Oil painting and the Three Philosophical Principles
Practical Alchemy is the process of separating, purifying, and recombining the three philosophical principles; Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt- or the Soul, Spirit, and Body. In the vegetable realm, this can be translated as- the essential oil, the alcohol (Actually why alcohol is referred to as spirit), and the physical plant matter. I want to break these principles down a bit- Salt/Body: This is the most physical tangible aspect, this is the part that dies, the part that’s tied to the earth, the mattereal, this is substantial, it has weight. It’s manifest. Sulfur/Soul: This is the essence of something. What gives the rose its rose scent, what makes an orange awakening and volatile. It’s the personality of something, but beyond an egoic way- the pure expression of that thing. Mercury/Spirit: This is the inbetween space, the bridge. The God, Mercury could traverse between both the spirit realm and the earthly realm as the messenger. It’s a universal type spirit, a translator. The link between all things. These three principles exist all throughout nature- one example is we can think about the zodiac signs of fixed, cardinal, and mutable- here the fixed would be the body or salt, the cardinal would be sulfur, and the mercury would be mutable. As I started to delve more into studying alchemy, I started to see a pattern between oil painting and these principles. Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt- The Linseed Oil, the Mineral Spirit, and the paint pigment. These are the essential components to oil painting, and since they are so perfectly correlated within this system, could there be some way to use what I know of alchemy, and include those ways of working into what I am doing. It begins similarly to making a tincture, and follows pretty standardly the traditional process of oil painting which is working lean to fat (runniest to not runniest) First you start with your mineral spirit. Now, I know some people are like naaaa, ewww fumes. I’m not one of those people. I LIKE THE FUMES IT SMELLS LIKE HOME. So when beginning a painting you start with a good amount of spirit for your underpainting. This is the universal spirit, the link between all things. Here I am just acting as a channel for what spirit wants to through with my painting. (I am using a very small amount of pigment here, but the point is that it’s mainly the mineral spirit doing the work) I should add that I’m keeping a very clean environment energetically, there’s no music, I’m not around other people. This is a special time to connect with the initial spirit of this painting. My strokes are very loose in this process, sometimes I say a phrase or mantra as I’m painting, but oftentimes I just focus on what I’m doing and my attention will naturally go fully into my process. I also try to do and explore techniques I wouldn’t normally do here, it’s sort of this process of getting out of my own way by not going my usual direction. Although, lately I’ve been embracing that sometimes your natural impulse to do something is there for a reason. The next part of the painting process is the Soul, or the Linseed oil. Here after i’ve established a beginning connection with my piece and have gotten to go ahead to move on, (the go ahead is very real, you must listen fully to the art that you’re making as if it is a co-creation) I can start to input what I see and want the painting to be. This is when I start making what I call, “Executive Decisions”. It’s the “okay, what direction is the painting going now? How can I work with what’s already been put down by spirit to enhance what’s happening?.” I try to let aspects of that skeleton stay there, building off of it, rather than over it. It can be a difficult balance to achieve. It’s this pull between embracing the process and knowing when something isn’t working and to make a change. (Whoa, Amelia, that’s a fucking life lesson right there.) The final part of the process is using the most substantial of all of them, which is just the paint itself. In oil painting, this is known as the rendering phase. Ideally, the painting has been built to a point where now I am in the final details stage, and I am just needing to use paint to flesh out those final details. This aspect feels the most executive and tangible. There’s not much guess work at this point, I know where the final details will go. This process can be used in so many ways, and really can go as deep as you want it to go. I’ve been working with ritual ceremonies in combination to this alchemical painting process, it’s really been so extraordinary. Using these principles, there becomes so much deeper of a purpose with the painting. I’m able to develop and create a relationship with the piece that feels so much more personal to myself, and actually those that have viewed it. And as above, so below- the work we do on these paintings transforms us just as much as we transform it.