art materials

Which Paint Brush Should I Use? by Chris Hall

Christopher Hall, Last Mark, acrylic and retired paint brushes on panel, 48x26, 2006

One of the advantages of working in an art supply store is that I get to know my art materials intimately, even the stuff that I don't ordinarily work with.  I don't normally write about art materials here in this blog, but today I want to share some of my knowledge on paintbrushes.  In the past I really abused my brushes.  I'd jam them into my canvas or panel like a knife into the gut of my adversary, I'd let the paint dry on them or let them soak over night in paint thinner until the bristles would be eaten away.  Now that I take better care of my brushes and respect my materials a bit, I've gotten to know a little more about what kind of brush to use in a particular situation.  

Brush Sizes and Shapes:

Concerning brush sizes:   Shorter handles are best for when you are working close up and if you are working with a table top easel.  Long handle brushes are best for when you are working standing up.  I prefer to paint standing up.  I enjoy the dynamic, physical energy I feel when I work in front of a tall easel.  As far as the size of the brush fibers, that is pretty much common sense.  Larger brushes are best for working with larger canvases and smaller brushes are best with smaller canvases.

There are a lot of brush shapes, but I primarily use only three brush types:  flats, rounds, and filberts.

Flats:  flats are great for covering a large area fast.  The longer the bristles, the more paint  it can hold, which means the stroke can be longer before having to go back to the palette.  The wider the brush, the more ground you can cover, meaning less work.  A large flat is essential.  Flats are great for background work.

Rounds:  rounds are tube shaped brushes which taper to a point.  They are great for line work and the smallest of the rounds are useful for when details need to be picked out.  Since I am a more linear artist, in that I love working with the line, rounds are essential to me.

Filberts:  as I understand it, filberts were invented for Impressionist artists, probably after some guy named Filbert.  Impressionists liked the brush as their technique allowed for loose handling of the paint, and a more improvisational look over a smooth and refined surface.  A good filbert brush is really a flattened round brush, a hybrid between the flat and the round.  Flats have a squared tip while filberts have tapered off edges.  This makes for a more organic looking stroke.  Sometimes I will use a filbert when I want a fatter line than my rounds can produce.  

Natural vs Synthetic Brushes:

Knowing what kind of paintbrush to use, synthetic or natural, is also important to know.  These days I mostly use synthetic brushes, which is fine, as in recent years I've painted in acrylics more than oil paints.  I shudder at the thought of using sable and other fine brushes, not only for their cost, but also for animal cruelty issues.  I don't have too much a problem with hog's bristle brushes (which are best used with oil paints) as they are a byproduct of food consumption.  Sable, however, is a different story.  I realize you have to accept a certain amount of hypocrisy in life just to survive, but you also have to draw a line sometimes, however arbitrarily.  

Synthetic Brushes: 

Made from nylon, polyester, a blend of nylon and polyester, and “sponge.”)

1.  Better to use with water based paints.  Natural bristle brushes absorb water from the paint, which can then swell up and lose their shape.

2.  More durable than natural bristle.  Best to use synthetic on a rough surface.

3.  Easier to clean than natural brushes (brush fibers lack scales).

4.  Some synthetic brushes, notably those made with nylon, can soften, melt and dissolve if used with shellac, lacquer, contact cement, or paint remover.  Polyester brushes would be recommended for use with these materials.

Natural Hair Brushes:  

Made from hog’s hair bristle, badger, ox, sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel, goat, pony, and “camel” (which is really a combination of goat, pony, ox – the more robust hairs).

1.  Best used for oil painting.

2.  A good quality natural hair brush will provide a smoother finish, desirable for use when varnishing.

3.  Has flagging on the tips (split ends) – resulting in the brush being able to move more paint and providing a smoother finish, meaning less brush strokes.  Note:  Princeton's line of Catalyst Brushes are synthetic and have flagged tips (a first!).

4.  Softer brushes (sable, kervin/mongoose, squirrel) are ideal for thin paint which spreads more easily and for detailed work as the brush will form a sharper tip.

5.  Robust, hard brushes are ideal for pushing around thick paint and for creating brush marks in the paint.

Expensive Art Materials and Creative Blocks by Chris Hall

Sometimes using high quality materials can produce a creative block.  Too much reverence for your art materials can cause you to hesitate.  You may pause for fear of fucking up and wasting money.  Maybe it is just as well, then, that I can't afford the 50 dollar 37 ml tube of Cobalt Violet Light Williamsburg oil paint.  But then again, if I had that paint, I just might paint the hell out that painting.

On Framing and Displaying Paintings by Chris Hall

Francois Joseph Heim,  Charles V Distributing Awards to the Artists at the Close of the Salon of 1824 , 1824, showing paintings displayed in the salon style.

Francois Joseph Heim, Charles V Distributing Awards to the Artists at the Close of the Salon of 1824, 1824, showing paintings displayed in the salon style.

Sometimes stuffing a painting into a picture frame can be as confining as a tuxedo, or a straight jacket.  A century ago and before, art could fit more comfortably in a frame.  Paintings were hung salon style, side by side, clustered together, and in close proximity to each other.  The elaborate and ornate gold frames acted as a visual stop, closing the painting off and keeping it from interfering with the neighboring paintings.  But these framing devices worked well with the paintings of the time, which were all created with formal academic techniques such as perspective, giving them the illusion of depth.  The frame acted as a kind of open window through which people would view the painted tableau within.  Modern Art, which favored the pursuit of truth and reality over artifice, destroyed this illusion.  

As painting grew more and more abstract and  perspective fell into disuse, the works became progressively flatter.  Impasto techniques and abstract over-all composition also meant that the paintings began to have aspirations of expanding outside of the frame.  This trend culminated in the epic scale works of the Abstract Expressionists.  These demanding works had territorial ambitions and  sought to overwhelm to the viewer.  The abstract compositions were now active participants in a gallery space, where before, the works of art were objects of passive reflection.  Modern Art paintings do not always play nice with their neighbors, and so galleries and museums began to drop the confined and cramped salon style installation of art, in favor of giving art more breathing room.  Part of giving Modern Art paintings more breathing room meant getting rid of the stuffy and confining ornate gold frames of old.  Instead, the new paintings were given thin, minimal frames, if they were framed at all.  The visual stop of the framing device was just too much for works of art that aspired to be wild and free, and to go on forever into space, expanding out into the world.  

Oddly enough, while the elaborate gold frames of yester-year may seem a bit too stuffy and formal for Modern Art paintings, the evolution of art installation from the salon style to giving works of art breathing room has unintentionally created a new formality:  cold-white, uninviting, and empty gallery spaces.  There is a new trend in art, however, to show small scale works, such as drawings and prints, once again in the salon style.  I believe the informality of salon style installation is suitable for the humble and democratic nature of drawing and printmaking, and the intimacy of salon style installation can also make a gallery space more inviting.  Salon style installation, where everything is displayed from floor to ceiling, is also good way to convey the idea that Art should be organic, without hierarchy, and without excessive pruning from an overly brutal gardener.  


Acrylic vs Oil Paint by Chris Hall

Oil paint is kind of sacred and holy; it is something you love and have a relationship with, something you spend time with.  You get to know the smells and moody characteristics of Oil paint in an intimate, familiar way, and the color is richer, deeper.

Acrylic is for fast and cheap thrills.  Like a whore, it is something you can use and abuse, as the medium is very forgiving.  Acrylic is made of plastic and so it can be a bit superficial.  Yes, she'll do things that oil paint won't do, but the color is less vibrant, less saturated, and not as luminous.  

I guess what paint you choose really depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with your paint, who you would rather have in the sack, so to speak.  We all know that making art is kind of like sex.  I'm just extending the metaphor.  Since 2006, I've spent most of my time with Acrylic paint.  Lately, though, I've been missing the intimacy, the color, and the smell of Oils.  It is an investment of time, but I think I'll revisit Oils as soon as I have a studio to paint in again.  

Some Notes on the History of Paint by Chris Hall

Paint is composed of two elements, a pigment and a binder.  The pigment, a ground up granular like powder, gives the paint its color, while the binder acts as a glue to bind the pigment to a surface, whether that be a cave wall, a canvas, or a piece of paper.  

In 2011, the earliest example of paint was found in South Africa.  It dates back 100,000 years.  The first paints were composed of pigments derived from the earth, such as clays and sand, and animal derivatives, such as charred animal bones.  The first artists used spit and animal fat as a binder.  Later, as our ancestors developed a taste for honey, eggs, and milk, egg white, egg yolk, bee’s wax, and milk was used as a binder.  

In search of a more permanent and harder solution, binders derived from plants developed, such as linseed oil (used in oil painting) and gum Arabic (used in watercolor).  When linseed oil became a scarce commodity during the Second World War, synthetic binders made from artificial resins emerged and Acrylic paint was born.

The history of pigment development is one of a search for new colors, permanence (fade resistance), affordability, and less toxicity.  In this regard, the general trend has been to move away from organic and earth derived pigments, and toward synthetic pigments.  

Some interesting examples of obsolete pigments include:

Indian Yellow

Indian Yellow 2.jpg

Indian Yellow was made from the urine collected from cows that were force feed a diet of mango leaves.  The urine was collected and dried, producing small foul-smelling balls of raw pigment called “purree.”  Cows do not digest mango leaves very efficiently as the leaves contain a toxin similar to poison ivy.  Consequently, the cows were often thin and malnourished.  Apparently, even though the cow was/is considered sacred by many in India, they did not think anything about profiting from the starvation of cows.  The practice of producing Indian Yellow was declared inhumane and outlawed in 1908.

Mummy Brown

The use of Mummy Brown as a pigment dates from the 16th century to the early 20th century.  Like the name implies, it was derived from the ground-up remains of Egyptian mummies.  The pigment, falling between burnt umber and raw umber in color, was good for producing transparent effects in glazing, shadows, and flesh tones, and was a favorite color in the palette of the Pre-Raphaelite painters.  The pigment quickly lost its popularity once the secret to its composition became generally known to artists.  The Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was reported to have ceremonially buried his tube of Mummy Brown in his garden when he discovered its true origins.  By this time, however, the supply of available mummies had become exhausted, and with the birth of modern Egyptology, new mummies were no longer forthcoming.  Sometimes this pigment was alternatively named Caput Mortuum (latin for “Dead Head” or “Worthless Remains”).  Caput Mortuum is also an Alchemical term for the useless residue left over from processes such as Sublimation and is symbolic of decay and decline.  Alchemists represented Caput Mortuum in their art and texts by using a stylized Death's Head  symbol.


Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine 4.jpg

The name Ultramarine is from Latin meaning “beyond the sea,” referring to the distance one had to travel in order to obtain it.  Ultramarine Blue is an expensive pigment sourced from Lapis Lazuli, a semi-precious stone mined in Afghanistan.  Lapis Lazuli was also extremely difficult to grind-down, filter, and refine into a high quality pigment.  In Renaissance times, wealthy patrons would commission works using Ultramarine Blue as a status symbol (stipulating its use in their contracts), as the pigment was worth its weight in gold.  Its brilliance was also desired by painters.  The 15th century artist Cennino Cennini wrote in his handbook for painters: "Ultramarine blue is a color illustrious, beautiful, the most perfect, beyond all other colors; one could not say anything about it, or do anything with it, that its quality would not still surpass."  Synthesized in 1826, Ultramarine went from being one of the most expensive pigments produce to now being one of the most cheapest.  Real Ultramarine is still manufactured (it is both non-toxic and permanent), but remains extremely cost prohibitive.  During the darkest days in the recent wars in Afghanistan, a tiny tube of paint could cost $500.

Tyrian Purple  

Tyrian Purple is technically a dye (smaller colored particles diluted in liquid rather than suspended) and not a pigment, but it's history is also worth discussing.  Tyrian Purple (also known as Imperial Purple) had a reddish purple tint and was extremely light-fast (rare among the early colors).  It was also expensive to produce, as it was derived from the collected mucus of the Muricidae family of predatory sea snails.  Discovered by the Phoenicians as early as 1570 BCE, the pigment was used almost exclusively by royalty because of its cost, which was reported to be worth its weight in silver.  In fact, in some places, sumptuary laws were put into place restricting its use those of “noble birth.”  In Byzantium, where such sumptuary laws were practiced, a child born of a reigning Emperor was said to be “born into the purple.”  Byzantine production of Tyrian Purple came to abrupt stop after the fall of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade.  Soon the color fell out of favor (replaced by Vermillion and Crimson) as no one in the West could gather the financial resources to restart production.  Incidently, Tyrian Purple was also produced in Pre-Columbian Mexico, from the same sea snails, where it was valued more than gold and also used denote those of “noble birth.”  For all its Royal implications, cloth dyed in Tyrian Purple tended to retain its fishy odor.  So pervasive was this stench that the Talmud actually granted women the right to divorce their husband if they became a dyer after marrying.

Sepia

The word Sepia comes from the Greek, meaning “cuttlefish,” and that is exactly from where the red-brown pigment comes from, more specifically, the cuttlefish ink sac.  Sepia ink was first commonly used in the Greco-Roman world, as a writing ink.  Artists used it as a drawing medium starting in the Renaissance, with the practice continuing up through the 19th century.  In the late 18th century, Jacob Seydelmann found a way to concentrate Sepia so that it could be used as a watercolor and oil paint.  Because Sepia is not very light-fast, it is difficult today to find real Sepia pigment.  Fortunately, however, Sepia has now been successfully synthesized and a hue is available.

Carmine

A New World pigment derived from crushed shells of the female Cochineal insect.  Replaced Crimson in Europe, which was derived from the Kermes insect.  Although comparable in color quality and intensity, it required 12 times as much Kermes insects to produce the same amount of color from the Cochineal insect.  Consequently, Carmine pigment became one of the first export goods from the New World after Hernando Cortez's conquest of Mexico, the second most valuable, after silver.  Such was its value as a raw product, that its price was regularly quoted in the London and Amsterdam Commodities Exchanges.  The Mexican monopoly on Carmine came to an end during the Mexican War of Independence (1810- 1821), with production centers starting in Guatemala, the Canary Islands, North Africa, and Spain, though as an artist pigment, Carmine was soon replaced by its synthesized version, Alizarin Crimson.  Carmine survives today as a pigment used to color food products and cosmetics.

Dragon's Blood

From the time of the Romans up through the Medieval times, Dragon's Blood pigment was literally thought to have derived from the congealed blood of Dragons and Elephants, mixed together as they fought in mortal combat.  The truth to its production was kept secret for over a thousand years.  Dragon's Blood pigment was produced from the sapped gum of a South East Asian tree and the story was most likely invented as a marketing device.  Dragon's Blood was used in the famous Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii.  The pigment is known to be extremely fugitive (it fades rapidly).  Inhis handbook for painters, the 15th century artist Cennino Cennini writes concerning Dragon's Blood, “leave it alone and do not have much respect for it..."


Indigo

Indigo is a dye extracted from plants of the genus Indigofera, native to the tropic regions of the world.  Indigo is dark blue in color.  Indigo dye is one of the world's oldest and best known colors, being produced in the ancient times in India, China, Japan, and South East Asia, as well as in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Britain, Mesoamerica, Peru, Iran, and Africa.  Because blue pigment is rare in nature and is difficult to produce, trade in Indigo dye became very lucrative.  In some circles, Indigo dye was referred to as “Blue Gold.”  Indigo was a major export crop supported by plantation slavery in colonial South Carolina in the 18th century, second only to rice production (cotton was not profitable until after the invention of the Cotton Gin in 1793).  Later, peasants in Bengal revolted against unfair treatment by the East India Company traders/planters in what became known as the Indigo Revolt in 1859, during the British Raj  government of India.  

Maya Blue

The secret to Maya Blue production has long been lost to history, but scientists in recent years are finally putting an end to the mystery.  Unlike Indigo, Maya Blue is extremely permanent and light-fast.  Scientists have now discovered that Maya Blue is a combination of Indigo dyes and palygorskite, a clay found in the state of Georgia, in the Southeastern United States.  Besides being used in their art (murals, sculpture, textiles, and illuminated codices) Mayan Blue also held a particular religious significance in Mesoamerican culture, as Human sacrificial victims were frequently daubed with the blue pigmentation.  

Prussian Blue

In 1704, Johann Conrad Dippel discovered the world's first modern synthetic pigment, by accident.  He was trying to produce a red pigment, but instead invented Prussian Blue (also known as Berlin Blue), known for its deep, blue-black color.  Dippel was a controversial figure, a mad scientist type who dabbled in alchemy and illegal anatomy studies in his laboratory in Castle Frankenstein.  In the course of one of his experiments, Dippel is said to have accidentally blown up one of the castle's towers.  It is also said that he tried to re-animate the dead, worked at transferring the soul of one cadaver to another, and boiled and distilled human body parts while seeking to create the Elixir of Life.  It should come as no surprise that Dippel was the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s character Dr. Victor Frankenstein in her novel Frankenstein.  Prussian Blue is highly toxic, being derived from Cyanide.  Despite being toxic, Prussian Blue pigment was also used as an orally administered medicine, an antidote to heavy metal poisoning.  Dippel himself was reported to have regularly taken doses of the pigment, which, ironically, may have slowly poisoned him.  The skin of his body was said to have been the color of Prussian Blue when he died.  Prussian Blue would go on to have an even more grisly history.  The poisonous gas Zyklon B, used by the Nazis during the Holocaust, was also derived from Cyanide.  Consequently, the walls of the Gas Chambers are stained Prussian Blue.  It is still possible to obtain Prussian Blue today, but for the most part, the color has been replaced on artist's palettes by the less toxic Phthalo Blue.

In case you thought the history of Prussian Blue pigment is all grissly, allow me a chance to redeem it.  A good many beautiful works of art were created with Prussian Blue pigment, including Hokusai's The Great Wave (1832) and Van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889).  There is a potentially interesting connection between the two works.  Prussian Blue did not became popular in the European pallet until sometime in the mid to late 1800's.  Meanwhile, when the color was first imported in 1829 to Japan, works created with Prussian Blue were in great demand.  When Japanese prints made with Prussian Blue pigment found their way back to Europe, they named the exotic color “Hiroshige Blue,” after the Japanese printmaker who used the color extensively.  It seems the people in the West had forgotten that the source of the pigment was actually Germany!  Van Gogh, who collected Japanese prints and who was inspired by their beauty, color, and other formal qualities, perhaps began using Prussian Blue as a result.  

Flake White

Developed in Ancient Greek times, Flake White pigment is derived from White Lead Carbonate.  For centuries, Flake White was considered the perfect pigment, being permanent, fast to  dry, and producing flexible oil films.  There was only one problem:  Flake White is extremely poisonous.  It is thought that it may have contributed to bad physical and mental health, and even death of many artists over the years, including Michelangelo Buonarroti, Michelangelo Caravaggio, Francisco Goya, Candido Portinari, and possibly Vincent Van Gogh.  Nevertheless, Flake White was still used by many artists up until after World War II, when it started to lose ground to Titanium White.  By the 1990's only a few manufacturers were offering the color, and it is still possible to buy the pigment today.

Emerald Green

Green pigment (along with blue) has always been the rarest and hardest to produce of the pigment colors, a bit ironic when you consider we live on planet dominated by the colors green and blue.  One of the most beautiful green pigments to have ever been produced is Emerald Green (also known as Scheele's Green), but it is also the most poisonous. It is so poisonous it was sold under the trade name Paris Green as an insecticide and was used to kill the rats in the Parisian sewer system.  Emerald Green was also popular as a wallpaper pigment and would degrade, with moisture and molds, to arsine, a poisonous gas related to arsenic.  The pigment was also used in wax candles, textiles, and children's toys.  Aside from being toxic and exuding toxic gas, Emerald Green was also highly carcinogenic.  It is impossible to figure how many people may have died as a result of the use of the Emerald Green pigment, but we know it may have contributed to the death of Napoleon, who surrounded himself with the color (his favorite) in the damp climate of his exile home on St. Helena.  Analysis of hair samples taken after his death reveal there was a significant amount of arsenic in his body.  Emerald Green was an extremely fugitive color, as it could both fade in sunlight and darken as it tended to chemically react with other colors.  Today there is a safer, synthetic version of the color available.

Woad

The use of Woad as a dye dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it to color the cloth wrappings of mummies.  It is blue in color dye derived from a flowering plant of the same name.  Woad is most popularly known, thanks to the movie Braveheart, as the dark blue face paint used by the Scots when preparing for battle.  The tradition of using Woad as a body paint dates back to ancient Britain, to the northern Picts (from the Latin Picti, meaning “Painted Ones”), who were recorded by Julius Caesar as having extensively tattooed bodies and covered in designs applied with blue Woad paint.  Woad was in direct competition with Indigo and Logwood, a dye derived from a South American tree, exported by Spain to Europe.  In England, laws were passed preventing the importation of both Indigo and Logwood in order to protect the local Woad industry, and sea battles were fought with Spain over the trade.  As it became clear that Indigo and Logwood were superior pigments, producing stronger dyes with more permanence, the ban was lifted in 1661.  The Woad industry slowly died out, with the last large scale commercial harvest happening in 1932.

Albert Pinkham Ryder by Chris Hall

“Imitation is not inspiration, and inspiration only can give birth to a work of art. The least of a man’s original emanation is better than the best of a borrowed thought.”  Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Albert Pinkham Ryder was an American painter known as much for his eccentric personality as for his poetic, dark, and moody allegorical works and seascapes.  While his work reflects the subtle tonalist techniques in vogue at the time, his unique way of accentuating form gives his work a more Modernist feel.  Ryder's work would later become a heavy influence on Modernist painters, including the young Jackson Pollock.  Ryder was a poor craftsman and liked to experiment with his art materials.  As a result, paintings that were once described as glowing and jewel-like, have darkened, cracked, or even completely disintegrated.

Ryder was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1847, a bustling port connected with the whaling industry.  From here, Ryder developed his interest in the sea and all things maritime related.  In 1867, Ryder moved to New York City.  In 1877, he became a founding member of the Society of American Artists, a loosely organized group whose works did not conform to the academic standards of the day.  Beginning in the 1880's through the 1890's, Ryder frequently exhibited his work, which was generally received well by critics.  Sometimes he wrote poems to accompany his work.  Ryder's signature style is characterized by his broad, ill-defined shapes, or stylized figures situated in a dream-like land or seascape.  Often his scenes are illuminated by dim sunlight or a glowing moonlight cast through eerie clouds.

After his father's death in 1900, Ryder, already known as something of a loner, became an absolute recluse.  His artistic output declined, as he spent a lot of time re-working old paintings.  While Ryder was a recluse and did not seek out the company of others, he did receive company courteously and enjoyed telling stories about his art.  Visitors to Ryder's attic apartment in New York were struck by his slovenly habits.  Ryder never cleaned and his floor was covered in trash, plates with old food, and a thick layer of dust.  Ryder would have to clear a space for visitors to sit or stand.

While Ryder's creativity declined after the turn of the century, his fame grew.  Important collectors of American art sought out Ryder's paintings, and as Ryder no longer had an active interest in exhibiting his work, lent out their Ryder works to national art exhibitions.  Many Modernist artists began looking at Ryder's work with admiration, and in 1913, ten of his paintings were included in the historic Armory Show, which introduced Americans to Modernist avant-garde art styles, such as Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism.  In 1915, Ryder's health deteriorated, and he died in March of 1917, at the home of a friend who was taking care of him.  He is buried at his birthplace, in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Ryder completed fewer than two hundred paintings in his lifetime, most of which were completed before 1900.  He rarely signed or dated his work.  Despite his minimal output, Ryder is one of the world's most forged artists, with some experts estimating over one thousand forgeries.  

“No two visions are alike. Those who reach the heights have all toiled up the steep mountains by a different route. To each has been revealed a different panorama.”  Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Ryder's obituary in the New York Times reads, “[Ryder] was one of the most interesting artists America has ever produced.  Every picture that he painted was the result of years of reflection and experiment, and represented not only a deeply romantic temper of mind but infinite zest for perfection of craftsmanship.”  While Ryder might be “one of the most interesting artists America has ever produced,” he certainly did not have an “infinite zest for perfection of craftsmanship.”  Ryder used his painting materials without much care, an attitude that would later haunt him, as even during his own life his paintings began to fall apart.  He spent a lot of time in his later years trying to restore his own work.  Ryder often worked on his paintings for ten years or more, and he would build up layers of paint and varnish, applied on top of one another.  He would paint into the wet varnish or apply a fast drying, lean layer, over a slow drying, fat layer of paint.  Sometimes he would experiment, using non-traditional materials in his art, such as bacon grease and kerosene as paint mediums. Ryder's poor craftsmanship and his experimentation with materials and techniques resulted in unstable paintings that  grow darker over time, cracks readily, and that takes decades to dry completely.  Some of Ryder's work, once described as glowing and jewel-like, have completely disintegrated.

In a previous blog post I extolled the virtues of experimenting and championed a democratic approach to art materials, but with the disclaimer, “so long as it doesn't cause your project to physically fall apart.”  Ryder's laissez faire approach to art making should be a lesson on what not to do.  Experimenting is fine, but don't experiment blindly.  Knowing the rules of your craft is important if you want to prevent what happened to Ryder and his work from ever happening to you and your work.

On the Proper Use of Art Materials by Chris Hall

“Art – my slats!  Guts!  Guts!  Life!  Life!  I can paint with a shoe-string dipped in pitch and lard.” George Luks.

In art is good to use the right tools for your project, and to use the best quality material possible, but this isn't a hard rule, and we shouldn't let some notion of the proper use of materials prevent experimentation.  Art products can become so specialized in their application and use that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the latest innovation.  At times it is good to remember that the cave artists of long ago managed just fine with spit and clay pigment.  Some artists can be quite dictatorial and will insist on specific art brands when there are many other viable options.  I favor a more democratic approach to using materials.  If today you can not afford the cadmium red, go for the cadmium red hue.  If today you can not afford the Rives BFK, go for the Stonehenge.  So long as it doesn't cause your project to physically fall apart, I am fine.  What matters is that you are making art today, and not waiting until tomorrow.  Art needn't be made of fancy materials for it to be successful.  Nine times out of ten, the artist makes it or breaks it, not the art materials.  A real artist, after all, can transform a pile of trash into a masterpiece.  Art can be an physical and material inquiry just as much as an philosophical, psychological, or spiritual inquiry.  So remain open minded in your use of materials and experiment a little.  Go ahead and search, and discover something new.  Who knows, you might just produce something really fucked up and interesting!