extra virgin oil painter

September 14. 2000

Paul and I got up at 5:30 am to go take pictures of a nearby quarry. Here are some of them:

Good morning

good morning





pink light

morning glow


a weird structure

a weird structure


My first mistake was that I got there late. I'd forgotten how punctual Chuck was. He starts exactly at 1 o'clock, so when I walked in, everyone else already had their easels set up and small 9x11 inch canvases on them. Pre-stretched canvases. He had said we could stretch our canvases at the beginning of class, and accordingly, I had pre-Gessoed canvas and stretcher strips in my portfolio bag. But I realized there was no time to stretch one.

It felt like those bad dreams I always have about showing up somewhere important, like a concert or train station, and forgetting something essential, like the tickets, and therefore being left behind. I looked around desperately. Everyone else in the class looked so much older, so much more professional, so like they knew what they were doing. I, in contrast, felt none of those things.

I pounded down 6 flights of stairs, wallet in hand, to the bookstore, to see if I could buy a canvas. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. What the hell was I doing in a painting class, an oil painting class, no less. I had never even touched the medium. I had no idea what I was doing. I'm a goddamn Crafts major, I thought. I don't belong here.

The bookstore didn't have any canvases the size I needed. Back up six flights of stairs, back into the room of intimidation. I got someone to give me an extra canvas. I put it on the dirty easel, got out my pallette, paints and brushes. Chuck informs us we're painting with palette knives today. I put away the brushes.

The tubes of oil paint were brand new. I opened Cadmium Yellow, and squeezed. Nothing came out. I squeezed harder, and the paint came out. All over everything - my shirt, the easel, my canvas. the floor, the palette. I was completely mortified, and hoped no one noticed, but it's pretty hard not to notice bright yellow streaks all over the floor.

At this point, the tears were squeezing out of my eyes. I almost walked out. But I sucked it up, picked up my pallette knife, and started painting. I kept expecting the oil paint to behave like acrylic, but of course it wouldn't. The large, unwieldly pallette knife yielded results that looked like a three year old had finger painted it. I looked around at everyone else. Their paintings looks great in contrast to mine. I couldn't even get a straight edge. The paint blurred and mixed together to a puke green color. My pallette was a mess. I am not a neat painter by any means, but my hands, arms, shirt and shoes were covered in paint. Meanwhile, Chuck was strolling around talking about how Seurat always painted in a spotless black velvet suit.

I slunk out of there feeling lower than scum. Feeling like an imposter, an amateur. I was ashamed of myself, both at my (understandable) lack of ability, and completely losing control of my emotions.


I got to class really early, and set things up neatly, determined not to make a mess of things again. I stared at the blank canvas, trying to will it to produce good results. I used a different palette knife, and that made it a little easier to get neater results. I tried my darndest to keep my palette neat and clean, but to no avail. I have a habit of spreading paint everywhere.

The medium still mystifies me, but in a lot of ways it's more versatile than acrylic. In high school, I did a Georgia O'Keeffe like painting in acrylic, and wondered why it didn't turn out like her paintings. I was completely oblivious to the fact that she used oil. The textures you can get with it are incredible.

Our first assignment is to paint an urban landscape. I want to do something with trains and subways. I want it to be so good. I am so excited about this class, and I want to do well, but I don't know if my skill level is going to move fast enough to satisfy me.

One Year Ago:
school kicks my ass