Monday, October 27, 2014

By-products of Painting: Little Round Things

Celebration - acrylic - 36" x 42" - 2014

I recently received the pleasing news that my collage Celebration had been accepted for an exhibition. "Pieced Together" will open at the Cultch, 1895 Venables St. in East Vancouver, on Wednesday November 5 and run to December 7. (Please see This will be the first time that I have been able to exhibit any of my "little round things" outside my own studio.

I have been creating and accumulating acrylic paint discs for several years. It all started as a way to minimize the amount of paint that I put into the environment via the sink drain and our water system. I was shocked to see painters washing heavily laden brushes and palettes under the tap without scraping off excess paint first. Although acrylic paint is less toxic than other media it contains heavy metals--notably cadmium--and various dyes, binders and other chemicals that are potentially harmful to human and animal health. So I developed a few habits that are second nature to me now. They do slow me down a bit, but that gives me time to think. In a painting session I tend to use a different brush for each colour, and I have to keep them wet. Before plunging a brush into my pot of water I rinse and scrape it into a small plastic vessel such as a yogurt container. The water evaporates over a few days and gradually the paint hardens into a disc lining the bottom of the pot. When it's quite dry, and thick enough to hold together, I weasel it out with tweezers. Soon after starting this practice I began to control the colour combinations a bit, putting all my green scrapings into one pot, reds into another, etc., and then perhaps adding a contrasting hue. I noticed that some pigments--cadmium and earth colours--drop to the bottom, some, such as ultramarine, granulate, and others, the synthetic dyes, form smooth transparent layers. It's a chemistry lab in miniature.
Maybe only their mother could love them, but I find these miniature abstracts fascinating. Each one is unique, and some are quite beautiful. Some suggest images of real things, such as the one on the right, which I called "Cockscomb."
Nine Paint Discs - 10" x 10"
Little round things are not, however, easy to work with. I have a large collection now, and have made a few attempts to do something with them by mounting them in various ways. Two of these efforts have sold: Nine Paint Discs is a formal arrangement on a plain white
Pie in the Sky - 7" x 7"
panel, and Pie in the Sky consists of three discs on a bit of a discarded canvas.

Paint Disc Abstract 3 - 4" x 4"
I also experimented with scanning a disc, blowing up the image and printing it out, sometimes collaging an actual disc onto the print.

Paint Disc Abstract 6 - 4" x 4"


I have a couple of other ways of making by-products while painting. At the end of the day if I have still-moist paint on my palette I scrape it into an airtight container, give it the occasional stir, and eventually have neutral grey paint to use on the edges of my canvases. Even the paint-laden water in the pots used for rinsing my brushes and keeping them wet gets re-purposed. I pour it into a pail and let it evaporate until I have a disc up to a foot across. A lengthy process, but a lot of paint saved from the drain.

All this is fine as far as it goes, but I would really like to incorporate discs into a larger conceptual work, where the medium and the subject matter are closely identified. I'm not quite there yet, but Celebration is a step closer. I made it to submit to a show with a recycling theme, but first I tried a formal arrangement with the discs representing the triangular logo that indicates a recyclable container.
Canada Recycles - 19" x 26" - 2014

Canada Recycles detail
I included the word "Canada" in the title because it is clearly visible on many of the discs. The lettering on the base of the yogurt container, reversed on the inside, has embossed the hardening plastic.

Neither of these compositions made it into the recycling show, which was disappointing at the time, but the important thing is that I was motivated to produce something with my discs. Doing just this little bit to lessen the assault of human activity on the natural environment gives me some satisfaction, and meanwhile I am continuously adding to my stash of a raw material which has intriguing possibilities and costs me nothing!

(recently updated with new work)

This year's Eastside Culture Crawl will take place November 20 - 23.
For details see