Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oil paint

At dinner the other night, two very accomplished painters who work with acrylic paint were discussing my use of oil as if it were some weird, cultish activity (which is pretty much how I feel about watercolor).

The properties of oil paint are both overrated and underrated. Overrated by the well-meaning people you meet at parties who, wanting to make small talk and having just learned that you're an artist, ask if you use "oils" before wanting to know if you do landscapes, portraits, or “abstracts” – to which I could answer “yes” to all.

It's indeed challenging to work in a medium where every color has its own texture, opacity, sheen, and drying time (all of which differ from brand to brand, and the drying time from day to day)—but equally challenging to achieve nuance in acrylic, which dries in a flash and where the colors are uniform.

The problem is not with either medium, but with trying to make oils do what acrylics do (thereby creating mud), or trying to make acrylics do what oil does so much better (which results in a dead flatness).

I’ve always used oil paint but now, newly engaged in the process of rendering recognizable images, I’m fascinated with how much it allows me to get away with (a lot, sometimes) and how little I can get away with (not much, sometimes). It’s like some wildly inconsistent parent—one day I can do no wrong and the next day, nothing right.

Today it slapped my hand and told me to go write on my blog.

1 comment:

Michael Cammer said...

These comments regarding the properties of paint are so broadly brushed. They have the platitudinous sound of the question from the well meaning people, "Oh, you're an artist, so what sort of work do you do?"

Normally your posts are so thoughtful. This is a definite deviation.