Thursday, September 19, 2013

Paint and Polish

Time as an art student (for me very early 1950s) was a chance to experiment with artistic techniques. Of course, I would use oil paint. But with meagre resources, this was an expensive item to buy.

            So I bought empty tin/lead tubes (mostly large ones) and, to fill them, ground my own colours – either from powder colour or from more solid ingredients. (Working sometimes in the theatre, powder colour was easily obtainable, and cheap.)

The ground colour was mixed with linseed oil (probably the slower drying raw in preference to the quicker drying boiled) to help it set. I also added a little non-drying oil, like olive oil, to keep the paint moist in the tube.

These open-ended tubes were filled with my home-made paint, using a spatula. They were then folded over at the open end, crimped together, and Vaseline applied to the cap’s thread and around the top of the tube.

Over 65 years later I am still using that home-made, home-tubed paint, even after the tubes lay idle for 25 years when I turned to writing.

The key to success when using artist’s oil colour is the medium used to mix with it. So those researches at art school allowed me to assess the pros and cons of materials, and of paint and medium in particular.

I acquired a book (now missing) which told of almost every conceivable medium and how to make and use it.

The most successful of my experiments was a vastly superior and outright winner – emulsified beeswax. It formed a matt surface on canvas and primed paper.

This beeswax not only made a splendid medium for oil paint that I have used ever since discovering it, but it has had the added benefit of being wonderful furniture and wooden sculpture polish.

Briefly, lumps of beeswax are melted in a galvanised iron bucket of boiling water. When still hot, concentrated ammonia is added to emulsify it. The result is then allowed to cool. A yellow wax crust will form on the surface, which is penetrated to allow the ammonia laden water to be poured away from beneath it.

The crust is then warmed, before turpentine substitute or white spirit is added. Oil of spike lavender can also be added (though I have since found this to be unnecessary, except to add a pleasant smell). The wax is warmed again (for fluidity) and bottled, then to be used as medium for oil paint, or as polish.

Mixed with bought or home-made oil paint, the result forms a formidable and long-lasting coloured surface.

Bird boxes, exposed to the elements, painted as brickwork to match our London stock brick, east-facing house wall, has, in ten years, not deteriorated one iota. And a newly painted outside wooden sculpture should do the same.

Smooth surfaces painted with this oil paint/beeswax mixture may also be polished when hardened.

As for using any paint/medium mixture, constant use will enable the artist to forget the ingredients used, knowing its qualities and limitations, and enable him or her to concentrate on the content of the work of art in progress.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

a London Garden (with mid-summer update)

This is about our small garden in London that only measures about 3 ½ paces across and 13 paces long. Then I add a 2013 mid-summer survey of it.

            The house wall stands at one end and a 1.5 metre wall surrounds the rest. So it is a little walled garden. It runs east-west, offering its four walls to exploit.

            Over some 25 years I have chosen or have been given plants for it. And a few gift ones I might well have chosen had I known how well they fitted in.

            The garden is all paved with flagstones, except for an east-west strip of soil running along the south-facing wall.

            Much of one end of the garden is taken up by a lovely cedar, octagonal, 5-side-glazed summerhouse, which we call our shed. This is a den/haven in which we can sit for much of the year – except in the cold of winter.

            Spanning almost a quarter of the garden from side wall to side wall, is a reinforcing rod and galvanised wire arched arbour. Over it grow Triomphe d’Alsace and Seyval Blanc grapes to give shade to a wooden bench beneath in hot weather, leaves for stuffing, and grapes for wine or juice in late summer.

            Hanging from its arches, above a marble garden table, is an odd arrangement of bird feeders. One of niger seeds to feed goldfinches, another is furnished with peanuts for blue and great tits, two hold sunflower seeds, also for tits, and the last for unwanted kitchen fat and fat balls (home made) during wintertime.

            There is another, much smaller (bamboo) arbour, the top of which springs from vine-training wires above a wall and protrudes over the garden, forming a narrow, shady tunnel beneath. Up and over this arbour grow runner beans and tomatoes alternately each year. Bees and bumblebees love the orange-coloured bean flowers, helping to provide bounteous crops which are grown from our own seed, saved each year.

            On the north-facing wall was a morello cherry tree, which, over several years,  succumbed to silverleaf fungus. It has been replaced by a damson (Merryweather), trained in espalier fashion – which I hope it won’t object to.

            Along this north-facing wall in pots, are a conference pear and an apple – into the latter of which I have “planted” mistletoe with success. We do not expect much fruit from these trees, being quite happy with about half a dozen from each every year.

            And standing just away from this wall is a 5’ high wood sculpture of lovers that was carved out of a lump of elm-diseased wood in the late 1970s. Always outside in the elements, the couple split and rotted away inside. The piece has now been hollowed out, restored and painted – a little garishly.

            Intruding from the south-facing wall, almost 3/4 of the distance toward the north-facing wall, is a peninsular of cascading, loose brickwork, on which perch pots of flowers.

            Some pots are changed over the seasons, and top ones being anchored with string in winter to prevent them from being blown over.

The pots contain pyracantha (yellow winter flowers, with birds loving the berries, spectacular and also loved by bees), phlox (purple and a surprisingly successful gift to us), pelargoniums (springing from the holes of a strawberry pot – with a bird bath resting on top), a Bolivian begonia (scarlet flowers with its corm saved in sand through the winter), a pieris (a plant that is for ever doing something or other of interest), two fuchsias (lovely flowers, loved by bumblebees), a buddleia (purple flowers for butterflies),  a malva (white as white can be with a limited season), petunias (never dead-headed, long-lasting and taking the place of impatiens, which seems to have succumbed to disease nationally), lavender (for its leaf colour as much as its fragrant flowers), a true geranium (a new gift), a solanum (given to us and told that its cunquat-like berries are tasteless), sorrel (excellent in green salads, purée and in an omelette, and the first edible green leaf to appear in springtime), thyme, rosemary, mint, coriander, rocket (which we grow from our own seed each year), asparagus (providing a few spears annually, which we eat raw), roses (Rev. P-R, and two Typhoon - the best rose ever), two bay trees (one domed and 35 years old and the other pointing to heaven as we were given it by a dying woman who had turned to Christianity), a trough of snowdrops and crocus (disappointing), a honeysuckle and, rather hidden away, a poor hydrangea and a hybiscus that doesn’t really fit in.

            Birds are our garden mobiles and friends – dunnocks, blackbirds, green and gold finches, blue and great tits, robin, wood pigeons and the passing wren. We treasure them, and give them food and water. Mice seem to have left the garden now that their home in the wooden sculpture has had their nest and the rotten wood extracted and thrown away with the rubbish.

            So what of our mid-summer (August) update for this 2013 year?

            During the winter I reduced our vine extent by almost a third. If it was that, or  the year was the cause, the grape bunches are larger and more prolific than usual. So we expect to make wine.

            All plants, trees and shrubs have done very well. The three buckets of early potatoes (Charlotte) provided us with tasty dishes. There has been no blight on the Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes, but they are late to ripen. Our bamboo canopy of runner beans has already provided us with a considerable crop (harvested and eaten when only about 3”to 4” long).

            I think of it as a man’s garden, compact and a bit austere, and somewhat changed since BBC2 made a Gardener’s World programme here, inasmuch as there are now extra plants and more colour.

            Guests love this garden sanctuary, seeing it as a cosy and colourful environment in which to drink wine, talk freely, and eat my home-made cheese pancakes. I offer Kalamata black olives that are stored in a snap-down jar with olive oil. This oil darkens with age and adds extra flavour to the olives. As the jar is topped up when necessary, some olives in it might be quite old and soft, while others are harder and more astringent.

            When guests eat these olives they are invited to throw the stones at the south-facing wall, where they fall to the earth below.  There is something about being able to do this that appeals to the child in most of us.