An approach on how to learn to paint (recommended books)

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.

La Fortunata

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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Successful Paintings – what makes a painting have “it”

Cupid Catcher

Recently I’ve been exchanging emails with a friend and collector about having that “eye” for spotting good paintings. How do you know if it’s good? Is it a gut reaction? The answer is yes, of course. As a painter you know when you need a red color here or when the composition is lacking or “off.” Or egads, when it must be destroyed. After years of painting, it’s something that comes subconsciously. As an exercise, my friend asked me to pick my most successful paintings and explain why I thought they had “it.” After much thinking, because I arrive at different and unique solutions for each painting, the best answer I can offer is this:

My most satisfying paintings are the ones that made me feel the most nervous in their creation.

Nervousness – because of technique (not really much of a concern, solutions manifest along the way), or idea (bigger concern, as this is always an act of faith)

La Dolce Vita – oil painting demonstration

I work in a manner I’ve developed over the years which may be best described as somewhat similar to a Venetian manner of painting. That is I glaze a LOT. I also use impasto and scumble. I am a solvent free painter and use just walnut oil and M. Graham walnut alkyd medium. I often mix it with Williamsburg impasto medium. I use mostly earth colors but I always sign my name in cadmium red.

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Learning humility through the art of painting – studio process

The more I paint, the more humbled I become. There are times when I paint and all the elements fit in perfectly and it seems as if I’ve finally gained mastery. I go through the day feeling victorious, thinking, “haha…am genius after all….” Only to come crashing down like Icarus on the very next painting. To tell the truth, more paintings than I care to admit have been borne out of violence in the studio. So much frustration and seemingly endless adjustments ensue to create a vision of beauty and calmness. So today I decided to show the process for “O Brave New World.” Artists are always loathe to reveal all the work that goes on in the studio. There is a fear of ruining the magic. But I get asked by other artists about my process, so I am going to share this bit of studio madness. I took a detour in the background landscape for this painting, going from immense panorama illustrating a vast ‘new world’ to an intimate island sheltered under the umbrella of an enormous tree. There is a struggle, but the reward is a painting that is closer to what I want to say.

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“Rules of Engagement” and Santos

My first landscape featuring the area around Santa Fe. In my painting studio I have a view of pinon trees on a hill. I witness ravens, rabbits, lizards and prairie dogs. This painting incorporates a lot of Santa Fe. My Santo Nino from the Philippines feels right at home in this land. I suppose my figures have a little of the “Santo” in them.

Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement

Young ravens apparently love shiny objects and have been found to steal them. They are also some of the most playful and intelligent birds. I’m not sure whetherthe bird on the left is expressing his joyful excitement at the game about to begin or his displeasure at the other one’s premature grasping of the ball: “Let’s play” or “Cheater! Cheater!”

Rules of Engagement compositional sketch
Rules of Engagement compositional sketch
Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement

An inspiration, a gift from my mother, a Philippine Santo…

Philippine Santo Nino
Philippine Santo Nino