Overheard more than once at one contemporary art show or another: “My toddler could paint that!!”
A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum while they had their Rebels show, which included (among many others) Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Camille Pissaro, and my idol Vincent Van Gogh to name a few. I was in absolute awe in viewing in person many of these paintings that i’ve idolized as an artist and art lover over the years.
When sharing my awe over the show, I heard comments in different forms, about how simple some of the art seems, and how “anyone could do that” sort of idea. It really struck me at first, and I almost got trapped into that sort of thinking.
Years of trial and error are behind any great piece of art.
What you don’t see when looking at these works that seem simple- is the background for the artist. All the trials, all the experimenting, all the failures to finally come across that one great idea. For many artists, it’s more than just trial and failure to find success. It’s a deep, inner obsession that consumes the mind. That leads them to keep searching and struggling- sometimes at great cost to their careers, families, or mental health. Sacrifices for the inner drive-that they might not even be able recognize or name until it happens.
I recently made a discovery in my studio- a much easier way to paint what I have been trying to paint for years. And it’s so easy and fun, i’ve decided to start teaching the method to those interested. And i’m sure i’ll encounter students in my classes that might be tempted to think “wow, it’s so easy”. But I hope they will also see that artist behind the concept. It’s one thing to look at someone’s idea and repeat the concept.
Without experimenting and failures, yes it does seem simple.
Make sure you consider this the next time you are tempted down the path of thinking of a form of art as easy or simple. Sit down and try it yourself. And you’ll see, probably immediately that it’s not as easy as they made it look. And consider and respect all the background work that was done to lead up to that one big great idea.
This painting is called The Mountain Pass and is inspired by the always stellar photography of my friend Wayco Beckman. I have been inspired by Wayco’s photography over and over again through the years, so much so that we are planning a joint show of his photos and my paintings this summer.
For this painting, I focused in on the line of the road shown in the photo. In the photo, the sky is cloudy and the top of the mountain is covered with clouds. This inspired me to swirl the sky in subdued (for me) colors, and to emphasize the line of the road by keeping the shapes in the foreground.
I called it The Mountain Pass because the road/line seems perhaps a bit treacherous, but probably necessary to follow anyways. Like most things in life that are difficult, the accomplishment is usually worth the challenge or the experience gained along the way.
I recently tried rock painting with one of my older art students, followed by trying it with my 2 younger sons. Take it from me, if you haven’t tried rock painting yet, be prepared to become addicted! It is so fun for all ages, and once you sit down and start painting, more and more ideas will flood your brain!
Rock painting is a very approachable, easy and fun art activity for all ages and abilities. Great for kids, parties, family gatherings, school groups, artist groups and more– I could go on forever! Below are my tips to help you along.
Tips and Tricks for Rock Painting
Find several rocks of different sizes and shapes and wash them all up at once. Smooth, flat and round rocks provide a “blank canvas” to add your ideas, and rocks with more personality/cracks/chips/holes etc. allow you to create a unique design according to the features of the particular rock. WARNING: You’re fooling yourself if you think you “only want to paint one rock”, because once you start, you’re going to want to do more! My 7 year old didn’t want to paint any, but ended up doing about 8! Washing any dirt and loose parts off with water is enough- let them dry completely on a towel or out in the sun– even better!
Paint large fields with acrylic paints, and apply 2-3 coats to make the colors very bright. This will also help them last longer. You’ll find that some rocks really soak the paint in as it dries. There are a few ways around this if it bugs you: you can coat you rocks in Gesso paint first (if you plan on painting the whole rock) or you can paint your shape with a coat of white paint or Gesso first, then once that dries paint your chosen color.
If you are impatient like me, or just have a time constraint, have a blow dryer on hand to help dry paint between layers!
Use Sharpie Oil Based Paint pens for small shapes and details. These are one of my favorite products! I use them in my work, and my students of all ages love them too. They are very easy to control, and the quality of color is great. If you want to do any lettering, fine details, dots– or just plain don’t have a small brush on hand, these are a great tool. These are easy to find online or at your local craft store.
Finally- once everything is thoroughly dried, coat your rocks in a Spar Urethene Outdoor Varnish Spray. This will make them safe for outside or just help protect them from scratches and chipping if you decide to keep them inside. Stop by your local hardware store and ask for an outdoor spray varnish!
More Ideas and Community Connections
I’ve taught classes on creating “Rock Monsters”, make whole words- one letter per rock, pick a theme like flowers, birds, super heros, pac-man ghosts, or just dots and stripes!
Make sure to search on Facebook for a rock painting group in your community if you really want to get involved. There are groups that paint rocks and hide them- posting pictures for people to find. What a great way to get artistically involved in your local community! Try searching for “Kindness Rocks” or look by your county or city name. Here is the group in my community.