There is a very simple reason for that. I work
differently than most modern painters, and that difference starts with my
canvas. In my opinion almost all modern materials are garbage, pure and
simple. They were created for speed and convenience and price and safety, not
for quality. Most professional artists know this and will admit it, and yet
most professional artists, even at the top of the field, use inferior
pre-stretched canvases. Those who hire professional craftspeople to make
canvases for them still end up with only a slightly less inferior product,
since most of the time even these canvases are not up to the standards of the
past. It is nearly impossible, for instance, to find anyone who will do lead
priming, and if they do it they will likely use inferior leadólead with too
much oil or additives. I donít know anyone else in the world who uses first
quality lead to prime with, as I do. But this is what they did in the past
and this is why their canvases look different than modern ones.
I get around this as I get around a lot of other gaps in the ďserviceĒ industry: I do it myself. I donít like to have to argue with people I have hired, so I just donít hire them. Building canvases isnít difficult, once you know how, and I can vary each canvas to suit the piece I am building it for. I donít have to limit myself to standard sizes, and I can add texture to some canvases and not to others. I can also create a particular color for each ground, to suit the piece that will go on it.
A few realists used to do this when they were younger (according to their literature) but most get lazy and stop doing it when they can afford to hire it out. I have continued to do it into my mid-40ís, since I havenít discovered a good reason to stop. I canít very well hire someone to vary each canvas to suit each piece, so I donít even try. Besides, I enjoy the process. It is like choosing the frameóanother part of the complete project I never want to give up. A bad frame can nearly destroy a good work. In the same way, a bad canvas can doom a painting before it is ever begun. I often tell my students that if I had to paint on their canvases, I couldnít do anything either. It is not a joke. It is the absolute truth.
As with my primer, so with my linen. I still pay extra for good linen, and it shows. Linen prices have gone through the roof in the last 50 years, since heavy linen is a specialty item just for artists, and they know that artistsí materials are a gouge-economy, like photo materials. We are a captive clientele, and anything for artists or photographers will cost double or triple what it would cost a normal person. There are ways around the biggest cheats, however, and I happen to know them. I get heavy, high thread-count linen without getting ripped off too badly. Once again, this makes a real difference in the way the ground is textured and the way the canvas hangs. It does not go limp like a bedsheet or flutter in the wind or have little pinholes or look like an orange peel. It looks more like an old master canvas because it is more like an old master canvas.
My paint layers are different, too. Once again I use the best white lead as my basic white, and this is the main ingredient in all my skin and hair and lighter tones. White lead is warmer and more glowing than other whites. That is why it is sometimes called silver white. It looks prettier right out of the tube, and it makes better skintones. It is the most durable paint with the least oil, and it will last almost forever without cracking, especially alla prima. It is not dangerous to apply thick, and its natural stiffness makes it easy to add texturing toólike with the pointy end of your brush.
A few realists are using lead again, but usually
it is not the alla prima painters who are using it. The
uber-traditionalists have taken to it, but they do not use it to full
effectósince they usually donít have visible brushmarks, thick paint, or lots
of visible skin. White lead will do less for a still life than it will do for
a face or a nude, in my opinion. For the most part, the alla prima
painters have stuck with titanium, which they think is more brushable. They
tend to like oily ďbutteryĒ paint, which is easier to push around quickly.
But oily paint is dangerous paint, since it is not durable. It will crack.
The alla primers have tried to learn everything from Sargent except
this. They have refused to learn from his mistakes. He used store-bought
grounds and modern whites and they cracked. It is quite easy to make lead
brushable, without complex mediums. You can have as speedy a brush as you
like using lead. You just have to want to.
A believable skintone can be made from titanium white and cadmium red and so on. But that skintone will have a different quality than one made from white lead and red earth. It will sit on the canvas differently and glow differently and accept a varnish differently. The titanium and cadmium skin will look more like plastic, more like an acrylic paint. It will be brighter and cleaner. But skin is not bright or clean. Use mud to make mud, I say.
And finally, my varnish is different. I donít use modern varnishes. I donít trust them. Donít send me any letters (you wonks) because I have heard all the arguments. I donít need UV blockers or sunscreen in my varnish, I donít need space-age polymers, etc. I need a natural gloss that I can easily manipulate, that stays clear with a little wax, that I can cut with turpentine (the least powerful and least dangerous of the solvents), and that I can remove without other space-age materials. In my opinion, the new artists materials are like the new cars. You canít work on them yourself. You have to hire specialists and send off to Tokyo or Stuttgart for all your parts. You have to pull the engine to replace a sparkplug. To solve one problem with the old varnish, science has created 50 new problems, many of them yet to be discovered. Highest quality damar is removable and it looks great. You can make it yourself for cheap and what you make is superior to anything you can buy (since everything now on the market is tarted up in some way).
That is why my paintings look different. They are different.