norman rockwell make a wish
Make a Wish, Norman Rockwell

“Ask the Expert” will return next Wednesday but today Kim and I would like to express how thankful we are for each of you that have taken the time to follow and support us. It’s hard to believe that this journey started only 2 months ago. We appreciate all the wonderful emails, comments and “shares”. We are also thankful for our guest artists for sharing their insights and making “Ask the Expert” a very popular place to visit. There are more exciting guest artists waiting to offer up their advice, so stay tuned.

Even though there isn’t an “Ask the Expert” post today, we wanted to announce that a Resource page is being added to the blog. A few of our readers have submitted questions asked that have been answered by other blogs or artists and we don’t want to be repetitive. However, when one of you asks a question, we want to be able to our best ability to provide a response, so over time our goal is to build this page to provide good resources to those questions. The first question is regarding Studio Safety and Scott Gellatly, Artist and Product Manager for Gamblin Paints has provided great advice. Here’s the link to Scott’s Answer and the link to new Resource page.

We will be back next week with Art Cafe and Ask the Expert and of, course our Big Reveal on Tuesday. You don’t want to miss that. Happy Thanksgiving from two very grateful artists at In the Artist Studio.

Resource Post…Studio Safety, Scott Gellatly

Studio Safety

A question was posed about Studio Safety (oil paints) and it isn’t a question easily answered. It depends on many factors including your studio set up as well as painting medium(s) that are being used. Also, there isn’t just one “go to” person to ask. I reached out to Scott Gellatly, Artist and Product Manager at Gamblin Artists Colors and he provided some valuable information and resources.

How do I choose and manage solvents in our oil painting studio? (this is an excerpt from a Studio Safety Guide for Schools that Scott is working on)

Solvent is traditionally used in oil painting for a few different reasons. Solvent is used for brush and studio clean-up, as well as used in moderation to thin oil colors from the tube.

Solvent is also a component of most painting mediums used to alter the viscosity of oil colors and speed drying. In making mediums, the solvent is mixed with a drying oil (i.e. linseed oil) and/or a resin (traditionally dammar resin or contemporary resins, such as soy-based alkyd).

Gamblin’s approach to painting mediums is to formulate a range of contemporary mediums based on alkyd resin, as it allows us to create mediums with the mildest form of odorless mineral spirits: Gamblin Gamsol.

There are hundreds of different types of solvents in the world – all with unique properties and applications in various industries. A variety of different solvents have been incorporated into oil painting studios over its history. Not all solvents are created equal. Below is information on what makes Gamblin Gamsol uniquely qualified to be the standard for studio safety in classrooms and home studios.

A solvent’s safety is a factory of its evaporation rate, permissible exposure level and the ventilation in the workspace. These factored are discussed below.


*The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer and The Painter’s Handbook by Mark Gottsegen are the two definitive books on painting materials published in America. They both define the working properties of an ideal artist’s solvent the same way.

An artist’s solvent should:

  • Evaporate completely
  • Evaporate at a uniform rate
  • Have no effect on dried paint layers
  • Be chemically inert to the materials with which it is used (i.e. have no chemical reaction)
  • Mix completely with the materials with which it is used
  • Have no toxic vapors
  • Evaporate entirely from the dried paint film within a reasonable amount of time

Many solvents on the market satisfy some of these requirements. Gamsol meets all of these requirements when used as recommended.

Gamblin Gamsol odorless mineral spirits balances both performance and safety like no other artist’s solvent on the market.


Gamsol allows painters to work in traditional and contemporary techniques without compromising artistic possibilities, permanence, or your well-being. Gamsol is also reusable, and non-toxic when used as recommended.

Most solvents available to artists are produced for the industrial paint industry where solvent strength and low cost take priority over safety. Gamsol is different. It comes from a family of materials used in products that come into more intimate contact with the body: such as cosmetics, hand cleaners, and cleaning food service equipment.

For an artist, there are a number of factors to consider when judging a solvent’s safety.  Aromatic solvents are the most harmful type of mineral spirits. Gamsol is an odorless mineral spirit which has all of the aromatic solvents refined out of it – less than .005% remains. In addition, Gamsol has a slow evaporation rate, a high flash point, and is not absorbed through healthy skin.

Unlike other solvents, Gamsol is readily biodegradable and contains no Hazardous Air Pollutants or Ozone Depleting Compounds.

Evaporation Rate Testing

One key metric in determining the inherent safety of a solvent is the rate in which the solvent evaporates. The chart below documents the results from testing three common solvents: turpentine, mineral spirits and Gamsol. A tablespoon of each solvent was placed on a 3 ¼” wide metal lid, and subsequently placed on three different scales to measure the amount of time (in days) in took the solvent to evaporate.

Within the first 48 hours of this test, approximately 94% of the turpentine and the majority of mineral spirits had evaporated. Gamsol’s evaporation was slow and steady over the test’s nine-day period.

This test was repeated to look at these same three solvents within an eight-hour time period:

During the eight-hour period, 77.6% of the turpentine evaporated, 46% of the Mineral Spirits and only 13.3% of the Gamsol.

** Note on above testing: During the 9-day solvent evaporation test, the average temperature in our lab in Portland, OR was 64 degrees F. During the 8-hour test, the average temperature was 75 degrees F.

Again, the above test was prepared by placing a tablespoon of each solvent on 3 ¼” wide metal lids. When approximately eight fluid ounces of Gamsol were placed in a commonly-used Silicoil Brush-Washing Container, only .29% of Gamsol evaporated when tested over an eight-hour period.

Flash Point Comparison

The flash point of a volatile material is the lowest temperature at which it can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. Measuring a flash point requires an ignition source (i.e. match or flame).

The flash point is not to be confused with the auto-ignition temperature (which does not require an ignition source), which is a much higher number (635°F in the case of Gamsol).

Below is a listing of common solvents, along with their corresponding flash points:

Turpentine: 95°F
Mineral Spirits: 100.4°F

“Odorless Mineral Spirits”: 110 – 120°F
Gamsol: 142°F

Recommended uses for Gamsol

Thinning oil colors:  Gamsol beautifully thins oil colors.  A little goes a long way; oil colors relax immediately when a little Gamsol is added. Since Gamsol evaporates completely, no sticky residue is left behind that could compromise the drying or strength of paint layers.

Modifying painting mediums:  Gamblin Galkyd painting mediums are formulated with Gamsol, so they readily accept Gamsol as a solvent. Gamsol should not be added to traditional painting mediums containing dammar, copal, mastic resins. They require stronger solvents such as turpentine. Adding Gamsol to oil painting mediums is an effective means of modifying the oil (“fat”) content of these materials to allow artists to explore indirect/glazing techniques.

Studio Clean up:  Gamsol is great for general studio clean-up of brushes, palettes, palette knives and other tools. As a brush cleaner, it effectively removes oil colors from brushes to allow for clean mixing and application of color.

What are the guidelines for air exchange in the oil painting classroom using Gamsol and Gamblin Oil painting mediums?


According to the recommendation of environmental hygienists, studio air should be changed ten times per hour.* Normal HVAC systems in most buildings and homes will allow for adequate air exchange using Gamblin oil painting materials.

Please keep in mind, though, that solvents used in conservation labs are much stronger than Gamsol.


Just to “round out” the conversation on Studio Safety and painting mediums, please also refer to our recent Studio Notes newsletter on Solvent-Free Painting techniques and materials.


Gamblin Studio Safety Page

Studio Notes newsletter – Solvent Free Painting Techniques and Materials

*The Artist’s Handbook on Materials and Techniques, Ralph Mayer

*The Painter’s Handbook, Mark David Gottsegen

 Air purifier, recommendation that we got from the Conservation Science community

Victor Hugo Zayas: The River Paintings at MOLAA

From time to time on InTheArtistStudio, Kelley and I would like to offer you something besides an answer to an art related question. As artists we all find inspiration in many different places. Recently, I visited the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, CA. to see a career-spanning show of the work of Victor Hugo Zayas. It inspired me and I’d like to share my experience with you. If you are near the L.A. or Orange County area, I recommend a visit.

Written by Kim VanDerHoek

L.A. River / Grid Series 2015

I believe that an artist’s body of work becomes most interesting once they move beyond simply trying to paint an inspired image for it’s own sake and into the realm of saying something with their work.

Zayas Show Grid 1
Grid Series in Gallery 2



Victor Hugo Zayas used to be a plein air landscape painter, working through the years capturing views of Los Angeles on large canvases in the back of his truck often at night. He’s been threatened by gang members and was once shot at. He’s lived, worked and taught in Los Angeles for more than a decade and he finds inspiration in the city.

Zayas Show Detail
Detail, Grid Series in Gallery 2



Two rooms at MOLAA are filled with his paintings with an entryway that has several of his sculptures and a video interview with Zayas (sadly, there isn’t any footage of him painting). The museum staff suggests starting the show with the room at the very back left side of the museum. This room contains smaller works, some from his Grid series, several abstracts, some representational pieces and L.A. pieces.

Zayas Show 4
Gallery 1

In the first room, the L.A. paintings were by far the strongest pieces. To the left the entire wall is dominated by a monumental landscape painting “Merinda” an early piece dated 1991. Opposite that piece are L.A. River paintings and this is where you begin to get a feel for the entire show. On the far wall hang several color studies for larger works. Some of the other paintings in this room feel out of place with the     theme of the show (like the abstracts filled with triangles or the giant dog piece) but they must represent milestones in the artist’s career or moments documenting the evolution of his work or they wouldn’t have been included.

Zayas Show 6
Gallery 2

The most challenging and interesting work hangs in the next room. Six large paintings hang in this space, each measuring 96” x 96.” These pieces are abstracted views of the L.A. River and Grid series. Many of these works are stripped down to the minimum and Zayas seems to be asking you to decide if you are looking at an intimate view of L.A. at night or an expansive one. One piece appears to have a night sky above subtle reflections on the river with the criss-cross of bridges above. Admittedly, the large almost black canvases are easy to dismiss and pass by, but if you sit with them in your view for a little while you might be surprised by what they have to say. They are atmospheric, moody and have a dangerous feeling to them, much like the city at night.

Zayas Show 2
L.A. River / Grid Series 2009

On the opposite wall the canvases are painted with paint that appears to be more than an inch thick in places and the texture is as gritty and unkept as the city itself. Two other Grid paintings hang in the gallery and these are the most representational pieces in the room that reveal the city of Los Angeles in all its orderly chaos. Additional walls contain more Grid and LA River pieces that are a bit smaller, some on canvas and some on paper behind glass (which unfortunately, is distracting because of glare).

Zayas LA River 1
L.A. River 11, 2015

The common visual thread of this show is more than a number of painterly urban views of Los Angeles. The work speaks about how all of us urbanites are connected through infrastructure in spite of riots, fire, flood and crippling drought. Zayas shows the hidden structure of Los Angeles with its roads, bridges and freeways and then takes us deeper with views of the often-overlooked main artery running through the city that is the L.A. River. He repeatedly paints the river, a typically natural entity, that has been captured and sterilized by infrastructure. Nature attempts to reinsert itself as large bushes make appearances in many of the L.A. River paintings. In one particular grid painting (one of the more representational works) the city seems to have sprung up around the river almost as if the concrete channel was fertile enough to give birth to L.A. The sky is the most repeated natural element present in these pieces and it often looks to be at odds with the urban sprawl below.

The work offers the viewer another way to connect to both the city and to nature even while the two seem to clash. The unexpected marriage between both worlds is intriguing, a reminder of our delicate dependency on each for comfort and survival. I left the show feeling conflicted, unsure of who I should root for in this visual battle – nature or city.

Zayas Show LA River 5
L.A. River 13, 2015

If you enjoy a show that challenges you, with large tonal paintings, thick painterly paint and something more to say than “here’s a pretty picture,” then this show at the Museum of Latin American Art is worth a visit.





Zayas Show 3
Gallery 2

Victor Hugo Zayas: The River Paintings

Oct. 17, 2015—Feb. 7, 2016

Museum of Latin American Art



To learn about Victor and his work, visit his website.

Ask the Expert…Shannon Smith Hughes


What does a typical artist’s day in the studio look like?

Shannon Smith Hughes
Shannon Smith Hughes

If I am not in my “outside studio” in nature painting en plein air, I can be found tucked away in a beautiful room full of windows over the garage in my home studio. It is my sanctuary….a place where the entire creative process becomes self therapeutic for this busy modern day mom and wife. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having my work space separate from my living space to retreat to and lose myself in my world of painting.


Shifting gears from my role as a mother to an artist is a sensory process that fuels my creativity. Walking into my studio, the overwhelming smell of oil paint awakens my senses gets the creative juices flowing. I open my palette and squeeze out fresh paint, and I’m already anxious to feel the buttery flow at the end of my brush.

Blue Ridge Oil Paint, handmade artists' oil paint colors
Blue Ridge Oil Paints, handmade artists’ oil paint colors

Depending on my mood that day, I select my music albeit classical, alternative rock, or country. Now I am beginning to relax and prepare my soul for rejuvenation. Painting is a process I call “getting in the zone.” It is a time when I am solely focused on my work and all of those lists of things to do go away in my head. There is an intensity to being “in the zone” that I would compare to how it feels to lose oneself in a really good book or movie. In order to get to my place of zen, I think about what is my inspiration for my next painting. What am I excited about painting today and why? Now it’s time to get visual. If I am unsure of what I want to paint, I retreat to my library nook in the studio and study my favorite art books and magazines. Some of my top sources of inspiration are Joaquin Sorolla, John Singer Sargent, Andrew Wyeth, and the American and Russian Impressionists.ss3

I usually have a stack of plein air studies lying around and may choose one to develop into a larger studio piece. My other source of inspiration is the thousands of photographs filed on my mac. I may go through photos for 5 minutes or up to a few hours waiting to see what grabs me. Capturing the light is what excites me most about painting. I am drawn to light and how it interacts with the subject, whether it be a landscape, still life, or figure in an interior. Generally, if you are excited about what you are painting it will show in your work. I am a firm believer in this and therefore only choose to paint what I am moved to paint! I don’t encourage strictly painting from photos, but often it is the only option. Painting from life is the best way to learn and grow. I have noticed that plein air painting actually helps improve my studio painting. I will often use a combination of my photos with my plein air sketches to create a large studio painting.ss4 I merely use photos as a reference, since it is the next best thing to painting from life. I can manipulate my image as much as needed through editing, color correcting, and cropping for the best composition. I can freeze the image to fill the screen on my monitor.


I was recently painting with PAPSE (Plein­Air Painters of the Southeast) Fine Art in Nashville, TN in the Leiper’s Fork area. There was a beautiful big red barn that I was already familiar with since I had painted there before.

Plein Air Study, 10x10
Plein Air Study, 10×10

Here is an example of a plein air piece that I later turned into a larger studio painting.

Studio painting, 24x30
Studio painting, 24×30
Other side of barn, 36×36

I was thrilled to return to a previous source of inspiration and further my studies. Drawn to how the tree shadows played on the sunlit barn and I couldn’t wait to get home to the studio to fill a big canvas with the other side of that big red barn!ss8

ss9I always begin my paintings with a rough sketch of thinned burnt sienna paint. A sketch allows for establishment of design and composition. Without getting too detailed in my drawing I am mostly concerned with placement of large shapes and making sure I have an interesting composition. I also want to identify my far end of the studio to see what I am doing. You really do need distance to see how the painting is pulling together. In fact, I picked up a great tip from a TN artist, Jason Saunders, to place my palette directly in front of my easel so that I am forced to stand a few feet away from the canvas instead of right on top of it.

ss10My work is not detailed but rather suggestions giving the viewer more information…impressionistic and painterly. If you have a successful start of strong composition, broken down to 3-­5 basic shapes, and proper range of values, you will have a visual map to guide you to complete a painting. The “details” are just small shapes on top of the big shapes.

Setting up a still life
Setting up a still life

My approach to painting still life is the same, except I always set up my own subjects and paint them from life. When we were building my studio, I knew I wanted a shelf to line the walls to display my collection of still life objects…i.e. vases, pots, bottles, all in glass, copper, silver, pewter, and pottery. I will spend as much time as I need arranging and rearranging these inorganic vessels with organic objects…i.e., various fruits, vegetables, fish, or flowers. I buy fish from the local seafood market and freeze it in between painting sessions…talk about a sensory experience! It is wonderful to paint from life when possible because you are seeing things in their truest form. Just remember when you are getting started, always make sure you are excited about what you are painting. I promise it will be one of your most successful paintings!


Fresh from the Market, 24×36

Most of my work can be found at my family owned gallery, Anglin Smith Fine Art, in Charleston, SC.

Art Cafe…Diebenkorn Notes to Self

Maybe we should be doing this ourselves, challenging, pushing and asking am I falling into predictability? Only in the questioning do we find the answers. Wishing you an art filled week.

Richard Diebenkorn, Notes to Self.

The following list was found among the papers of the painter Richard Diebenkorn after his death in 1993. Spelling and capitalization are as in the original.

diebenkorn profileNotes to myself on beginning a painting:

  1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.
  3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
  5. Don’t “discover” a subject — of any kind.
  6. Somehow don’t be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
  8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
  9. Tolerate chaos.
  10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

You might want to check out John Porter Lasater IV this coming Friday, Nov. 13th and Saturday, Nov. 14th. He’ll be doing his “24 Paintings in 24 Hours” and will be broadcasting live on Periscope. If you haven’t discovered Periscope, it’s a free app and I can’t wait to see what John has on the easel (many times).

Ask the Expert…Karin Jurick

Question: I’ve never painted a themed series before and I’d like to try, what should I keep in mind before I begin? 

Starting a series is more of a self-imposed exercise – for me personally, I like and need direction to keep me painting. Choosing a series of sorts revs me up. I start by browsing through the multitudes of photos I’ve taken through the years, picking out what is relevant, then narrowing it down to what I desire to paint. It makes it fun, and I need fun.
My most-current series ArtistZ has been a great learning experience. I started by making a list of my favorite painters from A to Z, and when I had several for a letter, I dove into learning more about each artist and finding ‘the one’ image that I loved most. With a few letters, I had no idea who to choose, like Q or X, so I spent a good amount of time researching artists I’d never heard of.
My ongoing series BUST-ED came about when I was browsing through a free app called Arrested. The faces inspired me to paint a subject that I really never had. It was a learning experience in that I had to transform a drab, nearly-colorless photo into something more vivid, which lead to experimenting with different color grounds. I’m still working on more as I have the time, and it’s just a great exercise in general.
I did a series titled ‘ATL to NYC & Back’ from a road trip taken a few years back.  I particularly loved working on that series because it included landscapes and city scenes, a travel diary of sorts translated into a visual collection – and much of the same challenge as the BUST-ED series, to take a drab, quick reference photo and transform it into a painting.
Shower Stall
Shower Stall
Tinted Windows
Tinted Windows

My selection process for an image to paint generally is finding a photo that stirs something inside of me.  I can pass by a photo for months or years and pay no attention, but one day it’ll speak to me.  Sometimes I see another artist’s painting and see something I’ve never seen before in the style or subject and go back and find a photo that I can work with in a way I dismissed before. Photos don’t have to be great to achieve a good painting. I have to remember, I’m painting a painting, not a photo.  The goal is to find the right composition, the part of the shot that interested me in the first place and embellish on that.  I think it’s all about ‘seeing’ the world in a more colorful, rich way.

An example of my original photo of the finished paintings above –
KJ photo collage

I try hard to balance freehand painting with no pre-sketching or measuring to keep loose and exercise that skill – versus being more precise with the composition and sketching the outline before I begin painting.  Take for instance, the BUST-ED portraits – I never sketch before I paint, I just jump right in and let it happen.  Landscapes or still life are usually done the same way.  I love to paint that way.

Lincoln Highway, Dusk in Iowa
For the larger pieces, those that involve more details,  I will carefully map out the areas first.  I have a habit of starting all paintings start from the top left and finishing at the bottom right – it keeps it clean and smudge-free.
The Bigger Picture

Most paintings are done in a long day, some more complicated are done in several days. I like to start a painting and finish before I start another one. My span of attention is short, I need to keep working when I’m interested in that image or I’ll abandon it all together. I’ve done that maybe three times in ten years, but eventually I went back and finished those pieces. Whatever I’m avid about on any given day is what I paint.

In all the series I’ve done, with an exception of BUST-ED, I’ve mapped out the series from beginning to end with my photos. That gives me the direction I long for, with a goal in mind. Knowing when a painting is done is a whole other thing. I’ve finished many and wiped the whole panel clean because it wasn’t what I envisioned or it was just boring.  Any painter knows the peril of over-working a painting, that’s the tough part.  I try very hard to have a balance of loose and slightly tight if it lends itself to the subject.  I do a good bit of pre-planning with my image, so there’s rarely reworking the composition or color choices, which makes it easier to know when it’s done.

Don’t dismiss painting from photos, and of course, use your own photos unless you have permission to use someone elses.  Paint what you are interested in, explore painting what you’re not experienced with and always hone your drawing skills whenever you can.

To see more of Karin’s inspiring works, please visit her website.