Frustrated Painter

I dove into art, specifically painting, sculpting and drawing when I was three years old. I am 27 now, which means I have been studying art on my own time and in school for 24 years. I picked up oils when I was 16. I don’t believe I am the best, but I do know where I am as an artist and where I need to go.

I majored in Studio Art at Gateway Community College (New Haven). I received an Associates, however I studied four years worth of classes in art and other subjects. GWCC’s art department is incredibly skilled for a two-year school. A couple of professors could do better as teachers, but they are easily avoided. Most of the things I know about oils I learned from Vincent Baldassano, who is both a wonderful painter and a wonderful person. (His art is so unique and worth checking out).

I also took 2D Design with Prof. Baldassano, which was a new subject for me. I am studying at Southern CT State University now, and I took 2D Design again with Prof. Guagliumi (interestingly enough, both teachers know each other). They each had different approaches, and Prof. Guagliumi’s class was just as challenging as the first time I had explored the subject. In other words, it shouldn’t matter if you took the same class previously with a different teacher, you should still learn a few things.

I was supposed to be in ART 320 this semester, but the time slot was too late in the day and conflicted with the city bus schedule, the one I need to get back to my apartment. Even though my credits from GWCC filled my requirement for ART 220, I decided to take it anyways. The class is titled “Painting and Media Techniques”, so I had hoped to picked up a new technique or two. I had heard great things about Mia Brownell, so I decided to take the class with her.

Unfortunately, my financial aid refund took too long so I was low on art supplies for the first third of semester. This was embarrassing for me enough as it is. I shared supplies with students, something which Mia had encouraged in the beginning of the semester. Then all of the sudden I would get snotty comments from her like “You have to pay her back”. I’m not sure how to calculate the cost of a blob of paint, first off, and secondly, if that student wants to be compensated for said blob she can ask me. Given her status as a painter, her decent paying job as a college teacher and her light skin and blonde hair, I’d say Mia thinks I’m beneath her.

It doesn’t stop there. Many oil painters alternate between thin and thick layers of paint. The layering of washes is a very traditional technique for oils, and it is also used for watercolors. However, watercolors need to remain transparent to a degree, so painting thick with them isn’t appropriate. Mia told us about thin on thick technique was for oils during one of the first classes, then proceeded to tell us that technique was only for watercolors. The only things we’ve done are still-lifes, no landscapes or human forms. For our fourth painting we did a reproduction. During my rendering of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Mia told me to “watch out for the greens”. I had that part of the painting finished and the color was the exact same as the original. I guess the greens were going to jump out of the painting and attack me or something…

I don’t crave attention in art classes – in fact, most art teachers can tell it’s not my first time at the rodeo so they kind of leave me alone. Mia is constantly up my ass about everything. She went on and on about how much I “improved” during the first half of the semester during our midterm meeting. But if I’ve “improved” so much, why does she keep telling me the same things over and over again? I know how to start a fucking painting, I know I have to do an under drawing. It drives her crazy when I do my background color first to cover up the gesso. Nobody with any kind of sense fills in the background color(s) after they’ve painted everything else. What was especially ridiculous was Mia didn’t have the sense that she’s taller than me, so if she’s critiquing my under drawing she needs to be at my eye level, not her own. I had to tell her several times that she was seeing it from her angle, not mine, before she got a clue.

For our final exam, we could choose objects to make our own still-life with items that are important to us. I chose to paint a stack of three books. When I told her this was what I wanted to do, she shot it down because she believed it was too challenging. At first I just let it roll off my back. But in the days following, I thought about her recommendation to find things which represented those books. There really isn’t anything in my house or in the world that can represent Uncle Tom’s Cabin other than the book itself. Combine that with My Bondage and My Freedom by Fredrick Douglass, and a birthday book from the mid-1800’s, and the effect is pretty clear. I have the birthday book open to May 11th, because that is the birthday of my best friend, and my favorite painter, Salvador Dali. I generally don’t choose square, angular and straight-edged things. Those require an enormous amount of concentration from me, since I have issues with my motor development. I needed that challenge.

Her response to bringing the still-life and setting it up regardless of her disapproval, was naturally more disapproval. Then followed by a five minute rant about how this was too hard for me and wouldn’t challenge me in the right way. In addition to that, she said that books are boring. So after this whole semester, after seeing all of my paintings, she honestly believes a stack of books is too difficult for me and too boring for me to do. Her personal opinion doesn’t influence my reasoning. Part of way I wanted books is also because they are classy and classic. Have you seen Cezanne’s still-lifes of books? Cezanne is another favorite of mine, and his work is partially inspiration for choosing these books. (BTW, “books are boring” is an insult to readers and writers everywhere).

Most of the students in the class are white. Myself, and one of the male students are the only ones who are black. We have another student who is Iranian/Persian. She ignores these two male students, and clearly thinks very little of them. The young man who’s Iranian, he’s can be abrasive at times but if the class can be patient with him, why can’t she? And the other male student, he’s a sweet, quiet man and very new to painting, but she rarely acknowledges his presence. During our critique of the reproductions, she didn’t address him directly, she spoke to everyone else instead. She didn’t address me much either. I can’t say for sure if there is a racist undertone here or not, but the non-white students are the only ones being singled out.

Some things are just odd… For example, she demonstrated stretching canvas at the end of the semester. Shouldn’t that be the first thing a painter learns; how to start a painting? And our first painting was on a primed piece of bristol paper. We were encouraged to buy pre-stretched and primed canvas for the first four assignments, so when we got to actually stretching canvas, most people didn’t want to do it and they all whined. Just as a test, I asked her if a painting can be taken off of the stretcher bars after it’s dry, and she said you could do it. No you cannot. Well, you can, but you risk tearing your canvas, your painting shrinking unevenly and putting it back on stretcher bars later can stretch it the wrong way and cause cracking in the paint. It may be cheaper to reuse stretcher bars, but ruining your paintings isn’t worth it. Besides, the thinner stretcher bars average around 15 dollars a set, even at the most expensive art store in New Haven.

So below I have included some photos of two of my paintings. The first is the reproduction of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Yellow and yellow-orange inevitably dry darker, and I plan to continue working on this painting in the future.


This is the book painting. Clearly it’s in the beginning stages. I plan to add more shadows, lettering, contrast, etc. It’s not “easy”, but it’s not impossible either.


So, at this point I am frustrated. I achieved these paintings without Mia. She does not get credit for input, because her input never makes sense or is ridiculous. I feel like, although I love these paintings, the class was a waste educationally. I’m not growing like I should be and that isn’t fair.

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