Sunday, May 8, 2011


Unfinished canvas
it looks OK at this distance

 Cadmium Yellow is one of my most treasured pigments. Yes, I am aware that there is a health hazard with them, but I am drawn to the cadmium colors. I sense some kind of extra energy in all of them.

My studio, once a guest bedroom, is fine for smaller works. Located in central California, the windows and doors are open most of the year for ventilation, however, I did not want to be in a confined space with twenty-five square feet of fresh out gassing paint (see links below). So, in the late afternoon, on the shady side of the barn, I leaned the big canvas against the wall. With a large brush, I laid on a generous amount of a Permalba white with a squeeze each of Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow, and a splash of a French Lemon Yellow. The colors were blending beautifully into the clean, clear, soft yellow background I had seen in my mind. Just when I thought it couldn't get more perfect, I noticed that I was not alone. As fast as I was painting, every square inch (all 3,600) of it was filling with kamikaze-style little black bugs.

Anyone who has tried to rescue an innocent insect from fresh oil paint know how futile that is. I hoped I could just work them into the paint as each one is tiny. No one would notice. I tried to console myself saying this is life (in this case death), this is an authentic event in the evolution of a work of art. I kept working the canvas until it was completely covered and with paint and more bugs. As I walked away from the finished background, I faintly hoped in the morning the bugs would have somehow found away out of their predicament on their own.

No one would notice, hah!  At best, black mixed with yellow looks green. Most of them still appear very black. I spent a sizable part of the next day with a razor tipped art knife, with only moderate success at picking out bug parts. When it is completely dry, I will have to sand parts (with respirator), fill the knife gouges in the paint, dry, sand again, and repaint at least once the whole upper half of the painting. Next time, I will paint indoors, and then dry it outside in the full heat of the sun when there are far fewer bugs.

I had to laugh today, I remembered that yellow is used as a lure by agriculturists to trap insects.  It appears that many insects are attracted to yellow also, and my canvas may be the biggest sticky trap ever. My apologies to entomologists, environmentalists, and bugs.

Links to learn more about the toxicity of cadmium paints:
The University of Illinois  
Golden Artist Colors
Yahoo Answers


  1. Ahhhh! You could have left the bugs and called it Mixed Media!

    You know there has to be a reason this happened. Right??

  2. thank you for making me smile with this post... i am now fascianted to know what you are planning for this cad yellow canvas mixed with body parts;)