I love the smell of "turps"(turpentine), it is the odor that would emit from my makeshift paint box (old re-purposed tackle-box - I dubbed "Mr. Tacklebox", because I'm clever) in beginners painting 101 with Marshall Arisman in Manhattans Prestigious* SVA. Bits of half dried burnt umber and alizarin crimson in the corners of my pallette knife that are heaven and heart-lifting.To be honest though at first it smelled like shit, like the oily rags in my fathers garage after he'd change the oil in his cab. However, after that year, oil paints and its trappings now carries a robust symphony of poignant memories that tug my heart strings. I adoringly HATE when it does that.
Each time I walked into that sunlit East 23rd St studio I was blasted in the nasal cavities of the previous classes lingering aromas of linseed oil and cleaning solvents. Also faint hints of jasmin, patchouli and weed - this was an art school after all. Prior to that year though I had never been inside a "real" painters studio, high school art class and my stint at community college did not boast the same scale or singular purpose. There would always be a mix of different chemicals in the air from, printmaking paints to the earthy/minerally (is that a word? No.whatever- Andrew Zimmern uses it alla time) clay odor from the potters section next to the kiln to spray adhesive and rubber cement.
The 3 hr class had a generous 30 min pre and post painting prep and clean ritual that left further reinforced these odors that - to this day continue to transport me back to that bucolic time. Early nineties, summer, long hair, skinny as fuck and just broke enough to arrogantly profess myself as a "real art student" in the heated debates that would manifest themselves with my peers on the subway ride to classes.
Young, eager and impressionably naive I was transported to a world so alien and fantastically daunting yet also deliciously comforting and inviting. Like being in the back seat of my Chevy nova with my first girlfriend, only without the anguish of hitting my balls on the shifty knob, it was an ' 84 hatchback - so...like a clown car, only less funny.
Ok, enough of this heavy nostalgia, this is starting to sound like some weepy old heart achy reminiscing flarf. Gonna stop talking about the smells of oils now, suffice to say. It pleases me greatly...but so does gasoline, yet I don't go all gooey eyed about that, go figure.
Isn't as romantic, I guess.
Ok so what was I saying. Yes. Oil paints, there is an allure there, this is probably why I got so homesick about them. There is an allure to them - outside of the "Oh, im a real artist 'cuz the masters - Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velasquez, all these momo's used oils." and "Acrylics, pfft...acrylics are for bored housewives, posers and the pre-schoolers."
The allure is you feel like a pro using them, like when Japanese swords-makers hammer out a katana with just muscle and ancient mastery.
You feel like that...master craftsman. Plus, They blend so effortlessly and when done properly, deliver a life to what is essentially a two dimensional image. The shit makes your paintings glow.
Now this can be closely achieved with acrylics, takes longer though and is not really the same thing (IMHO). The boys at Golden paints, my go to source of painting supplies, have done a rather remarkable job in emulating a lot of its properties. They do well in making a painting come to life, though with considerably more effort.
But just like bacon (my apologies to any Muslims, Jews, vegetarians or any other unfortunate groups that have not experienced this) veggie/ tofu /soy will NEVER taste as good as the real thing...never. I have had a number of ex girlfriends try to cram that shit down my gullet-all singing the same refrain "See it tastes like bacon, right?" -wrong...oh so very wrong.
This analogy is apt because of the health benefits of both acrylic paints and turkey/whatever bacon. They both will do less harm than oil solvents and fatback. Though I prefer the latter, I am very aware with the caustic tendencies of both. Especially oil solvents.
Example:Oil paint 101
Always use oil based paints and the solvents used to clean up in a very well ventilated area.
Do NOT, I repeat Do NOT paint large canvases in your small studio apt walls and leave unopened paint thinner cans with the heat on full blast...in the winter...with all the windows closed...then pass out after feverishly painting for two days straight.
You will, and this is from experience here, you will lose the ability to SPEAK for an entire week afterward. Ok, I'm exaggerating...the power of speech returned after day three however, it was a full week before that and I still had to consciously and with GREAT EFFORT try to hammer out even small sentences.
"I...go..to..outside, in car to ...store ...for Food...things."
It was another week before I had regained my command of the English language. A relatively frightening time for me was made worse as my friends who thought my thick Bulgarian accent was coming along swimmingly.
"I think Ron's trying to become an actor, he's pretty dedicated, see how he never breaks character. Hey, Ron you should try a Chinese accent next."
"I, should...go doctor...but...too money much."
"Hahaha, you sound like Georgi(my roommate in SVA dorm), classic."
Needless to say this was my last foray into oils.
Acrylics, on the other hand is akin to my feelings on ketchup, it gets the job done as far as condiments go. But will never brighten up my meal as a generous slathering of sriracha or tabasco will...thought my GI tract will vehemently argue otherwise.
Just noticed I do a lot of food based analogies...gotta stop watching the food network prior to writing.
Thinning- water or gel media(basically acrylic paint w/o pigment) Clean up, soap and water. Brain debilitating vapors : none. Hallucinogenic effects, zero. Heartfelt twinge of days gone by...well you get the idea.
Overall, I will probably get back to oils just cuz I still miss them. But only when I can afford the adequate space and proper ventilation that it necessitates. They still hold a mystery and there is nothing like the notion that only oil paints will make you feel as if you are communicating in a language few truly have mastered. Like latin only without those damned conjugation tables.
For now, I will have to remain content in coaxing this viscous plastic medium to do things oils maintain with ease.
Think Prius vs Mustang. Both will get you there, just depends on how fast. There are many debates on this subject harsh , vicious and heavily opinionated discussions on this topic that continually rages non stop. I am not involved in that kind of behavior.
I just know I'm right. You guys can stop fighting now the topic has been settled. You're welcome:)
*We jokingly called it that...prestigious, the running gag was that all the airbrush/ tattoo artists /illustrator flunkies went to SVA and the photo majors and aspiring graphic designers we're all stationed at PRATT.