The tools of my art

Photo by Paul Swanson
My studio is a cacophony of colour, a 12-foot by 20-foot artistic workspace where neatness is a foreign concept.  Paint splatters are everywhere: on the floor, on walls, even on the heat register that makes the studio usable during the cold winter months.  The plastic wrappings from canvases fill the large garbage can while the paper inserts stack up on the workbench, waiting to be recycled.

Over one hundred canvases into this painting journey, I have spent more time in this pseudo man cave in the last year than I have in all the 15 years previous.  I am grateful for it, especially at this time of year when I can leave the door open and have the occasional bird fly in for a visit.

As I sat and painted over my long weekend - I took an extra day off on Monday - I started thinking about the tools that I use, the accoutrements that are essential to my process.  Here are a few of them:


I honestly have no idea what "normal" artists use to mix their paint, but from the very beginning I realized that I had an army of old coroplast election signs that would work fine.  I cut them up into reasonable, though not consistent, sizes and have a stack of them within reach of my easel.  When there is no empty space on them left, they get tossed into a box to await recycling.  I'm slowly running out of election signs; I'm not sure what I will do then.


In the beginning, I grabbed whatever canvases I could find, at The Dollar Store or Walmart.  As time marched on, we switched to a combination of Artist's Loft canvases from Michael's or the store brand from Opus.  As Heather has regular appointments in the city, she often comes back with a car full of canvases.  Having a good inventory of sizes is nice, as I never know what project may pop up out of the blue.  They are all stacked on what used to be a woodworking table.


My friend Matt Landry came over one day and set me up with an Apple Airport Express which allows me to play the music from my iTunes on the computer in the house on an old Bose CD player that I bought years ago on eBay.  I usually pick a genre (Jazz or Soundtracks usually), put it on random play, then start to paint.  When I want to work quickly, I like to listen to the Rocky soundtrack or Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell.


I tend to use the same brushes over and over again until they are no longer functional.  Up until a couple of months ago, I was using the same brush that I used to do all my watercolour portraits three and four years ago.  Recently, I purchased a brush cleaning holder along with some acrylic solvent, to try and rehabilitate some of my favourites.


I have had this easel for years, but literally never used it.  In the last year, it has become a constant companion, an invaluable tool.

Drop Cloth/Painting Pants

As I go through the process of painting, I have to clean my brushes constantly.  After I shake loose the paint in the plastic screw container turned wash basis, I wipe the brushes on an old bed sheet or my painting pants; both are becoming rather stiff with the dried paint residue.


When I paint, I drink water, lots and lots of water.  I always have a sippy cup within reach.  The one I'm using now was a souvenir from the Metis Festival.  It's so close to the action that it has a number of permanent paint blobs affixed to it now.


I always keep my iPhone handy to stay in touch with the outside world and to archive the process.  It's so interesting to look back and see the work in progress.  Too often, I find myself asking whether I'm on the right track or not.  Looking back on finished paintings in their early stages reminds me to trust the process.  Things seem to work out in the end.


Without my paint, nothing would happen in the studio.  I started by using a selection of mis-tints from Colours by Tiffany, a myriad collection of paint cans that largely sit idle now, waiting for my upcoming outdoor mural projects.  I invested in the complete line of Opus acrylics many months ago - I think the first portrait I did with them was Michael Green's.  I've had to supplement the collection with a number of tubes of Liquitex colours, but the original collection has served me incredibly well. It's amazing to me how far these small canisters of colour take me.


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