69 The uses of putty

It has been over a year that I have experimented with putty, the little known medium for adding body to paint. I first stumbled upon putty in the entries of Rational Painting and was led to the site of Tad Spurgeon, the undisputed on-line putty expert. I highly recommend visiting his site as he has lots of recipes to experiment with. No matter what your technique most painters will find something of value. For those of us who paint with thick paint it is a treasure trove of information.

Recently I’ve been intrigued with the idea of using putty as white. Putty lends a sparkle and luster to lighter values whereas adding white paint (such as Titanium White) tends to neutralize color. Using putty as white is vastly superior to using Zinc White if you are using Zinc White as a low tinting pigment. Some studies suggest that Zinc White will cause paint to crack even if added in small amounts. Of course, putty also adds texture, a quality that is most becoming in areas saturated with light. Tad Spurgeon offers so many variations of putty I confess that I haven’t tried them all. I declined experimenting with some recipes because the effect was not what I needed but others promise to solve several problems. My favorite recipe (of my own making) is simply Gamblin’s G-Gel mixed with chalk from Amazon. I also occasionally use Natural Pigment’s Venetian medium as a couch (a layer of medium I brush onto a dry layer of paint in order to paint as if painting wet-into-wet. See entry 17).

It takes some practice to fully understand the usefulness of putty as a white additive and using putty as a couch. Initially I struggled quite a bit even though I could clearly see putty’s value in expanding the painting process beyond one session of alla prima virtuosity. Although I have yet to find the perfect putty (it would be perfectly transparent yet thicker than paint from a tube) I continue to experiment with this fascinating and useful medium.

Brad Teare © 2010

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Updated: 20th June 2024
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