How Painting Can Create A Sensuous Surface

by | Jan 19, 2008 | Blog | 3 comments

One of my favorite painting teachers, Phyllis Bramson, had a great analogy for painters, by comparing the paint to human skin. When a painting is finished the paint layers all cure together to form a tactile paint surface. This surface, according to Bramson, can be compared to skin. It can be thick and palpable like a baby’s skin, or thin and transparent, like the skin of someone elderly. When I first heard this it confused me, because at that time I was a new mother. My son was only 2 years old, and his skin was very transparent, not thick and palpable. I could see veins on his face just below the skin’s surface. But, hey, it was a cool analogy, and I decided to stop trying to figure it out, and just use it.

So now when I paint I often take the time to just look at the applied paint, and think about how it makes me feel. Just the paint. Not the images, colors, composition…but just the paint. If it’s thick and textured it feels tactile or sensual. If applied thinly, then I want it to feel silky, soft, veiled, vaporous. While wandering in galleries looking at art, I will search out paintings that intrigue me. Maybe I like the colors, or imagery, and will walk up really close to it. When I get right up there nose to paint, I want to feel the paint. If it looks too thin and skimpy I lose interest.

Here in Santa Fe we are lucky enough to have a Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Her work is a perfect example of what I call “the sensuous paint skin”. (Please note that you can’t see the true nature of her painting surfaces in a photograph, only in person). In almost every oil painting of hers, there are two contrasting ways of handling the paint. Some areas are barely covered by a thin layer of paint, and you can still see the texture of the canvas coming through, while other areas use heavy impasto (brushy or knife applied texture) showing off her luscious brush strokes.

Just to clarify, there are thin applications of paint that I feel can still look sensuous. A powerful painting is created when the artist allows the medium itself to speak through the work. And what better way to let it speak then through it’s own physicality, by expressing itself through a tactile quality in the final surface.

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Glazing with acrylic paint

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  1. coporate office tips

    I will surely be reading more if you keep producing posts such as this one.

  2. Nancy Reyner

    No, I have not used Envirotex over my paintings. There are 2 things to consider. If this product is an industrial product, then chances are it is not tested archivally. That means that it might not stay clear after awhile. I had a tough time once, when I used a commercial polyurethane over cabinets that I had painted white, then added a design on top. After a few months the entire surface yellowed from the polyurethane. I had to redo the job (for free) using Kilz to stop any yellowing coming through, then repainted and did not use polyurethane. The other consideration is the toxic nature of this product. Again, I have never used it, but reading the instructions and label, it reminds me of a 2 part resin I have played around with. It was too toxic for me, even with a mask during use, as it still outgassed a very strong smell in my studio. For a very glossy finish, I like Golden’s gloss MSA varnish. It is also toxic, but dries very quickly and does not smell after a day or so. I brush apply several coats and it looks super glossy. Another solution is to pour Goldens GAC800 over your painting. This product will give a “surfboard” gloss finish. It has a very slight cloudiness to it, only detectable when used over black or large dark colored areas.

  3. Dion Kurczek

    Have you ever used Envirotex over an acrylic painting to get a high gloss finish? Was wondering about your impression of this.


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About Nancy

Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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