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Gold Birch Trees from Start to Finish

Posted on 27 Nov. 2018

The process for making these works was really fun because it uses a similar process to elementary school scratchboard art.  Remember those small black boards that you could draw into with a wooden stylus, revealing other colours beneath?  Here is a picture of a little scratchboard I did as a demo with the preschoolers at the Shadbolt Centre a couple of years ago.  Paul Klee was a definite inspiration!

My Gold Birch Trees use a similar idea except I use metal leaf as a ground over top of birch panel (instead of wax crayon and tempera paint).  Here is a picture of the metal leaf being applied to the panel.  I use the Mona Lisa brand of leaf-making supplies because they are easy to find in the art store, affordable and they are reliable and, as long as you seal it properly, it will not tarnish.  I use the leaf instead of gold paint because it reflects a lot more light than a metallic paint.  It is a four part process: first I apply a size (a sticky glue) and let it dry to a tacky finish, then I apply the delicate squares of metal leaf over top of the sized panel, then I burnish the panels with a soft bristle brush to get it into all the nooks and crannies of the wood and to wipe away excess.  Finally, I apply the sealer to the panels so that they do not tarnish.  Both the size and the sealer come in aerosol form as well as brush and bottle form.  If you use the aerosol, be sure to do it in a well-ventilated space with an organic vapour respirator! 

When the gold panels are ready, I apply black oil paint over top.  While that paint is still wet, I draw into it with a silicone painting tool, taking care to wipe away excess oil paint with every stroke with a clean cotton rag.  If I make a mistake, I can simply paint over it again with oil paint and then use the drawing tool again.  Here is a picture of the silicone colour shapers I use.  They have flexible tips. 


In Gold Birch Trees I, I used plain black oil paint mixed with alkyd gel and in Gold Birch Trees II, I tinted the black paint with a bit of pthalo green as well as adding alkyd gel.  Alkyd gel is a medium that one adds to oil paint to speed drying time, increase translucency and gloss.  You can mix alkyd with linseed oil and OMS (odourless mineral spirits) until you have a medium that does what you want it to do.  All painters come up with their own magic mixes or ratios of oil paint to mediums.  I use Winsor & Newton Liquin because it has a surface tension and will not run off my palette.    

When the oil paint on these panels dried, I assessed whether they needed any more work.  The plain gold and black panel (Gold Birch Trees I) looked finished to me, whereas the green tinted one (Gold Birch Trees II) needed something more.  So I glazed over some of the marks with earth colours diluted with alkyd gel and linseed oil.  Here is a picture of the small brushes I used as well as my palettes.  The circular palette on the left is a watercolour palette, but I have used it because it has indentations that hold my OMS as well as my runny linseed oil.


Before I put my paintings in the frames, I painted out the sides in black.  This means there will be no distractions between the frame and the work, making it look tidier.  Some artists have strong feelings about whether to paint out the sides of work or to leave the sides of a canvas messy, warts and all.  I’m not one of those artists. 


I just finished framing these works in front-loading canvas frames.  If you are working on canvas or on panel, there is no glass or matting needed for framing.  The way to attach the panel to the frame is by using offset hardware and screws (these ones are ¼ inch).  Use at least four of these, one on each side.  For a more detailed description, visit (there is a good video). 


I like to make a guide hole for my screws with this little rosewood awl.  It is one of the handiest tools I have in my studio.  It’s also good for untying stubborn knots.  I found it at Lee Valley Hardware.  


Once I had my canvas attached securely, I then attached my backing hardware, in this case D-rings for my picture wire. 

I like using plastic coated hanging wire because it seems less likely to scratch me, my artwork or any walls from which these works might be hung. 

Pull it tight.