The 6-Step Guide to How Denise Lost Her Groove

"Pegasus" Copyright 2012, Denise Bellon West

My most recent knife painting, “Pegasus.”

Let me just say that I LOVED doing this painting! After all, it’s an oil; I LOVED the colors; I LOVED the subject (an animal); I loved that much of it was done with a knife…but here is The Rest of the Story.

First, before I get into the hows and whys of how the Painting Workshop I took (run by 2 lovely and talented ladies, Dreama Tolle Perry and Leslie Saeta) affected me so profoundly, you need to understand my circuitous path from frustrated watercolorist to impassioned oil painter to disgruntled oil painter to…add your own adjective. Here’s how it evolved:

1. In the beginning, I was a full-time watercolorist for 10 years. I didn’t enjoy the process very much (people will tell you that watercolors are THE most difficult medium to master – I didn’t get the memo), but I loved the end results, which made it all worthwhile! Then one day I finally felt worthy enough to tackle the medium of the Masters and took the monumental plunge into oils. Wait a minute – are you kidding me???! I waited 10 years before learning oils???! I thought there was supposed to be some magical, scary, extremely special thing about them. But they were the easiest thing I had ever done!!

My Almost-Still-Usable, but Ruined Brushes

2. I learned pretty quickly, though, that although I loved smearing the oil paints around, I had no patience for the rudiments of the medium. Case in point: I ruined pretty much every paint brush I ever touched, because I couldn’t be bothered to constantly swish my brushes in the solvent every time I wanted to change colors. At the end of each painting session, I would look at my sorry brushes, all jammed full of paint and with the bristles splayed in every direction, and try several methods, all toxic, to clean the paint out. Of course they were beyond the stage of being cleanable (kind of like when you discover that you can’t get white socks clean anymore after you’ve been wearing them around the house all week – I keep trying to teach my husband this). So I was left with having to paint with my now-worthless brushes. Or to keep having to buy new ones all the time (ahem).

Goin' Fishin', Copyright Denise Bellon West

(I taught myself how to paint with a knife with this painting. It was pure desperation. I was visiting the in-laws, standing in their laundry room, and I had brought only the 1 painting knife I owned and some paint. The rest is history.)

3.  So, eventually I decided to paint only with knives whenever I painted outdoors or when I traveled. This way there would be no need to have to clean brushes all the time, which would mean way fewer things I had to pack and much less time spent cleaning brushes – a chore I abhorred!

4. Next phase: Without cross ventilation in my studio, it did no good to leave the window open while I painted. I was asphyxiating myself with all the solvents! I decided to use my “odorless” mineral spirits only at the beginning stage of each painting, and to do that part outside or in the garage. I tried to use knives for the rest of the painting, but found myself longing for a brush at times. Okay, most of the time. Oh, who am I kidding? All the time!

5. This is when I morphed into my signature brush/knife/finger-painting method of painting – kind of like my nutty method of playing ping pong (emphasis on the word “playing”), where you use a combination of hands and paddles, walls, ceiling – anything immediately available that might keep the ball from touching the floor! It’s absolutely exhilarating, and I highly recommend it!

6. But, alas, I found myself putting off painting as much as possible when I was at home. This meant that I would pretty much paint just once a week, when I went downtown to paint with my Studio 208 group.

Next, I will post about the surprises I got from my painting workshop…or How I Got My Groove Back. Meanwhile, have any of these things happened to you? Have you done any morphing over the years? From what? Into what? Leave a comment, and we can commiserate with each other.


4 comments to The 6-Step Guide to How Denise Lost Her Groove

  • Hi Denise..I get it. After years of graphic design, acrylic painting I returned last year to oils. I had used them in college, but didn’t want the mess, etc as you mentioned. I am loving it, the freedom to mix on the canvas, the colors, the everything. I bought a Silicoil Brush Cleaning Tank that I keep on my paint table so I can clean my brushes as I go then dip them in water to remove that too. The brushes are hanging in there pretty well. Love watching your journey..

  • Hey, thanks for checking in, Beth. So glad to hear that you have revisited your oils! I am just finishing up Part 1 of my “Back in the Groove” posts and will publish it today. Make sure you check back in, because some of the things I learned, although amazingly simple, might be new and helpful to you, too.

  • OK Denise, I am on board now… starting with the beginning- at least of this series. But I get it, the cleaning the brushes, the toxicity. Switched to waterbased oils a few years ago, now back to acrylics. Am I loving it? not sure, but its working for me, for now. Looking forward to reading your next post…

  • Glad to hear that you were way ahead of me with the water-based oils and acrylics! That’s much better than my method of just STOPPING PAINTING!