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.