“My five-year-old kid could paint that”

As it happens no they couldn’t and, at risk of upsetting every parent, let me explain why.

It’s fair to say that I have my share of critics. Barely a week goes by without some asshole criticizing my work.

In every case this is borne out of ignorance, rudeness or jealousy. I have a number of stock replies that I send out in the vein attempt to correct the ill-educated and mis-informed. In many respects I should be flattered that my techniques appear to be so fluid and lyrical that some idiots think they can replicate them.

But far from being an apparent series of randomly placed, ill-conceived doodling there are a remarkable number of processes at work simultaneously. So let’s begin with the first reason why your kid can’t paint like me:

Your child doesn’t have my paint

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough I have ever made is the development of my enamel paints. Do they sound boring already? Pity because they are not. I understand their component structure, behaviours and chemical composition. I have gained an intimate understanding of pigmentation, viscosity, flow rates, and curing. child with paint on his handsI can control how they dry, when they dry and most importantly of all I can manipulate them with a series of 19 chemical additives to create some eye-watering effects and details.

I can specifically alter the release of hydrocarbons to alter their reactive states, I can chemically alter the pigments whilst on the canvas and I can separate individual component parts of the compounds. I can extend or retard the cure phases and even create matt and gloss finishes in the same pot.

But why bother when I could chuck ordinary household paint at a canvas? Because you’d notice that in an instant. You would know that I don’t give a shit and have no artistic integrity. You would recognize that I had no talent or thought or care. If it was easy then everyone would be doing it.

OK, so use acrylic paints then

Fine. Be my guest.

You’ll have already educated your infant on how well they (don’t) mix with water and how quickly they dry. Good. Then you’ll also know that blending them into soft shapes, small details and consistent colours (like I do) requires patience and understanding; something they will have developed from a very early age – practicing in the womb perhaps?

I guess as this is so easy that they will have been studying how colours interact with each other and how they have clearly defined relationships with each other; things that help creative people choose colour to shape their structures, create moods and promote reactions.

Oh and I guess your little darling will already be well versed in using hypodermic needles and syringes to apply the paint – just like I do, one small river of paint at a time.

Of course you have because heaven forbid they would want to play in the garden or hang out with their primary school friends. Yeah, that’s right, you’ve done an awesome job teaching them this well by the age of five.

Or you could go buy some Hammerite (or similar enamel) from your local DIY store and see just how difficult this type of paint is to use. Get your child to wear a full-face breathing mask for hours at a time and do this outdoors otherwise your house will be full of nasty, lung damaging, vomit-inducing particles as the paint dries. But hey, I don’t need to mention that do I because your five year old can paint just like me.

Composition, structure and size

Arranging colours is one skill but arranging shapes is another – both relying on each other to get the most from a painting. It’s handy to have a sketch on paper (or in your head) of how and what you want to paint before you start. Child painting at an easelNot always, but it makes a real difference. If only to arrange your colour palette it’s worth doing.

Shapes define space. That’s it. Wrong and it’s unbalanced, oppressive, angry and chaotic. Get it right and it’s poetic, righteous, joyful and uplifting. I guess your infant will already be a master of positive and negative space though so that’s another box ticked.

And then where do you begin with the structure and layering? Start with a base coat first or just go in with the finished layer? What is your overall theme and how have you broken that down into component applications?

Sure, let them play – nothing wrong with that. But this post is about those parents who say their kids can paint what I paint – so that’s going to need some careful planning and thought beforehand.

Cool, they’ll be happy to do that between repeats of Spongebob and their bedtime story.

Then there’s the matter of size. Most of my ‘easy’ paintings tend to be done on a larger scale so let’s go for 250cm by 130cm as a starting point. I doubt most five year old could reach into the centre. And as I paint flat on the floor they’re going to have to spend a lot of time on their feet and most of it bent over. Not good for growing kids.

Techniques, tools and materials

This is a topic I could talk about until you fall asleep so let’s just say that I have a lot of infrastructure at my studio to allow me to work on the scale I do and with the materials I choose. If you can be bothered to really go into the finer details then this page on my tools and equipment will explain things in greater detail. Needless to say though, you’re going to need a big garage or shed if you’re going to have a go.

Avoiding the brown-sludge moment

We all get them; ask any artist. Slightly too much paint or over-working one small area and it all turns into a brown sludge that resembles poop. I get it from time to time. It happens. Yes, it happens in spite of the knowledge I have gained over ten years. But then I guess that most five-year-old kids have the ability to control this and know when to stop. Every time they put paint to canvas. Damn how I envy that…knowing when to stop.

But what the hell do I know?

You may wonder why I get so pissy when someone has a pop at me? I like to think I am defending all creatives from ignorant people who think they know better. Using their lack of knowledge to devalue the effort that goes into transforming an idea into something tangible makes me angry and upset.

But I will tell you that I’ve sent out over 50 invitations to various parents (who feel it necessary to write and tell me their kids could do better) inviting them to bring their child to my studio and paint with me for a day – so that they can show me just how easy it is to paint like I do.

I offer to pay for that and cover their expenses providing their kid can paint what I paint – like they boasted earlier.

And guess what?

No-one has ever sent a reply, let alone turn up.

Maybe if they put as much effort into their own lives as they do into telling me I can’t paint we’d all live in a better world. As for me I laugh each time I get one of these critiques; I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.

If you genuinely have an interest in how and what I do then please get in touch; I’m more than happy to book you and your family in for a day’s painting at my place. It’s not cheap but it is an unforgettable experience.

Oh and it’s stressful, complicated and sweaty work too – if you’re OK with that you’ll have a blast.

21 replies
  1. Kanza Sami says:

    Hello sir!
    Im a 22 year old, self taught artist living in Pakistan and I have had my fair share of criticisms Because of my specific skill set or style of painting. I paint abstracts and so I have heard the very same comment ‘my 5 year old can make this’ god knows how many times, and I have been criticized to the point where I stopped painting altogether. You can not imagine the satisfaction and relief I got while reading your blog, it’s about time someone addressed this particular criticism. People indeed don’t realize the level and amount of skills and technicalities that goes into a painting that they assume their kids can make as well. Not to mention the heart and soul that goes into such intense pieces of art.
    Your blog and art is truly an inspiration sir!
    Please do have a look at my art as well, I would love to know what you think of it and I wouldn’t mind any creative criticism coming from you!
    https://www.instagram.com/kanzasami/
    With love, from Pakistan.

    Reply
  2. Margie Hoffman says:

    I don’t know anything about paint or painting but I enjoyed reading his. I do know you meant to spell vain and not vein.?

    Reply
  3. Janice says:

    Thanks to your blogs esp that one on Art Competitions! I only started painting a couple of years ago and still trying to get to that unique ‘style’. So I have joined in several and true to what you have said, it only generated frustrations and disappointments within myself!
    Still I don’t know how will I go to ‘shine’ in the Art world or even just to pay the bills through my art.
    Nevertheless, I admire your art and the hard works you do! You really make impressive paintings!!!

    Reply
  4. Yvonne McQueen says:

    Great comments Ed. You must hear these ridiculous views a fair bit from bloody ignorant people. Great come back that made me smile. Good for you!
    yvonne

    Reply
  5. Jackson says:

    The problem is Swarez, that when looking at a piece of art nobody really cares if you used a mask while painting it, or if you took 8 years of study to decide what colors or shapes to use; people just see the end product and compare it to their own end products or those that their kids bring home from school every day, and in a lot of cases these works closley resemble artwork found in the Tate Modern.

    Perhaps that makes the average joe ignorant of Modern art, but the fact remains that if you chose to paint abstract visions the difference isn’t obvious to the vast majority of viewers and so these things will always be said. I don’t always agree and think saying as much is very, very rude, but I think if you do this type of art you should be prepared to take the comments.

    After all, many monkey paintings have fooling professional art critics throughout the years, so there must be something in it.

    This is in contrast to a child’s drawing of, say, a portrait and when compared to the classics the difference is obviously vast; I think 99.9% of us agree we could never paint a Mona Lisa.

    Reply
    • swarez says:

      I agree on all counts Jackson and thank you for leaving your thoughts.

      My only real issue is parents that say that it’s MY work that could be recreated by their kids. If I am to be judged as a talent-less prick with no clue about anything then fine, I have no issue with that. But to be told that what I have done is easily replicated I find difficult to swallow. Because I know it isn’t. I know what it takes to get paint onto canvas and it’s a struggle for many reasons. If what I do is ultimately down to my materials (and nothing to do with me thinking I can paint) then I give in. But so far no-one has the balls to prove me otherwise. I offer a narrative as a means of engagement and for those that do have an interest in what I do; but I agree Jackson – most people really don’t give a shit about any of it.

      I would just like one family to come along for the day and have a go. I’ll open the door, give them my keys and go home for a few hours. I would dearly love to be proved wrong.
      Cheers, Ed.

      Reply
      • Jackson says:

        I get the same in my industry (design / photography) people see something simple like the FedEx logo and say they could do that in Word. Well I guess they are partly true that they could copy replicate it in Word, but they couldn’t have come up with the idea in the first place which is of course the real issue.

        But if people are stupid enough to think saying such things is acceptable, they probably don’t have the intelligence to really understand what goes into such things and as such water off a ducks back eh!

        Reply
  6. Lizzie says:

    I don’t exactly do much art, I definitely wouldn’t call myself an artist. But I do abstract sometimes and love drawing cartoons. I was recently set a piece of Art work to create at school, call it a project if you like but it was optional and only a few were chosen to do it, and we had to create a piece of abstract to go up in our SSC (Student Support Center) building. We were told it had to be relaxing and tranquil, and with a limited palette of colours (blues, turquoise and white). We had to base it off some work from an abstract artist. So, naturally, I went onto Google and spent ages looking up abstract/modern artists and their work, with the fact it had to be relaxing and beautiful in my mind. After a while I stumbled upon your ‘Graduation Day’ piece and knew at once it was perfect. I love your art, your ‘About me’, your passion and how pure and beautiful your art is. I am amazed how much you work at it but looking at all of your pieces it is definitely worth it. All I can say is, you are amazing! I am not planning on being an artist myself as the future unfolds (more planning on following an academic path), but I still love art and really appreciate your work. Sorry for the essay!

    Reply
    • swarez says:

      Oh Lizzie, wow! Thank you so much! I don’t know what to say to that? That’s an amazing thing to say and I am truly grateful – it makes all the hard work worthwhile when I hear such genuine feedback like that. I’m so grateful you took the time to get in touch; thank you :)

      Reply
      • Lizzie says:

        I feel touched you have replied to it, it feels good to be listened to in a huge internet world like the one we call home. You’re welcome; I meant every word of it!

        Reply
  7. Aarti Sharma says:

    Before I started painting, I too thought that abstract art was easy. But now I know its not, a lot of planning takes place before the first colour is splashed across the canvas. So when someone tell me that the work I have done can be easily copied or created by their little one, I simply smile and let them fool themselves.

    Reply
  8. Sheila Howell says:

    I get comments like that all the time, usually from people I know. Hey, if that’s what it takes for them to feel good about themselves, I should respond with pity not rage. They should be grateful they can’t read minds.

    Reply
    • Swarez says:

      I know what you mean Sheila; it’s always a tricky thing to get across the million things that govern our creativity and whilst I celebrate all that the human race creates it’s the less well-informed that cause me the most angst. If a little kid wants to paint that’s amazing – just a pity that some parents think they have a prodigy and as a result goad them through hell and back. Thanks for posting – how true your words are!

      Reply
  9. Nigel H says:

    The easiest answer when someone tells you they can do what you do is, ‘go on then, do it’. Jackson Pollock is my favourite artist and I always get people saying millions of pounds for that, I could do that. Well if that’s the case, do it. In reality these people have never picked up a brush in their lives part from from emulsioning their front room.

    Reply

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