Alkyds offer a shorter drying time than oils and a capacity for
multiple glazes, two qualities that benefit my paintings.


Fishing The Ausable
, 1992, alkyd on masonite, 14 x 25.

I used multiple glazes in the background behind the fisherman to lighten and loosen the definition in that area. This effect melts the background into the atmosphere and contrasts it to the sharply defined and darker foreground.

       Twenty-three years ago, I first started working in the alkyd medium. At that time, I was looking for a medium that did not dry as quickly as acrylic, or as slowly as oil, but, had many of the properties found in the oil medium. Alkyd was introduced during this period by Winsor & Newton, one of the world's leading manufacturers of artist's materials. I remember going to a presentation by the president of that firm, and learning about alkyds for the first time. Impressed with the advantages of the new medium, I immediately began to use it in my paintings. As one of the first artists to try alkyd, I also contacted the manufacturer and began testing various formulas of the medium. Recently, the entire alkyd line was upgraded, and I will attempt to describe the changes.
      Obviously, the reason I have remained an alkyd painter over the years, is because I like the medium and the many advantages it offers. To those who have not used alkyd, I would encourage them to give it a try. To this day, I am often asked, "what is alkyd?".....I will try to give a brief description of the properties I find appealing.


Morehead 78, 1978, alkyd on linen, 15 x 40

This is one of my few paintings on linen, as most my work is on gessoed masonite. My son Scott posed for both foreground figures, and there is a total of seven figures in this panoramic painting of the sound in Morehead City, North Carolina.

      The unique advantage of alkyd is the drying time. Alkyd remains workable, and removable, during the course of a day when you are normally working on a painting. Another quality of alkyd that I consistently use in my own painting is the ability to quickly build up multiple glazes to achieve the illusion of great depth. This is possible because the paint you have applied the previous day is usually dry the next day, particularly the thin glazes. I will often use 20 to 30 glazes in my skies and water. Glazes are also of use in getting an intensity of color by glazing one color over another color, such as a red glaze over a yellow. Additionally, they can be used to achieve minute variances of tone, and the softening of edges. I use Liquin as a medium for my glazing. A good example of this glazing is the background area of Fishing The Ausable, where I used multiple glazes to make the area behind the fisherman recede into the atmosphere.
      The oil medium uses linseed oil as a binder, which is a factor in it's slow drying rate. Alkyd uses an oil modified alkyd resin and a solvent which enables it to dry at a faster rate than oil. Alkyd can be mixed with oil, but I prefer to use alkyd as the single medium for a particular painting. At completion, I varnish my alkyd paintings with damar varnish in the same manner as oils.


Wading The Shallows, alkyd on masonite

     Winsor & Newton has recently upgraded it's older line of 42 Griffin Alkyds, and now offers 51 colors. Thirty-two of these colors are unchanged, three have been modified to a brighter hue which is more lighfast, sixteen colors are new and seven have been discontinued (of which, some were replaced by lighfast versions or equivalent colors ). In using the updated line, I was pleased to find the discontinued Alizarin Crimson has now been replaced by  Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Sap Green has been replaced by Permanent Sap Green. I use these colors in all my painting and was happy to know they are now less susceptible to light. In fact, all colors in the line now carry a permanence rating of AA or A. In the case of Permanent Sap Green, I notice it now dries faster than the previous Sap Green.
    Previously, in the  April 1985 issue of American Artist, I wrote a more technically based article on my technique with alkyds titled, 'Painting Atmospheric Effects'. You may find this article at your library , or have access to it at my website at:  www.robertbdance.com .
    My process of developing an idea into a painting is usually the result of experiencing a visual moment (or moments) that was strong enough to kindle the desire to record that moment. In my case, the desire has to be strong enough to hold my enthusiasm over the months I usually spend on a painting. It is not unusual for me to spend a month to six months on one painting. This article is based on two very different paintings, one my annual painting for The Modern Marine Masters exhibition at the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport where I have been showing my work since 1986, and the other, a quite different commission depicting a hunting-fishing trip to Montana.


The Quiet Harbor, 1996, alkyd on masonite, 17.5 x 37

The single lobster boat suggests loneliness. Multiple glazes make the background appear to recede.


Late On The Kennebec, 1992, alkyd on masonite, 15 x 26
This scene pictures a lobsterman rowing his dory back to shore after putting his boat up for the night. I used multiple glazes to the sky and water area to soften the scene.

     A View Down East  was painted for the Modern Marine Masters exhibition, and is the result of some of my experiences in the Jonesport, Beal's Island area of Northern coastal Maine. I am very interested in traditional working boats of the Atlantic Coast, and find the Maine lobster boat a particularly beautiful example of a working boat built of wood. The most beautiful boats of this type are built in the Jonesport-Beal's Island area. Unfortunately, many of the old wooden boats are disappearing in favor of the less distinctive fiberglass boats. In my marine paintings, I will often work from models of these boats. Such models are particularly helpful because you can place them in attitude that would be difficult or impossible with an actual boat. Also, my paintings are usually done at my home in North Carolina, far from the Northern coast of Maine. However, a problem soon arose in the attempt to build models of these boats. After much research, I discovered that the lines plans of these lobster boats are generally not available. I have had to draw my own plans from actual boats I have found dry-docked in Maine. In the accompanying photograph, you see me holding a model of the Maria Elena, an actual boat I found at Great Wass Island, Maine. The same model was posed for A View Down East, and Maria Elena Off The Rocks. Such models are particularly helpful in a rough water painting such as, Pounding Off  Beal's Island  or Caught In The Surge Off Great Wass, because the boats are in such unnatural attitudes.

    The panoramic view in A View Down East is very similar to an actual view near Jonesport, Maine. However, I have changed the foreground composition, put a large tree on the right and removed a dock on the left which was replaced by rocks. The lobster boat was put into a position off the rocks, and the lobster man is depicted talking to two children on the rocks. These figures are no more than 1/4Ó high. The background view of the islands is very similar to the actual view at Jonesport, and the cloud is used as a compositional element.
     I do not hesitate to change elements in a painting. To arrive at these changes, I will use tracing paper to move elements throughout the composition until I am satisfied with their placement. I consider the shapes and masses of these areas in an abstract or geometric sense. At the same time, I try to lead the eye throughout the composition. In particular, I try to lead the eye to the point of interest...such as this tiny boat and figures, which are such a small part of the panorama. At times, I will do a purely linear sketch in pencil form. At other times, particularly if I plan to show the sketch to a client who has commissioned a painting, I will do a sketch with tonal values.
    At this point, before I have begun to paint, I feel I can visualize in my mind how I desire the painting to appear. This is no guarantee that the painting will live up to my visualization, in fact, I have never been completely satisfied with a painting and would question my powers of criticism if I were satisfied.


Step 6. Finally, I added figures to the boat and rocks. The cloud acts as a compositional element.

The completed painting: A View Down East, 2001, alkyd on masonite, 22.75 x 30. Collection the artist.

    My paintings proceed in the usual manner with underpainting and the buildup of basic form. Probably where my work differs the most is in my use of multiple glazes to achieve depth. Again, I will often use 20 to 30 glazes in areas such as sky and water. In A View Down East, this glazing is used to great effect in making the islands recede into the distance by glazing over them with glazes which contain the color found very near the horizon. The glazes usually differ minutely in a color sense. I am trying to get a vibrance with cool versus warm tones, and I often play them against each other. The theory is that light penetrates these multiple glazes and bounces back from the base surface of the painting toward the eye of the observer. This gives the illusion of great depth and is roughly similar to light penetrating a stained glass window. The alkyd medium is about as ideal as I have found to capture this effect without waiting days for these glazes to dry before applying the next glaze. A View Down East  took over four months to complete.

The Crazy Mountains, 2000, alkyd on masonite

     The Crazy Mountains, was the result of a commission. Normally, I do not accept many commissions, but, when presented with the opportunity to fly to Montana to fly fish and hunt, I quickly accepted the project. I have long enjoyed the outdoor life, and one of my true passions is fly fishing. Also, the commission came from one of my very good friends who for several years had told me of his experiences in Montana, and how beautiful the country was in this particular area. He also told me to get some nice boots and break them in thoroughly as we would cover alot of ground walking, and rattlesnakes were known to be in the area. Interesting! Fine!  I have no fear of snakes, and some of the largest rattlesnakes are found where I live in North Carolina. So, three of us flew out to Montana...two hunters and an artist...it is fascinating where painting will lead you! It lead us to Big Timber, Montana and hunting on the Bozeman Trail. You can still see the ruts caused by the wagon wheels, and the buffalo wallows cleared from the grasslands. Wildlife abounds, and the Crazy Mountains watch over the scene like a distant sentinel. With the guide, I followed the hunters in their pursuit of Hungarian Partridge. I studied the birds and made notes and photos of their plumage which varied from bird to bird, and I acquired a small collection of feathers. We covered alot of ground walking...I did not see a rattlesnake, but I saw alot of major blisters on my feet. My admiration for the pioneers on the Bozeman Trail took on new meaning, and I sympathized with the poor pioneer woman who crazily left the wagon train when she saw those mountains ahead that were named for her. She was never seen again. On the third day, we decided to try our hand at fly fishing on the Bolder River in the Gallatin National Forest. We drove up a narrow road that paralleled the river through some of the most magnificent mountains I have seen. Stopping at a particularly beautiful passage of the river, we rigged our fly rods. As I walked to the river, I was confronted by a sign which read, " Caution! This is an active Grizzly Bear area." We do not have Grizzly Bears in North Carolina, and this gave new meaning to the word, "apprehensive" as I tied on a beautiful Trude dry fly. Thankfully, we never saw a Grizzly, but I caught some stunningly beautiful cutthroat trout and released them.
     I relate the story above, because it is often the experience that makes the painting. When I flew out to Montana, I thought I would probably do a panoramic landscape with hunters such as you often see in sporting galleries. After experiencing a variety of moments which made up the trip, I decided that the only way to show  those experiences was in a still life that grouped them into one painting, and the device of a painting within a painting.


The Crazy Mountains, Detail

     I went through my usual process of sketches and arrived at a pencil drawing composed of the various elements I thought would tell the story of our trip. Then, I borrowed the client's very valuable engraved Parker shotgun and placed it into a final toned sketch for his approval. The shotgun sits on his hunting jacket with the barrel resting on a coat rack. The coat rack actually was not there and is completely a made-up element of the composition. The small antique nightstand at the bottom has been in my family for years and seemed a good choice because of it's combination of interesting curves. I thought this would break-up the rather Mondrian-like composition of straight lines. The painting within a painting on the wall records the area where we hunted, and depicts my friend with a pointer dog pointing a covey of Hungarian Partridge. My friend carries his Parker shotgun shown to the left of the painting. In the background, you see the Crazy Mountains in much the same way the unfortunate pioneer woman saw them when she wandered off into the wilderness. To depict the fly fishing portion of the trip, I used my own graphite fly rod. Just above the framed painting, you can see the same Trude dry fly that I tied on while worrying about the Grizzly Bears. The Hungarian Partridge shown are taken from several different photos of the birds that I made during the hunt. I placed them together in an arrangement I thought suitable, and changed the direction of the light falling on them. From my collection of feathers, I placed a single feather on the lapel of the jacket. Since these were dead birds, I wanted to somehow show a live bird, and decided to use the device of an old print. This print is completely made up from imagination and research gathered on the trip. The script writing beneath the print, and the engraving on the shotgun were among the more difficult items  to suggest in the painting.
    I realize that many people object to the depiction of something dead in a painting, but death has been depicted in art since the cavemen rendered their matchless art in the cave of Lascaux in France 30,000 years ago. Leonardo da Vinci, Bosch, the Dutch Masters and Goya have delt with death in various ways as they recorded the scene that was passing before them. These particular birds ended up as food in the same manner as the breast of chicken or broccoli you bought at the grocery....or, as I would have ended up had the Grizzly been fortunate enough to come upon me on the Bolder River.
    The back wall in The Crazy Mountains was glazed many times. Since the gesso for this painting purposely had a vertical brushed texture, I ran a palette knife over these glazes to indicate a wood grain texture beneath the paint. Accidental textures were also taken advantage of in the texturing of the wall. Many of the shadows are built up from glazes, and the overall color is minutely balanced with glazing. The Crazy Mountains  took about four months to complete.


Trapping Off Roque Island, 1995, alkyd on masonite

     To those who would like to try  a different medium, I would urge you to give alkyd your consideration. The new upgraded line of 51 colors give the painter an increased selection from which to choose. It has stood the test of twenty-three years for me, and I consider alkyd and watercolor my major two means of expression.


Caught In The Surge Off Great Wass, 2000, alkyd on masonite, 6 x 13.5


Storm On Machias Bay, 2000, alkyd on masonite , 6 x 13.5

     In summation, I would encourage painters to follow their interests and thoroughly research  their subject. My particular interest is in realism, and I feel there are no "tricks" in this type of realistic painting. It is based on the ability to draw and the careful observation of the natural world with itĚs atmosphere, form, shadow, reflected light, and a myriad of elements to fascinate the careful observer. Realism is the study of nature. Nothing is more vital or more interesting than nature.

Portions of this article appeared in American Artist Magazine.

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