Sunday, March 22, 2020

There is no silver bullet

It has been 8 years since my return into the hobby, and along the way back I found myself repeatedly confronted with the urge to buy this or that product that would transform my painting results magically.

But there is no silver bullet.

No single product can magically take you from beginner to awesome painter. No matter how much advertised or praised (I´m looking at you #ContrastPaints and #Airbrush), no product can spare you the frustration of failed attempts and abortive painting sessions, where you give up after trying in vain to reproduce the results of highly experienced painters (most often professionals) with your newly acquired product.

If you never bought a hobby product because someone was praising it, if you have never been at least a bit disappointed in a purchase, you can stop reading here - this article is not for you.

But if you are like me, did that and find it hard to tread the line between hoarding products you´ll never use, follow me into the discussion of why there cannot be a singular magic product, why every tool you acquire will require you to learn and improve again and how that can be a good thing after all.

So let´s dive into it!

The Magic Bullet

 The much hyped contrast paints are just one of the more staggering examples of how producers market their product as the magic bullet that will turn you into a professional painter with the click of a "buy now"-button.

There have been similar hypes before, the other prominent example I remember is airbrushing for miniature wargaming.

These are not always triggered by greedy producers and they don´t even have to be a widespread phenomenon as in the Contrast Paint hype. Whenever I feel the urge to purchase a product because someone else is showing fantastic results using it, I could be in for a disappointment when buying it.

I buy it, I try it - and it just doesn´t work. It doesn´t produce the same fantastical results!
Why is that?

Well, the answer is simple - I saw the results of a highly skilled artisan. By buying the same tools, I set myself up for success, but the most essential component is still missing - the skill and the experience (at least with that particular product and its properties).

But how did I end up there?

Why do we assume it is the product that does the magic?

Somehow, along the way, I assumed that the product does the magic, when it is in fact the artisan.

It is a bit like buying a Formula 1-Racing Car and assuming that I am now a professional driver able to win the Grand Prix, when I am barely a dangerous fool.
Framed like that, it seems pretty idiotic.

So how did I fall into that trap?

I don´t have a definitive answer, but my hunch says: Because it is easier than admitting to myself that such shortcuts don´t exist and that only experience and training can gain me the required skills, maybe even with the tools I already have.

The exitement of "let me try to perfect my techniques and skills with the products I already own" is far lower than "let my buy something new". 

It´s also a low risk endevour - we are not talking about ruinous sums to try a few jars of paint, a new brush or even an airbrush setup.  These will rarely bankrupt me and the risks of something going terribly wrong are quasi nonexistent (contrary to the racing car analogy, which is fraught with obvious danger). 

So - how to find a good balance with new products?

If you are anything like me, you will have acquired a few products that weren´t worth it in hindsight.

My list of shame includes:
  • An expensive airbrush when I already had one that was perfectly suited for the job
  • Several jars of putty when I already had enough to work with (they just were another color)
  • A lot of colors and paint lines that I don´t actually use anymore 
  • A set of washes when I already had better washes available
  • An electric tool
However, I also made quite a few purchases that were absolutely worth it and have significantly enhanced my results, after I took my time to get to know the material or tool.

In more than one instance, I was disappointed at my first attempt to work with the new material just to experience a full turnaround into excitement and awe at the possibilities that opened up as I got to know it better.

And actually that applies to the majority of the hobby products I use! 

Granted, I am not the type of person to jump headlong into any new product or trend - I am naturally reluctant to spend money, even more so after the mistakes I made in the past. But I still try new stuff from time to time - and will continue to do so.

But before I go into a purchasing spree, I ask myself - what do I expect from the new product?
What product do I already have that has similar properties I could use?
If the new product does something I can already do - does it speed up my process or the quality of the result (and how so?)?

I don´t want to be stuck in a situation where I have the same product all over again with different brands labeled on it. I don´t want to face the regret of all the money I threw in to find out that I´m actually not happy with the product because my expectations were all wrong.

Also - too many options will inevitably overwhelm you (if not financially, very likely psychologically) and limit your creativity. Too much freedom and choice is bad for your creativity.
Real creativity comes from restricting your options and adapting to these restrictions.

If you need to sift through hundrets of colors to buy the right shade for your project, you´re probably not working at peak performance. Maybe it is time to push yourself to new levels and learn to mix that shade from a limited palette?

Keep Experimenting!

However - don´t be deterred to try new products that your idols are using - they usually have good reasons for it! Just be prepared for the learning curve and manage your expectations.
Manage these experiments like venture capital funds - whenever possible, spend small sums. Don´t buy the entire paint line if you didn´t try the range before. Why not start with 3-5 commonly used colors? You can expand from there if you like it!  If not, the loss is not too painful.

Buying that product will not bring you everlasting joy and happiness.
It will open up new possibilities.

It will add another tool into your toolbox.
But like every tool, the skills of the user are the most important factor in the equation.
You don´t buy a hammer and expect to be a master carpenter.
You don´t buy a piano and expect to be a award winning musician.

So don´t buy hobby supplies and expect to be a pro painter.

Build your skills - new materials are great to keep you engaged and for opening up new horizons
But sometimes, less is more.
Choose intentionally.


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