Oil paints terrify me. More specifically, painting with them terrifies me. Once upon a time, it was to the point of panic attacks, where a tube of ultramarine could make me nauseous. It was the garlic to my vampire. I’m more confident now, less likely to dissolve like runny jello when stressed out, but the initial gut reaction to a canvas and brush hasn’t changed a whit. I could say I don’t know why, but that’s not true. Every medium presents particular challenges, but the quirks of oils seem designed to match up perfectly with my weakest skills. They require patience. They require planning. They require precision. It’s a laundry list of qualities I do not naturally possess, so every moment working with them is a fight. In summary, we do not get along. There is no flow.
Ah, but I can’t just lay it at the feet of being hard. Were it that alone, I could deal. I like testing myself and learning new things and puzzling out best practices for my tools. Watercolor presents similar challenges, but I quite enjoy making a mess of it. “Sucking is the first step to getting good”, as Adventure Time reminds us, and I don’t fear failure as part of a learning process. What makes oils different is that they’re the ego equivalent of getting bamboo shoved under my nails. Here there be
monsters deep-seated insecurities, and woe betide the errant traveller who wakes them.
They scare me because I have this stupid idea jammed in my head that oil paints are the realm of the real artists. Painting in oils triggers my imposter syndrome like no one’s business. It’s not like other mediums, where I don’t mind fuckin’ around and figuring out how things work. For one, these paints are goddamn expensive. For two, ehhh . . . I dunno. The people who use oils are The People That Are Better Than Me. I just don’t belong in that social club. It’s all the stupid cliches that everyone, creative or not, fall prey to. I’m not good enough blah blah blah. It’s just that my well-practiced mental judo can’t seem to flip this particular enemy. The masters use oils, man! How the fuck am I supposed to pretend at that? And I understand on an intellectual level that the masters spent lot of time sucking ass and making paintings that were better used as kindling than artwork, but emotionally, I just can’t convince myself.
Normally, I wrestle with the you-aren’t-good-enough beast at a few intervals in the art stage– when I start, when I move from sketch to paint, when I am close to finishing and when I share something. Boom, done, I know to anticipate them, and they leave me alone otherwise. But the beast has it’s claws in me with every stroke I make on a canvas, riding my ass straight to painter’s hell. It’s frustrating, because it’s dumb! I know it’s dumb! Whhhhyyyyy can’t my irrational anxiety capitulate to my superior thinky bits?
In school, I kept dropping out of my oil painting classes until I had to take them or risk not graduating, because they were just so hard on my psyche, and during that time my poor psyche wasn’t feeling so great. I did complete the courses, eventually, with a lot of encouragement from a few great teachers who wanted more out of me than I thought I could give. I remember that in time, I started to calm down, though I didn’t have the discipline to be good at it (see: patience, planning, precision). But that was about a decade ago, and I have a short emotional memory. I can remember that I *did* accept the medium, but not how it felt to do so. It’s back to square one in terms of skills and in terms of coping with the fear.
But fuck it if I’m going to let that stop me. Now, I’m trying again. Partly because I am in a place where I can push myself, with more of a cushion than just my ass provides, and some buffed up mental health stats. Partly because I want a physical artifact of my work– prints are all well and good but nothing captures the color richness and depth that oils provide, and I want to make the mad bucks selling originals (pffft girl). Finally, because I know it will teach my recalcitrant tush a lot of good lessons that I need to learn, be it for oil painting or digital, and to stop learning is to accept mediocrity and a slow oozing slide into creative death. No, it’s onwards and upwards for me, obstacles be damned.
I have no idea what the what I’m doing right now; just sort of slapping paint on a canvas. The results aren’t great, muddy as the Mississippi, very hesitant. Digital art is faboo in so many ways, but it comes with the bad habit of the undo button, where fixing mistakes is easy. It’s not in oils. I have to set the canvas aside for a day or two so it can dry before I add another layer. Gradients must be painstakingly created on the palette, instead of mixed on the canvas. If there are ways to do those things and make them look good, I don’t know them. Right now it literally looks like I’m painting the shit demon from Dogma. But if that’s what it takes . . .
It’s worth it. Learning, growing, knowing that it won’t kill me. The effect, when I get it right, is stunning. And this process is what being a professional artist is all about– never, ever ever giving up, no matter how long it takes you. The road to this career is littered with the bodies of artists a hell of a lot more talented than I am who decided the mental tax wasn’t worth it. Luck is a *huge* factor in how successful someone is, but Lady Fortune can’t visit if you aren’t in the house.
So oils. Complicated feelings. What else is new?