An Important Message to My Painting Friends . . .

“Bad Dawg”
Watercolor 22 x 30 inches
Some painters will look at this painting and think to themselves, “I could never do that.”   Or they might say something to the effect of “Yeah, he was born with that talent.  He scares me!”  Or, ” I could never be that good.”
Or, those same people might look at this painting and think to themselves, “Why would I want to paint like thaaaaat?   I am a ___________ painter.”   (Fill in the blank with realist, plein air, floral, animal, blah blah blah blah!)
 
Here is the message very bluntly:   “Comparing yourself (and your painting skills) to others is VERY UNHEALTHY!”
Yep.   There it is.   Comparing your painting prowess to other painters is a self defeating process that will prevent you from EVER becoming “good.”   It is a natural inclination to look at masterly works and wish to develop one’s skills to that level.   It is quite another to be intimidated by a skilled artist because you “don’t think you are as good as he/she is.”    Oh Dear!!!    What a perfect way to live in constant disappointment about yourself!!  Moreover, what a perfect way to be in constant self defeat! Ever wonder where thoughts like that come from?   The “I am not good enough” thoughts?
Let me say this about the artist who is “good” . . . . . .he, or she, most likely put their head down for years and worked his or her butt off trying to become “better” at what they are now “good” at.   Yes.  Work!!  Hard work is the only difference between you and that other artist.   And I am not talking about hard work in workshops or school or some ersatz painting convention.   I am talking about time at your own easel painting.    That is a LOT of painting.   Making plenty of mistakes.   Ruining acres of canvas or paper.   Yep!   Making lots of throw away art.   So much of it that you might wonder if becoming “good” will ever come.   My advice is simple:    Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint, Paint, paint, paint, paint, paint!
Eventually, a comfort with making errors and mistakes will become part of you.  Yes, I said a comfort with making “bad” paintings.   It is okay to make those!!
Our teachers in school were cruel overseers who did not understand the human condition  . . . . .nor did they really understand how learning happens . . . . . .it happens through failure.   Yep, when you think about it, failure is our best teacher.   It is through failure that we actually see what not to do and what to improve upon.
I travel the country teaching painters to paint.   That is, I teach the processes and means of design and composition.   There is an underlying lesson, however, that seeps into the pores of the participants in my classes . . . .  .that is to just paint for the sheer fun of making marks, trials, experiments etc and not to worry about what anyone thinks about their work (play).   It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about your paintings!!!  (Secret:   you can never underestimate the taste of the public.)
The only thing you should be working toward in your time at the easel is your own satisfaction . . . . . . .  . .no one else’s.    Reject the opinions of non painters.   Shed the advice of your spouse.   Be deaf to all criticism from unqualified persons.   And, take with a grain of salt, any critique, unless the person offering it gives you a few alternatives for making improvements.   Consider those alternatives, then make up your own mind about what you will do (maybe nothing!!).
WHAT MATTERS MOST IS YOUR SATISFACTION WITH WHAT YOU PAINTED.   Be prepared to be disappointed.   Be prepared to be like that old barber in the barbershop (years ago)  . . . . when your painting is complete, merely shout “NEXT!” and go onward.  Don’t look back.   Just focus on the next painting.   Not all will turn out well . . . . . but a few will!!!   And that few is precisely what you are seeking.
If you are Unsatisfied, paint it again.   Maybe even again.   And maybe three or four or five times again.   (Remember, I said hard work).   Be patient and enjoy slobbering the paint around.  (it is, actually, fun!)  Take chances.   Take risks.   Take an attitude to do ‘the unthinkable’ just to see what will happen.   Be open to happy accidents.   Be open to making a painting that does NOT look like what you are painting.   Do it for FUN !!!
You may not see actual improvement in that process from one painting to the next.  But I can guarantee you that over time your paintings will improve.   Your brush work will naturally evolve.   Your drawing skills will naturally develop.  You will, as a matter of course, relax with what you are doing.   One day you will look at a perfect gradation of color in one of your paintings and wonder how you did such a beautiful wash.
Here is the last piece of advice that I have to offer . . . . . . .if you are looking to paint like someone else, it has already been done.   When you get there, all you will have is a painting that looks like that other artist did it.   Think about that for a second.   Why would you want thaaaaat?
In conclusion, your painting “voice” is unique and special.   There are no others like it.  Let it shine!   Let the world come to hear your voice.   Sing your own visual music!   And, by all means, don’t compare yourself with anyone else!!!
P.S.   What is “good?”   What is “Better?”   Do you know?   Really?   Consider this . . . . .as you become more experienced, your ideas of what is “good”/”better” will change.   It is very much like the proverbial carrot hanging on the string in front of the mule . . .  . .chasing but never catching it.
P.P.S.   You have heard it before, certainly, but the goal is NOT the end result.   It is the journey itself.   You will soon realize that the learning, the struggle, the disappointments, the frustrations, the elations, the trips, the painting sites, the subjects tried are all a compilation of a wonderful life experience!!
 
 

17 thoughts on “An Important Message to My Painting Friends . . .”

  1. Thank you so much for your insight and experience! This is a wonderful post and something I have learned over many years and try to share with my students as well! It seems funny, but it took me years to realize that I could paint sometimes just to paint, without having an actual painting in mind. It sets you free and teaches you a lot….

    Thanks again!
    Brienne M Brown

  2. Thank you, we all need to hear that over and over again. I'm not sure why you call your painting "Bad Dog", it's neither bad or a dog and I like it a lot. We are always being judged if our work is out there. A tough skin is needed and a constant argument with the inner voice. My favorite quote is, "The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is to simply train you how to make the small portion that soars." from Art and Fear, page 5. It's posted in my studio.

  3. This is so true, and so true for many things we try, not just painting. Silence that That voice in our head beating ourselves up!

    Annemiek

  4. Thank you very much for taking the time to print these inspirational words. I look at my colleagues and say "I could never do that" and you say "yes you can with practice, practice, practice!". Now I can start painting again and learn.

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