The Laynor Foundation Museum

Painting With Lacquer

by Harold A. Laynor

An artist is a sensitive someone who has within him a special kind of flame with which he is able to take cold, manufactured, raw media and fuse them creatively through his own personality into a live and meaningful interpretation. The flame burns a bit differently within each artist, and each flame varies from time to time in its intensity and meaning. Artists seek to find those materials with which they can best express themselves, and for me, lacquer has become a very important part of my studio equipment.

It appears that painting as a creative, emotional, and communicative activity cannot in any true sense be divorced from the subjective viewpoint. However for the sake of any who may wish to follow experimental footsteps, I shall attempt to be as objective as possible.

Seven years ago when I started using lacquer as a painting medium, I worked with a commercially prepared lacquer specifically designed for artists - a synthetic medium made of fine pigments dispersed in a fast-drying, plasticized nitro-cellulose lacquer. This medium is quite luminous and presents a beautiful but hard surface. It is highly adhesive and can, through the use of thinner, be handled in similar fashion to oil, encaustic, or watercolor. Although I still use this particular medium, I have experimented with other commercial lacquers. Some of these I have retained; others I have discarded because of their tendency to become brittle and crack, their failure to mix and mingle well and also because they are too slippery to handle. For some time, I have made frequent use of automobile lacquers, finding these quite satisfactory and well adapted for use as a painting medium. They are also easily obtainable and can be purchased in any auto repair shop.

The tools I most often use in painting are conventional oil painting brushes, both bristle and sable in all sizes, painting knives, etching needles, scratch board tools, sponges and rags. I seldom use a true palette, preferring rather to lift the paints directly from the cans mixing and blending them on the painting surface. When a palette is used, I favor the disposable type because of the difficulties involved in cleaning a fast-drying lacquer from a wood or metal surface.

My technique in the handling of this medium is, of course, peculiar to my own nature as a creative individual. Because I have found that a great number of painting surfaces are highly adaptable to lacquer, I use such surfaces as masonite, stretched primed or unprimed canvasses, and plywood, each of which offers a personality its own and receives the paint in it's individual manner. It is sometimes recommended that the painting surfaces be primed with a lacquer white. I prefer not to prime my surfaces because a lacquer priming offers too slick a surface for my use. The paint is dipped from the can using either a large bristle brush or a large painting knife, and sometimes I enjoy the thrill of harnessing accidents by spilling the paint from the can and then manipulating the results on the canvas with brushes, painting knives, rags, or whatever seems handy. Two definite techniques are usually employed in application: the first and by far the most generally used is to handle the color loosely in large semi blended areas dictated by feeling and movement of pattern; the second method uses the paint in tight geometric forms and involves a much more analytical procedure with regard to design qualities. Both starting techniques are totally abstract in concept with absolutely no attempt at this point toward realistic thinking. Design, I believe, is of primary importance and must be carefully thought out in the original concept. At no time have I ever worked a single painting from start to finish without beginning a second, third or fourth. The first stage of filling the complete painting surface is usually done on from four to eight canvases at one sitting. When I paint I like to feel that I am working with color, form, line, value, and texture rather than just making a picture. At the end of this period I have started a group of paintings; I have finished none. I then leave the paintings, allowing some time to elapse before they are touched again. After a healthy painting session I find myself in a state of happy exhilaration, a feeling closely akin to the intoxication of any deeply satisfying experience.

The next step is not one manipulation but of contemplation. I sit looking at each painting for a period of time, turning it, and trying to find some affinity between the painted surface and myself. If no emotional contact is made, I leave it for another time. If, however, it "clicks," then the canvas is put on an easel and step three takes place. In this step, retarder is sometimes used to slow the drying process. The paint is now applied in thin transparent masses suggestive of the theme, with no painted linear delineation. While it is wet, sponges, rags, etching needles, knives, and scratchboard tools are used to remove the paint, further to suggest the theme. In other words, painting is a process of application and removal - followed perhaps by further application and possibly further removal. Usually, two or three paintings are again left to dry, and again a period of waiting takes place. This lapse of time serves two objectives: the first, a technical consideration, is to allow for thorough hardening; the second, a highly personal reason, is to prove to myself the validity of my originally conceived impression.

The final stage of the painting uses paint of opaque or transparent nature thinned with a mixture of clear lacquer and thinner in calligraphic delineation. The lines may be heavy and straight, or they may be soft, thin, and flowing. This matter is dictated by my feeling about the subject or the pattern. The painting now is finished.

Although my paintings generally begin abstractly, the end results can be, and have been described as, romantic realism. I think it is most important to recognize that the artist must never let the cart try to pull the horse. By that I mean one should never take advantage of all the artistic "isms" that exist in today's art world to the extent that the style of the philosophy dictates the art. Classification is a natural process, and although the label may fit the artist, the artist should not consciously seek the label.

I would like to note at this point that my use of the lacquer medium is not a "catch-as-catch-can' or "what-do-we-have-here" experiment! As I work, my paintings are carefully thought out and premeditated in design; many of these paintings are based upon pencil idea-sketches which I continually make. While it is true that I enjoy and use what is termed "the happy accident," I have learned how to produce this accident, how to create a desired form through, seemingly careless dribble. I enjoy and strive toward spontaneity but I abhor slapstick. I am a firm supporter of the thesis that art is a highly personal form of communication. I also believe that to speak coherently one must have a well-defined vocabulary. I therefore cannot, in my own philosophy, condone the 'dribble-for-thrill" technique or the painter who says of his experiments, "Crude thing though thou art, thou art art!"

I have painted about ninety lacquer paintings but I feel that I have only started in the exploration of what can be done with this versatile and comparatively new medium. I find that lacquer, besides doing the things I want paint to do and saying the things I want to say, has a warm, live, and inviting animation of its own.

 

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