Sunday, August 7, 2016

What Level of Painter Are You?

From Here to There
12x9 plein air oil by Michael Chesley Johnson (SOLD)
(NOTE: I wrote the following post for painters who consider themselves not in the "professional" category.  It's for hobby painters, amateur painters, and painters who want to go pro but haven't gotten there yet.  Professional painters take workshops, too, for many reasons, and I welcome them as colleagues.  I am honored that they think I have something to teach them.)

Like many art instructors, I grade my workshops as suitable for beginning, intermediate or advanced painters.  And again, like many art instructors, I don't define these grades—a real failing.  It would be very helpful for us to do so.  Many painters, especially those new to the craft, wonder how to know if they are "ready" for an advanced workshop.  That's a question I often get.

So, I thought I'd create a quick checklist that a student painter could use to determine his grade.  But first, it's important to remember that painting doesn't require just one skill but many.  And these skills don't always mature at the same level.  For example, a painter may be good at drawing but not so good at color mixing.  Whether someone is an intermediate painter is particularly difficult to judge, since "intermediate" covers a broad area between "beginner" and "advanced."  An intermediate painter is, in my mind, good at some things but not good at all things.  Because of this uneven maturation, no quick checklist can give an absolute grade.  I suppose one might itemize all the skills and devise a point system, but I'll leave that to someone with more time on his hands.

Finally, keep in mind that I teach plein air painting workshops.  One of my prerequisites (not always followed by the student, alas) is that the student be comfortable with painting in the studio.  This is because outdoor painting requires a set of skills in addition to the ones acquired in the studio, and it is that additional set that I focus on.   My goal is to teach the student to see, not to handle a brush.  But since in reality it doesn't always work out that way, I present a somewhat mixed checklist based on what I have experienced my workshops.

If you answer "yes" to the following questions, you are a beginning plein air painter:
  • Does it take you two trips (or more) to carry your gear from the car?
  • Do you have trouble setting up your easel?
  • Do you set up your  palette a different way each time?
  • Do you make a detailed drawing when trying to make a thumbnail value sketch?
  • Do you confuse hue with value when trying to match color seen in the landscape?
If you answered "no" to the above but "yes" to the following, you are an intermediate plein air painter:
  • Do you have difficulty "massing" dark shapes in the landscape?
  • Do you often "run out of" values when painting a scene?  (I.e. you can't make a shadow dark enough or a light area light enough.)
  • Do you have trouble seeing the temperature difference between light and shadow?
  • Does foreground design defy you so that you just "put something in" to finish filling the canvas?
  • Do you have trouble separating planes of space and getting a sense of depth in your painting?
If you answered "no" to all the above, you are an advanced plein air painter.

Beyond advanced, of course, we have the master painter.  An advanced painter is good at all things, but a master has truly practiced his craft to the point that it is as natural and easy as breathing and walking.  (Note the operative word, "practiced."  Practice is fundamental to progress.)

I'm sure there are other qualifications I have not considered, but as I said, these are the most common points I've seen in my own workshops.  I address them in each workshop, giving students personal attention where it is needed.  We always make good progress!

I am now taking registration for my 2016/2017 season of plein air painting workshops in Sedona.  Although many of the weeks are for intermediate and advanced students, I also have some "all level" weeks as well.  For details (and don't forget to look at the tuition+lodging package):

(And also don't forget that I've reserved my last workshop in Lubec, Maine, August 30th-September 2nd for intermediate and advanced painters.

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