How to Paint; Lessons from Memories: Mops

*for the initial INTRO on this blog series click here*

Mops and Cross Disciplinary Learning

I'am a big fan of cross disciplinary learning.  It is a belief that other subjects or tasks have knowledge within them that benefits others.  It is highly interpretive, and so speculative but if you think about it, it is something our ancestors of done with nature since the dawn of time.  We have often drawn our religions, traditions and lessons from the outside world (like nature) in to other seemingly separate areas of life.  The true hows and whys were not always apparent but being sensitive to the world certainly brings about viable teachings.

So why bore you with this?  What does it have to do with art?  Well, it is because art like many facets of our lives benefits from learning done outside the class room.  To illustrate this lets look at the monotonous nature of labour jobs!  I imagine most of us have shared one of these experiences in one form or another at least once.

The first lesson that comes to mind is that from; Mister Mop.

Photo by kirstyokeeffe/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by kirstyokeeffe/iStock / Getty Images

At the time of this story I had already been painting for a while and felt I had at least a bit of chops at festivals and doing realistic scenery but was feeling pretty stagnant.  I had also tried a couple jobs by then because I was searching for something I could balance with a part time art practice.  Most of those jobs involved some kind of monotonous labour that not many wanted to do.  One day, at a certain movie theatre job I was moping a garbage collection area.  Im not new to mopping but some of the filth wasn't coming off because it was caked on pretty hard and I was really hoping not to have to pick it off manually. Luckily, a kindly, older gentleman offered to show me an easier way.

Now this may seem silly to talk about a mop this way but it is like the difference you see when some who truly understands a tool uses one compared to a first timer.  It was pretty masterful.  He used his whole body when he used the mop.  Stretched out like a curler at some points.  Pushing the top part, where the fibres connect with the stem into the floor to literally scrub the harder bits out.  Among other techniques he used it really taught me how to do moping better.

Maybe this is obvious to you, or you grew up seeing it properly used like that already but what I suddenly realized was that the mop was just a big brush.  And as with any tool the quality of its utilization depends on your engagement with it.  Your entire body is using it, not just your hands and is as important as the tool itself.  Brushes do more than drag across a surface like I was doing with that mop beforehand.  Every part of a brush, palate knife or made up new tool has a variety of edges, parts, angles and sides to be utilized in new ways.   

I doubt that gentleman could know that introspective lesson he offered me as well that day and I was certainly too embarrassed to relay such gratitude from my head. This lesson has done great things for my practice since then since I am more aware of my own body when I paint.  The additional types of strokes and tools I might employ have added depth with their variety. Even if none of that were true ones confidence can go up as you enjoy exploring other ways to use the brush in your hand.


  Mopping is just another brush and benefits form the same concepts as painting.  This was one lesson I could muster as a story and was very helpful to my art practice.  But the underlying advice to you and your painting is that lessons and inspiration to paint and see better are in everything.  This is also a two way street and these concepts, for instance, give me more versatility with tools than I would of had with out them.  

Rolf Dobelli wrote a book called "The art of thinking Clearly" where he brings up decision biases through stock market examples and psychology papers.  If you can get past the onerous tittle he does a good job of not sounding like he isn't guilty of these errors or that his book somehow knows what clear thought is.  They are simply nifty mental tools and one he describes is the error of  "Domain Dependence".  It is the need for something to be explained in you own world view or profession, be it a economist, artists, or tradesman, and it is part of what makes us blind to applying our battle worn academic knowledge to our complex personal lives or vice versa.  It is why we might be puzzled when an award winning economic theorist is struggling with debt. Or a child psychologist that has issues with their kid.  Ergo we are too often blind to ourselves.

Ultimately, the solution Dobelli states is the idea that "knowledge is transferable" and I have to agree.  Now, don't panic at the thought of there are hundreds of connections or learning opportunities in even the most mundane things we do.  It can be overwhelming so be patient and wait for opportunities to notice.  These opportunities are present while you are painting and while you are not because we can learn from the mistakes of either and benefit from them mutually. When you can, because some days you won't be, keeping senses and thoughts open to new interpretations  means you might gain knowledge that could help in any sphere of life.

And so the same goes for the ideas and techniques you know right now.  Where else can it be applied?