Upcoming ‘Painting Best Practices’ Workshops

by Matthew Innis |

Attendees of the Painting Best Practices workshop gather to see demonstration of paint optical principles at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, Washington.

Sandcastle builders expect their constructions to be washed away.  Bakers expect their creations to be consumed.  But painters – and more importantly, collectors who buy their works – expect their masterpieces to last for generations.

If you are a painter who wants their work to still be celebrated centuries from now, then I urge you to take the ‘Painting Best Practices’ Workshop with George O’Hanlon and Tatiana Zaytseva.  In it you will learn up-to-date information on pigments, the proper way to prepare a ground, how to stretch a canvas the right way, what mediums will not compromise your painting, how to keep your studio a safe environment, and so much more.

Several years ago I took the course when it was offered in my area, and I still think about it every time I set out to do a new painting (or when looking at works at the museum and wondering why they have or haven’t fared so well).  When I am able, I plan to take the workshop again since O’Hanlon and Zaytseva have expanded on their original program and since new discoveries are being added to the lecture regularly (including new data that shows that two pigments – chemically similar but prepared differently – do not behave the same way over time;  a finding which has brought into question which colors really are lightfast).

The course schedule is listed below, followed by the course description.  To read about my experience during the workshop, visit here.

Tatiana Zaytseva prepares to demonstrate paint making while George O’Hanlon discusses optical differences of lead white and titanium white in mixtures at the Gage Academy of Art.


Workshop Tuition: $450 USD per person
Note: Tuition for workshops in Europe are higher.

2017 Schedule

Raleigh, North Carolina
Location: Alia Fine Art Studios, 11401 S Bloodworth St, Raleigh, NC
Date: June 8–10, 2017
Register Here

Alexandria, Virginia
Location: The Art League (Torpedo Factory Art Center), 105 N Union St, Alexandria, VA
Date: June 12–14, 2017
Register Here

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Location: ARTiculations, 2928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON, CANADA
Date: June 16–18, 2017
Register Here

Chicago, Illinois
Location: Vitruvian Studio, 1735 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL
Date: June 23–25, 2017
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Saint Paul, Minnesota
Location: Wet Paint, 684 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN
Date: June 26–28, 2017
Register Here

Bruges, Belgium
Location: Flemish Classical Atelier, Site Oud Sint Jan, Mariastraat 38, Bruges, BELGIUM
Date: September 1–3, 2017
Register Here

Dublin, Ireland
Location: Block T, 8 Basin View, Ushers, Dublin 8, Ireland
Date: September 8–10, 2017
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London, England
Location: London Fine Art Studios, 146 Battersea Business Centre, 99-109 Lavender Hill, London, UK
Date: September 15–17, 2017
Register Here

Florence, Italy
Location: The Florence Studio, Borgo SS. Apostoli, 18, Florence, ITALY
Date: September 22–24, 2017
Register Here


For over a hundred years, most causes of paint failures 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.

The information-packed workshop 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.

Workshop Curriculum

The workshop begins with a review of the leading causes of cracking and paint loss in paintings. In light of the research, we review different types of painting supports to help you choose the best one for your painting technique. We review the most suitable grounds for each type of popular support and painting and review factors influencing the embrittlement of the paint film and what artists can do to prolong its life. Throughout the workshop we provide recommendations involving different supports, grounds and painting techniques that will help you make technically-sound paintings.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3


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.

One comment


    This looks intriguing. Are there workshops in 2019-2020?

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