I lifted the garage door for him. He wasn’t as spry as he used to be, though at his age it’s to be expected. The hinges squealed, as if I were punishing them.
I knew my grandpa had a lot of hobbies, but the sight of all this mid-century crafting supplies momentarily took my breath. Not only were there boxes upon boxes of unidentified storage, there were jig saws, yellowed canvases, pieces of colored glass, tiles, drafting equipment.
“I think it’s all back here,” he said, slowly wending his way through the stacks of dilapidated cardboard.
“Wow,” I muttered under my breath. All of these costly supplies, going to waste in this cavernous space. My grandfather had quality tools; he understood the value of craftsmanship. It showed in the final product of whatever he worked on, from hand-lettered birthday cards to the tile laid in my parent’s bathroom.
He pulled out a green and khaki carrying case layered with dust. Unclasping the lid, I saw murky bottles and caught an acrid whiff of turpentine.
“Most of this stuff is still good. It doesn’t go bad,” he explained.
Opening the front of the case, I saw it had pull-out drawers full of grimy tubes labeled “Umber,” “Chromium Oxide Green,” “Payne’s Gray.”
“I don’t know how many of these are still good, but you’re welcome to it all.”
“Thank you,” I said, brushing my fingertips across the tubes. “What makes a color go bad?”
“Well,” he said, “Some of the pigments are made of organic material, so they go bad faster than others. Or if air got into any of these, they’d harden. Sometimes the pigment separates from the oil. You’ll be able to tell. Just toss it if it’s no good.
I nodded. I’d learned a little about pigments in art history class. Cadmiums and ultramarine, Phthalos and vermilion; how Renaissance artists would mix them with egg yolk to make tempera. Art history class was what made me say yes to grandpa’s offer of his oil painting supplies. I had only ever drawn safely in pencil before, but the daily exposure to Titian and Pissarro made me want to try ascending to another level. After a lifetime of black and white, I craved color.
Then he opened the box next to the workbench. I had never seen so many brushes! Some brushes large enough to paint a mural, some so fine they appeared to only have three or four hairs.
“What makes it a good brush?” I asked.
“Well, see this one here?” he said, pulling out a medium-sized brush in a clear plastic tube. Popping it open, he pulled it out and instructed, “Feel the bristles.”
I did. They were soft and pliable.
“These are made of sable.” He pulled out another brush. “This one is hog hair. Good brushes are made of better material.”
I selected a variety of sizes and types. Though I had a bag full, it hardly seemed to make a dent.
As he shut up the box, turning to a larger one, I asked, “Do you think you’ll ever paint again, grandpa?”
“Maybe so. I think about it sometimes.”
As we locked up the garage, hiding away the treasure trove of tools and art supplies, he said, “Now, you know what my dad always said about painting? Just have fun with it. Sometimes he used q-tips, or sponges, to try different effects.”
“‘There are no wrong ways to create art,’ he told me. Just remember that.”
I kept nodding. I recognized good advice when I heard it.
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