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Oil Paint, Paint Brushes, and Canvas Paper – A Science Experiment

By: Camey VanSant

By Alessandra

I failed at painting, drawing, coloring, and almost all art growing up. I could never completely color within the lines and often wondered why the cherry blossoms I had watercolored resembled a misshapen coil of wires while my peers crafted postcards transported from giftshops in Tokyo. No wonder art history was the class I resorted to fulfill my high school visual arts requirement.

In the first semester of my gap year, I wanted to try things that I never got to try in high school – activities or classes I was too busy to take or lacked confidence in my ability to attempt. I decided to take three classes, Painting I, Ceramics, and Intro to Computer Science. The Intro to Computer Science Class was mainly for academic interests and to aid in future classes so I’ll mainly focus on my two art-based classes that were taken purely for joy.

When I first started my painting class, I anticipated a relaxing low-pressure, zero-stress class. However, when I first walked into the class, my heart was racing and my stomach was tied in knots as I remembered that I had no experience in painting and lacked a lot of skill or any innate talent. My pieces were surely to be far behind my classmates and I would be thoroughly embarrassed by my paintings. However, as soon as I began my first few painting classes, I began to uncover way more about myself than I initially expected.

As the professor demoed still-lifes, how to apply oil paints, and paint mixing, my STEM-brain started to take the driver’s seat. I observed with a keen eye and realized that the painting process was like a chemistry lab procedure, with its set procedure and observations of the changes that take place. As I began to apply what I observed my teacher doing to my own paintings, I found painting to be much simpler and less daunting than I initially thought.

The objects in front of me became my experimental subject matter. The mixing of my paints and method to where and how I started was my procedure. The thick impasto brushstrokes were my application. I made observations and noted the different shades and elements of the object onto a canvas. Then, I would go back and realize that maybe my notes were a little inaccurate and some shades needed to be slightly darker, warmer, or brighter and made edits accordingly. Soon, my confidence grew and I went from painting still lifes to portraits, nudes, and self-portraits. Additionally, as I observed my peers’ paintings, I recognized the difference in styles and personal preferences and how truly, all of the different art styles were beautiful. I realized that there was in fact no right or wrong way to do art.

By leaping into a class I had no experience or knowledge in, I found confidence in my ability to adapt, knowledge in my learning techniques, and a love for oil painting. I was able to completely zone out from the rest of the world and focus for three-plus hours solely on my palette and the canvas in front of me. Initially, I believed that I would never be able to create good art because I just didn’t have the talent for it or the right eye. Then, I realized that I am a very adaptable learner. I am a visual, social, solitary, hands-on, and logical learner. I have many different learning styles and can use that to my advantage to develop skills in things that I believe I am incapable of doing. A lot of painting is about practice and technique, not just innate talent. I found a joy and passion for art and hope you all enjoy my paintings!

Coke Bottle Still Life
Final Still Life

My progression of portrait painting:

Portrait Based off a Picture of My Grandfather in Black and White
Playful Self Portrait