How Much Do You Want It?

Painting Art - Carl Bretzke, “Yacht Club View,” oil on linen, 12 x 16 in., private collection

Thoughts on desire, passion, and painting

Natural talent is nearly a myth, if you ask most artists. In a recent article titled “Are You Talented Enough to be a Painter?” I shared what some of today’s most successful plein air painters had to say; here are more supporting answers in this continuing conversation.

Suzie Baker, John Pototschnik, John MacDonald, Carl Bretzke, Jane Hunt, Michael Chesley Johnson, and Lori Putnam tell us what they would say to a beginner who thinks they’re “too untalented” to paint.

“If someone told me they weren’t talented enough to paint, I would ask, ‘How much do you want it?’ Persistence is greater than talent, and talent without persistence equals mediocracy at best. On the other hand, persistence combined with talent produces competence and, with time, produces excellence.” ~ Suzie Baker (

Landscape paintings of Telluride by Suzie Baker
Landscape paintings of Telluride by Suzie Baker

“1. I would probably agree with them (just kidding).
2. If a strong passion to learn and the persistence to stick with it aren’t there, growth will be limited.
3. Painting and drawing can be taught. It’s all about the willingness to learn, having a great instructor, and doing the necessary work.” ~ John Pototschnik (

6 Reasons Field Studies Are Priceless -
John Pototschnik with his collection of more than 1000 studies, most done en plein air.

“My first response would be: Why do you think experienced painters don’t often question their ability to paint? With every failed painting, most of us do.

Think of painting as a visual language. No one expects to speak fluent Chinese on the first try. Why is the language of painting any different? Like a language, there are rules of grammar and vocabulary and they can be learned. And just like learning a spoken language, with a little study and practice, you can make a painting that communicates something, even if it isn’t a masterpiece. The more you practice, study, and paint, the more fluent your paintings will be.

Talent is overrated. You learn to paint by painting and it becomes a virtuous cycle: the more you paint, the more you learn and the more you learn, the more enjoyable it becomes, so you spend more time painting and you just keep getting better and it becomes more and more fun to paint, etc. Forget talent. Just paint.” ~ John MacDonald (

John MacDonald,
John MacDonald, “Late October Light on the Deerfield,” 9 x 12 in., plein air

“I tell them that no one is talented enough to just start painting. It is a learned skill to which you can then apply good decision making and creativity. Instruction definitely shortens the process. The important thing is to have enough desire to paint so that it doesn’t feel like too much work.

“The more you do it, the better you get and the more fun it becomes. That’s not to say you have to be good to have fun. I’ve had fun throughout the entire process of learning how to paint. As a bonus I have more interest in observing the daily beauty of nature and have also developed many strong friendships in the painting world along the way.” ~ Carl Bretzke (

Carl Bretzke, “Yacht Club View,” oil on linen, 12 x 16 in., private collection
Carl Bretzke, “Yacht Club View,” oil on linen, 12 x 16 in., private collection

“I think that talent has very little to do with it and it’s really about desire and drive. If you love it, go for it…the skills will come with study and practice.” ~ Jane Hunt (

Jane Hunt's plein air setup
Jane Hunt’s plein air setup

“I would say, ‘anyone can paint!’ There’s nothing magical about it. Painting is simply a craft—a skill—that can be learned like any others. If you really want to do it, you can. Try it and give it some time, and you very well might discover your inner artist.” ~ Michael Chesley Johnson (

Michael Chesley Johnson,
Michael Chesley Johnson, “Hillside,” 9×12 pastel and gouache, en plein air

“This [question] makes me nuts. I’m not talented enough to paint either, but I do love a good challenge. If you have the desire, love to learn, and are willing to put in the hard work, you are 95% of the way there. It just takes time.

“Often we watch a demonstration by a fabulous artist and think either, ‘I could never do that’ or ‘I think I’ll learn to do that this month.’ Of course I am joking about the last one, but lots of people seem to think that learning to paint should only take a few months or years. In fact, it takes the rest of your life! That’s where desire plays a key role.

“You will be discouraged from time to time and think it is out of your grasp. Then, just as you are about to give up, you’ll knock one out of the park. It’s a roller coaster ride. Challenge yourself, accept that you may only get 1 out of 20 that you kind of like at first. Getting your average up to 1 out of 10 is a huge step.

“Here’s the thing, it is not a cliché that the more you know, the more you will understand how much you do not know. You will become more discerning about what is acceptable to you. The best artists understand that continual attention and exploration is the key to artistic growth. Why be satisfied? Being satisfied leads to having an exaggerated sense of self-importance, which eventually leads to complacency and finally boredom. I intend to learn until my dying breath.” Lori Putnam (

Lori Putnam,
Lori Putnam, “Tipping Point,” 11 x 14 in., plein air, Charlotte, TN

Find art video workshops from some of today’s featured artists, including Suzie Baker, John Pototschnik, John MacDonald, Carl Bretzke, and Lori Putnam at!

Visit to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

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