Flaxseed oil, psyllium husk, a bit of chalk, oil paint, and a pinch of risk


I wrote a few notes to myself at the beginning of this semester about what I expect from students in my classes. These include a desire that they engage deeply with their work, that they find ways to discuss their progress and their process. I want them to take more responsibility for their learning, to risk more and to be able to play with the material to allow spontaneity. I place similar demands on myself as an artist and an educator. This semester is no exception. I am introducing a new painting method which involves hand refined linseed oil and chalk. This method is somewhat complex at the beginning to explain but allows for more freedom and energy in the paint handling. I wondered what details I need to add and when and how they would adopt the information I was giving them. Would they be able to handle the complexities of the system?  All my energies are devoted to communicating clearly the nuances and the particulars. 

I take a risk altering my teaching methods each semester. There are some moments that feel as though I were on a high wire without a net.  I prepare my lessons but go off in various directions as the moment takes me. I throw away the script and sometimes improvise wholesale.   I suppose all teachers with years of experience can do this but I have often felt that vertiginous drop in the lower stomach when you realize you are in free fall. But I am willing to take the chances and the students benefit. I'm not bored and hopefully neither are they.

Hand refined oil and chalk as additions to painting have been researched by Louis Velasquez and Tad Spurgeon, each of whom have valuable insights into this historical method. It involves purifying the organic flax seed oil with alcohol and using psyllium husks to hold and retain the mucilage which is released from the oil. I have been playing with it for just about a year and I find it redefines oil painting.  It requires some investment in time for the preparation of the oil but speeds up the painting process considerably as the oil dries quickly and with great body and gloss. It creates effects which resemble early master works which I have been unable to achieve with modern manufactured paint.  I felt it was worth the extra work and effort to introduce this new paint to students.   As it is my first semester doing so, I await their results before I can judge. The risk will probably pay off, but at any rate allowing the students to watch me take the risk could be just as instructive.