Violet to Blue Green, Diagonal Shadow, c. 1948
oil on board
14½ X 22 in.
A perfect confidence in the technical means at his disposal encourages the painter to dare self-expression to the fullest. He has no longer fear of irreparable technical mishaps if acquainted with sufficient equipment of remedies. If the conception engenders the technique, reciprocally, a technical discovery affording new facilities provokes the imagination to take advantage of dreams which awaited but the means of expression.
~ Hilaire Hiler, Notes on the Technique of Painting, 1935.
It is very rare that an abstract painter will be featured on a blog devoted to realism, but since Hilaire Hiler was himself a very rare abstract artist, I feel I must give him his due credit. He is probably best known for "Structuralism," his own particular brand of abstract art, which he described as "a geometric progression of color-form with sequential design relations resembling natural growth." But Hiler was a man of many varied interests, all of which he apparently pursued with intensity and vigor. In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, written by his good friend Henry Miller, Hiler was characterized thusly:
Every now and then he takes a vacation from paint—to play the piano in a night club, to open a night club himself, to decorate a bar or a gaming room, to write a learned book on costumes, to study the American Indians, to explore the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu, to practice psychoanalysis, to confute the devil and confound the angels, to go on a bender, to find a new mistress, to learn Chinese or Arabic, to write a tract on the technique of painting, to study rug weaving or sailing a boat, and so on. He has a thousand and one interests...
Though Hiler was an outspoken proponent of abstract art, his obsessional interests actually provided a great service to today's realist painters. Hiler found fault with the lack of good technique evinced by the works of "the modern movement," and his curiosity led him to study the proper ways to construct permanent paintings. The book which resulted from his research, Notes on the Technique of Painting, is an educated treatise on "good painting," based upon the methods and materials of past masters. Sir William Rothenstein, a traditional artist educated at the Académie Julian in Paris half-a-century before the publication of Hiler's book, wrote in the preface that this manual was "good portent" that "technical mastery, as an essential part of an artist's equipment, may again be looked for."
Whether or not Hiler's efforts had a positive effect on the methods of his contemporaries is debatable, but his research is certainly of benefit to those today wishing to learn more about technical mastery in painting. The book is filled with information on colors, historical color palettes, supports, grounds, and mediums, and is oft referenced by today's scholars on technique. The following passage from his book are some tried-and-true painting rules every beginning oil painter should learn.
A FEW RULES FOR OIL PAINTING
1. Always use the simplest ingredients possible, and see that their quality and purity are beyond doubt. Good linseed oil and turpentine, oil of spike, or petrol are usually all that is needed.
2. Use as little siccative or dryer as possible.
3. Begin a picture lean, and finish fat.
The less oil in the paint superimposed, and the more in the paint underneath, the greater the danger of cracking. This rule is observed by all housepainters, and is based on sound mechanical principles.
4. Two thin coats are usually better than one thick one.
5. Be sure that your paint is perfectly dry before painting over it, otherwise the undercoat will contract as it finishes drying, and crack the one over it, which being fresher has a different rate of change.
6. If the paint does not "take" well, rub the surface which is too smooth with a little piece of fine sandpaper, some powdered pumice, or water and a stiff brush. In the last case, there will probably be enough dust on it to furnish sufficient abrasion.
7. Never use any more medium, or diluent for the colours – or, more simply, any more liquid – than is necessary. The colours, if permanent, will stay fresh and luminous if left alone as much as possible. The are afterwards to be protected by a good final varnish.
SOURCE: Hiler, Hilaire, Notes on the Technique of Painting, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1935).