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Old 02-20-2011, 06:02 PM
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Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hello all,

I am currently painting a study of one of the beautiful little treasures by Vermeer: the Lacemaker . I will be posting the steps here. All corrections and comments are welcome. I know there are some WC members who have already studied Vermeer as well: I would love to hear about your experiences.


What I like, as a beginner, about painting copies of master paintings instead of real objects or persons, is this: they teach me something about painting, instead of just providing me with subject matter. I can study the process and the materials and the artistic decisions of the artist, not just the subject. I have to admit that I am nowhere near the skill level that would be necessary to make a decent Vermeer reproduction, plus I do not know my materials well enough at all. So I have nothing but my enthusiasm to tell me that I can do it . We’ll see…

Size: approx 11x13 inches. The original is tiny: 8.25x9.6 inches. So I have enlarged it a little, but just enough to have a more workable size while maintainig the imtimate character of the painting which would be hurt by too large a format, I feel.

Support: birch plywood, oil-primed and toned with raw sienna.

Drawing: transferred to the panel using a grid.

Underpainting: two layers in raw umber and white. I have to correct some values and shapes and fill in those bothersome little "holes" where my ground still shines through. Next comes the color.

I have posted a question regarding color and glazes over in the oil forum:


Thanks for looking!
Edit: I seem to have trouble uploading the images. Will try again!

Last edited by Marigold : 02-20-2011 at 06:06 PM.
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Old 02-21-2011, 03:55 AM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Yes, finally it works: here are the images.

First one: the painting really looked that crazy yellow at this stage, I did not expect the W&N Raw Sienna to be so bright. I kind of liked it, the warm tone can still be felt althought it is now covered with the underpainting.

Second one: present stage

Third one: Reference.
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Last edited by Marigold : 02-21-2011 at 04:02 AM.
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Old 02-21-2011, 02:17 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marigold
Hello all,

I am currently painting a study of one of the beautiful little treasures by Vermeer: the Lacemaker . I will be posting the steps here. All corrections and comments are welcome. I know there are some WC members who have already studied Vermeer as well: I would love to hear about your experiences.


What I like, as a beginner, about painting copies of master paintings instead of real objects or persons, is this: they teach me something about painting, instead of just providing me with subject matter. I can study the process and the materials and the artistic decisions of the artist, not just the subject. I have to admit that I am nowhere near the skill level that would be necessary to make a decent Vermeer reproduction, plus I do not know my materials well enough at all. So I have nothing but my enthusiasm to tell me that I can do it . We’ll see…


Exactly! Precisely! Absolutely! I have copied 8 Vermeer's (including this one), one Rubens, and two Rembrandts, and my motives were the same as yours. After I got into it that is. Once committed, I realized that copying a Master could not be done without the most intense scrutiny, analysis, unraveling of what he did, which followed with "how in the hell did he do that?" I had nothing but enthusiasm to help me figure out how.

My references came from library books, and here is rule #1. If 20,000 photographers took a shot of Lacemaker, no two of them would look exactly the same. So you have to search out all you can find and select the most defining one. After the most intense visual study you have ever done you discover another rule #1: the artistry of any Dutch or Italian Master begins with the bare canvas. The tonal ground. Someone named Hermann Kuhn made chemical analysis of edge slop over ground paint on many Vermeer paintings, and says this about Lacemaker: "The thin, gray-brown ground contains chalk, lead-white, and umber." Umber was the stand-by pigment for most of his grounds, but all had little tweaks of other pigments. Why? Because the tonal ground was intended to be integrated, show through all layers of paint at completion and be a subtle unifying element of the entire painting. Exactly where and how much tonal ground is evident is where their genius comes in. Barely a glimmer in some parts, totally covered in others. Have some fun and see if you can find in your reference "the thin, gray-brown ground." On the wall is the most noticeable, but where else?

The point of this is in order to recognize what Vermeer did you have to acquire a sort of x-ray vision and look through the surface and all the way down to the ground. Then slowly come back up and note where and how his subsequent paint applications created some the most baffling optical illusions ever put on canvas. That's the easy part. Figuring out just how he did it is next to impossible. Even the sloppiest photo of the wall behind the Lacemaker (and especially a close up) shows most of the painting to be a variety of pointillism. But how? Tiny brushes? The canvas weave itself creating the effect? The light sparkle on her yellow dress is self-explanatory pointillism. So is the blue on the padded sewing basket. This canvas weave pointillism effect cannot be done, I am convinced, without thoroughly dry paint beneath each new application. BUT... the threads spilling out of the basket, parts of the dress, the table, are said to be painted wet on wet, by those who have studied the painting through high powered microscopes.

Obviously, I am much taken by your daring but intelligent approach to this project. I close with a bombshell - you might reach an understanding that to paint like Vermeer you have to throw all art teaching of the last hundred years out the window. Starting with glazes. Every glaze is a concoction of one's favorite formula, made thin by some dilutant, and spread evenly on top of passages in the painting. Once you see through the surface down to the ground of Lacemaker, you will see there is no glaze anywhere on the painting. Something entirely different is at work. The soft dissolves of transparency are achieved by paint right out of the tube, rather than any medium. But how to achieve a paint out of the tube Vermeer resemblance?
That's where the fun of learning begins.
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Old 02-21-2011, 05:14 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hello StLuke,

Clearly you have spent some intense thought and research on Vermeer, so thank you for offering your input and encouragement! You have brought up an abundance of intriguing points. If I wait around until I have formed an opinion on each of those, I may never start painting . Let me just take you up on two of your points, if you are willing:

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
Even the sloppiest photo of the wall behind the Lacemaker (and especially a close up) shows most of the painting to be a variety of pointillism. But how? Tiny brushes? The canvas weave itself creating the effect? The light sparkle on her yellow dress is self-explanatory pointillism. So is the blue on the padded sewing basket.


I did read your posts about pointilism in Vermeers pictures ( Master study class - Vermeers Painting Techniques ) a while ago, and it was something I was thinking about a lot. Most texts about Vermeer’s painting have some mention of the pointilés, the noticable round reflexes that give his pictures such a unique sparkle and have led to the camera obscura theory etc etc… but reading your text it seemed to me that you were arguing for a more consistent pointilist way of paint application that Vermeer used throughout the pictures, which I have not seen mentioned anywhere else. Did I read you correctely?

I kept your observation in mind when I looked at the background of my lacemaker. You are right, the color there is so lively and luminous that it would be hard to believe it is just one simple flat color. It seems that Vermeer somehow layered different "near-whites"; using some type of broken color application that I cannot imagine. I can see a cooler, greyish tone and a warmer, brownish or "eggshell" color.

But I am not sure if the impression is wrong – the color variations could be from darkened varnish or canvas structure? I looked at photographs of other Vermeer paintings with light background, and while they all show a very beautiful lighting, I cannot see this dottet or in your words pointilist appearance. For example, the attached background from The Woman with the Water Pitcher does seem to show different tones of near-white, however some of these variations looks like they may be due to deterioration of the painting, and it certaily does not look like a pointilist color application was employed. The background in Woman at the Virginal looks very smooth and even. Do you have other examples where you have observed what you refer to as pointilism, and how it helps create the luminosity of Vermeers pictures?

Susanne
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Last edited by Marigold : 02-21-2011 at 06:13 PM.
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Old 02-21-2011, 05:24 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

I am also very curious about your statement regarding the absence of glazing:

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
I close with a bombshell - you might reach an understanding that to paint like Vermeer you have to throw all art teaching of the last hundred years out the window. Starting with glazes. Every glaze is a concoction of one's favorite formula, made thin by some dilutant, and spread evenly on top of passages in the painting. Once you see through the surface down to the ground of Lacemaker, you will see there is no glaze anywhere on the painting. Something entirely different is at work. The soft dissolves of transparency are achieved by paint right out of the tube, rather than any medium.

That was one of my main questions about The Lacemaker. (I have seen some very successful Vermeer copies that use extensive glazing, but this is besides the point). My result from looking closely at the picture was that I see evidence of glazing in the pillow. The blue glaze is quite visible on the white stripes and on the tassle, do you disagree? My guess was that Vermeer might have used glazes to create all the deeper darks in the the foreground. Have the green patterns in the carpet been created by glazing blue over some earth yellow?

My plan was to use glazes in all the dark blue shapes in the foreground, which is why I underpainted these areas in lighter value than they will be to account for the darkening effect of the glazes.

Susanne
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Last edited by Marigold : 02-21-2011 at 05:38 PM.
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Old 02-21-2011, 10:30 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Looking like a really great start Susanne

You are very wise in copying from the masters. A quick way to help figure things out.

I love painting on the birch board myself. You mentioned oil primed. May I asked what you used?

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Old 02-22-2011, 01:38 AM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

goodness !! ... ... the information here !! ... fabulous !! .... *pulling up a chair to watch and read and absorb* .... ... a beaut is in the making here and i look forward to watching its development and learning .....
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Old 02-22-2011, 02:54 AM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hello Jonny, thanks for commenting I treat the plywood with transparent gesso and then with 2 coats of W&N oil primer, that's it. Gives me a smooth and rigid surface that is good if I want to start out rather detailed from the beginning. What I like about it also, to be honest, is that it is cheap and easy. I do not have to attach expensive canvas to the board, get messy with glue etc...

The disadvantage is that the smooth surface does not accept much color with the first one or two coats. The color does slide around and the first coats have to be thin. This drove me crazy when I once made the mistake using such a panel for a life study of a flower, which did not give me enough time for the first coats to dry obviously.

If you like working on plywood, may I ask up to which size you have used plywood panels? I have only used it for small formats (12x16 max) and I wonder if it would get too heavy getting to formats about 16x20 or larger.

Susanne

Last edited by Marigold : 02-22-2011 at 03:02 AM.
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Old 02-22-2011, 02:58 AM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hello Violet, thank you very much! It will be fun to have you follow along and I hope it will be worth your while.
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Old 02-22-2011, 02:51 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

The treachery of words! "Pointillism" was a bad mistake. Glaze is paralyzing.
I will attempt further explanation here, but also give notice I don't want to hijack your thread. Or your learning experience either. We can have exchange by PM if your interest holds. I came crashing in like the bull in the china shop for the single reason that your stated Master copying intent was to teach yourself their art of painting, their materials and thought processes and decision making. That is exactly what I did ten or more years ago. That only will be the base of any discussion we might have, private or other.

Pointillism evokes the crude blots of Seurat, or modern color theory production of uniform dots representing the color wheel, or lately pen and ink drawings, etc. I should have said "texture." That is a word often used but it is very elastic. Texture can be created in a variety of ways, and Titian and his cohorts in Venice used fingers on wet imprimatura to create texture in parts of the background. I went to the Venetian exhibit at the National Gallery, D.C. however many years ago, and carried a magnifying glass with me. I studied those paintings as closely as the guards allowed to see the surface and what lay beneath. And what I saw was thousands of dots and transfered dots everywhere. Dots of different sizes and colors, but also dots that had been elongated and and made into short broken dotted strings and countless other variations, on backgrounds, flesh and clothing. How exactly did they achieve that?

Proud standing canvas weave for one thing. Titian preferred rough canvas for that very reason, and using his thumb prints for special effects. But brushes were the main tool, and the dotty obsession required hours, weeks, sometimes years to complete. Then of course there was opaque light over the dottiness where ever and as much as needed to be.

What does Titian have to do with Vermeer? Everything. For two hundred years European Masters north and south borrowed, filched, stole from each other, and Rembrandt and Vermeer are prime examples of artists who took their booty and transformed it into styles all their own. I have only seen two hanging Vermeer's, both in D.C., Girl in a Red Hat, and Girl in yellow jacket with ermine trim looking up at the viewer from writing a letter. The letter writer has a brilliant "enameled" look that is probably the gleam of varnish, but the soft diffusion goes into Leonardo's universe if not his actual ball park. I say this because the only Leonardo the Nat. Gallery has was in a near by room and I went with my hand held magnifying glass back and forth to study both. The Leonardo was a female portrait and I cannot remember the title.

So forget "pointillism" and think of texture and unlimited variations of dottiness, from needle point tiny to the occasional clear circle, and yes, Vermeer was consistent from the ground up in every wall he painted. Even portions of walls very darkly shaded.

"Specular highlight" is another phrase used for Vermeer, and it is tightly defined and perfectly understandable. Your cropped post of Lady at the Virginal is the perfect example of specular highlights under the puffed sleeve. In fact those highlights make that portion of sleeve, give it form and definition. But highlights mean exactly high, or the very last paint on preparation build up that went before - on Vermeer and all other Masters in the 16th and 17th century. Go back to Lacemaker and look at the specular highlights on her lace collar and yellow blouse. Many of those highlights are clearly DOTS of varied shape and size. Other dots are stretched in tiny brush strokes. Which pours more fuel on the fire.

Brush strokes are a sort of holy grail of modern people painting. Thick, creamy, broad, shiny brush strokes. Carried to the ultimate with a palette knife. The word "stroke" demands visual manifestation of a linear dragging touch, whether a finger tip on a cat or a loaded paint brush stroking a canvas. But here is the problem with Vermeer. Brush strokes do not describe the Lacemaker. They are there of course, but sparingly and tiny and in highlight. Vermeer applied paint in a different way, even when he did stroke, and that is why I said in my first post that learning by copying a Master requires tossing all art teaching of the past 100 years out the window.
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Old 02-22-2011, 03:06 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Let's not forget "glaze." What exactly is a glaze? Does anyone really know? Is there more than one way to glaze? The best way for me discuss glazing with you is for me to know what you think it is. Even at this early and at sea stage, tell me your notions of glazing Lacemaker. Will you mix paint and what ever additives on your palette? If you do, how will you apply it? Flat brush, round brush, strokes ? I can better respond that way.

And again, I am preaching to the choir, in that your stated intent resonated with what I did back when. I am not trying to convince anybody else of anything.
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Old 02-22-2011, 05:52 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hello saintluke,

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
I don't want to hijack your thread. Or your learning experience either. We can have exchange by PM

If you agree I would like to keep all discussions public. I don’t think it is the point of an artist discussion forum to limit all verbal exhange to infinite versions of: Here is my picture – Great Picture! I wish I would read more about people in front of paitings with magnifying glasses. Your vivid descriptions and precise arguments are invaluable and very much appreciated!

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
The treachery of words! "Pointillism" was a bad mistake. …. forget "pointillism" and think of texture and unlimited variations of dottiness, from needle point tiny to the occasional clear circle

Okay yes I agree. Talking about Vermeer and thinking about Seurat won't work… (I am quite fond of Seurat by the way)

About the texture in areas where it is not immediately visible. You are the guy with the magnifying glass and I im the one who has to form an image in her imagination, so please forgive if I ask again: you talk about "dabbing", but probably not in the way that leaves elevated marks (I am thinking Bob Ross foilage, argh)? Are the marks flat and almost blending into the gound color and so small as to be hardly visible? I have been looking at enlarged photographs of Vermeers Walls all day, and they mostly appear smooth and even – so if you are right and they do contain textured semitransparent layers, we cannot be talking about much more than near-invisible traces of single brush hairs, is this what you have seen in the originals?

Here we touch also on the subject of (for lack of a better word) glazing. The example I was talking about in my post was the very gentle blue veil across the white stripes on the pillow, and on the tassle as it turns into the shadow. That can only be achieved by paint transparency, right? But you got me thinking about how this transparency must have been achieved. I am looking at the picture and wah, I am going crazy, now I am seeing DOTS! But then my copy is much larger than the original so it so hard not to be cheated.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
What exactly is a glaze? Does anyone really know? Is there more than one way to glaze? The best way for me discuss glazing with you is for me to know what you think it is. Even at this early and at sea stage, tell me your notions of glazing Lacemaker. Will you mix paint and what ever additives on your palette? If you do, how will you apply it? Flat brush, round brush, strokes ? I can better respond that way.

The last time I tried some type of glazing was in my Fragonard study last year. I rubbed some type of medium, probably a turp/linseed mix, onto my dry underpainting, then laid a thin coat of indian yellow over the dress. I am certain this is not what Fragonard did, but I liked the result at the time. My only other experience with glazing comes from two rather embarassing flower paintings. The only thing I took away from those flower glazing attempts is this: Modern pigments seem very overbearing. Even thin layers seem to kill the color below rather than getting optically blended with it as I had intended. With most tubes I have in my posession, I find it next to impossible to achieve subtle transparency without some type of additive. The staining power is just to strong. Also, most paints I have are rather stiff. So yes I would probably try to find a suitable painting medium to increase transparency and flow, then apply color thinly with my filbert synthetic hair brushes, only decent brushed I own. (Are our materials today so different from the traditional ones, that our materials alone dictate the drastically different appearance of our paintings, or if we want to imitate traditional styles, a drastically different approach? )

As to your other questions, I really cannot answer. My knowledge of materials and techniques is very marginal – my plan can be summed up like this: I try something, see what I get, then try something else. All I have is the destination.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
"Specular highlight" is another phrase used for Vermeer
I will save the subject of highlights for later, it is too early in the process for me – no sense in thinking about highlights when I do not yet know how I will achieve the basic architecture of the painting.

Lastly:
Quote:
Originally Posted by saintlukesguild
the dotty obsession required hours, weeks, sometimes years to complete.

I regard with slight scepticism any alledged methods of the Masters that are overly time consuming. Painting being a craft and a business, my thinking is that a painter would have chosen whichever method would allow him to create his paintings in an efficient way. Which translates into chosing a quicker way to cover an area over slow patient "dotting". Could Vermeer be an exception here, (as we know his output was slow and his paintings small) or would you extend your observation to other Masters as well?

Susanne

Last edited by Marigold : 02-22-2011 at 06:08 PM.
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Old 02-23-2011, 01:14 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

You are most indulgent. Honestly, on re-reading I am appalled at my own verbosity. But Vermeer is a subject dear to my heart and he can’t be discussed in a few toss off sentences. Nor can he extracted from his cradle of two hundred years of proven painting practice and technology.

I need to say I have never had an art lesson in my life. Thank God. I began by copying Girl With Pearl Earring in pastel from the cover of a Smithsonian magazine in 2000 A.D., and went bonkers. I began to read everything on Renaissance art in the city and local university library, and study sloppy photos of paintings. Some of the photography was close-up. As I said above, “If 20,000 photographers etc…..” Never the less, patterns of perception emerged which clearly indicated the Masters painted with a deliberate technique not seem anywhere else. What I call “dottiness” for one. Which I later learned was transparency. My epiphany came in reading a Rembrandt book where the author explained how RVR painted the woman in white gown hiked daringly high, ankle deep in shallow water, was painted. After blocking in the gown, the author said, RVR painted the white folds of the gown with broad sweeps of a palette knife. SAY WHAT!!! I went to every Rembrandt book I could find and sloppy photography aside, none of those gown folds had any resemblance to a palette knife stroke. It had to have been done with a brush, and a fairly wide one at that. I went further and did some experimenting with a palette knife on scrap canvas. No way. Not a chance. I knew the author was a fool, but fools can be explained, and even loved, we are told. That author was ingrained, saturated with modern art teaching and transposed a bit of it back to Rembrandt 300 years earlier, with no brain engagement what ever. My self-teaching from printed words went on high alert, and I read with a critical eye, untainted by any art teachers, thank God. I cite this example to use as reference later on.

Nashville, Tennessee is not a Mecca of Baroque art. But tour exhibits come in sometimes when musems elsewhere close down for structural refurbishing. I have made rare travels to other cities when the same type of refurbishing exhibits were there. And carrying a magnifying glass came lately. What the glass did was confirm and illuminate ideas I already had fixed in my head from pattern perceptions in studying sloppy photos of paintings in library books.

Here’s a bright idea! I will break this into different posts to mask my verbosity.
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Old 02-23-2011, 01:58 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

It's time to put my money where my mouth is.



This supports, I hope, the hundreds of words I have been spewing out. Including the parallel between what I attempted and what you hope to attempt, if I am reading you correctly at all. And again I cringe at hijacking your thread and endless me me me me. But I have to establish I am not a fool putting a palette knife in Rembrandt's hand.

Also I am not a fool who thinks this copy is even close to Vermeer's universe. On the other hand, no one would mistake it for heavy influence of Odd Nurdum or Richard Schmidt either. There is transparency all over the place, and there is abundant glazing. But neither the transparency nor the glazing fits any contemporary model I have ever seen or read about. Does that tweak your interest?

This photo insert is a poor reproduction of what hangs on my wall, of course. The white wall near the window is much less white IRL. But illustrative still.

I have a confession to make. I made a terrible mistake in not under painting the drapery on the table in dark reddish brown first. Which goes to show the most bombastic expert can goof up. That black has a dull matte sunk in appearance.

Which brings us back to you and your WIP. If/when you complete your monochrome to all you think you can do, let it dry completely. Then, to do it the Vermeer way, put in "dead colors." Her face and arms/hands could be done entirely in burnt sienna, for example. That dead color base can be darkened in deepest shadows, brightened to flesh tones, and highlighted in at the end of layer-glazing process. That's what Vermeer did. Take my word for it.
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Old 02-23-2011, 02:13 PM
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Re: Vermeer Lacemaker Study (WIP)

Hi Susanne

Thank you for the info! I know what you mean on the paint being slick. I will take a canvas or canvas board a lot of the time from the store and add 2 or 3 layers of extra gesso and sand it down smoother. I've had that issue too of having to paint several passes.

As far as sizes in my birch, I have gone up to 20"x24", but it was 1/2". Not that bad heavy at all. One thing my former instructor told me is to varnish the back of the panel, but not the sides. This helps to keep from warping and I'm sure you already know this! I also stained mine and that makes a really nice product.

I just ordered 3 small lead primed linen canvas boards to test! I can't wait to try those!!

Take Care
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