In conversation with Michael Harding
Michael Harding at work in his factory in South Wales, United Kingdom
Like a lot of artists I often wonder to what extent the paints and materials one uses influence how good an artist you are or can be? Or is it not so much about the tool but more so the hand that wields it?
I had the idea to talk to Michael Harding about his handmade oil paints for a while. I had seen them in my art shop when I started working in oils, and as an artist I was curious about how one actually goes about making paint, let alone using the recipes of the Old Masters. The fact that Michael is also an artist, piqued my interest to talk to him.
While pricey compared to the more commercial paints they sit next to in my art shop, Michael Harding paints are competitively priced amongst the oils one might find in specialist art shops or online. In addition they are hand made and some of them contain genuinely hard to come by pigments, so it stands to reason one might expect to spend a bit more for the benefits these things yield in your work. But what exactly would these benefits be? More questions for Michael.
The publication I contribute to, Fashion Globe, was interested in running my interview with Michael Harding, and the resulting piece focused on his journey from artist to master paint maker, and what makes his paints so specialist. This interview, entitled Michael Harding - The Art of Colour features in their May 2016 issue.
In addition to having an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things paint and art related, Michael is also an incredibly personable and accessible individual. He has a refreshing openness which I found invaluable as a developing artist who is always hoping to improve and educate myself. It turns out that what I wanted to know was too vast to contain within a single Fashion Globe article, so I had the idea to continue our exchange here on my art blog. I have also included a Q&A section comprising of questions submitted to me for Michael by artist friends and members of my social media art groups. And of course no conversation here would be complete without my Artist’s Proust Questionnaire.
Q: I did a bit of research, and contrary to what I thought, yours are not the most expensive brand of oil paints out there.
Just because something is more expensive, please don't think it's any better. Should I raise my prices?
Q: (Laughing) No, no! But yours are the most expensive brand in my local art shop. So why should I be spending more, what is the benefit over another brand that is also targeted at professional artists?
You will see oil paints in a way you never new existed. I am constantly told I change the lives of artists on a daily basis. If you are serious about oil paints and painting you will see and experience the difference. One of the best reasons to use my paints is: I leave out what other manufacturers put in.
Q: What about someone starting out; what advice would you give them?
First, choose colours you like the look of, each of our tubes has a real colour strip so you can see and feel real paint. Simply put, don’t choose colours you don’t like or you will not like your painting. Also, make sure you buy quality oil paints as they last longer and have a handling property that removes the struggle of trying to get your paint to do what you want it to do. For example, when you lay a brushstroke down on the canvas, my oil paint stays there unless you want to change it. Think of it another way, if one of your children was an aspiring musician, and they were off to the London School of Music, and they said, "Mum, I need a violin," you wouldn't go and buy them a plastic one, would you? Within reason, you'd buy the best you could possibly get your hands on so they could stand the best chance of understanding and feeling what they were playing. I think it's the same thing.
Q: Please explain to me the difference in costs associated with your various paints? (Michael currently manufactures 94 colours ranging from Series 1 to Series 7).
People often ask me why there are different series numbers of paints. The series number reflects the rarity of the pigment and cost of raw materials needed to bring about the very best in each pigment particle. Vermilion pigment for example is very expensive and yields only a few tubes per kilogram! Titanium is a modern synthetic and costs much less per kilogram and thus its yield is quintupled by comparison to Vermilion.
Q: In as much as you can without too much scientific speak, give us an idea of what goes into a tube of, say, Titanium White Number 1 paint?
Safflower oil, Titanium pigment, a small amount of Zinc pigment, and a very, very, small amount of a wax like substance to prevent separation of pigment and oil. That’s all. I liken my industry to that of being a chef. All of us paint makers have a global garden to select our ingredients from and we all have our own recipes on “how to” make our paints. I keep closest to the source, kind of like clean eating, making a product without fillers.
Q: Ah this reminds of something someone told me about the health benefits of smoking pure tobacco over smoking a cigarette that’s mixed with wood chips, formaldehyde and loads of other junk.
(Michael, an anti-smoker, dislikes the analogy)
There are 400 additives they put into a cigarette to keep people addicted. Yet, they had the audacity to go and ban us from making and selling lead whites within Europe. Eighty million people die a year from smoking-related cancers, yet, to my knowledge, not one person dies from lead poisoning from paint. Apart from when kids peel it off the wall and eat it. I'm talking about use as an artist. It's ridiculous.
Q: Are the Americans still allowed to us it? Is it just Europe and the UK?
Yes, Europe and the UK. What they've done there is, I think the legislation originally came out of the EEC, in their wonderful wisdom, decided that artists weren't competent enough to put paint onto a palette and then onto a canvas without eating it. Therefore, artists weren't responsible and they had a competency level less than a child, and couldn't be trusted with such a dangerous material.
Q: I see you've got Stack Lead White on your website.
Stack Lead White and my Cremnitz Whites are all lead carbonates. I can sell them to who I like in the UK, store-wise. It's the store that has the onus, or responsibility, to assure themselves that the person they're selling to is a restorer.
Q: So you’re selling it in the States?
We sell it in the States. The only places we don't sell it regularly, is the UK and Europe. Australia has loads, America has loads, Canada - you name it. There's no restrictions there at all.
(I tell Michael the anecdote about Lucian Freud, upon hearing about the imminent ban of lead white paint in the UK, panicking and buying a garage full of it before it became outlawed.)
I've got an Italian artist who claims he's got evidence that Lucian Freud was using some of mine as well, but I don't know. To be honest with you, I don't start going around getting in a tizz about whether an artist is using my paint or not. I just leave it to them to get on with it. If I started worrying like that, I'd never be off the phone, because of the tens of thousands of artists that use my paint. I met him (Lucian Freud) once at the Royal Academy and gave him some lacquers, and possibly some Vermilion. I was invited to meet David Hockney, and Lucian showed up as well, so I met Lucian Freud at the same time. It was fun. Hockney is a lovely man, I must say.
Q: What is the benefit of lead based paints?
There are so many! Lead based paints are permanent, meaning the pigment does not break down like some pigment particles can with the introduction of direct sunlight day in and day out. Also, lead paint handles in a manner that gives the artist more freedom to create the brushstrokes they envision on their canvas. The handling qualities are superior when it comes to goopy, ropey textures which are so loved for building up a painting, highlighting natural phenomenon such as waves or textured items like ruffled cuffs and collars and hair. It is also superior in making the most amazing flesh tones when combined with other grand pigments like Vermilion and Lead Tin Yellow Light.
Q: So what would be your go-to palette for flesh tones?
Oh, dead easy. Three colours: Any lead white. For the UK guys, then, of course, we brought out what we call a Lead White Alternative. That's quite a creamy white. That, put with Yellow Aureolin Deep, and either Vermilion or Cadmium Red. In the ideal world, I'd like people to be using a Lead White with a Vermilion and Yellow Aureolin Deep, and it's instant skin colour.
Do you know the artist Jeremy Lipking? He’s a prolifically good portrait artist. He's got a particular technique where he uses my Brilliant Pink and Lemon Yellow to make his flesh tones. That's only two colours.
Q: Wow. I've never heard it that reduced.
Yeah, that's his starting point. When you put those two together, you will have a flesh tone instantly. Of course, if you want to alter it accordingly, then you can brown it or blue it, or whatever to cool it down. Alizarin Crimson, if you want to make it more elaborate. They look like the ingredients of a human being. If you put Rose Madder on your skin, it looks like you're bleeding.
Q: So you started making paints when you yourself were an artist. I’ve tried finding your work online and I cannot see it anywhere.
Okay, let me think. In about 1998, I got all my work together and I took it down to the bottom of my mother's garden and set light to it. Any paintings prior to '98, and I know a few of them that are dotted around with friends and relations, they won't let me get my hands on them. I went through a bit of a crisis in the late '90s about art and what the meaning of it was for me. I was totally dissatisfied with anything I'd ever produced. It was a big mistake. Even work that I'd done as a 10-year-old was done by a different person, if you know what I mean. I stupidly got rid of the lot. I do probably two or three paintings a year at the moment. Most of them are here in this house in Boston, actually.
Q: And what kind of art is it?
I do portraits and landscapes. If people ask me what I do for a living, I say I'm a professional paint maker. I don't describe myself as a full-time practicing artist. That would be inappropriate for me to do. Yeah, I like to think I can paint. I'm okay. I'm not going to set the world on fire. I'm just all right. Fortunately for me, I don't have to try to make a living from my art.
Q: There's this image in my head: There you were, painting away obsessively. Fighting with your paints, and then you thought to yourself: "That's it, I have to start making my own, because I'm not getting what I want." I am interested in that part and what happened from there.
Okay. It's probably similar emotions to someone like a chef, I think. I don't think of making paint as an art. It's a craft. I think there's certain definitions which we all agree broadly between what is a craft and what is an art. Paint-making, certainly, is not an art. Painting-making, yes, most definitely is an art. When I was leaving college, I was frustrated that I ... I was frustrated for a whole stack of reasons. One being just being a young guy trying to figure myself out, let alone everything else that was going on with the art world at the time. I left college completely disillusioned. I also struggled with my painting. I'd look at Old Master paintings in the National in London and think, "Let alone the fact the guy can ... Okay, he's got genius and he's got skills I don't have, but it's like he's working with a completely different box of tricks. What's going on here?” That was the sort of eureka moment, as it were. To stand a chance of being the most fulfilled artist that any of us are capable of being, you're only going to achieve that with the soundest of materials.
In those days, that is before people were in business making paint commercially, paint was made in the studio on the day, by either the Master himself or one of his assistants. You used it that day. They would make it as good as they could. They wouldn't grind up the paint and go, "Oh, this looks really good and ready, now time to add the extenders and fillers.” It doesn't make sense. Of course, the Master would be the one that had to be sure that the paint he was about to apply to his panel or canvas was the best he could get his hands on. These are the tools of your trade, and to be at the top of your game, you need your best tools.
Q: So back in 1982 you begin consulting technical bulletins in the National Gallery regarding the historical ingredients in paint, where then did you begin sourcing the pigments and chemicals necessary to make paint? I’m curious about this kind of research especially in the days before the internet.
Prior to the Internet and still to this day I consult the available technical bulletins in the National Gallery and other notable houses of research. The bulletins along with loads of historical books helped me gain the mentality of great artists of the past. Studying their studio techniques, available sources of natural pigments, and pigments that came from oxidising materials, gave me my best start into paint making. Today I source my pigments from all over the world. I make a concerted effort to work with the very best tradespeople and craftsmen to secure the finest ingredients. I make oil paint that does not use unnecessary chemicals. All my paints are formulated to take a pigment particle to its optimum capacity of colour just as was done in the past.
Q: You sound like a perfectionist.
Technically, I am. Yeah, although my wife might not agree. There are certain areas of my life where I am a perfectionist, and certain areas where I'm not. Where it comes to paint, absolutely. I think that this is probably why I destroyed my own artwork. I set the bar ridiculously high for myself. The planet is covered with several hundred million masochists who also call themselves artists. For me, it's a painful process. It's a delight, but it's a bizarre feeling.
Q: It is. Everyone I talk to, there's this common thread where they paint because it's some kind of compulsive need to create. At the same time, they all talk about the challenge. That word comes up again and again. I hear: "I enjoy the challenge. I don't like things that are too easy. I like to sit there and figure it out, then look back and see that I've somehow solved something."
I think you said a very interesting thing, though I think psychologically, artists should always be pushing themselves. Whether they define this as a challenge or just trying to take that painting the extra mile, there is an obligation, intellectually, that an artist must be doing that. When people buy art, that's what they're really buying off an artist.
Q: What is the most difficult to source ingredient/pigment for paint?
Without a doubt Lapis Lazuli and Vermilion are my most difficult pigments to keep in consistent supply. Lapis because of the perils of opal mining, where Lapis is found, and where many lose their lives due to pirates of the opals. Vermilion because it is a rare pigment and is constantly increasing in price. Lastly these two pigments are not research friendly as the very best quality comes from hidden parts of the world that don’t necessarily embrace the modern world.
Q: Do you travel in order to source your ingredients? What’s the most interesting place you have visited for this purpose?
Perhaps people think I am an Indiana Jones caricature hanging off cliffs with a leather bag and a geologist hammer in one hand fighting off bandits! There are in some cases pigment bandits but they wear suites now days. At times I do travel looking for sources of pigments. Right now my looking has slowed as I have 25 plus years of working my sources. However, I recently spent time in Hawaii and looked through all the volcanic ash for a pigment I wanted.
Q: So when you are not travelling, where is home?
The world is my home! Although I was born, raised and have lived all but five years of my life in the UK, I feel very fortunate to have an occupation where I can travel and spend solid chunks of time with artists all over the world. My wife and I enjoy travel and we go everywhere together. In the last 12 months I went from Germany to Alaska, Hawaii to Australia. I am one of those lucky people who can say, “I have the best job in the world.” Currently I spend approximately half my life in the United Kingdom and because my wife is American we spend spend time in the United States.
Q: Where are your paints manufactured and do you still have a hand in the manufacturing process?
I moved my workshop out of Whitechapel, London about seven years ago to South Wales. It was one of the toughest decisions but possibly the very best business decision I have ever made. There are a number of reasons why it was fortuitous for me to move out of London. Firstly, my London landlord was tripling my rent in Whitechapel and hence I would have had to increase the cost of my oil paint products hence passing on the rent increase to artists. Not a good idea since I am a firm believer in creating a superb product that is affordable. Secondly, I have an incredibly talented group of Welsh craftsmen working with me. I am located near the Brecon Beacons (the countryside is staggering) where there is a great love and appreciation of nature and all things beautiful – thus my team of craftsmen all have an eye for beauty. Lastly, when I am in my workshop located at the edge of the Brecon Beacons, I am like a child with a BIG toy chest. I have all my raw materials, implements, a “sandbox” of experiments and the ability to get completely covered in that wonderful colourful syrup we call oil paint.
Q: Please talk to us about the differences in your white paints. For e.g. what is the difference between Titanium White 1 and Titanium White 2?
I currently have nine whites in my range. I wish all nine can be used by artists in the United Kingdom and Europe but as mentioned previously there is a ban on lead whites in the UK and Europe.
Titanium White No. 1 (series 1) is ground in safflower oil giving the oil paint a cleaner, brighter appearance. Safflower oil is generally slower to dry over a linseed oil based paint. Artists who want their paint to remain “open” or rather wet for a number of days use my No. 1 so they can revisit areas and rework them.
Titanium White No. 2 (series 1) is ground in linseed oil. Artists who want their paint to dry faster than a safflower oil use my Titanium White No. 2.
Titanium White No. 3 (series1) is ground in Linseed oil also. But, this paint is a naughty paint. I don’t even like discussing it because I feel coerced by artists living in damp studios who continuously lobbied me for a “teensie, tiny bit” of a drier in a paint so their works would be ready for academic turn in times, art openings and grand occasions where they have left painting for the last minute and have got to provide a finished product. *Sigh* My least favourite paint in my line.
Zinc White (series 1) is a combination of Zinc and Titanium White ground in linseed oil. Despite the “horrors” artists read in books about Zinc White delaminating their paintings, you only use it to mix with other oil colours. The formulation of other colours when combined with Zinc White help to strengthen the Zinc White. Zinc White is “brilliant” at its job as it is meant to be mixed with other colours to take them to a lighter colour without losing the intensity of the colour. Besides, the majority of what goes wrong with a painting is in the way the artist constructs the painting rather than using a bit of Zinc White for mixing!
Warm White / Lead White Alternative (series 1) is ground in linseed oil. While my Stack Lead White is my preferred oil paint to use for a white, I recognised there are thousands of artists in the UK and Europe who wanted and requested over and over some type of substitute to help get their lead addiction under control when the powers that be banned the sale of Lead White. So, I created a designer copy of lead white paint. As you know lead white is not really white, it is a cream colour at best. My formulation starts with a titanium pigment with the help of a few other pigments to get the colour of a lead white. Then I carefully formulated the paint to have as much as possible a lead-like handling capability. Although it is not 100% (because it is not lead) it satiates the artist’s addiction to lead and provides a superb alternative for artists who are not in favour of using a toxic paint but want a lead-like quality. On this one, we all win!
Foundation White (series 2) is ground in linseed oil. I originally formulated this paint for a very famous painter who requested an oil paint that can be used as a ground on their canvas. It was so easy and fun for me to make that I thought, I may as well make it for everyone! To this day it is one of my best sellers to use as a ground.
Cremnitz White No. 1 (series 3) ground in linseed oil. This product is banned from sales in the UK and Europe. But . . . let me tell you how wonderful and delightfully fulfilling this product is for artists who can use a lead white. It meets the criteria of being buttery when it needs to be, stodgy and thick when painted on in a thick manner, and being ground in linseed for strength - as linseed is the strongest of all oils.
Cremnitz White No. 2 (series 3) ground in walnut oil. This product too, is banned from sales in the UK and Europe. This oil paint has all the aforementioned qualities but is ground in walnut which gives this lead white a lighter, whiter finish.
Stack Lead White (series 6) ground in linseed oil. My favourite lead white, oh how I love the smell of linseed, lead and a touch of natural manure! This paint does not behave like any of my other paints. While no batch is exactly the same the primary principle of a Stack Lead White is the thixotropic nature of the paint. When squeezed out of a 40 ml tube its consistency is like cold butter, firm. But knowingly, when worked with a palette knife the consistency changes to a warm, ropey, stringy texture. I have hours of fun painting and exploring the unique handling qualities of my Stack Lead White and adore what it does to my works of art!
Q: Which white is best for skin tones in your opinion?
I think you can guess my answer …. of course my handmade Stack Lead White. There is nothing like a morning spent in the fields of horses grazing upon the grassy hillsides of the Brecon Beacons and me with my big bucket commencing my process of collecting the finest horse poop to start my Dutch Stack Lead method of making Stack Lead White.
Q: What is the difference/varying benefits between Linseed, safflower, poppy seed and walnut oil?
No one oil is superior. The differences are in colour, strength and fragrance. Each oil has its own virtues; I prefer linseed as it is the strongest.
Q: Do you have a holy grail of a paint/colour you would love to make or approximate but it’s very difficult?
Oh yes, but it’s a story my wife prefers I do not tell as I have a torn achilles tendon from trying to make my ‘holy grail’, multiple fires, and accomplished one of my finest negotiating pieces of work with the Chinese.
Demonstrating colours. Michael Harding
Q: Where do you get inspiration from for new colours?
Since I was born with no sports gene but gifted with a strong colour gene it doesn’t take much for my inspirations to come to me. I do so enjoy art history books which are full of inspiration of true ancient pigments. The ancients are how I got started and there is always a love of ancient colours inside me. However, as mentioned previously, I have a sandbox that I enjoying mixing it up in as playing in my sandbox inspires me. I find at times I cannot resist making up a colour from other pigments. Sometimes certain combinations of pigments have surprising, even slightly magical outcomes when combined, take a look at our recently launched Amethyst for example.
Q: To what extent does your collaboration with artists impact on your creation of colours?
To a great deal! I myself am a representational artist and have loads of discussions with other representational artists and they constantly offer me suggestions of colours they’d like to see. Many artists bring or send me pigments, stories and visions of grandeur on the virtues of a colour. My wife, Karyn, on the other hand is a modern woman, in all ways, and she loves working with the bold, the bright, the brilliant shapes and forms of art and the artists who create them. She gallantly pushes me for colours that she and her affinity group want to made, Amethyst is an example.
Q: When you do demos, what typically would you do to show off the paint’s ability at its best? Do you do the demo yourself or does another local artist do it? Or are artists in the audience invited to get up and have a play?
Honestly I don’t do much as the paints themselves do all the showing off! I like to use palette paper (white) and put a few splodges of paint on them and mix it around with, yes, my fingers! I always have play time when I conduct a workshop as I enjoy seeing artists eyes light up when working with my paints and then of course the surprise colours they get when mixing with other colours! I do have a number of artists who willingly host demos on my behalf when I can’t get somewhere in the world due to timing, what’s in my sandbox at the moment, or a family event. My ambassadors are all people of substance, kind hearted, love oil painting and enjoy working with people. I am lucky to have such talented people around the globe willing to help out when needed.
Q: What do you think the strengths are of oil paints versus say acrylic?
You know, one day there will be a cure for acrylics. In my mind, if you are an impatient artist stick with acrylics. On the other hand, if you like intense colour then it has to be oil.
Q: What would you say to someone like me that loves oils but finds them very slow to work with?
Why the rush? Work with them not against them. Many artists I find do not understand their art materials and so they don’t realise they can add an earth colour for example to a colour to speed up the drying time. There are several tricks like this one that will enable an oil painter to speed up the process. One should have a thirst for knowledge to uncover and discover the beauty in oil paints; their unique drying times, lightfastness, handling qualities, texture and so much more.
Q: On which note, talk to me about drying times.
I don’t put artificial drying agents into the paint because it interferes with the integrity of the paint. On the side of every tube we put information as to its speed of drying. I often get artists, particularly dare I say young art students from London will call me up asking: “Michael, I've been using your paint and I've got a degree show in a week's time. The white's still not dry." I ask, "Which white are you using?" “Titanium Number 1”, they'll say. "That's the safflower one, you do realise it's a slow drying one? If you read the side of the tube, it will tell you it's a slow drying one.” Again, some artists will find even Titanium Number 2, which is the linseed oil-based one, which is a more average speed of drying, will be slow for them. Obviously, the thicker the paint, the longer it will take to dry. The slower it will be if the studios are cold.
If you want to work quicker, read the side of the label, it will tell you whether the paint’s drying time is fast, slow, or medium. Choose your palette accordingly. Also good sunlight, even direct sunlight, speeds the drying enormously. If you use a brand of paint that contain fillers its not the solvent that will cause drying but artificial siccative’s which are harmful to the paint. I leave siccatives out.
Q: How careful should one be when painting with oils regarding something like potential absorption through the skin. Do you recommend using latex gloves?
Pigments cannot go through the skin, solvents do. If you are really worried about toxicity get your blood tested. Because I work with lead in my workshop I have my blood tested every six months and its fine. If people want to know more about getting tested they can email me and I will give the name of my testing place.
Q: What does ASTM D-4236 on your labels mean and please talk to me about toxicity in the paints?
The ASTM labelling aspect is one the greatest sources of knowledge for an artist. ASTM reads, reviews and tests formulations and governs whether your product needs a label for toxicity and if so, what pictograms are needed on the tube of paint to warn the user. Toxic substances are found almost everywhere in the earth, the air, cosmetic injections (Botox) . . . we live in an environment filled with toxins. I am pleased to say that more than 2/3 of my product line is non toxic! The toxic oil paints in my line are mostly lead based, if ingested, and mercuric sulphide (Vermilion). Just don’t eat paint and all will be okay. If you are working with dry pigments don’t inhale the pigment dust of toxic pigments.
Some questions for Michael submitted by artists:
Q: Would you consider making some quality alkyd mediums? A Harding substitute for Liquin would be awesome. Also your historical pigments are some of the best in the industry - is there is any way you would consider making Azurite to go with your fabulous Lapis?
I do have several mediums planned that might behave like liquin, watch this space! Azurite might come along if and when we have problems sourcing Lapis Lazuli.
Q: I second an interest in the historical pigments. Future plans for that line would be fun to hear about.
I constantly scourer for historical pigments that make sense to bring into my line without costing a fortune to make thus costing too much for an artist to pay.
Q: Why is oil ground usually sold in metal cans with lids that get messy from pouring? And this is probably all manufacturers. Why don't paint makers put oil paint in plastic tubes like toothpaste? I'm tired of having metal paint tubes tear from slight bending even after I try to be careful with them. Just curious to know if you might know why these things are done?
I am guessing the pouring of paint refers to household paints for walls and such? Plastic tubes have memory and so once squeezed they re-inflate themselves. There is a problem with air getting in the tube and air causes drying of paint inside the tube. Since pig gut went out of fashion with the Industrial Revolution the best way to store paint for an artist’s use is in an aluminium tube.
Q: Have you considered using spices like Turmeric or Cayenne pepper to make pigments?
No, these I use for cooking! Although these spices might look nice the colours will fade.
Q: Does making paint enrich your own experience as an artist?
Yes, and I wish all artists would try it at least twice!
Q: What is the best way to wash your oil paint out of brushes?
Firstly, with a paper towel squeeze out all paint you can. Then use white spirit, mineral spirit or my favourite with my paints: dishwashing liquid to break the paint down. Finely rinse with plenty of water and a bit more washing up detergent, if needed, and allow to dry.
And finally I get to ask Michael some non work related questions about himself ...
Q: Can you tell us something about yourself that might surprise people? A hobby or musical instrument for example?
I find just about everything interesting. As mentioned I was born without a sports gene and therefore I find sport dull. I buy books on everything from medicine to astronomy, planes, trains, butterflies, trees, science, history, paint making, art history, and chemistry. I also enjoy carpentry tremendously. Not surprisingly, I have just finished making a large bookcase eight feet high!
Q: When you're not making paint or promoting it, what are you doing for fun or relaxation?
I kayak, and I fish from my kayak. I release all the fish I catch. I do paint - I do watercolours and oils. I'll be honest, the rest of the time we tend to be traveling and working.
Q: What’s on your current playlist?
Vitali, Chaconne for violin and orchestra, I heard it nearly 40 years ago while attending art foundation studies and tracked it down recently, thanks to google.
Q: What book is on your bedside table right now?
Books! Art of Forgery by Noah Charney. The Art Forgers Handbook by Eric Hebborn. Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks. And many others come and go all the time.
Q: Do you have a favourite painter or painting?
Many, many, you know all the names, but I find myself moving away from impressionism strangely, this might mean I am about to become one as the mind works in strange ways.
Q: If money were no object and you could buy a painting (historical or current) what would it be?
Rembrandt’s ‘Self portrait at the age of 34’ in the National Gallery London
Self Portrait at the Age of 34, Rembrandt (1640). The National Gallery, London
Q: What have your learnt about yourself through this process?
I’m very stubborn and the more I learn the more I need to know…
Q: If you weren’t a paint maker you’d be … ?
A wine maker!!!!
In the period during and since I interviewed Michael Harding I have to confess to becoming a bit of a convert/addict. I started with four colours, and I’m now up to er, well, quite a few more than that. I get excited to get home from the art shop and try out a new colour and see how it will look next to or mixed with the others. I used to be like this with shoes. The pigments in Michael Harding paints are vivid and inspiring - some of them actually give me ideas for paintings. The quality for me is down to the richness of colour and how beautifully the paints apply. Given Michael is fond of using analogies, here's one of my own: Switching to his paints for me has been a bit like having a much loved but kind of bulky heavy bike that you have to half kill yourself using to get up the hill each day. You assume it's because you are a bit unfit, and the slog is the nature of having to cycle up a hill. But one day you get given a much lighter bike that is equipped with gears and you get up that hill a lot quicker and with far less effort. While you could always be fitter, you hadn't really appreciated how hard you were having to work by also effectively having the wrong bike for the job.
I’m not sure if using Michael Harding paints will propel me into the arena of commercially successful artist - I still feel this is primarily down to skill and luck on my part. But I’m enjoying painting more because I'm inspired, and it's become easier, and the more you paint the better you become. So who knows?
During our exchanges Michael says to me “I fundamentally believe the more knowledge an artist has of their materials, the better the artist they can be.” Before this I didn’t know very much about paints at all - pigments, oils, lightfastness, varying drying times etc. It’s been a genuine and much needed education thanks to a very busy man who took time out to generously answer my (many) questions - even those that were not specifically about his products. I routinely visit the Michael Harding website which is filled with information about each of the paints and what you can expect of their performance. There’s also a page entitled ‘Advice and Resources’ that contains a multitude of information about all things painting related. Even if you don't use his products, check it out. All of this support and information he freely puts out there provides a reassuring transparency that reveals someone who is genuinely confident about the quality and effectiveness of his product, and who is passionate about what he does. Paints worth putting his name to.
With sincere thanks to Michael Harding and his wife Karyn Harding.
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