Today saw a return to oil paints after a prolonged stint working in water-colours.
Now, although I enjoy waters, they make me think a lot more - each brush stroke has a greater impact on the overall piece, and it really helps if you can see the highlights from the beginning. There is a sense of immediacy, of capturing the moment, that water-colours can give you that is demanding and relentless; mis-step and you lose the moment forever.
With oils I feel I can relax, I can let my brush drift, follow paths of whimsy and generally enjoy the freedom to roam. Now this may also be something to do with the difference in the space available - by-and-large the oil paintings are twice the size of the water-colours. The result is that the brush seems to imitate Julie Andrews at the beginning of The Sound of Music and dances and whirls in the expanse of a vast landscape.
Oils can vary in texture so much, from loose streams and rivulets when mixed with turps, to oozy, slippery mud slides when applied neat or with a knife. The sensation of the application requires a dialogue with the medium, guiding it on the canvas, yet listening as it suggests line and shade. I tend to mix colours on the canvas too, which also supplies a delight in the emergence of a palate for the painting, which is not always what I envisaged at the start.
This is not to say that there is a simple opposition betwen control and freedom in the two mediums. No, it doesn't work that way. Water-colours are, for example, much more spontaneous - able to capture reportage much more powerfully, and can generate a wonderful sense of the wind in the landscape. Whilst oils are more considered, but better suited to the emotional drama of the scene - look at Carravagio, look at Bacon and Van Gough; this medium gives the depth and intensity of a moment.
If water-colours are of water - translucent and made to traipse delicately in the air, then oils, with all their viscosity and sheen are of the earth and bring forth the fire from its depths - or words to that effect.
Anyway after a couple of weeks thinking in terms of long washes and tiny etchings it was very nice to return to thick impasto applications and fluid sketching at arms length. The painting may still be shite, but the process is a joy.