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Learning to paint & draw, my journey of exploration.

Let me start by saying up front, everyone can draw and everyone can paint. The problem is how much time you are gong to put into practicing and honing your newly found skills.

You will read about cool and warm colours, perspective, composition all of which will put you off right from the start. Well don't be, it happens to all of us. I retired some 3 years ago, I hadn't painted since junior school and that was with my fingers and hand , according to my 89 year old mother. So why did I decide that I wanted to learn to paint? Simple, because I could. I had no more business pressures and what else was I going to do with my home office if I wasn't going to lose it for another of my wife's bedroom expansion plans? Mothers always feel the need to keep building the nest, just in case :-)

So what to paint and in what medium? This is where my golfing mates came in. Tell you what Mark, I've always had a passion for some of the great Jazz musicians, if you can paint me either Muddy Waters or BB King I'll buy it off you.... I love a challenge :-)

Muddy Waters

So on the left was my first attempt, actually that was my third attempt. I covered the kitchen floor in paint, smelt the house out and decided I didn't like doing portraits !!

The problem was when I took it to the golf club they loved it and one of the other members asked, "can you paint me BB King?"

"Of course" I said, not even knowing what he looked like. I've always been overconfident, and I never learn !!

Muddy is still proudly hung and still receives admiring comments to this day.

I will be honest, I was lucky. Portraits are probably the most difficult thing to get right, trust me. But of course now I had attempt BB King.

So here we are half way through the third attempt of him. Notice the reference grid elements on the edges to try and get the perspective and scale correct from a tiny image I found of BBK. By this stage I had been exiled to the office having put paint on the dining room chairs !! I had also decided that I hated oils !!

"How's BB coming along" said Danny my fellow golfing buddy. " I've got just the place for him in our dining room" No pressure Dan, thanks.

Finally several days later, in fact 5, I began to see some degree of likeness and had slowly begun to master some of the techniques of blending pigments on the canvas, but I was adamant this was going to be my last portrait in oils for some while.

Here is the final image and it still hangs in Dan's home.

In fact he loved him so much he commissioned another one, John Lee Hooker..

Sadly I was so glad to get rid of JLK, I only have one photo of him (see below) hanging on the art room wall to dry. Oh and that's another issue, oil paintings take their own sweet time to dry and don't appreciate being rushed.

That said both BB & John Lee are some of Dan's favourites of everything I've done since and he has now commissioned several other art works from me.

So, back to the purpose of this blog what did `I learn from these two first attempts?

  1. Painting in oil can be very long winded, messy and requires a lot of patience. Results don't come easily, or quickly. If you are like me and are not a person who has a lot of patience and want something you can hang on the wall within at least a day then move on for the time being.

  2. Creating large scale images from small photos will need you to study how to scale up an image and maintain both the scale and perspective. Read Ian Roberts book on Composition or take a look at Colin Bradley's drawing grids. Colin was one of the very first artists I followed. He taught me a lot with his many instructional videos and guides. I've enclosed a link to both artists' web sites above. Ian is still very active and I get a monthly newsletter from him which is always interesting.

  3. Painting in oils can be very expensive. Canvases and pigments have shot up in price recently so my tip is, to limit what you buy at the beginning and don't be tempted, as I was, to keep visiting the art store for just the right colour. You certainly won't use them all and they don't last long so you will waste a lot of hard earned cash.

What next on my journey of discovery?

Watercolour surely that must be easier than oils? Nope!! There are certainly many advantages though. You don't get covered in oil paint, it doesn't smell and is, as it says on the tin, water soluble. So you will at least save a few pairs of trousers and shirts.

So what's so difficult about watercolour? Nothing that hasn't taken me three years to learn. It's a fantastic medium, it dries quite quickly and ..... its bloody difficult to get it right. In fact it's a constant learning curve. I learn from every single painting I do.

You have to learn some very basic elements, especially if you are painting landscapes, which I love doing. The first thing to understand is that you are painting, or trying to paint, a three dimensional image. In truth you are trying to fool the eyes and brain into thinking that's what you have painted. But you are actually painting on a flat piece of paper so, how do you do that?

That's when you will need to learn about warm and cool colours. The cooler they are the further back on a painting they appear. Shades, lights and darks all play their part and of course you rarely use white pigment. The white comes from the paper you are painting upon. Now there are absolutely loads of books, videos and web sites covering these subjects so all I'm going to say here is do your research then practice, practice and practice again. The most frustrating and difficult elements to master and the elements that every newcomer to the medium encounters are as follows :-

  1. Knowing when to leave the wash alone. (new word "wash" look it up).

  2. Knowing how to get your paintings to shine. You will know what I mean by that when you've been frustrated by the dark smudged colours because your technique wasn't up to scratch.

  3. Knowing how little pencil to use and when to rub it out before painting.

  4. Knowing how to mix greens, browns and greys from very few primary colours.

  5. Making clouds look like clouds not floating sheep.

  6. Painting trees that look like trees not match sticks with flags on them.

  7. Making water look like what it is not just a blue or green field.

I could go on but I think you've got the picture, be prepared to be patient, make lots of mistakes, be told your paintings are "not your best", "its a bit muddy" 'what's that, oh its a sheep, I thought it was low cloud".

So what's the good news?

Art is very subjective. Everyone has a different view on what they like and what they don't. Trust me someone somewhere will like your style. I'm not a great lover of abstract paintings, I've done them for people, they have loved them, well they paid me so I must have got something right or was it just politeness ? Who knows. The point I'm making is the most important thing is if you have enjoyed doing it, that's great, do another one. If not either keep going, because you want to master the skill, trust me it will be worth it, or move on and try another medium. Don't give up on art and don't say "I can't paint". I put that in the same category of "I can't cook". Putting it simply ... rubbish you can do both if you put your mind to it. Art is one of those human past times that have been around almost as long as man, think of the cave drawings. It's challenging, relaxing, frustrating and incredibly rewarding. Everyone has a different view on what's good and what's bad. The greatest thing is, like music, everyones tastes are different. Life would be very boring without it. Enjoy your journey.

If you have any thoughts or views please feel free to contact me here or leave a comment.


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