Lori Deal of San Jose, California wrote, “I bought an acrylic painting on Craigslist. It’s a jazz musician playing a saxophone but it smells badly of cigarette smoke. You can smell it when sitting a few feet away. I wonder if I can place it in an enclosed bag with some sort of deodorizer to neutralize the odor? Otherwise, I will probably hang it in the garage. Any suggestions?”
Thanks, Lori. This is an entirely new spin on “That painting stinks!” Odoriferous patina such as yours reminds me of my misspent youth in those smoky jazz clubs in LA. How much do you want for it?
Give the front of the painting a quick wipe with well-diluted dish soap, and then wash it off with clean water. You don’t want to get the back of the canvas wet, so expose the back to sunshine for a week or so. A light spray around the stretchers with Fabreze should finish it off. You and your guests can then move near to it with impunity.
Back in my cigar days, gallerists gathered around my shipments to revisit the memory of my outstanding Cubans. Now that I’m reformed, my dealers tell me I’m not so much fun anymore.
Odour might just be the unsung silver hammer of art. Who can resist the magnificent waft of a new oil painting? (Acrylics and watercolours are at a disadvantage here.) Back in my oil days, there were folks who came into my studio and actually paused to savor the Rembrandtian atmosphere. Were those flexing nostrils, I wondered, part of my sales team?
Who can resist the frying of onions at hot dog stands? Taste, it turns out, is 80% smell. Even though we humans have a fraction of the capabilities of many other animals, smells can have an effect on what we buy, how much we spend, and where we gamble. In a study in Las Vegas, gambling went up 50% when a pleasant scent was sprayed around slot machines. Researchers at Chicago University found that 84% of shoppers were willing to pay higher prices when shoes were displayed in a room with a pleasant aroma.
One of the problems in online vending is the inability of customers to sniff the stuff before they get it. Hold on, though, it’s just a matter of months before the particular smell of an Amazon book comes slyly out of your computer.
PS: “Every book has its smell. A new book smells great. An old book smells even better. A really old book smells like ancient Egypt.” (Ray Bradbury)
Esoterica: Peppermint, strawberry and lavender smells have been found to help in concentration. In a Japanese factory study, spraying the scent of lavender during tea breaks improved production. English schoolchildren tested better when exposed to the aroma of fresh strawberries. Anecdotally, a sweet-smelling studio makes for better art. I use an exhaust fan. Fresh air may be the sweetest of all.
Removal of cigarette odor with American spelling
by Sally Browning Pearson, Port St. Lucie, FL, USA
You can remove the odor of cigarettes (also other things) by enclosing the painting in a plastic bag with a couple sheets of newspaper crumpled up. Not the shiny ad parts, just the newsprint with black ink. Seal the bag well, leave it overnight or two and remove. Voila! No odor. If the newsprint does not work, try an ordinary dryer sheet like you use in the laundry room. Same process.
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Removal of cigarette odour with Canadian spelling
by Peter Haynes, Dashwood, ON, Canada
Febreze is terrible, terrible stuff. Loaded with nasty chemicals. Vinegar is a decent way to deal with odours and ground coffee is very good at absorbing odours. After washing the front of the painting as you suggest, they could try putting the painting in a bag with a lot of coffee grounds and leaving it for a few weeks. Baking soda is also another great thing for sucking up odours. Your comment about sunshine is spot on. UV tends to neutralize a lot of chemical odours.
by Ray Hassard, Cincinnati, OH, USA
In today’s odorless world, our ecology is better, but the tradeoff is often the loss of a powerful sensual element. Artists of a certain age will probably recall walking into a studio in an art school that had 50 or more years of turpentine fumes in the wooden floors and walls, not to mention pencil shavings, newsprint paper and charcoal aromas, cleaning supplies, heat from old radiators, and probably blood, sweat, and tears from all the students who had passed through. It was especially potent over by the sink where we all used to dump our used solvents. If someone could bottle that and produce eau d’atelier, I’d probably buy a bottle!
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You fill up my senses
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
As artists we are all visually oriented, but here you hit on one of our other five senses. The filling of the senses is one of the reasons why I love plein air painting so much. I hate to say it, but I have a few plein air pieces that will always bring to mind the smell of country living, in the not so pleasant sense! I have other paintings, however, that filled my sense of smell with much delight! Nothing beats the smell of an approaching rain storm, fresh cut grass, or spring flowers. These kinds of memories all add to the plein air experience! No photo, no matter how accurate, will bring those smells to you. As a real nature lover I enjoy taking it all in as I am working! One of my plein air friends took this a step further this spring when we were painting with a group of artists at a lavender farm.
My friend had had a great time but when asked about her painting, she said that she didn’t get it finished because her senses were so filled! She instead had delighted in taking in the sights, scents, sounds (bees buzzing) and feel of the field. She had gone as far as picking some lavender and crushing it in her hand, tasting a bit of it and then mixing the remainder into her paint. I don’t know if the lavender scent will be noticeable to anyone else, but I bet she will be able to smell the lavender for as long as that painting is in her possession!
(RG note) Thanks, Diane. Your friend may be on to something. Its reported that Oil of Spike Lavender was the medium used by Leonardo. The early Dutch painters often wiped it over the entire canvas in preparation for painting. Oil of Spike Lavender was the medium of choice from the fourteenth century on. It has an appealing scent, and only a small amount is needed to make things flow.
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Nosing out the memories
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
Research shows that smell is the fastest way to bring back the past and is sometimes used to help amnesia patients. (Think — baking cookies, garlic in hot olive oil or stuffed turkey full of sage dressing.) I know that walking a waterfront and smelling the ropes has me mentally tripping back to my years on ships. As a young midshipman in Copenhagen I spilt a half litre of Tuborg on my dress blue trousers. For years every time they got wet they smelled of beer. Happy reminder of a happy time.
Now, I sell hand turned wood and very often at a fair peoples first reaction is to sniff. The wood smell is gone but I do use a lemon oil based wax. I have thought of carrying along a bag of shavings.
Lori Deal of San Jose is obviously not a real jazz fan. Yes, cigarette smoke stinks but it is part of the whole experience. If she put some Miles Davis on the stereo and sat back and relaxed it would all fit together.
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B. O. Plenty
by Leslie Pierce, Austin, TX, USA
Two years ago I was selected to hang 15 paintings in a local restaurant in Austin. I was directed to the two rooms closest to the kitchen.
Fast forward three months as I packed my car full of paintings after the show came down and noticed a very peculiar smell. The smell followed me back into my third floor apartment. The next day my whole apartment was filled with this unpleasant waff.
Eventually I determined the smell was a cross between musky old house and Mesquite wood and it was embedded in my paintings! I have hung in all sorts of alternative venues before but never had this. I left the paintings by open windows for several months and the smell finally vanished. I sold them after they had been aired out. It has just dawned on me that the initials of the restaurant are B.O.
Into the ozone zone
by Mark Winkelstein, Herndon, VA, USA
I once worked in a laboratory and had a boss with an acute sense of smell. One day he called me into the office to discuss an issue of an odoriferous pong emanating from under the floor boards in the cabin of his sailboat. As the technical “go-to-guy” welcoming a challenge away from the day-to-day drudgery, I investigated a number of options and decided to give an ozone generator a try which seemed to appeal to a chemist’s sense of science, not to mention his sense of smell!
Basically ozone is a molecule consisting of three atoms of oxygen which makes it unstable but useful in the fact that the extra oxygen molecule is free to combine with the molecules responsible for odors and renders them neutral. While the ozone generator worked in this case, each case would obviously be unique. Ozone can be an irritant to mucus membranes, so general use as an air purifier might be a health risk.
Varnishing acrylics in oil
by Sandy Tippett, Perth, Western Australia
I understand completely with what you say about enjoying the smell of an oil painting. Fortunately for us using acrylics we do get a small taste of that wonderful smell when we seal or varnish our work. Many times I have had people walk past soon after I have finished varnishing one of my acrylics and tell me how much they love the smell of an oil painting, how an oil is the only ‘real’ painting and what a good artist I am with how brilliantly I capture true colour with the oils I use! Of course I stand there and lap up all the kind words they say about my work deciding not to burst their bubble by telling them it is an acrylic!
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The loss of smell
by Russ Henshall, Pulham Market, Norfolk, UK
When I was in my late 30’s I fell out of a tree. For roughly 4 years after that nasty blow on my head, I had no senses of smell or taste at all. I can tell you first hand that lack of this sense is devastating. It is not just that one cannot taste food or smell it either. The whole world is amazingly ‘flattened,’ Things I had always taken for granted were no longer there to appreciate. Silage, roses, even manure had previously given me a full picture of my surroundings.
Five years elapsed before my sense of taste and smell returned. I was so grateful I can tell you! Musty libraries, freshly washed clothes and (wonder of wonders) the first glass of good ale were miracles. So the moral is, ‘Do not fall out of a tree.’ As my then fiancé thought at the time, ‘He lost his sense alright for climbing that tree in the first place.’ How often we lift an item up to our nose to smell it, check it or fancy it?
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Bill Stephenson of Santa Rosa Beach, FL, USA, who wrote, “I have an artist friend who specializes in flowers. She is so good, you can smell the fragrance of the flower!”
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