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.