“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. I 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. Not 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.