Habit, Despiration and Shot Glasses

So it’s no secret that I make my own paint.  From commercially available pigments — from Germany, France, Italy, Upstate NY — and from dirt — basically from EVERYWHERE. Clay. Ground glass.  Ground minerals…. everything.  And I make my own mediums.  Bio-available gums, honey, glycerin, oils, alcohols — but not from the turps and chemicals that would set off my asthma and bury me under my own respiratory system. –which is the reason I started studying paints and pigments to begin with.

But to do this — I use not only my grinding tools and grinding glass surfaces — I also use an army of tiny vessels to hold the freshly ground paints.

Over the years people have given me, I’ve bought, found, ebay’d, and collected about 200 of these little vessels.  They range from plain, liquor store shot glasses, to Tupperware MIdgets with their handy lids, to Illy Artist Series espresso cups and other ceramic or porcelain espresso cups as well.  1 1/2 – 2 1/2 ounces each.  Mostly clear or white (to see the colors, density, grind, and consistency of the paint better.)

I started with shot glasses when it became obvious that bathroom-sized dixie cups eventually break down when left full of liquid, and I was spilling valuable paint.  I started with the Illy cups when I came up short on shot glasses.  I bought my first set (the 1st edition) of Illy cups back before most Americans had ever heard of Illy (including me) — because I loved the art!  Now they’re worth far too much to use to hold dirt I found beside the road in Oklahoma.  Dammit.

At times, the little shots are stacked 6 and 7 high and 30 deep — each with a quarter or half ounce of paint that dried into what amounts to a re-constitute-able gum arabic pool of iron oxide or perylene.  Other times, I just grind a palette of 4 or maybe 5 pigments and work from  limited choices.  It’s good aesthetic exercise.  Between pigment powders and dirts and clays and muds and ground stones and minerals — I’ve got about 250 distinct paint bases, in volumes from 25-50 grams of the most rare-poisonous-expensive, up to several kilos each of prussian blue, iron oxides, ultramarines, cadmiums, pyroles, perylenes, cobalts, graphite, carbon, slates, micas, and quinaquidones….

And right now I’ve got no place to put them once I grind them.

I got a bunch of Tupperware’s little midget 2 oz containers — thinking they would be a good substitute since they have lids and never break.  But they also have no weight.  While they are excellent for storage and keeping extra paint on hand– they only weigh a few grams each — and it’s the weighted bottoms of shot glasses that make them stable and stackable.  Besides — I’d found these wonderful little cloth lemon-covers in a kitchen store — circles of breathable mesh fabric (bright yellow!) with a ring of elastic sewn into the edge — like tiny lemon-yellow shower caps that fit perfectly over the top of a shot glass to keep the dust out and keep them from evaporating too quickly.

I found a commercial palette with tiny 1 oz plastic cups with attached flip-top lids.  But again — they aren’t heavy enough and they tend to sling paint everywhere when you flip their tops.

I am trapped by my own habits.

It’s true.  It’s my own fault.  5 years ago when my son fled grad school in NOLA and moved in with us, I was making paint and painting on a regular basis.  But after his “girlfriend” moved into the other bedroom to go to college, she just about killed my creative spirit.  I COULDN’T PAINT TO SAVE MY LIFE for nearly 3 years.

But she’s gone now.  I’ve closed my retail toy store.  My personal life is relaxing into a comfortable routine.  And I’m painting again.  All the time.  Every day.

And the shot glasses and cheap espresso cups I got to save the Illy cups have vanished, along with the container they were stored in.

And it’s making me crazy.  I’m ending up painting with commercially produced paints from Winsor Newton and Daniel Smith and Sennelier… all excellent companies — but not one of them consistently and reliably calls paints by their real names like Isoindolone or Indanthrone.  Every pigment has a real chemical name, and a real identifying code that identifies it, but because these companies are into “secret formulas” and proprietary names — you have have to see the tube of paint and squint to read the fine print to know what pigment(s) are actually in the tube or pan.  Otherwise, you end up buying WNRed or Jerrty’s Green, or Dark Leaf Green — all of which are probably lovely “colors” — but have nothing to do with what’s actually in the tube.  As a result of all these inconsistencies, the pigment Perylene Black — which makes a dark green paint — gets called perylene green by every commercial paintmaker.  They have paints labeled things like “lemon yellow” and “hooker’s green” — which are fine names, and have a historical resonance to painters of the past — but the pigments used to make them are different in 21st century than they were in 1885.  Beside that, the commercial paintmakers all still sell fugitive pigment paints — organic paints like Alizarin Crimson (made from bugs),  that are not light fast and are the reason why “watercolor” has always been the “Sunday painter’s” and “womens’ home hobby” medium.  Painting with fugitive colors that fade if left in a well-lit room or under a bright light is the reason I gave up the idea of painting in 1975.  What would be the point?  Great watercolor paintings by great painters are stowed in drawers in dark rooms in basements of museums — not on the walls.

But the paints I make are all light fast and chemically stable.

If I could make them, that is.

If I don’t find my shot glasses and cheap espresso cups soon, I’m going to have to buy new ones.  And the price has gone up considerably. I probably need 200-300 to really have what I need — and retail on the average shot is now about $6-$7.50.  If I can get plain blank shots from a bar supply (which makes it more difficult to remember which paint is which, or make me stop and write and then later read labels in the middle of painting) if they will sell direct to me even though I am not a bar  — then the price comes down.  Heavy bottomed shots are about $1-$2 wholesale. Plastic is cheaper, but then I end up with that Tupperware problem again.

Any ideas would be appreciated.  I’m looking for a workable mousetrap.

Habit and utility are the monkeys on my back.


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