A Beginners’ Painting Course

The Pinelands High School runs a Continuing Education Programme, which offers short courses in all kinds of interesting and unusual topics.

When the programme for the second term was released, I immediately signed up for a course I’d always wanted to do: A Beginners’ Painting Course, offered by Merle de Jager, a South African artist and art teacher.

This was the enticing description:

“Have you always wanted to paint but don’t know how to begin? Perhaps you’re painting already, but are ‘a little stuck’. Merle can help you realise your creativity through drawing and painting. This course will inspire and enlighten you through a series of cases that will cover the genres of still life, landscape and beyond. We will look at different styles from realism to impressionism, expressionism, abstraction and modernism, so that you can find your niche and begin or continue your creative journey through painting.”

Well, I needed no further convincing.

I’ve always wanted to paint, have often bought different kinds of paints, played around a bit, gotten discouraged because what I have in my head or what I see in front of me is absolutely not what appears on the paper or the canvas, felt frustrated, tense and disappointed, and then given up once again. I am still haunted by the nasty words of my first art teacher at school, after I proudly showed her what I regarded as a beautiful piece of art: “What’s that?! That’s not what I told you to draw. You didn’t do anything right there… look, it’s all wrong.” Urgh.

Tonight we had our fourth lesson with Merle, so we’re halfway through, and I felt that a recap would be a good idea to keep track of what we’ve been doing.

In Lesson 1, we all rocked up with A4 or A3 sheets of paper, some pencils and charcoals, and got to know each other. I realised that doing art in a group is so enjoyable! You bounce ideas off each other, you can see what other people are doing and how they deal with problems or challenges, you can ask for help and guidance… We worked with an intense focus for most of the class, but in between there was time to relax, chat and laugh, and to get to know each other. Merle had brought along some masks and wooden sculptures of various styles – African, Asian, etc. We were given the task of drawing these in pencil or charcoal, and she gave us our first introduction to composition, and the creation of textures.

For Lesson 2, some of us brought items we wanted to put together as a still life. We could paint in acrylics, watercolour or oil – I chose acrylics. One person painted a bunch of sunflowers in a blue vase; another person had brought various sizes of blue glass bottles, and yet another had brought a set of candles of various colours, sizes and shapes. Merle also set up a still life for those (like me) who hadn’t brought anything: there was an old blue kettle, a tall white enamel jug, a black mortar and pestle, and an elderly orange-yellow pumpkin of sorts. These were arranged on a red cloth, with a black cloth as a background. We spent the class getting the composition down on paper (or rather on board or canvas), and blocking in the main colours.

Lesson 3 was spent refining the details of the still life. Merle showed us how to put in highlights and shadows, and how to create textures… and also how to fix “mistakes”! I was really struggling to get the handles of the kettle and the jug just right, and was tearing my hair out because it kept looking two-dimensional and flat. It was a bit of a frustrating lesson, though I was delighted with the end-result of the pumpkin! J

Here’s the end-result (okay, I know I probably shouldn’t have photographed it against the dark red tablecloth, but you can get an idea of it nonetheless):

A still life

A still life

For Lesson 4, we’d been told to prepare a little by bringing pictures of trees or rocks etc., as we’d be doing a landscape painting incorporating one or more trees. We spent the first part of the lesson finalising the still life, and then Merle showed us various examples of landscape paintings by famous artists. I really enjoyed that, although it was a little intimidating too! We then started our next project by doing rough sketches of landscapes, with Merle urging us to play around with different arrangements of the elements we had chosen. She taught us about the rule of thirds – i.e. dividing a canvas into 9 squares – and showed us various examples of good compositions. She also asked us to think about the kind of feeling we wanted to evoke, e.g. whether restful or invigorating, peaceful or melancholic, etc… – and what kind of style we wanted to try, e.g. very realistic, more impressionistic, or with strange colours, etc. Once we had worked out a nice composition, we sketched it directly onto the canvas, before starting to do diluted washes of the main colours of our painting. I really liked the way she was teaching us to proceed step by step.

I can hardly wait for next week’s lesson!

Last year, I went to a Drumming workshop, an Introduction to Nia Dance, a class on Creating a Butterfly Mosaic and a talk about Spiders.

And in the first term of this year, I participated in an amazing, inspirational Introduction to Digital Photography course, presented by Ian Walton, who is a professional photographer. We all had so much fun with our cameras (see Playing around with my camera and A Valentine’s Day Photo Shoot at Oude Molen).

One thought on “A Beginners’ Painting Course

  1. Pingback: A Beginners’ Painting Course (cont.) « Grains of Sand

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