Progress Through Mistakes

From Judy, a 2-year painting student of mine:

"A man learns to skate by staggering around making a fool of himself; indeed he progresses in all things by making a fool of himself." - George Bernard Shaw

"In my previous lifeI used to consult with Fortune 500 companies on how to help employees learn faster. One of the most important lessons I learned was the importance of learning while doing. In fact the other interesting thing I learned was that by doing something and getting it wrong, you learn much faster than doing something and getting it right! The trick is to make as many possible mistakes as you can in the shortest possible time.  Strange but true!" - Barry John

I couldn't agree more.  What is confidence other than graceful falling?  Or even more so, not being afraid to fall.  When we acknowledge our process we learn to move forward and that the falling will not hinder us for long on the way to our goals.

Thank you Judy!

June Sunflower, 9" x 12", oil on canvas panelThis demonstration for a class became a painting.  Not all demonstrations become paintings, but standing in front of studens, sharing what you know, requires not being afraid to do it wrong.  I am, like my students, constantly learning as well.






Painting on Location

Painting at Salmon Lake


Along the Trail - Plein Air Painting


Last weekend I had a great opportunity to go to the Sierras - and took it!  I had a great time as there is nothing I like better to do than to go camping.  AND... I spent the weekend painting.  What could be better?!! 

Usually, when I camp with friends, I hike because that's what my friends enjoy.  Only painters (and maybe fishermen!) would understand the desire to stand (or sit) in one spot for 3-4 hours while you are observing majestic splendor.  This time I chose to paint.  As a result, I walked for 15 minutes and spent my entire time with my foot propped against my tripod (due to the wind) observing and painting.  My friends, on the other hand, spent 4 hours slipping on melting snow and bushwhacking through the tough vegetation due to a missing trail.  The timing was perfect!  I completed my first piece just as they arrived with cuts and bruises.  We all had a great time!

 Packing for the trail.My pochade (small portable palette that sits on a tripod) is an Open M Box.  The day pack is from Mystery Ranch.  This view includes the contents of my pack and all my painting gear.  The goal is to travel light.

Everything, including the wet painting, on my back.I am wearing a light weight SPF jacket.  In my pack are the following items: Water, map, sunblock, snack, compass.  Painting gear: palette, tripod, paint, supports, turpenoid, paper towels, painting gloves, brushes, one palette knife, trash bag, wet canvas carrier.

Around my neck: camera.



Along the trail.

Only a 15 minute hike in, but still there were lovely views everywhere, like this deer who never saw me as she quietly walked down the stream.

Enough paint for the entire weekend... and beyond.


To the left is my palette: white, two of each of the primaries and an earthtone.  In this case: titanium white (permalba), cad yellow pale (Winsor Newton), yellow ochre (Daler Rowney), cad scarlet (WN), permanent alizarin crimson (WN), French ultramarine blue (WN), ceralean hue (DR), burnt umber (WN), and a touch of Indian yellow (WN).

I have a tendency to think the best view will be around the next bend, so on this occasion I made the point of stopping at the first sight that I was interested in painting.  The trail actually ended up going past those mountains in background.  Another 15 minutes and I would have been there.  Next time I'm traveling that far although I am not dissatisfied at all with my decision to stop.



Sketch - 15 minutes



Approximately an hour into painting.

I had not toned my canvas before arriving, so I used Indian yellow and turpenoid to rapidly color my canvas.  I drew with a brush and then painted directly onto my canvas.  

2 hours into the painting.


Frustration: A Gift!


I am posting an excerpt from a conversation with a student of mine but this information is valuable to all artists:

Enjoy your high level of frustration.  Confidence in your self-perception covers a lot of distance but it can’t protect you completely from the struggle.  Growth occurs in the struggle and frustration.  When you stop being frustrated your art will become mundane.  Never become mundane!

Here’s a little list from me:

I had to drop perfectionism – it was killing my creativity.

I had to accept my short-comings and work hard to make up for my lack of drawing skill – knowing if I worked hard enough I could learn what I needed to know was difficult yet necessary and, in the end, fulfilling.

It takes time to develop – period.  Nothing can replace time.  The earlier you start, the more time you have.  That’s all there is.  Just wish I knew this part when I was 18.

Talent is wonderful to have – but there is no talent that can replace hard work.  Period.  The talented are often lazy or not driven.  Be driven.  There is always more to learn.

I used to be bothered by the fact that there was no “end point” to learning in art.  Now I embrace the journey.  My change in perception came with time and experience.  The more you do, the more you’ll love to do and the less afraid you’ll become of the work required to achieve your objectives.

Find an excuse to explore, practice, affirm, or challenge yourself everyday!

Happy Painting and Drawing!  Never stop!

Anna's Peeps, student painting in acrylic




Baby Oil Versus Turpenoid

Recently I've had students discussing using baby oil to clean their brushes as a safer, less smelly method than using turpenoid.  As I had never heard anything of this nature before - and believe me, I learned from people who knew how to save a dime - I decided to look into using baby oil for your brushes. 

There is lots of information on the interweb about cleaning your skin with baby oil.  In fact, even Dawn detergent has oil in it (that's their secret) because oil helps remove oils.  Therefore it makes perfect sense that baby oil will take paint off your skin.  After skimming through a blogged dialog, this is a comment that I encountered from 2001.

"A word of caution about baby oil:

Yes, baby oil will clean your hands and brushes, but before you use those brushes again, make sure that they are washed out really well with turp before beginning your next painting session.

If you do not wash the baby oil completely out of your brushes, the baby oil will cause "bloom" which causes your painting to develop blotches that can not be worked over.

I learned this the hard way. :( I was using baby oil and going right back into my painting which was a big mistake. I also was using the baby oil to clean my brush so I could use another color during the same painting session. Now I use safflower oil .... which works just a good...but maybe doesn't smell as good.... and safflower oil is okay with a matter of fact, some colors already have safflower oil in them. :)"

To the individual who wrote this comment: Thank You!  Personally, I think the safflower oil sounds great, but I have no interest in reconstructing this experiment to find out if it's true.  I'm taking her word! 

The variety of techniques are as variable as the artists that use them.  Testing different methods and techniques is the only way to discover what will work best for us individually.  We will all make changes over time as our needs vary with our growth and intentions.  Stay open to the possibilities.  But in the meantime:

Use the baby oil on your hands.... use the safflower oil on your brushes.