If you want to increase your freedom in painting, sometimes it’s useful to designate a specific painting as the official “junk” painting.  The junk painting is one that doesn’t matter.  It’s the canvas upon which any liberties at all can be taken.  You can use cheap materials, you can paint in poor light, you can have a headache, you can change your mind as many times as you want.  Expend the last dregs of your palette, all the half dried and sticky mess that remains behind from your “real” painting sessions on this unfortunate canvas.  The canvas you might have thrown out is wisely saved to be used with the paint you should have thrown out.  And with these junky tools allow yourself to take chances, to draw freely, to rehearse any idea.  Here you can be a completely free spirit.

Everything you learn you can later use in a serious painting.  The junk painting can also be a way of warming up.  You can get started thinking visually with great freedom on the little canvas that doesn’t matter.

The photo above is sort of like “finding Waldo.”  How many versions of the picture do you see…?

If it should happen that you find yourself typically doing better in the junk art — with its expansive freedom — than in the “real” arena — with its more expensive materials and greater sense of duty and its various crippling “shoulds,”  then some fine morning just switch them — only forget to tell yourself.  On that fine day, use the expensive canvas and the choice paints for the “junk” picture du jour and worry yourself silly with the cheap canvas and the palette scrapings.  Just don’t tell your brain about the switch!  Mum’s the word ….

Top of the post:  a “junk” painting in progress ….

9 thoughts on “Junk Art

  1. …forget to tell yourself = your Self. Don’t tell your brain.
    What a wonderful advice! Like T.S.Eliot said: Teach us to care and not to care.
    Use your mind wisely, it’s full of concepts, of yesterday’s conclusions that may not apply today. We should not be the creator but the observer of the creation.

  2. Ah yes. Very wisdomful and potentially liberating words. I hereby designate the comment box a “real” canvas, for intents and purposes 🙂 Thanks Aletha.

  3. my junk piece is always better than the real one…so now I paint on whatever I have on hand, could be construction paper or Arches and I try to forget about it…
    Is it 6 or 7 paintings? or more hidden?
    Aletha tu es une infatiguable travailleuse!

  4. Brad, the comment box is a sort of canvas, isn’t it … there are so many canvases in life … so many places and ways of finding that which (you wisely note) is “potentially liberating.”

    The potential liberation does turn out most probably to be as much freedom as we can taste in this space-time and yet it is a much bigger playground than anyone even needs — if we will but play there …

    thank you, Brad, for giving me another way of thinking about these things

  5. there are more hidden, Ben, I have done this motif a bunch of times — am hoping to get to the actual spot again soon before the weather transforms it too much …

    and then will be spring again before it is quite the same once more ….

  6. I’m always so in awe of your work–so free, vibrant, and expressive. I had a similar conversation with myself this morning about letting go of the result and letting a piece be a junk painting if it wanted to be.

    Without realizing it I guess I could take a similar picture of my studio right now with three paintings of the same scene, one in sketchbook, one watercolor and one oil half done. They’re all slightly different and all have been enjoyable to do.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you what kind of oil pastels you use. I’ve only ever had cheap crummy ones that were no fun. I’m interested in trying them again, thanks to your inspiration. Any suggestions on good ones would be appreciated.

    Also much appreciated is your generous comments on my blog. Thank you so much!

  7. Jana, Thank you for the kind words — I use Caran d’ache Neopastel oil pastels and like them a lot. I have also used expensive Sennelier. There’s an important difference between them.

    Senneliers have a non-drying oil as well as wax binder that makes them lip-stick-like in texture, giving them an almost oil paint-like quality. However, this binder also requires extra care in using since it seeps into the paper (needs a sturdy paper) and creates a surface that stays tacky for a while, which is attractive to dust, etc.

    I used Senneliers for experiment (along the theory of trying anything once) and love the near oil like handling. If I were rich, I’d use them all the time.

    However my work horse oil pastel is the Caran d’ache. It’s rich in saturation, very mixable, and so far seems to be very stable and durable. I use it on Strathmore pastel paper and other similar, moderately priced papers. None of my oil pastel drawings are framed yet, but the drawings that I have (which are really beginning to stack up) are all in good condition under just ordinary storage conditions.


    Looking at Blick’s website today, they list a 24 count box of Sennelier at $86 but sell it for $36. They list Caran d’Ache Neopastels for $55 but are selling them today at $48. So go figure.

    Either is great to use, but Senneliers definitely cost more over-all in the long run both in terms of money and storage requirements.

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