Scott Gellatly


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Painting: from a verb to a noun

On a Saturday afternoon in late October, I drove five large oil paintings through a torrential Portland downpour to Brian Marki Fine Art gallery on the other side of town. As I've done in years past, I varnish the large paintings at the gallery, away from the sawdust that has overtaken my studio from the framing process.

This was a very satisfying errand for me...handing off what amounts to a year's worth of artistic output for the gallery to install and light properly - which they do an amazing job of.

The exhibition wouldn't officially open until the following Friday, and I would wait to see the show until then. I wanted to see the work fresh, along with everyone else.

These few days between delivering a show and seeing it is a special time. It the time between painting being a verb and before it becomes a noun. Like most painters, I revel in the process of painting - whether it is putting color onto a surface, varnishing, framing, or driving the work across town - it is all part of the process. Friends, family and collectors come to admire the work, which I'm grateful for. To me, the paintings are simply remnants of a process that has become an essential part of my life.

So, with that said, here are some installation pics of Native Shores and Distant Sands, on view at Brian Marki Fine Art through November 2015.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why Varnish?

As painters, you might know that other painters do it. As collectors, you might know that some of your artists do it.  So…what is varnishing and why is it important?

Picture varnishes serve two important functions – first, a varnish layer protects oil paintings from environmental dirt and dust.  The second reason is based on aesthetics – artists varnish because they like the way varnishes increase the sense of depth in oil paintings, or to achieve a uniform surface quality on their finished works. This article briefly discusses both of these concerns, for the artist and the collector.

Protecting Our Paintings
It is generally recommend that finished paintings are varnished, unless the artist truly dislikes the look.  Unvarnished paintings are vulnerable to aging in ways that varnished paintings are not. As an artist myself, I know that once a painting leaves my studio, I give up control over how and where the painting is hung and how it is cared for. Very few, if any, private collectors keep their homes at the uncontaminated levels and controlled climates that museums do.  

There are two important criteria that a quality picture varnish must have – first, the varnish must be water-clear to not change or alter the color scheme of the painting below. Second, the varnish must be easily removable in the future.  The top-most layer of any painting will ultimately take on a layer of dust and dirt.  Varnishes provide a non-porous layer which will prevent the dust and dirt from being imbedded in the more porous paint layers below (see diagram below).

If and when the painting needs to be cleaned, the varnish layer can be easily taken off of the painting, along with the dust and dirt that has accumulated on top. In this way, a varnish should be thought of as a discrete, “sacrificial” layer to the rest of the painting below.

Enhancing the Painted Image
It is not uncommon for paint layers to dry to different surface qualities. Some pigments used in oil colors require more oil and dry with more gloss, other pigments require less oil and dry matte. Varnishing is an excellent way of unifying the surface quality of paint layers.  But what type of surface is right for the painting? High gloss? Dead matte?  Something in between?  Finding the appropriate surface quality is a very personal choice.  Gloss surfaces beautifully saturate dry paint layers and increase the sense of depth in paintings. Matte surfaces give paint layers a very direct appearance, but can lighten the darkest values of a painting.  Historically, representational painters preferred a gloss surface because of the increased sense of depth. Abstract painters adopted matte surfaces to enhance the physicality of paint layers. This, of course, is an over-generalization. What’s most important is that painters find the right surface quality for their work.

The other aspect of this is how the environment affects the viewing of the work once the painting is installed. Paintings that have a gloss surface can be difficult to see if they are not lit properly.  This can take away from the painted image to the point of being distracting. Fortunately, the surface quality of the final varnish layer can be easily modified to accommodate both the painter’s aesthetics and the painting’s environment.

Contemporary Varnishes 
Traditional dammar varnish and other natural resins make a durable top layer but they do yellow and darken over time becoming increasingly difficult for conservators to remove when they clean paintings. In the mid-20th century, acrylic resin varnishes were adopted because of their stability of color. However, these varnishes changed the look of paintings, so many conservators went back to the use of dammar, along with its tendency to yellow with age. 

In the early 1990’s, Robert Gamblin collaborated with Rene de la Rie at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, to bring a contemporary varnish to the studio painter. The research that came out of the National Gallery identified one of the most stable resins to be used as a picture varnish. This resin not only beautifully saturates dry paint layers, but is also formulated into a varnish with a very mild solvent. Equally as important, this varnish can be removed with a mild solvent. Gamvar Picture Varnish has now been available to painters for two decades.   

To Varnish, or Not to Varnish
Similar to finding the appropriate frame for a painting, applying a varnish is an excellent way of putting a finishing touch on a work of original art. Not only does a final varnish coat unify and saturate color, but it plays an invaluable role in protecting your deeply-valued painting, whether you are the creator or collector. 

In short, Varnish!

Scott Gellatly
Product Manager, Gamblin Artists Colors

Additional references:

Sneak Peek for my November 2015 exhibition at Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland

This year's exhibition, Native Shores and Distant Sands, at Brian Marki Fine Art includes a collection of plein air paintings created throughout the year, as well as five larger studio paintings. What's unique about this show is that I've included a number of paintings done during, and in response to, my travels down to the Palm Springs area, where Brian now has his second gallery.

Exploring the contrasting landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest has always resonated with me, artistically. This was the subject of my exhibition, also at Brian Marki Fine Art, in 2009. Fortunately, my frequent work-related travels down to Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico allows for some time to paint the area's exposed terrain, unique light and color palette.

Show runs November 2 - 30th. Opening reception on Friday, November 6th, 5 - 8pm.

Top image: Wetland in Spring, oil on panel, 9" x 15"
Bottom image: Aconto, oil on panel, 12" x 12"

Friday, October 2, 2015

Studio Visit

Welcome to my studio.

Years ago, I visited the home of a prominent Portland painter whose home (and studio) was under massive construction at the time. He shared with me that he produced an entire solo gallery exhibition at his kitchen table. The inspiring take-away here was that painters need to paint, whenever and wherever necessary. We need to find any means necessary to make painting fit into our lives.

Having said that, I am fortunate to have a dedicated space in which to produce my work. This blog serves as a peak behind the curtain into my space and process, for fellow artists and collectors alike.

Enjoy the visit!

(And, no, it isn't as clean as it looks in the pictures.)

The space is a detached, two-car garage that was remodeled over the course of three years. I promised myself that this conversion would be self-funded, so it was done a bit at a time. As my studio work is informed by my plein air paintings, its helpful to have a number of plein air works visible at once. The small pieces shown here, all painted in 2015, are from both the Northwest, as well as from the Palm Springs area.

Foundation to ceiling north-facing windows provide consistent natural light into the studio.  That's the idea at least...the cruel irony is that I usually use the studio at night...after the kids are asleep. Oh well.

Building up color and texture on a recent studio painting.

My palette.

At work. I usually have multiple paintings going on at once. I find this helps the work relate to each other in color and feel.

The work shown here will be in my November exhibition, Native Shores and Distant Sands, at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland, OR. Show opens November 6th.

Thank you to Carrie Judah for the wonderful photography.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Northwest Impressions at Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland, OR

How is it this time of year again?  I think it should still be summer, but alas, the kids have been back to school for two months, Halloween has come and gone and, for that matter, so has Election Day.

But here we are, the first week of November, and it is time for my annual exhibition at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland.  I've now been with the gallery for 14 years and have had solo November shows almost every one of those years.

This show is a bit different, as I'll be sharing the gallery with two other Portland-based artists: Aimee Erickson and Eric Bowman.

Ok...they're not just "Portland-based artists," but good friends whose work I've admired for years. In short...this show should be BLOCKBUSTER!

Through my work for Gamblin, I travel all over the country and am fortunate to meet and work with a number of excellent painters.  This makes me realize, however, that there is something very special about the group of painters we have here in and around Portland, many of whom are starting to receive well-deserved national recognition.  Aimee and Eric are two such painters...and it's a pleasure to show with them.

As for my work, the last couple exhibitions at Brian Marki has explored specific themes - Urban/Rural in 2012 and The Sky Suite in 2013.  This year, I've been focusing on simply getting out in the field and making good paintings - true to the spirit of plein air painting with a eye toward light and atmosphere and a bravado toward mark-making.

Here are a preview of some of the work included in the exhibition:

Carlton Vista, oil/panel, 14" x 18"

Coast Range Foothills, oil/panel, 8" x 10"

Northwest Sound, oil/panel, 12" x 16"

Vista Clearing, oil/panel, 24" x 36"

Park Block Crossing, oil/panel, 11" x 14"

Wallowa Sunrise, oil/panel, 12" x 12"

Northwest Impressions runs from Nov. 6 - Dec. 31, 2014.  Opening reception: Friday, Nov. 7th, 5-8pm. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Sky Suite

My most recent exhibition of paintings, entitled The Sky Suite, opens in November at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland, OR.  As the name suggests, this year’s show explores the dynamic qualities of skies and clouds. 

So, why clouds?
Painting skies, and clouds in particular, has been a long-standing interest of mine and has been a theme in my work for years.  Capturing the unique atmosphere and light of the Pacific Northwest continues to be one of my main intensions through my landscape paintings. In addition, I’ve always been drawn to both abstract and representational painting. I recall a former painting instructor who stated, “the best representational work is abstract and the best abstract work is realistic.” This still resonates. 

So, this recent foray into painting skies and clouds, for me, has been the perfect marriage of plein air, representational, and abstract painting.

Humble, Practical Beginnings…
This series of paintings had a very practical beginning, well over a year and a half ago.  Needing to “kick the tires” on an early batch of Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel that I was developing, I had to get some painting done one evening.  With my better half working late and watching my boys in the backyard, I simply set up my plein air gear and looked up.  The glowing clouds in the late spring sky become my available subject matter, so I knocked out a few 6” x 6” studies. These early paintings are included in the show and sparked the whole series.

The Sky Suite opens November 1st at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland, OR.  Show runs through the month. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Master Palettes: Exploring Color Mixing

Earlier this year I was invited to teach an online workshop through the Craftsy website. This gave me the opportunity to explore a subject that has fascinated me for years – color.  Ok, not just color, but exploring how color has evolved over the history of oil painting and the profound effect that the expansion of artists’ color palettes have had on the evolution of painting.

This workshop also explores a theme that I have shared with painters through my work with Gamblin – namely how to make color personal.  We all come to painting with unique intentions and interests.  We as painters should build a color palette that supports those intentions. Sure, we could use a standard impressionist palette for a lot of uses, but how can we build a color palette that is truly personal – one that expresses our unique artistic vision?

Explore these concepts in my new online Craftsy class Master Palettes:Exploring Color Mixing, and develop and define your artistic voice with the foundation of color theory.

Using the distinct color palettes of Classicism, Impressionism and Expressionism, we’ll create three paintings that evoke the elegance and energy of each respective era. You’ll begin your foray into color theory with an exploration of the key concepts behind successful color mixing; value, hue and chroma. Learn how to accurately replicate any shade, lighten and darken value, and use complimentary colors to alter intensity as we explore color’s prismatic principles and analogous properties. Once you have a firm grasp on color theory, you’ll develop an underpainting that serves as the compositional road map for each of your paintings, informing your work with tonal and spatial relevance.

Next, we’ll use the muted earth colors of the Classical palette to capture the timeless elegance of the classical masters. Derived from the natural world, these shades allow you to expand the value range of your underpainting, refining your work with light and shadow. Using negative space and contrast to create visual interest, you’ll complete a sophisticated still life that embodies the style of the Renaissance.

In our second work we’ll move on to the Impressionist palette, a high-impact array of colors made up of the brighter metal-based mineral pigments of the Industrial Revolution. We’ll focus on achieving greater visual vibrancy through true replication of natural colors, color harmony and defined details, creating a luminous painting that reflects the era’s emphasis on light and movement. The intense pigments of the 20th century make up our final palette; here, we’ll modify and replace colors for a more expressive approach to our subject matter.

Enroll in Master Palettes: Exploring Color Mixing, and join me on a journey through the three eras of pigment history to find your unique artistic voice.