Original New Orleans Art by Debbie Ainsworth

Art Snobbery – Part 2

A huge difference in painting today vs my college days is the paint itself. The variety of colors today is amazing. Plus you can find paint, even tubes, in so many places today. There are three craft stores as well as two economy stores within a 15 minute drive that all stock paint. Back in the dinosaur days, there were only three places to buy art supplies. The bookstore of a college campus with an art program, a place called David Art Supply in Metairie, and a place downtown, that was parking prohibitive. And forget variety; it was basic colors only. The prices were ridiculously high. I remember paying $12 for a large tube of titanium white.

I was drawn to the little, inexpensive bottles of acrylic paint because of the tremendous variety of colors. The price meant I could go hog wild and buy every nuance of every shade that I wanted for less than the cost of 7 medium sized tubes of paint. So, variety? Great. Price? Great. But were there any drawbacks? So, I binged it and came across a discussion about using craft paint on canvas. One woman said she’d been using craft paint for years, and noticed no differences in wear over the years. There was no lightening or fading of color, even when left in direct sunlight over several years. Whew! That’s exactly what I was worried about! Subsequent comments however, featured just a smidge of Art Snobbery.

One artist supposed it was okay if hobbyists wanted to use craft paint for their little projects that hung on their own walls or were gifted to friends, but no professional artist would use it. Another guy pipes in about a well known local artist who sells paintings for thousands of dollars and he uses craft paint. A lot of people started accusing that artist of cheating his buyers. It escalated from there.

The only valid complaints were regarding the viscosity of the paint. Tube paint is generally thicker, but you can mix the craft paint with medium to make it thicker. Because the craft paint is thinner, it’s often more transparent. Personally, the transparency of the paint is a feature, not a bug for an artist like me. I love to layer colors on top of each other. With tube paint, I’d have to mix in a lot of matte medium to get the same effect. Another problem with tube paint is that it’s easy to squeeze out too much onto the pallet. It’s expensive, and there’s no putting it back in the tube. While it’s possible to do the same thing with bottled paint, it’s way less expensive, so you don’t mind as much.

While tube paint is now available in a lot more colors than they used to be, they still can’t compare to the variety of the craft paint. Tube paint, while it’s gone down in price, is still about 8 times more expensive, so I can get a lot more craft paint for that money. Why is that important? You can always mix up any color you need, right? I have a confession. I never, ever, mix up enough paint. Always have to mix some more, and it never quite matches the original batch, so I have to spend time blending the new color into the old. Sometimes I can’t quite get the shade I’m after, so I keep adding a little of this color and a little of that, and wind up with a ton of paint on my pallet that I can’t even use, which goes into the garbage while I start over. Maybe I’m the only artist who has these problems, but I don’t think so.

I like starting with a flat, base color … usually either the darkest shade or a mid tone … then add other base colors to it, doing my mixing on the canvas rather than on the pallet. Of course sometimes you have no choice but to mix up a color, but the variety of shades makes the mixing a lot easier, and if you mix up too much it doesn’t hurt as much if you have to toss it. The thinness of the paint also hides a lot of brushwork, but again for me that’s a feature not a bug. I have been able to achieve texture by adding medium on those few occasions that I need it, but most of my work doesn’t. It’s easier for me to start with a thin paint that lays flat on the canvas and make it thicker when I need it to be that way.

Since the craft paint has all the features I want, and has absolutely no drawbacks as far as colorfastness is concerned, I’m going to keep using it despite what some art snobs might think about it.