Watching Paint Dry

I began my art journey in June of 2015. Within the first month, I came across The Virtual Instructor art site and became a fan of Matt Fussell. From the start, I “clicked” with Matt’s teaching style, and I quickly became a member of his site. It is a paid site, and for me it’s been well worth the investment. In addition to the “live lessons” and various classes for members, you’ll find a lot of free video tutorials on the site.

So, yes, indeed, I’ve long been a fan of Matt Fussell and his art. He’s taught me a lot about believing in myself as an artist, about occasionally pushing myself to try new things, and about the need for patience in drawing and painting.

I struggle with the part about patience, and week after week as I attend Matt’s “live lesson” and take part in a drawing or painting project, I watch in awe as he creates meticulously-detailed works of art. By comparison, I tend to rush a bit through my projects, so my works are nowhere near as meticulous or as detailed as his. But, maybe that’s all right.

Here is a painting I completed yesterday based on the current “Live Lesson” series at The Virtual Instructor. It’s a sunrise in North Carolina.

Yes, I’m finished with this painting, all right. In some ways, I was mentally finished with it quite some time ago. Am I happy with the painting? No, not really. It’s all right, but definitely it could have been better.

This project began five weeks ago. At the start, I was excited and enthused by the project. This was the first time I would be watching Matt paint with oils. Although the site features a course on oil painting, it’s taught not by Matt Fussell but by Ashley Bane Hurst, a fellow artist and teacher. I was excited not only by the prospect of watching Matt paint with oils, but by the fact that he would be using the same water mixable oil paints that I have on my palette. Plus, our subject would be a landscape! What an ideal project for me.

You know that old saying about being careful what we wish for because we might get it? Well, that’s applicable here. For a long time, I’d wished that Matt would do a landscape oil painting for a live lesson. I got that wish, and sadly, by the end of the first hour-long lesson, I was wishing it would all be over.

I watched as Matt worked on the sky. One small brushstroke at a time. As students in his class, we tease him a bit about being so fussy with his art. He even jokingly calls himself “Fussy Fussell” from time to time. And this time, his fussiness drove me bonkers.

Now, this is not to say that my way is right or his way is wrong or to make any judgment on how art is created. Goodness knows, I’m still a rank beginner, and I’m definitely not qualified to tell anyone how to paint. Anyone, that is, except myself, and even there I might not always give myself the right instructions.

But, back to Matt and the sunrise painting.

When I first saw the reference photo, I recognized that with my loose, impressionist style, I could easily complete a painting from the reference in a relatively short time. The composition is simple; the lines are elegant; the colors are dramatic.

So, instead of painting along with Matt at class, I sat back to watch him work. Brushstroke by brushstroke. Slowly. Surely. One single stroke at a time.

Lovely, yes. but I soon grew bored. I spent most of class chatting with fellow students, feeling that the lesson was a good exercise in simply watching paint dry as Matt slowly created a beautiful sky. In all, he spent three hours on the sky and clouds. He spent an additional hour starting on the sandy beach, and as I write this, he’s still not finished with his highly-detailed version of the painting.

I’m finished with mine, though. I grew weary of the slow, stroke by stroke process. After dutifully following along week by week watching Matt paint and then “doing my own thing” the next morning, I was looking forward to this week’s final lesson on the project. When I came to my easel yesterday to begin work on the beach, my patience was completely gone. I didn’t want to stop and re-mix colors. I didn’t want to lay down careful strokes. I just wanted to be done.

In all, where Matt has spent five hours on his painting and will devote at least another hour to it at class this week, I’ve probably put in no more than an hour at most. Certainly the differences between his painting and mine are clear. But that’s how it should be. He paints in his style, and I’m painting in my style.

I’m not a meticulous, detailed painter, and you know what…? I don’t want to be. While I do want to develop the ability to add details when and where necessary, my painting style is vastly different from Matt’s. He loves smooth paint with minimal visible brush strokes. I love thick textures and impasto. He loves to carefully show minute changes in light and color. I’m more in favor of slapping it on and blending as the spirit moves me.

In my version of the painting, I’ve brought more soft edges. That’s becoming part of my style. That’s becoming part of who I truly am as an artist. And it’s important for me to recognize these things. While it’s true that my painting could have been stronger, the fact that it’s different in style from the instructor’s painting is not a bad thing. It shows that I’m developing my own approach, my own painting style, and my own understanding of landscape painting.

Had I not lost interest in this painting several weeks ago… had I simply followed my own instincts and painted it as I chose… had I trusted my own instincts… maybe the painting would have been better. Probably, it would have been.

Yet I don’t regret those long hours of watching Matt paint, those dreadfully long minutes where I felt that I was simply watching the paint dry as he worked on his canvas. I saw what can be done by a patient artist with a steady hand. What I learned though, wasn’t so much about art and how to create it as it was an important lesson on our personal approach to art.

I adore Matt Fussell. I admire his art. But I’m a very different sort of landscape artist than he is, and that’s all right. In many ways, maybe that’s the most important lesson we can learn about art.




    1. Thanks so much. I think it could have been better if I’d just “let go” and followed my instincts instead of doing it step by step each week along with the class. I really lost interest in it long before it was finished. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much. Yes, do check out The Virtual Instructor. He is an awesome teacher, and his site has lots to offer. I was very fortunate to have found the site within weeks after I decided to learn to draw.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As I have said/alluded to a number of times, one must tread very carefully on the tight-rope of “This is just not me vs I am having trouble with this”. It is the most natural thing in the world to lean into projects which are not major challenges. It is easy to excuse dissatisfaction with “It’s not my thing anyway.”

    How to tell the difference? The one person in the whole world that you cannot bluff, is the one person who knows you the best …. you! So …

    Go into a room with a mirror (bathroom is usually perfect!) and stare into those eyes which are looking back at you. You can ask those eyes any question you like. They will not always have the answer, but if you say something which is flawed, they will let you know. The questions around what you like to do …. don’t like to do …. should persevere with … not waste your time on etc are perfectly valid and important questions. After you have consulted those eyes in the mirror, you will know whether you were correct before, or whether you are simply side-stepping a challenge.

    Friends come and go, but if you want to meet the one person who is totally dedicated to you and can offer insight into so many aspects of your life, then she will always be waiting for you .. in the mirror!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. I watched the Virtual Instructor spend another hour with a script-liner brush making tiny little strokes for the beach in his painting. It’s beautiful… but it’s just not how I want to paint. I do plan to practice the techniques he demonstrated, and I’m sure I’ll use them from time to time, but I much prefer painting in a looser, impressionist style. It’s good for me to understand stylistic differences, of course, and to see that who I am as an artist really does matter. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s been a really good lesson for me to see that I don’t want to paint like someone else. I want to paint like ME. Sure, I have a lot to learn, and definitely I’ll practice some of the brush strokes and techniques I’ve seen demonstrated. But in the end, I’ll paint MY paintings in MY way. 🙂 Wow… listen to me! LOL. Seriously, understanding who we are as artists is incredibly important. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

I'd Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s