September 3, 2019

Being a Beginner is Not Natural... For Me


I've written before about my dislike of feeling like a beginner...at anything. For some completely irrational reason, I believe I should go from not knowing how to do something to being proficient within a month or two. Not being good at something for a long period of time just has never worked for me.

Ask Betty how long my various attempts at dancing have lasted. Two lessons and I want to leave the moves to Fred Astaire. Tennis? Don't ask. Guitar? I think I have finally found a course of study that is slowly working for me, but it has been at least half a dozen failed attempts up to now; I get to some point and become discouraged with my lack of progress. Oh, and my dogs and family find places to hide behind closed doors when I practice.

So, it was a powerful mark of either boredom or emotional growth that I started oil painting a few weeks ago. If you name one skill I do not believe I have, painting would top the list. I used to joke that I couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler. Even my stick figures have to be explained. So, why am I subjecting myself to being a beginner in every sense of the word? 

Oil paints are different from acrylic? What is a fan brush? Is there such a thing as odorless paint thinner? How much does paint cost? How about canvas..can I use a less expensive choice? Landscape, still life, portrait, abstract...good gracious, you mean there several different approaches I can screw up?

I am slowly learning the answers to most of these questions. I am also learning that Bob Ross makes the whole process seem much less difficult than it is. Bless his long departed soul, Mr. Ross had a voice and presentation style that would convince anyone with a pulse that painting is as simple as breathing.

I fell for it. First was a trip to some crafty-type stores. One thing I quickly learned is that the people who populate these places love to talk to the checkout clerk, apparently about every single thing being bought. 10 minutes per customer is not uncommon. And, there is always a line and too few clerks.

Anyway, with Betty's help and the all-forgiving Mr. Ross, I settled on oil paints, mainly so I could follow each step of his video lessons. Oh, and the answer to a few of my initial questions is: expensive! A tiny tube of Prussian Blue (doesn't that sound pretty!) is close to $10. Mr. Rose requires I have 9 different colors plus something he calls Magic White, which is some special type of base coat that is spread all over the canvas first. It is not easy to find and not inexpensive.

One of the stores was having a sale on canvas and easels so I loaded up my shopping cart. Then, the hunt for brushes. Mr. Ross insists on natural bristle brushes; I couldn't find any labeled that way. I finally settled on an assortment that had bristles of undetermined origin. 

I have publicly displayed my first attempt on an earlier post. I am pretty sure my grandkids could have done better. I recognize some shapes as tree-like objects and a smear of blue as probably water. Otherwise, forgettable.

Since then about every four days  I pull out a new canvas, or canvas board, watch a video, set up my paints, easel, and dropcloth, and give it a go. My representation of the sky and fluffy little clouds is slightly more recognizable. Mt. McKinley in Alaska, not so much. Apparently, using a palette knife takes even more skill than a 1" paint brush.

But, I guess here is the important lesson I am learning: being a beginner is not a fatal condition. I have not hurt myself nor damaged the house or the carpeting. Even though my family tends to hide when I strum the guitar, occasionally I hear Betty singing along with the tune, so what I am doing must be somewhat recognizable. 

Being a beginner and a bit of an obsessive perfectionist is a dangerous combination. Both the painting and guitar fly in the face of my self-image and how I usually conduct myself.

Maybe that is a good thing. After all, I have managed to stay married to the same marvelous human being for 43 years, and I was a total beginner when that journey started (probably still am, in some regards).

So, bring on the paints and tune up the guitar. Just don't expect me to show you what I have done or play a song for you for quite some time! My comfort level with beginner status does have its limits.

24 comments:

  1. Painting can be a lot of fun when it goes right and frustrating when it doesn't which is probably true with all things. No matter how much you achieve in painting there is always something new to learn. Make sure you read my blog on Saturday. The first half is about the hazardous to our health and environment that artist paint pigments cause if not handled correctly.

    I loved painting with oils the best but have switched to all acrylics in recent years because of the costs involving between the two. I posted one of my paintings and one of my mom's in my 8/24 post (Old Houses and Young Dreams). She started painting late in life, like you, and I started when I was a kid.

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    1. Oops, make that tomorrow post (9/3) that's about the hazardous of artists paints.

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    2. I am not even in the same universe yet if you compare my efforts with your mom's. And, yes, I will look at today's post about the paints. Oils are expensive, but with Bob Ross as my guide, that's what I must use until I have some confidence in my basic approach.

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  2. All things are difficult before they are easy. Difficulties are meant to arouse, not discourage. (author unknown)

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    1. My head know that; it is my ego that rebels.

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  3. Boy, can I relate to this! I'm learning the harp, and it's HARD. I've played many instruments in my day, so I figured how hard could it be? HA! Like you, the beginning stages weren't very pretty, and many of my practice sessions still aren't. But at least the dog has stopped leaving the room when I play. :-)

    As for Bob Ross, I remember his lessons from back in the day and he certainly did make it look easy. I've never tried it, but I imagine it's analogous to my listening to a lovely harpist play something fairly simple and thinking I can do that if I keep at it. It's been very freeing to know I am not striving for Carnegie Hall. And my teacher has been encouraging, so that helps.

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    1. Betty reminds me that Bob Ross has years of experience and doesn't demonstrate everything he does, so I am getting a shortened version of what happens. That is why using a palette knife is much harder than he makes it seem, and my trees look more like odd vegetation!

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  4. I totally relate to this post. I bowled in a league for three years without raising my very low average even the tiniest bit. I was so discouraged I quit bowling. I always thought that golf looked like fun so I went to a driving range twice with a golfing friend. I was terrible and I haven't been back. Maybe it means I have no patience.

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    1. Patience and acceptance are two personality characteristics that are required. I am in short supply of both.

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  5. I am actually a reasonably patient person when it comes to new things. Outside of my actual profession that took at least a decade to really become proficient at (as it does most) I am not really all that expert at other activities. Golf is a good example. I don't mind playing it and it's a nice walk in attractive surroundings but I drive the other players nuts. My terrible score, while it doesn't bother me, slows them down hugely and I hardly improve with practice so out of consideration for them I don't golf.

    Really I am that way with most sports and, though I like them, I am resigned to never being particularly good which has kind of been my life story when it comes to sports. I use sports as an example because I think for males it's a key thing that is noticed when you are young and developing. It was mentioned to me recently that my birth month (December) might have something to do with that. Schools and sports organizations sort youngsters by year of birth and so I was always the youngest least skilled member at whatever it was they were doing. After a while that just becomes ingrained that being good right away just isn't in the cards for me.

    These days I hike (I know how to walk as well as anyone) and over the years I've usually gravitated to solo activities like skiing, bicycle riding and so on. Painting would fit in with that but I don't have the interest. In the end I think we all end up playing to our strengths.

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    1. I have always preferred solo activities, except for my time in various bands in middle and senior high.

      I never really developed much in the way of sports proficiency, either. I remember being on the track team in Junior High. I would run the 440 and then throw up. My time in that sport was rather limited.

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  6. My wife is very interested in reconnecting with painting. Could you please share the link to the materials you are using? Thank you.

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    1. I watch the Bob Ross videos on YouTube. I began with season one, episode one and plan on working through each one. There are twenty-some seasons available.

      I bought my paints, brushes, and canvas at Hobby Lobby and Michaels. Amazon has good prices, too.

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    2. Blick art supplies in Tempe is HEAVEN for artists,too! They have a larger supply and some better materials than you can find at Michaels..as you get further into your new hobby!!

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  7. I finally have accepted that I am never going to progress beyond the level of a two year old when it comes to knowing Japanese. I have done 7.5 years of formal study (and got my Master’s thesis out of the last attempt), done lots of casual study, and lived in Japan (immersion) but I cannot progress beyond a low-beginning level. At first I felt disappointed and frustrated, but am more accepting now and proud of what I do know because Japanese is the most difficult language for English speakers to learn. I pick up one or two new things each time I go to Japan, but that’s it. If I had invested the same time on a Categoy 1 language instead, like Spanish, Italian, or French, I would be close to fluent but my heart has always aligned with Japan so a permanent beginner I will remain.

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    1. Interesting. With your love of that country I understand your motivation.

      Frankly, I didn't realize Japanese was so different and difficult. I am not good with other languages...never have been. A few years of Latin and French have been it for me. That means even being a beginner in Japanese would be beyond me.

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  8. When I begin something new, I want all the supplies too. So I know about it becoming expensive. But how can you truly assess your interest if you can’t do it right? I do seem to have a limit, however, and can stop buying until I know it’s something I will stick with. It’s also easy for me to think my lack of “perfection” is due to not having the right tools. But there are just some (many?) things I will never be great at doing. I still like doing them though and that’s what matters.

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    1. Here's an example of what you are saying: I have a dozen different guitar books. I kept searching for that one book with one approach that would kickstart my learning. That turned out to be a free series of lessons online. Now, I am using the other books, but they didn't get me off to the proper start.

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  9. How exciting! Yes, I share your angst with being a beginner..I have been practicing watercolor for over a year and still feel pretty amateurish.. it's hard. And I don't practice enough. When I started in nursing school,I was a beginner but I KNEW with study and practice I would be good, and I was. ART???? A whole 'nother story. I don't feel I have native talent, just desire! LOL! I find the time I spend making art, releases me to escape the Type A personality that governed so much of my career --necessarily!! Sports? Let's not go there.I became a good HIKER..solitary,
    with others, but still, on your own... and easily able to get better week by week.. team sports.. no way!! Sounds like you're opening up to a lot of exciting new energies,feelings, and experiences.!! That's what it's all about,right!! ?? P.S. Would love to see you two again !!

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    1. This summer one of our daughters and her dog are living with us as she transitions to different housing. A two-person household becoming a three-person home takes a fair amount of compromise.

      For me, one of those is finding space and time for painting and guitar practice that doesn't interfere with what someone else is doing. So, I don't practice as much as I'd like, either. Hopefully, all of this will be settled sometime this fall.

      We'd love to connect again, too. The next month will be difficult as one of the dogs recovers from double knee surgery and requires constant care. But, then, things should get back to (semi) normal.

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  10. I think I told the story before of my daughter who begged for two years to play lacrosse and then came home from her first practice in a huff, saying "I hate lacrosse!"

    "Oh why is that?" I asked.

    "Because I don't know how to play!"

    "Well how long have you been playing lacrosse?"

    "Two hours!!"

    "Why don't you give it two more hours and then see what you think?"

    The next day she came home beaming. "I love lacrosse!"

    So there you go. Beginnings are fragile times, as a character in the book Dune observed. You are brave to embrace beginner's mind and give your ego (who always wants to be an expert) a time out so you can explore something new and have some fun. Good for you!!

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    1. You have told that story to Betty and me, but is such a powerful one that it is well worth a rerun. It makes the key point of this post perfectly.

      After 70 years, I guess I have earned the right to be a beginner again. Though if that is true, why does my dog bark when I practice the guitar?

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  11. I am an artist. I believe I was pretty old when I admitted that to myself. In my senior year in high school I sold my first painting. Another students mother bought it and, I tried to talk her out of it because, I was pretty sure I'd never make another one as good as that one. I'm happy to say, I was wrong. This past year I spent most of my time writing my memoir and ignoring art. But now I'm itching to get back to painting. I love doing pet portraits. Last year I sold a few to people who sent me their pets photos. It was more fun than writing. So, now I'm getting antsy to paint again, as soon as I get through this arthritis in my hand issue I will paint again!

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    1. Your past and future are calling! After all the writing you have done with the blog and your book, I get it. Truth be told, I am getting to the same point: music and art are starting to speak as loudly to me as the keyboard.

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