There are two schools of thought on how to learn to paint. The first is the atelier based education where technique takes precedence over vision with the goal that if you know how to draw/paint what’s in front of you, you can then have leisure to cultivate a vision. The second school proposes that once there is a vision, the artist can figure out a way to execute it and thus tailor her education towards that end. Being self taught, I naturally belong in the second school. For myself, vision is synonymous with soul or authenticity. It is often possible for a work of art with a lot of soul to overcome its limitations of execution or technique but much harder for a technically superb painting to overcome its limitations in soul or vision.
My self education is comprised of a lot of looking, reading and practice, practice, practice. Here are some books which I recommend in the order of (1) tackle the history, ideas and philosophy to gain knowledge on what art is, (2) a study of composition and visual perception for the complex knowledge on how to put it together, (3) drawing and anatomy for the basics and lastly, (4) the actual study of painting. This progression from cultivating the ideas and then narrowing it down to specifics of technique is an example of how you can learn to paint on your own but with a less than haphazard game plan if you were desirous of structure. I might have approached it this way had I any foresight, but to tell the truth, I went head first in the haphazard manner (works remarkably well albeit with a lot of pain). If you know what you want, you’re halfway there. I have a dislike of instructional books which show a painter’s (usually the author’s) particular painting technique as they only teach a particular “how” but never address the more important question of “why?” I also add a fifth category of books relating to keeping oneself motivated and cultivating a studio habit because in the end, the hardest part about painting is sitting down to paint. Click here for the booklist or reading room page.
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