A poor carpenter blames his tools. Everyone has heard that old axiom and I know I have used it often when a fellow artist or a student complains that they can’t get the brush stroke they want because the brush “won’t behave” or that they had a difficult time getting their drawing down correctly because of a rickety easel, etc. I’ve never had too much patience with these claims, in part, because I was taught and make every effort to keep my equipment in as close to new condition as possible. I am very diligent about washing my brushes and “training” them to keep their original shape. I have a checklist taped inside my easel which I go through before I go out to paint to make certain that I have everything I need. I am compulsive to the point of wiping off the threaded ends of my paint tubes before I screw the tops back on!
However…(and I can hear you thinking “here we go!”) I got stuck with some bad gesso! I can also hear you now saying “Hey Paul, a bad carpenter…” but it is true! Really! For those of you who don’t know, gesso is one of a number of a “grounds” that are applied to the surface that an artist works on. In my case it is the material that makes my canvas white. I have used the same brand of gesso for as long as I can remember and, for this reason, never look at the jar when I pick it up off of the shelf at the art supply store. However, this particular jar was of a different formula and consistency than my usual. It seemed a lot thicker when I was applying it to my canvases but I didn’t think much of it.
My troubles began when I started painting on these panels. I just could not get the paint to move the way I usually like it to move. It seemed as though when I applied a stroke it would just sit there like a dull lump and I couldn’t get it to move. Being of a self critical nature I began to wonder and then to really fret about what I was doing wrong. I had suddenly parted with my hard earned skills! I was a hack who could no longer paint!
After a fitful night sleep I arose the next morning, got out of bed and immediately went down to see if the painting was as bad as I had thought it was the night before. I’m sorry to report that it was even worse. I dropped into my chair and started to wonder what other profession might suit me when something about the canvas caught my eye. I noticed that all of the paint I had applied only the day before was already dry! This is highly unusual for oil paint which normally takes a few days to start to set up. I reached out with a finger and started trying to smear some of the paint around but it would not budge. Immediately it dawned on me what the problem might be…the new “formula” thicker gesso had leeched all of the oil out of the paint leaving a dead, immoveable, dried crust behind!
Hope began to swell in my bosom and I excitedly grabbed my gear and a few older panels and went out to paint the two paintings that follow.
The Old Sentry12 X 12 oil on canvas. Click on the link to view purchasing details for this painting.
Sunday Morning~Locust Valley12 X 9 oil on canvas. Click on the link to view purchasing details for this painting.
I felt as though a bad dream had ended, that I had been paroled from crappy painter prison! Suddenly my skills had been returned to me, all was right with the world and I began to wonder if a good carpenter ever blames his tools?
Note that all of these small sketches are available for sale directly from me via this website. Simply click on the “Paintings and Prints” tab and then on “Available Paintings”. The price includes shipping costs.