Monday, October 29, 2012

Natural Pigments Visit: Alternate Version of Events

Posted by: Kate

Dave and I have respectfully agreed to each write our separate version of events from our days at Natural Pigments, since we are prone to zeroing in on entirely different things.  For example, after 28 Weeks Later, all Dave remembered was the helicopter using it's blades to decapitate hundreds of the undead, whereas all I could remember was the stupid eye thingy being the sign of a recessive allele that granted partial immunity, I mean please.

Last week Dave and I found ourselves in Willits, CA, home of Natural Pigments headquarters.  In case our random driveling about our favourite mediums and paints hasn't already led you to their website to figure out what we're talking about, Natural Pigments is an artists' materials manufacturer that specializes in rare, natural pigments and authentic, old school paint making practices, with a dash of modern innovations (epoxide oil...say what?).  If you have a crush on Rembrandt or Velazquez or any of these other dudes and have been obsessively researching to figure out what mediums will give you that classic look, you might want to step back and rethink the paint you're using.  Those bland and homogenous tubes of paint in the art store down the street are a different breed from the paints that our predecessors used.  Since switching to lead white I have come to realize why rounds were the most popular brush for like ever.  I've also figured out how they used to effortlessly get that lovely, scratchy, ripply paint texture...time to wipe the drool off my chin and get on with this.

I beg you to check out the website and give the forum a gander.  Nothing beats talking to George in person, though.  We've had a few opportunities over the years, mostly at the PSoA conference, but the four days we stayed with George and Tania were intense.  Think morning to midnight conversations.  And George knows the stuff inside and out.  As far as I can tell he's read everything about historical painting practices that he can get his hands on, even if it means getting a friend to translate it.  He is well respected by today's leading restoration experts and his pursuit of raw materials takes him around the world.  Like a secret agent.  Except for paints.  In short, I have finally found someone in whose hands to put the fate of my paintings entirely.  I can finally stop reading the books myself, I can finally stop worrying about the wax fillers in my paints, the primer on my canvas, I can finally just kneel before my new religious leader and obediently take the wafer on my tongue.  I can finally just paint.  Between making panels, doing photoshoots, varnishing, crating, emailing, blogging, and digging the pretzels out of Dave's trail mix when he's not looking, I have enough to do, without hand-milling paint and stuffing it in a pig's bladder.

While in Willits we were able to tour the new factory.  The whole company is extremely small--only a handful of people.  George and Tania showed us their paint mills, their aisles of raw pigments sourced from all over the globe, their drums of oils, and their unique safety hoods and quarantine zones to ensure safe handling of the more dangerous substances.  George milled some paint while we watched and I was struck by how much skill was involved in carefully, continuously adjusting the spacing of the milling cylinders and assessing the consistency of the product as it went through.  George makes his paints with a very minimalist recipe: pigment, oil, and hard-earned experience.  There are many concerns about the longevity of paintings made these days with modern paints that contain all sorts of additives.  Rublev oil paints are as close as you can get to the paints that have been used for the majority of the history of oil painting.  I know there are artists out there who feel that if you are going to go traditional you may as well make the paint yourself, but I feel that with Rublev paints you are paying for batch consistency and a real, rock solid expertise that was solidified by gallons of experimental batches.

Oh, and I've always avoided mediums because I knew that adding oil or resin to my paints would upset the ideal ratio of pigment to binder/vehicle and weaken the paint film.  In fact, although I had a whole set of tubed mediums by Natural Pigments at home, I'd only ever dabbled sparingly with them.  But then George told me that the way he makes his mediums is by combining a colourless pigment with whatever recipe of oil, wax, etc is necessary for the effect he is trying to achieve.  The result?  The medium is actually a paint, and you can add as much as you want to your other paints without upsetting the ideal pigment to binder ratio.  Oh snap.  Here is a sponge mop to wipe up your exploded brain.

From left to right, Dave, me, Julio, George's floating head, Candice, Tania, who is always better dressed than you, and the neigbour's diabetic dog that we're not supposed to feed

In fact, I was always worried about not only mediums, but also supports, paints, varnishes, resins, light bulbs...In short, my work time was divided thus:

I can happily say it started to look more like this after we first started to implement some suggestions from George and other erudite sources:

After four days staying with George and Tania, who have a bar stocked for the end of times in their basement, it began to look a bit like this:

After four excellent days with George and Tania, we took off with Julio and Candice Bohannon Reyes, artist couple extraordinaire that we met at the PSoA this year (some serious bonding happens on banquet night at 2am after the seventh beer).  We hitched a ride with them to their place, where we snooped around their studios, excited their dog into peeing all over the sofa, and wore Julio's high heels.  Dave and I were simultaneously intimidated and inspired by the paintings they are working on right now.  The best compliment I can make is that someone's artwork makes me want to race home and start painting, and that was the case.  After seeing their studios I unleashed a hurricane of Martha Stewart on one of my guest bedrooms once we got back and started redecorating it into an amazing little studio.  This will have to be a separate blog post.

We wrapped up our trip with a night in San Francisco.  We crashed in on Sadie Valerie's beautiful atelier, oggled her artwork, which has a wonderful sensitivity of color that you just can't appreciate in photos, and were introduced to the mysterious black aluminum foil:

It blocks light like aluminum foil, but doesn't reflect it?  Witchcraft!

We wrapped up our last day in San Francisco by visiting the Legion of Honor Art Museum and nerding out on paintings with Julio and Candice.

Like all good museum-goers, we started with the cafeteria.  Apparently, translating "Hot Dog" into French makes it classy enough to charge $7.75.  They do realize that in France it's called "le hotdog," don't they?  For realz.

Coco Chanel used to say, to avoid being overdressed, always take off the last thing you put on before leaving the house.  It seems Coco was born about three centuries too late to prevent this.
We wondered aloud whether this artist had ever seen a human foot.
Baby Gee copping a feel.
Three reps of fifty lashes really work the glutes.

And then, before we knew it, the trip was over and we found ourselves on an evening flight back to rainy Vancouver Island.  We're a bit depressed, but we have ice cream and wine and are self-medicating accordingly.


  1. Assuming that the two traits are autosomal dominant and located within one or two genes of one another on their chromosome, recombination would be extremely infrequent and one might expect a high frequency of the traits occurring in the same individual.

  2. Rereading post. Was it recessive? Were both traits recessive? How does that make sense? Are we claiming that Begby just *happened* to be a carrier for both traits? What are the odds?

  3. Sounds like a great trip! Thanks for posting. I have started working with some paints from Natural Pigments and love the texture and how they look on the canvas (after my initial surprise at working with paint with texture). I'm going to check out the mediums now (I was also worried about the ratio of pigment to binder/vehicle, so appreciate your info). I'm shooting for the martini glass of painting happiness.