How I Spent My Summer, 2020

When I turned 12 my mother gave me a French easel and my first set of oil paint — Bellini / Bocour Oils. Inside the slim, elegant wooden box there were 12 tubes of paint, a bottle of linseed oil, a bottle of rectified turpentine, a half dozen brushes, and a few palette knives. In the lid of the box there was a slim plywood palette, a pad of waxed paper palettes, and 3 canvas wrapped boards. My love affair with materials had started long ago but this was something altogether different — it was fucking heaven.

Over the next few years I would spend hours painting plein-air (outdoor) landscapes with that paint box and easel — adding other colours to the set and doing what I could to wrestle something worth looking at out of the hidden secrets contained in all those tubes of colour.

Eventually it was time to leave home and pursue formal studies in painting. Just before I left for Art School, Mum gave me her own oil paint box, a larger metal one, and inside were the remnants of tubes she’d used, colours I had not met — chromes, madders and lakes. I added my own paints, bottles of mediums and brushes and headed off to University. 40 years later I still have that paint box and though it has been years since it was my only source of material, it has never been out of reach.

Mum is now 98 and this past spring she gave me another oil paint box. This box was one she treated herself to after giving me her metal one —it’s made of wood, with beautiful hinges and clasps. I’m not sure she’d done much painting in the past 3o years and this box needed attention. I spent much of the spring carefully cleaning and sanding it and then treated all the wood with Tung oil. While I did this, it occurred to me that perhaps I could re-visit those early days of painting plein-air and decided to give my French easel a once over as well.

I spent the summer of 2020 using Mum’s oil paint box and my French easel, painting plein-air in Georgian Bay and my own backyard. These pictures are what I managed to wrestle out of those past months.

I still have that wooden palette and a few of those original tubes of Bellini paint — superstitiously I have seeded them into my new paint box. The wrestling isn’t finished, and the love affair continues.


James Lahey

Fall, 2020