Evil Genius.Pictures

In the Studio


Left:  Untitled,  24 X 48" Oil on Canvas

Venezia B  24X36" Oil on Portrait Linen

Displayed here to show scale.

I  apologize for not keeping this site up to date as I have been virtually locked in my studio (and workshop) since the middle of May, missing the summer in the process.  Major projects underway and some I wish to keep hidden until exhibition.  Work comes first.

Again I will be 'disappearing' into the studio for at least the next four months.  However, there are some completed works which will start to appear in exhibitions here in Edmonton and in Calgary.  If you need to get a hold of me, try email. If you are a model, email or text directly -you have priority.  If you are robotic, please communicate in English as I do not have the time to read assembler or machine code,

John Whittingham

October 1 2017

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The varnishing of each painting should be considered on its own merits. The particular choice of isolation coat should address the characteristics of each work. My particular example follows:

I have an acrylic painting which contained painted areas that were slightly glossy while the rest (mostly background) are washes on an underprimed cotton canvas. The use of washes is not only the intended effect but part of the process of this painting’s development. The blurred, sunny effect of a high minor tonal key would be compromised by thickly painting the flat larger areas that exist on the subject and ground. I was aware that the washes may not have been sufficiently bonded with the canvas even though upon application they had soaked into the fabric.

In good light the surface was inconsistent and I wished to alleviate the contrast between the glossy paint with the dry, matte areas. In any event, the end result should not be glossy enough to produce a glare. I was unsure of how much matte or satin, the final varnish would require.



Isolation Coat and Final Varnish for an Acrylic Painting

Reasons for an Isolation Coat

The washes were inadequately bonded with the canvas and would not allow a direct application of varnish; at least a varnish which would have to be removed or replaced. Removal of a temporay varnish requires special chemicals which would likely act on the painting itself.

Task Overview

The first thing to do is to fix the paint to the canvas, then ensure that painting

is sealed so that the entire surface has an even gloss and in the process, create a layer between the painting and the final varnish.  This inbetween layer forms the isolation coat. The isolation coats must be gloss in order to remain clear.  The final archival varnish, consisting of one or more coats, will determine the chosen level of surface reflection.


Do not use a dust encrusted vacuum nozzle if your canvas has any texture whatsoever.  You will add dust and hair to your painting.  Better to use a cold plastic edge of a shop vac.  Sometimes wiping with a micro fibre cloth does some good even while applying the gels.  When dry, masking tape may clean small blips of hair and dust. A needle imbedded in a wood handle or a cutting blade may come in handy.  As well, a water spray bottle if you have to wipe it off before reapplying one of the coats.

First coat used by me,  consisted of Grumbacher Permanent Gloss Varnish thinned by one third distilled water and applied with a sponge brush in a horizontal position. Ensure no foam or bubbles.  Inspect for complete coverage and then air dry.  This coat serves to fix the paint washes to the canvas and stiffen the canvas weave in much the same way as a priming coat might.

Second coat.  Sponge-backed sandpaper (3M super fine -made in England) was used to lightly sand the rough surface before applying the next coat. This is so the sponge brush will not be shredded.  I applied the second coat of the same permanent varnish to the dry-looking background areas only.  These areas need more because they were more absorbant.

Together the first two coats prevent subsequent coats of gel from soaking in. In the case of a subsequent coat containing a matte additive,  uneven distribution of the matte additive collecting on the surface will be avoided.

Third coat is a foam brush application containing about 2/3 Golden Self Levelling Gloss Gel and one third thinned varnish mixture from above.  Golden Soft Gel has been recommended elsewhere and could be used in place of the levelling gel that I have used.

Fourth coat consists of the same gel mix but was applied with a wide #50 Simply Simmons synthetic brush to make the coat thicker. The purpose of both coats of acrylic gel is to:

1. Form the isolation layer separating the removable varnish from the painting surface. 

2. The objective is to even out the glossiness of the canvas surface before applying the final varnish.  I highly recommend using a thinned gloss gel because it is clear and the evenness of a gloss surface will ensure that any non-gloss varnish applied later will also be absolutely even.

Fifth application is the removable varnish.  Golden Polymer Varnish with UVLS (Satin). It may be slightly thinned with distilled water but I found it unnecessary.  I shook it to disperse the matte additive and banged it down a few times to get rid of the bubbles.  My foam brush applied it so effectively that only one coat was needed. The reduction of glossiness provided by one coat was sufficient.  The intent of the method used here is to keep the overall coatings relatively clear by using only a single satin application as the final layer to reduce the glare on the surface coat. The purpose of the final varnish:

1. To apply the same level of satin sheen throughout the entire painting surface. A patina will result.

2. With satin or matte varnish, diminish the gloss and glare created by the isolation coat(s).

3. Provide a removable/replaceable varnish which is less tacky and attracts dust less than the acrylic gel. 

4. Protect with a UV filter and provide a barrier against reactants in the atmosphere.

Isolation Varnish

Making Changes to a New Easel

Geometrically Determined Canvas Proportions

After my wife's objections died down, I acquired my sixth studio easel. It is a Richeson Dulce (Italian for dum ass) pine easel. 


I actually wanted the minty beechwood one from Curry's in southern Ontario. It has a ratchet system, however the store people wouldn't know for another 4-6 weeks whether they would be restocking that model.  So I bought the one in the adjacent picture from Delta Art & Drafting Supplies in Edmonton, Alberta. It is made with interlocking sections of pine or a kind of wood that the Brazilians call 'pine'.  It seems harder than white pine.


There are a few modifications which I make to most of my easels, the need for which should serve as a warning about easel design flaws in general.  Most easels have a base that allows for wheels (castors or casters -Am.) to be mounted with truss head screws. I have wood floors, so off I go to Ikea's Home Organization Dept. for a set of four soft castors $12 CAD.  They don't need to lock, but they should have urethane or thermal setting plastic wheel edges that do not scratch wood floors.


Why So Many Easels?

I have too many unfinished paintings.  A situation which I hope to change by keeping the canvases viewable on the easels.



All six H-framed Studio easels are on wheels.  My home modified set of wood drawers which passes for a rolling tabouret is also on wheels.  This makes everything instantly mobile.



Three of the studio easels now have hand winches.  Recently I added one to a heavy beechwood easel as it was impossible before to raise and lower it while a large canvas was mounted.


Inadequate Knobs and Bumpers

Often the supplied knobs are too small with cutting edges; I replace the important ones.  Bumpers with a good grip are not only added to the lower shelf/box and upper clamp but also to the front of the base in order to stand a folded easel safely on a wood floor.


The modifications listed here (and others) make the easels more useable, secure in holding large canvases, render them mobile and  generally create a better piece of equipment. studio furniture.

ROOT   of            2

The Diagonal of a Square

The subject of this painting is very asymetric. Her head is bent down but her eyes are looking up.  It is a three quarter view and her head is tilted, the torso leaning back.  I thought I should introduce a bit of internal organization by establishing a geometric relationship between the width and the height of the canvas while squarely placing the head and shoulders within the top square of the canvas.

The Root of 2 is 1.414.  An approximation of 17:12 was used by the stone masons who built the great cathedrals of Europe.  By extending a line from either of the top corners, diagonally across to the opposing corner of the square we get a length which will become the height of the canvas.

Pythagora’s Theorem (b.570BCE) states that in our unit square (where all sides are 1 unit in length) the diagonal length = the Square Root of the sum of the squares of each side.  This can be applied to other canvas sizes.  In my inventory, I have canvases built with proportions based on Root 3, Root 5, Root 6 and Root 7 which can also be geometrically determined but by more elaborate means.

Changes made to my new H Frame Easel

  • Soft castors for mobility and protection of wood flooring.
  • Semi-gloss water based urethane varnish coating to facilitate cleaning and deter warping.
  • Strengthen counter torque on carriage bolts. Pine wood too soft so I epoxied the bolt heads.
  • Add wood lip to mast's upper clamp so canvases cannot fall out.
  • High friction surface added between the box and the mast to keep it from sliding down.   (Designs vary but this one relies on friction against the front side of the central mast)
  • Eight soft rubber bumpers: four on top of lower box/shelf, two on upper clamp, and two on front of the base to allow the folded easel to stand on the floor in an upright position.
  • Knobs were good and did not have to be replaced on this model.
  • Later, I also had to reinforce the upper clamp with thin, high density Baltic plywood. The clamp's pine wood was prone to splitting and I had to glue it back together.  This was more of a repair but the addition of the dense plywood resulted in a significant increase in strength.

Below is a diagram illustrating the proportions of width and height of a painting I had presented at the Edmonton Art Club on May 12 2016. As soon as I uttered the words, “Root 2” I was met with a lot of blank looks.  I then set out to show how this proportion is arrived at.

The painting is now complete and has been framed.  Due to its resemblance with some Renaissance portraiture (maybe the blingy shawl lined with fur) I gave it the Italian name for Venice.  Yes, I have been through Venice's back alleys, gloomy churches and sewage laden canals. Venice was a major player until Boney (Napoleon) broke it up and gave away the pieces in 1797.

The finished painting is remarkable to look at, though an expensive proposition to buy.

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