On Saturdays, my mom used to take me along when she went shopping in the big department store. Inevitably we rode the elevator to “Notions” on the third floor. “What are notions?” I asked one day on the way up. “They’re things you didn’t know you needed, but when you see them you have a notion to get them,” she told me. Mom seemed to wander around in a mental daze, picking up things like needles, buttons and cuticle remover. She once bought a red pincushion “so grandma can have a place to organize her pins.” Pin organization was one of my lesser concerns in those days, and this sort of frivolity only confirmed how much I hated stores, a prejudice that lingers against many stores to this day.
A notion, as well as being a department in a store, is a state of mind where you do something on a whim. It’s largely triggered by seeing an item, handling it and figuring out how it might be used. In marketing terms it’s called “point of sale” and apparently it works better than peering at a screen.
Over the years I mellowed and now consider attendance at well-stocked art-materials stores a desirable deviation and an art in itself. Materials-shopping can actually be a creative event not unlike the experimentation that happens in the studio.
You need to be relaxed, open-minded and prepared to stay in the store just short of the time it takes to get picked up for loitering. I recommend putting your hands in your pockets for the first while and then only handling stuff on the second pass. Well-stocked stores are loaded with new gadgets, tools and materials that invite pause and the inevitable creative question, “What could be?”
Novelty is vital to the stimulation of life. This Christmas, for example, Dorothy the Airedale played harder and had more fun with this year’s ball than with last year’s. It’s in human nature. The same old same old is transmogrified by the creative crossover triggered by seemingly minor novelties. New neural paths are sparked by caving in to notions.
Esoterica: On Boxing Day it took me about an hour to find the thing I wasn’t looking for. There was a bunch of them in a bin in all shapes, sizes and configurations. The one I got was a rubber spatula-type thing about an inch wide with rubber prongs like a short springy comb. I don’t know what it’s called, but it has “Catalyst by Princeton” on the handle. When I got back to the studio I didn’t take off my coat before trying it out. When used to push around relatively thick paint and combined with glazing and scumbling, it provided a few textural touches I’d been missing.
Wedges and Blades
by Lynne Dearing, AZ, USA
I knew I had seen your “notion” somewhere so did a bit of searching online. Found the Catalyst ‘Wedges & Blades’ on the Dick Blick website. They are listed under brushes as “wedges & blades” by Princeton (who coincidentally also make other “notion” types of brushes). Priced from $6.99 to $11.99 they are available in various sizes and a color-wheel selection of colors. The info gives them a five star out of five stars rating! Thanks so much for this really “fun” deviation.
(RG note) Thanks, Lynne, and everyone else who told me what those things are called. I shall refer to them by their proper name from now on.
Very stiff brushes
by Sandy Schultheis, Evansville, IN, USA
I discovered the Catalyst tools at my local art supply a couple of months ago when they were 50% off, and bought the orange one that you demonstrate plus a couple of smaller ones. I loved the effects I got because the marks were different from anything I had tried previously. Princeton also makes a line of brushes with very stiff bristles, Catalyst Polytip, in a range of shapes and sizes. I am very hard on brushes and these seem to stand up to abuse. I use acrylic paint, but they can be used with oil as well.
Mix it up
by Ingrid Mueller, Toronto, ON, Canada
I never walk out of the art store with just what I intended to purchase. I’ve also discovered that there are many tools and interesting gadgets in the kitchen and workshop that are quite useful for painting and creating effects. It would seem that many artists become single minded and resist exploration. Traditional painting requires brushes and, perhaps, knives, but there are many tools and substances that work well to create an effect that one may be trying to achieve. For example, I sometimes use drywall compound instead of gesso for a heavy textured base. This can be sculpted like paste, only 20 times cheaper. It dries quickly and creates a surface that accepts all acrylic mediums (not sure about oil, as it would have to be sealed). Of course, it depends upon your style of painting, but we often tend to stick to what we’ve learned and are afraid to venture from the norm. My point is: MIX IT UP!! LIFE IS SHORT! My next point is: Life-long learning is a critical mindset for a successful journey, and experimentation is a part of that learning process.
The real you
by Ann Porter, Lake Hill, NY, USA
Question: To what extent do artists use two mirrors (instead of one) to do self-portraits?
One mirror depicts how one sees oneself while use of two mirrors provides viewers with the “you” they recognize more readily… however, it will not seem like “you” to you.
(RG note) Thanks, Ann. Not many, I’m guessing. I tried two mirrors a couple of times. It made me above average confused.
Making do with this and that
by Valerie Vanorden, Kalamazoo, MI, USA
I often get inspired by looking at Pampered Chef catalogs, and going through hardware stores, looking at how various problems have been solved… maybe I’ll find something that applies to my own conundrums in life. I often drool after bar carts thinking I can make cheap taborets out of them, and other things. I use plexiglass taped off to prevent ambient light for a light table, poised over a table lamp on the floor; I use a stool for a table (we’re space challenged here). I use a decorative 15 watt bulb for light for light-table… the list goes on and on. I love to read art catalogs and think of how to substitute expensive items for artists with less expensive substitutes meant for other, more common crafts, such as scrapbookers. Who among us have not used common tackleboxes for our art supplies?
Quicker is better
by Don Getz, Salem, OH, USA
Week of December 22: The opportunity to finish up some of my quick sketches arrived and I have started my fourth journal on the trip, having arrived in Florida. The sessions have not always been full, to this point, as many here have the holidays in mind… but with the many ‘snowbirds’ in Florida, I am sure that will change! I have enjoyed the opportunity to sketch so frequently — not having that under normal routine… and it causes a situation, where intense work creates quality in your work — and the quick sketches come quicker!
(RG note) Don Getz is taking a year to travel the USA, fill sketchbooks and teach sketchbooking. You can get an idea of Don’s workshop movements and the workshops of many other fine artists by going to our Workshop Calendar. For everyone’s benefit, we also feature selected workshops on my Facebook page.
A light in the dark
by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA
I tell people my mother “drove me to paint.” This is mostly true. Although I’d been a “Sunday painter” for as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until becoming my mother’s primary caregiver that I started painting ferociously. She suffered dementia which evolved into Alzheimer’s which evolved into my needing to paint all the more, mostly en plein air, which meant getting out of the house. So the idea of painting at night occurred to me. What about safety? I could paint in my car with the doors locked and a book light clipped to the windshield visor. Somewhere, I ran across a head lamp that I could wear, that would cast light upon whatever surface I turned my head. I can’t remember where I found the first head light, but before long, I found an even better one. They were like much of my art stuff, well intended to use or to incorporate one day, but left in a drawer as a “someday might come in handy” item.
Fast forward five or more years. My mother, God rest her soul, is gone and I now have a painting buddy named Robert. He’s as crazy plein air painting passionate as I am. So about a week ago he started talking about painting the Christmas lights downtown. This meant night painting, of course. Turns out he has one of those head lights too, like mine, never before used. So check it out. My most recent On the Plein Air Trail blog post shows Robert and I in the dark donning our head light “notions,” as well as my resulting oil painting.
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Notions of people
by Donna Veeder, Utica, NY, USA
Ever since we have lived here, we have found friends who came from other traditions. There are White Russians nearby and a beautiful gold-domed Monastery within five miles of the farm. In Little Falls, a tiny Ukrainian onion-domed church sits within two blocks of us. We went to the funeral of our friend’s father there long ago. Last Sunday we attended a party at a Lithuanian family’s home. A friend of theirs came who is Filipino. I took cooking classes from her. Many of our doctors here are from India, Pakistan or Africa. The doctor who removed my kidney in 1975 was of a Lebanese family in Utica. He saved my life. I have had artist friends from Italy, India, Belgium, Argentina and other countries. We met more friends from afar at a large meeting in the ’70s, at the World-Wide Natural Foods Associates Convention in Montreal. A friend from Sri Lanka we met there still writes to us. Of course, there we also met the French! Our Northern Canadian border is part French-speaking. A young friend married a French girl. We have made friends with Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, & Scientologists! I still hope to attend a service at the Synagogue in Herkimer. Around here there are Holland Dutch and Palatine Deutsch (German) whose families fought in our Revolution. There are North American Indians: Native Americans. Once I met an Onondaga Chief and his family. A Mohawk Chief spoke at one of our United Methodist Conferences. We have had friends, neighbors and now family from the Caribbean Sea Islands. This area is a kaleidoscope of peoples from all over the world. I would not have missed this exposure to “others” for anything. When I go to New York City, I am almost overwhelmed at the numbers of people walking along any street who come from the whole wide world. I can’t see the city for watching faces and listening to languages that I cannot understand. It is like swimming in a World Soup.
(RG note) Thanks, Donna. The above is an excerpt for Donna’s Year-End Journal. Thank-you to everyone who sent journals. Journaling seems a growth industry.
It’s what you do with it
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
As a struggling young painter, I had a spare bedroom art studio and began to acquire stuff. A big easel and a big bulletin board for images I liked to look at. I added special lighting, and a drawing board, a tall stool, large brushes, large canvasses, a special palette and palette knives and jars and bottles of varnishes and dryers and medium. I did some decent work in that studio, won a Best of Show cash prize that didn’t come close to what I had invested in things I thought I needed to be a painter.
Then something wonderful happened. A group of three painters, all much older and established, asked me to join them en plein air. My suspicion was that they really needed me to chauffeur the “old man.” He was 77, and was recovering from a stroke. It was hard to understand his speech, but he had a vocal opinion about everything. With me driving him out to the painting spots, often an hour’s travel away, the other two painters could have a private conversation.
Loading up that first morning, I hauled all manner of gear out to my car. The old man came out with a small paint box, a bag containing a small jar of turp and a rag, and, under one arm, three smallish canvasses. At the site, he walked a few yards away to access a long view. He sat down in the grass, and almost before I got set up to begin, he had completed a loosely painted 11 x 14 inch panoramic view.
This one Saturday, was the single greatest art lesson ever provided me in any art class, college course, or grad school. Eventually, I had a tidy little mechanic’s tool box. Twenty paint tubes stood up with card board dividers. There was still room for a turp jar and rags, the brushes laid on top of that, and my plexi palette, wet or dry also fit in, under the lid. That little red mechanic’s tool box and a shelf in the garage served me for 35 years. I do have a studio, now. I am retired, and I can spend lots of time up there. I even have some of the gadgets that I do not really need. But what I learned from my old man friend was quite simple. It ain’t the gear, it’s what you do with it.
Enjoy the past comments below for Cultivating ‘notions’…
oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
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 Nancy Oppenheimer of Seneca, SC, USA, who wrote, “Thank you greatly for the most motivating and meaningful words I read twice a week, then the insightful comments from the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Attached is a photo of my painting friend, Gerard Erley, which I had scanned onto an apron with the words “Try this if all else fails.”