14 Dec Painting Like a Millionaire
I’m rereading Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence and am struck by the scene in which the narrator begs Charles Strickland to explain himself.
Why has the stockbroker abandoned his wife and children for la vie de bohème?
“Do you mean to say you didn’t leave your wife for another woman?”
“Of course not.”
“On your word of honor?”
“On my word of honor.”
“Then, what in God’s name have you left her for?”
“I want to paint.”
Nonplussed, the narrator suggests Strickland might starve as an artist.
“What makes you think you have any talent?”
“I’ve got to paint.”
“Aren’t you taking an awful chance?”
“I’ve got to paint,” he repeated.
“Supposing you’re never anything more than third-rate, do you think it will have been worth while to give up everything?”
“I tell you I’ve got to paint. I can’t help myself.”
At a recent demo by the decidedly first-rate Maggie Siner, the painter was asked by a student why she put such large gobs of paint on her palette.
“Never chintz on paint,” she said. Oil paint is super-expensive, yes; but chintzing on it only hampers you in your quest to paint loosely, boldly, expressively.
“Paint like a millionaire.”
Siner’s advice—though hard on the wallet—is wise. Needing to stop, find the right tubes, squeeze out more paint, and mix your colors again feels like encountering a cinderblock on the highway.
There’s advice here for collectors, too: when you buy an original oil painting, realize you’re buying a lot of wasted paint. You’re paying for the paint squeezed from the tubes that never made it onto the canvas.
You’re also paying for the painter’s neurosis—her obsession and idée fixe: “I’ve got to paint.”