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The Magic Bullet for Painting Well

Without a full education in classical realism, meaning 10-12 years of intensive study and practice under the tutelage of a master, painting can be fraught. Even after years of practice, an artist will find within one painting there'll be a passage of great beauty surrounded by many areas of shall we say, great frustration.

Art instruction books, Instagram, and YouTube videos by other, more accomplished artists tout this brush, or that paint, the implied promise being, if you use these things, your paintings will be as good as The Master's. And even if an artist doesn't flog a particular brand, there in the messages, will be aspiring artists asking, "What brushes/paints/canvas do you use?" It's human nature to look for the most expedient route, and if something seems to offer a quicker, better, and more painless way to achieve great results, sign me up.

When I am feeling frustrated while making a painting, my gatherer brain screams, "Go to the art store! Retail therapy! They have the thing you need!"

As the result of this kind of thinking, I have 57 tubes of oil colors, few of which are duplicates. Although I bought some of the more esoteric colors because they were required as part of the supplies list for various workshops, and some I bought while traveling because I couldn't bring all of my paints with me, many were purchased as the result of research into the methods of the Old Masters. In my desire to paint like Rembrandt, I have sought out the colors on his palette, (And I still don't have Lapis Lazuli. See? There it is again!) traveled half-way across the world to visit his house in Amsterdam, gazed longingly and lovingly at his studio set-up, lusted after his wooden brush-holder, (of which someone now makes replicas, and you better believe I want one!) and bought a replica of one of his palettes, having convinced myself that the first step in learning how to paint like him was to gather all the stuff he had.

I like to call this "Magpie-Brain." Magpie-brain seeks out the newest, shiniest thing with which to feather her nest, in hopes that all will be just perfect. But unlike a magpie, once I have an art studio groaning with the weight of all of the paints and brushes (I now have 168 brushes!) and 27 painting supports, and yet still every day I struggle with getting up the energy to paint, because I know how difficult it is. (Yet if I told myself I could go to the art store to buy a couple of things, you know I'd have plenty of energy for that!)

But instead, like a professional, I slog over to the easel.

It's going to start well, and then it's going to be very, very hard for a very long time. And when it gets really hard, I'll take a break, open a book, watch a YouTube video, or worst of all, go on Instagram, and convince myself that if I only had that exact shade of Lapis Lazuli, things would be going much better on this painting.

But what I really need is not more paint, it's to paint more.

Every single damn day. I need to be painting. It's what I would have been doing in the second half of my 10-12 year classical painting education, and there were no "art stores" to fall back on, nor were there promises of "magic bullets." There was only intense study, hard work, and then more of the same.

So now, I am disciplining myself to make the colors I see with the colors I have. (I have an excellent book which has taught me how to do this; Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green by Michael Wilcox, which I recommend without reservation.)

By forcing myself to use what I have, I am focusing on learning about the properties of the colors at hand, instead of seeking the perfect one, I'm playing with the brushes I have, learning their capabilities, instead of looking for the perfect one, and instead of shopping more, I am painting more. It's just the magic bullet I needed.

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