I don’t consider myself a watercolourist or an oil painter. I’m an artist, and as an artist I use whatever materials and mediums best express my desire to create art. Whether I’m using a camera, a paintbrush, a needle, a saw or whatever it is I happen to turn my hand to, my art comes from being me. People, however, have all sorts of differing views about what constitutes art, and how one must go about performing and creating it in order for it to be accepted.

One of the dilemmas I faced when I was discovering my artfulness as a wee kiddie was in deciding for myself which forms of art were more valid to pursue, versus what was considered valid, culturally speaking. Oil paintings, and portraiture in particular have always been one of the top ranking forms of art. People will pay a very hefty sum for an oil portrait, especially if it actually looks like the sitter. That bit is quite hard. Getting the money out of people is probably even harder once you’ve finished – many an artist has gone hungry from not being paid in time. Watercolour has always been seen as the hobbyist’s painting medium, and so, such paintings are worth less in general than an oil or an acrylic, for example.

Portrait of one of the delivery guys at our local fish market in Washington D.C. Watercolour on hot press cotton rag, 30x34cm, 2020.

Mr. Turner himself was a big advocate of the watercolour medium, but because oil was the thing in his day, he rebelled somewhat and brought his watercolouring techniques to the canvas (which really upset the folks at the Salon at first). However, as an artist, both I and Mr. Turner have an understanding that the same level of work goes into producing a watercolour or acrylic painting, as does one created with oil paint. The medium is not the art, it is merely the vehicle for the artist’s intent. These days cartainly, watercolour paints are just as expensive as acrylic or oil paints, and so you’d think that each of these painting forms would now enjoy equal billing. Yet, this asinine mythological status that surrounds oil painting prevails. And, poor Mr. Turner will be turning in his grave at that very notion. In over 150 years since he graced us with his presence, absolutely nothing has changed, except for what one may now consider art (cough, cough!). I do believe Mr. Turner was responsible for that though. He made it acceptable for artists to begin to deviate from the classical norm – naughty man!

Do you think you could tell the difference between an oil painting and a watercolour unless you were standing up close?

Paint is paint.

Portrait of my Son, Avery. Oil on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2020.
Portrait of my son, Raef. Oil on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2020.
Portrait of my daughter, Grace. Watercolour and gouache on hot press cotton rag, 12×16 inches, 2020.

8 thoughts on “Paint is Paint – Mythical Dilemmas

  1. My dad painted in both.( Sadly, he stopped painting a few years ago due to health).
    I have a few of his works on the walls of my office.
    At a quick glance I’d say no, I can’t tell the difference. Except for one, a still life of fruit, a bowl and two vases for which he used a palette knife. The texture is pronounced and can be discerned.
    Then again, maybe if you didn’t know it was done with a knife you wouldn’t be able to tell?
    As you say … paint is paint!
    Love the bobble hat painting.
    Regards
    Doug.

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    1. Thanks, Doug. The bobble hat belongs to my youngest son. 🙂

      My Dad, like your Dad, also painted in both. Except, he recently admitted he never really got on with watercolour, which I found odd as his watercolour paintings were better than his oil paintings, I thought. Sorry your Dad doesn’t paint anymore. It’s nice you have some of his paintings hanging up. I don’t think I have any of my Dad’s.

      Regards,
      M.

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      1. My father is 86 this year. I think he just ran out of steam as far as painting goes.
        Also, his memory is not what is was and I suspect he would start to forget things half way through!
        Sometimes it’s best to quit whilst ahead, as the saying goes.
        The oil done with a palette knife is the second piece he ever did.
        We were living on an RAF base in South Wales when he started painting. It was the sixties – ’66? – and dad enrolled for art classes run by one of the officers.
        I found this piece, frameless, stuck behind an old chest of drawers on the landing of our house in Chester when I went home after my first contract in Jo’burg.
        I asked if I could take he it.
        He said, ”Sure” and waved his hand as if it was nothing.
        To me it is priceless.
        I’d love to know what happened to the first piece he did – a sea-scape, but nobody knows what happened to it. Maybe it’ll turn up one day?
        I suspect he painted over it.

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          1. You never know, it might be under the oil painting you have!

            Ha! It isn’t, that I am pretty sure of. I have a vague memory of both paintings hanging in the sitting room.
            Dad told me that every piece of surviving artwork has the name of the person it will eventually be bequeathed to written or painted on the back. Avoids any sibling squabbles I’m told!
            He has never revealed who gets what when he ”kicks the bucket” but there is a fantastic one of a forest he did a few years ago that hangs on the wall of their conservatory. It is a big painting and I adore it. I keep nagging him to have a squizz behind to see if my name’s on it and the miserable bugger refuses point blank to look, and mum is no help either. She just smiles and says, wait and see.
            I hope I am looking at it on the wall behind his chair when we chat via whatsapp for many years to come!

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            1. Ha! Yeah, I hope so too for your sake. 🙂

              I wish my Dad had kept some of his paintings, but he either sold them or gave them away. My Nan had a watercolour of his on her wall for years, of a Japanese fisherman harpooning a big fish from his small boat – I always thought it was a smashing piece. My Nan passed away some years back, and it vanished into obscurity. I’m hoping it found its way back to my Dad. I’ll have to ask.

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              1. This sounds familiar. My Gran had quite a number of Dad’s watercolours – birds mostly – on her walls.
                When she put herself into an old age home she arranged to have all her stuff sold.
                I was already in South Africa, but I was told the family was not amused!
                I fear there were some unresolved issues going on, but us grandkids wouldn’t have been told anything.
                Families can be a weird bunch sometimes.

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                1. You’re not kidding about the family weirdness. There’s plenty of that in my own! That’s a shame about all those paintings being sold. Sometimes that can’t be helped though, if circumstances suddenly change for a family member. Going through that myself at the moment. My Mum passed away recently, but most of her things will likely disappear into obscurity as the house gets cleared. I have tried to rescue any artwork of mine or my Dad’s that might have been there, but not being able to be there in person at the moment is putting the mockers on things.

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