Issues of the Autodidact

8 x 10" watercolor sketch done in my festival booth

8 x 10″ watercolor sketch done in my festival booth (More of my watercolors may be seen on my website


“Are you self-taught?”

Having just finished another art festival, I feel the impulse to spend a moment and address this most frequently asked question I hear when sitting in my booth.  Am I self-taught?  Throughout my life, I have heard the occasional artist making this claim, usually with a hint of superiority.  My answer to that question always appears ambivalent, but I know the bottom line:  no, I am not self-taught.  I have a bachelor’s degree in art.  I have been trained.  However, the only medium I work with now is watercolor, and that I did not learn in college, though I tried.  The professors could not help me.  And I made many, many more stabs at watercolor in the years following, without success.  Now that I have made gains in watercolor to the point that I can market them, could I claim to be self-taught in watercolor?  Not really.  Throughout the years, I have pored over books and visited museums to learn all I could about the watercolors of Andew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer and J. M. W. Turner.  And I have purchased scores of watercolor magazines, and a few books explaining the processes and techniques.  On the basis of all the above, I cannot claim to be self-taught in watercolor.  I have absorbed all I possibly can from the masters, and I still seek to learn more, to improve.  I could call myself an autodidact had I not gotten a college degree, and resorted to educating myself exclusively from sources I’ve selected.  But it didn’t happen that way, and I will not decry my university education.  It laid a foundation for me that continues to support the edifice I erect atop it.

My philosophy class has been reading Thoreau’s Walden, and he no doubt makes the claim that nature taught him to write such a book.  But there should be no doubt that his Harvard degree contributed much to the construction of that wonderful, alert mind that composed the literary materpiece.  Thoreau’s mind was soaked, not only with four years of Harvard education, but also his love of books borrowed from Emerson’s library, and the texts over which he continued to linger in the ensuing years.  Being fluent in Greek, Latin, Italian, German and French, Thoreau loved the power of language and constantly drew inspiration from written sources, along with the great outdoors, and found ways to spin these ideas with his own unique perspective.

Work hard at your picture.  Think of Dante.  Re-read him.  Constantly exert yourself to return to great ideas.  What fruit can I reap from my almost complete solitude, if I have only commonplace ideas?

Eugene Delacroix, Journal, March 3, 1824

I could wish that I had an original, creative mind, but frankly I draw my inspiration from a myriad of sources, and am grateful for every gift they offer.  Solitude offers me the environment to draw from the works of geniuses in the hope that some of it will rub off in my own creations.

I have posted a quick, one-hour 8 x 10″ watercolor sketch that I did sitting in my booth on Saturday at Kennedale’s Art in the Park.  I used a reference photo taken of me fly fishing in South Fork, Colorado.  I am still shy about rendering a human figure in watercolor.  Drawing the figure does not come easily for me, and applying watercolor wash and drybrush over the drawing still has me over-thinking.  I’m confident that I will reach a time when it comes more easily.  In the meantime, I’ll keep studying and experimenting.

Thanks for reading

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.




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7 Responses to “Issues of the Autodidact”

  1. stober9 Says:

    Awesome post! glad I stopped by to read it, being a Graphic Designer in College its hard to find my own unique style or original content when there is always so much around me inspiring and giving me ideas! Thanks for the post, well written!


    • davidtripp Says:

      Wow, thank you for posting that. I’ve always struggled with the sense of originality and style, seeing that I graze from many pastures and find inspiration from them all. I keep hoping that something will emerge that I can call “my own.” So far, I’m still not sure exactly what that is, though other friends and supporters tell me they recognize my signature in my work. Thank you again.


  2. lifeofawillow Says:

    This is so different. I like it so. As usual, i appreciate your words as well.


  3. Xraypics Says:

    I don’t think I agree; your figure has balance, the action and movement very evident. The surrounding tree branches and roots anchor the figure whilst emphasising the cast of the rod. Just enough paint and no more. Looks pretty good to me… Tony


  4. coreyaber Says:

    Nice post. I think originality is often clever processing. Our creative minds are engines taking in the world and putting out art. Sort of like those play-doh squishing things. Put in a lump, out comes a princess. Glad to see you getting back to painting again too!


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