Saturday, February 10, 2007

Prep work

I helped the family clear out my aunt's house after the memorial service--probably one of the most emotionally draining tasks there is. I would have preferred to just leave everything as it was for, like, a year or so, but there were a lot of practical issues to be considered.

So it's done, and I'm back in New York with an inherited fur coat, some flamboyant jewelry, and a Kate Spade handbag. My aunt had excellent taste. Her last letter to me said "Keep New York going for me;" I think she would like to know that some of her more exotic items--the silver choker shaped like a tiger, for example--were swanning around the hippest places in The City. I'll endeavor to do them credit.

Meanwhile, the best recipe for pensive moods and emotional discombobulation is prep work. Luckily, I was overdue for a lot of it.

I am very proud to report that I have graduated, in my own estimation, after twenty years, to 'professional grade' paint. Behold, three hundred dollars' worth:

When I was a very lowly student, I bought my paint at the hardware store. There was this brand called 'Pictor' which was about ninety-nine cents a tube. The colors were irregular, the consistency varied at random from oily-puddle to stuck-stiff, and you could see the specks of pigment that hadn't been properly integrated.

I did this on purpose, partly because I had no money, but mostly because I didn't want to feel that my supplies were inordinately precious. It was important to me to be able to experiment, and if this involved using eighteen tubes of ultramarine blue on a failed canvas that went directly into the dumpster, so be it.

And let me tell you, nearly ALL of those canvases went into the dumpster.

Over the years, I upgraded my paint quality at regular intervals, partly according to my finances, but mostly according to my own assessment of my skills. I used Utrecht and Winton for years--moderately priced, decent quality, comes in huge tubes. I could splash it around, then scrape it off and throw it away without wincing. Since moving to New York I've largely been using Georgian, because Pearl had a sale on it right as I was stocking up. And I splurged on Williamsburg when someone gave me a gift certificate to Jerry's.

But man, after trying my first tube of Gamblin, I knew there was no going back. It's not just paint. It's sort of like the difference between fois gras and Braunsweiger, or truffles and a Hershey bar. Dense, smooth, sensuous, pure--yum.

Then I was out of beeswax medium. I make my own, from a recipe in that invaluable tome, Formulas for Painters. I recommend that every painter own a copy; for some reason I ended up with two. I think I accidentally swiped one from Nancy in Mexico. Oops.

My beeswax medium is a paste, similar to Dorland's, but golden and slightly grainy, rather than white and bland. I get the beeswax in blocks at the co-op, whack them up, melt them down, and mix the wax with Damar varnish and turpentine.


Isn't the color pretty?



Chris, I owe you an apology. They DO actually, now, make eco-sensitive Damar varnish, with 'isoparaffinic mineral oils' and 'natural orange terpines' in place of oil of turpentine. When I actually looked at the label on the Damar varnish that made up sixty percent of my usual recipe, it said "Danger! Combustible. Harmful or fatal if swallowed. May be harmful by breathing vapors. Overexposure may result in nausea, headache, confusion or instability."

Well, that explains it.

So my new medium smells like honey and oranges. Whoopee. I also remembered to start melting some Damar resin crystals in odorless mineral spirits, so that I don't have to spring for the pre-made varnish next time. I always forget until I need it now, not in the six weeks or so it takes to dissolve. These two jars are now on the windowsill, to be shaken every morning at breakfast. Look, there are buggies in the resin!


In my home, nothing ever goes to waste. Clothing goes from 'good' to 'massage work' to 'studio work' to 'paint rag'; by the time a piece of clothing leaves my hands, it is an unrecognizable grayish lump. Tin cans are recycled into paint mixing vessels; glass jars and squeeze bottles are for various mediums. I don't even buy Baggies or Saran wrap; I just rinse and re-use the grocery bags. I don't buy Tupperware because take-out Chinese food now comes in fairly sturdy plastic containers, which can be re-used for over a year before they disintegrate.

Something deep in my farm-wife soul rejoices in this.

3 comments:

Bimbo said...

Absolutely fascinating- and I'm not being fascetious. If you did an entire post series on materials, particularly what you as an artist have to do to prepare them, I would not be disappointed. I would want to come over and help.

prettylady said...

Hi Bimbo! Be very careful. I might take you up on that offer--I am in the market for slaves. Read this post for homework, then come over for a brush-cleaning lesson.

Anonymous said...

Can I add a few ideas its me Jeff my password wont work:
First if you use real turpentine it's more eco-friendly than mineral spirits which is petroleum based.
for instance you can buy double-distilled Gum Turpentine which is as clear as water and has very little oder.

(This is not Rectified turpentine, which is cooked at high temperatures with water. Although that produces a clear turpentine without the traditional precipitate on the bottom of the container, it also causes the turpentine to hold water. Water is why many resin varnishes grow cloudy. Today, much turpentine is made in Third World countries using light wood, that is grinding up stumps, branches and pine needles and drawing the essence out with steam. The result is that smelly stuff that also contains water. Just imagine what sort of maple syrup you’d get if you boiled up roots, branches and leaves.)

If you make varnish with mineral spirits it will cause all sorts of problems as a painting medium such as drying times and in some cases the paint will dry to much as the
mineral spirits evaporates instead of bonding like tuprs does.

The orange based stuff is worse than both, I can find you a link for the stats.

Gamblin paints huh? You live in Brooklyn do you know Robert Doaks store? If you can stand him his paint is the best for the money about the same as Gamblin and 100 times better with no fillers. It is better than everyone out there except maybe studioproducts.com
who make a limited amount of paint and a few other companies. Stay away from any Sennilier paint as it is made with safflower oil which takes years to dry.

RGH is good to.

Also if you want to make varnish in the future studio products sells a kit with Damar crystals in pre mixed bag, all you have to do is add the turps.