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[Welcome to the Angelfire web site of Kenneth Massey. Trained on techniques of XVII Century Flemish style paintings, Kenneth Massey also works as a commercial digital artist and has created marketing imagery for multiple international hotel chains, retail stores, and architectural firms. Here, you will discover more about the artist, his work, and his traditional and non-traditional artistic technique. This site also contains tutorials and illustrations that reveal, step-by-step, the progression of a work of art from start to finish. Please visit my online portfolio at] [Self-portrait, acrylic on canvas, 32X40 IN. (80X100 cm.), cat. 1999, collection: private (UNKNOWN)]


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Notice: the images in this website are original and protected under Copyright Law. You cannot use, copy, or sell, these images without permission from the author!

The painting above ("Self-portrait") I completed in 1999. It was made with Liquitex acrylic on canvas, and was painted in 3 weeks; it measures 32X40 inches (80X100 centimeters).

Acrylics are underrated by the art market. There is a common perception that oil paintings are the most challenging in terms of technique and therefore are predominantly the most expensive paintings sold in art galleries. This is frustrating for anyone who paints with acrylics and knows the truth. Painting with acrylics is significantly more challenging because they dry much faster, and do not have the viscosity of oil that aids in blending colors. I was tired of working so hard to create my acrylic paintings and be told to settle for less money because they weren't oils. Needless to say, the painting above was my last larger format painting in acrylic. I only use acrylics now for small format paintings and sketches.

At first, I was reluctant to embrace painting with oil because I was told in school that oil paintings were known to crack and fade quickly while acrylics seemed to last forever. There was an exception to this rule. Rembrandt's paintings look like they were painted yesterday despite being centuries old. What was it about the paintings from Rembrant and the other Flemish masters from the XVII Century that allowed oil paintings to last for hundreds of years without visible decay? I would have loved to use the magical oil paints of the Flemish masters, but the recipes they used seemed to be lost forever.

I blame the market of abstract art (not specifically abstract artists) for the disappearance of the techniques of the great masters. Abstract art has existed for thousands of years in the form of patterns in fabric and architecture. However, abstract art grew legs in the late XIX Century and emerged from the background as a new art form. Abstract art served multiple purposes related to the industrial age: it was non-controversial, and it could be mass-produced. Realistic art became more and more controversial with the Great Depression and mass-production was a way the world escaped the Great Depression. Realism posed an ideological threat to Capitalism and was subject to ridicule in thriving countries.

I personally like the initial philosophy behind abstract art. Kandinsky argued that sunsets and music are nothing but non-representational shapes, colors, and sounds yet induce strong emotional responses. This is the basis on which contemporary marketing is built. Other abstract artists such as Albers, Itten, Klee, Malevich, were also great thinkers and I get excited when I see their work and certainly feel an emotional connection with it.

Picasso also stressed the importance of retaining the association children have with art; that raw emotion that drives young humans to play with colors and symbols and is not yet self-conscious about accuracy or the minutia of geometric projections or photographic representation. Education in art academies throughout the world from the 1960s through the 1990s seemed to be largely driven by Picasso's philosophy.

This change in philosophy was great. It was behind the success of the concept of streamlining design set by the Bauhaus. Abstract art is about getting to the point and leaving anything non-essential out. Think about the effectiveness of road signs: a yellow diamond with a dark arrow can convey more useful information than a highway sign with a satellite photograph of the curve you are about to encounter. That is because simplicity eliminates noise in communication. More complex is not always better. You don't have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to communicate visually. A yellow diamond with a black arrow sometimes is all you need. Children know this, and we tend to forget with time. This revelation encouraged everyone to be an artist and embrace the artist within. Even unskilled people could now be artists. Postmodern critic Klaus Honnef stated that now "Everything Goes."

However, in the art market not everything goes. It has remained an elitist market. Collectors may be paying millions for a ball of wax created by an artist displayed in a museum in Berlin, but they are not paying millions for a random nomad blowing a horn in a remote village of Australia. Post-Modern art is not as democratic as it promises. It is not about What. It is a cult of personality and celebrity. It is about Who did What.

The ironic and unfortunate fallout of this modern and postmodern philosophy is that the traditional artistic concepts were suddenly disregarded as superficial or of no value. Anatomical drawing, scaling luxes into Munsell values, understanding color harmony, painting from lean to fat, lightfastness, descriptive geometry, projective geometry, topology, tessellation, narrative, and other complex disciplines previously associated with art were now considered non-spontaneous and even devalued a work of art in the eyes of art critics and collectors. This makes it almost impossible for traditional artists to compete in terms of budget, because you have works that can be produced in five minutes assigned the same monetary value as a work that took over a decade to complete. It would take a few decades for art collectors to see through this sham and recognize the artistic value of a good artisan.

The genius of abstract art as mass-produced and non-controverted art is that it yields itself so easily to fraud. All it takes is an art critic with a degree from a credible university and a group of wealthy speculators to spawn a high-yield racket.

This is extremely sad for artists like myself who grew up hoping to become one day as skilled as Rembrandt or Vermeer. I can't recall the amount of unskilled peers that were snobbish and talked down to me because I chose the path of classic art. This is even insulting to the pioneers of abstract art, because it replaces the poetry for marketing and the work of art is nothing but a fetish.

The techniques of the great masters ceased to be taught, documented, and appeared to be lost forever. I pursued these techniques despite snobbery and ridicule from my peers. My interest in finding the techniques of the Great Masters hastened when I discovered that acrylics were not as permanent as thought to be and were very sensitive to ultraviolet rays.

I was able to find credible information about the techniques of the Great Masters of Flemish Art from the XVII Century, but it took several trials an errors. My first failed attempt was to follow the techniques indicated by Ralph Meyer's 'Techniques and Materials' book. This book is an excellent reference, but is only a starting point and should never be the end-point of a serious artist's research. My next failed attempt came from asking my mentor.

I chose a mentor during my college years who shared my vision and painted like the Great Masters. My mentor had claimed that he discovered Rembrandt's secret. At first, I was excited because the result of his technique was practically identical to that of Rembrandt. However, with very little research I discovered that this "secret" technique of using "black oil," (also known as Maroger's medium) is not a secret and is known to darken in a matter of a century or less and the work of art is lost forever.

For reference, Maroger is a technique conceived by Jacques Maroger (18841962) and it is based on lead and mastic. Mastic is brittle (responsible for the cracking of Maroger's paintings) and basic lead carbonate reverts to black in presence of oxygen (responsible for the darkening of Maroger's paintings).

Salvador Dali claimed that the Great Masters of Flemish Art used amber-oil medium. In the book '50 Secrets,' Dali claimed to use a secret formula for amber-oil medium dissolved in lavender that he took from Frederick Taubes. I was not able to find a single credible formula for creating amber-oil medium. The mysterious Taubes formula seemed to have died with Taubes. I paid a lot of money to purchase amber and make my own experiments and dissolved an expensive piece of amber in essence of lavender; yet the disappointing result was a gelatinous mass.

However, I do give Salvador Dali credit for helping me find the answer for the wrong reasons.Dali stated that in the XX Century we had the technology to create an Atomic Bomb and to travel to the Moon, but no single person on earth knew the secret formula to Vermeer's paintings.

This was a very valuable statement. I studied Chemical Engineering prior to studying visual arts, and was well aware of the advances in spectrography. In addition, the skyrocketing prices of art in the 1980s made me assume that collectors would be interested in spending a lot of money in conservation. Bingo!

I began to research the world authorities in conservation as soon as the Internet became available to the public. I wrote hundreds of letters without response, but was able to locate and contact two experts in the subject of conservation: Dr. Leslie Carlyle (Senior Conservator, Materials Historian in the Conservation Processes and Materials Research Division of the Canadian Conservation Institute) and Ross Merrill (Chief of Conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C..)

I learned from Dr. Carlyle that you need to heat the amber to a boiling point, and heat linseed oil and lavender essence to the same temperature to facilitate the mixture. All ingredients are highly volatile, especially the lavender essence, and even a couple of teaspoons of the ingredients can produce a fireball the size of a beach ball, so it is important to use CO2 or any other method that may interfere with oxygen and heat sparking a combustion. After one or two explosions, I was able to successfully mix the ingredients in a lab with the help of my friend Eduardo Guajardo.

I am very thankful to Dr. Carlyle for sharing her knowledge. However, I found through Ross Merrill that Rembrandt did not use amber-oil at all. He used plain linseed oil and smalt (a cobalt glass pigment that was ubiquitous in the Netherlands during the XVII Century and now is nearly impossible to find).

Another bit of knowledge came from my own knowledge of chemistry. In the age of the great masters, linseed oil was created using rudimentary techniques and not at the scale of contemporary mass production. The linseed oil was cold-pressed and the mucilage (a brittle mucus that comes from the linseed husk and darkens and cracks your paintings if you don't get rid of it) needs to be cleaned out of the cold-pressed linseed oil by mixing the linseed with boiling hot water, allowing to separate, and drain the linseed oil (repeating the process multiple times until no mucilage is present and adding a small percentage of gypsum to absorb trace amounts of water).

My last bit of knowledge of chemistry and history is related to how to grind pigments. I will explain this by using a caramel-covered apple as an example. An apple has a given surface expressed in a finite amount of square units (inches or centimeters). If you cover that surface with caramel, you need a specific volume of caramel to be able to cover the entire surface of the apple. If you split the apple in half, you will then need additional caramel to cover the exposed surfaces you created by cutting the apple. If you cut those halves, you will need additional caramel and so on. The same thing happens with pigments. Pigments are minerals and start out as rocks. You want to grind that rock and mix it with oil if you want to spread it with a brush. The more you cut down (grind) that rock, the more oil you will need to keep the particles suspended in oil. Adding much oil will increase the shelf life of a tube of oil paint before it dries, but will result in a paint that is prone to turn yellow and wrinkle.

Commercial oil paints are finely ground on purpose so they will last longer on the shelves. The average consumers of oil paint tubes do not want to find that the expensive tubes they just purchased are dry on the inside. The average consumers of oil paint are also hobbyists and not professional artists, so the quality of these products does not compare with the quality produced by the rudimentary techniques used in times of the great masters. There aren't enough artists wanting high quality paint to sustain commercial production of high quality oil paint. Commercial oil paints don't have the body of hand-made oil paints made with hand-ground pigments. The presence of excessive oil and mucilage makes commercial oil paints yellow and crack much faster than the type of oil paint used by the great masters. The contemporary culture of ignorance places little value in the permanence of oil paint, and is not particularly concerned with issues regarding pigment grind or oil-to-pigment ratio. In addition, cold-pressed linseed oil is expensive to produce, so commercial oil-paints are made with lower quality oil. Finally, the availability of linseed oil is limited; so the linseed oil is often diluted with other oils such as safflower seed oil.

If you want to ensure the permanence of a work of art, it helps if you have some control over the chemical stability of the pigment, how fine it is ground, the quality of the linseed oil (walnut oil is just as good or better than linseed oil but has a shorter shelf life and is only easy to find if you live in Rome, Paris or New York), and only use smalt as a siccative (if you can find it). If you are concerned with permanence, avoid Maroger, cobalt driers, liquin or other alkyds (that lead to the saponification of the medium) and you will have a nice, long-lasting work of art.

Regarding varnishes, I favor acrylic varnishes even for oil paintings. Acrylics are flexible and easy to separate. I recommend applying them with an airbrush.

Thankfully, new technology and the Internet has allowed for artists interested in the techniques of the Great Masters to flourish. Dali didn't stick around long enough to see spectrographic evidence of ancient techniques bring back what the careless stewards of art tradition had lost.

I practice what I learned from Ross Merrill and Dr. Carlyle in my work. I still favor using amber oil for the imprimatura. Even though amber oil was not the technique used by the great masters of the baroque (as Dali claims), it is still one of the most pleasant mediums I have ever worked with and will not compromise the permanence of your work of art if used in the underpainting.

I hope this helps those of you searching for ideas on how to make your artwork permanent, and that I have also helped enlighten those of you who appreciate or invest in art.

A final note on my self portrait: the painting above was sold at the International Red Cross auction in Monterrey, Mexico to an unknown collector. If you see this painting or own it, please let me know!



I have taken my passion for painting and sculpture one step further. Digital Art. Here are a few examples of human characters I have modeled from scratch, and architectural designs that started out as a sketch on a napkin.


The city and the character were all modeled using 3ds Max. Ambient occlusion and glare were composited using Photoshop.

The character was designed using box modeling techniques. The buildings (13,000 of them) are mainly extrusions. I used a satellite image to determine the location of the buildings and used the shadows cast in the satellite image to determine their height with a margin of error of 3ft. I used "SkyScraperCity" to get the exact heights of 1100 signature buildings. Less than 100 buildings were detailed and only 7 buildings were thoroughly modeled using floor plans provided by the architects.


This house was built from scratch in a software application intended for mechanical part modeling mainly just to show that I can : ). The house was designed using a parametric solid modeler called Autodesk Inventor. Even though Inventor is created for mechanical designers, I used this software due to the beauty of the way Inventor resolves boolean operations. The challenging part of this assignment was to create this house as one solid model (I had to remodel the entire house when I was almost done due to a simple oversight--not a profitable way of generating architectural BIM models). Nevertheless, it was a fun experiment!

Here is a wireframe view of the same model. You will notice that the interiors are also carefully detailed.


This house I designed using Autodesk Revit Builder 9.0. You cannot believe how fast Revit is. I built this home with furniture and entourage in 2.5 days! This includes a detailed bill of materials! This house is also my own design. Below is another view of this house.