It’s My Birthday and I’ll Paint If I Want To

Today is my 37th birthday, and this is what I did.

First Oil Painting

For Christmas and my birthday I asked for oil painting supplies. I’ve never painted with oils before, but I’ve been immersing myself in Bob Ross on Netflix and I really wanted to try it out.

It’s completely backwards in some ways to watercolors, which is the medium I’m more familiar with. Highlights go on last in oils, whereas if you want something light in watercolors you have to do it first, then mask it or avoid painting over it, which is why a lot of people prefer oils to watercolors.

The only drawback to oils that I can see at the moment is the strong smell and the days-long drying time. I’m looking forward to developing my technique and rendering some favorite photographs in oils during the next year. If you’re a person I see regularly, you’ll probably end up with a painting of your own by the end of the year — I certainly won’t have a place for everything I intend to paint!

Upon Rediscovering a Childhood Favorite

By far, I buy and read real, physical, printed books over and above ebooks. And I love buying them at real, physical, brick-and-mortar stores. I especially love finding old used books at cramped and charming used bookstores.

Now, with all those caveats out of the way, here’s what I love about Amazon.com:

Way back when I was kid, I checked this book out of the old Bay City Library on Center Road about a hundred times.

I loved, loved, loved this book.

It kept me entertained for hours.

It taught me how to draw dogs.

It helped develop in me a love of the simple things — long walks, the seasons, and dumb (in the King James sense of the word) creatures.

It made me want to be an artist.

The only problem was, I couldn’t remember the name of the book (could it really be as simple as Dogs???) or the author/illustrator. When I checked it out of the library, I just knew where on the shelves it was. I never looked it up. And now that gorgeous, quaint library branch has been replaced by a much larger (and much more personality-less) new building. So though I’d been thinking about this book for years, wishing I could remember what it was called so I might find it again, somewhere, I wasn’t sure where to start. There are a lot of books on dogs and it was kind of difficult to describe.

It’s essentially the artist’s story of wanting to find his family’s next dog as his oldest hunting got so feeble he couldn’t do much anymore. As he considers which breed might be best, he paints them and mentions their merits and tells amusing stories.

Then suddenly I thought to myself, if I just had enough patience, I could click through every page of dog books on Amazon and somehow I would have to find it sooner or later. So I searched for “dogs, painting” in Books on Amazon. Then I clicked on the subcategory Dogs. And guess what I saw:

It was the second result in nearly 200!

Apparently I’m not the only fan of Poortvliet’s work (aside: no wonder I couldn’t remember the artist’s name) as the book enjoys 100% five-star reviews, and his other books are equally well-loved. I was surprised to see a publication date of 1996, a full ten years after my guess, as I was sure I’d been obsessed with it long before I was 16. But a look inside confirmed I had been more right than wrong. The edition on Amazon was a 1996 reprinting. The original had been published in 1983, just in time for it to settle comfortably into its spot on the shelf in the East Branch of the Bay City Library system and wait for me to get about as old as my son is now, venture up to the grown-up nonfiction shelves, and discover it.

I ordered a copy immediately and waited with great anticipation for it to arrive, which it did today. (Sunday delivery, what is the world coming to?)

When we got home from church I started flipping through it with my son, who wanted me to read him the notes on every page. (I think he asked me to do it because they are in cursive?) I immediately recognized every page, including some drawings and paintings I had outright copied as a child as I was practicing.

There was and is something about Poorvliet’s representation of the world — realistic, gentle, and with a sense of humor that doesn’t overwhelm — that I find irresistible. I like that in a time when modern art was being touted he continued to focus on realism and sweet illustrations. In fact, I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to find that his most famous work, The Gnomes, was the basis for an animated series I also loved around the same time as I was checking Dogs out of the library: The World of David the Gnome. Does anyone else remember this?

I was sorry when I looked Poorvliet up for this post to find that he died in his early sixties in 1995, which I suppose is why they reissued the book in 1996.

At any rate, I’m happy as can be to have it now (and to not have to return it to the library in a month). It’s a volume I’ll keep at the ready for relaxed perusal with a cup of tea.

A Self Portrait Photo Reference

When thinking rather halfheartedly about the new year I mentioned in this space that I might try to paint a self portrait in 2016. To that end I thought I ought to take a reference photo to guide me (looking in the mirror and moving all around doesn’t seem wise for a beginner like me — come to think of it, the whole thing may be a disaster). I think I have one I like…

Self Portrait Reference Photo

I have only now to decide whether I might like to make this even more interesting by trying out oil paints for the first time rather than watercolors. The dark background would certainly be easier in oils, though the skin would be easier in watercolor. Maybe I’ll start with a watercolor study and then do one in oils.

But don’t expect too much of me. It’s Ash Wednesday and today of all days I am more keenly aware of my limitations and all the ways I fall short. I’ve had some success in the distant past drawing human beings, but never painting them. I haven’t decided yet whether to show you the results of my efforts if they turn out catastrophically bad…