Lesson 8: Keep it simple

It’s been a while since our last lesson. An inventory of articles I wrote for art magazine ‘Palet’ over the course of more than thirty years has kept me busy. A rewritten selection of those will be published as a book, I hope. Now all I need is quiet accomodations to work on the book undisturbed for a while.

Meanwhile, I owe you lesson 8.

You know that I am more interested in the visual aspects of composition, such as form, color, and structure, than in a correct rendering of the subject. In the basic design phase, it is better to leave the subject out of the picture altogether. Don’t feel restricted by rules, conventions and dogmas in this. Masterpieces have been made by artists who flouted the rules. But if you insist on having some guidelines, here we go.

Keep it simple. A simple value pattern ensures a cohesive structure and is more important than reality, the “pretty picture”. Hence, learn to “give the lie to” reality. A good painting is more than an accurate represenation.

For you to be satisfied with your work, it is not necessary for everything you do to work out right away. Accept your mistakes as part of the learning process and don’t be discouraged too quickly. Multatuli said it before: “You can’t teach ducklings to swim by throwing the eggs in the water”. Don’t let your ambitions lead you to disregard reality. You can reach a high level of satisfaction and peace of mind if you adjust your ambitions to your talent.
Sunday morning Castlemaine
Sunday morning Castlemaine by Joseph Zbukvic

As you can see, not a lot of advice about painting techniques again in this lesson. Plenty of books have been written about those. The goal is to paint like you breathe or walk, without thinking about it. If you asked a centipede to explain how it walks, it would get very confused indeed.

There is a Zen statement: for the first 15 years, learn the techniques thoroughly. Next, let everything settle for 15 years, and finally begin to paint, once technique has been transcended. A questionable statement perhaps, but essentially skill and technique often stand in the way of creativity.

The next, 9th lesson, will conclude this series. I will, however, try to answer any questions that may have come up – not individually but by category. You can send your questions on Facebook or via my blog.

3 thoughts on “Lesson 8: Keep it simple

  1. I am truly happy to have found this site. Such a wonderful and lively series explaining what really needs to be looked at by a budding artist! Thank you for sharing your insights so freely.

    Warm regards,

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