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Fort McMurray artist Lucas Seaward on painting with bitumen

Seaward takes you through his process, from finding the bitumen to putting his ideas down on canvas

Jan 17, 2014

‘Tenacious Talons’ – bitumen on canvas 60 x 36 inches

Painting with bitumen took artist Lucas Seaward, from Fort McMurray, six months of trial and error and 10 different attempts before he figured out a process. “You can’t walk into an art class and learn to use this type of medium,” he says. Seaward is currently painting a 13 foot by seven foot piece for the Fort McMurray airport – his biggest ever – and has been painting with bitumen for the past two years to increasing national acclaim. In the future he hopes to expand into three-dimensional bitumen art and sculpture. “I think there’s an important story to be told, a conversation to be had,” he says of bitumen art. “It’s the personal gratification of the story behind it, how it’s unique to this region.”

But aside from the beauty, the real innovation to Seaward’s bitumen work is the process. Here’s how it works.

‘Majestic Buck’ – bitumen on canvas 60 x 36 inches

Seaward gets bitumen from spots near Fort McMurray that he’s discovered it right at the surface. “This isn’t necessarily the same material used at the open pit mines. I grab in the realm of a cup or two, and it lasts a while.”

To make bitumen into a sort of paint, Seaward mixes it with a secret varnish. “In the diluting process, it makes it easier to apply because of the viscous nature of bitumen.”

“Once applied to the canvas, it’s on there,” Seaward says. “So you have to be strategic with how you apply it.” Each piece takes three to four weeks. The varnish he’s found also helps secure it to the canvas. Seaward says bitumen “destroys” paint brushes.

Health Risks
“You need a well ventilated space,” Seaward says. “You have to wear respiratory equipment. That’s frustrating.”

Less than half of Seaward’s income comes from bitumen art. But that could change. The Fort McMurray airport piece, to be revealed next year, is a $25,000 commission.

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