An Old Love, a New Experiment

I think I’ve mentioned before that I trained as an oil painter? I must have? I’ve been blogging a long time…

Ahem. Well, if I haven’t, then there, it’s out in the open. When I was young, I took lessons with my grade school art teacher, and early on associated the smell of turpentine and linseed oil with happiness. When I smell oil paint I can call up actual pictures of the studio she’d built herself in her backyard; I can remember trying to paint the horses I was looking at in a ‘How to Draw Horses’ book, the scent of the wood polish, the way the sunlight looked. For someone with a memory as faulty as mine, that’s… a pretty big deal.

But oils, as I’ve mentioned before, are messy, expensive, and often dangerous, particularly around children. They need to be thinned and cleaned with solvents, and that’s assuming the paint itself isn’t toxic. The fumes are overwhelming unless you have a well-ventilated space (and in Florida, ‘paint outside’ isn’t an option; not just for whining ‘it’s hot’ reasons, but for actual pragmatic ‘the humidity prevents paintings from ever drying’ type reasons).

I had pretty much given up on any chance of painting with oils again despite a desperate desire to work with something more opaque than gouache.

When I heard there were water-miscible oils, I dismissed the idea. How could that even work? And the reviews I’d gotten on them were mixed. “They’re not like real oils,” was the most common complaint, which… seemed inevitable. They weren’t real oils. They were some bastard compromise. But sometimes in life, you gotta take the compromise or nothing at all. So when I was in the art store yesterday, I looked at a set of them, waffled, then said, ‘What the heck.’

paintingtestoilmiscible1

I almost didn’t do it. The art store has a big sign up on the door: ‘No Cell Phone Use Allowed.’ I ignored it to check reviews of a particular brand, and one reviewer said that she loved them–that she had quit using oils once she had kids, and this had given her back the paints she loved. That sealed it for me. I took them home, found an old canvas, and went at it.

What can I say about them? I am tempted to say ‘I’m in love,’ but I am going to try to remain wary. My initial impression was that they’re magical. They are creamy, like the oils I remember, but I could dip my brush in water and clean it that way? Insane! And they stay wet… I put down the paint at 4 PM yesterday and this morning they were still workable.

paintingtestoilmiscible

The crazy thing is that after years of trying to treat gouache like oil paints, I now find I treat oils like gouache! The long dry time has me startled. I’d forgotten the tools that allow you to play: media that let you retard or accelerate the dry time, oils and thinners that let you add gloss or tint washes. All those things I learned as a young girl with a youth’s instinctive quickness; now I find I return to them with an adult’s understanding of how complex it all is, and I am daunted, and find myself amused at those fears. They won’t stop me, but I like it when my supplies teach me humility and patience, along with all their other gifts.

So I’d like to say I’m tentatively pleased with the results, but the truth is I’m excited. Not the bouncy crazy agitated sort of excited, but the low, deep in the heart excitement that you feel thinking about sunrise after a vigil. I’m older, old enough to know that there will always be projects that don’t lend themselves to this medium, that they won’t be the all-consuming passion they were for me when I was a new artist. But the thought that I might have them back in my life again is overwhelming. Is it ridiculous that this link back to my childhood could be so nourishing? I don’t know, but I will see how it goes.

My next experiment involves sealing sketches to canvas so I can paint on them without having to re-draw them. I’ll report on that later. For now, though… I think I need a drying rack…!

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