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Simple, it's not the same as Easy!

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Course Director Martin Kinnear on the difficulty of making anything simple

Simplicity, that's the thing. Take our website for instance. We only built it a year ago, and we've just spent a fairly focused week making it streamlined again. Out with the complexity, in with clarity.

As with websites, so with painting. At first it seems simple but bit by bit, all of that technique accretes like barnacles on the hull of clear thinking.

Take Classical Still Life for instance, the aim is really simple, to create an image of something one observes, but in that simple intention is the kernel of a real headache that runs a bit like this:

'Paintings are flat, but the observed world isn't. So just create a simple illusion of Form using Value, Temperature and Opacity to manage edge modulation and create an illusion of spatial depth.'

Bit by bit, that simple scene of a teacup and saucer becomes a far from simple exercise in plate spinning - temperature, opacity, value, edge modulation - and that's before we think about palette selection, value key and range, composition!

The hidden danger here of course, is that far from being overwhelmed by all of this technical plate spinning, the difficulty of overcoming problems becomes addictive.

You see it all the time. First one learns to juggle enough metrics to paint a cup, then it's a fancy cup - adding drawing complexity, then a fancy glass cup, then a fancy glass cup next to a cut glass vase, then a fancy glass cup next to a cut glass vase and reflected in a silver teapot , then.. well you get the idea.

Cezanne said that he'd 'astonish Paris with an Apple'. Uglow chose simple pears.

By letting complexity in the simple act of painting has become something else; its become the pursuit of craft. I've never confused Art with Craft any more than I've confused Faith with Religion.

Last week I brought the (surprisingly controversial) abstracted works of Keith Vaughan to StudioCraft, for the simple reason that Vaughan devoted his entire life to achieving more by doing less. Simplicity was his calling.

Kouros: Simple but nuanced.

Vaughans simple stylised male figure the Kouros was an object lesson in creating visual impact. Stripped of any need to recreate a 'realistic' image our students came face to face with bigger concerns such as colour, composition and aesthetics. Concerns which will get them far closer to creative expression than learning to paint that fancy cup reflected in tinfoil under candlelight, by a waning moon ever would.

The feedback from our community was as heartfelt as it was heartening, students used to equating complex results with good outcomes wrote to me to say that 'at last they got modern art!'

Vaughan's Kouros was in truth just the latest of our exercises in learning to do it more simply. So far this year we've had working from a simpler drawing, using a simpler palette, applying a simple portrait process and just last week using a simple three point process over four simple stages to create astonishingly complex looking Classical Florals.

The results the students achieved are simply astonishing.

Student work. Bravo !

Devoted to Doing Less

Chiaroscuro its simply the best !

At The School we've been devoted to helping our students do more with less since 2007, so here are my simple tips for better results.

  1. Use a simple reductive palette, check out any of our StudioTalk or Masterclass courses for this. Simple colour choices create stronger paintings.

  2. Use a simple Value plan - we cover this in any classical Masterclass such as Classical Skies. The simplest Value plan is chiaroscuro and it's been the strongest since Caravaggio made it ubiquitous.

  3. Use a simple colour planning system - try contemporary masterclasses such as the forthcoming one on Hitchens

  4. Once you've cracked it, have a simple creative intention so you use it well. Fauvism is a case in point so check out my class on Matisee Munter and Derain here.

  5. Finally, avoid courses which promise complexity, may I humbly recommend our core course since 2007, Simply Oils? There's a simple reason that students routinely tell us that they learned more on Simply than in years in art college.

Tomorrow on StudioTalk I'll be turning a complex Monet into a simple process, see you in class.!

Complex but not complicated

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Audrey Davenport
Audrey Davenport
Feb 18, 2021

Thanks. I will take on the advice. So far, have done the work with the exception of the latest but could not send in. Pocketing my pride have today arranged to have an IPad lesson with my 17yr.old granddaughter Isabella (Izzy) to ensure I can post my work in future. Look forward to next Tuesday.



Anthony Garland
Anthony Garland
Feb 09, 2021

Thanks Martin. Good advice and good work on the website.

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