Paint like you’re rich

Being stingy with art supplies will cost you more in the long run.

Terrie’s rig is handmade but very solid. There are many ways to solve the pochade box question, which is why I hesitate to recommend one. 

The discussion started with a student confessing that he didn’t mix enough different greens for his painting of a rill riffling through a forest. “I didn’t want to waste paint,” he said. “Paint is expensive.” Instead, he wasted paint and time.

“Paint like you’re rich,” his classmate told him.

Turns out that was advice from my student and friend Becky Bense.

French easels may be heavy, but at least they work.

I should have known. Becky regularly chides me for my use of cheap watercolor paper for demos. While the paint seems to flow off the brush fine, it dries as if I’d painted with a typewriter. My justification is that I’m trying to demonstrate a principle, not create art. Also, I have a lot of it lying around; it was on sale and I succumbed to the temptation. But I’ve never painted anything good on it and I never will.

If I were a student, I’d be terribly frustrated by the results. Perhaps enough so that I would believe I couldn’t paint and would stop trying. I certainly wouldn’t learn much.

Then there’s always the picnic-table option.

At my Sedona workshop, two students had pochade boxes from Meeden, a low-end art supply vendor. They fill a niche for the casual hobbyist, but their products are not robust enough for serious painting.

One of these boxes was fatally flawed; its mount was not strong enough to hold the box on the tripod. Had Ed Buonvecchio not lent the student his old field easel, she’d have been unable to paint at all. She’d flown in from Hawaii, rented a car, reserved a room, bought top-end paints and brushes—and was stymied by this weakest link.

I provide detailed supply lists for my classes, but don’t specify a brand of pochade box, as there are so many excellent ones out there. It never occurred to me that anyone would buy a Meeden box. No serious art supply stores sell their products.

Minnie Brown combined the French easel with the picnic table option at Sedona.

But if you search Amazon for ‘pochade box’, Meeden is the brand that comes up first. And the world of Google throws us another curve. Because I’d just looked at Meeden boxes on Amazon, when I searched for Easy L Pochade Box (a brand I recommend without reservation) I got a series of ads that led me straight back to Meeden. There’s convenience in online shopping, but a lot of hucksterism, too.

But back to the paint itself—it’s a false economy to not squeeze out a proper amount, to paint on bad substrates, or with lousy brushes. It always ends up costing more in time, materials, and lost opportunities. In fact, none of us are rich enough to be stingy with our art supplies.

Speaking of classes, I have a new session starting next week on Zoom. The key to being a good artist is working at it consistently. For busy people, that’s often the hardest part. We meet for three hours weekly to dissect and practice a key element of painting such as design, color, perspective, foliage, value masses, or brushwork. And as the above discussion indicates, a lot of learning goes on from student to student, too.

I’ve taught on Zoom since the start of COVID. A big reason these classes work so well is the support and encouragement my students give each other. You listen, adapt, critique and think through problems as a group, and we are all better for it.

ZOOM morning Session
We meet on Tuesdays from 10 AM to 1 PM EST, on the following dates:
April 12, 19, 26
May 3, 10, 17

ZOOM evening Session
We meet on Mondays from 6 to 9 PM EST, on the following dates:
April 11, 18, 25
May 2, 9, 16

The fee for either six-week session is $235.

All media are welcome. More information can be found here, or just email me.

Why am I hoarding art supplies and not getting any work done?

That bad habit will die, dear reader, when you finally own everything.
I paint random, meaningless still lives when I can’t get started. This is a stuffed birdie and the Douglas tartan.

“Why is it so easy to buy and hoard materials, then so hard to begin the artwork? Or is it just me?” wrote a correspondent.

The “Just Do It” campaign brought Nike’s share of the North American sneaker market from 18% to 43% over a decade. That tells us that dithering is a real, important part of the project-starting experience.
The dark shapes at the bottom left are credit cards, dear reader. Your problem is universal.
I can be a real ditherer. I spend way too much energy debating the order in which I should do simple tasks. None of this is productive, so my solution is to do all rote tasks in a specific order. I always make my bed, for example, when I get up. It saves me the hassle of debating whether I should make my bed. That battle can easily use more time and energy than just doing the chore.
Still lives are especially amusing when the technology they record is now obsolete. That’s not even a flip-phone.
The same holds true with my work. I always write my blog as soon as I get up. That’s usually 6 AM. Then I do other paperwork, and then I go into my studio.
The human brain reorganizes itself during learning. Scientists have studied activityin the ventral striatum of the basal ganglia, which is the brain region that controls habit formation. It shifts from fast and chaotic to slow synchronization pace as rats learn the ‘habit’ of running a maze.
“This is beneficial to the brain because once that habit is formed, what you want to do is free up that bit of brain so you can do something else — form a new habit or think a great thought,” MIT Institute Professor Ann Graybiel said.
Speaking of hoarding, the computer I bought this for died before the hard drive was ever installed. But I did enjoy painting the bubble-wrap.
One side-inference of this research is that even rats calm down when they have mastered habits.
So, the short answer to working efficiently is to develop the habit of regular work. This is the gist of the book Art & Fear, which I frequently recommend. The importance of habit is true across all disciplines, but creativity also requires a seemingly contrary characteristic: creative flexibility. Is that possible in a highly-ritualized person?
Those smarty-pants at MIT also discovered that brain synchrony, starting in the striatum, supports rapid learning. The human mind can rapidly absorb and analyze new information as it flits from thought to thought. These functional circuits are rhythm-based, and they’re controlled by the striatum, the same area that controls habit-formation and addiction.
Two very important elements of the backwoods painter’s experience.
The question of buying unnecessary art supplies is a different one. It happens because art is a system of dreaming and prototyping, and sometimes our ideas ‘die aborning.’ That’s not unique to artists; it happens to all visionaries.
I’m the opposite of a hoarder—I throw everything out. And still there is stuff in my studio for which I have no use, or that I bought for projects I never did. That habit will die out, dear reader, when you finally own everything.