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Technique

Kees van Citters (Heemstede, April 20th 1966) occupies himself intensively with painting since his secondary school period. He has lived and has worked as an independent fine artist in Haarlem since 1985.

Kees van Citters: ‘In summertime you can find me behind my painter’s easel in the woods and in the dunes along the ‘geests’ (the sandy soil between the dunes and the polder) between Vogelenzang and Santpoort. The paintings I make there have a strong impressionistic character, just like the paintings of gardens, which I often realize in commission. In my studio, I paint subjects like ballet and music in a more precise style. The subject of a painting is very important to me. Along with the painting technique and the materials and colors used, the subject is a crucial ingredient for the story I tell with a painting. A good subject is half the battle! Music and ballet are two precious metaphors for me, even though I don't have a full technical knowledge on these subjects. Experts are often annoyed by the line-ups of the orchestra or hand poses of the dancers in my works. I don’t attach much importance to science though. John Singer Sargent once said: “The less a painter knows about his subject, the better.”

Acrylic base ‘I always use the same painting technique. First I prepare a base with acrylic color on Flemish linen that has been prepared with acrylic. I coat this basis with a layer of watered down acrylic medium. This thin pure acrylic coat, in fact a layer of plastic, brings out the real color of the basis (acrylic color becomes naturally matte after drying) and prevents a too large absorption of the acrylic color in the following phase. Only after this layer I sand the primed canvas, as the acrylic color adheres extra to the canvas because of the irregularities in the linen (Actually I still don’t trust acrylic color as a vehicle; all in all we only have twenty years of experience with it). After sanding, I put a mixture of cold-pressed linseed oil and beeswax on the entire canvas. Then I work out the background with large paintbrushes. Preferably I start with polish colors: transparent colors, which I dilute with linseed oil. The acrylic background is complementary to the painting in oils, but only as for the color, not as for the composition. So I paint red on green, ochre on purple and blue on orange or all these combinations in the reverse order.

100% wet in wet ‘After using the polish colors, I work out the foreground with more coating colors. For the detailed part of the painting, I mix from dark to light colors, from wet to dry respectively . I premix yellow and white colors on a piece of paper on my pallet. This causes the tube oil that initially makes the paint smooth to be extracted. I mix coating colors with stand oil and semitransparents with bleached linseed oil. I exclusively use first quality oil paint and brushes from Lyons. I create the detailed painting work completely wet in wet. This technique gives the least grip and is therefore certainly not the easiest technique, but for sure the most expressive one. The basis has to be soaking wet with oil and beeswax. After some days when the canvas has dried, I cover it again with a mixture of stand oil (which is a slow drier) and turpentine to finish the work in the same flowing, sketching way. In that phase, the detailed painting loses only the suggestive mixing of the oil paint on the background. In the pronounced visual and remaining forms I don’t create any areas of color with drying between times. That’s time-consuming and compresses the charisma of the painting. I believe that the painter's hand stroke will loom too large in the painting, giving it an excess of useless, subjective symbolism.

Mixing in the touch ‘When I dip the paint on my brush, I drown it in a polish color diluted with turpentine. To obtain a better absorption, I sometimes soften the glue between the hair in the holder of the brush, by pinching the holder with a pliers. After this I take a semitransparent of the same color or a secondary of it, which I dilute by dipping the brush into the linseed oil. After that I use a coating color, which is again a primary or a secondary of the preceding color and will be diluted in a drop of stand oil. In this way both the coating of the color as the syrupiness of it, will increase towards the point of the paintbrush. That’s the reason why the color doesn’t mix neither on the pallet nor on the canvas, but instead you obtain a mixing in the touch itself. The viscosity of the touch in the light of the paintings (there were I apply yellows and whites) is plainly pitchy: the polishes and semitransparent both diluted with oil and turpentine search their way in the tracks that have been left behind by the pig’s bristles in the viscous coating colors.

Magic means ‘I often press the brush on the canvas up to the holder, so that it all starts to swim even more in the oil spectrum. Especially when I brush upwards. The bristles spread wide out, but their positioning and contrast remain logic. A daub with such protocol actually is not apt for more than two whisks on the canvas. After that the mixture in the touch quickly becomes diffuse. For that reason I rinse my brushes every other minute creating a huge residue. The veined touch is a wonderful medium in fine art. You can manipulate the light in the paintings by accentuating it square to the direction in which the light moves, giving it in this way the opportunity to take part in the composition. Especially in the case of expressions of feelings in faces, it’s a magic tools.

Most expressive ‘In all fairness I actually hardly ever know in advance how I set to work. Usually I can only conclude from the finished work what has been going on. When I don’t know what to do with a work, the liquidity of painting wet in wet often offers a solution. In that case I take a series of moderate colors, which I dip in a dark or yellow diluted polish then place on the canvas, dip again in the polish and again place on the canvas. Especially in the dark passages of a painting I use a lot of turpentine. But often the trick is not to touch the painting too much with your fingers. The passages in a painting that have been touched less, often are the most expressive. “When a stroke does well, leave it just there,” Van Gogh wrote about Rembrandt when he had seen the painting of the hands in the Jewish Bride.

The frame & the work ‘In the last stage I only sometimes brighten up the whites in a painting with oil pastel to thicken the passages, so they can catch more light or I bring out the color structure in the background with another color pastel. I only correct a work with paint after sanding it entirely, to be able to brush an autonomous and not a granular stroke on the base. Before I finish the work, I have it framed. In that way I can still match the frame and the work. This may sound weird, but it used to be also the working method of Monet and Bonnard. Still I’m not going as far as the last named, who even used to continue working on his painting during the vernissage!’

 

all images © Kees van Citters / Beeldrecht Amstelveen