When I was a teenager, I remember reading someone or other talking about their use of oils. I was just starting with paint, had only used oils a couple of times, and was preferring acrylics at the time. I think it may have been the late Keith Parkinson writing. Not entirely sure. In any case, the artist was saying one reason he loved oils so much was that the colors stayed very much the same when dry as when wet.
I was new to painting, but I'd already encountered the problem referred to, in acrylics. Essentially, as with most things, they look darker or deeper-colored wet than they do dry. This applies to a colored piece of clothing, or even wet paper. When painting, as your colors dry they tend to go matte--they become lighter and less vibrant. Acrylic isn't the worst offender, but it can certainly exhibit this behavior. A quick slap of gloss medium can get your color back to full-strength. This is called applying a retouch layer to a painting. If you try to add fresh color without it, when the new color dries it'll be very mismatched because you're comparing a wet swatch of paint to a dried, desaturated swatch. It also will go on pretty rough as dried paint feels different than other surfaces.
So I thought, well that does sound like an advantage to oils. As I said, I think I'd used oils all of once, maybe twice at that point. I suppose they had more or less kept their color. I don't remember. I figured when you know what you're doing, the effect is probably more pronounced. So I got more experience under my belt, and eventually switched to oils completely, years later. In retrospect, I don't know what the artist was was writing about. I've found oils two be a worse offender than acrylics, often varying greatly. Whereas with gouache, you can count on all your colors matting out fairly evenly, with oils the effect can vary depending on all matter of things: the particular color, the brand of that color, your medium, the surface, the binding oil used, and so on. All of these often conspire to require a retouch, which isn't as easy to deal with as in acrylics due to drying times.
As I was working on the Anchorite, this became a problem. I began by working on the far background, working towards the front as I went. I mentioned that I was attempting to vary between a very narrow value range, using saturation to push things back or pull them forward. I managed to finish the sky and about half of the furthest landscape on my first day of working. I saved my colors for the next day, to alter and continue. When I set to work the next day, all the color had gotten sucked out of the painting. I'm not sure what combination of things led to it in this case, but the whole thing looked ashen and lifeless.
So I began to apply a retouch. In this case I used very thinly brushed-out amount of Neo-Megilp by Gamblin. Ah, what a nice feeling, seeing your art come back to life! I was smart enough to grab my camera and take a picture of the piece half-way through the process, with the landscape divided left and right. Have a look:
Above: before applying medium, the whole thing looked as ashen as at right.
Below: both sides after retouch applied:
I didn't intend to actually reprint over those parts, so I used the faster drying medium for this purpose. I just needed the detail back so I could match and continue. If I were going to apply a second coat of paint to an area--say, a face that had gone dull after drying, then I would have used a slow drying medium. Lately I've just been oiling-out using walnut oil. It's a very slow drier, so it has to go on very, very thin. It then allows the colors to come back to life, while also providing a slick surface to paint on, as it would be if it were still wet. And any drying agents used with my paint will counteract the slow drying part. You just don't want the surface getting tacky as you work, which would happen within an hour using the faster drying medium for this purpose on an area you plan to continue working on.
But, if there are only quick little spot-touches than need doing, which I know can be applied very quickly, I do indeed oil-out using the faster-drying medium. I'm an illustrator, so speed is key.
If you aren't familiar with the final piece or want more information, you can see it here.
Elemental Anchorite, pt. 2: Grab bag within a grab bag
You'll note that, as with last week's part 2, above I had traced down mainly the outer contours of the figure, but allowed myself to freely paint over those contours in places, when necessary. For instance, those bit of cloud low on the horizon got swiped right over the head, important to retain the feel of the cloud passing behind the head. Had the head been printed out, with all its detail, or completely traced down, I would have not wanted to lose the drawing, so that feeling of the clouds would have been a bit compromised. Later, I came back in and transferred the entire thing back over the dried paint.
I painted this piece on treated canson paper over masonite, which had been my primary surface of choice for much of the 2000s. I'm mostly working on primed masonite panels the past couple of years. However, I had this board laying around, prepared but unpainted, and its paper-color suited this piece as an underpainting. How long had it been sitting around? Well I painted this late summer 2011, and the very board has the "bisque" paper I applied in my YouTube demonstration back in March 2010. So, it sat around a year-and-a-half before being used.