Don’t Say Huh?…Say What!

Commision painting by Jamie Carter

Okay, I admit this sounds like a strange title for an article about artistic development, but it should be stapled at the top of our easels… or maybe at least written on the bathroom mirror, kind of like a mission statement for art.

Let me tell you the story behind it and maybe you will understand why.

You see, the title words came from my daughter, Melinda, when she was about 3 years old. She knew a lot about the difference between HUH And WHAT.  Through the years, I’ve learned a lot about the difference and the wisdom between these words also.

Melinda had picked up a little habit of saying “huh?” Every time I would ask her a question, such as, “ What are you doing, Melinda,” she would answer “HUH?”

I would ask again, “Melinda, what are you doing?” and she would answer “HUH?” again! She was not going to give me a direct answer that would explain her activity, and she hoped that if she pretended to not hear or understand me by saying “HUH?,” she could just keep doing whatever it was she was comfortable doing for a while longer. She hoped I would give it up and go away so she could continue to do whatever she was doing and not have to change her behavior.

Finally, after a long series of HUHS, I had had it ! The “Listen Up” Mother voice said, “Melinda, do not say HUH to me one more time. When I ask you a question and you do not hear or understand, you say WHAT… not HUH… WHAT. Do you understand ??”

I would like to write the angelic words, “Yes , My Sweet Mother… here, but the truth is she just nodded and probably ran off to play. Now, I was not sure if I had made any impact with this lesson on words until she began to correct all of the adults when she heard them say the word huh. She would frankly give them a candid look and say, “DON’T SAY HUH?… SAY WHAT!”

Yeah, she knew the difference between the two words… big time…and threw it right back at me and all of the other adults who said it. You see She was wise at 3 and She had figured it out that when adults want to avoid change, do not want to stop what they are doing or change from a comfortable activity,….“huh,” or even the more non- committal version “uh-huh,” is the easy answer , whereas the word “what” demands a problem solving process called thinking!

THINKING is usually followed by new brain cell activity .“Huh” demands no real answer.

“What” Demands An Answer With a Solution

Rats! Some kids are just too smart for their own good! But I do need to thank Melinda, for all the “whats” in my life. She didn’t let me get away with many HUHS, and all the WHATS made me a better mother and a better artist by making me question everything and look for the answers and solutions.

I could never get away with a “HUH?” again without hearing Melinda’s challenge back at me ringing in my ears, “Mommy, don’t say huh…say what!”

Does it make sense to you now why you need to staple the phrase “Don’t say HUH say WHAT” to your easel ?It is the difference in a mediocre attempt done with the HUH mentality that only demands a continued activity of sorts versus the WHAT that demands a “reason why” and puts a question mark in front of every subject.

Which word do you want as your “ artistic mission statement?”
What about it?
What do you think?

What if you choose what? Or if not, just nod Uh-Huh…the
best of the non committed word statements and go back to doing things the same old way.

The Practical Case of the Whats!

No matter what you choose to draw, create or paint, what you first need to
think about is the true reason you want to paint, draw, or render it in some way.

Ask yourself, What…What… What…and a few What if’s…
What makes this subject or image appeal to me?
What if I want to paint this as a loose impressionistic painting?
What do I need to learn?
What if I want to paint it where it looks realistic?
What would be the best way to do it?

What is it I want to express emotionally? What would it look like if I tried to paint the feeling of a hot humid day, foggy and very still… no wind blowing; with a lone tree barely peeking through the mist… Mysterious and hauntingly beautiful..

What if I made it into a special card for someone? Or a book cover illustration?
What would I name it? What time of day do I want to feel like it is? Morning? Night? Afternoon? What colors are the morning colors? The Nighttime colors?

What medium do I think would best express the feeling or mood I am thinking
about? Oils? Watercolor? Pastels?

Think and answer all the WHATS before you start. It will save you time, supplies and a lot of frustration.

Just think…and believe in the statement…
What if I become a really good artist? What if I become a success!

Then you can replace the “what ifs” with the words “I Did It!”

Jamie Carter © 2009


  1. What (hehe) a great article! Makes one think!
    Happy New Year!

  2. I love this post. Searching for a word to guide my efforts this coming year, I thought about ‘aspire’ but I think I like ‘what’ better. Thanks, Jamie….have a wonderful New Year!! Hugs, Lynda

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