Marc and I are doing the 30×30 directwatercolor challenge for the month of June this year and I am honored to have been asked to join him. This year it feels more directed that last – we too are growing with each year and our aims sharpening. Marc has a long history of not only engaging in art but of giving. His blog is like a conversation you are having with an open friend. Even then, I had to get the following questions off my chest. His website is chock-full of wisdom.
1) Why do you think we make marks? Even when it makes no money?
This is a very good question which I think about every day.
I think most artists are addicted to painting – not do downplay people with real addictions – but – we are irrationally committed to an activity that is harmful to our well being, (financially speaking) and we keep making bad decisions – like – quitting our day jobs in order to paint.
And – we mostly do a terrible job of monetizing art, because we’re addicts, too busy getting high to be bothered with the business application of the thing. (Uma: I definitely chuckled with delight to hear this.)
So what does that come down to? I don’t have any numbers about artists – but let’s say 10% of authors can live from their writing – there has to be some percentage of artists that can make it work. (Uma: Do the readers have an idea of what percentage of artists can make a living while engaging only in art making and art showing?)
I suppose it’s all the artists that become art teachers! I certainly did that. I have a friend who compares his art school to being a Kung Fu master. He wants to live a crazy esoteric lifestyle, and have a circle of acolytes that support him in this. He’s the kung fu master. Or the yoga teacher. Or the rock climbing guru. There are all kinds of models for living the life you want to live outside of the normal healthy work / life relationship.-Marc
Also Also – the world has changed. We’ve moved on.
Art (painting) is no longer the peak visual expression in society. It used to be the apex of human expression. In the past artists were creating magical objects – making imaginary people and places real. Transporting the viewers into the world of myth and religion. Now we have Netflix. And video games. The real Michelangelo of our era is a film director. So – it’s our own fault. Artists today who insist on working in an antiquated mode – well you can’t complain if you lack relevance to the larger society. Maybe it’s important for artists to get out of our studios and gallery mentality and get into the culture. Maybe it’s more important to make a graphic novel or animated film than it is to paint for art collectors?
I think artists are being willfully stupid to ignore these other kinds of media. You can’t be relentless about ignoring what people enjoy if you expect to make a living. I’m still mulling over the angles on this aspect. But as an ex-game designer, it’s something I can’t refute.
Also Also Also – I think we (artists) are aware that we can’t think about monetizing until we have mastery. We spend years saying ‘Oh, I’m not good enough’. Because we can look at any museum and see hundreds of painters that are better than us. So – Skill first, profit later.
Similar to music I suppose. Or dance. Or kung fu. There’s a huge ramp-up in physical skills before we become a profitable venture. This is kind of against the grain of capitalism – we’re supposed to make the minimum viable product 🙂 (I suppose that’s Anime 🙂 But as painters, we’re making that huge time investment (like – 20 years!) on the wild gamble that the skill we develop will have some value. Ask me that question in three more years and I’ll have a little more to say!
2) When you switched to oil – the switch was intentional and commercial. Despite that reason for a pivot, does it feel like the art now takes over and you want to make oils inherently? I.e. without the commercial interests being overpowering?
Yes – it’s true I switched to oil 2018.
And made a big jump away from my art-instructional blog to an Instagram – which functions much more as a gallery of work. ‘Show and tell’ – as opposed to ‘community building’.
And yes, it was a conscious decision about selling art.
I don’t feel watercolor has less value than oil painting – but I recognize that other people do.
This is simply a fact. Just go to some shows and compare the prices. Watercolor will always be the red-headed stepchild. I think it’s as simple as – works on paper don’t *feel* valuable. They’re too much like a print or poster. And they are undeniably more fragile. And watercolor is fugitive. (Light-sensitive). It doesn’t feel like you’re getting the same value for money when you buy a work of watercolor. This is silly but I think that is the mentality watercolor artists are facing. I suppose colored pencil artists would say the same thing. “God-dammed oil painters – what I do is WAY more difficult!”
So – while the decision was tactical and market-driven – I would not say it was cynical. I’ve never painted something I don’t want to hang on my own wall.
Unlike illustration! I’ve done heaps of commercial work I felt no love for. So there is that – I’d be mad to choose oil painting for commercial reasons – instead of just going back to video game design if I wanted to ‘cash in and sell out’.
Oil gives me new range – I’m not going to say I pushed watercolor as far as it can go – naturally, that’s silly – but ok, let’s just say that – I’ve pushed watercolor pretty far – and oil gives me a new range. Bigger size, bolder color, and the addition of texture. I am LOVING the physicality of impasto painting. And SCALE. Oil gives me easier access to wall-sized painting. (I find watercolor works great at book-size and oil looks better at wall size).
And the direct control of color – you get what you mix in oil – unlike watercolor which changes and flows – not only altering the drawing with drips and seepage, but altering the color as it dries. < I don’t consider these things disadvantages. Watercolor is a wilful mistress. Exciting but a pain in the neck. Oil is a more pliable courtesan.
Also! Yes – the ability to paint back in over top – to come back at any time later and make changes. Watercolor really cannot be touched once the paper dries. You can’t re-activate the wet-in-wet. Once it’s done it’s done forever. I have oil paintings I KNOW are 100% better because of after-the-fact revisions I could not have made if they were watercolors.
So with all these things – as your mastery of painting grows – oil is a natural extension from watercolor.
3) Do watercolors have a different pull for you?
Absolutely – that’s why I went back into 30×30 this year!
You try to get out and they drag you back in!
Watercolor – it’s a completely different experience. Oils are so – …… predictable? They do what you want them to do – every time.
Watercolor – it’s the spontaneity. The randomness – it’s a dance. You move, it moves – there’s timing – the paper starts out dry, (I paint wet-into-dry) but for every mark you make, the surface changes – the wet area forms and immediately it’s a high-risk game. Where is it safe to touch, should I interfere in this drip or not? Do I dare touch an area twice? Will that kill it? How long do I wait to touch? What is the right consistency of paint mix?
There’s a stress level – an excitement – in watercolor that you don’t feel in oil.
I suppose that watercolor is like gambling, and that’s part of the addiction.
SIDE NOTE FOR PAINTERS: I used to talk about Tea, Milk and Honey on the blog – I’ve added a new mix I call ‘Wasabi’. The proper way to mix wasabi is: ONE drop of soy onto the pile of horseradish. NOT dumping your wasabi into a cup of soy sauce. Try it some time. Only one drop. You get a much better sushi experience. In watercolor, this means a generous squeeze of pure pigment with only one drop of water. (I use one or two spritzes from an atomizer) and mix in a 30ml cup with a small palette knife.
4) Do you think oil or watercolors has a hierarchy in the skills required – technical as well as emotional?
(Uma’s Disclaimer: I have a penchant for asking questions that make everyone uncomfortable. All that’s comfortable, I know, so what’s the point of asking those questions? Plus, it’s not the actual answer but the journey the interviewee, Marc, in this case, takes us to get to the inference he draws.)
For all those reasons above yes I do – oil is much easier.
But of course – once you are talking about mastery of a medium – at any level beyond the beginner – it stops mattering. Any media, even the humble pencil, can be a masterpiece. They’re all equally challenging and expressive if you get far enough along.-Marc
OK! Thanks for prodding and pulling. The questions got me back into the watercolor mindset. I’m super excited to be painting watercolor again. It has been about a year since I did it seriously.
I’m very grateful you agreed to do this 30×30 project with me. There really is nothing like painting EVERY DAY. It’s something every artist needs to try, to find out how much it affects their process. For me, it’s game-changing. It’s like training for the Olympics.
I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve created next month!
Uma: This is how it goes with Marc. He gives it to you frank and clear. Even when he does call watercolor technically harder to do, it leaves no bad after taste about oils. It’s mark of a good artist – if she/he will not be open to challenges and joys of other arts, then, what will she/he be?