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Thursday, April 22, 2010

So ... You STILL want to be a painter?

     If I haven't bored you to death already with the last two posts, then this one might do the trick. ;)

    I promised to give you a few practical pointers in this post. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of A-Z of painting, it is really just a collection of 'things' that I would tell you if you bought me a coffee (imagine what I might tell you if you bought me a good single malt!) and said "Hey ... tell me some of the stuff you've learned in your journey so far." Here are my thoughts ... but first read the fine print.
    (Fine Print: I am self taught, have never taken an art course in my life and I DON'T know what the hell I'm doing pretty much most of the time. I just do what I do because it seems to work for me. This is NOT professional advice, it's just my own random thoughts, beliefs and things that seem to work for me scrawled down in a very haphazard, hail fellow well met and unprofessional way. Take EVERYTHING I say with a healthy pinch of salt, two disprin and call me in the morning. As with anything you hear from another painter, try what I say, see if it works for you and either use it or don't and move on. I learn something new with every painting I do, and stuff I believe to be "right" today is bound to be shown up as completely wrong tomorrow.)

    Right ... with that out the way I can start bending your proverbial ear.

    These are some of the things that would have been helpful to know when I started my painting journey, some things that I believe to be true, and some things I have picked up along the way.

    You could substitute that sub heading with "try and know your shit". If you are going to paint something, at least know what it looks like. Sure, decide to break the natural law and paint what you feel, manipulate it, distort it whatever, by all means, but do it with intent, know how it should look and behave and know why you didn't do it that way. If you try and paint something as you see it and don't get it right, passing it off as an "effect" is as transparent as the turps you are cleaning your brush in ... people will see you for the hack you are and you will be laughed and pointed at. You don't need that. Do your homework. Understand your subject, and understand the science of colour you are going to use to render it. Doing this is a sure fire way of keeping your standards high and your progression constant. We have Google ... there is no excuse.

    Understand colour
    Try to get away from it ... I dare you! You can run as fast as you can in the opposite direction from colour knowledge, it will still catch up to you and bite you in the tenders. If you don't understand colour you are as good as a deaf composer (I said a deaf composer, not the deaf composer ... you are not Beethoven!). Colour wheels are your friend ... learn them until you see them when you close your eyes. Seriously, I can't emphasise this enough ... its a pain in the butt, but understanding colour is one of the best things you can do to boost yourself forward. I tried to pretend it wasn't important  ... I failed. You can't paint monochrome for the rest of your life now can you? I would say learn from my mistakes, but you won't ... it's a pain, so you won't take the time to do it ... you will try to get by without it ... but read my imaginary lips, you will find that you need that knowledge and either learn it the hard way or the really hard way. ... and yes, I'm still learning it the really hard way.

    Become a good draughtsman
    Being able to draw is a real boon. If you can draw then you understand form, tone, perspective and proportion. These are all really useful weapons in your artistic arsenal. The thing about drawing that is even more beneficial than these, is it helps you understand light!

    Liz - Quick Concept Study Sketch (for family portrait painting)

    Paint with light, not colour
    I don't know how else to explain this. The reason you need to understand colour is that you need to know what colour to use to paint light ... how light touches things, how it wraps around things and bounces off things. I am convinced that the best painters paint light; not form, not colour ... light.

    Keep your brushes clean!
    Folks, these are the tools of your trade. If you chop down trees ,you keep your axe sharp;  if you're a  hunter, you make sure your rifle is clean and oiled; if you're a  runner, you make sure you keep your body fit; if you are a surgeon, you make sure your liability insurance is in place and if you are a municipal clerk, you  ... well you don't do anything, ... where was I? Oh yes ... dirty, damaged brushes are simply a disaster waiting to happen. Look after your brushes and they will look after you. Clean them every time you are finished with them ... every time. It doesn't matter if it's 3am, you have fallen asleep at the easel and you just want to find your bed ... take the time and clean them. The amount of brushes I have destroyed and thrown away! It shames to to think how much money I have wasted. Clean them my friend ... just trust me on this.

    Being unique is great. Being really, really good is better.
    That's all I have to say about that!

    Practice practice practice
    The way to get really good is to practice. Once you are really good, then you can get unique.
    I have heard stories of gallery owners and art critics saying that you haven't learned the craft until you've painted at least 100 pieces.  The figure is immaterial, the volume is not. The more you paint the better you will get.  You WILL look back at your earlier work and marvel at your then levels of complete ineptitude, smile smugly to yourself and congratulate yourself on your improvement. In another (insert quantity here) paintings time you will do it again ... the more you paint, the quicker you can do that, and the more often you get to feel smug. You're a painter, so paint for Pete's sake!

    Yes it helps. No it's not imperative. Yes you can learn it. ... and yes you can fake it.
    I will tell anyone who asks that I have never had an original thought in my life. Never!

    Passion will cover up a multitude of artistic sins. Without is you will not keep it up, and with it you will wear everyone else down. No ... you cannot learn passion and you cannot fake it (for very long). If you are not passionate about painting, work out what you are passionate about and do that instead.
    If you are determined to ignore me on this point, at least keep my address handy so you can post me all the material you have bought but are going to be bored with in three paintings time. :)

    Stop caring what people think!!!

    Carl is:


    Apocolypz said...

    Well...still looking for that passion! Sage advice, and it applies to much more than painting. I see painting as a good analogy for living: the more you do it with passion, the better you get at it. If you don't have the passion, they will find you out sooner than later! Keep it up Carl!

    C. Marx said...

    Wow! That was like the intro to painting boot camp. Drill drill drill. Late night or rather very early morning discipline. Point taken. I could add one more that I need. No fear! I expect perfection and am afraid to make mistakes so I skirt around the subject and eventually do nothing. Actually more afraid of what I think think than others. My own worst critc!
    After reading this I'm going just climb in! So what if its not perfect. Practice practice practice. I feel liberated! Thanks Carl.

    Carl said...

    Thanks Apocolypz. Love the handle by the way ... guess that make this comment a post-apocolyptic post? :)

    Carl said...

    Urk! ... sorry C.M. ... it wasn't supposed to be prescriptive!
    Oh yes, you are SO right ... fear-procrastination-paralysis ... know that little cycle intimately!
    ... and perfectionism is the absolute DEATH or productivity. If it doesn't hinder your starting the painting out of fear of failure, it will hinder your completion of the painting and you will keep correcting until you have overworked it! ... There is such a fine balance between keeping high standards and ending up with analysis paralysis. I have no suggestions for how to combat that except to keep telling yourself to JUST DO IT!(for both starting and just finishing the damn thing).
    That reminds me of a quote that went along the lines of "works of art are never completed, they are just abandoned".

    Mercia Deale said...

    One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested. (E. M. Forster)