We Choose to Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy, but Because They Are Hard

Despite spending almost my entire life as an artist, including 6 years of art classes in junior high/high school and 3 semesters in college, I’ve rarely painted anything. I was always a pencil/charcoal/pen-and-ink guy. And when I did paint, it was usually because I had to as part of a school assigment and it was usually watercolor, but not in the way that watercolor was meant to be used (I was guilty of flat and even color application with no exploitation of the inherent characterisitics of the medium). I might as well have been utilizing poster paint.

I can’t say why I avoided it so much. Comfort level was definitely a big part of it. There’s a greater sense of control using a pencil or a pen as opposed to paint and a brush, and for a not-terribly diverse artist like me, it’s very easy to avoid delving into that whole medium. And once you start avoiding something, it’s that much easier to keep avoiding it. Which is a shame, really, since painting comprises the vast majority of what the average person considers art.

So flash forward to late 2006, and I still hadn’t tried to paint anything. But it was nagging at me; it was kind of like playing golf but picking up your ball after your drive and moving on to the next hole because you’d never chipped or putted before. Well, then you haven’t played golf.

Compounding matters was that not only had I never seriously painted anything before, but I also had no knowledge of the required materials, be they paint, brushes or canvas. I had assumed I’d be using oil paints, but after doing some research I found out that acrylics are much lower maintenance, although they lack the richness and blendability of oils. I live in an apartment with two small kids and no studio space, so ease of cleanup and no worries about toxic fumes rank high on my list of priorites, thus oils were out. So I picked up a bunch of tubes of student-grade acrylics, some brushes, and a few pre-stretched canvases from the local art store. Being paralyzed by not knowing which brand of brushes to buy or what type of canvases to get was a potential problem, but then I realized that the only reason I know what kind of charcoal I like or what kind of paper works best for which drawing is because I learned it through doing. So I just said, “Screw it,” and bought nicer brushes and cheaper canvases. Because in my limited experience I know that a good brush can make all the difference, and I’d be using them again and again, whereas any canvases I bought were going to be wasted on my learning curve. The undertaking was more important than the result.

So I painted the Pedro picture above, not having any idea of what I was doing. I think it shows, but on the other hand, it will always mean something to me because it represents doing something simply because it was there to be attempted. And I enjoyed it, and the felt the urge to do more. So I’ve expanded my repertoire.

Of course, for all of that, I didn’t attempt another painting until 10 months later, but just one piece removed from my Alan Shepard/Freedom 7 moment, I think you can see the differences in approach and brushwork. It’s not finished yet, but hopefully it will be soon (it’s a little out of focus because I killed the flash to lose the glare):

So there you go. All it takes is the decision to actually get started.

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