You’ve just bought your first “magic” brush…that soft golden coloured brush that will make your painting experience so wonderful that you’ll just want to paint and paint and paint. You sit down and start painting your canvas and while you let it dry, make a cup of tea.
Coming back, you notice these white speckles in your painting, so you repeat your previous steps and add another layer of paint. Waited for it to dry and darn it, more white speckles in your painting!
Sweetie, it’s not you.. it’s the brush.
Time travel to a few years ago, I had purchased a whole bunch of Winsor Newton professional canvas panels. Beautifully wrapped in plastic and stacks quite nicely. They seemed to have a smoother finish then the traditional stretched canvas so they were a perfect fit for a detailed wildlife painting I was preparing for.
Anytime I’m working with detailed strokes, sable and synthetic brushes are what I use. Figuring the canvas panel was smoother, I just started the underpainting stage using a 2″ synthetic brush. The paint just flowed off the brush and I had a beautiful gradation for a sky which met up with the water line perfectly.
Because I was working with an acrylic underpainting with oil overlays, this layer had to be perfectly dry, so I rinsed my brush and went to make my cup of tea. Coming back after an hour, I saw all these white speckles peeking through. That perplexed me, so I repeated the steps again and waited. Those darn speckles appeared again!
My first instinct was a defective canvas panel. Thinking maybe the plastic wrap left some type of residue during manufacturing. So I took another panel and lightly sanded it. Did the whole underpainting steps again and this time, the speckles weren’t as bad, but they were still there.
I brought the two panels back to the store, didn’t say a word and just showed the manager what the panels looked like.
She said “what are those white speckles in your painting”!
Then the “lightbulb moment” happened. A canvas is textured with all these little peaks and valleys. A synthetic brush just can’t get into all these little valleys and thinning the paint so it seeps into the valleys would result in a very light value and I’d just have to paint another layer anyways. The paint just seemed to sit “on top” of the canvas.
I switched to my traditional way of painting, doing the underpainting with a bristle brush and voila! No more speckles. With the bristle brush, the bristles are stiff so they just pop the paint into all the little valleys with very little effort.
Does this mean you can only underpaint using a bristle brush? no, it depends on what you are painting.
A wet on wet painting you’d be fine, since you are applying more than one layer of wet paint onto the canvas at the same time.
But if you are working with a wet on dry technique and you see white speckles in your painting, just try switching to a bristle brush and see if that helps you out.
Has this happened to you?
Have you had problems with white speckles in your paintings? Please share in the comments below what you were using and if you were able to find a solution before reading this post.