Friday, October 29, 2010

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


  1. I've never even heard of this putty business! Thanks for bringing something new to my attention!

  2. You are welcome Tiffanny. I am relatively new to it as well. Very interesting stuff. Reportedly it is part of what gave Rembrandt his thick, visceral textures.

  3. I have been curious about this, I've got to try this stuff out. I don't think chalk is available locally (I'll order), but immediately, as in today, can I expect decent results from marble dust which I can pick up at the local art supply store? Great post!

  4. Jim, marble dust is an alternate to chalk, although putty made with chalk is more transparent. Some putty recipes do include marble dust. In addition to being more opaque it probably will have an absorbant quality (similar to gesso). Let me know how it works for you.

  5. You should try silica gel medium, it can be made very thick and it is completely transparent. Nothing short of a miracle.

  6. You should try silica gel medium, it can be made very thick and it is completely transparent. Nothing short of a miracle.

    1. I will definitely give it t try. Many thanks for the suggestion!

  7. I use Champagne Chalk in the putty I make. I found all the other forms of calcium carbide gave a very 'gritty' feel under my painting knife much like marble dust.


Thanks for your comments!


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