The Thinking Woman's Almanac 
In this issue
Folding Up a French Easel
Oil Paintings Completed in Studio
FAQ's for Annie
News & Upcoming Events
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From Annie Shaver-Crandell's Studio
September 2013

Painting Outdoors In Oil
It's still plein air season for me, though now I'm primarily working in oil. I like shifting my medium from time to time; it's rather like eating seasonally. Among its advantages is that a plein air oil, unlike a watercolor, can be rained on a bit. The traditional supports for oil painting are sturdier than paper and less expensive to frame. Then there's the relative ease of correction of one's many mistakes -- a solvent-dampened rag takes care of most problems.  Oil lets me choose among brushes, palette knife, rag and even a vinyl-gloved finger for mark-making. Because of the potential for a thick layer of paint, or impasto, the surface of an oil painting can have a life different from the flat plane of a watercolor on a piece of paper. I can hold the canvas or panel that supports an oil vertically or at any other angle that suits me, rather than having to maintain an angle close to horizontal to avoid unwanted drips, the way most watercolor technique requires. Working out of doors, I first learned to cut my paint with solvent only, not a medium, and still do so.  But since I like the lush effects in foliage and plant life that are possible only in layered colors in this medium, I'll sometimes begin working in the studio later with medium (this would traditionally have been linseed oil, but I use the Gamblin company's Galkyd, which I find safe to handle, as are their other products  
On the negative side, working in oil outdoors requires either a good editing of equipment and supplies or a kindly sherpa willing to do something else in the vicinity while one paints. Oil in its tubes (see my July newsletter for notes on the invention of the paint tube) tends to be sold in tubes larger than those for watercolor and consequently to weigh more in the pack. I usually use a half-size French easel for oil painting in the field so that I can work larger than what my pochade box supports.  Many people are comfortable with a limited palette for plein air work, but I like as many colors as I can stand to carry, especially as I have been working extensively with flower gardens this season.  Magenta and fuchsia just cannot be mixed from other hues. 

Other challenges to the plein airist working in oil: getting the wet canvases or panels home undamaged and without smearing paint where it is not wanted; making sure solvent is tightly contained, brushes are at least field-cleaned with baby oil and solvent, and segregated from clean brushes; solvent and all trash tightly capped and wrapped before leaving the site; removing insects from impasto (just use a clean palette knife) -- to name a few.  But, on balance, I'd say that the durability of a finished, dried, varnished, framed oil painting is well worth the processes one goes through to make it.  


As my students know, i am endlessly fascinated by pigments, enjoy experimenting with them in different media, reading about pigments and am riveted by the relationships of some pigments to the economics and history of things that don't necessarily refer directly to making visual art. My watercolor students are occasionally treated to a reading from the 2001-2 edition of The Wilcox Guide To the Best Watercolor Paints. Who can help being astounded to learn that Indian yellow came originally from the concentrated urine of cows fed mango leaves and insufficient water?   For a lay person's introduction to pigments and their sources, try Victoria Finlay's very readable Color: A Natural History of the Palette (New York, 2004), which includes a hair-raising account of the author's trip to Afghanistan in successful pursuit of lapis lazuli. 

This summer's reading has also included Simon Garfield's Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color that Changed the World (New York, 2000), which tells of the accidental discovery by 19th-century chemist William Perkin of a coal-tar-derived pinkish lavender that we call mauve, and which made Perkin a wealthy man after it was popularized by Queen Victoria. But not everyone
benefitted economically from the discovery of coal tar dyes. Red dyes derived from madder, which can grow in poor soil such as is found in Provence, had been used for the red trousers of military uniforms (hiding some of the blood from wounds, apparently). Labor-intensive to extract dye from the plant's root system, which has be pulled from the soil, soaked and beaten, madder lost out to alizarin crimson, another coal-tar dye vastly cheaper to produce, thereby ruining a significant piece of the economy of Provence later in the century.  

My latest pigment enthusiasm is Courbet Green, discovered last week while waiting in the Blick store here on Bond Street for someone to unlock the case of Williamsburg oils so that I could buy cobalt violet. It is a fabulous, somewhat nasty-looking deep green that is making possible capturing shadows in foliage.  Stay tuned for future results.


Plein Air Oil Painting and Packing
Plein Air Oil Painting and Packing

Folding Up a French Easel

Please click here to view the new video of Annie folding up a French easel.

Oil Paintings Completed in Studio

Here are some unfinished oil paintings begun on-site to be finished later  in my studio with the reference photo of the Allee and Trellis.
Allee and Trellis: Reference Photo

Allee and Trellis: August 1
Allee and Trellis, 6" x 12"-1

Allee and Trellis: August 2
Allee and Trellis, 6" x 12"-2

Allee and Trellis: August 3
Allee and Trellis 12" x 16"-3
And here's a finished version:
Allee and Trellis 12" x 16"-Final

Some FAQ's About Oil Painting for Annie

Q: What is meant by "fat over lean? in the creation of oil paintings?
A. This refers to the possible varied consistency of paint from first layer to subsequent ones. The first layer is generally done without added oil medium.  People will use either pure, uncut paint or paint with some solvent added.  Subsequent layers can have increasing amounts of oil medium added to them, especially if the painter likes to glaze in order to create effects of transparency.  It is important that each layer be allowed to dry before covering it with another layer containing an increased proportion of oil; otherwise, there is danger of cracking of the surface. This is not a metier for an impatient person.  Soundings with a hollow needle taken by art conservators in the impasto of Rembrandt's work have found as many as 28 layers of paint. On the other hand, my friend Bill Creevy, author of The Oil Painting Book: Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist once told me that conservation studies of works of painters of the Ashcan School indicated that the most stable surfaces were those of paintings that had been done in one sitting. So -- there are many ways to skin the cat. The oil painter just has to be aware of the predictable behavior of the materials used, in order to create a stable painting.


Q. Why are oil paintings relatively expensive?
A. As with much in this life, you generally get what you pay for.  A properly made oil painting on canvas or a wooden panel is stable, less vulnerable to light and moisture than, say, a watercolor on paper. See previous question. 

Q. You've referred to rags and gloves.  What do you use and why?  
A. For handling oils and solvents, I wear disposable non-sterile vinyl or nitrile gloves as a barrier to chemicals.  Solvents dissolve latex gloves, and so are useless for handling this medium, though I always use them when working in pastel. As for rags, I like a Scott Paper product, Rags in a Box, which is basically a heavy paper towel.  I liked them better before the manufacturer added a texture to the surface, but they are still a better idea than actual oily rags lying about a studio, just waiting to cause spontaneous combustion.  We also keep a box of kitty litter, dispensed in small cans-ful,  that can absorb solvent that needs to be disposed of.

Q: When you work en plein air in oil, how do you decide what canvas to use?
A: The answers, plural, to this question depend on the weather, available time, available transportation and intended subject matter, to name a few factors.  If I know my time and energies are limited, then something small.  If I'm in the city and walking or using the subway, smaller is better -- perhaps 12"x12" or 9"x12".  If I have the use of a car, I'll take anything up to 18"x24" to work on.  If I know I'll be around water, as is often the case on Long Island, I like to have some double squares along, either 6"x12" or 12"x24."   

Other questions about oil painting strategies?  Please feel free to write me at [email protected].

News and Upcoming Events
Plein Air Event
Saturday, September 28
Raindate Sunday, September 29

LI plein aire august

SCNY Singular Visions Online Exhibition
Online, August 26, 2013 - September 23, 2013
Regardless of the medium, some truly beautiful work can be done focused on one object, still life and beyond. A single tree, a stand alone building, A car, the moon, a cloud, a leaf, a bird, a pig - the idea of this online exhibition is to portray only one subject. 
See Annie's two paintings

Salmagundi Club
Packing Strategies for Urban Plein Air Artists
Wednesday, September 25th @ 7:00pm
For more information about Annie's panel discussion
Workshop at the Creative Center
Beginning Watercolor: Basic Techniques for Maximum Enjoyment
Thursdays, November 7, 14, 21, 6:00-8:00pm
Class Location: University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street, Art Room

Participants will be guided through expressive possibilities they might not have suspected they have while also acquiring an understanding of the role of composing intentionally.

We will focus on the color effects of specific pigments as well as on the use of a variety of brushes.

For more information about Annie's workshop at the Creative Center.

Win a Free Watercolor Lesson

Like me on facebook and twitter the word "watercolor" to me and your name will be entered for a chance to win a free watercolor lesson at my Bond Street studio!

Annie's work may be seen at  



Space is currently available in small group painting classes offered at the Bond Street studio.  Monday 2:30-5:30, Wednesday 3:00-6:00, Thursday 10 am-1:00 pm.  Call or email me for details about these and private lessons.   


I am available to discuss commissions for oil paintings of your favorite views, animal companions or beloved possessions.  And consider a gift certificate.

Digby 9"x12" Oil on canvas


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I love hearing from all of you with all your questions and comments. Please feel free to write me at [email protected] and I promise to reply. Your comments help me build my studio.

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Please contact Julianna for more information at
[email protected] and 212-464-7519

2013 Annie Shaver-Crandell