Art Supplies: Worthless if you never take them off the shelf


"Remember that you must die"

My daughter and I were digging through a box of art supplies the other day. She offered to throw away a bag of old tubes of paint she found.

Notice that I said "old tubes of paint" not "empty paint tubes".

That's because I own 15 tubes of worthless oil paint- completely full but totally dried out.


What's the story?

I purchased them back in art school. They cost me dearly.

Art school isn't cheap and scholarships were rare, especially for a private art college.

I worked two jobs. I lived way-way-way off campus. I drove a car that left engine parts in my wake, almost as if I'd need the broken bits of rusty muffler to find my way back home each night.

I probably ate a lot of Ramen noodles to purchase those paints.

the paints are dead but the lesson isn't- use your treasures before they die | VanillaArts.com

It was a big investment for me. I didn't buy a kit. Instead, I methodically chose smart, versatile colors. I didn't buy the small sizes because I had big plans. Nine foot long canvases kind of plans.

I kept my new paints in an open cigar box on my desk. Sometimes I unscrewed a lid, just to smell the linseed.

But people with a day job, a night job, and 16 credit hours do not have time to paint for fun. With each semester and every change of major, the paints moved further from my sight. First, they slid into the drawer, then into a supply tub, then into the closet.

But I knew they were there.

And I didn't want to touch them until I had the time to use them with passion.

The years passed, a husband, three kids, two houses, three careers...

By the time I could use the tubes with passion they were hard and crumbly. Oil leaked out and now the entire set is coated with the sticky sheen of pure regret.

But I won't throw them away.

Because they remind me that tomorrow never really comes.


We live in one big long today.

Unless we face a serious tragedy, there is no magical moment when life makes a 180 degree pivot. Most of us never have a grand demarcation point. The closest we often get to an instantaneous life alteration is watching it happen to others in books or movies.

And yet we all expect the John Williams anthem to build and for a fairy godmother to show up and sing "Now is your moment, now you are changed!"

But honestly, most of us just trudge along, day after day. Real change is a slow morph over spans of time. Our changes are so subtle and slow as to be hardly noticeable.

Tomorrow never really arrives because today always feels a little too much like yesterday.


But Real time is finite.

And art supplies do not last forever. 

Colors fade, solvents evaporate. It's lost money if you don't use paint or ink while it's fresh.

You can't treat paints and glazes and pastels as if they are too pretty to waste.

Even if it's something non-perishable, maybe a beautiful rice paper or a fabric that makes your soul sing... If you horde it in a box, waiting for the perfect project, there's a pretty good chance that by the time you get around to actually using it, your taste will have completely changed.


And here's the real tragedy: I may never paint with oils again.

I have no interest in oils anymore. There are other things to love now.

I am no longer the girl who wanted to paint gigantic slices of fruit on canvases too large for your living room. I have slowly morphed into a grown woman with a more mature approach to art.

And because I didn't use my paints while I was still that oil obsessed girl, the only record I have of her are color studies and class assignments.

I have cracked tubes of paint, not beautiful art.


Think about your own beautiful supplies. What are you saving for someday?

Stop waiting for the perfect project, the perfect idea, the perfect touch of inspiration.

There is no perfect... or at least there won't be a perfect anything until you sit down and start making something.

Time flies. "best if used by..." dates expire. Tastes change. We move on to other passions.

The pleasure doesn't come from setting up a shrine of colorful supplies. It comes from using wonderful tools to make beautiful art.


Use your treasures while you can

Memento Mori- remember that you must die.