Wise lessons and other nonsense

Do you know them? Those instructors who tell you exactly how to paint? To wit: their way. Their work may show a personal (but limited) vision that works for them, but that may be totally unsuitable for you. Even so, you start working in the style of your great role model for a while, but it turns out not to be what you were looking for. The lesson: never accept anyone’s teaching unquestioningly, no matter how big a name he is. Only accept his teachings after filtering them critically through your own thought frame.

Personally, I’ve always disliked rules in art. A guideline, a choice among several options for reaching a solution offers you more room to develop your own creativity. Following the rules too rigidly makes for work that is just as uninspired as a slapdash effort.

Distinguish between “knowing thát” and “knowing how”. You don’t learn to paint by memorizing rules, but by doing.

A good teacher doesn’t teach you whát to think, but thát you have to think.

A good instructor teaches you to make your own choices so you become more aware of your actions. You learn to be your own critic. You learn to distinguish between possibilities that may be qualitatively equal, but one solution appeals to you a little more than the other. Now you know why.

Everyone has a unique view of the world. That view determines your personal perspective on art.

Try to step out of your comfort zone and experiment a little more. You’ll make work that is really yours, without being overly influenced by those “great role models”.

Here’s an example. You’ve already made a few preliminary sketches  of your subject, considerably reducing the degree of realism. Which sketch is your favorite? Use it as the starting point for your final pencil sketch on watercolor paper.

Next up is the experimental stage. Apply some loose, spontaneous color notes to your composition, some horizontally, others vertically and diagonally, partially covering the main motif so as not to isolate it. Leave some areas in and around the main motif unpainted to allow for more contrast in the next phase. Your chosen color palette should contain a warm and a cool color. It’s perfectly okay to let them mingle here and there.

This will result in a coherent color pattern with an average tonal value. What’s missing at this point? You need a focal point with more contrast and a figurative element to suggest a recognizable subject. This working out of the figurative element is different for everyone. One painter may merely suggest it, whereas another may want a higher degree of realism to hold on to. Still, the underlying free, abstract color pattern ensures a result that looks loose and spontaneous. It’s the contrast between accurate elements and loose, spontaneous ones that makes a work look fresh and attractive.

I’ve used a combination of phthalo blue and raw sienna in the sketches. The accents were done in brown bister with a bit of collage in a contrasting color. You can look at these sketches as ideas and starting points for your own efforts.

But again, only accept this method if you find that it works for you. Otherwise, continue painting in familiar ways that you enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Comments or questions? I’ll be happy to answer them.

Kees van Aalst

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