Updated: Oct 8
Do you remember Imelda Marcos? What do you remember most about her?
Well, if you are of a certain age (and I am 57) and remember the news from back then, you will probably think of one thing only. Her vast collection of shoes. She was famous for a footwear collection of some magnitude. Well maybe you are a bit like me and have this ever-expanding collection of, not shoes but even better…art materials. I am the Mrs. Marcos of art kit.
So why do we end up having so much stuff?
As a child, each Christmas I received a paintbox (see below). On creaking open the tin lid there would be a familiar, salty-chemical scent gently wafting out; almost certainly toxic but beckoning me to get mixing and start creating. And create I did. There were always certain colours that wore right out, turquoise I think was mine, but never mind…the following Christmas another of these beautiful boxes would magically appear.
These days, when it comes to the thrill of having something new, I have somehow transitioned from being excited about clothes and shoes to …well, getting high on new pencils, paints, charcoal and brushes. Maybe it’s an age thing but maybe I feel that there is infinitely more value and longevity in these purchases than in a new dress. The huge possibility in what I have bought to be utilised in the making of something even more magical; a work of art. That’s where I start from anyway!
And, am I the only person that thinks that adding a certain pice of kit to my collection will somehow make me a better artist? I doubt it!
Some time ago I was lucky enough to inherit a large collection of art materials from a lovely old gentleman who had had to downsize. It was all there; watercolour sets still in their cardboard wrappers, crispy tracing paper, soft pastels, musty graph-paper, entire “Start with Watercolour Pencils” sets, complete with instructions on how to recreate famous Van Gogh pieces in pencil, calligraphy kits and and much more. There were French curves and British rulers, bristly brushes and soft squirrely ones, dried up acrylics and oozing, oily oil paints.
He had owned everything there was to own.
And yet (and I am NOT being disrespectful to his ability here, for who am I to judge what is “good art”?), when I saw what he had painted and drawn, his half-completed pieces secreted amongst the papery folds of endless new watercolour pads and sketchbooks, I realised despite all the new materials, books and trying-out of methods, he had never been able to break free of the style he had acquired very early in life.
With each purchase there must have been the hope that he could become that “artist” he had so longed to be. It was the “right” kind of art, for sure; not painting over the lines, always starting with feint pencil marks, the right watercolour combinations to get correct sky colours, the evidence of rubbing-out. But the life had never really sprung forth from that collection of pencils and paint for him.
For all his collection of quite beautiful and best-quality art materials, there was something about it that had held him back and the permission to experiment using this abundance of kit had never happened. I couldn’t help sense his frustration that, at the end of the day the materials had not fulfilled their promise to him.
And I know that feeling.
One way forward for me is to spend less money on the stuff. By having cheap paints and not so precious brushes, maybe I feel the liberty to try things out (although STILL not as much as I would like). I don’t worry so much if I am painting on lining paper from B and Q and positively break free when I am smearing cheaper acrylics together on Lidl canvas blocks.
I can’t break out of my art materials habit and wouldn’t want to. I will use them all in the end, I am sure. But I have resolved to enjoy the artistic freedom that comes with the stuff being none-too-precious in the first place. It’s where I do my “best” art (and will someone please tell me what that is exactly?)
Weird how it works, that!
Julie Sajous - Oct. 7th 2020