Why I Love Art

Three amazing things happened this month.  I chanced to meet a postman (actually a lady!) standing in for our usual postman – who stopped to ask if this was my house, with the fresco on the side.

We talked a while about the neighborhood and how she used to paint and live in London; she said she loved being assigned this particular route because the gigantic picture of a country village cheered her up.  She looked forward to it, enjoyed it for half her journey down the street, and pondered on it afterwards.

That was a fine day for me.  Then on the spur of the moment, I sent a fresco tile – the first I’d attempted back in 2012 – to a man in Mexico who had been very helpful to a family member.  The tile looked a little forlorn by itself so I sketched a cartoon on the back – an enthusiastic Pope about to slap “one more coat of paint!” on the Sistine Ceiling – and packaged it off to the Americas.  It also gave me a chance to try a Bedford packaging firm who promise an indestructible packing crate for anything – literally anything – and it turns out they do exactly that.  It arrived intact and turns out he was moved by this much more than I’d expected.


So far so good.  But days later something quite extraordinary happened.  I’d been invited to a local school to see about helping create a mural there.  And when the day finally arrived and I met the art teacher, long after the school had closed, I found two of the children, aged about ten, had stayed behind to give a presentation just for me.  Now this was something!

Sure enough, they’d made a Powerpoint show entitled, incredibly, “Meeting Iain Carstairs: the chance of a lifetime”.  And this presentation, all about their school and why they wanted to create a mural, was really well put together – it had a narrative which they took turns reading out, each picture transformnig into the next: one image folded itself up into an origami swan, and flew away!  It was simply marvellous.  This was overwhelming enough but then I was asked to autograph some pictures they’d taken of the fresco, and even their pencil cases!

It’s hard to explain how moved I was by their enthusiasm and sincerity, because these days we often have to work in a vacuum.  For example, I remember giving a 1993 presentation in which one manager had gasped in astonishment and I’d been puzzled to see his enthusiasm vanish when his neighbour quietly elbowed him in the ribs.  I later found that staff had been specifically briefed in advance not to show any enthusiasm in case we charged more money for our radical new product.  This is absolutely true.

It’s natural to hope your work has some influence for the good, but you also suspect it’s a very diffused thing, almost subliminal – a drop in the bucket for those drenched by TV and big budget films vying for attention.  So to find what you did with a paintbrush on a rickety scaffold has really influenced someone can be daunting, especially when you remember any shortcuts you took.  Say, during a freezing Christmas Eve snowstorm with water running down your neck and lime water eating your skin, panicking over no time to buy gifts and cards now long forgotten, as the shops began to close and the light grew dim – now you understand those hours saved hurrying up cheated someone, somewhere, out of something.


Inevitably, there are two morals coming our way.  One – if you believe in something, you must give it everything you’ve got, because someone, somewhere is going to appreciate it – and those people are precisely the ones you’re working for.  And the other – if the school wall I’m hoping for is made available, it must become the best thing I’ve ever done!


To the cave painters: thanks for going to all that trouble – it was worth it!

Coming soon – in no particular order:

  • a long-standing mystery of Lascaux – solved!
  • the miracle of fasting!
  • the booklet to end all wars!

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in Art, Fresco, Pigments and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why I Love Art

  1. leah maschke says:

    You are a fantastic man! I emailed you and thought you quite rude not to respond to me, but then I realized I sent it to your extinct AOL account. Sorry. I’ll try again soon. Lots of love,
    Leah xo

    • Ah, Leah – yes, that email is a spam address now. I sometimes sign up for new things and give the name “Efrahim Zimbalist Junior” just to see who is selling my email address after promising not to. Sure enough, a month later, “Dear Efrahim Junior, can you keep a financial secret..?”

      So I never check it except once a while to clear out spam and reply to anyone who flatly refuses to use my proper one. I must have overlooked your email but it’s easily done with 300 spams a week.

      I hope you’re well? I’m in the mood to do some writing so stand well back!
      Be good xo

  2. John Douglas says:

    It is a great morale booster when people show their appreciation for your work. But that is not just because of any ‘ego trip’ one might have but it is also of psychological benefit.
    Many years ago (I am very old) there was a record by Stanley Holloway played regularly on radio request programmes: it was called ‘My word, you do look queer’
    Don’t know if it is on YouTube but it is well worth a listen 🙂

    Your fresco tile sounds interesting. That’s not a ceramic tile I’m guessing so a bit more technical detail would be enlightening.(please)

    Just pondering your blog title and it occurred to me that Art is the perfect link between science and religion-
    “Paint is water and stone, and it is also liquid thought.”

    • Liquid thought.. that’s very good indeed. I never heard that before

      Well, technical data – you asked for it! The tile was an ordinary ceramic tile but I looked for ones that had a water-absorbent back. I soaked it in water and applied my lime plaster to the back, using the various mixes I was experimenting with. The retained water soaked through the plaster as it set, giving me more paint time, and this pulled the plaster into the back of the ceramic, giving a strong bond.

      I’d had 4 different micron sizes of the marble powder: 0-120, 100-300, 400-600, and 1200 micron dolomite which I found added sparkle. I named each experimental mix with a prefix describing the marble supplier then a series like 8551 which meant, 8 proportions of the first thickness, 5 of the second, etc. This was an earlier mix which I think was MP5882 (from Marble Powders UK, who later ceased trading) which was very heavy; I later found KR8500 (from Kremer in Germany) was much lighter with a very long set time, 17 hours in one case. In each case the lime putty was mixed in a ratio of 5:8 putty:marble powder. I did some maths and found this gave the greatest possible surface area between the powder particles and the putty.

      In fact I watched some of the samples set, after having added a very small proportion of milk and casein, under a microscope. It looked like a river running through pebbles. It was really fascinating. And in the milk there were these spheres, perfectly round, completely white, almost glowing, and I never found out what they were. But seeing the rocky particles under high power magnification was really stunning. You could see which supplier had really supplied clean washed powder, which of course gave much better grip in the plaster – the dusty stuff looked filmy and dusty even at that scale.

      And there you have it! It was my first attempt at a picture and it survived the freezer with no microscopic cracks (visible through a 10x lens) so I figured this was the one to go with. It did sparkle in the sun but it was incredibly dense – the later mix could be spread as thin as 1mm and could be polished smooth, like glass. Maybe the golden proportion is the key. Art is also science!

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