Don’t Be Frightened! (Part 1)

By Logan Henry

Can you see what I painted? There’s a basket with bread, a wine glass, and a basket with grapes and flowers. It’s kind of difficult to tell. While I initially liked it, the longer I stared at it, the more I hated it.

This was painted my senior year of high school. I took a painting class at school and for a few weeks we learned how to oil paint. Hearing oil paint sparked some fear in me. I always associated the medium with something that trained artists did. Not something I could manage to do as a high school student. After our teacher gave us a talk about how to handle and dispose of the materials, I was even more terrified. I was so scared that I would ruin the pipes, or waste paint, or catch something on fire. None of that happened, but they were very real fears.

In my class, we were told to choose a photo from a magazine and work from that. We sketched it on canvas, did an underpainting, and then painted from there. At the time, I was very obsessed with texture. I still am. But I used texture to hide behind my painting, because it wasn’t very good. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be a good oil painter, and that I should just give up. So for a time I did.

Do you think you want to try oil painting? Are you curious? Not sure? I am here to share my experience with taking an oil painting class at 171. This is part one of a two-part series. In this installment I am going to talk about the fear in exploring different art materials. In order to do that, I have to tell you a little bit about myself and my art experience.

My name is Logan and I am a current intern at 171 Cedar Arts and long-time student. I have attended classes intermittently at the art center since I was fourteen. Over the past six years, I’ve grown a lot as an art student. Not only my skills, but also with my willingness to experiment with mediums. I started drawing portraits in 8th grade, using graphite and slowly warming up to colored pencil. I had tried painting in school, but it wasn’t something I was particularly interested in pursuing outside of the classroom. The paint most often explored in school was watercolor. Watercolor was messy. It was wet and dripped and bubbled and I hated it. I had grown comfortable in the art materials that I knew and other ones made me nervous. The unfamiliarity and seeming inevitable failure scared me.

I didn’t start painting outside of the classroom until my last year in high school. This was mostly due to taking a class at 171. It was around that time that I grew more interested in painting, but it still frightened me. Graphite and colored pencil are very controlled mediums. I liked that. Every time I had experimented with paint before, it never turned out how I liked. In school I was interested in watercolor, but previous experiments with it seemed to point to it not being for me. If you have the same thoughts, I would like you to ignore them. If something interests you, I encourage you to explore it. I may not have had the best experience with watercolor, but it was taking a class at 171 that changed my mind. I actually bought materials myself to explore a different medium. I mean, if that doesn’t say something about how 171 can change you—then I don’t know what does.

Oil paint stirred up the same emotions in me as watercolor. It intrigued me, but also terrified me. Oil paint is a serious art medium, I thought. Not something I could ever manage as the most amateur of artists. I certainly had trouble with it in high school. Despite my failed first attempt, there was something about oil painting that kept calling to me. I thought it was so beautiful. The colors, the texture, the emotion it could convey. It was so intriguing to me, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever doing it properly. Serious art, remember?

I spent hours looking at oil painting videos, doing research about materials (and not understanding a lick of it), daydreaming about learning. And maybe even having a few nightmares about possible failure. But like watercolor, I had to listen to my gut, and I encourage you to do the same. Don’t listen to the voice warning you of failure, listen to the one that is intrigued by the process.

It was while I daydreamed that it hit me. What if I took a class at 171? I wouldn’t have to waste time trying to figure out how the materials worked on my own, I wouldn’t have to waste as much money on materials if I didn’t like it. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it. I signed up for Still Life in Oil with Marc Rubin. Even if it was serious art and I was an amateur, I would learn how to paint. That is the beauty of 171. It is easier to listen to the fear if you’re trying to teach yourself. At 171 you have somebody to guide you. The art center helped me realize my dream of trying oil paint again. It can do the same for you.

Stay tuned for part two, where I talk about my experience in Marc Rubin’s oil painting class.