By Susan Beebe
Oil paints are expensive. My favorite color, cobalt violet, costs $37 for a small tube.
I paint in the woods, on an island, from May to October. I see cobalt violet in the shadows under knobs of moss, and under ﬂakes of spruce bark, and when the sun lights up the trunk, cobalt violet plus burnt umber plus titanium white make a perfect sunlit gray. I use a lot of it, and other expensive colors, so when Dick Blick, the art supply company, had a year-end sale, I knew it was time to replace my old, dried-up tubes, from which I’ve squeezed every speck of paint with a tube-wringer and pliers.
When the delightful package arrived, I cleaned out my paintbox, a large, red plastic toolbox from E.L. Spear hardware I’ve had for twenty years. I keep the paints I’m currently using in the top lift-out tray, and in the bin underneath, about 25 paintbrushes, four “Bulldog” clamps, a piece of wood shingle to put under my easel’ s front leg so it doesn’t sink in the moss, palette cups, palette knives, a jar of painting medium, and one of “Art Guard” barrier cream, extra paints, and rags torn from old ﬂannel shirts and nightgowns.
Opening the box and seeing my familiar woods-painting colors: cadmium yellow light, sap green, viridian, cobalt violet, and the sienna brown spruce needles permanently stuck to the tray with dried oil or resin, took me right back to that knob of land west of the stone wall, among tall, old spruces and on deep moss, where I’ve painted twelve paintings over the last two years.
I wonder how all the animals I saw when I was painting are doing with this weird weather and up-and-down temperatures. The white-footed mice, red-backed voles, red squirrels, and white weasels depend on the subnivean layer, the space between snow and the forest ﬂoor, which isn’t here this year. I’m less worried about the fox, mink and deer that trotted, glided, and walked past me without noticing me, because I was standing so still at my easel. I’m not worried at all about the pileated and hairy woodpeckers, red-breasted nuthatches, chickadees, brown creepers, and kinglets that overwinter on the island. They ’ll ﬁnd plenty of grubs in rotten wood, and frozen caterpillars under bark. The great horned and barred owls will have easier hunting of the voles and mice, and the ravens will ﬁnd carcasses along the shore.
And I will wait for spring and painting in the woods again.
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