Dear Art Student,
You find yourself now standing at the beginning of a long and arduous road, struck through with joyful milestones, confusing side tours, and misguiding road signage. You will learn much and create some nice work (which you will hate within the year, but love again in five years when you can look back upon "Past You" with some affectionate condescension only made possible by the passage of time and the acquisition of greater skill). People will ask you how you plan to make money, what your fall-back is, and, if you're a woman, what your husband does for a living. But at this important moment of lacing up your boots and swinging that rucksack on your back, I would like to share some words of wisdom, words that I can spit out at any art student with certain confidence that they apply:
Your brushes suck.
Your brushes really, really suck.
You have, like, ten brushes. I have almost two hundred, and I still some days don't have the right brush for what I want to do. But it's not just that you only have ten brushes and not a single one of them is the right size for the thing you want to paint. It's that your brushes really, really, totally suck in every way possible. I ask myself a lot of questions when I teach students. Is this actually a brush or a chopstick with some lint stuck to it? Did you use this one to scrub out the grouting in your shower? Is this filbert homemade out of Great Aunt Tabitha's chin hairs? And how did you acquire hand-me-down brushes? How does that happen? Did someone say, "Oh, I heard you were an artist, and I have this ratty old homemade chin hair brush in my purse that I used to clean my bathroom with. Want it?" Does that happen?
Your brushes are specimens of the worst that the world of art supplies has to offer.
If your brushes were food, they would be store brand spam discounted for dings in the can.
If your brushes were a car, they would be a belly-dragging Chevy Cobalt on loan from your older brother.
If your brushes were a haircut, it would be the bowl cut your mom gave you in the second grade.
Your brush bridges the gap between you and the canvas. Your brush is the extension of your very fingers. Your brush needs to be capable of transmitting every nuance that your eye detects. Did you know that when you use a tool, your brain rewires to accommodate it as if were one of your own limbs? I don't want my brain to rewire to accommodate crap.
A poor craftsman blames his tools. Said no artist ever.
Are you not worth two hundred dollars in new brushes?
Because here's a secret: the quickest and easiest way to become a better painter overnight is to get yourself some good brushes. I promise. If you don't understand what's so important about a good brush, it's
because you've never had a good brush. Really, you're an innocent.
You're the victim here. You need to know that there's simply more out
there, waiting for you. And it pains me to watch you chase paint around instead of actually painting. There's a rich and vibrant world of sable, and mongoose, and long-handles, and cat's tongues. Chungking. Egbert. Someday these words will cause your heart to speed up. But for some reason right now, you don't think brushes are important. You will shell out hundreds on paints and canvases. You ask me what special mediums I use. You rifle through artist forums for Old Master Secrets. In the meantime, I'm here with an pitying heart, waiting for you to come around. I am your voice of reason, echoing unheard like a phantom siren call luring you across the stormy waters of your mis-allocated student art supply budget. And my siren song is this: Nice brushes: get them already.
An Art Teacher