It’s relatively easy to paint a contemporary piece.
Use vivid colors, bold brush strokes and voilà – you have a modern piece that will draw attention anywhere.
However, you may have a theme that cries out for an antique appearance.
A client may have a century home and wants a period piece to grace its walls, or you receive a commission from a historic society to recreate a painting for a restoration project.
How do you go about creating a painting that has the aged appearance, using modern paints and equipment?
Get Familiar With The Vintage Look
Start by familiarizing yourself with the appearance of old paintings in the medium you will use. Look at the colors artists used during that period and make note of them. Decide which contemporary colors in your palette will work, or what combinations you will need to use to create a similar hue.
Study the style and the texture. Examine the brush strokes. Look beneath the faded paper, yellowed or crazed varnish and accumulated dust to get a feel for what the audience saw when the painting hung in a gallery. Certain techniques, subjects and color palettes come in and out of fashion during every era. The period of time for which you are creating a painting may have several popular styles of painting, colors and techniques. Refer to a good book or internet site to study the painting of the era to become familiar with the colors choices and styles used by artists of that time.
Modern Painting Supports For Antique Paintings
The support is an important part of the puzzle as well. If the painting is a watercolor, check the tooth of the paper. Watercolor paper comes in three finishes. Hot press, cold press and rough are the standard variations in watercolor paper. The paper you use will make a big difference in the final look of the painting.
Oil and acrylic artists use stretched canvas as their primary support. Examine old canvases and note the thickness of the stretcher bars. Scrutinize the canvas to determine the coarseness of the fabric and estimate the number of layers of gesso used to prepare the support.
Some oil paintings were produced on wooden panels. Masonite is generally used as a support when wood is indicated and may be appropriate for some contemporary reproductions. Prepare the surface with gesso before painting the piece.
New Paint For An Old-Fashioned Look
You have studied the subject matter, examined the support and experimented with creating heirloom colors. Now is the time to put it all together to create a replica of an antique painting.
If you are a watercolorist, you may wish to tint your paper with a very pale yellow or ecru tint to give an instant aged appearance to the support. Conversely, you can glaze the entire sheet when the painting is complete to tone down the entire work.
Oil and acrylic painters can also use a glaze after completing their painting to give an aged appearance, or add an ochre, sienna or burnt umber to the finish varnish coat. Varnish is generally not as high-luster as modern finishes, so a matte or satin finish may be appropriate to give an aged veneer. Alternatively, a crackle medium can be applied to the completed painting, which instantly gives a crazed texture to the surface. To enhance the crackle effect, wipe the surface with a sponge or towel with burnt umber or sienna and quickly wipe off. This will emphasize the crazing and give an old, worn look to your art.
Put It All Together With A Frame That Fits
There are many replica frames available, and frame shops have books of thousands of frame moulds available. You can buy a new, old style frame or visit estate sales, junk stores and antique shops to find a particular style of frame. If the size you require is not available, purchase an over-sized frame and have your frame shop rebuild it to fit your painting.
Artists very often stockpile wonderful frames and create paintings that will fit the frames they have on hand. This is more cost effective than having an old frame rebuilt. If you see yourself doing this style of painting on a regular basis, haunt your city’s antique row or shop flea markets to acquire your own stash of great period frames.
This kind of painting may not be for everyone, but it is certainly an interesting exercise. The artist who removes himself from his normal comfort zone may well find his circle of interests expanding. Attempting new styles, even if they are new from a century ago, can broaden your range and develop new skills.