Artist Tipping

No, it’s not about how much to tip your faithful hardworking artist. Nor is it about stoned rural teenagers sneaking up on a bunch of artists in a field, sleeping peacefully on their feet, and toppling them over with an strangled “MOOO!” although I kinda wish it was, because that would be a way better story.

In the last two days, from independant sources, I’ve gotten to e-mails asking me for tips about painting.

Not, y’know, questions. Questions are great. A question, like “How do you do that thing with the rocks?” or “What’s the brand again?” or “What size brushes do you generally use?” are fabulous, because I can answer them, and we’re all good.

However, “I’m looking for some general tips,” or “How do you paint like that?” is not so fabulous, because they leave your surly neighborhood Ursula waving her hands aimlessly, with her mouthparts flapping and no sound coming out, rather like a koi trying to conduct a symphony.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to help people out. I’m flattered they like my art enough to ask me how I do it. But what the heck IS a general tip? Change your brush cleaning water frequently? (Sadly after ten minutes rumination, that was the best I could come up with.)

I can answer a question with the best of ’em. Ask how I got that one little dappeled squidgy bit in the lower left, and I’m all over it. Ask the stages of a painting, and I will take an hour out of my day to answer in detail, because painting is my grand passion and I am generally happy to talk about it until any sane person runs from the room with blood leaking from their ears. Ask the merits of watercolor over acrylic or the advantages of hot press vs. coldpress vs. clayboard vs. illo board, and I will expound. Ask about Painter vs. Photoshop, and…well, actually I’m pretty well tapped on that one, but fortunately, I have it memorized, so I can recite it by rote while the rest of my brain plays cranial Tetris.

But I need specifics. Asking someone for tips on painting is like asking them for tips on how to drive a car–how do you even begin? What do you say? There’s an entire vast skillset that took you years of observation to build up, and “general tips” gives you no place to get your teeth in. Er. Always be sure you have windshield wiper fluid if you’re driving in winter, and steer into the skid. Those are great tips. But if you don’t know what the difference between Park and Drive is, or which one’s the brake pedal, or what a clutch does* then those tips are completely worthless for you now.

Phew. Just had to get that off my chest. I feel guilty when people ask me these things and I can’t help, because I was once starting out and needing tips and not knowing how to ask for them either, and they obviously liked my art and took the time to ask, and it smacks of failure on my part not being able to help. So I dunno. Whenever I reply to these things, I SAY “Do you have any specific questions?” but half the time they never do.

See, artist tipping in a field would have been way more fun.

*A lifelong driver of automatics, I have no frickin’ clue what the clutch does.

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