Painting vs Evil

Painting has turned out to be an effective strategy in other dark times and seems to be working now. It makes a big difference to me to focus on something beautiful rather than something ugly. And making something beautiful seems to be the definition of positive thinking.

Yesterday Facebook showed me a painting I did last year when I first got the natural pigments. Looking at it (and I like it and am proud of it) I thought, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Snowy Trail (actual size)

It’s been important because in no other sense have I been able to “get anywhere,” especially in these times when so much is out of my control and so much of it is bad and scary. The little painting above is 5″ x 7″ (13 x 18 cm)

Right now I’m painting garden signs. They’re fun, colorful, don’t take up a lot of space, and people buy them. My order of acrylic paint finally arrived late last night (??,) so I can finish a couple garden signs that are hanging fire and start one that needs a color I couldn’t mix.

I listened to Biden’s speech yesterday and his plan is expensive (initially) and ambitious, but I think his point that if people HAVE money they can SPEND money and with the rolling out of vaccines, people will be able to go into the marketplace more freely. I know that when I don’t have money, I can’t spend it. Most of all, his plan is kind. Right now that’s worth a lot to me. I doubt Trump will ever get his comeuppance, but I really don’t care, do you? 😉

Glued to a Project

Since I paint standing up and don’t use an easel, my posture has been on my mind. After several hours standing there, I hurt. Even if I move around a lot, stretch and stuff, by the end of a work (?) day my legs and back hur. It goes away pretty fast, but I think I need to get a stool on which to perch and maybe a legit easel.

I’ve been painting garden signs. No arty painting on the table at the moment. These are the recent projects, commissions:

The top is for my wonderful neighbor who gave me all those beautiful flagstones for the ever-evolving yard/garden. I offered her one of my paintings, and she told me that she really wanted a garden sign. Her garden is amazing. It’s a small park. Everything on the sign grows in the alley between our houses and hummingbirds have been a solace and distraction to her and her husband this strange summer. “Count Your Blessings” is a thing we talk about fairly often.

The lower one is a gift from my cousin’s daughter to her mom. I wish I had stepped back a bit because the “am” is too close to the “the” but OH well. As they say, paint and learn.

The coolest part of the lower sign, for me, was mixing paint. For YEARS I’ve had jars of raw pigment that I got on cheap at an art store that was going out of business. By years I mean like fifteen years. I paint the signs with acrylic paint and it hit me, “Hey wait a minute. I HAVE the color I need. I just need to MAKE it.”

I opened the box where I store my oil paints and some other treasures. In many ways, the box isn’t very practical for paints. My beloved Uncle Hank made it as a jewelry box for my Aunt Jo, and my Aunt Jo gave it to me. In the bottom, under the little tray that is supposed to hold jewelry and that holds my oil paints, are the six or seven jars of raw pigment.

Now I just needed a medium to mix the color into. Hmmmm…

I went online, of course. As I researched, a dim memory from the summer after 9th grade began shoving other thoughts aside. Mr. Dix, my art teacher in 9th grade, thought I should grow up to be a painter and arranged for one of my classmates and I to take classes from Mary Chenoweth at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Don’t ask me how I remember her name, but I do… The memory is a foreign country.

My mom wasn’t happy about this. First, she hated art and did not want me to be an artist. Second, she didn’t want to drive me down there twice a week. I went once. But in that lesson, I learned how to make acrylic paint which, at the time, 1967, was a comparatively new medium for fine art. It had only been around since 1959.

She taught us to take powdered tempera paint, put it into a bottle, add some Elmer’s Glue and shake it up. If I were British, I’d say, “And Bob’s your uncle.” My classmate and I then painted still lifes (good ones!) with the paint we’d made. When my mom said she wouldn’t drive me any more, my teacher offered, but OH WELL there went my formal art training…

Which begs the question, why didn’t I ride my bike?

Anyhoo….so yesterday, watching videos about making acrylic paint all of which talked about buying this medium or that medium, my one summer art class came back to me. “Fuck it,” I said, “Elmer’s glue.

I posted the above photo on Facebook, and a friend said, “What’s the dirt for?” I LOVED that because that brown stuff IS dirt. “Cleaned” dirt from Umbria, Italy. The paint worked beautifully, and I was grateful to Mary Chenoweth for teaching me this skill. You can see it outlining the blue below and the letters. It was REALLY nice paint, but I made too much. I learned that 1) a little goes a long way, 2) dry pigment flies around everywhere and is POTENT.

Mary Chenoweth’s point in teaching us this skill was that paint is expensive. That is absolutely true. The FULL price for the raw pigment was $11.00 fifteen years ago, so it’s probably more now, but an 8 oz tube of paint is at LEAST that much. I didn’t even use 1/4 the amount of paint I made and it made no dent in the amount of powder remaining in the jar. I don’t know if I’m going to get into the whole thing of making my own paint all the time, but I have learned that I can use these beautiful natural pigments.

Love Letter to the Big Empty

End of Day in the Big empty

The painting is End of Day in the Big Empty. Some pretty amazing oil paint in this painting. The gray in the sky, the gray-blue in the mountains and the blue in the water are all the ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli called sometimes “Lazurite.” I was afraid to start this painting but at every turn it seemed that color was offering to help me. I really love it. You can see all the fantastic things it can do.

The bright blue in the sky is cerulean blue hue by Gamblin; hue means it’s pre-mixed with white. The intense, joyous yellow in the background, where the late afternoon sun has broken through the clouds, is Indian yellow over-painted with flake white replacement. Flake white is an old, old color known also as lead white. Gamblin came up with a way to make a very close approximation without lead. I really didn’t see the differences in whites until I did the very snowy painting. I’ve discovered doing this painting why people loved lead white so much. It’s just “friendly.”

The green in the trees and the brown in the foreground are both from my collection of natural pigments — the green is Verona Earth (natural green ochre from the Lessinian hills) and the brown is Cyprus Umber (dirt from Cyprus). Toning down the Indian yellow is Iron Violet, made from water pollution, by Gamblin Oil Paints. It’s a fantastic color and has a big part in this painting. Along with toning down the Indian yellow, it’s the purple in the mountains, the sky and the water and the reeds toward the back of the pond. I hope they keep making it.

The painting is 20 x 16 inches on panel.

Painting this was more than just doing a painting. It was an incredible experience. I cried when I finished. So strange. Then this came on Mohammed’s Old click wheel iPod.


Since I wrote this blog post, “How Green is Blue?” I’ve painted with REAL ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli. I found it very very different from synthetic ultramarine which is more uniform in texture, more opaque and more intense in oil paint, anyway.

The mountains here are synthetic ultramarine; the sky cerulean blue; the shadows synthetic ultramarine tinted with white and gray
Cerulean and real ultramarine sky. The mountains and snow shadows are ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli.
Blue chart from Gamblin Oil Paints, the brand I usually paint with

As for the other kind of blues? I’m feeling it today.

Pocket Relics of Beauty and Human Life

Several years ago I was at the Getty Museum in LA looking at an exhibit of medieval books of hours. The raison d’être for the exhibit was the 14th century Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry that had traveled from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Along with the exhibit of books was an exhibit of pigment, but I’ll refrain from another rhapsody in THAT direction. 😉

A book of hours, “…derives from the practice of reading certain prayers and devotions at the different ‘hours’ of the day.” Not a literal hour (as we think of it) as back in those days time was not measured as we measure it now, in sixty minute increments, but a space of time “…allotted either to business or religious duties.”

Books of hours that belonged to nobility — such as the Tres Riches Heures — are elaborately decorated. Others are worn, plain, well-thumbed and simple. These books are small enough for a person to put in his/her pocket; pouch hanging from a cord worn around the waist. General literacy in the Middle Ages was higher than we usually give them credit for.

In the Getty exhibit, some of the books were intact. Some were just loose pages. All of them were in glass cases. Many of the pictures depict life as it was at the time the books were painted — agricultural scenes frequently illuminate the passing seasons. The little books could give their owners a sense of order in the universe, calm and hope in the unpredictable storms of human life.

Most of the paintings are of moments in the life of Christ, important moments from scripture, the lives (and, more often, deaths) of the various saints.

One of the pictures in the exhibit — a loose page, part of the Getty’s own collection — was of a man sneezing. All the people around him looked at him in fear and were leaning away from him.

The first symptom of the plague was said to be sneezing. “Bless you!” probably accompanied by the sign of the cross, a kind of anticipatory last rites.

The 14th century was the first known epidemic of bubonic plague in Europe. Paleoarcheologists now know that there were earlier bubonic plague events, but the 14th century was unique in that Europe’s population exploded in the 13th century, and people were writing down their history.

*Books of Hours, Phaidon Press, 1996 — a beautiful small semi-replica of a book of hours that contains hundreds of pictures from various books of hours from the 13th — 16th centuries.