Archive for February 10th, 2011


A trailer for perhaps my favorite film. I cannot recommend this highly enough (and you can get it from Netflix).

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When Cheaper is Better

I use Jo Sonja paints for iconography. These are about the least expensive acrylic paints around, and they are mostly used by crafty-kitschy decorative artists; you know, Santas and snowmen and floral paintings and such. They are also widely used by iconographers, as they mimic egg tempera, drying to a matte finish, and are self -leveling, which minimizes brushstrokes, which one does not want in icons. And the colors themselves seem designed for iconographers; many of them are perfect straight from the tube for the colors traditional in icon writing. Indeed, the person who formulated these paints, Jo Sonja Jensen, besides being a creator of kitsch, has written icons, and it is hard to imagine that this did not influence her paintmaking. I have tried other acrylics and found them highly unsatisfactory, with a plastic feel and a glossy finish. I have heard that some iconographers use Liquitex  thick body paints, but I have not tried them.

Still, I have been curious for a good while about a paint I saw in the Daniel Smith art catalogue, which features pure lapis lazuli as pigment. This is the ancient precious stone that gives that deep blue color in medieval manuscripts and paintings.

Still, it runs around $20 a tube, about five times the price of Jo Sonja. But when I was commissioned to write an icon of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help, in which, unlike most icons, she is wearing a deep blue mantle, I succumbed and ordered a tube.

I began to paint with anticipation: I was using precious stones! I squirted the first paint from the tube and was delighted with the beautiful blue. But the first thing I learned was that when I diluted the paint to a consistency proper to iconography there was not much pigment. It took about twenty coats to build up color to the level I needed (with Jo Sonja it is three or so). What’s more, the paint dried glossy, and the surface was filled with brush marks.

I turned the panel over and began again, mixing the lapis paint with Jo Sonja.

I learned an expensive lesson, not for the first time: price does not always equal quality.

There are several other examples that spring to mind:

COFFEE:    Maclin and I have long asserted that the best coffee beans around are  8 O’Clock Colombian, which also are the least expensive. Not long ago Consumer Reports agreed: 8 O’Clock won the taste test as well as the “best buy” in their ratings.

WINE:      One of the good things that has developed in modern times is the advent of decent affordable wine. Indeed, even the $3.29 Matthew Fox California wine I get at the local discount store is not at all bad. I’m glad the old pantheist found a way to make a decent living after getting the boot from the Church (that is a joke; I assume this is a different Matthew Fox).  However, among the best of this pretty good selection is Concha y Toro cabernet, which runs around $6 a bottle. It is from Chile, and I don’t know how many times I have paid more for wine and wished I had bought it instead.

AMISH FARMER’S MARKETS:     This is of course not an option if you don’t live in an area with a large Amish population, but around here the small family markets are the places to buy fresh produce in season. The farmer’s markets in town are great if money is not a factor; the produce is local and fresher than in the store, but you will pay at least as much as you would at the store. Small Amish produce stands and markets- there are two or three on my drive home from work- are as fresh and as local, and the prices are generally a third less than you would pay in the grocery store.

How about you? Can you think of other examples of things that are cheaper and better?

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