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Jeremy Mann on Tools, Materials, and Rollers

I came across a ​2020 interview​ with one of my favorite living artists, Jeremy Mann. He shared the following wise words regarding materials (edited to remove some profanity):

“It matters not the materials that one uses, it matters that the artist creates marks and paintings using the materials, which produce those marks, which speak to that artist’s soul. Why is it that a first year art student is always told something like “art can be whatever you make it!! But first I need you to go buy these brushes and some canvas.” The key is in the understanding of what you wish to paint, and how to get the materials, which sing the same songs as you, to make those marks, which exemplify that which you wish to paint. You know if a portrait looks terrible. Whether it was painted with a soft filbert, a palette knife, a corncob, a banana or a cat head, it is still terrible. But if you can use a banana to make it correct… was it the banana, or you? Materials are just a thing to learn how to harness. A medium, a thing between the artist and that which they are trying to expose.

For poets, they are words and rhythms. For composers it’s notes and mathematics. For painters, it’s whatever they can get their damn hands on. If the song is good, would it matter that the composer didn’t have a piano when he wrote it? And if the painting is good, what is the point of the question “but how was it made. What toooooooool!?” The tool of knowledge… the material of experience.”

This is a good and blunt reminder to focus on what you can do with your knowledge and experience, rather than trying to find the “perfect” materials and tools. It’s also a reminder to think outside the box and not get caught up in your routines. I’m guilty of it. I have my preferred color palette, brushes, and surfaces, but perhaps there are other, better, means of saying what I want to say through my art. Instead of using my favorite flat brush, maybe a palette knife or even my finger would do the trick. Perhaps the answer isn’t even through oil paints and brushes, but pencils, pastels, gouache, or watercolors.

I remember being introduced to Mann’s work through a video (I believe ​this one​) showing him using household rollers to create his stunning cityscapes. This is what thinking outside the box looks like! He touched on his use of rollers in the interview:

“For me, I discovered the rollers when I was mad and tipsy because my childish paintings looked exactly like all the students around me. I went art crazy and painted all night using every material I could think of, find, dig out of the drawers or trash, those which I wasn’t used to using and hunted for hours while painting for the elusive marks which would be solely my own. When I found the next day I had only created a 4-foot piece of garbage containing only one good mark, I was exalted, thrilled. I dug through the piles of crap on the floor to find the jerk, which made that one mark, and it was that roller. I immediately got all the rollers I could think of, experimented, and perfected its use… and I continue to perfect it to this day, over 400 paintings later.

Every day it evolves. As more people are seeing the roller as a way to get marks, I’ve moved on to other techniques involving masking, and immediacy, stains and scrapings using weather stripping, door jams, four-foot rubber rollers, home built four-foot scraper bars, spatulas, razor blades, wine bottles, my own spit, shitty brushes, eight-inch blades… whatever. Once that tool is learned to the point I’m comfortable with the marks I know how to make with it, I retain that weapon, and search for newer marks using different techniques than ever before. Often with failure, but sometimes with a great discovery.

It’s the guts to make those failures that eventually produce some of the most meaningful things for an artist, hell, just for life in general. So my suggestion to anyone is to do just that; have the guts, experiment, but all the while be intelligent and knowledgeable. Despite how it seems out there, it’s quite obvious when art is created with flare and pizzazz and not a lot of intelligence. Lots of smoke, no barbecue.”

Not sure about you, but I get a sense of restlessness about him. As if he has an insatiable urge to create and explore new ways to do things. A true artist’s artist!

If you aren’t aware of Mann, I urge you to take a moment to explore his work. It’s stunning, particularly his figurative and cityscape work.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.

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