Use your nice art supplies

File this one under advice I give but hate having to take.

I set out this month on a thirty day challenge of my own making: Paint every day.

The paints I’m using are a set of Basics acrylics that I received for Christmas in 2011. I have been operating under the belief that they were from 2015.

Nope, 2011.

I have a set of 11 year old paint.

Some of them are chunky and nearly unusable. Some of them have separated and have a translucent slime inside.

For eleven years, I’ve been afraid to use them all up.

I do the same thing with food, sometimes. I’ll splurge on the “good” brand of something and try to make it last as long as possible, to savor it, to appreciate its value by stretching it out.

And then the last bite grows mold.

Your nice things are meant to be used.

Your good art supplies are there to make good art.

But first, they are there to make bad art.

Because, as hard as this is to hear… you only get to good art by making bad art first.

Last night, I posted a video of my latest painting. And I wasn’t happy with it at all. It started pretty, with red and magenta swirls. And then I added orange and more purple and it ended up… not my best work.

But that’s the point.

I have to make “not my best work” so that I can develop my best work.

Everything you make has a predecessor.

A first draft.

A chaotic outline.

Even if it’s just the idea in your head, something comes before the art, before the work, before the masterpiece.

Even your best (right now) will someday be one of your “first drafts” as you continue to develop your skills and talents.

You have to use the art supplies. You have to get the first stuff out there.

If at first you don’t succeed, you’re an artist

Earlier this year, the National Galleries of Scotland discovered a new Van Gogh painting.

It wasn’t hidden in an attic or stored in a basement. It was on the back of an existing painting, covered up by glue and cardboard. It’s been lost in plain sight for over a hundred years.


Because it was one of Vincent Van Gogh’s early works, and he was broke, and he turned a self-portrait over to paint on the other side.

Because it was “bad art.”

Because Vincent Van Gogh used what was available and made his supplies last as long as possible.

In 2022, we’re aghast that he would have done such a thing. But to Van Gogh, it was just an early work. “Just” a practice painting. “Just” some paint on a canvas.

I encourage you to produce so much art that you go looking for places to put it that aren’t perfect. Because the art has to get out of you. Because the paint calls you, the words call you, the music won’t leave your mind until it’s out of you and being sung into the world.

Let it be imperfect. Let it be bad, even.

Quantity over quality

One more story. Did you hear the one about the ceramics teacher who split the class?

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Use your nice art supplies. Practice making bad art. That’s the fastest way to make good art.

want more like this?

Get on my email list at for chaotic, creative pep talks in your inbox each week.

2 thoughts on “Use your nice art supplies

  1. This is a good reminder for me to not worry about screwing up in my ‘nice’ journals. That’s also partially why I enjoy using cheap supplies—so I can actually use them instead of fearing imperfection. Thanks for this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s