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Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with

Do you paint with acrylics and salt? Watercolours and red wine? Tea and pencils? Inks and lemon? Then this is the right place for you!

The Uncommon Materials March 2012 How-To: Thelma Van Rensburg - Painting with food colouring

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts
This month we are proud to welcome


as the contributor of the monthly How-To of our Uncommon Materials to draw or paint with group!

I am interested in the female form and the objectification and dismemberment of women. I try to make sense of this dismemberment by the very act of dismembering. I am subverting the traditional role of men, not taking control of the body myself and fragmenting and dismembering it – more often than not, the artworks manifest themselves through the female gaze. Through this process I create my own phantasmagoric world of women.

Throughout my work I aim to portray the masks women use in order to be accepted by contemporary society. These masks become an alternative ‘skin’, distorting one’s identity. By constantly using masks we lose ourselves in the process and our identity and sense of self becomes trapped in the mask. The mask conceals that which we don’t want others to see, thus deceiving others and distorting our concept of self. Masking is a form of ‘Othering’. To place oneself as Other or as masked is already to position oneself in a resistive position, whereby difference is threatening to (the logical explanations, habitual practices and unquestioned assumptions of the established order and its defined categories.

Thelma Van Rensburg

* Thelma’s website
* Interesting information about the concept of Thelma’s work in Art in South Africa
Thelma Van Rensburg Thelma Van Ren... 14 posts
(Thelma Van Rensburg interviewed by Ina Mar)

What exactly is food colouring? What type of food colouring do you use?
Food colouring is used in baking to colour icing or cakes in different colours.

Do you buy food colouring especially in order to use it for art, or are you “upcycling” old material?
I buy it especially for art.

Do you also purchase conventional art supplies? Which conventional materials do you usually mix or use together with food colouring?
Yes I buy pigment ink and acrylic ink.

When did you start using food colouring?
I started using it a course in 2011.

How did the idea occur to you to use food colouring?
The course instructor supplied a variety of mediums to experiment with.

How do you apply the material on the support?
I use brushes, calligraphy pen, and dripping.

What supports do you use?
I mostly use recycled paper, book pages and cotton paper.

Have you tried different kinds of supports? How does the material react when applied to different supports?
Yes, the recycled paper I use is not very absorbent and can stand a lot of water and colouring. This allows for distortion of forms by adding water on the image to let it morph and flow. Cotton paper allow for excellent dripping and pooling and water can also be washed over to bleed the colouring.

How much time do the materials take to dry?
It depends on how much water I added on the image, absorbent paper such as cotton paper takes a while to dry.

Why did you choose this material?
I chose it for it for symbolic use as well as the brightness of the red achieved. Traditional ink do not offer that. I also use it because it is way cheaper than other materials.

Your themes are symbolic, critical towards society and express a search of a female identity. Does your material make a statement too? For instance, you often paint witches, priestesses, dismembered female figures, fashion themes and nude women personifying a very unconventional ideal of beauty – in which way is food colouring related to the symbolism of your themes?
I think food colouring refers to traditional views of women as homemaker and caretaker, baking for kids and so forth.

For me, the fact that food colouring is edible indirectly refers to bulimia/anorexia and by painting unconventional beauties with this material you are criticizing the narrow ideal of external beauty perpetuated by the mass media. Had you already thought of that? Did you choose food colouring for that reason?
Yes I have and I thin food colouring refers to baking cakes, it comments on women’s obsession with slenderness and the taboo of sweet things.

Is the material related to your everyday life and habits and how? For instance do you like cooking?
Yes I do like cooking but I don’t think that that its related to my everyday life.

What can you tell us about the conservation of this material? Have you noticed any changes in time (eg. hue, texture, intensity)? Do you store the artworks in particular conditions in order to conserve them better?
I use liquid glue, wax and clear varnish or modge podge to conserve the work and have not seen any changes.

Why did you choose to paint with an uncommon material?
I like experimenting with different mediums and it offers effects not found in other materials. For instance, bleach changes the colour to a rusted yellow and it also allows for removal and changing the image.

What other uncommon materials do you use?
I use wax, old book pages, dress pattern tissue paper and dress pattern instructions.

What is the resonance of your uncommon material to other artists?
Artists seem to be intrigued by it and interested.

Have you already had any exhibitions with food colouring artworks or any publications?
I have been exhibiting the works only recently and have had some sales. I also started the sketchbook project and used material extensively in the sketcbook.

Give one last useful advice to artists who would like to experiment with this material!
It works excellently with white and acrylic ink and can be mixed with other inks.


Thanx Ina for this opportunity, It was fun to do!

Ina Mar Ina Mar 176 posts
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Born to be free
by Thelma Van Rensburg
The witche’s cross 2011
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Brains and Boobs
by Thelma Van Rensburg
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Burning Witch
by Thelma Van Rensburg
The nude queen
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Spirit of a witch 2
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Spirit of a witch 1
by Thelma Van Rensburg
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Bewitching 2
by Thelma Van Rensburg
She had high hopes
by Thelma Van Rensburg
She was so innocent
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Who is represented?
by Thelma Van Rensburg
The hand that rocks the cradle
by Thelma Van Rensburg
High Priestess
by Thelma Van Rensburg
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Little Girl
by Thelma Van Rensburg
Cindy Schnackel Cindy Schnackel 4978 posts

Wonderful work, Thelma, love the elements you’ve combined and how you’ve made them work together!

© Angela L Walker © Angela L Walker 877 posts

Very nice, Thelma! Most interesting technique, indeed! :)