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the book


      The print version of Living Craft Edition 14 has sold out. I've been working on the next edition but it doesn't look like it is going to be completed any time soon. So, the text of Edition 14 is now available as a free PDF file. You can read more about what the book is about on this page. To view or download the book, click here.

      Thanks to everyone who supported this project between 2011 and now. Hope the book is fun, informative, and contributes in some small way to your own creative process!

the craft as creative process

      The research leading to Living Craft began in 2002. After having painted for fifteen years, something crucial seemed to be missing. Was I a "responsible" painter, or the unwitting prisoner of the 20th century textbooks, and their version of painting? Comparing technical art history with older textbooks, I realized that older practice was different in ways it is now difficult to imagine.

      Living Craft is not about rules designed for Painting 101 on the one hand, or magic potions on the other. Rather, it is a creative reconstruction of the hands-on approach designed for today's studio. It explains, in detail, how to use experience with the materials to fashion your own version of the craft. How to think and act creatively in paint, and develop the craft in a personal way. As the original master-apprentice system demonstrated, it is easier to open these doors when you have the keys. What has changed in seven centuries? A great deal. What about the so-called "lost secrets," which of these are actually documented? What is better about modern materials, what innovations of the 20th century are not aging well? Speculation aside, what materials and procedures from older practice might still be helpful? Living Craft explains it all, including how to make many materials that are literally unknown at this point, but logical within a handmade process. However, Living Craft is not for everyone! In this book, painting is based on life, not ideas alone. Seven centuries of painting practice are taken into account, making its frame of reference timeless, rather than contemporary. It emphasizes the roles of logic and proportion in making a stable nest for the creative egg. If you value a hands-on creative process, and would like to explore fascinating techniques and materials based on the findings of technical art history, or if you have a fine art degree and are beginning to wonder about the role of the materials themselves, Living Craft provides a uniquely clear and detailed solution.

reader reviews

The hardiest of congratulations to you! Your book is both a gift and a treasure!"
-- Ran Ortner, Amway Prize Winner, Manhattan      

      "What an amazing difference it makes to incorporate the thick oils, putties, and emulsions into a painting. Shocking! The drag, the shortness and definition of the stroke, the coverage wet in wet - however one wants to express their brushstrokes is possible. It’s exciting! I love it - and I'm just getting started!! Thank you so much"
      -- Winifred Whitfield

      "It's undoubtedly the most erudite and intelligently organized book about art material and techniques that I've ever read (and I have been a an obsessive researcher/ reader when it comes to painting materials and techniques for the last couple of decades). So many books on painting techniques and materials are full of waffle and pretty pictures that ultimately don't add up to anything much. Others are so garbled it's obvious the writer hasn't fully grasped the technical aspects they're writing about. So Living Craft is absolutely a breath of fresh air--comprehensive, succinct and impeccably researched. It's also beautifully and thoughtfully written, and I love that you touch on the philosophical aspects of visual art as well."
      -- Jenny Kyng, Tasmania

      "An in depth study of materials in a very detailed and original handling of subjects not normally covered. An absolute must for the academic artist. So refreshing to have a book of this caliber written in modern times. Sections upon mediums second to none! "
      -- Michael Harding, England

The hardiest of congratulations to you! Your book is both a gift and a treasure!"
      -- Ran Ortner, Amway Prize Winner, Manhattan

      "My painting is on a totally new level. I have internalized much of your teachings; the improvement is amazing. (I cannot follow the reasons for the improvement -- why the paint "looks better"-- I know it is a result of everything I am doing new but the results defy clear cause-and-effect analysis). But all in all I am in a completely new league now. Besides all of the wise and valuable information that your book brings, it has the benefit of reminding me, or refocusing me, on all the things that I should be thinking about or being mindful of when I'm painting. Even by leafing through it before a painting session it puts me in contact with the multiple elements that go into a successful session. I think this is a very high level for a book. Not only does it teach you what you need but keeps you artistically in shape. "
      -- David Louis, Israel

      "I am ever grateful for your sharing of knowledge, and continue to enjoy painting much more than I ever did with commercial paints and mediums."
      -- David Heskin, Colorado

      "Doing this has changed me as well as my process."
      -- Don Harger, NYC

      "I continue to get so much value and enhanced understanding from your book. I've taken a few steps back to try to start at a beginning with palette choices, and have found the Modern Grounded choice used in conjunction with the Pre-dimensional palette system to be a great starting point and am really beginning to understand color mapping, shadows, mid-tones, and highlights, I'm just seeing my paintings have much more depth and dimensionalism, and the range of colors being created from the starting point of 4 paints is really amazing and satisfying for simplicity reasons (not too many paints clamoring for attention)."
      -- Dan Stanko, New Jersey

      "Lately I have been exploring oil-in-water emulsions, casein and methyl cellulose for the underpainting. It has forced me to make my own paints, something I never imagined doing. I always thought it would be way too much bother, but to my surprise, I have been enjoying the process and the results immensely. Now I plan to start mulling my own oils. ."
      -- Brad Pasutti, Victoria

      "From soup to nuts and then some. .. I read a little of your book everyday and each time I reread a passage something new will pop out and my working knowledge of the craft continues to grow. Thanks for writing such a great book. It's the most useful book I have ever acquired! "
      -- Tim Andreyka, Arizona

      "The best written and most in depth manual I have read. On re-reading I find things I thought I got the first time..."
      -- Barbara Harrison, Florida

      "It's the best book I've ever read about painting on many levels, nothing comes near it. It's a breakthrough, a massive one. Particularly I have enjoyed it for the position you take in relation to known texts and modern scientific research. I've been aware of the various bits of information being published by the Tate and the National Gallery amongst others. But without a head for science there was always going to be a big gap between knowing and applying. When a painter begins to make their own paint the boundary between their mind and the technique dissolves and your book conveys this world wonderfully."
      -- Christian Hidaka Ward, France

      --Living Craft is an amazing compendium I will continue to refer to as I paint. The information contained within it I have not found anywhere else. This comprehensive volume should not miss in any serious artist's library. What else can I say but thank, thank you, thank you.
      --Max Scotto, Scotland

      "Really great work and a gift to painters everywhere. This is the kind of modern manual of oil painting that has been sorely lacking in our times. Initially I thought I'd just use it as a reference book, but I've found myself reading it front to back."
      -- Jason McPhillips, Colorado

      "I received the book on Wednesday and just want to let you know how much I am enjoying it. It seems as if I cannot put it down. I am very interested in working up my own oils and also in the chalk/oil putty mediums. I like the book because you have presented a historical basis and practical approach for painting with oils that is in reach of any artist willing to put in the time and attention to those aspects of the craft that have been relegated to second party commercial interests for so many years."
      -- Manny Cosentino, Los Angeles
      Website. Also The Judson Studios in LA, amazing stained glass work.

      "Thought I'd send a note about how much I loved your book. I bought it specifically for the linseed oil formulas, but found the whole thing thought provoking and inspirational."
      -- Joe Besch, Oregon

      "I've been using the salt-refined linseed oil from Living Craft for almost a year now, and it is clearly the best medium I've ever added to paint. Not only does it apply evenly while creating a beautiful consistency, it also dries quickly allowing me the opportunity to progress faster. The oil beautifully blends details to achieve otherwise hard-to-create old world effects. I've never used anything like it before and refer to it as my "secret weapon"!"
      -- Laura Spector, Texas

       "I would just like to commend you on your book, it is singlehandedly the most valuable book I have ever purchased. Clear, concise, practical and philosophical."
      -- Adrian Grist, Australia

      "I really like the "frame" in which you organize your thoughts, and the way one section relates to another, using the craft as a guiding thread which unifies concepts, technique and materials. Every time I read it I find something new."
      -- Ariel Gulluni, Buenos Aires

      "I just wanted you to know that I have been enjoying your book on a regular basis. It is heartening to read something that goes much deeper than the usual method books by collecting and responding to our inner struggles to make art (and life) more meaningful. There is so much information to absorb -- what a treasure! I long for uninterrupted time to explore every nuance and at the same time, I am appreciative of all the exploring you have done to make it easier on the rest of us. This book provides so much more than one could expect. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge and wisdom in an interesting, thought provoking manner. It gives me a space to breathe in this chaotic world."
      -- Julie Davis, Vermont

      "I have been looking for a hybrid approach that combines old and new in a sound manner. When I first started reading Living Craft, I had a visceral assumption that the catch must be that this uses arcane materials and is time-consuming and difficult, only reasonable for artists who had apprentices, so I am amazed to find on closer reading that the most technical part, making oil, looks about as hard as making a casserole. And it's so utterly challenging to... pour oil in a pan and stir it every few days. The challenge will be in learning how to paint with it, not making the materials. How could that not be a journey I want to take?"
      -- Jan McDonald, Arizona

      Tad Spurgeon's book is a brilliant resource for the oil painter. The logic of its organization, depth of information and innate wisdom it contains, makes this an indispensable addition to the painter's arsenal of knowledge. I have been painting with oils for 20+ years and own a lot of good instructional art books, but Tad's book cuts above the rest. If you are a practicing painter or wishing to learn, this book will provide a wealth of information that can only be acquired through exhaustive research or years of experience. Tad has done both and provides the reader a comprehensive compendium of advice, experience and knowledge. For this reason, Living Craft: A Painter's Process, is a great synthesis on the craft of oil painting.
      -- Brett Moffatt, Australia

      "When comparing the materials handbooks on the market, yours simply stands out. It's philosophical aspects speak to my heart, and when it comes to oil painting materials, it is the most complete."
      -- Wim Van Aalst, Belgium

      "If I were highlighting your book as I was reading it, the whole thing would be highlighted."
      -- Leslie Hess, California

      "Tad Spurgeon's book "Living Craft - A Painter's Process" is an indispensable guide to the use of oil paint and all that can be done to fine tune the medium for the professional artist. No other materials and techniques book on the market contains what is in this book! Once it is read, you will share some of the secrets of the old masters in paint handling and technical mastery over your materials. It has helped me to truly understand the finer aspects of my craft, and I am greatly in debt to Mr. Spurgeon for the bountiful information that he has shared through this innovative work."
      -- Candice Bohannon, California

      "I bought your book primarily for the "recipes" but ended up finding the philosophy of craft and the life of the artist to be the most interesting and, ultimately, the most practical part of the whole thing."
      -- Carl Ramm, Arkansas

      "I'd like to thank you for publishing such an extraordinary book which contributes so much to the craft of painting and to all artists who wish to go deeper."
      -- Juan Kovacs, Mexico

      "Your book is the bees knees. I've been spreading the word to painter friends. All would benefit, it's a wonderful corrective. I'm amazed by what you've assembled, experienced, pursued, and developed. Your humor is well timed throughout, it's a great read."
      -- Laraine Armenti, Massachusetts

      "I would like to thank you for all the effort you took to put all this information out on your website, and to write this book. It is so hard to find any serious information about the craft of painting. For years I've been trying to learn more about materials, oils pigments and methods, but a lot of the info you find is either biased, untrue or very shallow. And modern textbooks on painting hardly go into the materials, they basically say: buy some paint and work fat over lean, now go paint....."
       --Arco Scheepen, Netherlands

      "Living Craft: a Painter's Process" is an indispensable resource for oil painters of all levels. Clearly written and beautifully organized, Tad brings oil painting to its essence. The book creates a framework, both technical and philosophical, that guides the artist through the entire practice of oil painting. The book is rich with technical information, which, as a self-taught painter, has brought my work to a new level. This is a book for any painter, from beginner to advanced, looking to develop or hone their craft in ways that will ultimately clarify and enhance their unique artistic vision.
      -- Rebecca Kinkead, Vermont
      Rebecca's website and unique success story are here.

      I am eternally grateful to the alignment of the stars leading me to Tad Spurgeon. I have spent decades painting and teaching art at the university level. Tad's intellectual depth, sprightly wit, inspired research, and generosity of spirit in sharing his knowledge with fellow painters has greatly enhanced my artistic processes like a fortuitous gift from the muses. Living Craft offers a unique and brilliant treatise on everything imaginable related to oil painting. It is a modern day masterpiece and an absolute must read for an integrated studio practice that embraces a deep and personal connection to materials and making.
      -- Allison B. Cooke, Wisconsin

      Tad's book is the result of an incredible amount of research and work on oil painting and its materials. Highly informative, well written and structured with the rigor of a doctoral thesis, the book reads easily and with passion. It is resolutely practical and is aimed at both the advanced painter and scholars who want to understand the soul of the painting done in the spirit of the old masters (mostly focused on the 17th century).
       Always clear and very didactic, Tad offers a concise text, based on his own experiences all made with a objective and critical mind which he never deviates.
       However, Tad is not a Reconstructionist. He is a great gentleman who wants to reconcile the best of the past with the best of today's developments, patiently compiled by the reading of ancient texts and modern research papers. For example he uses both old materials such as chalk or marble dust beside modern material like fumed silica.
       Too many modern painters were wrong to use commercial materials without sufficient technical knowledge and regardless of their more or less good properties.
       The true art which enhance the sensitivity of both the soul and heart, can not be practiced without perfectly mastering the materials used with the knowledge of their chemical and rheological properties, but also in the control of their manufacture and their amalgam in a medium. Tad has a unified vision, almost cosmic, of all the ingredients that give painting a supersensible beauty, charismatic appeal and archival longevity. He discusses about all grounds, natural resins (amber, copal, sandarac or dammar), hand-made refined oil procedures and many variations, putty medium with marble dust, pigments choice and hand-made paint, or starch gel as part of a medium, this last may be part of a secret of Rembrandt.
       With an exceptional open-mindedness, Tad does not offer only many recipes but develops with a great humility his vision of the world of painting with a deep knowledge of art history, philosophy, material technology and of course the craft.
       Tad offers the painter a complete system that will satisfy fans of oleo-resinous paint or painters who want to work without solvent and with the incredible putty medium variations. This book is THE reference book which should be present in all studios.
      -- Dr. Roland Greimers, University of Liege, Belgium


       To view or download the Table of Contents and text selections, click here.

unique features

      The result of over fifteen years of day to day research by an actual painter. Not puritanical, not alchemical conjecture, but practical information. Conservation science and the science of the coatings industry now producing most fine art oil paint are two very different things. What did earlier painters know about their materials at a basic level that somehow hasn't made it into our era? How can this hands-on awareness be functionally reconstructed in the contemporary studio?


      In its history, the largest changes in the formulation of oil paint took place in the first half of the 20th century. Paintings made with these materials are beginning to undergo conservation treatment. Did the 20th century improve oil paint? We all know what the marketing has to say. But what does conservation find?


      The art supply business has no rules, there is vigilant no cultural watchdog or government agency keeping it all in line. This means that there are some forms of systemic misrepresentation that are helpful to know about. There are several of these: the appropriation of the name of a plant for a frankensolvent made in the lab is just one of the more entertaining ones.

      The best thing is to use materials with awareness of their limitations as well as their strengths. Yet, this has become a tangled web because most painters now tend get their technical information from mainstream art suppliers, who tend to use lots of scientific jargon yet do not to explain the full picture. As an example, the mainstream art suppliers cannot use high quality linseed oil because of the price, so they are finally revealing that, especially in the context of the very bright modern bright colours now in use, linseed oil yellows! But they don't talk about the difference between high and low quality linseed oil -- such an extraneous detail -- because they have a different solution that doesn't yellow: the inexpensive safflower oil. But our good friends the mainstream art suppliers also don't explain that conservation has shown that safflower oil makes a weak film, and that it takes a very long time to dry unless driers are added, which also weaken the film. So, they are now marketing a non-yellowing titanium white with safflower oil, but conservation has shown, in less than a century of use, that titanium white also makes a weak film. And does this paint contain aluminum stearate, which, as a metal soap, also contributes to a weaker film over time? In the vast majority of cases, yes. So, agreed, a very white white out of the tube. But, given that every component of the formula contributes to long term film weakness, not a particularly permanent white. The background consensus assumption is that oil paint is a permanent or archival medium. But is this in fact true of contemporary commercial paint?


      Living Craft explains all aspects of the oil painting process in detail. It is the only complete text available whose research is based on the recent conservation findings of The National Gallery Technical Bulletins into the materials and methods of older painting practice. It is the only book that explains how and why older methods are intrinsically different than modern methods, and the only book with a variety of technical systems derived from documented older methods. Currently available books on the craft are based either on the later 19th century system of damar or balsam and stand oil, or feature a lopsided dependence on various other resin-based "lost secrets" that are not supported by the 30 years of NGTB research into older practice. The various techniques in Living Craft may be new, or they may be old, but they are based primarily on period materials, and many of them have never been written about before.


      A technical focus on the old made new: how to develop a spontaneous and lively paint surface in a number of stable, solvent-free ways.


      Living Craft is completely about oil painting, not a condensed overview of many different media. The text is designed to create a smooth transition from the limited approach promoted in the 20th century to an unlimited one based on older practice. Painting is examined as an experiential whole, not as a frog on the dissecting table.


      Unique formulas based on the unusual rheological potential of oil refined in the older manner. The 19th century researchers came to the conclusion that some form of resin varnish was the secret of the Old Masters. What if the actual secret is an oil that behaves like a resin? Why didn't anyone think of that? Because no one took the time to understand the complexities of the oil. Quick drying and non-toxic oil with this unique rheology is easy to make, but unavailable commercially.


      But Living Craft isn't just about handmade materials, there are also unique techniques that work with commercial materials. For example, here is a gel medium that can even be made with stand oil (pictured), and contains no mastic, lead, or fumed silica.


      An extensive variety of materials based on older practice are detailed, including 108 unique formulas proven in use, see the Table of Contents for details. All formulas have been tested for years in the studio. The techniques stress reliable options to explore, not rules to obey, and any questions are happily answered. Living Craft is not a restatement of the material on the website. It is a decade of research and several steps beyond it. There are no secrets, everything is explained clearly. No book like it about oil painting practice has ever been written.


      The formulas include many types of the versatile putty medium, highlights from over fifteen years of research into this solvent-free approach.


      Detailed instructions on how to mix and deploy colour to create natural vivacity.


      A detailed explanation of many limited palette combinations derived from older painting that produce the most harmony from the fewest pigments. A great time saver for any painter, cutting through the redundant mayhem of commercial paint colour names.


       Older painting approached the relationship between value and temperature in a variety of ways that were typically not taught in the 20th century. The uniquely organized way color was mixed and implemented in older painting is explained, a method that was all but lost by the end of the 19th century, destroyed in the 20th century.


      Functional exercises for teaching yourself how the logical principles of color mixing were used in older painting to make more colour in the painting from less on the palette.


      Detailed discussion of the premixing principles that create more perceived colour from less pigment variety. This is the key to the older technique of turning less colour into more while maintaining harmony, and can be used with any type of palette. This incredibly functional system has never been explained anywhere before in the history of painting.


      Detailed list of the most useful permanent pigments for daylight painting, and their working properties.


      A detailed explanation of specifics of the older technology concerning the oil. Rembrandt, Velasquez, and Vermeer used linseed oil, but it didn't yellow. Why? In spite of what manufacturers often imply, all oils are not the same.


      Stress on safe practice, including many different ways of making oil paintings without using any resin or solvent whatsoever.


      A discussion and comparison of many simple older methods for producing a faster drying oil.


      Detailed discussion of which modern materials can be used without issue.


      Unique and efficient methods for refining the oil. Rembrandt and Vermeer began with a primitive cold-pressed, organic linseed oil. What if one simple procedure gave access to an oil with a unique painterly character on which a much more stable, solvent-free system can then be built? Might the key be a process, rather than the specific secret ingredient? Hand-refined oil is not "just sort of" different than commercial oil, it is completely different.


      Complete discussion of the oil. While quality modern commercial linseed oil can dry without yellowing, this is at the expense of the drying rate of the oil, and it's personality when autoxidized. From left: Hand-refined cold-pressed organic linseed oil, hand-refined cold-pressed organic linseed oil exposed to oxygen for three weeks, cold-pressed linseed oil put out by Holbein.


      Detailed section on making panels, with a variety of proven recipes for grounds.


      Detailed discussion of handmade paint technology, including how to make gelatinous, thixotropic paint without additives in the original manner. Just as all oils are not the same, all paints are not the same.


      Discussion of the use of pigment mixes to create a more finely tuned palette.


      The book also includes many options for creating stable impastoed paint.


      All of these options happen simply on or near the palette using a selection of traditional, non-toxic ingredients.


      Options include an extensive section on formulating and using the versatile and highly stable chalk putty medium, which allows solvent-free painting in a variety of styles. Chalk has been found in the work of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Chardin, and Cezanne. As a material, it has proven to be much more than an extender.


      Discussion of the fascinating Velasquez technique of lost and found edges involving a medium of ground calcite and slightly thickened oil to suspend the pigment particles in the paint.


      Explanation of how to make many varieties of the fumed silica gel, the most stable gel medium available.


      Discussion of the pros and cons of all traditional resins, including the hard resin varnishes.


      Detailed discussion of modern and traditional options for a final varnish.


      Section on painting landscape outdoors based on over a decade of practice.


      Detailed section on alla prima painting.


      Detailed section on indirect painting or working in multiple thin layers.


      Detailed discussion of underpainting options when working in layers.


      Detailed discussion of historical emulsion mediums in oil and egg alternatives in tempera. Emulsion mediums provide a major technical key to charismatic but solvent-free painting in oil.

      I am happy to answer any questions about the book, so please also feel free to contact me about anything specific.

last, but not least...

      'The details generated by experience with a given set of materials create a system that is more than the sum of its parts. This happens most simply with a system based on becoming oneself through the materials in the present moment, however this naturally comes into being. The system may use handmade materials, or it may use commercial materials, but, to succeed, it needs to be based on the details of practice, not the bravado of theory. This means acknowledging that things are not quite as they seem, ever, and being willing to investigate, always. But, in the hall of mirrors that we blithely refer to as visual reality, looking more closely is also not quite what it seems. We base our conclusions on what we know. How can we know what is there unless we see it? Until we understand that our vision is limited, that there is always more to see, this possibility is not within our frame of reference. This deceptively simple process is grounded in creative uncertainty, the awareness that, in an infinite universe, frames of reference must expand to remain viable. Our knowledge – however high our opinion may be of it – must be considered partial to have an opportunity to grow. This approach sets the stage for resolving the compelling paradox of representational painting: the creation of an illusion that tells the truth.'

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
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