Don't Knock a Medium Until You've Tried It—For Months
Like many less experienced artists, I have a difficult time taking what my art tutor tells me—much to our mutual regret.
Our most recent foray involved a pattern I and others (both experienced and not) engage in:
- We get materials for a new media.
- We explore the new, shiny media.
- We run into problems with using the new, shiny media.
- We slag off the new media, now no longer shiny.
- Weeks to months later, we rediscover the new media.
- Now we love the new media.
Although apparently step 5 might never happen for some. And given the expense of any media—even digital media isn't that cheap—this is highly problematic, from both budget and artistic growth perspectives.
In boardgaming, we call the phenomenon of buying a new game, playing it less than a handful of times, and then moving onto the next the "cult of the new."
As you can imagine, "cult of the new" is both expensive and wasteful, encouraging shallow enjoyment at the cost of space and money. And as in boardgames, so in art....
My art tutor tells me that in art school, you end up doing entire semesters of single media—for instance, charcoal drawings up the wazoo. Don't like the medium? Tough. You bear it out, and you discover how to use the media effectively—and perhaps you'll love it, perhaps not, but at least you'll know for sure that there was nothing in the media for you.
Right now my particular "cult of the new" in art is a desire for watercolors. Doing watercolors to a certain level of enjoyment with an eye to professional growth is extremely expensive, however. As a result, until the fullness of time develops, I need to learn to work with what I have.
And what I have is truly generous: Conte crayons (which are a sort of cross between a hard wax pastel and a color pencil), Akashiya watercolor (ink) markers, archival-quality black pens including a variety of widths and even professional brush pens, a set of *B Staedtler pencils, and both Clip Studio Paint and ArtRage on my computer. Truly, I'm spoiled for choice—yet I want to chase after watercolors, somehow convinced that somehow they'll be the magic medium that is just perfect for me.
Watercolors aren't, of course, no more than any other medium is. This is definitely a matter of Goldilocks—except you won't so easily find your perfect medium if you aren't willing to explore what the others have to offer. After all, even Goldilocks tried the porridge and beds in her fairy tale.
Until I got a bee in my bonnet about watercolors, I just loved pen and ink. But when my art tutor asked me to really think about it, I discovered that they were right—I really do have a history of chasing after the new, abandoning it, and then coming back to the now less shiny medium later when forced to out of boredom—learning that I really do love it and/or appreciate what it can do.
Gosh, how many times has this played out?
Well, it's played out for traditional media as a whole for sure, and even digital media, but perhaps the most drastic is pen and ink. I resisted using pen at first—it's so indelible, after all. How could you work with it, when making mistakes is something that happens so often in digital media and pencils?
But then I started doing it one day, and damn if I didn't run off and buy Pitt Pens, no small investment (though fairly small in the art world, as long as you don't go off and buy all the colors, which I did not). The palette of the line is just so fascinating in its flexibility within what would seem to be a deadly limiting space—and yet it isn't.
Conte crayons are difficult for me to grasp—yet at the same time it's a perfectly fine dry medium. There's no reason I can't learn to use it, to work with it. I've got an 18-color set. I need to learn to use them. The same goes for the watercolor markers—which, by the way, aren't really watercolors, but watercolor ink; there's a palpable difference in how the pigments work, and you have to treat them differently from actual watercolors.
And in fact, I was perfectly happy using what markers I have—which is over 20, my gods—to do a 3-value study. I'm forced to make decisions with high contrast, and I learned how you can express form even with incomplete shapes. This is excellent practice for both more abstract Western styles and for older Asian styles, and valuable for learning to pick out values, which will let one eventually pick out colors more accurately.
Limitations really do bring out the creativity in an artist. And then you find out the limitations aren't actually limiting at all. Some subjects may more naturally fit specific types of media, but the expressiveness of any media is unlimited.
(For those who code, this is similar to how every computer language of note is Turing-complete, meaning that every language is just as expressive as any other—it's a matter of individual choice and style that makes the difference.)
So for now, I'll explore pen and ink, conte, and watercolor markers more thoroughly. Watercolor markers do fall more easily under pen and ink, but learning to live without the palette of line is just as essential to an artist's education as learning to live with it.
Go out there, then, and use what you have to learn more about art. Your future self will thank you for your efforts, and the journey of artistic problem solving is truly wonderful.