It’s Complicated

Replica of Rembrandt Palette – Photo by Virgil Elliott

A few years ago a friend gave me a vintage telescope. If you know anything about telescopes, then you now that setting them up can be prohibitively complex to those trying it for the first time. The equitorial mount, setting circles, collimation, not to mention alignment to the polar axis and local latitude, all this before trying to find something might make one wonder if there is a “better” way?  The answer these days is, of course!  New systems have eliminated the need for any knowledge of telescopes and some even feature a “find it for me” button.  Push that button and like magic, the stellar object is in view!  Kind of nice and there always seems to be an “app” for everything these days. What happens though, if I want to take the time to take the time, as the saying goes?

Here is a photo taken recently at the very studio used by Rembrandt.  History shows that an artists’ palette would often be composed of only a few colors made from the raw earth materials that were locally available.  This makes me understand that those who made the colors must have been knowledgeable in collecting and grinding compounds into the final product to be used as a paint which in the hands of the artist, produced the artwork.   Basic knowledge at the time would have included a sense of the theoretical relationship of color, the science of compounds and harvesting sap oils from trees, the psychology of composition, the philosophy of aesthetics, the craft of brush making, the technique and poetry of the artist are just some of the manual considerations that might make us ask, why bother when it comes to making a painting?

During every age it seems that idea of progress is measured against what might be lost in the way things were done before.  “Find it for me” apps and “easy buttons” are great for simplifying certain tasks.  Sometimes though, it seems being “connected” makes us dis-connected from certain things, like a thorough comprehension of what were doing, or the satisfaction of succeeding in something that we tried for ourselves, from start to finish; complicated as that may seem.

Note: For those interested in a deeper study of materials and artistic processes for painters, please consider Virgil Elliott’s book,  “Traditional Oil Painting”.  It is a must have for a painters library and can be found on his website at  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.