Learning a new set of skills can be daunting, scary and hard. A big problem for adults coming back to art after many years is high expectations – too high expectations. If you haven’t done any drawing since you were 7, you are likely to be picking up where you left off.
Unless you’ve been able to continue your drawing, development is unlikely – you know what it’s like if you haven’t played piano for years (I can’t play my flute anymore, it’s very old and needs maintenance [as do I!] but obviously I haven’t practiced for a long time and my embouchure not up to scratch). Maybe you haven’t played golf for a few years only to return and find your swing is off.
Your drawing, painting and creative muscles needs constant attention – regular and frequent SMALL STEPS and exercise. Remember the steps it took for you to learn how to write your name – the dotted letter diagrams we followed? Learning to draw and paint is a similar process, incremental baby steps are required.
Many people tell me they can’t draw, I am a firm believer that we are all born creative, however, some of us get the chance (or make the chance) to pursue creative endeavours or maybe your creativity is pursued in a different way. I’m referring to my super creative engineering husband, among many, one of his skills is creating solutions for his clients.
More than talent, desire and perseverance are keys to learning and developing a skill in drawing. Few people do not have the ability to learn to draw, if you can sew or knit, play golf, write a letter, you can learn to draw.
More important skills are patience and observation along with key tools - time and focus.
Time to relax and enjoy the process of creating without the pressure of having to make something. As soon as the artist decides to create a masterpiece – today is the day – it’s all over. Too much pressure makes us focus on all the wrong emotions and decisions, performance anxiety (I’ve only got today to do this), we’re too focussed on the result instead of enjoying the moment and focussing on what the paint is doing on the paper.
Whether you want to be a professional artist or you just enjoy the process of creating, it’s important to exercise your creative muscle regularly and frequently – just like a body builder or marathon runner the more you practice the more you can flex your muscles.
Poetry in watercolour is made in the freedom of the here and now.
ciao bei pittori!!
Do you always plan out everything ie... colours for everything and where bikes, cones etc might go?
Yes I do plan everything out BUT as I'm a little haphazard (read Arty-Farty - aka rip sh*t and bust!) I'm also happy to let go and see where the "unplan" takes me. So sometimes my painting is not like my sketch (sometimes my sketches are not like the scene!!).
You know that I pretty much always map out my design in a thumbnail sketch first. This sketch is about studying the pattern of the light and the dark and working out a composition. It's not about detail. I'm working out how I can use them to move the viewers eye around the painting. this sketch also helps me to learn about the scene/subject, it helps me to discover areas that could become a problem, or elements that I can take advantage of eg interlocking and overlapping shapes.
I make a "shopping list" of elements in the scene that I may or may not want to add into my painting and choose the ones that I like or help me to tell my story.
Once I've drawn my map onto my watercolour paper, I sometimes find there are areas that could be utilised or need a little filling up, these ideas come from my shopping list.
with regard to palette selection, I'm often smitten with a particular palette for a year or two and then replace a pigment or two. I usually use the same foundation palette for my realism work, based on transparent primary pigments, just the three plus burnt sienna, the same three I recommend to beginners. These colours will mix into every colour you could possibly need - just as well if you're in lockdown and no art supply store!!
My workshops on how to generate design ideas came about because a student said they were not ever able to get a “good” photograph of the scene.
I worked very hard on the design of “pauatahanui” and the ensuing series because it’s a popular scene to paint.
So how could I make mine different?
I got all excited and had to see these boat sheds for myself (aka ROAD TRIP!!).
It took 6 months to create a design concept I was happy with.
So the subject of this workshop became how to design a painting and not be reliant on good photos because good photos are rare and don't miraculously turn up when required! Somewhat akin to how to paint from a bad photo.
Another thought, it doesn't take courage to paint what you see - it does take courage to paint what you think and feel.
I often turn away from my reference, it was pointed out to me some years ago that I rarely “look” at my subject. Through my study and observation I begin a path of understanding. I take reference photos, I create thumbnail studies which lead me to my design idea - I want my work to be unique, I want the essence of the subject, I want it to be from me.
So, how to be less reliant on photos?
it's all about getting an idea.
one thing I must say to you is that, generating ideas is not easy, like everything it takes consistent and frequent effort.
My typical practice revolves around drawing/designing (en plein air or in my studio) a thumbnail and doodling some of the shapes I think I will want. What do I like or not like? Leave out, add in, bring something relevant in from another scene. This is where I get to know my subject and the relationships of the other elements to each other. I have sketched/painted many boat yard scenes so I feel confident about bringing ideas in from previous study.
And that's what this is about - study and observation. Even though I have no intention of creating a photographic realism painting, I need to understand shapes, light and dark, perspective, values etc to create a work based on simplified shapes.
what could i do that was different/better? Firstly, I have the power of watercolour's fluidity; secondly, a unique composition. So the idea became the jumble and chaos of boatsheds and the ensuing detritus.
edited from my original post 070115
It’s really hard to create a painting about a subject I have no interest in, having said that, I can make myself want to paint a particular subject simply by working through a research process and getting to know and appreciate the subject.
Imagine what it would be like for me to be told Country & Western theme ... ?**$#@!!**^??
Guess what? You can get fired up about any subject too!!
While I was still working in the corporate world but dabbling in watercolour painting, I was thrilled that my tutor would supply the subject matter. It meant one less thing for me to worry about, all I had to do was turn up every week and she'd have an amazing array of cool stuff she had pulled together for us. Barbara was a tremendous creative facilitator.
Another upside to this was that I learned to accept what was in front me, whether I liked it or not, this was no time to be fussing and complaining, I had 3 hours of painting time in front me, better get to it quick!
In writing this post I realise too, part of my inspiration for a subject came from our group discussion about the subject and everyone's ideas. Some of my best painting experiences have been painting in a group.
The more research I do about a particular subject the more passionate and determined I become to paint it. I fall in love with the subject ... it could be something as simple (?) as a brick wall or the way the light falls on a glass and the shapes and colours it creates. The intricacies of a subject become fascinating, although I don’t paint a lot of detail (this must have been written a while back!), I go through a process of studying the detail and deciding what I will leave out, what to include and which details describe my message best for that piece of art.
Typically my research might include a small sketch or two on site as well as a bigger more formed sketch I call a plein air painting. When I’m in my studio, if I’m painting from my imagination, I create lots of doodles and lots of composition thumbnails. I’m reluctant to paint scenes from a photo preferring to paint en plein air, not always possible and although I’m wary, I’m very happy with a lot of them.
For me, there is a driving force to create and always has been. Among other creative endeavours, I’ve always drawn and painted. It seems stronger now than ever and I think this may be, in part, because I work as a professional artist creating and painting most days - total immersion is good!
My brain is more switched on to looking for subject matter and planning my next work – everywhere I see a painting waiting to be painted. The more I look for subjects the sooner they appear - the more I paint the more ideas I get.
I know many creatives and many of them never finish a work. The same work is done and re-done and done again because it’s never right. There’s always something out of place, a comma, an invisible brush mark, a chord that seems not right – not perfect = imperfect! We do it again and hope it will be better next time.
And so now, this work gets put aside in the hope (read dread) the next one will be better.
What people don’t realise is, there’s no such thing as mistakes. What happens is, we get a different result from what we expect, we don’t know what to do with it.
This is often the result with watercolour, we have a vision and an eye on our goal – but something happens or we return from a cup of tea to find our painting looks different from just 10 minutes ago.
We’ve become so results driven we’re forgotten to enjoy the process, play to our medium’s strengths and just have fun playing with the paint. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t attempt specific subjects, what I’m saying is have fun along the way. Explore your paint and ask yourself “What would happen if …?” or tell yourself “I’m just going to have a play with this and see what happens!” - my favourite way to start new work! It banishes fears and performance anxiety and sets up an easier happy attitude!!
happy painting dear friends!!
ny artists, beginners through to professionals are concerned with developing their style, their voice.
One of my personal key concerns is to develop a unique voice - there's a tremendous amount of copying happening, not only that, when groups of people paint together regularly they all seem to paint in the same way. I don't want to paint like the hoards - I want to paint like me, i treasure the unique and the work that it requires.
Many years ago, through my local art group I was fortunate to meet a highly skilled and creative artist whose style I quickly fell in love with. I attended his private tuition classes for many years and, although I don't paint exactly in this style, it is an obvious influence. My goal was to paint like me but also include an element of simplicity that is the hallmark of California watercolour.
I have had to become very selective about what I see and what I study. I have a level of eidetic memory which can sometimes get in my way - I have to be careful what I look at, I have to keep my end game in my sights at all times. To that end, I don't visit galleries nor do I look at very much art online, I have a few selected books in my artist library. I have no clue who other artists are, I don't care, I'm only interested in creating unique work of my own. Further, the more time I spend away from my easel doing other stuff is too much time away from my easel.
But what if you don't know what you want to achieve? How do you find what you like? How do you find something that makes your heart leap?
Firstly, I recommend you only study "good" art. Go to Galleries, museums, study the masters, get recommendations from your tutor.
Study everything you possibly can, every genre, every style, every artistic movement. At some point, within your practice and your research, you will find something that really speaks to you. Learn to critique, what do you like, not like. Once you find it, put everything else aside and focus all your efforts onto your discovery.
A well known watercolour painter friend suggests that learning to paint is a 25 year apprenticeship, you might feel you are behind the 8-ball . However you might also find that, if you are an older artist, you have clearer ideas about colours and styles, and know the subjects you love already, its really about how to communicate those ideas in a way that pleases you - practice, practice, practice!! repeat, repeat, repeat!!
what's your thinking on this?
what have you discovered about yourself?
PaintBox Tips, secrets, random thoughts,
There is no ONE WAY to paint a watercolour - Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!