bemusing musings of a bewildered brush-wielder

doak white powder

Wending my truck through the sea of parking lots and factory buildings, I finally found a spot.  It was one of those typical, grimy parking lots in Brooklyn, where the employee who takes your keys makes you feel as if you are interrupting his day. “What time ull ya be back” he barked.  “Umm, I’m sorry sir?”  “Faw da caw”  “The caw?  I don’t understand, sir.”  “What tommul yewbe back fawda caw.  Da caw.  DA CAW!”  “Oh, oh, the car.  I’ll uhh, I’ll be back in four hours.”  “Awlright.  Hea’s ya tigget.  Hava nice day.”

Enormous buildings, some boarded up, others converted into trendy lofts, were on either side of the narrow streets.  Typical of old Brooklyn neighborhoods, the cobblestone and asphalt were having turf wars over the space between the buildings.  The cobblestones were winning.  I watched a delivery man pass me on a bike, his portly personage responding to the terrain like a jello platter carried up a flight of stairs.  A woman walked by, lips pursed, skirt clinging to her gaunt frame, hair over her left eye.  She was conspicuously cat walking, though she was completely alone.  She was not smoking, which showed the corrupting influence of California on this once genuine area.  As these demographic delights distracted me, I reminded myself why I was there:  I was in Brooklyn to make a large purchase of some white powder.  It’s pure stuff that is hard to come by, but I knew a pretty good dealer.

I finally located the address.  The building was shabby, the walls were grimy and covered with aged diesel soot, remnants of an era passed, when public buses were not yet squeaky clean, silent hybrids.  The door resembled a speakeasy, and I knew full well that if you didn’t knock just right, a tommy gun stuck out and mowed you down.  I knocked.  I waited.  I knocked again.  I waited.  I knocked again, annoyed.  Just because this guy is one of the best dealers doesn’t mean that he should keep his users waiting.  Then I saw that there was a doorbell.  I rang it.  Somebody came immediately.  “Yes,” the man inquired.  “I’m here to see Doak.”  The door swung open.  As I entered, I felt the thick wad of cash burning in my pocket, conscious of I was about to do.

An old, yet vigorous man made his way across the warehouse.  “Kevin, good to see you.  You finally made it here.  You’re always ordering over the phone, but it’s better to come in person.  Hit any traffic?”  “Yeah, there was overturned tractor trailer on the BQE.  What a mess.”  “Well, you made it, and here’s your order.  You’re always buying it in drips and drabs.  It’s much better to buy a big load of it, to get the job done once and for all.”  I looked down to the ground, and there it was- fifty pounds of pure white powder.  The stuff is worth a fortune on the streets.  But I was buying it straight from the source, cutting out the middleman.  I use this stuff every day, it helps me work things out, it helps me solve a lot of problems.  Some people criticize artists who use it, saying that it’s dangerous, saying that there’s other things that you can use to get by.  But I use this white powder, and all my troubles melt away, I find that there’s nothing that works quite like the stuff.

Flake white is a lead white paint which is unmatched by other paints.  It’s importance is such that nerds will drive clear across the Long Island Expressway to load up on it.  While flake’s opacity is unmatched, it is also possible to achieve beautiful, translucent effects with it.  In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary for flesh tones, creating a palpable, flesh like effect on the canvas.  It is ideal for painting the highlight in an eye.  For still life painting, it ranges from scintillating white highlights, to whispering tints.  It can stand up straight in an impasto, or it can be stretched long.  Titanium white, is superior to flake in tinting power, often mixed with zinc, and has been around since 1913.  Titanium has its place on the artists palette, much in the same way that every opera company needs a soprano who nears the range of dog whistle.  And so titanium white is very white, indeed, but… I use it in moderation.  Now, these descriptions of flake white are actually quite generic, in that they all describe what a premixed tube of flake white can do.  But my visit to Robert Doak was with the intention of buying fifty pounds of powdered flake white, and to learn how to mix flake myself, so that I could extend the effects of lead white even further.

Robert Doak is an art supplier in Brooklyn, down in Dumbo.  He’s been there since the city of Manhattan was rearranged in a grid format, since Teddy Roosevelt patrolled the streets as police commissioner, since the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire.  (See appendix of text for references pertaining to factual biographical content.)  Robert Doak is a singular figure in the entire art world, in that all of the oil paint products offered are made on site, in his warehouse.  He supplies a full range of the art world, from fantastically famous names like John Currin, to obscure, loquacious anonymi in Islip, Long Island.  I would wax eloquent on the quality of his rich ivory black, on the refined linseed oil, the vermillion… but I don’t know enough about chemistry to sound smart.  All I can say is that I’ve found him to be one of the most knowledgeable, generous individuals, with a line of art supplies that work wonderfully for me.  He’s referenced often in the art world, from the New Yorker magazine, to art conservationists, to a certain wildly popular blog that is taking the globe by storm, drawing so many hits per minute that it constantly crashes enormous google and wordpress data centers in the midwest.

Robert set aside a full hour and a half, to show me how to take the flake white powder, and mix it with various vehicles (a word for oils, etc.)  Though I mixed my own paint in Florence, I haven’t done so in the three years since.  I call Robert often with questions, and he always takes time on the phone to thoroughly discuss the craft of painting.  This day, demonstrating with a spackling knife and a sheet of sandblasted glass, he showed me how to vary the amounts of cold pressed linseed oil, to achieve different consistencies.  Then, he moved onto other additives, to achieve different effects.  Marble dust, which turned the flake white into something resembling thick cement.  Aluminum stearate, which turned it into whipping cream.  Blown glass, which made it fluffy.  And more.  He then toured me about his facility, showing me shelf after shelf of art supplies, every product made by hand, and neatly labeled.  Pastels, acrylics, sanguine, etc.

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And lastly, I bought a vibrating sander from him, custom fitted with a piece of sanded glass on the bottom.  This electric pestel enables me to mix large quantities of lead white, particularly useful for large paintings or for priming canvases.  In buying the large amount of fifty pounds, in one shot, I will save hundreds and hundreds of dollars, even thousands.  Most importantly, I’ll be more in charge of my craft.

Every time I go into Home Depot, I am annoyed by the fact that when I ask an employee what gauge nail should be used in a nail gun when working with oak, the employee inevitably pulls out an iPod and virtually stumbles about for ten minutes before saying “I don’t know.”  It’s the same in the big art chains.  But, in Brooklyn, at the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge, in a dilapidated warehouse, there’s an old man who is a treasure to the art world, a face to the very finest art supplies, an artisan with pride of craft.

Robert Doak


One response

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Kevin;
    Again you brighten my time with you. I simply love your writing style. Your careful use of words that magically bring the print to life! Wow.
    What a pure gift. I am fascinated with Robert Doark. Tell us more about him. Is he a private person driving a Lexis or an vintage vehicle? Does he live in the warehouse? How old is he? What are his interest? etc. I’m retired from the “on your knees” vocation now. After battling depression and grief for a number of difficult years, I feel a need to step into the light again and leave a dent or a footprint on the earth. I would like to “salvage” people for posterity, on either a DVD or a CD., with a half hour or so, digest of their life. Thoughts that you would like to pass on and keep preserved for generations to come. We as tenants on this planet know so little about the people we sit across from. I think your painting and writings are wonderful preservations for time capsulation. Who was/is Kevin McEvoy? What did he sound like? Family? Friends? What did he believe in? I would like to do a recording with you at some point, before I die or you become too famous to talk to. It would help me and benefit you, as I would give you, yes..GIVE you a free CD for your effort.
    But don’t loose your humor, wit, intellect and giftings. They are priceless Kevin. You are going to leave a bigger impression on this century than you can even imagine at this point and time. Love to you and yours and a blessed new and prosperous new year for you and all whom you hold dear.
    Carl Färdig

    December 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

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