It’s a time for New Year resolutions, and many artists will be putting ‘get better at painting’ on that list, but where to start?
As an artist running a painting school you’d expect me to say, ‘take lots of courses, and you’ll achieve that ambition’. but I’m not going to do that. Yes, you certainly will need to paint, and our courses would definitely facilitate that, however that’s just part of it.
So for our Norfolk Painting School community, I’ve put together a plan to help you to achieve your ambition to become a better painter, and the good news is that these are things you can do from home.
I’m assuming of course that like most of our subscribers, you are part of our StudioTalk community, or do the various Masterclasses, either way this will work for you.
A quick word of advice, like all hard earned experience, mine is a deceptively simple plan, and like all simply effective plans the real trick of it is to make it part of a long term routine you enjoy
‘Practice makes perfect’ is a well worn saying, and to be fair getting good at anything requires practice, but don’t forget that it's just as easy to make a bad habit routine as a good one. So good habit one is to Practice everything but never practice anything until you know you are doing it correctly.
With that in mind here are the top three things for any visual artist to practice.
Practice a process until it becomes second nature. There are lots of options here, and of course we all develop our own personal variation of any core process be it Indirect, Direct or Ebauche. However the process I absolutely recommend every artist should base theirs on is Ebauche. We do it most weeks on StudioTalk, and if you are a regular viewer, you’ll see me flexing it to create more Direct, more Indirect, or straight classical Ebauche works week in, week out.
Get time on the Brush. Painting might be an Art, but it’s also a craft, and that means you’ll need to practice using common tools such as knives brushes and rags as much and as often as you can. Most of our StudioTalk community painters start a new project each week, and if you follow my mix of subjects, styles and sizes that will give you all of the time on the brush you need. When you’re watching me demonstrate learn to notice the things that matter to other professional artists such as which brushes I’m choosing, and for what job. I’ve lost count of the number of students whose work has been transformed by simply stopping to think, ‘which brush should I choose and how should I hold it?’ Don’t forget we stream the demonstrations live so you can pitch in and ask why I’m doing things, especially on the in depth Masterclass sessions.
Master the Colour Wheel. As a painter really you can’t avoid getting to grips with colour, and the fastest way to do that is to master the Colour Wheel. Every decision I make in the live broadcasts about every mix I make is based upon colour wheel planning, it really is that fundamental. The good news of course is that you’ll pick up more and more about the Colour Wheel with every demonstration you watch. If you’ve never really used one then Simply Oils is a great place to start, and if you know your way around the wheel then check out the Masterclasses. Most contemporary themed ones look at the wheel in a more advanced way for colour mixing and colour planning. Don’t forget that both StudioTalk and Masterclass students can get our colour wheel references to download and use, and did I mention that our live broadcasts mean you can ask questions as I paint ?
Of course there are lots of other things you could practice from optical sequencing for indirect painters to value management, to temperature modelling, tempera painting, taching, knife work or even creating your own mediums, but focus is the key to success and the three above will see you right, and be part of every demonstration we do. So part one of our plan is Practice Well.
Become a Curious Thief
Learning to paint is on thing, and learning to be a creative painter quite another. Some in our artistic community are very happy to become absorbed learning the craft of painting, but I know that many more wish to explore their creativity, and from personal experience I’m sure that even the most technically accomplished painter will eventually wish to do something truly original.
The secret to personal creativity is this: nothing is truly original but you. There is not a subject, a composition, a style, a process, an approach or a combination of colours for instance, which hasn’t been used by another artist before. The only thing that you will not find done by somebody else, is something inspired by others but done by you.
Once you grasp that everything has been done before, the smart thing is to see as much Art as you can and use the best ideas to make work which is inspired by others, but created by you.
Once again, we have a plan for that, and I think you should put it in your New Year painting resolutions. Each of our demonstrations isn’t just a painting demonstration, but another artist’s version of events.
Last year for instance our StudioTalk community learned how differently Percy Kelly, Kyffin Williams, Monet, Constable, Tuke, Murphy, Cezanne and Seago amongst others, chose to paint the same subject of landscape in very different ways. All of them used those same principles which I hope you will practice, but came out with different results.
The hidden lesson in every Masterclass and StudioTalk is learning another way you could choose to see - and paint - whatever inspires you.
Each week I enjoy seeing the various members of our brilliant StudioTalk community trying these various styles, and various artistic visions, on for size. You can tell straight away when one of our artists finds a match for what they want to paint and then goes on to do it their way.
So my second bit of advice - my second good habit, is to try as many different ways of seeing the world as you can, and when you find one that resonates, make it your own. That’s what Picasso meant when he observed that ‘good artists borrow but great artists steal’
Of course, trying all of these new styles and embracing new ideas can be daunting; is Monet for you or Seago, and which looks the best? Which leads me to my final and most important bit of advice.
More is More
Before I chose to become a full time artist I was lucky enough to work in the Creative Advertising industry because that taught me that creativity grows with the sharing.
Creative ideas are hard to realise and on the face of it, it’s understandable that most artists protect their creativity jealously and are loath to share their ‘secrets’. However the best way to become more creative, is to be creative with lots of other creative people.
Ideas grow from the sharing of them, and this is why The Impressionists, The Cubists, The Fauvists, The Scottish Colourists and what have you, worked and thought and exhibited in groups.
Creative ideas are very like any other skill, they need time and practice to refine, and you don’t want to chase a bad idea any more than you want to practice and reinforce a bad habit. Our regular demonstrations aimed at showing you different ways of approaching the same genres will fo a long way to finding an inspiring style which you enjoy, but to critique your original work you need fresh eyes on it.
Luckily for Norfolk Painting School members a ready made community is always on hand, and in the spirit of the School most of our members are as generous of spirit as they are talented. The key to making the most of our community experience? Join in.
Watch every demonstration, paint every study, share all of your work, and critique the works of others. Take it from a successful self made artist: looking and sharing will make you a better practitioner.
So here is the plan, which incidentally is my plan for 2021, just as it has been each and every year since I decided to give up my day job and become a painter in 2000.
Practice the things that can make every painting work.
Immerse yourself in new ways of seeing the world, and try them out.
Constantly get useful and informed critique by showing your work.
If this seems a tall order to put in place, may I humbly suggest taking a one year subscription to StudioTalk?
We’ll provide the enthusiastic community, the personal training on building good habits, the weekly projects for time on the brush, the inspirational artistic visions for you to choose from, the live expert advice during demonstrations to check your understanding, and all for £2.50 per week.
On behalf of all of us here at The Norfolk Painting School I wish you a most creative, successful and safe year of painting.
See you in class !