by Bob Ballard SGFA
“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear” declared Edmund Burke; but then he was not an artist and had not been arrested outside an art materials shop by the sight of a tube of Phthalo Green in the window.
You get drawn in, enter stealthily like a cardinal into a bordello, and discover that your rational faculties have been subverted by the opportunity of getting 10% off as long as you purchase a Quinacridone Magenta as well. Phthalo? I can’t even say it let alone make a guess as to what colour it is; and as for the Quinacridone, maybe it’s something to get you off the habit of compulsive buying.
You see, there is something intangible about art materials that compels you to collect them whether there’s a requirement or not. Why, for example, did I buy a Sennelier Cadmium Red oilstick as well as a Cadmium Orange and a Cadmium Deep Red?
Didn’t I have the energy to mix them? Or that range of earth colours – ochre, sienna and umber? They’re all just brown really but I have to get ones that are burnt as well as raw. I don’t even use brown but maybe it’s like steaks – nourishing perhaps and you don’t want them underdone or something, and anyway they are a helluva lot cheaper than that series 6 violet – you know what I’m talking about – the 120 ml that sets you back £19.62. (And why are some tubes 115ml, some 120ml and some 140ml? I know, it’s the same with chip fryers or mortgage services – deliberate unquantifiability to stifle meaningful comparisons).
To an extent this sort of activity can be explained by a desire to complete the set – we are all familiar with the necessity to get the fiftieth coloured pencil which usually has an exotic tint like Madder Lake Garnet. (Not to be confused with Mad Lake Garnet who is an insane if fashionable 1920s hostess in a novel I am thinking of writing.) You’ll never use this colour however, because if you do, its omission from that attractive presentation case will spoil the tonal spectrum of the others.
But if there is a residual excuse for acquiring the items mentioned so far, what is it that drives me to go for Winsor and Newton liquid light gel, a handy electric eraser (not razor), a foam brush box (what is that?), three rather than two hog brushes, an Artbin Hip Roof Bin (eh?) or five sheets of grey self-adhesive mountboard? The problem is that I cannot make up my mind – “My indecision is final,” as someone said – and consequently I buy everything.
It’s not a question of a little bit on the side, but the whole hog (brushes again) and full frontal. Moreover, it’s even worse if you order stuff by catalogue, because you are then induced to spend at least fifty quid to qualify for the free standard delivery. Then when it arrives, you unpack it and scratch your head. What do I do with this? Anyone want to buy a Liquitex Free Style Giant Spalt Brush with an unscrewable handle?