Building Your Finish Chain

I came up with an idea called the “finish chain” that I thought was important, but it really needed more of an explanation than I could provide in a single blog entry. So I’m going to try, here, to explain the idea a little further, despite the fact that I know very well that my explanation will probably fall short (again).

The “finish chain” idea reflects a lot of what is taught in art school. It’s about compatibility and what goes with what. For example, my previous blog entry about always painting “gloss over flat” is related to something taught in art school called “fat over lean.” The core concept is that slow-drying paint goes over, never under, fast drying paint–unless you WANT to create a “crinkled” finish for some reason.

My “finish chain” idea probably has some art school cognate–that I don’t know about because I didn’t attend. But the idea holds no matter how you express it. The danger is that somebody will take something like “fat over lean” or “gloss over flat” or “acrylic over enamel” and then run with that, trying to make that into a “hard and fast rule” and then trying to extrapolate from that to make up even more rules– losing touch with reality as they go.

This is how so many modelers go wrong as they slavishly copy the “pre-shade, paint, panel line wash” method even if they don’t have an airbrush. I mean, c’mon guys!

You can’t just take a little part of somebody else’s “finish chain” and adopt it without thinking carefully about how it fits in with your tools and abilities. If you insert your scalpel and try to remove a small portion of what has been taught and make no effort to understand why it’s done that way, you will end up with a list of rules and you will probably fail–unless you go all the way and exactly mimic your teacher to the point that your “input” becomes zero and your work is more like that of a copying machine than an artist.

I’m hoping that this video will help to explain what I’m talking about. It’s from a very cool channel on Youtube called Jerry’s Artarama, and it features a guy who’s a talented comic (don’t know if he knows this) named Mike.

Go ahead and watch the damned thing. It’s good.

What Mike is saying is that Bob Ross can paint like he does for two reasons.


He’s been doing it for “ten thousand hours” and he’s an expert.


He uses special “Bob Ross” products which are designed to work together in a certain way and you can’t use other products to do the same thing. No substitutions allowed.

Now you know why Bob was successful. He sold the paint, and only his paint worked that way. Pretty good, huh?

Now, I’m not Bob Ross. No, really, I’m not. But I do have certain methods that work for me. You can slavishly copy my methods, similar to the way Bob expected his pupils to copy his methods (and use his materials), or you can put in your ten thousand hours, develop your own methods and maybe do better than me. Maybe (probably) much better. YOUR METHODS may have very little to do with how I do it. YOUR METHODS may be much better than mine. YOUR METHODS may be easier, cheaper, and more productive, and you can always drop by here and show me what I’m doing wrong. Whatever happens, going your own way will always be more exciting than just following along.

But there is one thing you can’t do. You can’t do an amalgamation of these two approaches. That will not work. At some point, you will need to either choose your own path– or decide that being a follower is more fun than trying to lead and decide to become a mimic. The big problem with that, though, is that you can’t mimic me because I’m not going to be a good enough leader to make that work.

Now, by this, I do not mean you can’t creatively apply what I teach to your own methods (hell, that’s the essence of what I’m trying to do here) but you can’t take my suggestions out of context, elevate them to rules, and then try to tack them onto your own way of doing things without understanding why I do it that way. Learn why I do things the way I do them, then adapt my methods based on a fusion of your abilities, resources and talents with my ideas and suggestions.

But here’s the real, serious reason why you can’t “just mimic” me– I don’t intend (at this time) to do a Bob Ross and create a series of videos and make products and sell them and publish books (and so on) to lead people along to the promised land of “being able to paint like me.” I may have had some immature delusions about that a few years ago but I’ve since gone through treatment and I’m better now.

So you see, you really don’t have a choice. If you want to make progress, you must become engaged, draw your own conclusions, and then, set off on your own journey of discovery and adventure to a special place all your own.

Yes. Yes I went for the hyperbole. I did.

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