Sun 4 Mar 2007
Every medium I’ve tried has given me an accurate first impression. Sometimes my opinion evolves (see posts on my first and second attempt at pastels), but by the second try, I know how if I’ll like it. And, no matter the impression, I never abandon a medium, because I’m an optimist. Also, because I paid good money for the supplies, damnit.
My very first experience with oil paints was a class I took in some woman’s basement when I was ten. I have one oil painting from that class, and it’s pretty good. I don’t remember much, except the part when the teacher tried to help and ruined a cool textural effect I’d created. Also, there was a bully in the class. It was traumatic.
The oil painting:
My second experience with oil paints was 3 or 4 years ago. I signed up for a community oil class at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Their class selection is great, and I’ve taken several there. The oil class was just OK because the instructor wasn’t very good. He didn’t explain anything about the oil paints themselves, which made it hard for me to understand how to use them. He just said, “do what I do”… and we did, and my results were worse than the flowers I painted when I was ten:
That class left a bad taste in my mouth too. It was at least 3 years until I re-opened up those dusty tubes of oil paint. Last summer, I broke them out for the hell of it, and painted this. It was a blind three-color experiment (I picked three tubes with my eyes closed, plus limited amounts white, for my palette). It turned out just OK.
I broke them out again last week, because I had a bite on an oil commission. I needed to practice the blasted things. I decided on a self-portrait on canvas, and toned it a nice greenish blue. I had leftover blue, and being the stingy artmonger I am (see first paragraph), I decided to use it to tone something else. Wasn’t enough for a mid-sized canvas, but you can’t put oils on paper… hmm… ah, Claybord! I have lots of Claybord!
The only small pieces I had were Claybord smooth, which is so slick that you could slide across it in your socks if you were 2 inches tall. The Ampersand website suggests you prepare Claybord Smooth before using it with oil paint, since it has no tooth and dries so quickly. Well, I didn’t want to mess with the gesso, so I didn’t prepare it. And guess what… Ampersand was right.
The quick-drying part is great! Part of the reason I dislike oils is the ice-age duration you have to wait for them to dry. However, the slick part wasn’t so good. Putting it on thin or thick, the stuff streaked because of the lack of tooth.
Streeeeeeak, streeeeak, streeeeak.
So yeah, I’m still working on that self-portrait, but I really don’t like oils. With all respect to the wonderful Larry Elmore, who extolled their virtues, I don’t think their wonderful blending ability makes up for all the annoyances. They smell funny, they require messy mediums, they don’t clean with water, you can’t use them on regular ol’ paper, some of the accessories are toxic (dryers, turpentine), they take six months or more to dry (six months!!!), and they require varnishing. Give me good old water-based, quick-drying, non-blending gouache any day.
However, I will continue to work with them, because I paid good money for them, damnit.