Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thanks For Listening 2013

As the year closes, let me take a moment to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of you that have made this such a great year. 

For those of you that took the time to comment and share your thoughts on art, I cannot express how important your input has been. If I did not reply directly to your comment I assure you that my lack of response was either circumstances or procrastination. Whichever case, I value each and every comment. Again my sincerest gratitude.

Have a happy and prosperous New Year,  Jim

For my loving wife, no words can express my appreciation for you, the source of my greatest happiness. How lucky a man I am. I am extremely lucky, and extremely thankful… for you.
All my love, Happy Anniversary

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rust Never Sleeps

We often talk about the Elements of Art,
But Passion is the most important element of Art and life.
It is so simple: do the thing you love.

For an artist, well for anyone, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker.
Desire and determination are the key.
You have to be creatively alive in every situation.
At times you just have go for it and make things happen, other times you go with the flow.
and see where things lead.

My study Feather and Egg has progressed slowly. It takes me some time to settle down and enjoy the artistic process, the start of a painting is usually fairly easy, the finish can be torture, too much here – too little there, a lot of critiquing and corrections.
However I am on the last pass of paint and just a few tweaks and it will be done.

It’s better to burn out, ’cause rust never sleeps.

The meaning of the phrase "Rust Never Sleeps" is quite ambiguous. Some consider the term to be a metaphor for artistic vitality. In other words, by staying the same, one is vulnerable to the corrosive effects of aging and obsolescence. By moving forward and innovating, one can try and stay ahead of the relentless onslaught of time, remain vital and "rust free".

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I love the smell of turpentine in the mornings.

The characteristic piney licorice aroma always conjures up fond memories of my art school days. As soon as you got to the second floor the bouquet of turpentine, linseed oil and charcoal told your senses that you had arrived in the painting studio and something creative was happening.

Nostalgia aside the main reason I have turps in my studio is that I still feel it to be the best diluent for the type of oil painting I do and wish to pursue. I like the “open time” speed of evaporation and how it works with a painting medium of oil and varnish. Being a stronger solvent, I tend to use less in my medium mixtures.

So let’s talk a bit about solvents especially turpentine and why there is so much conversations about it's use. Solvents are used to thin or dilute oil color in the making of painting mediums, and the cleaning of brushes. No matter what type of solvent you use, it should be used with care and exposure should be kept to a minimal. There are some ordinary, common sense precautions that you can take to reduce your risks.

Solvent Protocols

  1. Just because you do not smell it, do not assume it is safer.
  2. Just put a lid on it. Keeping solvents covered will reduce the amount of harmful vapors in the air. Cover all containers, bush jars, medium cups, and cap the bottle. Even if it is for a short period of time.
  3. While cleaning brushes use as little as possible, less solvent means less fumes. I use Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS) to clean brushes and Distilled Turpentine in my painting mediums. Using a small metal brush washer with a lid or a small narrow mouth jar will work. Unless you’re painting with large brushes why have a coffee can of solvents open? I wipe the excess paint off my brushes before immersing and swishing them in my brush wash. Rinse, Repeat… If you can, use two small containers, one for “gunk” a dirty first rinse and a second cleaner rinse. You will be surprised how much cleaner your brushes stay. This keeps the solvent strength up longer because it is less diluted with paint residue.
  4. While painting, again use as little as possible. Avoid large “washes” of pigment with solvents, too much solvent will cause a poorly binded paint film that may not adhere to its support or to additional layers of paint. Over thinning can be avoided by the use of mediums in addition to solvents.
  5. Ventilation, set your studio up where you can open a window and get some type of cross draft going, if needed use a box fan to exchange the air in the room.
  6. If you use OMS or Turps, buy art quality solvents, they are more refined and usually less odorous.
  7. And finally do not bath in it, drink it or wear it like a cologne.
I had to add in number seven because I am just not sure what people are doing with solvents, especially turpentine that makes it a recurring topic of concern in art forums and blogs. I recognize that there are those individuals that are sensitive to turpentine, and there are manufacturers with alternative products that want to grab some part of the art materials market. But the truth I feel, that the issue is with protocol number four, the confusion of solvents with painting mediums.

Oil paint is essentially one or more pigments combined with a binder (the oil) and a diluent (such as turpentine). Using solvents alone to thin oil paint you run the risk of under binding your paint, leaving a dry matte finish that may not adhered to its support and additional layers of paint. You can paint using oil alone but it is a rather sticky surface to deal with in successive layers of paint. Even for the initial lay in of a painting, it best to use a combination of oil and solvent and use the smallest amount of medium at all stages of a paintings development. I think I will save the topic of mediums for later.

 "Don't be afraid to use pigment.  Avoid excessive
turpentine and varnish."
                                                                                                             Aldro T. Hibbard

Solvents for Oil Paints

Turpentine – Pure Gum Spirit Turpentine is distilled from the sap of pine trees, used in the production of oil paintings, as a diluent for oil paint, as a ingredient in painting mediums and as a diluent in varnishes.  Notice the use of the word diluent as in “thinning” meaning to make more fluid and brush more readily. Anything we add to paint is about changing it's viscosity to change its flow and handling. While (most importantly) without over thinning the mixture so that we maintain a paint film when the pigment goes through its chemical changes that we refer to as “Drying”.
Evaporates completely, excellent solvent for resins such as dammar.

Mineral Spirits - Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS), White Spirits, are all a petroleum based product, used as a cleaner for tools and brushes. They have a slight to no odor but still contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and should be used with adequate ventilation. Odorless mineral spirits does not dissolve dammar varnish, so it will not dilute dammar varnish mediums. It is suitable for thinning oil colors and cleaning brushes, can be used in making and thinning painting mediums that contain stand and sun-thickened oils. However I would recommend artist grade OMS for making oil mediums such as Turpenoid from Weber, Sansodor from Winsor & Newton and Gamsol from Gamblin Colors are quality low odor solvents that evaporate slowly and increases blending time. 

If you decide to go with the hardware store solvents just be aware that paint thinner and mineral spirits are not the same thing.  Paint thinner is mineral spirits, but in a less refined form. It is usually washed or reclaimed solvent that may contains other types of solvents and additives which makes it a lot smellier and more volatile. Back in my sign painting and billboard days we avoided painter thinner altogether because it caused enamels and oils to become gummy and drag when brushing. I don’t even use it to clean brushes because of my experiences with it as a paint reducer in lettering enamels. Truly the last thing anyone would want in the paint film of an object of art.

Oil of Spike LavenderA colorless or yellowish aromatic oil extracted from the European broad-leaved lavender, or aspic (Lavendula Spica). It is used as a diluting in oil paints and in the making of painting mediums. It's use historically dates back to the 15th century. I have had no experience with this solvent but have read about it many times and I'm curious.

Citrus Based Solvents – Are an alternative to mineral spirits and odorless mineral spirits.
They are listed as made from food-grade citrus peel oil and can used to clean brushes and dilutes oil paint. It is considered a non-toxic, non-flammable solvent. My experience with this product was brief, it's reaction as a solvent was very weak but mainly I disliked the orange smell so much I decided I'd much rather become a Turp Huffing Zombie.

Solvent FreeIt is possible to eliminate turpentine and paint thinner from the studio all together. You can dilute and manipulate oil paints viscosity with oil alone as a medium, Linseed, Poppy or Walnut Oil work well. Oil paint can be used just as it is, no additives and depending on your painting style this may be the perfect solution.  I recommend if you’re a beginner with oils just keep it very simple and work with paints only and the bare minimum of solvents and mediums to start. After all, we are oil painter’s not medium painters?

Oiling BrushesAfter art school, I happened into a career painting pictorials for the outdoor industry, mural sized images on billboards. We worked in oil colors (I loved the artist oils of Dana-colors, produced and developed by Charles Dana a scenic and mural artist) and bulletin colors, a high quality sign enamel.

 As I went through training in their studios I was surprised to learn the method of producing these images was with tradition artist oils and techniques, on large panels and later vinyl canvas of 14 feet tall by 48 feet long.  It was traditional painting and illustration at a industrial scale, portraits ten feet tall and landscapes forty eight feet long, where you often found yourself literally standing inside of a maze of abstract patterns, passages of colors and splashes of paint. We mixed oil colors by the quart and gallon and used high quality hogs hair brushes, I especially liked Scharff finches and Corona sign cutters. Many of more delicate lettering brushes, grey squirrel quills and sable flats would run up to a small fortune.

Bulletin Pictorial oil and enamel paint on metal panels 14x48 feet © Jim Serrett
Advertiser United Colors of Benetton USA 

I produced literally thousands of pieces of advertising art this way and never cleaned a single brush. The method was to give them a good rinse in OMS and then oil the brushes, lay them flat in trays or roller pans containing oil. We used several different oils, mineral oil, castor oil, olive oil, baby oil, just about any light-bodied oils would work as long as it would rinse out entirely with your solvent. I used non-detergent motor oil for years without any ill effect, these days there are so many strong detergents and other additives put in oil I have to hunt for one I can use. Traditionally sign-writers stored brushes in lard oil which had a tendency to attract pests. The idea is that once you rinsed out your dirty brush you would stoke it through the oil then shape and lay then down in the pan covering only the bristles with oil until next needed. It is still the best way I have found to preserve brushes, walnut or mineral oil are probably the best option today, and there are a few niche commercial products like Xcaliber and Sapphire Brush Oil which are actually formulated for this use.

Medicinal Elixir A brief History of TurpentineTurpentine has been used by artist in oil painting for nearly 700 years. What most people do not know is that turpentine has been used medicinally since ancient times, as both topical and sometimes internal remedies. Some very fraudulent and others quite genuine such as Vicks Vapor Rub still contain turpentine in their formula. The majority of these products from the turn of the century fall into the category of “Snake Oil” concoctions, tonics, elixirs, liniments and salves all of which claim some restorative, rejuvenating power or cure-all often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence. Most were combinations of grain alcohol, turpentine, and kerosene with sugar, molasses or honey used to mask the taste. A product called “Turpo” sold as a cold remedy advertised, “ Snuff a little Turpo up the nostril several times a day and the flu germ will have little chance of getting a lodging and breeding place.”

One of my favorite is Hamlin's Wizard Oil Medical Elixir.
Hamlin's Wizard Oil was an American patent medicine sold as a cure-all under the slogan "There is no Sore it will Not Heal, No Pain it will not Subdue." Taken internally it was used as treatment for intestinal parasites because of its alleged antiseptic and diuretic properties, and a general cure-all. It was made of 50%-70% alcohol containing camphor, ammonia, chloroform, sassafras, cloves, and turpentine, and was said to be usable both internally and topically. So to run down the history of turpentine, it has been used as chest rub, inhaler for nasal and throat ailments, as a treatment for head and body lice, whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis, sore throat, dyspepsia, a topical for abrasions and wounds, taken internally in all forms and formulas professing all sorts of benefits. 

Oh, how times have changed.
Come on, who doesn't want Wizard Oil in the studio?

I will reiterate, all solvents have inherent risks, use reasonable precautions and avoid unreasonable fear. Studio safety is about good habits and methods.

 Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

I have several links for this topic, anyone interested in oil painting and its methods should spend some time looking at the resources at Winsor Newton, and  Gamblin. Artist Colors.

These are quick links to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the major solvents we have been talking about.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Feather and Egg Composition

Here is the sketch and value study for my next studio still life. The set up I am using is truly all about controlling the lighting and having access to my subject at any time of day. I have a great north light window for working under natural light but Ra the sun god and I seem to have different schedules. I use a shadow box on a shelving unit with some color corrective bulbs and floods. I use black drapery on the sides to eliminate any outside light on the scene.

There is an abnormally large collection of objects that sit around the studio awaiting their call to the stage. When I design a still life I look for objects that have a interesting form and relationship to one another.  I am looking for intriguing patterns and shapes within the composition.

Good composition is the result of careful considerations and planning in the initial phase of a work. I use a rule of thirds to zero in on where I think the center of interest is, however to see how the eye will move through the design I will often draw a harmonic armature over a contour drawing. The armature is to help plan the design and actual see where things lay within the composition. Are things too high or too low on the picture plane, does the design feel right in relationship to the canvas, what is the rhythm and placement of shapes? The use of this classical geometry is the best and simplest tool I have found to judge composition. Drawing a quick armature over a design will quickly point out its weaknesses, and working with the mathematical proportion will only increase your intuitive sense of composition.

And after drawing comes composition. 
A well-composed painting is half done.

Feather and Egg  Harmonic Armature 9 x 12 inches


Harmonic Armature - Thomas Kegler's PDF on Composition
Rule of Thirds      
Golden Ratio       
Fibonacci’sGolden Number      

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Red Yellow Green

Red Yellow Green is a simple still life in which I wanted to deal with some basic forms and push the chiaroscuro effect inside my shadow box set up. Painting from direct observation is the best way to develop a sensitivity to color and light. I have to say I struggled with this piece, especially the "shadow family" whose planes angle away from the light source or in cast shadow where no light falls. Finding the dark family values and right contrasts seemed particularly difficult while still keeping a realistic sense of modeling.  My perception of color tended to change the more I looked into the veiled arrangement of light and dark elements. Our preconceptions/presumptions of color can be hard to overcome at times.

Red Yellow Green - 8 x 10 inches - oil on panel © Jim Serrett

Experience has two things to teach; the first is that we must correct a great deal; the second that we must not correct too much.
                                                                                                                - Eugene Delacroix

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Sunday, June 30, 2013


For those of you that have been following this blog with Google Reader.  On Monday, Google Reader will no longer be available. You can continue receiving updates and posts by subscribing using the RSS email box in the side bar or following me on Google+. 

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Friday, May 31, 2013


“Through the pursuit of beauty,” suggests Scruton, “we shape the world as our own and come to understand our nature as spiritual beings. But art has turned its back on beauty and now we are surrounded by ugliness.”

Roger Scruton presents a provoking essay on the importance of beauty in the arts and in our lives. There is so much food for thought in this documentary, who is to say, after all, what constitutes beauty? And by what standards do we judge that is which is beautiful in this fast pace fast food disposable world?

We cannot reach a consensus on the definition of beauty, any more than on the definition of other such volatile terms. But we can reach a consensus on the importance of beauty, and its place in our lives
.-Roger Scruton

Every artist interested in the place and importance of art in society should take look at this documentary.  Scruton argues that art is something that should elevate the human spirit, that beauty is critical to art and human happiness. Great art should speak to both the intellect and emotions. Maybe Keats said it best when he wrote the line, "beauty is truth, truth beauty".   

Roger Scruton writer and philosopher
John Keats. 1795–1821
Truth speaks to the intellect, beauty to the emotions.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inspiration from Harold Speed and Father Guido Sarducci

I have been re-reading, The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed.
True inspiration to me; with great insight, the following quote struck home.

I would highly recommend this book to any artist, still in print and very reasonably priced but you can also find it online free at Open Library.
Harold Speed
The Practice and Science of Drawing
Dover Publications, Inc new York
Originally published by Seeley Service Ltd. 1927

And if by chance Speed's quote is too deep there is always this inspiration from Father Guido Sarducci from Saturday Night Live extolling the virtues of being an artist ("Become an Artist")

Harold Speed - (1872-1957)                                                  
The SNL Archive
Father Guido Sarducci

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Conch Shell and Choosing Subject Matter

Conch Shell

When I choose a subject I look for two things, first it must present a set of visual challenges and second I must have some connection to it. It must “say” something to me, that can be either a pure aesthetic experience or a emotional link. This is where the concept of any painting starts, no matter how elaborate the idea or simple the subject matter may be, without these two essentials you can not communicate anything beyond the literal.

However, as I work I pay little attention to the subject matter, I concentrate on the abstract pictorial qualities that make up an image, this is what intrigues and excites me when I paint; that painters zone, to transcend the subject through a honest emotional response to those abstract qualities of shapes, colors, values, light, space, and attempt to translate that into some poetic image.

Thinking of it in this way -  you realize the subject chooses the artist.

We have had a gutful of fast art and food.
What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational that doesn’t get its message across in 10 seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures.

Art Critic and Historian - 1938 - 2012
From a speech given at the London Royal Academy, June 2004
Link to article and video about Robert Hughes

Conch Shell, oil on panel, 5"x 7"
Retrieved from the beach of Cancun, Mexico.
Available in Gallery

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gallery Update

If this looks to you like a shameless self promotion, well it is. Sometimes the best way to promote yourself is to remind patrons that work is available for purchase.

Jim Serrett Gallery offers access to my portfolio of available original artworks.
You will find larger studio works in oil offered through this site directly, as well as small scale paintings and studies obtainable through my Etsy Store. Easy access to the gallery is through the above page tab or the “Gallery of Available Works” image in the side bar on the right.

Please visit the gallery and thank you for your support of the arts.

”An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
                                                                                           ---  James MacNeill Whistler 

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Monday, January 28, 2013

Japanese Teapot

This little aluminum teapot has been around the studio for awhile now. I had been thinking and toying around with a larger composition for it. But I just seemed to keep coming back to the simple statement of the pot.

The unique shape and great surface gives this little object a lot of character.
That's what influenced me to pick it up at a yard sale in the first place, so I figure I need to go with that first impression.

The only way to evolve as a painter is to recognize those first impressions, that initial inspiration that made you say, this I must paint.

Japanese Teapot - Oil on panel - 8x10 -  Available

"Paint a little less of the facts, and a little more of the spirit." 
                                                                              --Harvey Thomas Dunn (1884-1952)

The Sketch - Lay In


Color pass

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim