When I first started painting, the glow I wanted to shine from my artwork escaped me. Why didn’t my paintings sparkle? Why didn’t they seem “alive?” I painted a shiny coat of gel or “Liquin” over the top to revive the paint. It still didn’t work.
What I later discovered is that the “glow” comes from within; caused by the differing values and contrasting colors. Coats of sheen on top can never make up for what is missing beneath the surface.
A perfect example of this is my latest painting: “Sunset on the Nile.” A friend had told me she loved painting on grey because the top coat seems to “pop.” I had always used light colors such as yellow ochre or alizarin crimson for the under painting. Experience had taught me that inner light is created from within. But what did I do? I went against my personal inclination and slathered on grey gesso. After all, my painting was an evening scene, and there were clouds in the sky. Perhaps a grey under painting would work.
What happened later reinforced my first theory. The grey under painting worked like a sponge absorbing all the light. No matter how many coats of eye-popping color I placed on the canvas, eventually it got lost in the grey and became dull and dark. I put on several coats of color and glazes to make up for the light being swallowed up by the darkness.
Moral of this story? Once you learn or discover a truth, don’t let fads or someone else deter you from what works, at least for you. Now when I see a lacquered or varnished painting, I’m always suspecting: was it purposefully done, or is it there to make up for lost luster?
I admit I’m not a fan of shiny art. The one exception is when working with metallics. The natural glow of metallic pigment may add a unique and sophisticated touch to an otherwise ordinary painting. Even better is the placing of paint directly on a metallic surface so that the frame and background become part of the painted surface.
Putting a gloss gel or gloss varnish on a painting is almost like placing a glass over the canvas. The reflections are almost as bad, and you must stand in a certain place to avoid the glare that distorts the painting. I personally love the matte finish of natural pigments and bold brush strokes. But it’s a matter of personal preference.
Personal taste is what art boils down to. We all see things from our own prism of preconceived notions and experiences. What attracts one person deters another. Thank goodness there is room for all types of art in the cultural spectrum.