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What Can’t You Do

Updated on November 20, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

My collage of the Darling Angel Girl
My collage of the Darling Angel Girl | Source


The artistic type is usually pessimistic and procrastinators by nature. We see the glass half empty and little chance of getter more, yet we just can’t seem to help ourselves. We work on our craft anyway because something deep inside compels us to continue against all odds. Those internal voices are hard to drown out and fill with “you can do it” mantras when they are so knitted into our very nature. Only the most dedicated artists find a way. It is tenacity and obstinacy that pushes us to try even common sense says forget it.

Hmong New Year Collage
Hmong New Year Collage | Source

The Question

What do you tell yourself artistically that you “can’t” do and are you right?

I asked some friends what it was they thought at one time or another that they couldn’t do and here are some of the answers.

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.

— Albert Schweitzer
A collage of Bree
A collage of Bree | Source

New Things

Kristine: I always say I can’t do a new style of art (realism, modern, etc.) or use a new medium (like watercolors, or sculpture). No, I’m not right. I know I can, and have. You just have to d it. I’m just insecure when it’s something new. I have to be pushed.

This was a very honest response. Isn’t that how we all feel before we gather our courage and plunge into the effort, only to find we can do more than we think we can do? I know I started out painting with oils at the age of 12. I didn’t want to try watercolors because I had heard that they were hard. As it was I thought oils were difficult to master, but at least I could correct an error by painting over it. Because of watercolor's transparency, there is no “painting over” an error. It is there for everyone to see. Not only that but you must plan ahead. There is no white in watercolor. You had better block in where the white will be first because the white of the paper is the white in your image. You must paint around your white. I thought of this, as too much trouble at first. So it wasn’t until my 30’s that I tried watercolor and I have loved it ever since. I can’t imagine not painting in watercolor now. I love it more than oils.

What do you say you "can't" do?

See results

We have art so that we shall not die of reality.

— Friedrich Nietzsche
Darling Angel 3 Collage
Darling Angel 3 Collage | Source


Becky: I can’t seem to find the time to invest in my talent as I would like to.

Time is an interesting paradox. Everyone is given the same number of hours in a day and it is up to us how to carve up that time and mold it into what we want. We can let it happen to us or we can purposefully stack and shape it to fit our needs. I saw a video once where a professor did an experiment with some students using golf balls and a large 5-gallon jar. He filled the jar to the top with golf balls and asked the class if the jar was full. Everyone agreed that it was. But then he pulled out a box of gravel and started pouring it into the jar. The gravel filled in the spaces around the golf balls until there was no more space and then the professor asked again if the jar was full. The students agreed that now it was full. But the professor pulled out another box, this time of sand and began pouring the sand into the jar. The sand filled in the spaces between the golf balls and the gravel until there was no more space. Now is the jar full the professor asked. Yes. Now the jar was absolutely full. But the professor wasn’t done and he pulled out a couple of beers. He opened the cans and began pouring them into the jar until no more would fit.

The professor began explaining. He said that the golf balls represent the big things in your life that you have to get done, such as getting a job, paying bills, preparing meals, taking care of your health and family. He explained that if he had poured in the sand or gravel first there would have been no room for the big things. The big things must be taken care of first. But then you have room for things you want to do such as hobbies, vacations, friends, and fun. And even then there is room for the small stuff, like video games, reading, movies, etc.

What about the beer? The professor said there always room for a beer. And there you have it.

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.

— Henry Ward Beecher

Original Art

Brad: I can’t afford that piece of art!

I tried to tell Brad that he could probably afford prints of art even if he couldn’t afford original art. Many of us put our work out there on places like Society 6, Redbubble, Inktales, and Zazzle. These are royalty sites that will license our art for the average person to buy in print form on canvas, T-shirts, totes, stickers, notebooks, iPad covers, iPhone covers, cutting boards, and much more. I know I have my art of these sites and people have ordered things like bedspreads and tapestries with my art on it and I get a small royalty each time someone buys something using my images.

I think I really know what Brad meant though. I have seen work that I adored and wanted to buy but just couldn’t afford to have not even in a print copy. In some cases, if you are an artist and have the skills, you can copy work for your own display. The masters used to do that as an exercise for their students 500 years ago. When you copy a master’s work you get to know how they approached composition, color temperature, and brush strokes. Where all this gets ticklish is when the artist tries to sell that same copy as an original. That is called copyright infringement and fraud. You can go to jail for that. Today even copying in painting form, a composition of a photograph published in a book or magazine is copyright infringement and you can be sued for it.

Fairy Fiddler Collage
Fairy Fiddler Collage | Source

Final Thoughts

I try not to use the word “can’t” in my artistic vocabulary anymore. If someone asks me about a particular subject or medium I haven’t used before, I say I haven’t done it but I’m sure I can, even if I don’t feel too sure. That doesn’t make an optimist really. It makes me an illusionist. Nothing up my sleeve… presto.

Let me know what you think you “can’t” do and if you are wrong in the comments below. I love hearing your take on it.


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