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First you get the mud

October 8, 2011

New work by Theo Leijdekkers

I bumped into Theo Leijdekkers, a Dutch painting colleague, and spoke to him about starting to work in oils again. I”ve seen his work in his atelier and in exhibitions and it is exquisite. You really have to be in front of one to feel the impact of all that colour and light. See the photo of his atelier below for an idea of the scale he is working in.

Anyway, during our brief conversation I told him how difficult it was for me to find a way in this, for me,  relatively new medium. And he told me that it took him about 6 years.

So, I’ve been letting that sink in. Amazingly, it is giving me solace as I create one after another substandard pieces, trying to master the medium and at the same time find out what kind of subject matter and composition feel true for me.

Theo's atelier

I’ve been through this process, ie starting to paint, about 10 times in the past 20 years, and always I’ve quit. Now I know why.  Because to get good at something requires failing a lot. And as an experienced artist in other skill areas, including watercolour painting, to be bad at something like painting with oils is almost unbearable.  Also I’ve repeatedly told myself I’m not a ‘painter’ but more of a draughtsman and decorator and now I have to challenge that.

In a weird way, the sadness at Steven Job’s death makes me realize anew that your life can be cut short at any moment. Now I am alive and have the chance to at least try to do this. Accepting that it could be a long road is to be graceful and grateful. If I keep to it, I should be painting to my heart’s delight before I’m 67. Actually, it may not even take 6 years because I”ve been accumulating good painting karma for the last 20 years every time I take it up again!
Here’s the thing, you have to be willing to start a canvas knowing it is going to probably be crappy in order to get that out one of the way. With each piece that doesn’t sing, you get closer to the ones that might. It is like an old fountain that gets turned on again. The first gush of water is muddy and has to be expelled  before the clear, pure spring water can flow.

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2 Responses to “First you get the mud”

  1. Lee McVey Says:

    I am experiencing the same thing. After using pastels exclusively for over 20 years, I am now resuming work with oil paint. Being away from a brush for this long, I’m finding it is not like riding a bicycle. I need practice, practice, and more practice. But I will persist at it and in time I will feel comfortable with a brush and wet paint again.

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Your pastels are lovely, and very painterly. So I don’t think you’ll have much problem transitioning back to painting.

      At first what blocked me was that with 121 sumptuous oil pastel colour sticks, I could always just reach for the next colour I was inspired by, and I’d get surprised by the combinations.

      With paints, I had to mix those colours one by one, and use separate brushes for a lot of them, and it took awhile to appreciate the colour range available to me. And still more time to start to respond intuitively to the colours again.
      Good luck, Sarah


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