Tuesday, June 11, 2013

So You Think You Can't Paint? (you probably can't but...)

#93 - Katy Depot Caboose plein air - 9x12 oil on gessobord
I've probably heard this said a thousand times over the years: "I can't paint (or draw) a straight line." Well, odds are that you probably can't... statistically speaking. But just as most people can't sing well, or play an instrument, painting is not for everyone. Trust me, I've struggled with this myself many times. My wife has to constantly remind me that, yes, I can actually paint. And while she's somewhat biased, she's also brutally honest. Though I'm not totally convinced of my abilities, I do realize that there are a lot of people out there that truly can't paint worth a lick. Some are even paint-deaf (or is that paint-blind) with absolutely no clue of their shortcomings. But that's going on the assumption that I know anything about what makes for a good painting. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I do admire anyone that will stick to something like singing or painting, no matter what anyone thinks about the results... at least to a point. It might be painful to see or hear, but it's admirable. And many of those artists that I just don't get have made a living selling their works as soon as they leave the easel, so what do I know? But I'm thinking that if there was an American Idol for artists, these would be the ones that are completely shocked and in tears when they are told to exit stage left because their painting sucks.

A little over a year ago I decided to take the plunge and buy a set of oils and brushes. After 30 years of mostly watercolor, I wanted to try something I've always been curious about. Would this be a step in a new direction, or a complete failure? I really had no idea how this would go. So one of my first attempts with oils was a plein air of the Katy Depot caboose in Waxahachie. In the Spring of 2012, several local plein air artists were invited to paint during a miniature-train exhibit that was held inside the depot. In spite of the fact that I had no clue about technique or how to begin, I jumped in with both feet. I was hoping that since I had a lot of experience with watercolor that I could adjust and learn on-the-fly. How much different could it be?

Probably the biggest thing I learned from that day was that most oil painters put down their darks first as a rule. Good to know. But unfortunately something I picked up after the fact. There was also this little detail about thin shadows and thick highlights... just a couple of things that watercolorists don't normally deal with. Needless to say it wasn't an encouraging experience. The possibility that I had wasted $100 on new supplies was crossing my mind with each brush stroke. Even though I knew that you have to go through a lot of canvas to even approach a decent painting (for most artists anyway), I was embarrassed for anyone walking by to see the atrocities that were happening on my canvas. "I'm new at this whole oil thing" and "I usually paint with watercolor" were my constant apologetic disclaimers for the day. Oh well, I would rather have my first attempts be my worst attempts than the other way around.

Fast forwarding some 15 months (and 47 paintings later) I thought it would make for a good blog to show how I have progressed during this time, if at all. #93 - Katy Depot Caboose is a plein air of the same subject, but from a different angle with the Katy Depot in the background (top of post). I painted from across the street with my easel set up on the historic Rogers Street Bridge. 

To be fair (to myself) the weather on the first attempt (right) was dreary and overcast, with occasional rain and mist - as opposed to the bright late-afternoon sun I had last weekend. But looking at these two side-by-side I feel a sense of encouragement in that I can see definite improvement. And hopefully, I will be able to paint this same caboose in the future for further comparisons. With that said, there is the distinct possibility that I'm one of those paint-blind artists and an intervention might be in order. If so, please be gentle. 

Now back to my initial rhetorical question of whether you think you can't paint or not... maybe you can't, but maybe you can. Just don't give up after one try. I will add that if you don't see any improvement over the next 47 paintings, as my Dad would have said, "try about 10 more and then give it up completely."


  1. Great color and composition. I think this one is an even stronger painting than the one you did during the paintout.

  2. Really enjoyed this post. What an improvement! I also started out with watercolor and am still struggling with oil but loving the challenge.

  3. Compared to the first, this new painting is bold, deliberate. Love your paintings and your posts. All the best in your art adventure. Nancy


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