tom_neelI’ve done a fair amount of art show judging this year which has had me looking at nearly 2,000 pieces of art.  The art has covered a very wide range of ages, experience and raw or acquired talent.  As well, there has been a wide spectrum of mediums, subject matter and genres.

I share this because after so many years of painting and so often speaking with those who are learning to paint at all ages and stages of life, I have really begun to ask the question of when does it really “click” for an artist? I mean in that transitional stage from beginner, with beginner looking results, to that of an experienced painter?

This is in no way an art critique article, but rather an attempt to isolate that “click” or the “I get it”, in an artist’s life. Some get it very young or early in their attempts, while others spend years breaking through barriers. So, in my attempt to unfold this artistic road map, I hope the following thoughts will help new painters progress to that next level.

I don’t like critiquing paintings. I would rather help someone fix a particular problem they think they have than pick what they’ve done apart. I helped a artist once by asking him two questions; What is the color of water and what is the color of chrome?  This artist didn’t think his river water looked real.  His answer to what is the color of water, was blue.  The answer is clear. Pools look blue because the cement is painted blue. But what gives water its color is the reflecting sky, surround trees, what you see through it, current and it’s tint, as in muddy water, which is still not opaque. Chrome by the way is basically a mirror, his answer though was silver, and both of his answers were natural mistakes which help make beginner paintings look the way they do.

Painting is also not only artistic, it’s mechanical and like dancing, it does require coordination.  It’s also like learning a new language.  In France, just because you don’t know how to speak French, doesn’t mean you have nothing to say.  You just cannot be understood. A new language takes awhile [that 10,000 hour rule],and kids always seem to learn quicker than adults.  This is largely due to the unwired brain not having to unravel itself and kids are way better at having fun.  Adults are too results driven, especially at first.

Painting is also one of those things that requires tools.  A brush is not a magic wand, it’s a tool.  There are good tools which do produce better results, and student grade tools, meaning cheap.  An experienced painter using a cheap tool will get better results than a student, but both would be better with quality tools.

If you take a painting class and you are trying to learn about the tools, the paint, the drawing, light, composition, subject matter choices, and developing your style, all at once, well, good luck.  Best learning to draw, then about the paint, how it works, and how the tools work for you, rather than you for them. This goes for modern art as well.

Artist paint is a tool too.  It is a tool of expression, no more, no less.  Why use acrylic, or oil, or watercolor?  Which is best?  The one that works for you!  They each have characteristics that make them the best for a chosen result. I would much rather look upon a masterfully done watercolor, than a poorly done oil.  Make these mediums work for you, not you for them. Learn how they work.

Often light is a big one.  Take any object, sit it next to a lamp and really look what the light does to it and the table it’s on.  Don’t just look at the object, look at what is happening to and around the object.  The light bulb is action, the light upon the object is the reaction. The shadow it casts is its reaction to the table it is on. Move the lamp around and discover what happens and you can apply these things inside or outside.

Edges are a big one too. Really look at the edges of things in your paintings. Are the edges soft, or hard, is there contrast between them?  Understand hue [color] and value [dark and light].  Often people new to painting try different colors, but all of the same value, giving flat results.  Most of all, have fun! 

Live An Artful Life, Tom