August 8

How I Opened a Pandora’s Box of Oil Paint


A couple of weeks ago I found myself crying over a box of oil paints. 

I love oil painting. 

There's something so voluptuous and immersive in the texture of the buttery paint, the heady, intoxicating aroma of linseed oil and turpentine, and the way the colours mix and sit together.

There's a curious little bounce as you apply the paint to a stretched canvas—something you never get from painting on paper or board—and it makes a gentle scraping, swooshing noise as the brush or palette knife moves against the texture of the taught fabric. 

You come up for air, from the hypnotic brushwork rhythm...

and consider what you've painted...

before diving back in—to refine and modify. And repeat it over and over until at some point, you step back and think, Ok, that's enough.

Once you try it, you're hooked.

End of Summer, 2019. WIP Details

End of Summer, 2019. WIP Details | Julia Brown

Working in oils is something I've missed dearly.

That heady aroma associated with the medium is a bit of a hindrance when you don't have a home studio separate from your living space. It tends to drift through rooms.

I told myself there were a million other ways to make art that weren't quite so invasive—it's one of the reasons I've been predominantly working with watercolours and inks lately. They're fantastic in their own right, and using them has allowed me to work from home, and develop new skills in the various media.

But they ain't oils.

A testament to how addictive they are is that I never threw away my oil paints from when I did have a full studio, 15 years ago. It would have been too much of a wrench—like cutting off a limb. Somewhere deep in the back of my mind, I've never given up on the possibility of being able to use them again. 

And that opportunity is now, at the weekly painting session I've started going to. So I found myself up in the tropical heat of our loft, two weeks ago, digging out the storage box with all my old kit.

As I sorted through each tube of colour, cleaning and releasing all the lids welded to the tubes through years of neglect, I drank in the smell of linseed and savoured the greasy resistance of the paint on my fingers. 

I was reacquainting myself with old friends—a bittersweet flood of joy, sadness, regret, excitement and memories.

And that's why I found myself crying over a box of paints.

And also why I'm unbelievably excited that I've finished my first oil painting in 15 years. 

But boy, was I nervous to start it.

My mind was racing with 'What if?'s... Would I have lost all the skills I originally had? Probably at least some of them, because I've not been practising that specific skill set. Would I make a complete mess of it? Would I forget how to paint?


I spent a good 10 minutes after laying out my paints and setting up my canvas on the easel...faffing. Procrastinating to delay the scary prospect of committing myself to doing this.

And then? Well, I figured I'd look even more like a dickhead if I sat around and did nothing for the entire session, so I just got stuck in.

And it was fine. More than fine, in fact. It was exhilarating, sensuous and So. Much. Fun.

It was like returning home after 20 years of being away. Like waking up after a shit dream to realise you're where you should be and it's all OK.

This is the painting (see image below).

I've included some detail shots of the work in progress nearer the top of this post, so you can get an idea of the texture of the paint and how it looks close-up, and if you click on the main painting image, it'll open to full page size.

End of Summer, 2019, Oil on canvas

End of Summer, 2019, Oil on canvas (51.0 x 76.0 cm) | Julia Brown

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About Julia

Julia Brown

Julia is a motorcycle-riding, cat-herding, food loving fine artist.

Based in rural Yorkshire, she lives with her partner, sculptor Damon Price, and their 3 bonkers cats. 

Aside from painting and drawing, she designs and illustrates books, sometimes does the garden, and loves food and cooking—but then has to run it off at some point later.

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