top of page

One step back , three steps forward

Martin Kinnear on how not working it all out for yourself will transform your painting in a month

Are you trying to reinvent the wheel ?

Now here's a funny story, a man walked into a car showroom the other day and was so impressed by what he saw he rushed home to invent the car from scratch.

Sounds absurd doesn't it ? But that's exactly what artists do. We walk into galleries are transported, thrilled, enchanted and otherwise blown away by what we see then rush home to teach ourselves to invent new ways to paint, as if nothing of value has been done before.

My blog today - and don't shoot the messenger - is that I simply don't think you can reinvent painting in search of something new and unique to say. I think it has been invented already. All that you need to do, is pick it up where others left off and make it yours.

The great news is that you're already unique, there will only ever be one of you, so let's park any angst about being original, because you are. You really don't need to be your idiosyncratic original self and put yourself under an expectation to reinvent the wheel.

All you need to do is learn how paint works and you will create original paintings.

The fact that all artists simply do more of the same but in a different way is the true secret behind all of the Old Masters and new ones for that matter.

There are only six colour families in the colour wheel (eight I suppose if we count achromatics), a handful of different brushes and as for subjects, such as portraiture, landscape, narrative painting and still life, I can count the big genres on one hand. Thousands of artists, just like thousands of writers, composers, chefs and poets make their original mark from shared resources.

Originality is built in and the path to getting your originality onto canvas is simply a matter of learning how to get your hands on those shared resources, that caucus of knowledge proven techniques and great ideas which underpin original painting.

Simple ideas are obvious

The trouble with having a great idea is that great ideas are disconcertingly simple and if an idea can really solve a problem I always feel as though a good solution ought to be complex.

Take the problem of holding lots of separate sheets of information together in order and being able to swop the order of that information by binding and unbinding them as and when you want without damaging any. Put like that, the paper clip seems an absurdly simple, solution to a complex need yet it works.

My job, as a teacher is to show you all of those simple proven solutions so you can benefit from them, and it doesn't take long.

Learning to paint is a huge problem with lots of moving parts, yet in truth it has very few core problems, all of which were solved long ago by solutions which can be learned in a few hours - although in truth it takes years to master those skills.

When I decided to teach myself to paint in 2000 it looked horribly complicated, but I knew that although all of the painters whom I admired were original, all of their paintings were simply their versions of some shared knowledge.

My plan was to work out how things were done so I could paint for myself. I never fooled myself that I could invent painting, or needed to - no all I needed to do was simply work out the rules.

Seven years on when I decided to teach painting I simply taught those rules through creating paintings which illustrated how it all worked. The point was never to teach my students to paint like Monet, Turner, Seago or whosever's work I'd chosen to illustrate how it worked, but to simply show people how to paint a given work as a clear example of a painting rule or two works.

I called this course - the course really when you think about it; Simply Oils, and let me tell you the effect of teaching simple rules was absolute dynamite.

Artists who had tried for years to create decent painting could suddenly do them and professional painters were quietly coming in droves to fill out those half understood skills which had been holding them back. Within two years my school was full with a one year waiting list.

The secret is repetition

For lots of artists this was transformative, but not everybody, because as I said while rules are easy and quick to convey, the secret to getting them to work for you is practice.

It is not enough to come on a course every year for three days, any more than running once every year will prepare you for a marathon. Consistency is the key to turning simple exercises into serious ability.

Online just isn't the same, is it?

In all of the cacophony of moving my school online in a pandemic I made a mistake. The quickest thing to do was to take all of what we did and put it online, so all of my courses went from face to face into live and interactive.

I get letters most weeks asking if I will go back to face to face teaching, but I won't because the most surprising thing is teaching face to face isn't as effective as live and interactive online classes.

Yes, I miss the banter, the quiet chats and all that, but nobody drove four hours to Norfolk for the pleasure of my company, and nor should they. My job is show people how to paint and help those who want to make the life changing step into becoming a serious oil painter.

The truth is that by working online, students can now quite literally see the weave of my canvas, the texture of my brushstrokes and get a birds eye view of my mixing on the palette.

By taking interactive live online classes they can ask in depth questions, check understanding and all that in the knowledge that as they can rewatch their class again on demand; it's the perfect learning experience.

I don't want to sound all nostalgic for the Naughties but , because there is no four hour drive, no three nights accommodation or no booking time off work, my current students can get better core tuition, more frequently at incredible value. Did you know that you can now take all of my online classes over an entire year for less than the cost of attending one three day face to face workshop. Imagine that ten years ago!

Forget village hall art classes and learning to paint from somebody in their style, you can learn to paint like you by learning the rules of painting with me without breaking the bank or booking time off.

But the most surprising benefit of our current school isn't all of that, it was the fact that for the first time I can now offer consistency and practice as standard.

Going online in 2020 was truly a game changer because my students finally get that all important repetition and consistent teaching weekly on my StudioTalk classes. The results have been astonishing, with our members discovering that through watching and absorbing good practice they are being selected for more competitions, winning more prizes and even being exhibited internationally.

Practice is now Included as Standard

To complete my StudioTalk service we are bringing my original course Simply Oils into StudioTalk as an on demand core.

I'm currently recording a greatly expanded series of Simply Oils lessons especially and exclusively on demand for StudioTalk members, so they can watch Simply Oils and paint with me as many times as they need. So not only will my StudioTalk members get a weekly program of new and inspiring themes to paint but also get focused Simply Oils tuition on demand as and when they need it.

Years ago I learned that to teach myself to paint I simply had to take one step back and see how it was done. From this September I'm inviting you to join me on StudioTalk to do the same with my new Simply Oils on demand service.

It's amazing what you can achieve by looking back at how it was done.

Watch StudioTalk Free and see for yourself

You can watch a full unedited StudioTalk so you can see how it all works and get a feel for my teaching style as I paint a simple classically inspired sky on our website here.

Members get a new session each and every week, plus Studiotalk member only discounts on my other online courses, and starting soon that magical ingredient : consistent practice thanks to StudioTalk plus Simply Oils on demand.

1,305 views3 comments


Jill Craig
Jill Craig
Oct 10, 2022

I’m so grateful for all the teaching and demonstrations that Martin has shared over the last three years. It has motivated me and given me the confidence to produce so much and to enter exhibitions and competitions and open studio sessions. If I’m ever feeling doubtful or lacking in confidence, then the next weekly studio talk will pick me up and reinforce all the painting techniques, tips and enthusiasm with fun, vigour and skilful teaching.

I enjoy being part of the NPS community so much and thank you every day for all the paintings we produce.


Barbara McCabe
Barbara McCabe
Sep 05, 2022

This sounds fantastic personally I do n't get a lot of time to paint for hours on end. So rarely get to finish a painting from ST before the next one comes along. Then it's a toss up finish one or start another. So really seems I'm not getting anywhere. Simply Oils was the course I did at the old school house in Norfolk and I loved it. Now I can repeat it and practice over and over......then I can try and put all this stuff that's in my head onto canvas. 😊

Replying to

Thank you Barbara , your note explains perfectly why we’re doing it. I can’t wait to see how much more you improve Best regards Martin

bottom of page