Painting Best Practices Workshop


A Materials Workshop for Fine Artists.

June 23rd, 24th, and 25th, 2017


A Three-Day Intensive Workshop on the Materials and Techniques of Oil Painting.

This information-packed workshop, led by Natural Pigments' technical director George O’Hanlon, includes all aspects of constructing a painting - from the support and ground to the final layers. Practical procedures will be clearly explained and demonstrated on how to build your oil paintings based on conservation research during the past century. This workshop is designed for painters of all mediums, but special emphasis is given to oil painting.


For over a hundred years, most causes of paint failure have been studied: humidity, temperature and paint embrittlement. The symptoms were obvious—cracking, delaminating and paint loss—but the causes were not. Conservation workers gradually formed concepts as to the causes of cracking and paint loss of old paintings. Concurrently, the coatings industry studied failures in all types of paint films. Artists developed their own ideas, but remained largely unaware of findings from both the conservation community and the coatings industry.

Natural Pigments spent years developing a technical workshop to teach skills that are not taught in art school and universities—a thorough understanding of artist’s materials and tools, what they are designed to do, when to chose them and how to provide considerable longevity to your finished work. This workshop covers the most important aspects of painting that have proven to be the best practices over the centuries.

Workshop Curriculum


Supports and Grounds

The foundation of all painting are supports. Substrates of fabric, wood, plaster, metal, glass and plastic have all been used at one time or another as supports for paintings. We examine the most popular supports today and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

We review how wood panels were made historically and the methods employed to prevent warping. We next examine man-made wood panels, such as fiberboard and plywood, and separate the myth from the reality. You will be taught the proper method of preparing wood panels and learn the most effective braces and why common methods do more harm than good.

In recent years, interest in copper as a painting support has rekindled among artists. You will be introduced to its advantages and learn how to properly prepare copper panels for painting. You will also learn about aluminum composite materials (ACM), such as Dibond, where to obtain them, and how to prepare them for painting directly on them and how to adhere canvas.

Since the sixteenth century, stretched canvas supports have enjoyed immense popularity. They are also a major cause of cracking in paintings. You will learn the advantages and disadvantages of the various stretched fabrics—linen, cotton, and polyester canvas. We will examine the auxiliary supports of stretched canvas—strainers and stretchers—constructed of wood, metal or plastic. You may be surprised to learn how keys—small wooden wedges inserted into the corners of the stretchers for expansion—do more harm than good.You will learn of sources for high quality stretchers. We will teach you how to produce perfectly aligned canvases, no matter the size. We will show the benefits of pre-stretching your canvas before attaching it to your support, allowing it to reach an equilibrium as well as lock the fibers. We will also demonstrate a technique for stretching the perfect canvas, creating an even tension across the entire surface and avoiding the distracting undulations in the fabric weave as well as pulling the stretchers out of alignment. We will examine the advantages and disadvantages of staples versus tacks, and which types to use and to avoid.

Finally, we will show you a very practical approach to backing your stretched canvas to protect the back of the fabric from substantial changes in humidity, dirt, pests and the damage often caused during transport and hanging.

Sizes and Grounds

Next you will learn to size your canvas and prime your panel. We’ll show how to make and apply animal glue size, avoiding excessive amounts and discuss the advantages of modern alternatives, such as PVA and acrylic dispersions.

After careful preparation of the support, we are ready to apply the ground. Whether it’s traditional gesso, acrylic primer, oil grounds, emulsion grounds and double grounds, you will learn how to apply a ground that provides a solid and lasting foundation for your painting. We examine the different grounds and how they effect the longevity of your finished painting.


Paints and Mediums

We focus on the basics of paints. We examine in detail the mechanism of oil drying, the characteristics of various drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, poppy and safflower oil, and how their properties affect the behavior of paint. We examine the drying times of these various oils to help you properly layer your painting to avoid sunken passages, and drying wrinkling and cracking. You will learn what the oft-misused principle of “fat-over-lean” really means, how it is more flexible in use than most would suppose and how they relate to oil painting mediums. You will understand it well enough to know how to use it in your painting.

Optical and Physical Properties of Paint

We next examine the four aspects of light and optics on a paint film: reflection, refraction, absorption and diffraction. You’ll learn why varnishes change the appearance of paint; why titanium dioxide makes colors appear chalky in mixtures; why oil colors become more transparent with age; and why manufacturers add zinc oxide to many commercial oil colors.

Paint Components and their Effect on Paint Behavior and Appearance

We next demonstrate how to make your own paint using oil, pigment and additives that can aid in handling. You will have the opportunity to prepare oil paint. This is a skill that every artist should master. We will also discuss the properties of synthetic and natural resins used in commercial oil painting mediums, and their advantages and disadvantages. In addition to making oil paint, we will also make tempered paints, such as egg tempera, distemper (glue tempera), or casein.

We correct a great deal of misinformation surrounding solvents and the confusion created by the bewildering trade names, such as Turpenoid. We will have a discussion of the various common diluents, such as gum turpentine (and the terms “triple distilled”, “rectified,” etc.), mineral spirits and spike oil. All have their uses and this is the time when you will learn what those uses are and when to take advantage of them.

We also discuss various additives that slow or speed up drying, such metal driers (cobalt, lead, zirconium and calcium). We solve the puzzle about the use of varnishes and mediums prepared with natural resins, such as dammar, mastic, copal, Venice turpentine, and Canada balsam, present in oil painting, how they are used to produce special effects in paint, and their disadvantages.

We will demonstrate the proper technique of “oiling out” and painting into a “wet cushion,” as an aid to unifying color between paint layers and providing a non-slip surface for subsequent paint layers.




A varnish can serve several functions, technical as well as purely visual. The decision to apply varnish to a picture is made after careful consideration of many factors and cannot be reduced to a formulaic approach. If a varnish is to be applied, many decisions such as type, method of application, and desired final appearance must be considered. We will demonstrate how to properly apply a varnish and avoid defects commonly found in its appearance.


We begin the day’s session examining the typical anatomy of an artist’s brush. We examine the many different natural and synthetic hairs used in today’s brushes and how each type provides different sensations and effects in the hands of artists. The names for hair used by manufacturers is often confusing and sometimes even misleading. We identify what each name typically denotes, such as Kolinsky and sable, and help you to identify them. Besides the quality of the hair, the construction of the brush—the handle, ferrule, and glue used to hold the hair in place—determines much of its quality and service life. We show how brushes are made and provide you with the details you need to evaluate brushes before you purchase them.

Understanding Art Materials and Labeling

In this session we discuss existing standards for paints and artists materials and what they mean for the artist. The lightfastness of many pigments have been tested, but do the ratings apply to the same pigment across different brands of paint? Why is one pigment lightfast in oil paint but not in watercolors or pastels? Why is it important for artists to be aware of ingredients used in paint? What do the different codes and terms on the labels signifiy, such as PR 102 or Pigment Red 102? We dispel the many myths surrounding artists materials, correct misunderstandings and arm you with the information you need to make informed choices about paint and artists materials. We also show you how to perform basic lightfastness tests of paint in your own studio, because your personal use and application of paint can affect its lightfastness.

What pigment interactions are beneficial in paint mixtures and which ones are not? We present several hundred years of observations by the old masters and current conservation studies to answer questions about pigment mixtures and how to avoid adverse reactions and interactions that cause fading, browning or darkening in paint.


We next discuss common pigment types, such as inorganic, organic, natural and synthetic pigments, and other classifications of pigments used in painting. We simplify the chemistry of pigments so you understand their makeup, origin and modern sources. You will learn about lightfastness, compatibility, and durability of historical and modern pigments in both oil, tempera and watercolor and their interactions, drying and aging in these mediums.

Studio Safety

At the end of the day, we discuss studio safety and health practices to help artists achieve a clean and safe working environment that promotes health and safety. In this session, we focus on the proper disposal of artists’ materials, protective gear and clothing for different studio tasks, studio ventilation, working procedures that help to avoid contaminating living areas, and inexpensive and easy methods of testing for heavy metals on work surfaces, floors and tools.


George O’Hanlon is technical director of Natural Pigments and executive director of Iconofile, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting understanding of traditional art techniques. George received his fine arts education and apprenticeship in Mexico. Upon his return to the U.S., he worked as art director and then creative director for advertising agencies in Silicon Valley, California, working on such major accounts as Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Ricoh. He then established a database marketing communications firm that was later acquired by the international chemical company, Shin-Etsu, where we was retained as president of marketing operations for the U.S. In 1992, he left this post to study traditional art techniques and then in 2001, he founded Natural Pigments and Iconofile to promote an understanding of these techniques among contemporary artists.
Tatiana Zaytseva is administrative director of Natural Pigments and secretary of Iconofile, an nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting understanding of sacred art. Tatiana received her education in Saint Petersburg, Russia in fashion and design and a second degree in engineering process controls. After moving to the U.S. in 2001, she helped to establish and Iconofile and then Natural Pigments in 2003.