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.