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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Young Pierrot as Hunter

Young Pierrot as Hunter

I worked on my new little Pierrot intermittently over the course of a month. I knew I wanted an austere background, gray and atmospheric but I didn’t know how to give form to the original idea. Almost through serendipity, I happened on a lovely and very gray George Inness at the American Impressionism show at the New Mexico Museum of Art here in Santa Fe. Inness’ “Gray Day Goochland Virginia” was hung low to the ground below another painting. One had to kneel to take in a closer look. There was a mystical quality to the painting, the subtle repeated glazings, and scrubbings almost seemed evident of some prayer or meditation. I wanted that same diaphanous gray.

After seeing this painting, I knew how to make something meaningful out of a solid gray background. The joy in painting “Young Pierrot as Hunter” was not just from the impasto of white paint gracing and dancing in the highlights and the little humor of a young clown and his simian assistant engaged in mock hunting. The passage of grays enveloping the two figures was a delight in itself. I wanted to follow the tradition of Pierrot standing in a theatre, spotlighted in his own world just as Watteau commemorated Gilles as Pierrot.

Oil painting demo:

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How to mount linen on Hardbord panels

I normally work on traditional gessoed (the rabbit skin glue, marble dust stuff, not the acrylic stuff sold as ‘gesso’) boards from RealGesso or oil primed Ampersand Hardbord or Ampersand Claybord sealed with thin imprimatura of ochre and M. Graham Walnut Alkyd Medium. However, when I work larger or wish for a change in surface, I love oil primed linen.

front board is linen panel, unprimed

Here’s my method of mounting linen canvas onto panel:

Advice to painters – an excerpt from Robert Henri

The Triumph of Pierrot

“Was it worth it?” Is perhaps a proper question to ask when one wonders about the relevance of one’s work. If there ever was a manifesto on the artist’s life, Robert Henri’s seminal collection of writings, “The Art Spirit” come immediately to mind. It has been the bible for many a generation of hopeful creators. He explains the inexplicable desire of those who endeavor to pursue this calling.  Below is an excerpt form a “Letter of Criticism.” These are wonderful words to remember when one doubts the validity of his or her work.

Art is, after all, only a trace – like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness. Those who live in full play of their faculties become master economists, they understand the relative value of things. Freedom can only be obtained through an understanding of basic order. Basic order is underlying all life. It is not to be found in the institutions men have made. Those who have lived and grown at least to some degree in the spirit of freedom are our creative artists. They have a wonderful time. They keep the world going. They must leave their trace in some way, paint, stone, machinery, whatever. The importance of what they do is greater than anyone estimates at the time. In fact in a commercial world there are thousands of lives wasted doing things not worth doing. Human spirit is sacrificed. More and more things are produced without

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)