Open Conversations with Artists
The artists interviewed included John Griefen, an artist and collaborator with Sam and Leonard at Bocour and one of our first customers; Patrick Fiore, an accomplished artist and a studio arts professor who was one of the first to try out the early versions of OPEN; Barbara Dickerson, an incredibly courageous teacher who allowed us to bring the OPEN Acrylics to her oil painting portrait class; and lastly, Jamie Grossman, a plein air painter who has been incredibly generous in sharing a great deal of feedback about the possibilities with OPEN Acrylics.
From the beginning of this process we have learned that artists’ needs are so unique that no one material could possibly meet all the requirements. Many traditional oil painters clearly preferred the density of pigment from their oils as well as the extremely long open times offered by traditional oils. Most acrylic painters have created entire methods of working that depend on the ability of the paint to dry quickly and to be able to build up incredibly thick, flexible passages of paint. But what we’ve also learned in the process is that for those adventurous artists, willing to give up some old ways and learn some new ones, the GOLDEN OPEN Acrylics will provide an incredibly new and exciting opportunity. I thank these four artists for sharing their insights and hope they provide a useful introduction into this very special product line.
Mark Golden with John Griefen,
May 22, 2008
Mark Golden: John, this is a unique opportunity for me to interview you, thank you. You’ve been working with the acrylic medium from its onset; but some might be surprised to learn that you’ve worked with traditional oil paints as well. Sending you the OPEN product was exciting for me just to see your general take on the material. Can you give a sense of your first reaction?
John Griefen: Well, it’s funny. My first reaction was trying to compare it to the other paint and I think that might have even been
a mistake. It’s different – I decided to just
go for it.
Paint for me is not just a means to an end. I have called you my inspiration. This is because over the years I have gone to you and your father (before you) and asked, ‘What new have you got for me?’ Both with new mediums and colors, I have been excited to make paintings. This is not about painting about material or method, that idea is abhorrent to me. I know what I want to paint, but I need to find a way to do it better. And new color and material excites me.
Mark: It’s great to have a foil like you to be able to test these things against. So I really appreciate that.
John: From that point of view, I did a bunch of paintings and instead of trying to see whether it was like oil or whether it was like acrylic, I just wanted to see what it would do and I found that it picked up some of the things that are lacking in both of them, actually. It has more drying time and more greasiness than acrylic. Yet, there’s a certain dryness as well. On the other hand, it’s far cleaner than oil – it’s slippery in a different way.
Mark: That was some of our experience, too, but more often than not, people say it’s, ‘Well, it’s just different’ and it doesn’t really need to be compared and then this creates other problems. So how do you work with it?
John: Well, I think it answers a need that the other paints create. For one thing, it answered the need of a paint to dry slower. Certain acrylic paints dry too fast for some artists. And just on the practical sense, it’s safer than oils in a lot of ways.
Mark: Considering your typical way of working with the acrylic, is there any way that you’d be able to incorporate the new paint?
John: You know, I was thinking about that question. I think that the quick drying time for large paintings is important and it (OPEN) might get in the way of the facility of working otherwise.
Mark: I think that’s really going to be a problem for the way you typically work –
John: If I had more practice with it, who knows? It’s interesting. This is like the stimulation a representational artist gets from the subject matter. I do not look for a material to create what I want to paint.
I use paint to help me make the painting. It has been said forever that you should use the right tool for the right job. But again, this is not what I am talking about. In art sometimes it is using the wrong tool that does the job, and in fact, makes the job better. Perhaps that is where the new material and color come in.
Mark: How do you get an artist who’s familiar with acrylic or familiar with oil, to go past the point where they finally recognize it’s neither and it is going to be different?
John: Well, I mean I think the obvious thing is pushing the time. I remember I was teaching at some summer thing in Williamstown and it was an adult group – I heard this sort of screech from somebody – and we were painting outside. Her brush had dried to the canvas. And with this, you won’t have that problem.
John: But you could with this paint, and you’d have the advantage of having a drying that you wouldn’t get with the other acrylics. In other words, you can do it – you could do a stain painting that you could work back into, for instance.
Mark: I don’t think that’s something we’ve even investigated – looking at staining
John: Yeah, and I think you need more of us playing with it.
Mark: That – for me, you know, makes producing paint very exciting again, John. Almost like the beginning.
John: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about and if you bring more stuff into it – and the drying time has a lot of that – and it does have a greasier kind of feeling to it.
Mark: I’m grateful that you’re working
in a water-borne system and not oils. This
John: That’s what I’m thinking. (Laughter) I know, that’s why I’m 65 and still alive. Seriously, I think especially for just that reason again, where safety, especially with students, is an issue – but you don’t want it to get in the way of your creativity.
Mark: We’ve had some teachers take a look at this – at this product and some are getting pretty excited about it. You’ve taught for quite some time –
John: I’m not teaching now, but I have taught for forever. I would have no trouble thinking about introducing OPEN paint – it would be a great first paint. This is a lot easier than oil and it’s more forgiving than the regular acrylics. I mean it gets really tiring, people saying, ‘You know, I’m working in this fantastic technique.’ Well, if it’s not easy, you spend your time screwing around with the paint rather than making a painting. It’s much easier to start out using the OPEN paint, a student could go in the direction of either oil or acrylic. It’s a much easier jump than starting out with acrylic, then going into oil or vice versa.
Mark: It’s going to be interesting as this thing proceeds. You know, I still hear – and you probably still hear – the same thing. When students achieve some level of proficiency in the acrylic – we call it acrylic denial. They’ll say, you know, ‘Mark, look at my painting. Doesn’t it look just like oil?’
John: For me, there are opportunities with the OPEN that neither of the others could give you. If I was using it in my work, I’d probably be more interested to see how it would react in those stains. You probably haven’t even done studies on that.Mark: No, you’re the first person to
John: Well, that would be fun to do work on a much larger scale.
Mark: The whole idea of doing a stain painting, but then being able to reopen sections, to be able to pull things back out.
John: Even when it gets thin, it stayed workable much longer than I expected. It dries as fast as or faster than watercolor. That’s it. But it stayed open. And I think
the other things about surface, shine and
non-shine, I think those are things
you’re going to be playing around with mediums anyway.
Mark: Yeah, I think we recognized early on that you can manipulate that right now with some of the standard, heavy-bodied mediums.
John: Are the OPEN paints compatible with the rest of the acrylics?
Mark: All of the OPEN products are compatible with our colors as well as all of our Gels and Mediums.
John: Yeah, well, I’m curious to see if you
use the thicker body with some of this.
I didn’t do that when I was playing around because I really wanted to see what this would do by itself.
John: But it’ll give it something else, too. You know, that’s really curious. And I’ll be curious to see how much drag you could get with it. You know, it’s still very slippery.
Mark: Some of the folks that have been using the product let it sit out for a while.
John: I’m the quickest painter around. In other words, I like to do it and it’s done with and I don’t work into it too much. Most people think a lot more.
Mark: Well, that’s exactly why I wanted
your point of view. I think it was really important for several points. One is that you’ve had such a long working relationship with acrylics. You know exactly what they do, and I knew this was going to throw you for a bit of a loop –
John: No, no – that there is a kind of inspiration from the paints. It is the excitement to find out what you have come up with! What colors? What’s going on, you know, and see if it works.
Repetition in art is death. Factories repeat things well – if artists do, they cease to be artists. If an artist is not making something original he or she ceases to be an artist.
By original, I do not mean something new for the sake of being new, but something more along the lines of what Gaudi meant when he said, ‘Original means going back to the origin.’
You see, the artist needs to find the easiest way to make what he wants to. Anything else would be bad thinking. Only a fool tries to find a difficult way to do something, if the something is what he wants to make, not just mess about with the activity. Your material has made making new paintings easier for me and I call that inspiration.
John Adams Griefen was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1942. He attended the Chicago Art Institute, Bennington College,Williams College (B.A.) and Hunter College. He taught at Bennington College and was a guest teacher at Williams College, the School of Visual Arts and the Arts Student League.
Since 1969, he has had 35 one-person exhibitions at commercial galleries throughout the U.S., including
New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C.; and abroad in Berlin and Sidney, Australia. He has been represented internationally by Salander-O’Reilly Galleries.
His work is represented in major public collections including the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Institute, Fort Lauderdale Museum, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Mark Golden with Patrick Fiore,
April 15, 2008
Mark Golden: Patrick, can you describe your current working style or method?
Patrick Fiore: I’ve gone back and forth between oil and acrylic. I pretty much use them in a similar fashion, building the painting from thin washes to more opaque and direct painting. Sometimes I’ll start with a drawing; other times directly with the paint, then I will wash in a tone. Usually I’ll work on a gessoed panel or board. I either create a textured or smooth surface depending on what I’m trying to achieve.
Mark: Many artists start their work in acrylic and then feel they need to finish off in oils. Do you do that at times?
Patrick: Yes, I’ve done that as well. I will take the painting as far as I can with an underpainting, some rendering of form, dry brushing and glazing. Then I will change to oils, adjusting color with glazes and working directly with thicker paint.
Mark: So, can you share your first impression of working with OPEN Acrylics?
Patrick: I felt that the paint was much easier to move around. It did not drag like traditional acrylics. It definitely remained wet on the palette much longer. The first time I used it, it felt sticky. The second formulation, the new paints, seemed to flow much better.
Mark: So, did it require some significant changes in how you worked?
Patrick: Not really. I have wrestled and practiced with acrylics for a long time to make them do what I want. I believe I can do most anything I desire with acrylics now. In some respect, my paintings in acrylic look like oil paintings. So it was easy to bring it in where it felt natural in the process. As a matter of fact, the first painting that I completed was begun with an underpainting using traditional acrylic, allowing it to dry quickly. I wanted the underpainting to be there, like tempera, and then I switched to this paint as I went along. The underpainting was already established and dry. I didn’t have to change anything or wait for it to dry before I continued to use it.
Mark: Great. Are there some areas where the product has not performed as you might have thought it would?
Patrick: Initially, the darks seemed to get cloudy. I don’t know if I was mixing too much Medium in with the paint. I was working with thin paint in the dark areas and it seemed to get a little cloudy after it dried. The second time, I was impressed with the quality of the paint thinned with just water. It presented the feel of mineral spirits or thinner with oil paint. I didn’t feel the need to add any Medium. I just worked with the paint and water, progressing to thicker paint directly out of the tube as I went along.
Mark: That’s really interesting. I think that’s the same sense we had; water works so fast to dilute it and it felt very different than adding water to the traditional acrylics. Can you envision other ways that you might be able to use the product that you haven’t had a chance to experiment with yet?
Patrick: Yes. As a matter of fact, I grabbed a piece of paper that had some gesso on it and just started playing around with the paint. On my previous experiments, I did not blend the paint very much. Most passages were direct painting, any blends were incidental. However, as a result of your prompting, I was amazed to realize how well it blends.
Mark: That’s really interesting because when I looked at your portraits, I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, Patrick’s done a lot of blending here.’ But I got that wrong.
Patrick: Well, remember what I said about my history with acrylic. I have developed a process that requires thin glazes, dry brushing, more glazing until I achieve the appropriate gradations, which appear like blended oils. And so I’m thrilled that this paint allows me to accelerate that approach.
Mark: Right. So you’ve had a chance to play with it from the beginning or the onset of this project. Do you have a sense of how unique this is, compared to traditional acrylics or its potential value to you?
Patrick: Well, if you compare it to oil, talking about it in that context for a bit, it’s just so easy to see this as one continuous art media. I have adapted acrylic and demonstrated how to use acrylic to mimic watercolor and tempera as part of a mixed media technique and so on. So again, I’ve used acrylics in many different applications. This paint blurs the line into oil as well…and just extends my bag of tricks.
Mark: It’s been described both by oil painters and acrylic painters, that there is a nod toward oils in this product, but it’s obviously not an oil. How would you describe the difference between this and oils?
Patrick: The property of oil painting, its ability to remain workable...open time is relative, but the idea that at any point in the painting you could take a rag, wipe off and repaint a passage, you know, that kind of changeability. I didn’t try to force the open time. I was actually accelerating the
Mark: How would you describe it as being different from acrylics – other acrylics that you’ve used?
Patrick: I guess the most obvious thing I haven’t really said is how you can make marks. Just the whole idea of how the brush flows and the paint doesn’t create an edge; it doesn’t dry so quickly that you can’t manipulate the paint. That’s just a huge difference; it’s not like acrylic at all. Laying out a palette and mixing paint right on the palette to develop a color before you make a mark is easier. You can control and thoroughly mix it enough that you feel like you have that color or value that you need. Again, those are attributes closer to oil paint…so that is different than acrylic.
Mark: As a painting instructor, is this something that you think might be valuable to students, this kind of paint?
Patrick: Yes, and I would like to answer in two parts. First as a teaching material, this paint presents an even broader application for students to experience, based on a single type of paint. Acrylic is very flexible in terms of the variety of techniques that can be applied. In fact, I feel like I can walk in the classroom with my little bag of acrylics and demonstrate several approaches to the same media with subtle changes in surface, paint application or technique. So I think from that standpoint, the paint is very versatile. The second concern or attribute is related to health and safety of artist materials and the ease of their use, including clean up. My institution and most art schools have become seriously devoted to a safe working environment for their students. This paint facilitates certain educational goals that previously would be achieved with oils, including oil mediums and solvents. You still can’t replace oil, I don’t think, as a learning tool, but I think this paint would really be useful and practical.
Mark: This product is really an extension for what can be done with the acrylic. For us, the acrylic can be moved in so many different directions. We can change gloss, we can change texture finish surface, we can go from very thin to very thick and now this offers an opportunity to go in the direction of time, to open up the kind of time that’s available for folks to work with.
Patrick: In terms of the teaching, it remains to be seen. I have to work with it much more. Most of the basic fundamentals I present come from drawing and painting. However, I have experienced the transfer of those basic principals through all types of media. To a certain extent you may say you can’t replace oil with acrylic. It’s a bit like saying you can’t replace acrylic with a computer and on and on. Many students are creating successful paintings through the computer. So it’s really about how they absorb the visual language, what they’re exposed to. If this media can be used to demonstrate those principals and techniques, if they can see that demonstrated…that will be useful.
Mark: You were the perfect artist to start with, Patrick. I have to tell you that it was the most disconcerting thing about sharing this with artists, experimenting with the product, was the acrylic painters – the folks that I thought would fall in love with this product had a hard time with it, which was enlightening for me because I recognized that they are acrylic painters because they’ve mastered the use of the material, and they don’t find those issues that may confront other folks coming from other media; it’s not a problem.
Patrick: Like taking advantage of the fact that it dries quickly, that it does what it does, it’s part of who I am as a painter. I’m switching gears a bit. In terms of painting certain passages, I use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time so I can proceed with a glaze or layer paint. Is this safe to do?
Mark: Yes, it’s fine. You’re speaking like many of the painters I work with, ‘Don’t tell me how to slow it down – can you tell me how to speed it up?’
Patrick: That flexibility is amazing. Because the scale is part of it, too. If you’re working big, you may want to move around and keep areas open. But I have a tendency to build a painting like you would traditionally. If you were using oil paint and you were ready to glaze but you couldn’t glaze, then you’re stuck. However, in this case, you really can go back and glaze. It seems with the appropriate planning, this paint presents a rather universal tool. Of course, this was my training and to apply oil painting technique to acrylic was fine until you approached thicker paint. And now, it seems likely that I will be able to develop that approach.
Patrick Fiore received his BFA from Syracuse University and his Master of Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Mr. Fiore has been a member of the faculty at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida for twenty years teaching figure drawing and illustration. He has been awarded for his illustrations which have been published nationally. His art exists in site specific installations in New York, Utah, Florida and his paintings have been exhibited throughout the U.S.
Patrick is currently working on a
project that will include approximately
120 paintings organized into
twenty-five passages based on Howard Zinn’s contemporary classic, “A People’s History of the United States”. When completed, the collection will travel extensively to college and university galleries as well as installations open and accessible to the public.
Mark Golden with Barbara Dickerson,
April 28, 2008
Mark Golden: Barbara, can you tell me about the way you work and the materials you work with?
Barbara Dickerson: Generally I use oil paints. I have used acrylics in the past but sometimes I incorporate acrylics with the oil paint and use it as an undercoat but most of the time I use oil.
Mark: And why oil?
Barbara: Because I like the blending quality and richness of them. In the past and occasionally I have painted a whole painting in acrylic. I did art shows for a living for 12 years and when I was under a time crunch I would paint a painting with acrylic because I wanted it to dry. A lot of times people couldn’t tell the difference between the paintings. Sometimes I would use acrylic underneath and then my oil paints on top. I would do the same thing with my students, especially if they’re using transparent colors to try to cover the canvas.
Mark: So Barbara, you started working with the OPEN Acrylics with your students. What was your first impression of OPEN?
Barbara: When I first tried it, I was amazed at the ability to blend it for as long as we could. It has greatly improved since you’ve been working on it.
Mark: Well, we thank you for the feedback. It was really critical. The product as it is now, how is it performing for you?
Barbara: I am extremely impressed with it. I think that people who have experience with different types of mediums and who are serious painters can take that paint and there’s no telling how beautifully they’ll be able to paint with it once they’ve learned to master it and learn what it does. I am most impressed with the ability to blend it for a long time and the colors are rich and beautiful. Also the new mediums, the OPEN Medium, the last one you came up with is, is just fantastic. It acts a lot like a dipping oil you would use with oil paint and when I use that, it completely fills in all the holes on the canvas. It just covers beautifully and then I’m able to paint on top of the wet paint and the paint on top stands out and does not completely blend into the paint underneath. I can get a really good look with it that way. Then I use the strip liner using the medium, make the paint really wet and it just sits on top beautifully. For me, in this way, it’s actually better than oils.
Mark: That’s great. Are there some places where the product didn’t perform as you might have expected?
Barbara: I still have a little bit of a problem learning how to control it. Because of my experience with oils I still have a little problem learning to do extremely fine tight detail, say in portraits.
Mark: Can you describe?
Barbara: I have trouble getting the kind of look I want to get with a portrait as opposed to the kind of look I can get with oil paints. So that part was something that I felt I would have to work with or experiment with to get it right off the bat.
Mark: This product will take some adjusting to. You really have to work with it for a while before you can manipulate it with the ease of your other materials.
Barbara: Yes, it’s really different. I would say from having worked with both acrylic and oil, it’s more like oil than it is like acrylic but it’s not completely like oil either. Even though it blends, it doesn’t blend exactly
Mark: That’s exactly what many artists have shared and we’ve learned it as well. It’s certainly not an oil replacement or a substitute, it is really different. But some of the attributes are very similar.
Barbara: Right. It’s a lot of fun and I think that it’s more fun than oil, especially to learn with because the paint doesn’t blend together as extensively as oil does. It’s so easy to lose your overcoat with oil if the background’s wet. I see it as being more fun because you don’t have to struggle with it as much as you do with oils.
Mark: This leads me to another set of questions. As a teacher, someone who has tried this in the classroom, can you talk about its use with your students?
Barbara: As a teacher, I would not present this medium as a medium that’s like other mediums and that would include acrylic and oils. I would present it as a new medium that’s not like any other I’ve ever used and not like any they’ve ever used. For example, the Retarder that you use with the Heavy Body Acrylics is not anything like this OPEN Thinner. I would teach the students to use the Thinner, to dip the brush into the Thinner every single time they use the paint. This is what I’m teaching my students that I have using it.
Mark: Oh really, I’ve not heard it used this way before.
Barbara: Yes, because it gives them tremendous control over it and they can use a little bit of the Thinner or they can use a lot of the Thinner. It’s great for them to play with it that way – to experiment.
Mark: Any specific tools or brushes that you’re using?
Barbara: We’re using sable brushes. It works better for us to use pure thick sable or black sable. We did try bristle and it didn’t work as well for us as it did with the sable. I’ve got eight students that are using that.
Mark: I’m just thinking natural hair fibers usually are not recommended with acrylic but typically the ease of clean up with OPEN allows for one to feel comfortable using pretty expensive brushes and still being able to clean up. Have you found any of the students having a problem or has that been pretty easy?
Barbara: That has been very easy. They absolutely love it. They love the clean up part of it and not having to use a solvent and not having to worry about the brush. If they’re not using the brush I’d tell them just to stick it into a container of water and they don’t worry because they know it’s not going to dry out in a hurry anyway because it’s not traditional acrylic –
they’ve had no trouble with their sable brushes at all.
Mark: The OPEN color palette is currently limited to 40 colors. Was the color selection sufficient for you to be able to work with?
Barbara: Yes, it was. It was plenty of colors. We could mix everything and get what
Mark: Barbara, did you get to use the new Gel Medium or the Acrylic Medium as opposed to Thinner? Did you have a chance to try those?
Barbara: I did use both. The gel was in the tube and it was stiffer, creamier than the Acrylic Medium. We preferred the runnier one. But we didn’t even use the Medium after we got the Thinner.
Mark: Interesting, because of the ability to extend the line or what was the reason?
Barbara: The Thinner made it much more controllable.
Barbara: It covered the canvas better, it blended better. And it stayed wet longer and blended longer…for many hours longer.
Mark: Right. For us to even talk about ‘hours longer’ seems so amazing – opposed to what we know about acrylic drying in literally minutes.
Barbara: Yes, hours. And another thing too, is we make sure we use glass palettes. You save a lot of money because you squirt it out in these little nice sized teaspoons of each color and it lasts you the whole painting session. There’s no waste. If you put plastic wrap over your palette and leave, no air in between your plastic wrap and paint, put it in the freezer it will last about three more painting sessions over a period of three or four weeks. Just keep it frozen between painting sessions and there is no waste. Your paint acts as if you just squeezed it out of the tube.
Mark: That is really interesting. I think students using OPEN in the classroom are going to see some savings, as we all know when we mix traditional acrylics together they tend to dry quickly on the palette.
Barbara: My students keep their glass palettes in a plastic box with a lid. They cover their paint with the plastic wrap, put the lid on and freeze it between painting sessions. The paint was just like new when they brought out the paint for the next week.
Mark: That’s great. I do think it’s going to mean a real savings. I think you’re right. With the traditional acrylic you wind up with the paint staying wet longer in the very thick dollops but in the areas where you’ve done the mixing, it dries so quickly.
Barbara: I think that somebody who starts using this paint and continues using and really masters the paint and experiments with it, will come out with a beautiful look that you can’t get with any other paint.
Barbara: I encourage my students to do that, try blending with it. When it was on the canvas for maybe 10 or 15 minutes and I wanted to blend something, it had the absolutely most beautiful look with that blending that I’ve never gotten with any other medium. The paint begins to change consistency a little bit.
Mark: Would you call it stickier?
Barbara: It becomes stickier.
Mark: That’s really interesting. I think that’s an important difference, with traditional acrylic this is something that you don’t have. Either the acrylic’s wet or –
Barbara: Dry. Right. And see, sometimes, that would actually be an advantage in a landscape where you want your trees to stick on top of your sky without blending together. That’s where the oil actually becomes a problem and the new paint is an asset because I can start painting on the paint underneath it and it stays on top of it, like trees on the sky or mountains on the sky. But with a portrait it looks different because the portrait, the way I paint a portrait – I don’t want the paint to get sticky. It’s so detailed and slow to paint – that consistency needs to stay there for a longer period of time.
Mark: No, I think that’s a really good point. I think as you shared in the beginning it is a different medium. It doesn’t feel like an acrylic and it doesn’t feel like an oil and the techniques that will have to be developed are yet to come.
Barbara: Right, exactly, and that would be something that would be a lot of fun I think for an experienced artist to really master this new medium.
Barbara Dickerson’s art career evolved into a fulltime livelihood in 1985. This career course was a surprise since her degree was in Education. After having her three children, Barbara started oil painting for fun and taking lessons in Houston, learning Dalhart Windberg’s (the artist of Texas) beautiful Flemish Old Master’s techniques and palette. After five years of success with art shows, she made her living doing shows for the next twelve years.
Finally, Barbara decided to start a new business by teaching her secrets to the public. Barbara blended her knowledge of teaching basic fundamentals to her new students in the form of fine arts on canvas. Barbara now has a thriving business teaching oil painting. Barbara’s art education was expanded by taking numerous workshops from well known artists around the United States. For the past five years, Barbara has been an ongoing student of Dalhart Windberg. Dalhart was so impressed with Barbara’s skill and teaching status that he made two rare visits to Georgia to teach a week long workshop to her students.
Mark Golden with Jamie Grossman,
April 22, 2008
Mark Golden: Jamie, can you tell me about how you work?
Jamie Grossman: I mainly like to work on location and from life. I feel I can derive my inspiration from whatever it is that I’m looking at. I have a much harder time working from photos because I don’t feel that they really deliver the feeling of the actual moment. My favorite subject is plein air landscape painting, but I don’t like to go out in the winter. I get cold, so in the winter I do portraits, figures, pets, still life, and then I’m always eager to get back out again when the weather improves.
Mark: While looking over your work, I noticed you work in a broad range of mediums equally well, including gouache, pastels, oils, acrylics. What’s the criterion or why do you decide to do one project in one material as opposed to another?
Jamie: I guess you could say I get bored easily. I feel that it gives me another means of expression. Just like I enjoy changing subjects, I enjoy changing mediums. Oils were always my favorite, but there are definitely drawbacks to oil paints. They take a long time to dry, you have to have mediums with you or at least solvent and others are more portable. Sometimes the portability was a factor, sometimes it was the size that I was working, and sometimes it was a question of what I had with me at the time – or what I forgot at the time!
Mark: Jamie, you work in miniature sometimes. Is size any reason for picking different materials?
Jamie: Actually, yes. When I do a large piece, larger than 12 x 16, I will usually do that in oils. I suspect that I will start doing those in acrylic, but I haven’t had an unlimited supply of paint, so I’ve basically been doing acrylics on the small ones. I have always used the GOLDEN Fluids for miniatures – postage stamp size paintings.
Mark: That’s wonderful. Jamie, you’ve been testing for almost close to a year.
Jamie: Yes, I think since August.
Mark: Can we go back to when you started working with the first trial batches? What was your original impression of the product?
Jamie: My initial impression was that I thought it had great potential right from the start. I felt like if a few issues could be overcome, it would be something very special. I’m an oil painter, so it’s much easier to load up oil paints with pigment. My first reaction was, ‘please, more pigment!’ I’m sure that the Technical Department got sick of me singing that song! But I do feel that they came back with more pigment in the paint, and over time, as the new generations of the paint emerged, a lot of problems were resolved. It’s not as sticky as it was. The Thinner works great now, so that overcomes some of the surface tension issues that were there, and having the cadmium pigments available helps the opacity.
Mark: It was really important for us to have you and other early users give us feedback. We knew we weren’t going to make something perfect out of the gate, but we were excited enough to get it into your hands and I think this is something special. I think we shared with you early on that traditional acrylic painters have had the toughest time with this product.
Jamie: I’m not surprised because there’s definitely a learning curve with it. It really doesn’t behave like acrylics, it doesn’t behave like oil paints, and it doesn’t behave like gouache. Yet if you work in all those different media, you can take what does work from each one of those – I think it’s really a medium in itself. And that is both good and bad. It’s good because it can do things that other mediums can’t do alone. It’s bad because it means that there is a learning curve with it. Coming from an oil painting background, I have to keep remembering to spray my palette occasionally with these new paints and I have to remember to put more paint on. It’s not going to get messy and muddy like what might happen with oil paints.
Mark: So tell me, how did OPEN work in plein air? It’s unique for acrylic to be used outdoors.
Jamie: I thought it worked very well. I had to remember to spray my palette, but there were things, whether inside or outside, that it could do that traditional acrylics couldn’t. For example, the color mixes stayed wet on the palette – that was perhaps the most important thing for me because I paint with a very limited palette. When I do my mixes I need them to be around for awhile so I can go back and forth between the piles of paint. If I come back to a pile and it’s all dried out, that doesn’t serve me. It was great that I could mix up my colors and they stayed wet. Even if I have to make adjustments in the colors, I have my basic mixes done.
Mark: Are there any places where the product did not perform, that artists should be aware?
Jamie: There were certain supports that I preferred over others. I didn’t like it on slick surfaces.
Mark: Why not?
Jamie: Because the paint just didn’t adhere well enough to the surface for me. I couldn’t get enough paint on it. And I’m like that with oil paint too, so it was no surprise to me.
Mark: Kind of slick surface – interesting. And have you tried it on top of the other acrylics, the Heavy Body or Fluid? Have you tried it as a way to work on top of those materials at all?
Jamie: Yes, actually I’ve tried that outside underpainting with the Fluids using Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Transparent Yellow Iron Oxide and Ultramarine Blue. I worked on top with OPEN Acrylics.
Mark: How was that as a support for the next layers of the painting?
Jamie: It was terrific, but it dragged out the time too long to do the painting. So, in painting plein air with a moving light source, I didn’t really have time to go into that much of an underpainting in the 3 different colors and values, and then go on top. I had to do an extra session to be able to finish it.
Mark: In terms of the work that you do – what is a working time for the painting while you’re in place?
Jamie: Usually about 3 hours depending on size. For a 16 x 20 I might go up to five hours and it depends on the subject, too. The more complicated subjects always take longer. Another thing that I should mention, which is really wonderful about this paint, is that I can use some oil techniques that I can’t use at all with traditional acrylics. A week or so ago, I was having a very disorganized day. By the time I actually got started painting, it was maybe pushing on 10:00, and of course at noon is when the light changes over. I was getting into a very tight time frame to complete this painting. I had a 12 x 24 canvas with me and I didn’t want to go back up to the car again for a smaller panel. So I did a Transparent Red Iron Oxide wash over the whole board and then I pulled out my lights with a wet rag, and that worked great as an underpainting. I could never have done that with traditional acrylics and that really sped along the process. I was able to finish that painting in two hours.
Mark: You had a chance to work with some of the different Mediums, can you talk
Jamie: Yes. I don’t work with Mediums a lot only because I really like to keep it simple with plein air work. Even with oil paints I don’t use Mediums, just a little bit of turp. I don’t like going out on location with a ton of stuff so I only use the Mediums when I need them and that happens occasionally. There’s a tackiness that happens sometimes with the paint, and the OPEN Thinner does help the paint come off the brush. Because it’s not as high a pigment load as I’m used to with oil paints, I don’t like to thin down the paint
Mark: I think the pigment load is probably going to be the biggest challenge for oil painters as the best acrylic paint will not contain as much pigment as good oil paint.
Jamie: I agree, but the thing with oils is that you can’t put more than a certain amount of paint on the canvas or it really starts sliding around. It backfires on you, and you have to start taking paint off in order to put more paint down. With the OPEN Acrylics, that’s not the case and when you get a lot of paint on the support it develops a nice workable consistency. It does tack up as you work and you can paint over it. Coming from an oil painting background, I have to learn that I’m still going to be able to work with it even if I get a thick paint layer down; it’s not going to foil me in the end.
Mark: Any issues blending with OPEN?
Jamie: Not for me because I tend to work pretty quickly on location – in fact for me it’s sort of the opposite. With oils I feel like my paint blends too much and it’s very easy to get into that mucky mess of too thick a paint layer. With these acrylics that doesn’t happen. You may not be able to push one edge against another late in the process, but you can always add more paint if you need to
or soften an edge with a wet brush. I find the
tackier paint gives me a better result without the hard edges of traditional acrylics, but not overly blendable like oils can be.
Mark: That brings me to the end. Anything that I haven’t included that you think I missed in terms of an opportunity to share about the materials?
Jamie: I think that artists will have to accept it as a completely new medium and in the end we have to ask ourselves, ‘What gives us the best result?’
Jamie Williams Grossman is a Signature Member of New York Plein Air Painters (NYPAP). She serves on the Advisory Board and also as the head of their Lower Hudson Valley Chapter. Jamie has taught oil and acrylic painting at Putnam Arts Council. Her paintings have been featured in USA Weekend, The Journal News, Plein Air Magazine (twice), Putnam County News and Recorder, the Catskill Region Guide, Poughkeepsie Journal, and Bedford Record Review.
Jamie paints mostly in oils and acrylics, but frequently uses other mediums such as pastel, gouache, watercolor and casein. She nearly always paints from life, with subjects ranging from portraits, homes and figures, to animals, landscapes and still life. Plein air landscapes are her favorite subjects (especially the Hudson River), and she has exhibited in galleries in many areas of NewYork State and Connecticut. Her work resides in private collections in Canada and Europe, as well as throughout the United States.