Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why worry about boxes, brushes and paper?

Whenever a group of amateur painters get together it is certain that before long they will be discussing the merits of different papers or brushes, the Japanese Hake popularised by Ron Ranson or the French polishers mop a favourite tool of Edward Wesson. Then there are others willing to spend a small fortune on a hand crafted brass watercolour box or custom built wooden pastel box.

I’ve been guilty of the same preoccupation; in my impecunious student days I bought a Winsor & Newton College Box which held 16 half pans. I used it for years until someone on a course persuaded me that the rusty old thing was no longer fit for purpose and I should buy a Japanese Holbein Box. I ordered it by telephone from Frank Herring who warned me I might need a bank loan and the plastic Liz Deakin palette was much cheaper. I tried to sound like a man of means and insisted on buying the Holbein Box.

It was a bad mistake. It has a right hand thumb hole and as I’m left handed it wasn’t any use. Holding the palette by one corner John Yardley style didn’t work either – the wells are too shallow and I was forever ruining clean shirts. I’ve gone back to my old College Box and cut down a plastic ice cube tray to replace the rusty clips that held the pans. This holds colours squeezed from the tube and the thumb ring on the bottom works whether you are right or left handed. A little serendipity can often solve most problems.

All of these matters are a peripheral distraction. Painting is mostly about discovering a lost childhood vision that finds expression by simple direct means. Give a child a crayon and a sheet of paper and they quickly become totally focussed. Children are able to produce stunning images with the most basic equipment.

John Blockley in his later years used to mix his colours on a large plastic surfaced table with his work laid flat alongside, and I read recently that Fred Cuming uses a piece of hardboard as a palette for his oil paints – when it becomes encrusted he simply gets a new sheet. What sensible men.

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