You are an artist-in-residence. Now, what?
The last time I was a resident at A.I.R Vallauris in 2008, I left a box of materials. This time I decided not to take any materials with me and to just make use of what was in the box and whatever I could find in the street.
I had two notions about how I would use my time. One, I wanted to experiment, respond to the moment and not plan everything out. And two, I wanted to look at Goya’s paintings and see if there is a way I can distil their essence into something abstract. I didn’t think that I would do these two things together.
When I open the box, I have plenty of paint, some brushes, and several pieces of 300 lb Fabriano watercolor paper. But what really excites me, is the box itself. It sat in a dry shed for eight years. The cardboard is soft and no longer has much structural strength. One side is white. I tear off one of the flaps and start painting.
Goya’s Dog on Cardboard, 4 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016
Goya on My Mind
Since Goya was already on my mind, I start by loosely painting one of his portraits with black ink. I switch to oil paint and the soft cardboard yields under my brush. The un-even torn edges make a beautiful deckle* around the piece. When I paint Goya’s, “The Dog” I like how the creases in the cardboard interact with the image.
All the pieces are small, averaging 4 inches x 2 inches. In the end, I branch out to include the back of a tuna box and a crushed can that I found in a parking lot.
*deckle edge paper—a type of paper with rough edges
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Maja on the Can”, oil on soda can, 2.5 inches x 5 inches, 2016
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Dona Tadea Arias de Enriquez on Tuna Box”, 6 inches x 4 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: The Countess of El Carpio on Cardboard”, 4 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Arsensio Julia on Cardboard”, 2 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Goya’s Countess on Cardboard”, 3 inches x 2 inches, ink on cardboard, 2016
Leslie Parke, “Goya on Garbage: Portrait of the Countess of Chincon on Cardboard”, 3 inches x 2 inches, oil on cardboard, 2016
Once when I was working on a documentary in Holland, I was able to make a side trip to Schevenigen to the place where Old Holland made its artists’ oil paint. At that time, they were in a tiny building doing everything by hand. The paint was only available in one store in America — David Davis. They have since moved to Driebergen and are available everywhere. I had tried to make paint myself and having experienced some of the difficulties of grinding my own paint, I was excited to see how the professionals did it.
For my own work I use a variety of manufactures of paint, as each brand has different qualities. Mostly for reasons of availability I have stuck with Winsor and Newton. Recently they have been bought out by ColArt and the quality of their paint has changed. A painter relies on the feel, color and quality of the paint used. Certain colors will have no consistency from one manufacture to another. So, you not only have to know the name of the color you want, but also the manufacture. For my taste, Sennelier is too oily and Williamsburg is too dry. I am always searching for the paint that is just right. Sometimes “just right” is just not affordable. Finally I have found both.
During a studio conversation with artist Evan Wilson debating the quality of different whites, he suggested that I visit RGH Artists’ Oil Paint in Albany, New York, about an hour from my studio. He was very pleased with their quality and thought I would be also. After a few detours through neighborhoods with row on row of beautiful Arts and Crafts cottages compliments of my GPS (make note, there are two Railroad Avenues in Albany, but in different zip codes), I finally found my way to a small, industrial neighborhood where in an unassuming brick building with the storage area of a semi-truck parked in the yard Rolf Haerem leaned out his unmarked door and invited me in.
The unmarked shop where the magic happens.
- Rolf Haerem and his assistant Chris
His modest shop was almost exactly like the Old Holland one I visited years before. Clearly the methods for making paint haven’t changed in centuries. There were barrels and bags of pigment, a barrel of oil, a mixer and the mill — a grinder of several metal rolls.
RGH Artists Oil Paints Inc. started in 1989. When Rolf lived in New York, he had some friends who made paints for Milton Resnick. They taught him how to make paint and eventually he bought a mill and started to make paint first for himself and then for other artists. For his own work, Rolf needed professional quality paint in large quantities that were also affordable. Who among us doesn’t need that. Artists flocked to him and his business grew.
Hand painted paint chart
Rolf now makes and sells over 120 different colored paints. He will make customized paints for individual artists requiring specific colors for themselves and their students. He also sells the pigments. While having professional grade paint in large quantities at affordable prices is an irresistible combination, what knocks my socks off is the consistency of the paint. For me it is ideal — not too wet, not too dry, just right. As Rolf explained it to me, when he makes the paint he first combines it with the oil in a mixer. One would be tempted to leave the paint like that. It looks great, feels great, but over time the pigment separates from the oil, which is called flocculation. Flocculation is also what will make paint gritty over time. Each molecule of pigment needs to be surrounded by the oil and to achieve that it has to be ground. Rolf doesn’t put any extenders in his paint, as extenders reduce the paints tinting strength.
Barrel of Pigment
The bane of his existence is his pigment suppliers. Pigments are used is all sorts of manufacture; its use in artists’ oil paints is only a tiny part of the market. Therefore, it is sometimes impossible to get the relatively small amount of pigment he needs at a good price. I asked him how he could be sure of the quality of the pigment. Rolf said that all the pigments come with a MSDS certificate — material safety data sheet — which gives you the exact chemical composition and light fastness of the pigment. There was a time when searching for affordable pigments he ordered some from China, but he found them to be inferior, so he doesn’t use them.
I asked him if he did his mixing by feel. Rolf said that when he was learning how to make paint, he was told to make a formula and stick to it. And that is what he does. The paint is made in batches of a gallon and a half. Of course, standing over each batch, as he does, if adjustments need to be made, he can make them. What really needs his attention, however, are the transparent colors. Their pigments are so light, they are a bit tricky to deal with and have to be nursed through the grinding process.
I didn’t want to post anything about these paints until I tried them myself. I can only share with you the benefit of one day of working with them, but I am thrilled. The paints I used have a nice buttery consistency. They are not as stiff as paints with extenders in them.
You can currently buy RGH paints in jars of 1/8 of a pint to 1/4, 1/2 and full pints to a quart, 1/2 gallon and gallon. Eventually Rolf will be selling his paint in tubes, but as his first priority was to supply large quantity of affordable paint jars and cans won out as a means of delivery.
You can order RGH Paints on line at RGH Artists’ Oil Paints Mention that you heard about him from me and he will sweeten your order — no, not with candy, with paint.
If you go:
Map to RGH Artists’ Oil Paint
|RGH Artists’ Oil Paints
P.O. Box 3063
Albany, NY 12203
||RGH Artists’ Oil Paints
10 Railroad Ave
Albany, NY 12205
- (888) ART 0091 Toll Free
- (888) 278-0091 Toll Free
- (518) 446-0425
Books of Interest:
Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org
Claude Monet, “Arm of the Seine Near Giverny”
I like to travel to the other painter’s painting sites. Sometimes seeing the context in which the painting was made gives me insight into the work. When dealing with Monet, going to one of his painting sites may not be enough, unless you also happen to be there during the time of year and hour of day that he worked on his paintings. And even then, there is much we can’t replicate now that Monet was observing in his time, such as the effects of the mini-Ice Age in the 1850s, the pollution from burning coal, and the atmospheric effects caused by the eruption of Kracatoa in 1883.
When I set out to see the Epte River near Giverny, I was at least determined to see it around the same time of day as Monet. I woke up at four in the morning and ran along the Rue de Roi until I came to a turn off near the location of the old train station. The sun was just beginning to crest over the Colines (hills). I decided to follow the sun.
I found a path through the cow pastures. Soon I found a small shed by the river. If Monet was changing canvases every few minutes, I thought that it would be difficult for him to haul them every morning from his studio. Could this be a shed that Monet used to store his canvases between painting sessions? It is also possible that Monet painted his Epte paintings on his studio boat, which blows this theory.
Around the corner from the shed, I came upon this view.
Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph
Claude Monet, “Arm of the Seine Near Giverny”
Leslie Parke, “Epte River at Dawn”, photograph
Claude Monet, “Morning on Seine Clear Weather”
It seemed remarkably like the view in the paintings. I started to take pictures every few minutes. As I stood there several things about Monet’s paintings revealed themselves. I had never understood why the left side of his painting was so much lighter than the right. It seemed to me that it should more closely mirror the right side. As I stood there I could see that as the sun rose on the left light poured though the trees and dissolved the appearance of the leaves into light. Monet was recording exactly what he was observing.
Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph
I shot photo after photo as the light changed. What became obvious was how quickly the light changed and how everything recorded in Monet’s series of paintings of the Epte River basically transpired in an hour. Each painting shows a phenomena that lasts no more than five minutes. Too fast for him to have recorded it in paint.
It is possible that Monet photographed the scene. He loved photography and housed a darkroom in his second studio. Such photographs could have only been in black and white and no such photos exist today. However he accomplished these paintings, his power of perception is unrivaled.
Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph
Jeff Greene, left, John Williams, right and the Blue Shirt
When I found John Williams the morning of our pilgrimage to our art mentor, John Semple — Its a Gift to be Semple, posted in August — I was stopped dead in my tracks by John’s blue shirt. It wasn’t the shirt, it was the color; a near indefinable blue hovering between two hues. I told John that I thought it was an extraordinary blue and he concurred saying that he loved how each part of the shirt, cut from different parts of the bolt of fabric, faded differently.
At that point, Jeff Greene, a fellow artist and driver for our adventure asked me what color I thought the shirt was. I said that I thought it was ultramarine with a touch of thalo in it. Jeff said, “Yes it does have red in it.” John and I nodded, knowing that ultramarine has a kind of red undertone. After thinking about it, I realized that I would substitute manganese blue for the thalo. The staining power of the thalo would be too overwhelming for this color.
Winsor and Newton Color Chart
John, who is a graphic designer chimed in that he thought it hovered between Pantone 299 and Pantone 279.
Pantone Color Chart
Then Jeff, whose company restores murals and other decorative paintings in historical settings, said that it was Munsell 5PB 5/12 or 6/12.
I knew, of course, that Pantone was a color system used by printers and graphic artists to be sure that they have accurately matched up colors between original design and final printed product. Today, since so much graphic design work is done on computer where the accuracy of color from monitor to monitor cannot be relied on, Pantone is the standard used.
Munsell Color Sphere
I was familiar with Munsell as one of the early color theorists, along with Chevreul and Goethe (yes, the poet — seems that many of his theories were more poetical than accurate). But I did not know that he had developed a system that “specifies colors based on three color dimensions: hue, value (lightness), and chroma (color purity).”*[Wikepedia] This system was adopted by the USDA as the official color system for soil research in the 1930s.
Munsell System being used to accurately describe the color of the soil.
Jeff said that his company used the system to accurately recreate colors in the walls and ceilings that they restored.
Once on the road, I talked to John about the graphic designer, Carol Jessop, who I had been working with to redesign my website. She went through hundreds of typeface samples before picking the one for my website. I felt it described me well — very straight forward, no nonsense, but with a surprising curve thrown in here and there and an “e” that was weighted oddly.
So, I asked John what typeface he would select for this experience. “Something clean”, he said, ” but also somewhat elegant.” “Like a restaurant with white linen table clothes, ” I said. “Yes, but it would be inviting, too. And you could smell the linen. Very fresh.” Yes, I thought, that seems right.
Jeff, who was in charge of the sound track for our trip put on Joni Mitchell’s Blue — an anthem from our time at school. But what I heard at that moment was, “I am a lonely painter. I live in a box of paints.”
Not so lonely now, but still in a box of paints.
And What Color Would You Like:
Winsor and Newton
What Color Do You Hear: