Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I’ve heard artists wax poetic about their materials, about the creamy density of a particular white paint, the properties of glaze in fire, the saturation of magenta, the transparency of silk from far-off lands. I can appreciate these properties, too, but I personally find such conversations tiring. Finding the right materials for my work has been important, but in my process, materials are simply the tools. And like good tools, once I learn to use them, I don’t want to think about them.

As a minimalist, I need materials that don’t get in my way–easy in, easy out, nobody gets hurt. I like to work fast, so I use acrylics because they dry quickly, hold up reasonably well over time, don’t smell like cancer-in-the-making, and are versatile. I like that the paints are water-based and clean up quickly with water and soap. I wash my brushes with a cheap human two-in-one shampoo-conditioner in the bathroom sink. I rest and rinse my active brushes in repurposed yogurt containers filled with water. I use a sturdy wood easel that I purchased after painting for 6 months on my living room floor and getting back aches.

Acrylics also allow me to experiment in ways that are low-stakes. All my learning happens on the job in a painting (I don’t do test sketches or mock ups.) This way, as long as the underpainting is dry, I can try out a color or shape, see how it works, and then quickly wash it off with a wet cloth if I don’t like it. Courage is easier to muster when one has an eraser.

I tried painting on various surfaces before I settled on smooth, pre-gessoed cotton canvas. I tried watercolors and oils before I married acrylics. I tried painting outdoors and indoors before I realized I’m definitely an indoor painter (the fancy term is “studio painter.”) I had to try out different materials to know what worked best for me, and once I did, I stuck with them.

Now, I buy the same good-quality but not absolute top-of-the-line paints from the same company again and again. Brushes and canvases too. This way, I’ve eliminated at least one place I could easily get overwhelmed and make excuses for not getting to work: Selecting the right tools for the job (also known as shopping).

The rest of the creative process is already ambiguous enough for me.


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