It’s a well known fact that up until relatively recently, painters made up their own colours from ground pigments and whatever carrier mediums they preferred; most commonly oil, water or egg yolk. One of the marks of the successful artist was being able to afford an apprentice (or two, or three…) to do the blending of the paints for them, and so the acquiring of the skill of paint blending became a crucial rite of passage for all aspiring painters.
By the time I entered art school however, the era of commercially produced, convenient pre-prepared paints, of all media was firmly established, and pestles and mortars had long disappeared from our studios. Nevertheless, I, and one or two fellow students of a more traditional persuasion were curious to experience, at least fleetingly, both making and using our own paint.
Fortunately, our school was close by an art shop that still supplied raw pigments, so we were able to have some fun making up our own oils, watercolour and egg tempera and then trying them out on paper and canvas.
Presented here are the results of my own experimentation with tempera and watercolour. Because water was free, and even back then eggs were relatively expensive, I was able to create a far broader palette in the latter, and had to restrict myself to just two colours in egg tempera – Prussian blue and burnt umber – hence the several monochrome sketches…
In a long-lost period of art (except perhaps, for those attending Royal Academy Schools – in the UK at least), both the formal study of the human form (alive and dead) and the formal study of inanimate objects, known under the coverall of still life, formed the foundation of an art education. In exactly the same way as the great literary figures and music composers of yesteryear relied upon solid groundings in grammar and notation respectively, a mastery of observation was regarded a prerequisite for an aspirant artist.
My own time at art school, beginning in 1976, coincided with the end of that ages-old period, so that even during my foundation course it was the finished image that mattered and not so much how it was created.
How much this matters is a debate that has continued unabated since “Modernism” in art began, about the time of my birth in 1960, and not a subject I wish to go into now. However, my own opinion of the matter is well known to regular readers and followers of these pages and evidenced pretty obviously by the pictures displayed here.
Lacking any formal/traditional grounding/tuition in the skills of my trade, early on in my time at art school I began to resort to self-education. As the pictures here attest, at first, I was pretty rudderless, but gradually, over about three years began to evolve a reasonably articulate language built upon a fairly solid visual and observational grammar – albeit, and with apologies to RA Scholars everywhere – personal to me.