Brenda Helt, Fine Artist

And so I offer these explanations for those new to the world of fine art as well as to friends who have asked me about my process of producing a painting.  Whether you're considering purchasing an original painting or producing one yourself or just would like to be more knowledgeable when strolling through museums and art fairs, I hope this information might help.

I use only professional grade artist acrylic paints, and use what are widely acknowledged as the industry's two top brands. Such paints are highly and purely pigmented and have a viscosity (and opacity) equivalent to oil paints. The production of these paints is itself an art, though one in which chemists are employed.  Professor Frank Jones of the Coatings Research Institute of Eastern Michigan University points out that acrylics are relatively new to the fine art scene, having been developed as fine art paint in the 1940s, but that "The weight of available evidence indicates that acrylics will prove to be more durable than oils, and oils have been around for 500 years"

(http://www.goldenpaints.com/justpaint/jp12article1.php).  The difference between these professional grade acrylics and the acrylic paint with which one might paint one's house is similar to the difference between organic, cold pressed, extra virgin sesame oil and the engine oil produced for the common car.  Acrylic artists do not paint with house paint--well, except when we're painting our houses.


There is certainly debate among some fine artists today as to whether oils or acrylics are superior, but it really just comes down to an artist’s personal preference—and some of us use both. Since the range of pigments, vibrancy or richness of color, and longevity of today's acrylic paints is the same as oil paints, a preference for one or the other often depends on what and how an artist paints. Personally, I prefer acrylics’ faster drying time, their low odor, and their ability to clean up with soap and water while still wet—though once dry, they are as permanent as oils. Acrylics’ versatility is also useful to me. Heavy body professional art acrylics are identical in viscosity, consistency, and workability to oils, but they can also be diluted with water such that they act like watercolors or thickened with additives until they act almost like clay. I like to add a variety of acrylic additives to my paints in order to achieve certain effects, and these additives can’t be mixed with oil paints. Some of my artworks might rightly be considered mixed media, as they contain molding paste, crackling paste, and a variety of acrylic gels. 

Typically artists use an "About the Artwork" page to describe their theories, influences, and techniques.  That information is contained on my "About the Artist" page and on pages describing individual artworks, however.  Here I mean to provide very basic information about the materials I work with and on.  This is not a page for artists or for art experts.  It's a page for all those kind folks who wonder why I use acrylic paints rather than oils, why the back of my paintings seem "messy," why I don't buy my canvases pre-stretched and ready to paint, etc.

 A true gallery wrap corner fold

The "messiness" of the backside is a type of guarantee that this canvas frame was not produced in a factory.  Its production was controlled by the artist and is part of the artwork itself.  The backside of Van Gogh's paintings look much like this—though he used tacks where we today use a staple gun.  That is a true gallery wrap:  carefully and time-consumingly stretched tight as a drum, corners smoothly and tightly folded (not cut), for a smooth but "toothy" painting surface and optimum strength—an artwork that will last for many generations. 


I also paint all four sides of the painting so that it needn't be (though it certainly can be) framed. 

Mounting bracket

And so a painting that looks like this on the front:                 Looks like this on the back:

I paint on heavy-weight (15 ounce) cotton canvas which I purchase in rolls, unbleached, unprimed, and unstretched.  I have wooden canvas-frames custom built for each painting—usually of poplar, beech, or maple—then stretch and gallery-wrap the canvas myself or have it done by a professional.  I then double or triple prime the canvas with high quality acrylic gesso.  In this way, I can conceptualize a painting of a large or non-standard size, prepare the surface to get exactly the tooth I need in the canvas for the type of painting I plan to do, as well as the strength and thickness I need for the process I intend.  I can also control the quality of the materials upon which I paint.  There is no point in using high quality paint on a thin canvas spray-primed with low grade primer.  It is possible for the paint to peel right off such a surface.


I sometimes finish the painting with a coat of varnish (or

multiple coats, depending on the finish I intend), but more

often leave the painting unvarnished so that the brush strokes

and various sheens of different paints are visible.  Finally, I attach 

a wooden mounting bracket on the top edge.

About the Artwork

Although much of my painting is done with paint and a paintbrush, I also use a variety of less traditional tools:  mortar trowels, a cement smoother, a sander, and a rotary tool are some of my favorites.