Too Good to Be True

Starry Night Image
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Any painter I’ve ever met, regardless of experience, possessed the desire to expand their abilities with each new canvas. I never met anyone who felt they possessed all available knowledge or had developed all necessary skills. We’re all seeking growth, but there are hazards to avoid along the way. When you encounter an artist that seems to always get it right, always chooses the best point of view, lays out the best composition, chooses the perfect palette, puts down paint with seemingly effortless skill and confidence and consistently delivers one beautiful image after another, it’s a good bet there are yards and yards of canvas in their history.

Beware of those who would offer you shortcuts to becoming a master painter. Along the path to accomplishment you’ll be offered both knowledge and illusions. It’s important to absorb the first and avoid the last. When someone tells me these colors must be used in creating the perfect flesh tones or that counting the number of hard and soft edges in my paintings will lead me to Nirvana, I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Flesh tones change based on environment: available light, reflection, what the model is wearing, etc. How edges are rendered should be suggested by the subject matter, not arbitrarily contrived in one direction or another by me. The greatest KNOWLEDGE I ever received was that everything I needed to know was right there in front of me, I only needed to learn to SEE it.

Value Guide Image
Value Guide

That’s where the years of experience come in, learning to see, takes time. Baby steps at first, giant strides later. The good news is, all of us can achieve it, the only requirement is a passion for getting there.

Color Wheel Image
The Color Wheel

Consider Vincent Van Gogh. A man in his 20s decides, one day, that painting is his future. Lacking any affinity for his newly chosen profession, he embarks first on teaching himself to draw. The first products are crude and childlike, but within 2 years of drawing anything and everything he encounters he becomes a master draftsman. He then picks up paints and travels down a similar road, producing crude amateur works first (his Potato Eater period), masterpieces later. Friends know I can never get over the realization that while Mr. Van Gogh made one of the greatest contributions to art, both in number and quality of works, his time as an artist, from deciding it was what he wanted to do, until he breathed his last breath, numbered only 9-10 years.

Right Brain Drawing Image
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

There ARE some good solid vehicles available to inform us of what we’re looking for with our artist’s eye: right brain drawing exercises, the color wheel, value guides and the rule of thirds, for example, but be forever suspicious of the quick-fixes presented. There are no shortcuts to good painting, we have to put in the mileage!

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