A reader writes: What would you recommend as a clear way of practicing painting? There seem to be many avenues to go down all at once - choosing a subject, drawing, value, color, composition, brush strokes, etc. Thousands of decisions to be made. So far I read, read, read, take workshops, classes, paint often and still I feel daunted and commit "errors of enthusiasm" most every time.
Indeed, learning to become a better painter can be daunting! Where does one start? I like to attack the learning process the same way I do a lunch buffet - in an organized manner. I get my plate first, then my utensils, and I move on to the salad, appetizers and the main course, followed by dessert. Sometimes, I'll try juggling my dinner plate, salad bowl, bread plate and dessert plate all at once, and that always ends up being a mistake. It's better if I make several trips.
So what would my steps be, if I were just starting off?
Well, my reader has laid out the process quite nicely in his question. Start with learning how to draw, followed by learning how to compose, followed by a study of color usage and finally, brush work or mark-making. Break up the steps over time, and spend a significant part of your education working on each step. Make sure you feel your skills have gotten good enough at each step before moving on. (Most art instruction books have all the basics, and you can use them as a program of study.)
But where does one go from there? I think this is what my reader is really asking.
The problem is juggling all those plates. When trying to create a finished painting, most students juggle too much. They try to do everything at once, such as thinking of brush work at the same time they're puzzling out how to mix color and also redrawing a tree limb. This is a method doomed to frustration. You're much better off by painting in the same orderly manner in which you learned to paint:
- Get your plates and utensils (make small sketches to work out values and composition)
- Get your salad (get the drawing right)
- Get your entree (get the color right)
- And lastly, get your dessert (add those deft, finishing brush strokes)
You also must be satisfied with your work at the end of each step. If you're not happy with your drawing, don't move on to color. Get the drawing right first. If you're not happy with your color, don't move on to finishing strokes. Get the color right first.
Finally, I must say this: Painting is a craft. A craft, no matter whether it is painting, woodworking or even juggling, requires practice. The more you do, the more you learn, and the better you get.
I can help you with this process, by the way. At both my winter Paint Sedona workshops and summer Paint Campobello workshops, I break everything down into these easy steps. I still have a few spots left in the Paint Sedona plein air painting workshops and am now taking deposits on the Paint Campobello plein air painting workshops.