition. I have calculated all the mathematical formulas to create the design, but I don't know how to superimpose my image onto this Golden Section design. Quite simply, is there any advice for using the rules of composition?
I am a beginning acrylic painter. The problem I am facing is that no matter how I seem to mix colors, I can't seem to create colors that are really vibrant. Everything looks so flat and dull after the painting has dried. I am looking for a color that almost "glows" - is it possible to get really vibrant colors with acrylic?

I am not an expert on acrylic paints; I've only used them a few times (oil suits me better). But from what I do know, acrylics tend to have less "sheen" than oils. One way to offset this is to use additives (mediums) in the acrylic paint - there are a number of things you can add to the paint to make it glossier, transparent, etc. Go to www.jerrysartarama.com or www.utrecht.com and search for their acrylic mediums, or send for their supply catalogs and find more information on various mediums available. You can also, I believe, add gloss medium after the painting has dried, to make it shinier (you might want to check this with the supply catalogs).
Another possibility to produce brighter colors would be to try to mix as few colors as possible to get the color you want. For instance, instead of mixing an aqua blue, try it straight from the tube, or only mixed with a little bit of other color, such as white. Rather than mixing yellow and blue, use green from the tube, etc. Mixing in browns and blacks, etc. will also dull the color. Mixing color complementaries (such as mixing red with green) will also dull the colors.

With acrylics, the color gotten after drying is often different than the color looked when first applied, so what you see isn't always what you get. Try to allow for this color change (understood by trial and error) when mixing your colors.

Another way to get colors to appear more vibrant is to place them next to colors which enhance their brightness - for instance complementary color pairs, such as yellow/violet, red/green, orange/blue, etc. Placing next to a darker color will also help a color look brighter.
I've discovered pastels, and I love them. But a recurring problem I have is with shadows. For instance, I've just painted three gourds which were on my window sill. They are mostly orange/yellow in color. What do I use for the shadow areas? The grooves in the gourds are quite dark, yet I'm suddenly timid at reaching for those dark purple/blue colors! I'm afraid I'll muddy the brilliant oranges.

Pastel is a wonderful medium, full of energy and brilliance. As far as dealing with shadows, there are many possibilities, depending on the particular painting and its colors. You might try indicating the shadows early in the process, rather than wait until the end, when they may seem more intrusive. Just indicate them lightly with a darker tone - perhaps not very dark, just a middle tone. You can use more than one color for the shadows - for instance, mix (on the paper) a dark orange or rust color (or burnt siena or Indian red) with violet - a medium tone reddish violet, or a deeper purple. (Be careful using blue or violet with yellow - that can create green.) Putting a medium pressure, rather than a firm pressure, might give depth without being too harsh. Using a color similar to the local color of the object (like the orange gourd) in shadow areas is good - it connects the two areas visually, minimizing the harshness of light and dark. With an orange gourd, using the colors listed above (dark orange, etc.) might work; with a yellow gourd, using yellow ochre, raw siena or raw umber over it might work.
Using complementary colors in the shadow areas is also a very common and useful tool, especially for Impressionist-style work. So, in the orange areas, you might try blue; with yellow you can try purple (either a reddish purple, or mix purple and raw siena to avoid green). But no technique is "universal" (used 100% of the time) - it all depends on the elements of each particular painting, which has millions of variables and possibilities. In some cases, like with the gourds, harsh shadows might take away from the form, or appear harsh or unnatural, so altering the usual complementary color might be more desirable - for instance Van Gogh preferred often to use great contrast of color for emotional expression, so distinct complementary colors would be his choice, whereas Monet used a more softened color harmony.

There are many possibilities - experiment with different colors and mixing layers of different colors, to see which works best. You can even try unexpected or unusual combinations of colors, just to see what happens and try every possibility.
I am using the Golden Section to create a composition. I have calculated all the mathematical formulas to create the design, but I don't know how to superimpose my image onto this Golden Section design. Quite simply, is there any advice for using the rules of composition?

As I describe on my website, the subject and "rules" of composition are very complex, since there are literally an infinite number of variables involved, with shape, color, space, and the other elements. So, it is impossible to give a recipe for good composition, particularly without seeing the picture or its elements.

In addition, although when studying, art students will practice a series of deliberate compositional strategies for learning purposes, the way artists compose is often based on their 'inner necessity,' meaning their expressive intentions in the work. There have been some artists, such as Seurat and Mondrian, who based their work on the Golden Section formula, and proceeded mathematically, but most artists do not do this. This isn't to say that using the Golden Section is not recommended, but you do not need to use this "pre-fabricated" type of composition. In art, the structure is based on the subject requirements, not the other way around.
Most decisions of composition are made intuitively, based on how you want your image to look. Trying different things visually, rather than with a mathematical formula, will be more valuable for you as a beginner, by looking, rather than by calculating ahead of time. This process develops your "eye" - the most important thing in visual art. My advice to you as a beginner, is to create many compositions not in a pre-meditated fashion, but rather to choose and assemble the various parts of your composition by various methods. One way is to paint in a "constructive" fashion - by sketching in the various parts of your image with a thin wash, keeping the sizes and positions of the forms tentative or sketchy until you are satisfied with their arrangement. Even then, you can always change your mind - just paint over it, the idea being that your images don't have to be written in stone until the painting is finished in your eyes. Another way to do this is to create compositions with paper, such as collage, by cutting or tearing shapes and arranging them in many ways, to study their relationships ahead of time. Still another way is to work on the computer (this is a faster method) - with Microsoft Paint or Microsoft Draw, or other painting/drawing program. With this method, you can change color, shape, position, etc. in the blink of an eye, and try every possibility. You can learn a great deal by doing these - even working with a digital photo on your computer, you can try arranging its various parts into compositions.
The main thing to realize, I think, is that art requires a different approach than we are used to in other areas, such as math and science. It is not a 'finite' or measurable approach, where there is one correct answer and we proceed logically to find this answer. It is not pursued in such a systematic, premeditated way; although students do systematic exercises in color or design, they are only a means to an end, and for artists this end is expression - to have the composition reflect the meaning of the image. The subject and composition are completely integrated from the beginning of the process, rather than surgically attaching the subject after the composition has been finalized. This wholeness is the stuff of art. While a student, try great numbers of possibilities; from these you will learn the building blocks to create your compositions to serve your expressive purposes. I would also suggest that you look at many good paintings to see how artists have constructed their compositions; copy them, to try to analyze their construction. Try to approach visually, rather than mathematically, especially as a beginner (artistically, rather than scientifically). Also, as a beginner, try to paint 'studies,' rather than masterpieces.

Paradoxically, the artistic impulse often comes through more when we are receptive, than when we are aggressively seeking it - the right side of the brain, rather than the left. Art is a gradual process of accumulating knowledge and self-knowledge, and the process is more important than any one single work.
How do I go about getting reproductions of my work made?
How do I go about getting reproductions of my work made?

In the past, getting reproductions made was expensive, especially color, and had to be done by printers, often with a minimum order of 500 or more. Now, with digital technology, it is possible to get a small number of reproductions done at a much lower price - even as few as one reproduction. At a good digital imaging company, you can get your work scanned, edited and printed with good clarity, etc. They can work from the original or from a good photo or slide, and the output can be any size. For example, I can take a slide, digital photo or an original; they scan, edit and print (they can even burn to a CD that you can take with you) as few as one copy, or many. They keep the file archived, so that once they have the image, you can get copies anytime in the future. The initial cost for scan, edit and print depends on size, but a medium-sized reproduction cost me about $100.00 (for one print). After this initial cost, additional prints are about $15.00 each. I have since started doing this myself, by getting a good digital camera and good scanner, and printing with a good large-format printer. But you need to make sure you are using permanent inks and paper.
You can look in your local Yellow Pages for a digital imaging company, or on the Internet. Many companies have an online presence, and may be able to do the process by mail. Some companies specialize in artists' reproductions. The image-editing process can sometimes be expensive - the company I went to charges $100 per hour for editing ($25 for 15 minutes). Make sure to find out about procedures and costs ahead of time, with each company.
Notes on Art-Making
Notes on Art-Making II
Self-Critique of My Work
Digital Photographs
Evolution of a Painting
Nancy Doyle
   Fine Art