08 December 2010

December 6 - Make

What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

I think we won't bother with the advent prompt this time around, as the last thing I made needs no prompting. It also needs no repeating, but I spent a small fortune on some tubes of oil paint and should probably make some time to squeeze out their contents. So without further ado...

The last thing I made was a poor oil-on-canvas reproduction of Landscape, Outskirts of Paris (Christopher Wood, 1901-1930). I am not even sure if this is the proper way to cite a painting, which, as you can see, is the least of my problems.

I can't tell you why I took the class, or even what I expected to get out of it. The last thing I painted prior to this was – I shit you not – a winged unicorn flying above its own reflection in a lake, the laboured arc of a rainbow dominating much of the background (in acrylics, none the less). I was seven, and didn't know that paintings had names. If I did, I might have called mine Flying Unicorn Sees Himself, With Rainbow. All unicorns are boys, FYI. It's why they dig the young virgins and have horns and whatnot. Filthy, filthy beasts.

SO. I did this art class, which I was fairly confident would cater to my inexperience, it being called Oils for All and not Oils for Experienced Artists Looking For Reassurance, for instance. The room was small, the instructor said things like “Mm, 'tis” when faced with assertions like “It's a lovely light coming over that hillock now,” and actually, everyone else had a talent for saying very little and yet somehow still managing to squeeze in painting terminology that made me feel inadequate, such as “knock it back” (no whisky, no comprende) and “that's coming on well.” There were five of us in all - mostly women over the age of 50 (well over, in some cases) and all were properly what you'd call artists. All but one.

Fortunately, I intuited that there would be little to no actual instruction in these lessons and chose a painting that I thought I'd have a slim chance in Hell of blagging my way through from beginning to end. I tore Chris Wood out of a book and thanked the Baby Jesus on a skateboard that I'd recently watched an instructional video on how to block in objects with a pencil - for scale, and a general idea of where to put paint down. I thought I could get away with overworking my background over the course of four weeks (skylines require a deceptively large amount of detail), but after my first lesson, she brandished her number 2 paintbrush at me and commanded me to paint faster.

By lesson three, she'd wrestled my brush from me and was showing me how to put paint on the canvas with an eye to efficiency and completion - it was THAT painful for her to stand and watch me drizzle smoke from my tiny smokestacks and edge in blue highlights hour after hour. Eventually I saw that in order to get this woman off my back, I was going to have to try to tackle the wild jungle of the foreground – jagged cliff, impressionistic figure and all. I launched into it with a kind of recklessness I didn't know I was capable of, and at one point she leaned over my painting and said, “You've really cracked that.” I've never felt more proud of something in my life, and that includes my 100% final mark in Film Theory and Aesthetics – a bit of trivia I like to pull out every five years to remind people of how exceptional I once was.

A moment of silence for that person.

It was at the eleventh hour, after several failed attempts to make brown by mixing cobalt blue, lamp black and yellow ochre that I finally squeaked, “Excuse me? I think I might need another colour.” She looked at my canvas and nodded and said “Yes, I do believe you're ready to add another colour,” and she daubed a bit of 'light red' onto my palette paper so that I could do a rock.

It wasn't until I took the painting home (still wet, carried gingerly at one edge between thumb and forefinger), and mustered enough enthusiasm to purchase some oils of my own several weeks later, that I realised the original painting was pervaded by a kind of subtle, purplish hue, whereas my own was – from sky to the sandy beaches of my foreground - a wash of atonal greens. This is the peril of painting as a non-artist who does not realise she is missing out on an entire wheel of the colour spectrum, and so I sheepishly reworked these parts for a few hours one evening, having lost the magic of that so-called lesson, which really only taught me that painters are a strange bunch of people that don't use the internet and are afraid of mobile phones because of radiation poisoning.

The end?

This post was brought to you by the colours Lamp Black, Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Cobalt Blue (Hue), Titanium White and the smallest bit of Lemon Yellow.


10x14” stretched canvas
G24 round brush
G36 short flat brush
No. 27 palette knife
Glass jar of white spirit
Paper towel
A lotta nerve

Written in participation with #Reverb10. Read my complete set of posts here.

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