Religion, painting and Cats (Artist David Oleski)

David Oleski

David Oleski is an artist who lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve always admired the way he renders forms. He has amazing lush brushwork and his work is subtly colored. I first saw one of his paintings several years ago on a visit to Washington DC. We were strolling in and out of the stores along King Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virgina. I saw two of his paintings in a gallery, one had three apples and one had pears. I loved the bright green apples. Up close they seem nothing more than shapes with thick paint, but if you stepped back they became these wonderful apples. I was enchanted.

At that time it never occurred to me to ‘google’ his name to learn more about the artist. But I stumbled upon a link to David’s website at Bill Sharp’s blog.

One of the things I love about David Oleski is he provides complete information about the materials he uses in his work. If you wonder why it’s important, believe me it is, maybe not to you -but certainly to your heirs who may inherit any works you’ve purchased. I believe an artist has the obligation to create their work with the best materials they can afford. I paint so I know how expensive the materials are.

Ok the religion and cats part. In the link for his technical information, David gives you all the details of the materials he uses, type of beer he drinks, the cigars he smokes and even mentions his dog and cat (Frank and Ojisan, respectively). Got to love a man that is very detail and has such a sense of humor! I thought what he wrote about his cat, Okisan was sweet and funny:

Ojisan eats Flint River cat food, and every Sunday I’ll crack open a can for him, just so he has some rudimentary understanding of the abstract concept of religion. It remains to be seen if it’s working or not.

I loved the wry humor in that statement! I mentioned it to a friend this weekend and she looked at me like I was insane.

Back to the materials.

Why is it important to understand the materials an artist used? Well part of the answer is that many of the materials artist use are toxic. Flake white paint contains lead and so does maroger medium. If you go to a museum and view the works you will see some contemporary oils (by that I mean they are from the 20th century) with cracks and damage. I am not a restorer but in every art class I’ve taken the artist emphasises the principal of fat-over-lean for oils. If you fail to follow that rule you will get cracking. If you paint acrylics over oil you will get these types of cracks. And we all know that crack kills.

Last year I bought a painting at a great gallery in Santa Fe, NM. At the opening I was so excited to meet the artist whose work I adored. We actually got to spend a lot of time together talking and I asked her what paints she uses. Her reply astonished me because she used student grade oil paints and has since she started painting. Keep in mind her work is priced up to several thousands of dollars. Although the piece I bought wasn’t that expensive it made me wonder how the painting would hold up over the next 30-60 years.

Last year I drove with a friend from Albuquerque to Cerrillos, NM. Cerrillos is a beautiful mining town turned artist community with the luxury of being close to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. When I spoke with one gallery owner/artist and asked him about the materials he used his response was, I don’t know-what ever is on sale. I was a little shocked, he had these gorgeous landscapes and the impression I had was the less it costs him to make them, the more profit he had. I waited a bit and browsed but eventually I left.

I may not be able to look at a red on my palette and tell you that it’s winsor newton or old holland paint. But I do know the manufacturers of the paints and solvents I use, the types and weights of the linens/boards I use and also the types of mediums I use.

What’s the difference?

Student quality oils means that there is less pigment and more fillers used when they make it, I was told when I started watercolor painting years ago to buy the professional grade. The differences were pronounced enough that if I learned using student grade materials, I’d have to relearn how the materials worked when I switched to the professional grade. So it made sense to start with the professional grade.

Professional grade materials have more pigment and fewer binders. The amount of pigment varies from maker to maker. For the reds Ted Reed recommends Winsor Newton, I love the Williamsburg paints made by Carl Plansky. I’ve also seen folks talking about someone in New York City who makes these incredible blue paints. I haven’t found him yet (I know he doesn’t have a web site – you order through the phone)


2 responses to “Religion, painting and Cats (Artist David Oleski)

  1. Interesting discussion. You are absolutely right. It’s essential to use top quality. Both Picasso and Dali used poor quality materials at the beginning of their careers and their work deteriorated during their life time to the point where the paintings could not be saved.
    I know a few local painters that brag about using left over house paint. It’s ridiculous! It’s not made for fine art paintings and deteriorates on a built in obsolescence plan. Besides, in left over paints, one would rarely get a good range of colours.
    Norman Yates did an exterior mural at the University of Calgary, I believe it was. He spoke to us about it at a conference a few years back. He was so concerned that the mural last despite the extremes of weather that Albertans get that he contacted a New York company to make the paints especially so that they would retain their colour integrity and endure forever.
    The cost of paints was so great that it would have made any artist go bankrupt, but the company used the opportunity to advertise their new products and so was able to provide the, at cost, I think.
    In addition, he documented the mural painting’s progress and documented all the paints he used in various locations.
    As I say, it’s interesting stuff. I’m really glad that you are using good, artist’s quality materials.

  2. Hi Kay!
    I’d like to check out the mural. Do you know it’s name or would a google search using Alberta and Norman Yates yield the informaiton?

    One of the most interesting blogs, is Mark Golden’s (

    Mark is very open to discussions about the quality of materials used to produce Golden Acrylics, questions about light fastness, and product development. He’s very passionate about golden products and extremely open to questions about his product or techniques using his product.

    If you lurk there, you will find a number of well known artists as well as Mark Gottensegen author of The Painter’s Handbook a frequent commentor. Mark is the Chairman of the ASTM D01.57 on Artists’ Paints and Related Materials (ASTM International) and co-Director of the Art Materials Information and Education Network.

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