Sunday, July 17, 2011

Out of the attic: That thing you did in primary school

No, not the time you caught an outsized locust and kept it in your uniform dress pocket, so that when you had to say goodbye to the deputy principal who was moving to another school, you tried to shake hands with him using your left hand, because your right hand was fully occupied preventing the monster insect from escaping and jumping all over him. Oh wait, that wasn't you.
That was me...

No, I'm talking about that thing with the wax crayons, where you fill in the whole page with brightly coloured crayons, then cover it in black crayon and scratch through the layers to make your picture. Well, you know what?

Crayons suck.

While for the most part growing up tends not to be as great as we think it'll be (mainly, I think, because kids are never really taught to make meaningful choices, so as adults we just kind of drift into things), we do learn certain liberating truths, and this is one of the best: The art materials they give to kids are really horrible. The paints, the brushes, the coloured pencils, the crayons, all might as well have been specially designed to make us think we were no good at art. Those of us who persevered, learned something wonderful: out there, in the non-kid world, are proper paints. Proper brushes. Coloured pencils that actually leave a mark on the paper. And... no, not crayons. As far as I know, crayons pretty much always suck. But there's something much, much better - oil pastels!

So, if you're an adult and you don't think you're any good at art, try this: Go to an art supply store. Buy a box of oil pastels, or coloured pencils, or watercolour or oil paints and a brush or two. But here's the difficult part: get the most expensive brand of whatever medium you choose. Your well-behaved self will try to tell you that you simply can't. Don't listen to it. You're all grown up, you've probably blown more money than this on a haircut or a restaurant meal. You have no idea what difference quality makes, and here's the thing: it probably makes a bigger difference to a learning artist than to an experienced one. Picasso could create a masterpiece with one scratchy pencil, but bad materials quite likely taught you, way too young, that you're not an artist. Treat yourself to one box of really good oil pastels.

Now go home and play with them.


  1. I love the texture on this piece.

  2. Thank you! That's probably the nicest thing about this technique. It gives you the texture of certain print types and etchings, but with a lot less work and specialised equipment.