Someone asked me about my easel recently. The question was vague, but I think they were looking for a recommendation based on what I use. My answer was simple though probably not satisfying: it’s the same cheap A-frame I bought as a student 20 years ago. Once or twice I’ve thought about upgrading, but ultimately I just don’t see the need. This one fits my space and my work, humble though it may be.
This is the case with most of my painting materials. I rarely go exploring new pigments or mediums. My surface was illustration board for about 8 years and now it’s been masonite panels for another eight years. I’ve only changed my brushes because my previous brushes were discontinued, and I only ever buy the exact same very specific five sizes. Most of my studio supplies have been with me since I first learned to paint. I guess I even take some pride in this.
And then we get to my cameras.
There is a widely joked about mindset in some photographers to always be itching for another piece of gear, especially stuff you don’t really need. It’s called Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S., get it? “I saw a cool camera, I think it gave me GAS!” Haha… ugh) and I’ve experienced this off and on for many years. Photography should be about making great images, not fetishizing tools. Yet still, chasing these tools, collecting these tools, endlessly thinking about and reading about and watching videos about and lusting after these tools. And for the most part, they’re not even that different from the tools I already own. People ask camera geeks what new camera they should buy, and you want to know the simple answer? Whatever is in your budget and comfortable to hold. Probably it will be fantastic. But if you DO want a 2 hour presentation on the nuances of sensor sizes and focal lengths and…
I know there are painters and other creatives out there who get pumped about going to the art supply store because of all the stuff to drool over. To me it’s more like going to the pet food store. I’m there for what I need and that’s about it. Anything exotic or different from my regular gear is of little interest. But if I see a yard sale with some old dusty cameras or an article about new releases, I’m there. Even for formats I don’t use or systems I don’t like, well, it doesn’t hurt to look, right?
I’ve chewed on this comparison a long time. Why be so spartan with what I need to make one kind of art and so romantic and frivolous with another? It’s possible that I’m insecure about my photography, and fixating on the gear is a way to compensate. Do more or nicer tools boost my confidence? Am I making excuses for my shortcomings by thinking another camera might be the answer?
I definitely believe this kind of shopping is also about buying inspiration. New gear means using it a bunch while it still has that New Gear glow! This is probably worth keeping in mind for whenever I feel in a rut with my painting. Maybe next time I feel stuck, I will finally get around to trying gouache.
How much does work vs play factor in? Though I really enjoy painting, it’s something I do with a very targeted result. Photography is more of a passion project. While it’s essential for shooting reference and finished work, it has no further financial incentive which feels very liberating. I also notice how much the user experience of cameras might make a huge difference even if end results are similar, and sometimes I want one experience, sometimes another. Am I overlooking this in my painting process by taking a more universal approach to everything?
There are also downsides of tool obsession. I sometimes feel a bit anxious or paralyzed in choosing a camera kit for traveling. If shooting just for fun, I agonize over what to grab. It’s hard to enjoy using the thing I like sometimes because I keep second guessing or thinking about other options that aren’t getting used. I might even end up staying home because I get too stressed over what to shoot with, which means I’ve completely lost sight of the original objective: to go out and make pictures!
I never feel like that about my painting tools. They’re constant, steady, and reliable. I don’t think about materials at all when sitting down to work. The joy is all in the doing rather than anticipation of doing.
Deep down, I know I’d be a happier photographer if I wasn’t always pulled in so many directions or looking for another better thing. I also wonder if I’d be a more creative painter if I wasn’t so rigid and was more curious about new options. While I believe simplicity helps really focus on mastering your medium, I also remember several times being gifted some material, pigment, or surface which made a long term impact on my workflow.
In any case, I still haven’t found a perfect substitute for my beloved discontinued Loew Cornell Golden Taklon shaders. Along those lines, may I ask what type of brush do you use?