“When are you going to start painting in oils?” I’ve actually been asked this question, more than once. The first time I was asked, I was speechless; I couldn’t believe this was a real question, so I couldn’t even respond. The second time I was asked, I was also speechless; I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Well I’m ready for the next time!
The implication of the question is that surely drawing with colored pencils is only a stepping stone to the real challenge of painting with oils, a “serious” art medium. Here’s my answer: “I’ve already successfully painted with oils, and I like colored pencils better!”
In art school I had the opportunity to work with many media: watercolor, pastel, acrylic, oil, pen and ink, charcoal, airbrush. I also learned several types of printmaking: silkscreen, intaglio, lithography, wood block, linoleum block. I achieved some success with all except watercolor–probably because I was taught that you need to let watercolor do its own thing to some extent, and I wasn’t willing to do that, I wanted total control.
I love the smell of oil paints, turpentine and linseed oil, and I enjoyed building my own canvases with stretcher bars and priming the surface with gesso. But boy is oil painting expensive, space-consuming, messy and toxic. You have to clean your brushes very thoroughly at the conclusion of every painting session. If you want to paint over an already painted area, you may have to wait days for it to dry first. Or maybe you had to end your previous session early and now the area you were still working is too dry to blend. None of these have anything to do with skill or concept, they are simply drawbacks of the medium of oil painting.
With colored pencils, there is no cleanup. You put down your pencils and walk away. There is no mess, unless you are careless with your sharpener shavings. They are very portable, and don’t upset the TSA at airport security lines, or burst. They allow all the control of pencil, and all the color of paint.
The quality of the finished artwork is due to the artist’s skill and vision, not the medium he/she works in. And an artist works in the medium that suits him/her best. If that’s oil paints, great! If it’s watercolor, great! If it’s colored pencil, great! It’s all good.
I’ll close with an anecdote that happened just last week. I got a phone call from one of the organizers of a large juried exhibition I entered. Judging for entry hadn’t started yet, but she wanted to confirm that I’d really meant “colored pencil” as the classification for my entry. She said it looked like a painting to her so maybe I’d checked the wrong box on the form? For half a second I was tempted to say “yes” just to see what would happen if it was grouped with oil paintings. But the glass over it would’ve given it away when it arrived in real life, so I assured her that yes, it’s colored pencil. I learned today that it was accepted. The jurors for this exhibit will not be checking the medium before deciding the award winners.