Thursday, December 10, 2009

the self-taught artist

Interwebs recess over! It was a sad excuse for a break, actually; I did a lot of lurking. In any case, I did start Christmas shopping and going to the gym again and did everything on my To Do list except finish my book. The best thing was finally, with some trepidation, uncapping my new tubes of oil paint last week. Oil paints are a very yin-yang thing. They are very sensuous to use and I was thrilled once again by their luscious texture, amazing coverage, luminous colours, etc. They're just plain fun to paint with. But then there's the lingering odour (which I quite like -- it's the idea of their toxicity that bothers me), messy cleanup, stained fingers, etc. For some reason I can paint very cleanly with acrylics but I get oil paints all over me! It's almost like I revisit childhood finger painting.

That said, I was very careful at first. I wanted to get a feel for it without wasting too much time and paint, so I started with an acrylic underpainting on an 8" x 8" panel to illustrate the RH Blyth quote, "Art is frozen zen". I then proceeded as if I were still painting in acrylic so I could test the differences from a place of familiarity. As you can see, the result is similar but it sure felt different! Next, I did a Stories painting on panel the same way. As I was working it occurred to me that eight years of using only acrylic paint was a useful education. Acrylic is surprisingly different from oil, and because of the fast drying time, lack of body and other properties, I learned techniques that create a sort of freshness that I hope to also be able to achieve with oil paint, though in a medium with a more luminous surface. Real experiments to come!

Speaking of experimenting, I also started thinking about the whole 'self-taught artist' thing. I'm one of those people who think all artists are self taught, unless they go to a technical school that focuses on commercial and design techniques. As a recipient of a university BFA, I learned very little of practical value beyond how to build/stretch my own canvases. I had one amazing teacher who was able to guide me in such a way that I orchestrated my own creative breakthrough, but most of my studio classes consisted of following vague directions and working out the technical aspects for myself. The real learning came many, many years later when I decided to quit my job, paint the walls of my basement, set up an easel and start noodling away in solitude. And like any self-respecting self-taught artist, the more I learn the less I know.


Blogger dinahmow said...

Andrea, you make me want to get some oils! But-no.
I'll just do the vicarious trip.

10/12/09 5:00 p.m.  
Blogger Angela Wales Rockett said...

I agree - I think all artists are essentially self taught. Classes and teachers just show us some possibilities, but we really have to learn by doing.

I just bought some oils myself (since you can't use acrylics with encaustics) for the first time in years. I found a company in Oregon that makes them with walnut oil! Totally traditional, and, aside from the pigments of course, non-toxic. (M. Graham is the brand)

10/12/09 7:13 p.m.  
Blogger Costescu said...

wow looks like you are off to a running start with the oils, looking forward to seeing more of your experiments, good to see you back too ;)

10/12/09 9:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you're back and with sensible insight once again! Fully agree on the self-taught thing. As Steve Pressfield says : fight the resistance and just work at it every day.

10/12/09 10:33 p.m.  
Blogger paula said...

no matter how many times someone tells me what an unpainting is i still dont get it.
but i like what you've shown us ALOT!

11/12/09 6:10 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

But Di -- the SENSUOUS thing!

Angela: I have heard that M. Graham are really good but my art supply store doesn't carry them. I should lobby them to do so. Do they mix with linseed-based oils? I just looked at their website and though they're hard to find in Vancouver, my friend's boyfriend, who owns an art supply store in Calgary, carries them so maybe I'll get her to get some for me!

Trcaey: Thanks and see you tonight!

Laura: Working it is the only way. Volumes of theory and knowledge can never replace sweat equity!

Paula: Thanks -- and I don't know what an unpainting is either but an UNDERpainting is the first panel in the two in the middle of the post.

11/12/09 8:23 a.m.  
Blogger Ellen said...

Nice job with the oils.

I agree doing and experimenting are what pushes learning forward. One thing that is harder to find outside of an academic environment is good critical feedback. That whole critique process in art class can be invaluable. Although I could ask for honest, critical feedback from people who I think could help me make something better, I chose not to. I'd rather go about just hearing nice stuff because I feel too old to start over. Hmmm, maybe not the best attitude?

11/12/09 10:41 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Ellen: Speaking of criticism, I actually got my first hate mail from an artist recently. After the initial shock I was actually pretty darned delighted, especially since she was almost illiterate. :)

12/12/09 9:04 a.m.  
Blogger Melody said...

Glad your back because I for one, missed you. Can't wait to see what you you post next using oils. I like oils also and have worked with them on and off but the whole taking forever to varnish thing drove me crazy. Someone suggested Liquin but I've heard it's quite toxic so I opted out.

14/12/09 6:39 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Melody: I got some Galkyd but it still seems slow after years of painting with acrylics! Now if only Christmas was over so I could get on it...

14/12/09 8:43 a.m.  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Good luck with your oil adventure, Andrea!

Unfortunately, I can't use oils anymore without a skin adventure. ;) Or, rather, I can use them, but I have to paint with latex gloves on...and that definitely downplays the sensual side of the art-making experience.

All the best, and an early Merry Christmas to you.

15/12/09 4:31 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

HH: I would hate to have to use gloves to paint. I have thought about it when using soft pastels, though. There's something about their dry texture I find very unpleasant. (And an early ho-ho-ho to you, too!)

15/12/09 1:27 p.m.  
Blogger nadine said...

Yay! You're back!
Oil is one medium I have never played with, although I do use it to smoosh in the incised lines of my encaustics. I fear the labour involved in clean up mostly. I like painting. I do not like cleaning :-)

Hate mail??!! I can't even imagine. There has to be a story behind this.

16/12/09 5:39 a.m.  
Blogger nadine said...

PS. Love the black and whites on the flickr site! Look at your gorgeous family! You and the boys need to be a shampoo commercial :-)

16/12/09 11:06 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Nadine: I offended another artist with a really old post (she just discovered it). As for the boys, you won't have seen the local bank commercial where all the men have luscious hair. Check this out:

16/12/09 1:28 p.m.  

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