As I’ve been working on scripts and lessons for an upcoming online course these past few months, something I keep coming back to is a theme of creativity and guarding our creative energy. I think this past year has been really instrumental in learning that lesson for myself.
A year ago last week, I packed up all of my paints and brushes in my temporary Arizona studio and put them in a box, not knowing that I wouldn’t really touch them much in the next 365 days. But, outside of a few commissions and some touch-ups on nearly-done pieces, I ended up not painting again in 2020.
I think a lot of us experienced a similar moment last year when we were still and quiet for maybe the first time in a long time. I realized that I hadn’t painted a painting for myself in…maybe not years. A painting for the joy of painting, not a painting for a show or a deadline or a gallery or an event. And, I also realized that the place inside of me that paintings came from kinda felt empty.
One of the things that can be overwhelming about oil painting in the beginning is the sheer volume of supplies that comes along with it. I'm a huge proponent of both starting small and simple, and also experimentation. I remember in the beginning being so afraid that I was using the "wrong" tool or using a tool the "wrong" way, but that can limit creativity so much! Painting is simply about getting paint from the palette onto a surface in an efficient way with a mark that excites you! That said, there's a few different ways to do that...
Your palette is the console in the spaceship of your studio, and you can't get to the destination of your finished painting without it. A lot of the time when you end up lost (in space), the problem stems from your paint mixing and management skills. Knowing how to choose and organize colors, how to get the most out of your mixtures, and some technical tips on tools go a long way to make painting more intuitive and productive!
There seems to be a lot of resistance to - or at least avoidance of - spending time drawing before painting, but I've found that one of the biggest ways to make my paintings better is to spend much more time drawing. A big reason I feel there's hesitation to spend more time doing it is that we see the process as separate from painting, but I want us to re-think how we see drawing!
"Do I Have to Know How to Draw to Paint?":
This is probably the most common question I get from beginning artists. I usually shake my head and say, "Oh not at all." ...then, the first day in class, I teach them to draw with a brush. 😉
Why do we all think we dislike drawing so much? I think a lot of the problem comes from a misconception of what drawing is. We all think back to using one of those horrible yellow school pencils to doodle and being frustrated when our drawings don't look how we want them to look. Or, we think of an illustration class with tedious (though valuable to learn!) perspective drawing, or a "right side of the brain" class where we do a contour drawing that helps us to see differently, but doesn't really lend itself to creating a painting with depth.*
We often get so focused on the subjects and objects in our painting that we forget to see the entire composition objectively. It can be very useful to learn to see our painting abstractly, as shapes or puddles of painting held together by similar colors, values, and saturation.
We See Abstractly:
Whether we realize it or not, we see the world abstractly and only "name" the objects and subjects that matter to us at the moment. When we're walking through a park, do we notice every dandelion and clover, or do they blend into a general "grass mass"? Do we notice all of the upper leaves of the tree, or is everything above our eye level categorized as "sky"? If we noticed every object and detail, we wouldn't be able to be anywhere more complicated than a white room without going crazy!
For the purpose of this blog, value is the lightness or darkness of any color on a scale from pure white to pure black. Some people will refer to it as tone, and you may see light and dark versions of a color referred to as tint and shade respectively, but we will simplify everything under the heading of value.