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A friend of mine, Jay, is an expert in painting, staining and finishing. If you want your new, hand made (I wish) custom kitchen professionally painted, or stained and finished, he’s the man to see. He could even gild it, if you wanted a gold kitchen!

What’s the point in telling you this? Well, last time me and my wife popped round for dinner at theirs, he had a couple of paint colour samples on some board that he and his wife were using to help pick a colour for the living room woodwork. The colours were nice, but what really interested me was the surface that they were painted on. Apparently it was painted on moisture resistant mdf. A new substance to me. It was tough, dense, lightweight and not prone to fluctuations in humidity due to the moisture resistant formula.

What’s any of this got to do with art? Well, I often find that any materials that you buy for fine art purposes are expensive. Quality thinners, expensive; quality paint, expensive; quality panel, expensive; quality oil mediums, again, expensive. Put a well known label on it and the price gets even higher!

My point is, that many of the materials that an artist uses are available elsewhere, but are often being used for very different purposes and some of the top names don’t always make a product as good as a cheaper brand competitor.

Brushes for instance; I’ve tried a load of these, always in search of the Holy Grail of brushes, the “perfect” brush! I’ve tried expensive French hog bristle, that fell apart and have used some well known brands that were more than just a little “meh”, but I have also found some real gems amongst the “own” brands and used cheaper brushes of less famous labels that are frankly amazing!

This leads me on to my mate, Jay. I thought that because I’m an “artist” I probably had read enough and knew enough to believe that there was little he could teach me about painting. At this point, if I had a hat, it would now be being prepared as ‘hat pie’ for dinner so I could eat it! The fine art of oil painting is mostly about getting paint to stick to a surface in an artistic manner. Jay is an expert at getting paint to stick to just about anything and the moisture resistant board that he was using might just prove to be the Holy Grail of panels for me! Not only that, but Jay recommended priming the panel with shellac. Shellac! Who does that, I thought. As it turns out, the ideal primer, before applying a gesso ground, may in fact be a shellac based primer readily available at diy stores. It seals the board and blocks leaching, either from the board out through the painting, or from the paint sinking into the board.

So this artist it seems, knows a lot less about paint stratification than most professional painters and decorators. The “super” mdf that he gave me, as a sample to try out, is proving amazing. Super smooth, but with good “tooth”, warp free, lightweight and very tough. I’ve not shellacked (is that even a word?) any yet, as I thought my way was better (I emphasise thought), but I’m now under the impression that the shellac trick might just help prevent “sinking in”. We’re yet to see on that one.

All the above could probably be summed up by saying;

if you get over yourself, it’s amazing what you can learn!

The picture below is a copy of a Tamara de Lempicka painting that I know Jay and his wife Karen are fond of as an artist. Mrs. de L, was a pleasant surprise. I thought, because the structure and shapes of her work are quite simplified in appearance that Tamara’s work would be quite easy to copy, but again I was taught a lot from this simple study/copy. It seems, if I actually had to eat my hat every time I was proved wrong, I would need a comprehensive cook book of hat recipes.

Tamara de Lempicka’s work looks simple, but there are many subtleties in use of colour and unexpected colours in all sorts of odd places. She uses a limited pallet, but to great effect. Not only that, but what’s looks like a simple drawing takes an awful lot of experience and skill to produce. Real skill really does lie in using very little to convey a lot. What looks simple has often taken the artist years of study and experience to produce, that is what you pay for, not the amount of time it takes to make.