A Beginners’ Painting Course (cont.)

Last week, we had Lesson 5 of our Beginners’ Painting Course at the Pinelands High School.

In the previous lesson, Lesson 4, we had done some sketches for a landscape painting on the theme of a tree. She had asked us to bring some photos that we could use as inspiration, but cautioned that she did not want us to copy a photo. Instead, she wanted us to choose some elements of various photos, and to play around with combining them in different ways, in order to come up with a composition that we liked. She spread out a pile of art magazines and books on one of the tables in the classroom, and pointed out different styles, colour schemes and characteristic features of various well-known artists.

After we’d decided on our composition, we very roughly sketched it out on the canvas, using broad brushstroke outlines just to make sure the proportions, shapes and alignments were more or less correct. Then we applied fairly diluted acrylic washes in the predominant colours (blue for the sky, grey-blue for the water, green for the grass and the vegetation, brown for the trees, etc…).

During a tea break (or a smoke break for the couple of addicts in the group :-)), we walked around the classroom, looking at each other’s paintings. As with the still life paintings, I was amazed at the different styles people used and the distinct personalities that came through in the chosen compositions and elements. It struck me just how individual and unique each person’s perspective and way of seeing and relating to life is, just from looking at how differently they expressed how they felt about their subject matter.

By the time we’d finished all that, it was already time to clean our brushes and palettes, pack up our paints, and go home for the night.

Last week, for Lesson 5, we brought along our landscape painting, and then began to apply colours more copiously. Merle, our teacher, was in a very strange and funny mood, so we laughed and giggled a lot during last week’s class. She moved from one person to the next, asking questions, giving advice and making suggestions.

“Have you thought of where the light is coming from in your painting? Where is the sun in relation to your tree? Have you thought of where the shadows should be and how they should fall?”

“Clouds are lighter ontop and darker below, unless the sun is low in the sky at sunrise and sunset. What time of day is it in your painting? The colours tend to be brighter and harsher at midday, and softer and more golden in the early morning or late afternoon.”

“Reflections in the water are tricky to get right. Leave them for later, when you have finalised your sky and the trees. Once those are done, you can do the reflections.”

“Try to vary your brushstrokes when painting trees, leaves, bushes or grass. They tend to grow quite irregularly, so don’t go up and down or side to side all the time for all of them – unless you’re doing it deliberately to create a specific impression.”

What struck me most during that lesson, though, was the fact that she urged each one of us to jump over our shadows, so to speak. We’d all been dabbing paint on quite cautiously and nervously, using thinner brushes and avoiding the thicker ones. She was encouraging us to be more bold, more daring, more playful, to use stronger colours and to put more paint on our brush. She was telling us that our paintings did not have to look like a photograph, or to be a 100% accurate depiction of reality: instead, they could be more expressive of our inner thoughts and feelings towards our subject matter.

When we packed up our stuff, she said that we could finish our landscape paintings at home for next week’s lesson, so that we’d be ready to start the next project: a portrait. I suck at painting people and faces, so I can’t say that I’m really looking forward to tonight’s class. But who knows? Maybe I’ll finally have that elusive ‘Ah-hah!’ moment.

Anyhow, I finished the landscape painting yesterday, so here’s a photo of it:

Landscape painting

Landscape painting

4 thoughts on “A Beginners’ Painting Course (cont.)

  1. I too have always been amazed (as both an art student and an art instructor) at how differently everyone sees the same subject and renders it in a particular style in their art work. It’s also so much fun to discover and develop your own style.

    Reggie, you’ve chosen bright, cheerful colours. Everyone paints with a unique palette that is reflective of personal tastes and the warmth/coolness, clarity/mutedness of your personal colouring (complexion, hair and eyes). Your brushstrokes are very controlled and precise. I love your sky. You definitely have to do another landscape with more sky – a sunset perhaps?

    Don’t be defeatist about the portrait painting. Focus on the eyes (the windows of the soul) and the rest will take care of itself.

  2. Not yet Reggie though I’ve taught art classes to both adults and children over the years. If you’d like to email me some photos or scans of your art work, I’d be more than happy to provide you with feedback.

    One very helpful exercise is to find a painting that you like and try to copy it, ie. Van Gogh’s ‘Crows over Cornfield.’ This was common practice many years ago but these days people are reluctant to copy anything. Yet much can be learned from the Old Masters.

    Another good exercise is to choose one subject. Just one. And paint it over and over again in different colors and styles.

    Doing art work releases endorphins that make people feel wonderful. Have fun ๐Ÿ™‚

    • What lovely suggestions, Amy-Lynn! You see, those are the kind of ideas that spark something!

      I don’t know why it feels so much more inspirational when someone ELSE suggests a subject for a painting or recommends an exercise for me. I know if I sat down and thought about what I ‘wanted to do’, I could work things out myself, but I tend to get all stuck in the ‘what do I really want to paint’ phase, and ‘how do I paint it, what colours do I use, from what perspective do I see it, what elements do I include or exclude…’

      And so the canvas stays blank.

      I guess that’s what teachers and guides are there for, hm? ๐Ÿ™‚

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