Painting on “natural talent,” and why that’s kind of bogus

Three years ago, I started painting after a couple months of messing around with colored pencils. I was stuck and needed some guidance. So I took my first classes. Truth be told, the instructors were rather surprised at how well I did, considering I had zero painting experience and had not drawn at all since high school. I remember the great Roumen Boudev, my instructor, asking me, “which one of these is medium?” and replying, “What’s medium?”

I was a total rube. Despite that, I plugged along and did some passable portraits. “You have a natural gift,” people would tell me. At the time, I considered that to be a huge compliment.

A different perspective on painting

Flash forward three years. Lately I’d been finding those words, always said with good intentions, to rankle. I wasn’t sure why. But one day, my life drawing instructor pulled me aside to discuss my work and my grade. And he said something that pinpointed my annoyance for me. After talking about his reaction to my work, he said, “You are an extremely hard-working and motivated artist.”

I was rather taken aback. I honestly hadn’t thought about myself that way. Sure, I knew I’d worked hard, doing hundreds of paintings in the past three years. But I didn’t really appreciate how hard I’d worked or that it was noticeable. I thought most painters worked as hard as I do. But … some do, some don’t. And focusing on inherent talent alone discounts the value of the hard work I’ve chosen to put into my paintings.

The case for hard work

Consider these two paintings of mine. The one on the left was my first figure drawing and figure painting ever. It was done in 2.5 hours. While I do still like the colors, otherwise it is utterly incompetent. I remember being super angry when class was over; I knew I could do better. And I could. Compare that to the painting at right, which I did a couple months ago, also in 2.5 hours. Huge difference; right? But both were done with the same amount of innate talent.

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Do I think I have a natural gift? Probably. But I think that it’s only about 10% of the equation, maybe less. Most people possess some degree of creativity. It is the cultivation of that gift that makes an artist. Because, even with talent, painting is HARD. Damn hard.

 

 

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