Saturday, December 26, 2009

Copal Fraud

The one paint supply that I absolutely could not bring on the plane was my copal medium. Copal is essential to my paintings--it gives me the ability to control the paint the way I want; it gives the paint a smooth, rich flow and a beautiful translucent quality, and it has a drying time that is just right for the speed I work at.

When I got to LA, we went to the Graphaids art supply store, which did not have my usual brand of copal. Instead I purchased a bottle of Weber Archival Copal Painting Medium, thinking it would be essentially the same thing. Wrong! I wish I had thought to read a review of it before purchasing it, but I foolishly trusted the big letters on the front of the label.

Weber's "copal" is horrible. My first clue that there might be a problem was the smell. It smelled suspiciously like turpentine, so I checked the fine print. Sure enough, the list of ingredients includes turpentine. I never use turpentine. I have difficulty tolerating the smell and I find it to be absolutely useless as a medium. However, since I had already purchased the Weber "copal" and because the label claimed that the product has all the good qualities of real copal and none of the bad, I figured I might as well try using it.

As far as I can tell, there is no difference between plain turpentine and Weber's Archival Copal Painting Medium. It made the paint watery and thin, the flow was terrible, I felt like I was almost pushing the paint across the canvas, the paint was drying up on my palette within minutes, and it seemed like I had to use three times as much paint as I would with my regular copal medium. After maybe half an hour, I gave up and went back to the house, declaring that we needed to go to a different art supply store.

This time we were more cautious. I double-checked what I normally used, then we called around to area art supply stores to find one that had it in stock. Walser's art supply had several bottles in stock, so we made a quick trip there, navigating around the holiday mall traffic. I had a nice (short) chat with the man working there about how the Weber "copal" is crap. He suggested I try Da Vinci copal, but I wasn't willing to experiment any further with my mediums right now. Maybe I'll try it when I'm back home. What I did purchase was my reliable Grumbacher's Copal Painting Medium.

This is good stuff. Maybe the Da Vinci will prove superior, but I've always been delighted with Grumbacher's copal. The smell is much nicer than turpentine, the flow is beautiful, it reduces the amount of paint I need to use, and the final colors are gorgeous.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Travel Time

I'm away in sunny Los Angeles for Christmas, visiting my relatives out here and wondering why I ever left. While I'm here, I'll be painting a group portrait of my uncle and his family. There are some supplies which I knew I wouldn't be able to bring with me--the canvas is a little bulky and delicate for air travel, and the copal oil is flammable, so there's no way that would ever get past the TSA. The oil paints and brushes are okay for travel and are too expensive to buy for just one painting, so I was determined to bring them with me.

I started by doing some research. I probably shouldn't have, because it left me paranoid about getting my paints onto the plane. I read countless horror stories about paints being confiscated by security officials who apparently considered them to be on the no-fly list. One artist recommended checking the paints, another wrote about checked paints being confiscated from checked baggage. All of them recommended printing out information sheets from the paint manufacturers to show to the TSA officials in order to persuade them to not confiscate my paints.

I debated what to do for a couple days, reading and re-reading the official TSA information, before finally deciding to bring the paints in my carry-on bag. Each tube is smaller than the allotted 3 ounces and, luckily, they all fit in a one quart bag (just barely!). I wasn't sure if my bundled brushes would get past security or be considered a potential weapon, so I put those in my checked bag.

When I got to the security checkpoint, the manufacturer's sheet turned out to be completely unnecessary. The TSA at Bradley airport have some sort of very quick (a few seconds) test they run to verify that the paints are paints (or whatever it is they were testing for) and that's it. I was good to go (except for the part where I didn't realize there was metal in my new knee brace--but that's a different story).