I was struck, as maybe you were, too, by Christen’s post this week on how Stampington gets those great photographs you see in their magazines. You think they have a team of photographers come in and set up tons of expensive equipment, with models and lighting and, well, you know: stuff. Nope, she says: it’s just two and a half (one part-time assistant) people, sunlight, and the staff of the magazines.
If you spend much time in blogland reading the blogs with all the great photographs, you’ve maybe been overwhelmed with all the photography equipment people use. Lights and flashes and fancy lenses, props and drapes and just, you know, stuff. Expensive stuff. Maybe you were thinking, “Gee, I’d love to take more photographs, but I can’t afford all this Stuff.”
And that got me thinking about how lots of people approach creativity. They think maybe they’d like to try watercolor. So they check out some watercolor sites, visit some of the linked blogs, read the suggestions. You start seeing what everyone’s doing and what materials and supplies they recommend, and you start making a list of what you need, and before you know it, you’ve got a shopping list that’s going to require taking out a bank loan.
I’ve known many people over the years who would get interested in something new–rubber stamping or encaustics or quilting–and before they ever even tried it to see if it was going to be something they loved, they went shopping. Maybe you know people like this, too: you try something new and tell them about it, and the next time you go to their house, they’ve got every single new thing, all the sizes, all the colors, all the fancy brushes. The sewing machine that sews by itself. Maybe they go on to make tons of art with all this stuff, but maybe they’re like the people I’ve known: they collect everything, maybe take it out of the package and try it out, and then they arrange it all neatly and admire it and then–oh, look! A chicken!
You know: something else new and sparkly catches their attention, and they’re off on another search for other materials and supplies and a whole new collection of fabulous stuff.
Don’t fall into this trap. Making stuff is not the same as amassing a huge collection of stuff. Making stuff is about making stuff. You can make stuff out of almost anything. If you want to make different stuff, you may need different supplies, but you don’t have to buy a ton of those in order to jump in and splash around and see if you’re going to like it. If you really want to try painting, all you need is 1) some paint and 2) something to paint–paper, canvas, wood, cardboard. Here’s something to think about: if you decide you want to paint and you find yourself walking the aisles of the art store, filling up a basket with hundreds of dollars worth of supplies, maybe you need to stop and think whether it’s the act of painting that appeals to you or the mental image you have of yourself standing at a beautiful easel, holding a sable brush, the light streaming through the new lace curtains over your shoulder and reflecting brilliantly off the brand-new-to-you-via-eBay silver coffee server you want to capture on that 4′ X 6′ professional-grade canvas. Maybe what you want to do is not so much about painting but more about living your life inside one of those photographs in the glossy magazines that art collectors buy so they can see how the artists are spending the money they, the collectors, pay for their work. You know, the ones with references to Sotheby’s and Christy’s.
When we took Jesse Reno‘s painting workshop at Artfest in 2010, he provided everything we needed for a full day of painting: a paper plate on which to squirt globs of cheapo acrylic paint, a pencil and a couple crayons for making marks, and some big sheets of paper. No fancy brushes (we used our fingers), no palettes (well, except that paper plate), no canvases. Jesse often paints on wood. You can, too: find some wood, sand it down, start painting. You can spread on some gesso if you want to, but I’d advise against it: once you start thinking, “Buy some gesso,” it’s just a short step to “Buy some brushes” and “Buy that $2100 easel from Anthropologie.”
Making stuff is not the same as buying stuff. In fact, you could argue that it’s the opposite of buying stuff. Just because you admire something that someone made using their all-inclusive-set-of-every-color of Copic markers doesn’t mean you can’t work until you can afford $981.30 for the full set. Please. That’s not about making stuff; that’s about having stuff. Buying stuff. Getting the stuff everybody else is talking about.
Don’t fall into that trap, please. If you’re going to solder metal, sure: you need some solder and a soldering iron. If you’re going to paint, you need paint. But you don’t need a ton of fancy metal findings, and you don’t need the entire range of watercolors. What you need, instead, are some basic materials and–the most important part–time to experiment, make mistakes, practice, play, find your groove, follow your ideas. Instead of spending two hours filling a cart with everything you think you might need, spend those two hours getting your fingers in the paint and moving that paint onto a piece of paper. At the end of those hours, you’ll feel so much more fulfilled.
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