Because I love painting miniatures and models, I tend to tell people about it at the slightest hint of possible interest. Or disinterest, because I’m bad at reading social cues. Regardless, one of the comments that I occasionally receive, especially when I show off a picture of one of my figures to a “normie” who hasn’t been sucked into the hobby is something to the effect of “That’s amazing! I could never paint like that.”
I really hate it when people say that.
Now, it’s not because I am uncomfortable when people praise my work. That, I can handle. The thing I really dislike is hearing people say they could never paint like that, as though miniature painting is some sort of unique talent that you are either born with or not, and they just can’t because they don’t have the talent.
Yes, you can
Don’t believe me? Here’s the proof: I can do it, and I’m not that smart or talented or whatever.
The secret is that here is not a lot of innate talent involved in any of this.
I’ve been painting miniatures for a couple years now, and I have yet to come across a technique that is truly hard. Washing, glazing, blending, weathering; these are all techniques that the average person, with a bit of practice and a bit of knowledge (which, in the age of the internet, is easier to come by than ever) can learn, do and master. Even high-level artistic stuff like colour theory and composition is something that can be studied and learned.
The same goes for other things in life. My sister is quite artistic, and she has done some pretty amazing pencil sketches. She didn’t get there by just popping out of the womb with pencil-sketching talents. It’s not something genetic, because if it is, it’s probably a talent that I would have as well. She put in the time, did the practice, and did the research necessary to hone her techniques and improve her skills. I can’t make a sketch as good as one of hers, but maybe if I put in as much time as she did, perhaps I could.
Once in a while, I will look at some amazing miniature online and be utterly gobsmacked by the quality on display. It might even be so good that it almost makes me want to throw out my brushes and give up. But then I look at it closer, and realize that the artist behind the work probably painted hours each day for decades. So, instead of throwing out my brushes, I tell myself that, while I might not be there yet, if I keep it up, maybe, one day, I can do something like that.
Talent versus practice
The other thing is, whenever someone says “I could never do X,” they are in some sense devaluing the hard work that one put into developing their skills. Getting to where I am today took almost two years of painting, learning, practicing, and (hopefully) mastering new techniques with every new piece I churn out.
Imagine if since childhood, you spent your whole life learning to master the oboe. You took oboe lessons from a young age, played oboe in the high school band, and studied music in university, focusing on the oboe. After which, you spent years playing the oboe in a symphony, and have become a master oboist. If someone says “I could never play the oboe like you,” that is implying that you have a natural talent playing the oboe.
Doesn’t the implication that your oboe skills are the result of innate talent and not practice in some way devalue the countless hours you put in playing the oboe? When people say something like “I could never do that thing,” what they don’t realize is that they are dismissing all the work and practiced skill that went into the thing.
I could be a brain surgeon. But I’m not, because I didn’t put in the work in university to go into a pre-med program, get a 4.5 GPA, pass an MCAT, get into a medical school, study hard enough to get a medical degree, then put in 100 hour weeks for years in my residency, and at some point overcome my queasiness at the sight of blood, to finally, after over a decade of schooling and residence, become a fully qualified neurosurgeon.
That means I respect brain surgeons more, because their success in a challenging field is the result of oodles and oodles of hours of hard work.
Except maybe Ben “The pyramids were built to store grain” Carson.
But what if you really, legitimately, physically, can’t?
When I was writing this article, I started out by giving the example that I’m probably too short to play in the NBA, and barring some sort of medical breakthrough, nothing I do can change that. But I can still, with plenty of practice, get good at basketball and, if not become an NBA all-star, at the very least be able to play basketball at a high level.
Then I realized that I’m about seven or eight inches taller than Muggsy Bogues.
One of the secrets to life is that just about anyone, with enough determination and enough practice, can do just about anything. Some people might have a harder road to follow and more obstacles in their way, but one of the defining features of humanity is that people are capable of some pretty amazing stuff when they put their mind to it.
Bob Ross once had a man come up to him and say that he couldn’t paint like him because he was colourblind. In true Bob Ross fashion, he responded by painting a picture in greyscale, just to show him that he could.
Maybe there are some people who, due to medical conditions or being born differently, can’t do a certain thing, but those are a tiny minority of people who can’t do a tiny minority of things.
“I could never paint like that”
Beethoven was deaf when he wrote his ninth symphony. What’s your excuse?