The Romanticism of Materials

So about a month ago I found myself watching more and more videos not from YouTube artists, but instead from paint (and other supply) manufacturers. Most intriguing was R&F’s history of the company, told from its founder and owner Richard Frumess. He described the journey from working in a small art store to creating for what was a time the only mass produced encaustic paint available in the world. In Frumess’ story he referred to a love for his craft as a “romance of (art) materials.” Like Frumess, I too have a great love for the raw materials that go into creating a piece of art.

It is a love that I find is shared with more often with experienced artists and professionals, and not so much that with beginners. When you just start out you might be inspired by all the different art materials, but it’s rare to find someone who is in love with the purity of color and the undertones of grayscale as much as someone like myself. It is with such artists far and few, that I can really talk about materials in such a way that gives meaning to their raw essence in such a unique fashion that others might find somewhat unhealthy.

For example when I get together with my friend and fellow artist RarithArt we can discuss the subtle joys of a beautifully transparent umber or the complexities of an opaque indigo, knowing full well we don’t have any idea what specific piece such colors would be used to create. It is in this type of moment where the romanticism of materials lay.

There are countless days I find myself not working on any specific painting in the studio, but instead pacing the floor looking at all the colors, tools, and possibilities at my disposal. That may sound a little conceited of me to boast in my many materials, but there is something beautiful in the collection that I have accumulated in the years since I first started drawing and painting. Much like wandering through the art store, I can look at the different colors on my painting shelf and start to imagine a pure blue sky, a blood red forest, or a shining gold city just by looking at the paint tubes.

This Romanticism of Materials, is an incredible feeling and philosophy within the fine art world. It is something that I really feel bad for digital artists regarding, as there is little connection with software than there is with the tactile sensation of squeezing out a fresh blob of a acrylic or watercolor on my palette; the sound and vibration of snapping a piece of chalk or charcoal through rigorous movements across the paper, and of course the sense of customization in stretching a new canvas and sanding down the thick gessoed surface.

I think as a growing artist, whether your materials are high class or student grade, it’s important to build a connection with what you use to create art. I am reminded of the many travel shows I’ve seen where cooks used the same pot to create the same dish for generations. Not only because it was all they had, but because the pot became imbued with the caked on flavors of the past. The same is true for many of my brushes. Sure, they may not be good for what they were first bought for, but over time as my needs changed, so did the brushes. I wouldn’t be able to create the same way with a new brush as I do with ones that are 10+ years old and beaten to hell. The connection I have with my brushes are easily the same as a great cook, or a mechanic with their 50+ year old wrench.

This may be hard for some of you to understand, but for some of us artists the romance of new and old materials is something that is just as inspiring to the process as travel, literature, or visual entertainment that many artists are driven to create new art from. As you continue to expand your own working set, never forget to enjoy working with your materials. Your paints both in their quality and in their color should inspire you to create just through their inherent properties.


What are your thoughts on this concept of the “romanticism of materials.” Do you have a deep love for your paints and/or pencils, or is this a new concept for you entirely?