Too Pretty to Touch

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By Ann Moeller Steverson (Artefex Ambassador)

“It’s so pretty, I’m scared to touch it.” It’s a sentence I’ve heard from many an intimidated artist when faced with a newly purchased and admittedly gorgeous copper panel. The pristine surface does fingerprint if you touch it and wait a few days. Back in the day, I shipped new panels with white cotton gloves so when you unwrap them, you can avoid these little imperfections. But I’ll let you in on a big secret, oil and copper belong together. Oil creates a bond and protective layer to the copper surface.

When I paint on copper, I am about as rude to my panels as anyone can imagine. I stuff it in my paint bag, let the surface get dirty, I touch it, and if I make mistakes and the mistake dries, I sand it back down to copper. I couldn’t be more irreverent to these perfect surfaces I paint on. Why, because I paint on them. And when I leave a bit of light or some exposed copper coming through, I’ve yet to have any noticeable imperfection. Besides, it’s our little imperfections that make us beautiful, right?


“Fine, Ann, fine. But what about if we want a large area of gorgeous, perfect shiny copper in our painting?” Well, good news. You can handle the unpainted panel with gloves. And you only have to sing MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” the first time. If the panels are already tarnished or corroded, they can be cleaned by scrubbing any stubborn stains with Rublev Colours Copper Stain Remover and then rinsing with water and drying with a soft cloth. You can then apply a corrosion inhibitor available from Natural Pigments, Rublev Colours Copper Rinse. Spray directly over the clean, dry panel (rub it with a cotton ball if you want to avoid a slight haze), and then you have a greatly extended time to complete your painting without any concern for oxidation. You can also seal the beautifully finished work and any exposed copper to protect it from oxidation with Conservar Acrylic Varnish that Natural Pigments has specifically developed for use on copper.

Fear is my least favorite emotion, and I think the biggest block to creativity. Fear copper no more and shine on you beautiful people.

Lead On Lead- (Part 1 and 2) A Review of Natural Pigment’s New “Course Particle” Stack Lead White, And The Artefex 532 Extra Fine Lead Oil Primed ACM Panel

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Written by Artefex Ambassador Teresa Oaxaca
To read her entire post that includes an in depth review of Natural Pigments Stack Lead White check out her full blog on her website.
Chicken Little, oil on fine weave oil primed Artefex ACM panel, 16×20″
When trying to describe what it’s like working with lead paint, “drag” is one of the elements I like to employ in my descriptions.  In these closeups I hope you can see what I am talking about.  You’ll notice that the paint has a memory of the direction in which it was laid on, even the speed of the stroke.  The surface that you are working on plays a great deal as to what will be recorded finally in your still image.  Factors such a the amount of “bounce” that your support gives (stretched canvas as opposed to a rigid panel) and texture (such as canvas weave or smooth primed wood or metal).  In this case we will be examining ACM, or Aluminum Composite Material panels, such as the ones produced by Artefex art.  I prefer to work on linen surfaces so the degree of texture in the linen weave will play another important role, as will the composition of the priming on the surface of the weave (in this case lead white vs. a general oil primed white).
A closeup of paint strokes 
I am not yet prepared to say that I can really tell the difference between a fine grain and a course grain lead white paint.  I tend to forget such distinctions once I am involved in the actual painting process.  I do know that you can feel an almost hear a satisfying crunching noise as you blend course pigment particles into your support, particularly if you are using a hog bristle brush.
As with all painting media I would advise users to experiment with it all and decide for themselves which surfaces, textures and mediums are the most appropriate, pleasing and suitable.  You can only discover this by working and a lot of trial an error.  What is important is that you become familiar with the choices that are out there and learn to tell the differences.
Pathos, oil on fine weave oil primed Artefex ACM panel, 16×20″ with artist made frame
Until recently most of my rigid support, ACM panel investigations have been confined to small paintings.  Because of this I don’t feel the need to make too many layer passes, so the artworks you are seeing in this article were all painted in 2-3 sessions (albeit Long sessions).  I’m working on some larger panels now that are 60×40″ and 30×40″ respectively.
Flower Maiden, oil on medium weave oil primed Artefex ACM panel, 16×20″
In this detail of Flower Maiden you can see how she was painted on a slightly courser and more noticeable weave of linen.  I do like the look of a weave showing through a painting, a slightly irregular one.  I find machine-like repetitive weaves to be ugly, and am a bit at sea when painting on mylar or something plastic.
A before and after shot of Chicken Little for those of you who are curious or like to learn from process.  That’s a pretty rapid and loose under painting there of probably under an hour.  Below you see the finished product man hours later.  I don’t count, I listen to stories instead.
Madonna, oil on stretched linen canvas, 16×12″
Here are two paintings not made on an ACM panel, but on stretched canvas.  In life you can really tell the difference, but I’m not certain that it is noticeable in photographs.  As a rule of thumb I would advise working on a rigid support if you prefer a smoother surface and blending.
The Floating World, oil on stretched  linen canvas,18×24″
Here I am painting on the new Artefex 532 Extra Fine Lead Oil Primed ACM Panel. I just received this about a week ago, it’s a brand new offering from Artefex that I am having a go at. I’ve always preferred lead primed canvases due to the “lead on lead” contact that I like. The paint always seems to glide on best with oil primed canvases, but especially so on a lead primed version. Here in this video I have made a first pass at the face and am working away at the background. One of the nice things about panels is that you don’t have to worry about stretching or adding keys later in case the atmosphere makes your stretcher bars contract or expand.they are ready to go and frame pretty easily.

A Game Changer

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Copper Panel Painting by Ann Moeller Steverson

Painting on Copper by Ann Moeller Steverson

Painting on copper is a different experience. Anyone who has seen a work on copper in person knows there is a different quality and vibrancy to the intensity of the pigment. But compared to painting on canvas, painting on copper is a new and wild adventure and has an entirely different feel.
The usual smooth surface of copper is very slick so unless you have the mad wizard mastery of an artist like Steven Assael, the natural surface is best addressed with patience and a plan. Otherwise, you are just sliding around in your socks and underwear risky business style. I suggest starting by working in a block in of a thin translucent glowing first layer and then planning to build up by paint by adhering to thinner layers of pigment below. Think of sticking a stack of sticky notes together.Copper Panel Painting by Ann Moeller Steverson

I love the freedom of painting on the textured copper panels offered by Artefex. With these finely abraded panels, I can go as thin or as thick on the first layer as I want and it holds the brush stroke perfectly. There are no big canvas bumps to flight, so my paint goes much farther. The resulting brush strokes become more a reflection of the character of the brush used and the wielder rather than the texture of the surface. The amount of detail possible is incredible when there is little to no surface interference. The first layer can feel slightly thirsty, so if you want extra movement, just oil in the copper first or add a quick thin wash of solvent. The goal is to have the paint grip without interference.

The traditional method of working dark to light with very thin darks works exceptionally well when painting on copper panels. I have found that translucent shadows can be created with a beautiful transparent oxide color (brown, red, or yellow) or any mixed dark oil paint, and is a lovely way to start that keeps a warm glow. If I want to soften the marks to keep the shadow areas simple, I lightly brush over the shadow shapes with a gentle mongoose or badger hair paint brush. Lead white makes a particularly appealing stand on the copper panel where I want to develop all the subtle value shifts, fine details and lively brushstrokes in the lights of the painting. I usually shift the lights cooler to play against the warm shadows. I like to leave peak of exposed copper color in the mid tones and transitions, which adds harmony to the piece. The overall effect of warm shadows, with the exposed copper transitions, serve to unify the painting beautifully and contrast vibrantly to the cool lights. In short, the result is “zazzle.”

The effect of the painting support on the overall look of my work is transformative. After all, when it comes to painting supports, it’s literally what’s underneath that counts.