Sunday, November 28, 2010

No More Excuses - Excuse Number One, Which Paint?

My mother loved the paint-by-number sets in the fifties. Somewhere along the line, she discovered 'someone' was borrowing assorted tubes of paint from her sets. One Christmas . . . I think I was ten, I opened my first treasured box of oil paints, brushes and canvases. I could't tell you the brand, brush numbers or number of colors. It didn't matter. I was in love and lost in my room for the duration of Christmas vacation, except for a few ice skating breaks (the winter thing to do when I was ten.) My first painting was a still-life of an orange and a Heinz ketchup bottle. I think I liked the colors.

Remember construction-paper turkeys? That was pretty much the sum of grade school art class. My best memory of high school art class was the day we were assigned the task of creating a crucifix in clay. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school. I stress the 'all-girls' aspect, because in this environment (no boys to impress,) being a lady wasn't a consideration. A clay crucifix? Really? The energy that day was spent hurling gobs of clay at each other (the teacher had left the room,) in the most creative ways possible. I was fortunate to attend Saturday classes at the Cooper School of Art in Cleveland (doesn't exist anymore.) College level art classes taught by professors who dismissed the idea that we were kids. I was in my own little form of heaven.

I learned about materials. I discovered the pleasures of using 'the good stuff,' the benefits of one brand over another. Acrylics became the medium of choice, because of the speedy drying time and the absence of turpentine. It also washes out of most everything, except my bedroom carpet, which was never changed until my parents were sure I wasn't coming back. Lots of memories on that carpet. No televisions, computers or stereos in every room. I did have a record player, and painted to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Sometime in my early thirties I decided to learn watercolor painting. I bought and read all the books I could find, but it was a basic class at the local art center that pulled it all together, the techniques, the tricks, the wonderful Langnickel brushes, Windsor & Newton paints and Arches paper. I tried a number of different papers, and my favorite was a 300 lb cold-pressed variety made by T. H. Saunders. As with most things, the paper (and the name of the paper mill) changed; the feel, the texture, just the way the paint was absorbed or sat on the surface. Although I've had to adjust to new paper, Windsor & Newton still makes my favorite paint, partly because I became used to how the colors mixed, which ones were 'staining,' and which ones were more permanent. And I still use a few of my original 30-year old brushes.

So, for reasons I can't explain, I need canvas and acrylics again. Do I really need to stretch my own canvas right now? Do I really need $200 pre-stretched canvas? Do I really need to research and wait for UPS to deliver the best brushes, paint and mediums I can find? This dilemma was surprisingly easy to resolve since I've also come to need some great Cole Haan boots. The boots won, and I took a trip to the local Michael's the same day, with my 40% off coupons. 'Just Do It' was playing in my head.

I came home and started painting. I'm really quite happy with the quality of my $20 canvas (have to start somewhere, or I may not start at all.) The surface is just-right smooth (for me,) it's stretched just tight-enough, and braced to retain squareness. The Liquitex paints are working out just fine. (When did acrylics start being labeled 'soft-body' and 'heavy-body' anyway?) Did you know an amplifier stand makes a great easel? (Thanks to an encouraging friend-musician.)

My painting won't be hanging in MOMA and I'm not expecting any calls for commissions or product-endorsements, but I couldn't be happier right now. Acrylic paint doesn't clean off hardwood that much easier than carpet, but finding a proper studio space has been assigned 'excuse number two,' which I've chosen to ignore for now.


  1. I very much enjoy reading your stories and opinions. Obviously, I am a little biased (since I am your son), but I think I will learn more about my mom in reading your blog posts than any questions I can ask you.

    Your stream of conscientiousness insights to me are both humorous and insightful. It is my hope that other readers will find that too. I will work hard at finding ways to get your blog in front of other like-minded artists.

    Most importantly, I am very excited that you have found happiness again in painting. I agree that the quality of the easel and your studio space plays a small role in driving your creativity. It reminds me a little of architecture school, while we had fabulous spaces to work and inspiring colleagues to motivate us, we had little money for quality materials and often were masters of improvising to complete a project.

    Sometimes the best and most creative work was developed by working with the materials we had and the inspiration found in doing far more with less. You have that same youthful spirit and energy too. I know that you will find a way to create inspiring art, regardless of the circumstances or materials. I can guarantee you will have one very big fan of your work, your son.


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