Lieve Hakkers on Paint

Lieve Hakkers discusses pigments, egg tempera, and how making paint has affected their work

What makes you paint?

I don’t have an answer to that right away. It does remind me of another question I get a lot and that is if I’ve always wanted to be a painter or an artist. The answer to that is no. It was only in art school that I started painting. However, I had always been quite restless and did find peace in crafting and building things. On that matter not much has changed and that might answer your question; I think I paint because it suits me. I can stare, I can spend a lot of time alone, I get to follow fascinations instead of logic. That’s pretty amazing. It’s physical while I still get to use my imagination. Spending too much time in my head doesn’t benefit me nor my work.

A lot of your paintings list 'mixed media' as materials, can you tell us in more detail about what you are using?

Of course. It’s fair to say I like to have options. The materials I use most are egg tempera and acrylic paint. But I also use charcoal, oil pastels, oil sticks and more rarely oil paint. Making my own paint has made the practice more joyous. I spend a lot of time on my pallet, mixing pigments, grinding them. I like to use very common and natural pigments such as ‘terra cotta’ which everyone knows because it’s in bricks. I don’t want my work to rely on a material that is exclusive.

When I started making my own paints my work started to change. In the latest paintings the imagery and material seem to be constituted in each other. In my last show, where we met, there’s a painting with a figure. It’s like a golem of paint that I sculpted with my brush. It doesn’t really exist anywhere else other than within that frame.

When I started painting with oil paint instead of acrylics it resolved a lot of painterly issues because I had been aiming with acrylics for something that is being done with oil paint. I got more technical and also started to understand how other paintings were made when I looked at them. But my body never liked oil paint, or better to say the solvents. My hands just started falling apart. Using oil paint without or with limited solvents cuts down the versatility of it. I had made a lot of progress in a short time but eventually also stagnated. Because my work has many layers I want a paint that dries fast. Acrylics enable me to do that but I’d miss the depth of colour that comes with oil paint. So I started working with what can be seen as the first water-soluble oil paint; good old egg tempera.

Can you tell us about the process of making your own paint?

At first sight my workstation looks traditional. A box with paper bags containing pigments, glass jars with pigments and marble powder, palette knives, a glass muller, boxes with eggs and pots with brushes. But then there is also a variety of plastic mediums such as neon and shimmering acrylic paints, gesso, transparent gesso and bookbinders glue. Making paint is about more than getting the colour right. I have to consider the layer of the painting so I am also thinking about components such as elasticity, fat, plastic and opacity.

Before making tempera I was already making my own oil paint but this was economically motivated. I couldn’t afford all the oil paint I wanted so I started making my own. Then I switched to egg tempera and eventually it led me to experiment with acrylics again. I can spend a lot of time looking at a painting fantasising about different colours. After having decided what precise colour it’s going to be I have to make it and get it right. This approach is more challenging and pragmatic than mixing colours straight away. At times I’ll do that too, I’ll deliberately ignore all the works in the room and just spend time mixing pigments creating new colours that will find their destination later.

On a more practical note; making colours is different from making paint. The colour is happening when making a pigment paste. In my case this is just pigment with water. It becomes paint when the medium or egg yolk comes in. A paint dries out or goes bad in a matter of days, yet a pigment paste stays good for a longer period of time. Still though, a limited amount of time, especially with natural pigments such as green earth or yellow ochre but much longer than when it’s already a paint. I have a fridge just for pigment pastes and paints.

How has your time as a De Ateliers artist in residence affected your work?

I think the greatest thing the residency has given me is time and privacy. How many young artists get two years to do whatever they want? Without having to put any work out? In the beginning of the pandemic, art academies were closing their doors and so many young artists were cut off from their studios. Yet here I was in the middle of Amsterdam with this giant space. I used that freedom to experiment a lot. Not only in terms of material but also in ways of working. It’s a cliché but I unlearned a lot. Getting the space and time to find your own pace and ways of working has given me a feeling of ownership over my practice. I’m not interested in actively challenging this propositioned idea of what a painter is. Last week I did another interview and a photographer came to my studio. She wanted to take a picture of me making paint and I thought ‘well here I am fulfilling an expectation for once’. In my bachelor I was told that to be able to connect with other artists than painters I had to focus on the artistic side of my practice rather than technique and materials. That’s probably why I wasn’t making my own paint until I basically had to, but making my own paint has actually brought me a stronger intimacy and greater control over my materials. Through that, more interesting things are happening with the imagery as well. I didn’t paint figures for years but when I started making my own paint they slowly found their way back in. At first I felt late, thinking that if only I had been a few months earlier with this discovery I could have made just a few more paintings for the show. Now I’m just glad I’m leaving the residency feeling inspired and excited for new works.