Saturday, August 18, 2007

A first encounter with reverse paintings on glass

The first time I discovered reverse paintings on glass I was working in a London art gallery during the late 1970's. Prior to this I had no idea what a reverse painting actually was, although I've always been fascinated by beautiful leadlight (stained glass) windows in ancient churches and also leadlight from both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco eras.

On first seeing a reverse painting on glass I immediately noticed the depth that the glass gave to the subject that had been painted, the smooth surface of the glass, and the effect that light created in relation to both the glass and the artwork itself.

I also noticed the intricacy of the subject that had been painted (in this case it was a farm scene including farm workers, a farm house, a pond with ducks, various other farm animals and a background of trees and hills). All these details had been meticulously applied to a very small glass rectangle that measured approximately 25 x 30 cms. I was captivated by what I saw.

I gradually began to learn more about reverse painting through handling the artworks themselves in preparation for exhibitions, or by hearing information about the artists or sometimes little bits of information about the glass painting techniques they used. This encounter with reverse painting occurred a long time prior to the existence of the internet as we know it today, and aquiring my knowledge about reverse painting occurred gradually without a thought in my mind (at that particular time) that I would one day embark on my own reverse painting adventure.

You can find more information by visiting the Reverse Painting FAQ or by visiting the links in the top right column of this page।

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The beginning

I began creating reverse paintings on glass about 25 years ago. Prior to starting out on this interesting artistic adventure I painted on canvas or wood panel and also sculpted, mostly in clay.

One of the first things I began to learn about reverse painting on glass, (which at that time was known to me as painting on glass or glass painting) was the fact that glass as a painting support would restrict my freedom of arm movement as well as the way in which I would be able to apply paint to a surface.

At first I didn't really notice that these changes in method were occurring because I was totally absorbed in learning a new painting technique. This took place during the early 1980's in south-west France, on a large, round metal garden table in a country garden. One Spring morning I sat down with a small table easel, a few paints and a piece of square glass to embark on my grand adventure with reverse painting.

I'd already decided when starting out with this painting technique that I would try to develop an alternative painting technique for reverse painting. However, I first had to learn which paints to use, and how to apply them.

This wasn't to be as easy as I thought. It was difficult to properly create outlines for the subjects I was trying to paint, with the result that my very first attempts at creating reverse paintings on glass invariably ended up in the bathtub under a stream of hot soapy water. My only 'recompense' in those moments of totally wiping out what I'd laboured over for hours was observing the acrylic or oil paint 'skins' that occasionally held together on the glass and that I for some reason relished in trying to lift off in one complete piece!

Glass is a non absorbant surface..

My first self-taught lesson was learning that because glass is an extremely smooth and non-absorbant surface I would have to be careful about applying layers of paint one upon the other in the way I'd been used to doing when painting on canvas or wood panel. On a glass support, applying layer upon layer of paint without respecting the drying time necessary in between layers risks lifting your entire composition off the glass itself.

Following that very first glass painting adventure I decided to adopt a more methodical approach in order to learn more about how to accomplish the reverse painting technique. I already knew that glass was a smooth, non absorbant surface and that this painting technique would require quite a lot of patience. My next step would be to find out how to create neat, clear outlines of the subject or subjects I wanted to paint on the glass.

Glass dictates its own painting style..

I first had to learn more about using glass as a painting support. I consequently began to understand why a subject that is painted on glass usually appeared more simplified (similar to that of naive art) than a painting created on canvas or wood panel. I also learned that the use of glass as a non absorbant painting support can easily inhibit the creation of a three-dimensional appearance of a subject being painted.

Working the paint in order to create areas of shadow or light on glass was therefore more complicated than when painting on canvas for the following reasons:

a) because creating a three-dimensional effect needed to be done with the first layer of paint applied to the glass before it dried


b) because working the paint to create shadow and light required constant observation from the opposite side of the glass and because colour-mixing was creating results out of my own direct view. This in turn is explained by the fact that when creating a reverse painting on glass there is both a painting side of the glass, and a viewing side (in order to see results)

In gradually learning this information about glass painting I was filled with admiration for the artists throughout the history of reverse painting who have created beautiful artworks, a number of which include applications of light and shadow in great detail.

You can find more information about reverse painting by visiting the Reverse Painting FAQ or the links in the top right column of this page.

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What is a reverse painting?

A reverse painting is created by painting a subject onto one side of a sheet of glass (or plastified glass) after which it is viewed from the other side, or through the glass.

Contrary to painting on a canvas or similar support this technique requires an artist to paint in reverse, or in other words, ‘back to front.’

When an artwork is created on a support such as canvas or wood panel, it is painted from the same angle and direction that it will ultimately be viewed from on completion. However, in the case of a reverse painting, the painting side and the viewing side of the artwork are opposed to one another.

Similarly, an artwork that is created on a canvas usually begins with a rough outline and gradually builds towards its completion and finishing touches. In a reverse painting however, this procedure begins where it would normally end. This means that finishing touches such as finer details or the artist’s signature are usually applied first, and that the background applications of colour are added later.

Hence the use of the term ‘reverse painting’.

The effect that glass can give to a reverse painting can make it a very beautiful object.

For those who see a reverse painting on glass for the very first time it may take a little while to realise that what appears to be a painting under a sheet of glass is in fact an artwork that has been painted on the surface of the glass itself.

You can find more information by visiting the Reverse Painting FAQ or the links in the top right column of this page.

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Creating outlines requires a steady hand

As we all know from our experiences around the home, even if we haven't touched the surface of a glass window pane it will usually need to be cleaned from time to time. When creating a reverse painting on glass, paying attention to how often our hands or fingers touch the surface of the glass can have a great deal of importance, especially if we don't want to leave unwanted traces of paint or fingerprints on view following the completion of our artwork.

In trying to find the right approach to being able to create outlines on glass without inadvertantly spreading the fine liquid lines elsewhere I came to the conclusion that as I am right-handed, starting from the left side of the glass and working towards the right would be the best way for me to work. This meant that my hand did not need to retouch the glass in the areas where I'd already created outlines. For those who are left-handed, working in the opposite direction to the one I've just described may be of help.

If you'd like to know more about how to create outlines and how to transfer an art subject to glass you can find more detailed information by visiting the links in the top right column of this page.

Outlines require using the right mix of paint..

In relation to the creation of outlines themselves, and apart from keeping the glass clean, it was also necessary to make sure that outlines remained either fine or thick throughout, as required. In the case of creating finer outlines, blobs sometimes appeared due to using a paint that was too liquid.

On the other hand, when the paint was a little too dry for the task it was necessary to keep more pressure on the instrument being used to apply the lines in order to make sure that the lines had a similar thickness and texture throughout.

When I began reverse painting many years ago I used a pen with easily changeable nibs in order to create outlines and have diligently continued using this method ever since. Since that time however (and also depending on which country you are in) the market for art materials has expanded a great deal and produced entire ranges of new art tools and ideas, which include material that can be used for glass painting.

You can find more information by visiting the Reverse Painting FAQ or the links in the top right column of this page.

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