Raven Commission Update, June 2020

You can read about the initial interview process and concept development for this painting in my previous post. This client has really been a joy to work with because of her personal connection and encounters with ravens. Her stories and enthusiasm have been a huge inspiration in the development of this piece.

As promised, I’m checking in to update you on the studio process and preparation of materials for an oil painting on wood panel.
First, I start with a red oak panel, mounted on a poplar frame. I have these panels custom made by a local craftsman because I have very rudimentary carpentry skills and his prices are very reasonable. I have learned over the years that my time is limited and valuable. That sometimes means it is cheaper to pay someone else to do the work I cannot do or do not do well, in order to free up time for tasks like marketing and research.


After sanding the rough edges of the panel and frame, I’m ready to apply the first coat of rabbit skin glue. I highly recommend The Artist’s Handbook for a wide variety of useful information, including proper mixing and application.
The glue comes in granulated form and I still have the bag I bought in college 23 years ago, so the shelf life is pretty long. I mix small batches, usually 1tsp of granules to 10tsp of warm water, stirring until dissolved. I let it soak overnight if I have time, but at least 3 hours is adequate. I have an old coffee cup set aside for the purpose, and it goes straight into the double boiler when I’m ready to apply the first coat. It takes a few minutes for the gelatin-like glob to warm up and begin dissolving. Once it’s liquid, it can be pulled out of the boiler and applied directly to the panel.
I usually start with the panel face down at this stage, because all sides need to be sealed with this first coat of glue. I apply it evenly to the insides of the frame, the joints at the frame corners and where the frame meets the panel, and the panel itself. Then it gets flipped over so I can apply glue to the face of the panel – with the grain – as well as the sides and frame. The warmth of the oak is beautiful at this stage.
The panel is allowed to dry thoroughly. I add a little water to the remaining glue and put it back in the double boiler to warm it up. This second, thinner coat, is applied against the grain and allowed to dry. A last, thin coat is applied with the grain and allowed to dry completely.

I was planning to include video here, but I can’t get it to upload. I will dig into the issue and post an update.

I usually let the panel sit for a few days before applying the gesso layer. You can read about making your own gesso in the handbook, but I am happy with gesso from the store. I apply it with a flat bristle brush in a fairly heavy layer with the grain for the base. If it’s too heavily textured, or I want a smooth panel, I sand the face of the panel until I’m happy with it. Two more layers are applied in opposing directions; also sanded between layers, unless I want a heavy base texture.

Happy clients are the best inspiration

I have my marker sketch hanging on the wall in my studio for reference as I work.

I made a photocopy of my ink rendering in order to transfer the line drawing to the panel. I make the copies in sections for large paintings like this one, tape them together, and use carbon paper to transfer the outlines. I usually go back in at this point to add details or make minor corrections and additions with a pencil. Once I’m happy with it, I put a final coat of rabbit skin glue on it to seal the gesso and keep the outline from smearing when I apply the imprimatura. I will cover that process in my next post.

Final Composition on Panel

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