Study Hard Notes
The idea of needing to study hard for advanced painters is odd to some. I think it’s easy to get into a rut, especially when we are long time experienced painters. We start our paintings, work along on them until they are finished and then we start another one, with nary a thought about it. I know so many painters who have stopped challenging themselves. They are good painters. They feel that they don’t need to change anything. The problem with that is that change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same, including our skill level. If we don’t continue to challenge ourselves, little by little our skills start to decline, from boredom if nothing else. We are a little more careless in our composing, a little sloppier in our brushwork, pay a little less attention to value placement and little by little we lose the spark and freshness of discovery. Our work becomes more formulaic, more predictable.
There are a lot of reasons this happens, not just laziness. Many painters get into a rut because they feel a comfort level. They don’t want to leave the safety of a well used palette, a style of brushwork or values. The are selling and have been for a long time with that particular palette or style. Their work appeals to decorators. They have built a brand name with that style. I can understand that and I think it’s ok to stick with what works, however, there is a way to have that and grow as well. There is nothing that says you can’t build an alternative body of work that is separate from the old standby.
No matter your level, there is room to grow. I like the fact that I am constantly struggling. Sometimes the challenges are almost overwhelming to me and I like that. I could play it safe and paint palm trees the rest of my life and probably make an easier living. I know a guy who does that and he is quite successful, more than me. He makes up all kinds of important sounding names for his palm paintings invoking a spiritual notion about them. He has found a gimmick that works. His palms aren’t any better than a couple of dozen other artists’ palms, but the gimmick sells them.
I also understand that when an artist reaches a certain level in their career, they are hesitant to admit that they need to study. I used to feel that way back in the day when I thought I knew how to paint. It wasn’t until I was about 50 that I realized I didn’t know squat about painting. It’s pretty humbling actually. The longer I paint the more I discover that I don’t know squat!
There are lots of ways to quietly study and grow, without shouting to the world that you need help in your painting. I’m lucky enough to have collectors who love me whether I’m a great painter or not. Not every artist is that lucky. They enjoy my forays and experiments along the way.
You can study painting books. Some of them are quite excellent. You can do research. I spend a fair amount of time doing this. I use my old college text books, and online resources. I design exercises for myself to practice painting techniques. You can study with painters online. This is the most convenient way to study in my life. One of the problems with study at my career stage is that there is no one local/regional whom I’m going to learn much from. When I wanted to study values and Notan, I had to use the Internet, because no one around here was teaching that area of painting.
My advice is to find a painter you want to study with and ask them if they will do online email lessons with you. I do that for a few of my own students who don’t live near me. I think most painters would be willing to do this. You will get one on one attention, critiques of your work and a lesson plan tailor made for your individual needs. What would it hurt to write and ask them?
Another good study source is the DVD market. Many painters offer courses on DVD and I think this would work well. They are expensive, so find out which ones are worth the money before you buy. Check on eBay to for used copies.
Workshops are fun and can be very instructive, depending on the teacher. Don’t pay to go watch somebody paint all day. Make sure they actually teach something.
I use what I call a “design kit” to study painting. It consists of colored and graphite pencils, markers, scissors, rulers, templates for circles and ovals, paper. Anything that helps me to doodle and be creative. I often do this for large paintings or commissions, figuring out the plan before I start a real painting. It saves a great deal of time and resources, helping me to avoid mistakes early in the design process.
In whatever method you choose, make the time to study painting. Your work will grow.
More musings for artists and collectors to come….
2 cups rice, cooked in chicken broth.
1 carrot, julienned
1 stalk celery julienned
1’4 onion finely diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cooked chicken breast sliced
2 beaten eggs
2 T soy sauce
Heat wok or skillet with oil, pour in eggs, fry, add everything else and stir until all is heated thoroughly and veges are still crisp.