by Natasha Henderson, Montreal

In This World solo exhibition in BC a few years back

As some of you may know, I am a painter. I paint in oils, which are a lush and rich material. Pigment is suspended in oil, it slowly dries, it holds its body and texture and translucency… it is like painting with light. Who wouldn’t want to paint with light? It sounds like magic, like miracles. Like painting with rainbows. You layer this suspended pigment over other layers of suspended pigment, time passes, it dries so slowly… slowly. Because of the intensely slow drying time of oils, many artists add in products and other things that are not oil to make the oil dry a bit faster. Up until very recently, and then starting again yesterday, I used Alkyd Medium. There are a few options out there for that stuff, and I use the Gamblin one. With this “goo”, a layer of paint will be pretty much dry within a day. This is important for an artist who is always inspired to paint, and who sells her paintings to make a large chunk of her living. We’re talking practicalities, here. (Don’t even get me started on the feeling I get when I think about the painters who have come before me, the links to a shared history and a huge family of painters. Maybe some other time I will wax historical and poetic about that.)

I take issue, though, with needing to buy “product” in order to paint. I am even leaning away from the idea of using store-bought pigments. With my friend, Tammy the Herbalist, I have been discussing natural dyes and pigments. I like the idea of gathering plants and natural substances and using them to make my own paints.

Bucka! Bucka!

I recently saw (and was very moved by) the Otto Dix show at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal. Otto Dix would use mixed media in his paintings, and lots of egg tempera. I want to paint with egg tempera! It is an age-old method of applying pigments to canvas. Why not? I would start with buying free-range eggs for the paint, and, hoping that the bylaw to allow chickens on the Island of Montreal will pass, one day might raise my own hens for egg-eating and paint-making!

Cluck 'N' Lurt, my cartoon chickens (Lurt is the round one)

I had chickens when I was a kid, an illegal arrangement in a small town. My Dad always wanted a farm, and this was as close as he could get. My neighbours enjoyed very cheap, excellent eggs for many years, ’til a newbie blew the whistle. Anyhow, I am interested in using a mixture of eggs, oils, and natural pigments that I would mix in glass jars all by myself. No more need to buy things in throw-away tubes, no more throw-away glass with resin hardened to the inside of it.

I had my first urge to go Herbal in my painting a couple of years back. While perusing all the little bottles of “stuff” that one could add to their paints at a major art-supply store, I saw a bottle of “Oil of Spike Lavender”. In with the toxic paint mediums was one of my all-time favorite scents/tastes/herbs. Lavender… oooh! So I bought it, thinking that it would add a lovely working-smell to my paints. It does, it did. However, I finally did read the small print (come to think of it, it’s all small print on this little tiny bottle) and what? What? It contains a petroleum product, and they actually say to not breathe the fumes. I will use Oil of Lavender in my works, in the future… just it will be a more pure extract!

Lavender... can't you just smell this???

A part of my rationale for change is based on health, outside of environmental concerns. I know I’d need to be careful about loose pigments, and I would buy a respirator. If I succumbed to buying loose pigment from the loose-pigment place, Kama, then I would most certainly do this. I would stop using cadmium and cobalt, no question about THAT one.

What changes will happen within my work? Only time will tell. Time will always be an internal and eternal aspect of painting, and especially of oil painting. Like many changes, this should be pretty exciting and a challenge.