When a Blob of Glass is not just a Blob of Glass

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Sometimes the things that we hang onto have no intrinsic monetary value. What give them importance are the stories that they can tell. If you don’t write these stories down or tell others it could make an object meaningless so that it will get tossed out because no one will understand the significance. Such stories are also a source of inspiration.

We keep many useless objects because of their stories and not just for their aesthetic value. Often you are the only one who has heard these tales. There are some stories that I knew of which Ellie had no knowledge because she was not there at the time. It would be a pity if the stories were lost because this makes the things interesting.

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Take the blob of molten glass belonging to my grandfather. He told me that it was from the remains of a house up in the hills where his family holidayed when he was a child. Here they rode horses and enjoyed country life. My grandfather remembered being chased by stampeding turkeys that his mischievous younger brothers let out from their pen. The house was destroyed in a bushfire and he kept this bit of debris as a reminder of the place. Embedded in the glass is some mortar and charcoal from the intense heat of the fire. This piece of glass speaks not only about my grandfather’s experiences, but also of the history of our country. Bushfires are responsible for some of Australia’s worst natural disasters but are also needed for the germination of seeds and regeneration of the native eucalypt forests. Most of us or members of our family have been affected by bushfire at one time or another. For me this blob has meaning and I would never throw it out.

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It is also lovely to keep something that was hand-made by a family member whether it is useful or not. Another thing that came from my grandfather is a piece of Mallee Root. These are used as firewood in Victoria because they are slow burning. He polished this fragment of root on one side to see what it would look like and for no other reason. This was typical of a man who was always curious about nature and trying different processes. I think that it is quite sculptural and beautiful and knowing its story makes it special.

 

Objects that tell us something about our forebears are intriguing. One of our ancestors was a sea-captain in the mid 19th century. One of his sons also sailed. We have quite a collection of old tropical shells that were brought back from their journeys. The ones that are not in great condition are in the garden. There are giant tritons, helmet shells and types of univalves. There is also a Black Bean Pod (Moreton Bay Chestnut) that comes from northern Australia. The pod is hard, woody and the seed inside rattles when shaken. I love the fact that these ancestors were combing some beach over 100 years ago and the shells and pod are still with us today. I wonder where they went and what adventures they had on their journeys to and from Australia. The shells and pod are a reminder of our history when the sea was the only way to connect with the rest of the world.

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Some objects are valuable because they bring back personal memories. An old key attached to a long piece of wood belonged to the boatshed at the bottom of our grandparent’s orchard. Before the door fell off it was locked with a padlock. My mother’s family kept canoes that they used on the river in the shed, but these had gone when I was a child. Inside the rickety old building all that remained was a pump that sent water from the Yarra River to water the orchard. As a child I disliked the sound of that machine. It was mechanical and creepy and I tried to avoid it when it was on. The pump fed a giant sprinkler that sent jets a long way across the orchard and you had to run before it could drench you with water. In summer it became a game of dodge with a lot of yelling. Later owners eventually pulled down the boatshed but the key can still unlock the past.

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We often keep utilitarian, unprepossessing things just to remember a person. A rather plain, rectangular lump of heavy metal is something I treasure. It is a metallic sample that belonged to my father. He was an industrial chemist and this was something that was used in his research. To us as children dad’s job was mysterious because it was separate from our lives. Any thing to do with science was like alchemy involving strange processes and smelly chemicals. This sample gave his job a reality and when I use it as a paperweight I remember the rare visits to dad’s work seeing him in a white lab coat, surrounded by all kinds of strange apparatus. Dad’s piece of metal has never rusted or corroded so whatever the sample was for I’m sure it did a good job.

So an object can be more than a physical thing if it has some kind of story that is important to you. It does not need to be earth shattering or epic. Sometimes the most memorable stories are the simple ones. Pass them on or write them down. Use them to inspire. A “blob of glass” without a story remains a blob.

The things we keep

Their stories silent

It’s up to us to make them speak

Kat

One of the best songs ever written about Australia is Ganggajang’s Sound of Then from the 1980s. It is evocative, nostalgic and fun.

Time: A Blessing and a Curse

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Time and Tide

Time. It governs our lives. We can’t store it or get it back when it is lost. Because of its value there are many sayings devoted to time. “Time and tide waits for no man;” “Do not squander time, that is the stuff life is made of” (Benjamin Franklin); “time is of the essence;” “time flies when you are having fun;” and so on. We have become obsessed with time. It is something that needs to be managed if our lives are to be ordered so we can make the most of every minute. Time is now a resource and wasting any of it must be avoided at all costs. Time is a blessing and a curse.

Our concept of time is an artificial construct. Human kind has imposed a system of measuring natural cycles from seconds to hours, days to weeks and months to years. Time is really changes that are caused by natural processes: the sun going up and down, the aging of organisms and of our planet and the universe. Things will still move on whether we look at a clock or not.

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Vanitas by Edwaert Collier (circa 1640-1708) Dutch (Wikimedia Commons)

Ideas about time have long inspired writers, artists and musicians. Artists in the 17th century, a time when the plague could suddenly take away your life, painted beautiful Vanitas compositions containing reminders of human mortality. These often contained watches, hourglasses, skulls and written works associated with human vanity, as well as fruit and flowers that will eventual succumb to decay. A modern take of this idea can be found in works like Pink Floyd’s song Time (live version). It inspired me to create the vanitas depiction in this post.

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All is Vanity

The desire to control time has brought us wonderful stories of time travel such as H G Well’s Time Machine (1895), films like the Back to the Future Series and TV shows like Dr Who. I recently read David Mitchell’s imaginative book The Bone Clocks, that has a very original take on controlling time. I don’t want to give too much away but it was not about travelling through time, but the ability slow time down or speed it up. It is a fascinating and engrossing book that is well worth allowing some time to read.

From childhood we are encouraged to be involved in some activity even during our leisure hours. This probably goes back to the “idle hands are the devil’s tools” attitudes of the past. Some people think that sitting around and appearing to be doing nothing is a misuse of time and you are made to feel guilty. Time must not be wasted. But moments of apparent idleness are often thinking time when you allow your mind to wander and come up with new and different ideas. Some people like to be constantly productive but it is just as valid to work in bursts of creative energy with time for mulling over ideas in between. There is no one recipe. Worrying about time is just a pointless exercise and stops us from living in and enjoying the moment, something that is really important for creativity.

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Getting things done on time is often a headache. I’ve always found a looming deadline is strong motivation and have often needed the pressure to finish a creative work. However this has worked for me because I did all the groundwork, that is, the research, preliminary designs or outlines and lots of paragraphs if written work. Everything has then come together at the last moment (by this I mean from a week to a fortnight). Without all the preparation last-minute work would be impossible to complete. I would never use this method for a woven tapestry. It is something that just takes time.

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As with many words in English, “time” has other uses from just meaning the passing of the days. It is used to signify a period in history or the state of the world, as in “the good times,” “war time,” “a sign of the times,” or “behind the times.” It is also used to show repetition of an action as in “time and again” or “too many times.” We can’t seem to escape from its influence.

However, we can look at time as a blessing rather than a curse. With time you gain more experience of life, knowledge and hopefully wisdom. Life is a journey that takes time and if you are not where you want to be at the moment just be glad that times change and you can move on.

Kat

One way to time travel is to watch programs and films that are set in another period. Recently I saw the first series of Medici: Masters of Florence, starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones). It has a beautiful theme song sung by Skin (Ann Deborah Dyer) called Renaissance. She has an amazing voice and wrote the beautiful lyrics.

Midwinter Chills: Ghastly Ghosts and Comical Phantoms

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It’s the middle of winter in Melbourne and there have been icy winds, frosts and dull days. A good time for ghost stories as these are so much more enjoyable when it’s dark and cold. Reading a modern ghost story has brought back memories of the classic old spooky tales, which I have always loved. Not all are serious and a bit of humor is needed when it is chilly. These stories stimulate the imagination and have led to endless interpretations of this intangible world.

Belief in the supernatural has provided plenty of material for artists and writers over the centuries. Shakespeare gives a chilling account of a ghostly apparition in the form of Hamlet’s murdered father, which has given visual artists inspiration for some beautiful illustration.

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In the 19th century ghost stories were very popular. They were so much more convincing at a time without electric light. In winter one could imagine terrible spectres lurking in the dark of night. Some of the stories are quite creepy, like those by the Irish author, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, who wrote some truly disturbing tales. A couple about haunted houses, like An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Anger Street (1851) and An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, are full of terrible apparitions and shadowy figures on the walls (click on titles to read stories). Read these late at night when the wind is howling for full effect.

Ghostly legends can also be very funny. The Ingoldsby Legends (1840) by Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev Richard Harris Barham) contains many humorous stories and poems about ghosts. Tales such as The Spectre of Tappington; The Ghost; The Legend of Hamilton Tighe; and The Dead Drummer are accompanied by quirky black and white illustrations (click on titles to read stories), which include skeletal spectres, headless figures and phantoms done by well-know artists of the time. These stories are wonderful parodies of ghostly folklore.

Another writer and illustrator who dealt with ghosts in a humorous way was W S Gilbert, the lyricist of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta fame. His collection of poems, Fifty “Bab” Ballads (1884) contains a nonsensical poem that I have included below called The Ghost, the Gallant, the Gael and the Goblin, complete with Gilbert’s (Bab) delightful drawings. It’s about competitive haunting that does not go to plan. A very quaint story with the witty use of words you would expect from the man who wrote, “I am the very model of a modern major-general, I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral…etc.

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Probably the most famous ghost story of the 1900s is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. We have a copy from the 1890s that has drawings by Fred Barnard, who was one of the illustrators of Dickens works. The grotesque depiction of Marley’s ghost became the prototype for many film versions of the tale. Michael Hordern as the tormented Marley in the 1951 version of Scrooge starring Alistair Sim, seems to have stepped out of the illustration. Below is a colourized version of the scene.

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The magic of film has made it possible to depict transparent ghosts and ghastly hauntings. From the earliest days of film we can see attempts to bring the spectral world alive for the viewer often with unintentionally hilarious results, as for example in George Melies The Haunted Castle, 1896.

Since then there have been some very terrifying movies, such as The Haunting (1963), with its horrifying haunted house. You would not want to watch this one alone on a dark winters night. It uses sound to a frightening degree (warning: even the trailer is really chilling). Often films that leave much to the imagination are scarier than those with lots of special effects because of the mystery.

There have also been many entertaining comedy films about ghosts, such as Topper (1937) starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, a hilarious story about a dead married couple haunting a crusty old bachelor that lead to some ridiculous situations.

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Plains of the Darling, NSW, detail by Edward Officer

In Australia there are old bush ballads about ghosts, such as the swagman who haunts the billabong in Waltzing Matilda (Matilda was his swag, not a woman). Like Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the idea of a ghostly horseman riding through the countryside has also peaked Australian writer’s imaginations. One of my favorites is the poem Rafferty Rides Again (1940) by Thomas V Tierney about a bushranger’s ghost that is seen riding in the bush on moonlit nights. As it is still in copyright click on title for a link to the poem. The song Ghost Riders in the Sky is in this tradition and Johnny Cash does a great version.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, in wintertime it is fun to read or watch spooky stories, especially when you are inside near a fire or heater and you know you can turn up the lights any time you like.

And what better way to end this post than with Australia’s Kransky Sisters, singing Talking Heads Psycho Killer as only they can.

Kat

Invasion of the Ants

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Illustration from Chambers Encyclopaedia, 1895

Sometimes what creeps us out can also inspire creative works. Under normal circumstances I don’t mind ants, especially Australian native black ants and even stinging bulldog ants provided they keep their distance. But when ants start to invade our inside space that is a different story.

Invasion of the Ants

Ants

A lone scout appears

Crawling on the computer

Then more

On kitchen benches

In cutlery drawers, floors

Feelers touching, foraging

Finding crumbs

On they come

Swarming

 

Ants

Form long brown trails

Relentless lines of raiders

Appalled

We follow the horde

Down halls, up bathroom walls

Madly squashing, spraying

A futile stance

Against advanced

Invasion

 

Ants

Man-created super colony

An immense insect alliance

Inundate

Swamp local species

Can’t placate, annihilate

Terrain taking, attacking

Argentine ants

Small chance

Of victory

©theartistschild.com 2017

Normally ants are benign, beneficial insects when they are part of their home eco-system. Their organization, co-operation and industry as a group has inspired stories since the time of Aesop’s Fable, The Grasshopper and the Ants.

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The Grasshopper and the Ants by Arthur Rackham, 1912

Outside of South America, because of their sheer numbers, argentine ants have become a huge problem in the world (How the World became a Giant Ant Colony). Accidentally transported in ships, they now infest every continent except Antarctica. These transported ants are all genetically related and do not have the biodiversity of their species at home. Separate nests do not compete or fight one another and instead have formed into super colonies that span kilometers. Melbourne has one that stretches for at least 100km (discovered in 2004), California has a 900km super colony along the coast and in Mediterranean Europe, 6,000km (The Ant Super Colony) ). They kill and take over the territory of native ants and are causing damage to whole eco-systems. The following is a short Australian documentary that explains how these ants are so successful around the world using amazing wildlife photography.

Early attempts to eradicate the ants were quite basic. In 1960s Sydney small boys were encouraged to find nests and were paid $10 for their trouble by the government. This would have seemed a huge amount of money to children at the time. A 1967 Pathé newsreel tells the story.

We have had argentine ants in our garden for a long time but when the house next door came down last year, the ants from next door moved into our place. Their numbers have swelled considerably. The weather has been quite mild, without much rain so there has been no help from nature to control them. If there is just one crumb on the kitchen bench the ants will find it and they are attracted to any water in the bathroom so cleaning is endless. When an ant appears next to you on the bed sheet you know there is a problem. Looks like we will need professional assistance to reduce these pests. There are now products that are reasonably safe to spray outside if you keep your pets out of the way during the operation. This invasion has brought back some unsettling memories about ants.

There is something about a huge plague of creatures that can both repel and fascinate us. This is often the basis for horror stories and movies. One of the first scary films I remember watching as a child was The Naked Jungle (1954) starring Charlton Heston based upon a short story, Leiningen Versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson. In it an Amazonian plantation owner has to contend with the threat of ravenous army ants destroying his crop. I watched this late at night with some friends at a sleep over and we all screamed during the scene where an unlucky worker is eaten by the ants (until the host’s little brother started doing a mock reenactment that made us laugh). I hope the actor was paid well for having so many ants crawling all over him. Not for squeamish.

Although the premise is exaggerated for dramatic purposes, the idea of unstoppable, carnivorous ants plays on our primal fear of the uncontrollable powers of nature. We create the nightmare in our minds.

In the horror film Them!, also made in 1954, ants have become huge monsters. I saw this movie late at night as an adult and it still has the power to disturb, although modern computer graphics produce more believable monsters. The trailer gives a good idea of the horror-inducing mood created by the filmmakers. The giant ants were meant to be the result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bombs. At a time of cold war tensions it played upon everyone’s paranoia surrounding the nuclear threat, which became terrifying ants.

Because ants work together this makes them seem like us on the one hand, but being insects, quite alien on the other. I’m sure many sci-fi alien societies are based upon ants. As invaders, ants are worthy opponents and will continue to inspire, frighten and mesmerize us in works of fiction and artworks.

Kat

Of course the appropriate music for this post after all the apocalyptic doom is Ant Music by Adam and the Ants. This live version was filmed on the Australian TV show Countdown in 1980. The sound is better than the official video. He also did a song called Ants Invasion but it is not as catchy. “Don’t tread on an Ant, he’s done nothing to you….” Huh! Obviously Adam Ant had not experienced argentine ants in 1980.

Strange Social Entertainments of the Past

Times change. What can be fashionable in one century can seem really peculiar in another. This is especially true of types of entertainment. We have an old battered copy of a magazine called Social Evening Entertainments produced by The Butterick Publishing Co in 1895. It is full of ideas for social get-togethers that were popular in the late 19th century. This book has both motivated and amused several generations of our family. Some of the celebrations included are still relevant like Christmas, Easter and Halloween and there are some interesting ideas to inspire. There are others that are quaint or just plain weird.

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Frontispiece, Social Evening Entertainments, 1895

Each party theme is told as a story with a family or group of friends deciding to hold a social gathering. We learn about the invitations, decorations, food and entertainment, through the eyes of the characters. This is why the magazine so delightful to read as you are taken into the lives of people over a century ago and learn a lot about the attitudes of the time. It is a work of fiction and a social history, as well as an instruction manual.

The Artist’s Studio Party got my attention because I was interested in how the ordinary person perceived the creative life in those days. You can read it for yourself below (just click on the image). The scene was set to create the 1890s idea of Boho, with the “garret” decorated with exotic rugs and Asian objects. A drawing game was played on an easel that could be a forerunner of Pictionary, with guests having to guess the object drawn. Wooden trays were cut into palette shapes upon which the simple but probably expensive food was served. There does not seem to be any alcohol provided so it does not bear much resemblance to a real artist’s life in that period. No Absinthe in sight. And the English walnuts served in silver paper paint tubes held together by glue and dabbed with possibly toxic paint were likely to poison the guests. This type of entertainment is a wonderfully naïve depiction of the artistic life and must have provided a lot of fun for the participants who were spared the reality of starving in a garret.

There seems to have been an obsession with instructional themes. Today the very idea of a Mutual Improvement Entertainment, an Evening with Familiar Objects or a Geography party would make people come up with all kinds of foolproof excuses for non-attendance. But these were obviously popular subjects back then before radio quizzes and TV game shows. The suggestions for the Geography Party are very detailed from globe-shaped invitations to scorecards for geographical guessing games and decorations. Further entertainment consisted of a geography match with two teams who competed by answering more geography related questions. The prizes included a gold metal Grecian style stick pin and silk and globe decorated Mouchoir Case (handkerchief case).   Even the menu stuck with the theme. This is a party that you would need to study for in advance and can’t have been much fun for those with poor general knowledge about the world. Glad this type of event has died a natural death. Trivial Pursuit is much more fun.

Some quite odd party themes were for a Senses Party, a Jewel Party and a Poverty or Hard Times Party. In the senses party entertainments were based around each of the five senses with mystery substances to smell and taste, memorizing objects on a tray for sight, recognizing musical instruments for sound and touching unknown items while blind folded for touch. The sixth sense did not come into it, so no ESP games. Taste and smell did not always include pleasant things. To me the activities are a bit like some strange scientific experiment that you might never want to repeat. For a jewel party, the female guests were invited to wear as much of their jewellery as possible and to tell myths and legends about the type of stones they were wearing. It could have ended up being an occasion devoted to one-upmanship like todays socialites and celebrities walking the red carpet.

In complete contrast the Poverty Party was about entertainment without any frills. It was to show solidarity and sympathy for the poor. All items of good furniture, curtains and ornaments were to be put away, and replaced with blankets and plain linen on the floors. The hosts and guests would dress in old clothes, eat simple, homemade food and dance to music provided by local needy musicians. After the event the fabric and blankets were to be donated to the poor. I can’t help thinking that this theme is trying a bit too hard in the frugality department and it is all about the well off feeling good about themselves. Holding a public event for the local poor, who could not afford a party, with lots of food and fun would have been kinder and if you are experiencing hard times, who wants to be reminded of the fact.

There are some very quaint party ideas in the book that would have been time-consuming to produce such as a Logomachy Party. Logomachy was a word game with the letters of the alphabet on a set of cards. It is like Scrabble meets the old card game Casino. The guests were to take part in this game for entertainment. The party in the associated story was held in the springtime, so there were homemade flower shaped invitations and cardboard butterflies and flowers decorated the room and tables. Rabbit decorations were made from peanuts in the shell with brown paper ears. You don’t see a lot of peanuts at children’s parties anymore because of the allergy dangers.

The most unusual food item was the dessert: nests of whipped cream in shallow crystal saucers filled with coloured eggs made from wine jelly. Blowing the white and yoke out of real eggs created these eggs. The liquid jelly was then poured into the cleaned shells through a funnel. After it had set they were peeled to reveal the jelly eggs. This dessert would have taken a lot of patience and care to prepare, as the potential for disaster was ever-present. Jelly was very popular in the 19th century but I doubt that anyone would have the time to go to this much trouble nowadays.

While many of the social entertainments may seem out of date and rather boring in the 21st century, one can only admire the ingenuity and imagination employed in the creation of this book. It can teach us a lot about making do, recycling objects and materials and valuing the handmade over the mass-produced. There was also a great sense of community in those days where such gatherings brought everyone together, even the different generations. This is evident in an Old Folks Entertainment, where young people and their parents dressed in clothes from past decades, sang old songs and ate nostalgic food. Not dissimilar to modern 60s, 70s and 80s parties.

Perhaps popular themes of today, like Hollywood or Hippie Parties, will seem bizarre to future generations. Whatever the period everyone enjoys a good party.

One of my favorite party songs from the past is Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long. Love those 80s clothes and dancers. It is so joyful.

Kat

Stuck in a Fug

I have been in a bit of a creative fug this week and am trying to fight the urge to vegetate. The post that I was going to put up has stalled. In the middle of winter with the heating on sometimes you just want to curl up with a book and do nothing, so I have thought of a few fun things to stop the malaise that might work for others as well.

Wear something red. It can be a beanie, a fedora, glasses or something completely crazy. Red always brightens up your day and stimulates the senses.

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Play with your dog or cat. Pets are so full of energy that you can channel their liveliness. Just don’t watch them sleeping. It has the opposite effect. A ball game outside when it is cold will take away the cobwebs.

As owners of fox terriers, just watching them running around makes you want to get up and do something.

Eat a couple of pieces of 70%+ chocolate, as it is a stimulant. It’s safe provided you don’t overdo it and tastes wonderful. But don’t leave the packet lying around or you might be tempted to eat more and it’s dangerous for dogs.

Music can make you feel more energetic. Play something you love loud. It does stimulate the brain.

Victorian band Stonefield, made up of the four Findlay sisters, channel the rock of the 70s in their own unique way. Really wakes me up.

Talk with others in the real world, not just online or by text. A nice long conversation with a friend either on the phone or in person will give both of you a boost.

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Climbing Up the Walls

If you are climbing up the walls it is time to go out and do something with others. Then you will return refreshed.

And if you really need a break don’t fight it. Find a really good book or movie and enjoy the experience. Sometimes your body is telling you to have a rest.

Kat

Art Materials: Money Saving Ideas Part 2

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Wrens, Miniature Oil Painting on Canvas Board, from my realist phase

Artist’s Paints

In the previous post I discussed ways to save money on drawing materials. In this post I talk about ways to keep down the cost with artist’s paints that I hope others may find helpful.

The price of artist’s paints can be off-putting at times. It is a good idea, where possible, to use paints and materials made by local manufacturers, as these are less expensive than imported products. I find that sticking to a limited palette is also a way to prevent over spending. The main colours which I use no matter what the paint type are Titanium white, Ivory Black, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red Pale, Burnt Umber, Viridian, Cerulean Blue and French Ultramarine. Some brands use different names for these colours.

For work in visual diaries and designing textiles, gouache is a good water-soluble paint because the colour is intense, you can use it on dry paper and create defined images. To save money it is wise to prevent wastage of your gouache paint. I keep my gouache tubes in an old Tupperware container found at an op shop to prevent them from drying out and store this in a cool cupboard. I put out the colours from the tube into the compartments of a round palette kept in a biscuit tin and I use two inexpensive plastic palettes for mixing these paints. One is for warm colours, the other for cool ones.

If you mix a larger amount of a colour do this in a deep plastic palette with a lid or in small paint wells that can be stored in a disposable food container. When finished working  cover all the paint holders with cling wrap before putting on the container lids. With traditional gouache (not the acrylic type) if the paint dries out water can be added and the paint is still workable like watercolour pans and can be used again. Taklon (synthetic) watercolour brushes are great for gouache and are less expensive than hair ones. These last for a long time if you gently wash them in a mild soap to stop paint build-up.

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Fernery, Gouache on Paper, Woven Tapestry Design

For works on canvas the main types of paints are oil and acrylic. Artist quality paints can be very expensive together with the various brushes and equipment. There are also mediums for both oils and acrylics that add to the cost. So the whole process for both oils and acrylics can become complicated and expensive.

I like to use both paint types. In summer the slower drying properties of oil paints make them perfect in a hot climate. While it is wise to limit the use of solvents, you do need some type of paint thinner in the under painting. This requires lots of ventilation and it is easy to open a window and use the exhaust of an air-conditioner when the weather is warm. Oil paints are also easy to take outdoors and this is probably the safest place to use them. In the winter when it is too cold to open windows and use exhaust fans, acrylics are much safer and more pleasant to use than oils, as long as you are not in a very confined space, because all paints give off some type of fumes. The cooler weather means that they do not dry quickly and mediums can slow down the drying process. There is even a rewetting agent (Atelier Unlocking Formula) so after drying you can still rework small areas. It is also possible to use acrylics thinly underneath oil paint to reduce your exposure to solvents.

So how can you save money on these paints whether you use oil, acrylics or both? Firstly, as I said above, buy local products. You will save money and support local manufacturers. A beginner does not need lots of paints and equipment. I began using oil paints at school with only a few tubes of paint, basic brushes and small canvas-covered boards. Don’t be tempted to buy every colour under the sun or lots of brushes at first. You learn more about colour mixing with a restricted palette and it is easy enough to clean a small number of brushes as you go.

With regards to cleaning oil paint from brushes, don’t use a dangerous solvent. I use a cheap oil to clean brushes while I am working then give them a good wash in mild soap and warm water afterwards. But remember you must never mix non-drying oils like safflower or sunflower with oil paint, the latter being made with an expensive drying oil like linseed or walnut. First I clean the brushes with cheap sunflower oil to get rid of the paint, wipe it clean on a rag or paper towel, then I dip the brush in linseed oil and give it a good wipe to remove the sunflower oil. That way my paints are not contaminated with incompatible oil and I don’t waste a lot of expensive linseed oil on cleaning. Have two labeled jars with lids to contain small amounts of your cleaning oils and discard when they become too dirty.

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As with most art materials, if you can find good second-hand paints and equipment, all the better. My wooden oil paint case came from a relative with a quantity of useable paint tubes, brushes and a couple of small bottles for a medium and linseed oil. A case makes it easy to transport the paints. You could also use a plastic fishing tackle case. As I use up the paint, I replace the old tubes with a local brand (Art Spectrum) and have slowly added to my brush collection when funds allow and have included some old pliers, which are great for opening stuck tube lids.

With oils you would need thinning and oily mediums, because unless you use a quick, wet in wet painting method, the paint must be built up in layers, progressing from fast drying to slower drying to prevent cracking. To simplify the painting process and reduce solvent use and expense, don’t use lots of mediums. I originally worked with artist’s gum turpentine as a thinner but it is very irritating for the lungs and skin. Odorless mediums and solvents still give me a headache and make me feel dizzy. I prefer a medium with some kind of odor because at least you know by the smell how much exposure you are getting.

An alkyd-based medium contains lower amounts of solvent and odor than turpentine. I use Art Spectrum Liquol. I’m sure that other brands would have something similar. It speeds up the drying of the first layers of paint and can be used for smoothing brushstrokes and glazing. You don’t need to use much and can add a little linseed oil to the final layer of paint instead of liquol. To reduce exposure I put a small amount of liquol in one of the metal containers that you can attach to your palette. I keep the lid on when not mixing it with the paint and if inside, the window is wide open and exhaust fan on. The other container holds refined linseed oil. No mediums are needed for the wet in wet method where you blend the paint quickly, usually in one session. Great for out-door painting and impasto effects.

When using fast drying mediums you will need to clean your palette after you have finished painting for the day or it will become encrusted with difficult to remove paint. To save paint, put any pure, medium-free colours onto an old china plate and cover this with cling wrap ready for to use at your next session. Oil paint stays wet for a while like this. Scrape off the unusable paint from the palette with a palette knife onto a paper towel and wipe it clean with a small quantity of linseed oil. Always wear powder free plastic gloves if you are doing anything messy with any paints and when cleaning your equipment because toxic solvents and heavy metals in paint pigments can be absorbed through the skin.

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Acrylics are perfect for large canvases created in the studio. As with oil paint I use a good Australian brand (Atelier) to reduce the cost. Acrylic paint keeps well in pots or tubs, which are more economical than tubes when using large quantities. You can’t use water to thin acrylics as this weakens the paints binding properties and you will need painting mediums that control flow and viscosity. You don’t need lots of different mediums. Just use what suits your style. I work with two mediums, an all-purpose mid-viscosity clear painting medium for slowing down the drying time and blending paint and a low viscosity-liquefying medium for fine detail work (this can be used with airbrushes), but I think I will buy some of that unlocking formula to rewet paint. There are also mediums available for impasto and glazing, as well as drying retarders and varnishes.

It is best to keep acrylic brushes separate from those for oil painting. As with all brushes buy a few at first then add others as required and always wash them regularly. For priming canvases and large brush stroke effects, house-painting brushes are cheaper than artists. When mixing larger quantities of paint use a palette knife to save wear on your brushes.

As with all art materials, a way to save money is to make your paints last for as long as possible. For mixing small amounts of paint needed for a small, quick work, a large palette with tear off sheets is great because acrylic paint can be hard to remove when dry, but for slower works it is better to use a wet palette. These can be made from an old plastic tray, which is lined with several layers of blotting paper or blank newsprint. Wet the paper thoroughly then place a sheet of baking paper cut to fit on top. You can mix your paints on this surface and they will stay wet for a long time, using a fine spray of water to keep them moist. By covering the palette with cling wrap under some kind of lid made from a larger tray, the paint can be kept for several days. I found a plastic seed tray and duck taped a plastic sheet over the bottom holes to seal it. Upside down it fitted over my wet palette. After about a week mold may develop on the damp paper so you know it is time to replace the layers.

When mixing larger quantities of paint do this in disposable food containers with lids so that you have enough for the whole painting and it will not dry out. Any plastic food packaging is useful for mixing acrylics. With containers without lids cover the paint with cling wrap but you would need to use it quickly.

If you chose to work with just one of these paint types you would definitely save more money. I find that oils and acrylics each have their advantages and disadvantages and that is why I like to work with them both. Experiment with a limited number of paints to see what suits you and have fun.

Kat

The Painter is a beautiful song by Neil Young. Here is a video with some inspiring artwork.