Ellen Siebers on colour, paint and painting


Oil on marble ground on panel (shaped)

Ellen Siebers; colour, paint and painting

“I work in oil, and am very connected to the materials I choose.  I love the versatility and time that oil provides.  When I first began to use oil paint the drying time felt like a burden; now I think of that time as an asset.  I can only do so much with the paint in one day, and sometimes after one sitting the painting will be finished.  But often the drying time between layers ends up serving as meditative time between the painting and myself, time to think about what the painting is asking me to do.  I am not really all that prolific, I take quite a bit of time in and around the making of things.  I’m a supporter of the necessity of unproductive productive time.  

I do not purchase that many colors of paint, but a more extensive list than Lowry.  My must-haves are burnt sienna, cobalt blue, prussian blue, cadmium red, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, and titanium white.  A new must is a hot pink called “Luminous Opera”.  Maybe it is the name.  But often a bit of hot pink or lemon yellow can really pump up and give new life to neutral tones and grays (which I use so often).  

I purchase other colors every now and then, like a tube of cerulean blue or yellow ochre, and the tubes tend to last forever.  My parents purchased me a set of neutral toned pigments on a trip to France, and I often add them in to my paint.  I wish I could say the brand but I don’t think there is one, they were purchased in a market somewhere in Provence.  I use them sparingly for fear of never finding the same ones again!

If you look through my paints you will see a few brands.  I’m still experimenting with their differences, I suppose I haven’t fallen in love with any single brand yet.  I like the Williamsburg oils, and also have some Windsor & Newtons and a few Senneliers and Old Hollands.  I do like a stiffer paint so that it can stand up a bit with the brush strokes.  I like texture.  That being said, It depends a lot on what my budget is at the moment.  If I can afford to I always purchase the true pigment, not the hue.  That is a singular thing that feels important to me when purchasing paint, whatever brand or grade.  

I have worked on my own supports for at least 8 years.  Back when I worked on canvas, I would always make the stretchers and prime the canvas myself.  There’s a slickness to the prefabricated versions that never clicked with me.  The gesso was more like an acrylic plastic, which is I think the nature of many gessos on the market.  Also, it tends to be less expensive to make the things yourself.  

Now I work on 3/4″ birch plywood, and have the edges beveled at 45 degrees.  I make my own gesso from a mixture of rabbit skin glue and powdered marble.  The gesso is poured, not brushed, over the surfaces and then it levels on its own.  After several layers are poured and it is dry the surface resembles something ceramic rather than plastic, and the first few layers of paint are absorbed quickly, almost as if you were painting upon paper.  This gesso cannot be applied to canvas, as it would crack, but I prefer the plywood for many reasons.  I love how sturdy it is.  It can take any amount of sanding or carving.  And when the pieces are hung on a wall, the bevel makes the paintings seem without edge.  It lessens the heaviness of the thing, and gives a bit of air back to the paintings.” ~ Ellen Siebers

Ellen’s work recently featured in: DO IT YOURSELF, 10 Exhibitions Under One Roof, Featuring 40+ Bushwick Artists. Curated by 10 Visiting Artists from across the US.