Wednesday, 12 June 2013

I'm an idiot!

You might have noticed that I haven't written a blog post for quite a while. I took a long break from the web starting in February because I was feeling directionless and overwhelmed by too much imagery and information, unable to concentrate. I wanted to spend some quiet time, to think about my art and what I wanted to do with it. I had also decided, for a lot of stupid reasons as it turns out, that I was going to learn to paint with oils.

But, y'see, I have a watercolor brain. Years and years of working with my W&N paints and I know every pigment in my palette like the back of my hand - which ones stain and which can be lifted out; which ones granulate, which ones streak; the opaque; the transparent; the best mixes. I know just how much water to hold in each brush. And I know which brush strokes to use to create the effects I want. When I look at one of my drawings on the paper I know how to start painting it. I'm by no means a master of my craft but I'm fairly proficient, I think.

When it comes to oil painting however I know very little. I did a couple of oil paintings when I was in high school - they were terrible - and in the following twenty-odd years I've never used them again. But, undaunted, driven by all the wrong reasons, I started finding out about oil painting. It has RULES that I didn't know about before, rules you can't really ignore unless you want your paintings to crack, dull and yellow in a few years time. And you have to plan your work. Oil paintings take a long time to dry. You can't just keep noodling away at them or you'll end up with a smeary mush of color. Which means waiting for days for layers to dry before moving on. My watercolor brain isn't used to that. It isn't used to any of it.

But despite returning to Deviant Art and announcing (rather prematurely as I since realised) that I had found my focus again, I was determined to perservere with this new oil painting thing. I cut and primed some boards and began a series of four little paintings. But I had to let the backgrounds dry before continuing. 2-12 days it says in the books, depending on the pigments used. So what to do in the meantime? I turned to the acrylic paints I have stored away, thinking they would be good practice for me in blending, getting used to the consistency of the paint, working with white as a pigment. For a week I worked and worked every spare moment I had. I must've painted the sky six or seven times. Once or twice I thought I might be getting somewhere, most of the time I just despaired of ever figuring it out.

Then late one night, trawling the web for tutorials, I found another artist's blog, an artist who does the most exquisite acrylic paintings, and began reading. But it wasn't advice on technique that I found. Instead I read her story of dreaming of being a successful artist, her struggle to find her way and the advice given to her by one of her friends. That advice was quite simple - learn one thing well. Those four words got stored away in my brain as I went back to the painting, to work on that damn sky for the eighth time. They took a few days to really sink in but then the full force of them hit me.

So you see, good people of the blogosphere, I am an idiot. I mean, seriously, WHAT was I thinking. I've invested years in learning to paint with watercolors and I was going to put it all aside to start at the beginning again for no other reason than because I'd seen some artworks in oils that were so enchanting and beautiful, created by artists who no doubt spent at least as long as I have learning their craft. The little trickster voice that lives in my head had whispered to me, "You could do that. You could learn to oil paint." This is the same voice that is now laughing at me. "It was only a suggestion," it tells me. "I didn't mean for you to get in such a mess with it. You didn't have to listen."

The acrylics have now been consigned to a drawer, where they belong. The oil paintings are still unfinished and drying. I haven't decided what I'll do with them yet. Perhaps I'll photograph and post them one day so you can have a good laugh. And if you ever see me threatening to divert from my beloved watercolors again you have my permission to yell at me and call me an idiot.

Because that is what I've been.

As a result of all of this stupidity I have no finished pieces to show you so instead I urge you to visit Ravynne Phelan's website and emmerse yourself in her beautiful art and wise words.


  1. Have to say I disagree, we learn by making mistakes, experimenting and taking risks. Often disastrous work opens new and exciting doors and stops us becoming repetitive and boring. I say trying someting new, even if it doesn't work, is a good thing, even if it means you return to your original chosen medium with fresh eyes.
    So good for you for trying a new medium, even if you didn't like the result. You are not an idiot for doing this but a creative person stepping out of their normal routine.

    1. I do see your point. It was such a massive "d'oh" moment for me, when I realised I'd 'wasted' weeks on this but I've gone back to my watercolors with renew enthusiasm which has to be a good thing :)

    2. If it has renewed your passion for watercolours then that is good as they are awesome. Would love to see more 3d work too.

  2. Its not a bad thing at all that you try new things - in fact your probably not a proper artist until you have exhausted all the options! It can only offer experience. You have settled on watercolour and thats your thing, it works for you. Many people consider watercolour the most difficult medium to work with - but you use it beautifully!

    I remember it was the least popular paint at college with students who just couldn't get the hang of it(they preferred acrylic and such)- I was almost the only one using it myself(and felt quite proud of it!).
    Iv'e also been down this same path; attempted acrylic because Mr. Froud uses it so masterfully, but I just couldn't make it work - I couldn't bear the stickiness of it or how fast it dried. Iv'e also fantasized about using oils because 'the masters used it' or whatever...but I didn't like all the prep before hand; you couldn't just take a brush to paper and splash the paint down whenever the moment seized you.(Your right about oil paints seeming to have so many rules, but then if the old masters followed these rules so religiously, how come all their paintings are cracked?)

    Watercolour is excellent for quick sketches and big polished works. Its there and so instant to use right away.
    Its very versatile too; you don't have to use oils to create a piece that looks like it was done in oils. I've seen many works from illustrators where I have thought, 'thats surely an oil painting', and discovered it was our old friend the watercolour. Gennady Spirin is one such artist.

    Perhaps the day will come when suddenly working in a different medium feels right, and that will be your natural progression.

    Wow, too much writing >_>

    1. Those were the exact same reasons I've grown to hate the acrylics too, especially the drying thing. And you're so right about the immediacy of watercolors. You can pick them up as and when you want whereas the can't always keep working when you want to, you can't always START working when you want to cos it takes longer to set everything up and all that "Fat over lean, except after C when IE rhymes with fast drying pigments" stuff just did my head in.

      I think it was Annie Stegg's (Pink Parasol on DA) work that started me off thinking about oils, but then she's brilliant at watercolor too.
      Thanks for the connection with Gennady Spirin - I hadn't seen his work before - it's beautiful.

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