Returning to Oil: Materials

by Brenda W. Clough

 The first thing to do when you decide to make something? Go shopping! Only the highest and most abstruse creativity calls for no equipment at all — philosophy, maybe? Everybody else needs stuff. Mathematicians need gigantic number-crunching computers, spinners accumulate bales of roving, cookie bakers need icing bags and silicone sheets and sprinkles in colors. Writers? Computers, of course, but masses of research materials, books, artifacts, daguerreotypes of your characters, oh it’s endless.

But when I decided to take up oil painting again I really did have to buy oil paint. There was a time when the artist had to grind his own colors as he used them, that very day. It was a lot of work; that’s why Michelangelo had assistants. Nowadays you can buy the paint in tubes. But the tubes do dry out. There is an entire lore about how to get the paint out of a nearly-completely-dried-out $40 tube of paint, or how to cope if the cap snaps in half when you use a pair of pliers to twist it open. The best economy is to paint in oils all the time so that those costly colors don’t age out. Since I needed the full suite of colors I bought a beginner set of Gamblin brand, an okay level of quality. In oil paint you do get what you pay for (my old Grumbacher paints were decidedly student level) but on the other hand I have to balance that against the fact that I am not Leonardo da Vinci. Not every sweater has to be knit out of cashmere, right?

And how does the paint get onto the surface? Turner occasionally used his fingers, but he was famously eccentric. Painting with a palette knife is fun, and I have one — but this landscape doesn’t look like a heavily impasto subject, so I need brushes. My old brushes show distressing signs of moth damage, so new brushes are called for as well, filbert-shaped hogs-hair. These too are cheaper on Ebay, but the mineral spirits I have to buy right here in my town, because you can’t ship flammable liquids through the mail.  A jar to carry these in, some canvas board I happen to have lying around from the last book cover I painted, and I am ready!



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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Returning to Oil: Materials — 4 Comments

  1. I do not paint, but I still love browsing for art supplies. And while I mostly write on a computer, I also love browsing for pens and notebooks. There’s just something so compelling about some tools.

  2. “Mathematicians need gigantic number-crunching computers”: we don’t. We need paper and pencil, or better yet very large blackboards and chalk, and a large, well-organized library, and other mathematicians to talk to and argue with, and long walks along the river or the sea.

    The best description of a mathematician’s work in literature is a theoretical physicist (we’re very close to each other) named Shevek you may have heard of.

    If you need to write a mathematician into your story, talk to one. Better yet, talk to several, because we’re not all alike. Some formulas and/or computations; others like shapes and diagrams.

    Remember that we hold the keys to your privacy online.

    • She may be thinking applied math. Engineers for instance, do need computers to make up their designs. But yes, a computer is only one of the tools needed and not even completely necessary. (Draftsperson anyone?)