Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Aging Well: Permanence and Water Soluble Oils (Water Soluble Oils, Part 3)

Aging well for an artist is a double-edged sword, isn't it? On the one hand, we ourselves experience the fullness of time; our eyesight weakens, our hands don't always catch on to what our brains tell them to do and so on. With the other hand--and more relevant to this discussion--comes the bittersweet reality that what we create here on earth will also suffer at the hands of time.

I call it bittersweet because many of the finer things in life become better with age--just like we hope our work will do. And, that is our expectation more often than not. We expect fancy restaurants to present us with a wine list befitting their three- and four-star ratings. We expect older homes to have a charm that newer constructions simply don't possess. Though in the US we don't see this as much, but elsewhere in the World, the elderly are looked on as vessels with something meaningful to impart from their well-lived years on this planet.

And so it is with the works of artists. My students are often aghast at the prices fetched for masterworks. In an effort to pull them out of their consumable- and entertainment-driven stupor, I like to point out most ancient civilizations aren't remembered for their dignitaries or sports; rather it is the art and literature they created that stands the test of time.

Suffice it to say, the paintings that artists create will undergo changes because of time. The important issue to be discussed presently is how will water soluble oil paints stand up to those imminent changes? On the whole, the evidence would indicate very well.

In a previous post, I introduced the major players and their water soluble brands. Standing behind these players looms the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and their tests form the benchmark of light fastness, or how much exposure it take before colors begin to degrade. Their work is essential because it helps ensure the artwork that I have in my living room will look the same when it is handed down to my great-great-granddaughter in 75-100 years.

There are several factors that affect permanency. One is application. It doesn't matter how good you think you are; if you don't follow time-honored rules of painting then your work will suffer. Winsor & Newton sums up those rules well (emphasis mine):
  • Fat over lean (flexible over less flexible). When oil painting in layers, each successive layer must be more flexible than the one underneath. This rule is maintained by adding more medium to each successive layer.
  • Thick over thin. Thick layers of oil colour are best applied over thin under layers. Thin layers on impasto paintings are likely to crack.
  • Slow drying colours should not form continuous under layers as any faster drying layers on top may crack.
Another issue affecting permanence is lighting. UV lighting damages paint. Period. Thus, we have museums with special lights, darkened rooms for more sensitive mediums such as pastel, UV glazes and special UV glass covering up priceless artworks. It's impossible to oversee where and in what light your work will be seen after it's purchased. However, informing your clients of the effects of UV light on painted surfaces would be a kind way for them to protect their investment . After all, most buyers aren't conservationists so any advice you give them may get you more sales. In essence, you caring for your client is also you caring for your artwork. (Can you hear it? It's Elton John singing "Circle Of Life.")

The following have specifications which either specifically mentions ASTM ratings or utilizes internal testing protocols based off of the ASTM standards. Click the links below to visit the technical specifications and color charts. (You may find the color charts helpful before you try one of these brands:
The fact that a company may choose to conduct its own tests based on ASTM guidelines shouldn't necessarily raise red flags for an artist. Why? First, these companies have been around for a long time. This means they have spent time creating processes to make their business better. Secondly, you can do what I did and cross-reference the information on the manufacturer's primary product. If those products use the same rating system as their professional-quality oil colors then you know their water soluble line is equally important to them. And, thirdly, we're dealing with companies with reputations they need to uphold. They can't afford to mislead the public and thereby destroy the brand they've spent millions of dollars trying to build.

So, there you have it. I hope that this gives you a springboard upon which to learn more on your own about these companies and their fine products. Any questions or comments, please let me know.