Painting outside is one of the best ways to become a better artist. Through personal observation and time constraints by nature, the artist/painter needs to learn how to work fast without compromising their efforts. It is exciting and fun now, thanks to an American artist who was also an inventor.
In 1841, John G. Rand invented the squeezable metal paint tube. Up until then artists that wanted to leave the confines of their studios to paint outside had to haul cumbersome equipment and paints requiring serious motivation and assistance resulting in few actually doing it. Originally artists or the apprentice, made up their own pigments. The first readymade paint was sold by “colormen” in pig’s bladders that were tied with string. To use the paint, the artist had to pierce the bladder with a tack which was also used to plug it up. Spillage, bursting and drying were big problems. In 1822, a glass syringe with a plunger became available but is was also very messy. Finally, Rand, a Charleston native living in London who was frustrated with his expensive paints drying out before he could use them, came up with this breakthrough idea. His collapsible tube with a stopper top gave paint a long shelf life with easy use and portability.
Immediately, Windsor & Newton of London started using Rand’s tubes for their oil paints. This set off a revolution in the art world for more inventions designed to aid the artist in the field like the folding easel and palettes, portable paint boxes, stretched canvases, and canvas panels. For the first time in history, it was now possible to produce a finished oil painting on-site -en plein air- in one outing. Soon, Rand’s tubes were filled with new malleable, dazzling colors, which the Impressionists took full advantage of. Now, they could mix brilliant colors much more efficiently as they captured the fleeting light which began a new way of seeing and painting.
Pissarro claimed to have banished the old, dull “earth” colors from his palette. Monet painted a series in La Gare Saint-Lazare, a major train station with huge black engines and steam, using a mix of rainbow hues producing surprising light filled imagery. His other en plein air efforts changed the art world forever. Up until then artists would prepare only a few colors at a time to work with during a session, filling in a specific area on the canvas just to stave off pigments from drying. Now, Camille Pissarro said, “Don’t paint bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere.” You can see how excited he was as an artist experiencing this new freedom.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cezanne, no Monet, no Pissarro and no Impressionism.” Armed with their new tools, the Impressionists created energetic, loose paintings in refreshing colors. The leading conservative art critics at the time denounced the Impressionists as “dazzlers who painted only with intense colors” as well as many other very derogatory comments with claims the paintings were not finished, sloppy or child’s play. Even though the Impressionists were berated by the so called experts, they continued their exploration of this new approach. Gradually, the public identified with recognizable landscapes, and liked seeing familiar people and places, turning the tide for support of the Impressionists. The rest is history.
The Winsor & Newton factory in London has a small museum. One of the displays shows the evolution of the paint tube starting with the strange looking pig’s bladder. As we all know now, Rand’s invention spread universally, which we take for granted using every day. For the art world this invention happened at the right time and place, changing by leaps and bounds, a painter’s ability to paint better, unleashing their creativity in ways that no one could have imagined.
Laurie Warner, Plein Air Artist
Owner of Nouveau Art Gallery