Friday, June 2, 2006

Damn Humidity

Dark Road, 2005, Oil on Panel, 12x12

This week has been a bit frustrating in the studio due to technical reasons. I did a whole new batch of underpaintings last week that I am really looking forward to working on but they haven't dried yet! Usually they take three days, four at the most but it's been over a week and I am getting a bad feeling about my summer painting schedule. I had this problem last summer as well, but not until August. It seems that when it is especially hot and/or humid the color that I use for the underpainting can take weeks to dry. As you can imagine, this is be a real problem, especially with deadlines looming.

I have tried everything; different brands of the paint (unfortunately, using a different color isn't really an option right now, the colors I use are what helps to make my paintings, well, my paintings), closing them in a bathroom with a dehumidifier, closing them in a bathroom with a portable heater, using a drying medium (which changes the workability of the paint which again changes the look of the piece, not what I want to do right now), throwing salt over my left shoulder and then spinning counterclockwise three times quickly. Putting the piece under a good halogen light helps a bit, but for the most part, nothing works except dry and preferably cooler weather and more time.

The best way that I have found so far to deal with this is to do as many underpaintings as I can so that when they do dry I have plenty to work on and can then catch up to where I would have originally been. Naturally there are problems with this approach as well. I don't have enough space in my studio for more than about 12 or so pieces, depending on size, to be air dried. Also, having to do so many underpaintings at once can really throw off my rhythm. It's kind of like starting, but not resolving, 10 paintings each day, several days in a row and then having to pick it all up again a few weeks later. Doing this can be exhausting and disconcerting, but I did it last summer and it was ok as long as it's only a temporary way of working.

Alas, that is probably what I'll have to do. I have a solo show at the Salt Meadow Gallery in August, which until last week seemed way in the future. Now the deadline is in sight and we have had rain and humidity all week. I am guessing that I will have to solve the storage issue of drying paintings, by keeping them in our bedroom, the only room we have where I can set them up without a cat brushing up against them (in my studio I have wall shelving and the cats don't get up there). Except for the bathrooms, that is the only room in this old house that has a door with a doorknob that actually latches, but only when it's humid and the door swells up a bit. Of course.


Schuivert said...

That sound irritating indeed. Must be difficult to find a solution when the air itself is rather wet. Hope you find one anyway.

Todays paintng made a strong impression on me. Liked it a lot.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, Bart, glad you like it. I like to go for the dark moody thing every once in awhile.

I am almost longing for Utah and it's dry air. Almost.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, Jordan. Such nice compliments about my work! I've been reading your blog for awhile and like it, been meaning to comment, but keep missing the boat, I guess.

Ed Maskevich said...

What are you using to thin your paint? Here in MI we have the same type of heat and humidity that you do. For blocking in I thin the paint with pure gum turpentine with a drop or 2 of japan drier. Even the slowest drying blues and reds are dry in less than 48 hours. I have more drying problems in the winter months.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Ed, I don't use a thinner at all. For the underpainting I use just pigment, although it is nearly all rubbed off, so it is not thick. In the subsequent layers I use liquin for the glazes. I don't use a thinner for several reasons, the main one being that I don't like how it changes to workability of the paint in the underpainting. I do need it to stay wet for a little while so I can form the image. I don't really have drying issues with the rest of the painting, it just seems to be the particular color that I use.

Chris Rywalt said...

I have some advice on getting your paintings to "dry." One important thing to keep in mind about oil paints is that they don't dry in the same sense watercolors dry. They oxidize. That means it's not so much the humidity in the air as the amount of free oxygen available around the painting.

Now, humidity has some effect because the solvent (turpentine in older style, toxic paints; newer paints use different, less volatile (and less toxic) solvents) has to evaporate to allow oxidation to occur.

So speeding up your paints drying involves using less solvent (I don't recommend using turpentine because it's ridiculously toxic) and making sure the air is moving. From your description you can't or won't change your paint formulation, so I'd suggest a fan in the room with the paintings. Keeping them locked up in a tiny bathroom could actually slow their drying because of the low airflow.

I'm not an expert so I can't be sure this will help, but my advice is based on my understanding of paint chemistry. Since I actually took chemistry courses in school (unlike your typical painter) I'm not completely clueless, but your mileage my still vary.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Ed, I should correct myself, I use paint from the tube, not pigment. Obviously there is a difference.

But still no solvents used at any point in the painting.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, Shan, Finally got around to updating my links. Hope at least a few people wandered over.

I'd like to try a fan but I am concerned about the amount of dust and pet hair it would deposit on the surface of the underpainting. The subsequent glazes are so thin that EVERYTHING shows and dust looks really bad for some reason. Even the occasional brush hair isn't as bad as dust. Maybe if I super clean my bedroom and try it in there..sigh.

Yes, time sure flies when your not paying attention.

Ed Maskevich said...

Check out Winsor Newton alkyd paints. they are intermixable with oil but incorporate an alkyd resin in the formula which permits faster drying time (usually within 24 hours) but stays open so that you can work it like any other oil.

I don't use a fan much (only in the really hot dog days of summer) but I do use a heavy duty commercial air purifier that I got from a supplier to the printing industry. It cleans fumes and toxins from the air using a charcoal filter and then pumps the purified air back into the room using an exhaust fan. I also wear disposable vinyl gloves when I paint.

Turp should be no more toxic than the mineral spirits that you use to clean your brushes or any varnish you might use ( I prefer Kamar since it is archival). Ventillation is the real important thing.

I thin my first layer because unlike you I don't do a classic under-painting and then glaze over it (Vermeer would be proud). I either stain the surface a solid color or do a color block-in using discord colors. So I want the first layer to be "lean" so it will dry quickly (and I really don't want to use acrylics for this) so that I can start the "fat" layers. I seldom glaze but frequently do use scumbling. After the initial lean layer the paint either goes on out of the tube or I use a medium (I make my own based on several different formulas that I've read about).

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Ed, All good suggestions, Thank you. Your ventilation procedures are admirable. Is your studio in a separate room or building from your house? Having a separate buildings would solve a lot of problems for me!

I worked with alkyds for quite awhile in college and they were ok, but things really clicked for me when I switched to oils. I would consider using them now for the underpaintings but they don't have the color that I prefer to use, and I also don't like their viscosity for that either. It simply doesn't work for me the same way as the oil and that just seems important to me, to enjoy rather than fight against the materials. At least for now.

I use turpenoid natural for cleaning the brushes. I love, love, love the smell of turpentine, but prefer not to work with it or with mineral spirits for various reasons.

tlwest said...

Wow you all thanks for all the informational posts I learned something! I was going to say Liquin but you already use it ;)

Tracy Helgeson said...

TL, One of my favorite things is comparing notes about working habits with other artists. We all do such different things sometimes, with such a variety, or sometimes not, of results.

I have been in love with Liquin since college.

Pretty Lady said...

Hi, Tracy, thanks for the link!

Wow, so many people who use the same tricks I do. And I thought I was so special. ;-)

I use a fan to pull the air out of the room, to remove fumes and keep it circulating, plus a heavy-duty Hepa filter. I also use wax medium, which dries much faster than either straight oil or turpentine. You sound like you have your mediums down, but if you get the urge to experiment I highly recommend it.

Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Turp should be no more toxic than the mineral spirits that you use to clean your brushes or any varnish you might use ( I prefer Kamar since it is archival).

Actual turpentine is wildly toxic. As Robert Gamblin loves to point out, it can actually be absorbed through unbroken skin. Turpentine is one of the most toxic things an artist is likely to come in contact with, unless you tend to eat your lead or cadmium paints. And even that's not necessarily as bad for you.

Everyone should switch to odorless mineral spirits. I did years ago and actually haven't had to buy any since -- about two gallons have kept my brushes clean (I keep reusing it) and thinned paints as necessary for over half a decade.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Serena, Glad to have linked you.

Good idea facing the fan out of the room, that may eliminate my dust problem. I'll try it. I worked with wax as a medium a bit in college and liked it. I am kind of wrapped up in what I am doing now, but I'll definitely keep wax in mind as another possibility. What kind do you use? I think I have some Dorlands around.

Tracy Helgeson said...

I know that turpentine is super toxic too and considering that for many years I practically soaked my hands in it, I am probably a prime candidate for whatever it does to you, long term anyway. What does it do to you anyway? Chris, do you know?

However if one is careful about contact, has proper ventilation as Ed seems to, and stores it properly, it's probably not any worse than the accumulation of all of the crap added to our foods or the pollution in the air and water, etc. etc.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Shan, Great option! I often use vegetable oil which also works nicely. In fact, I use vegetable oil on my hands if I get any paint on them.

martha said...

Hi Tracy,
If you are at all flexible with your medium (and I understand being devoted to a certain kind)you might try Galkyd, by Gamblin. It's quite glossy, but you can adjust that with a little wax medium disolved in solvent. It really speeds drying time, but has the kind of fluid movement that I like.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Martha, I do keep hearing such good things about Galkyd, so I'll buy some next time I get some supplies, and see if I can work with it. Thanks! I do love glossy!