Getting Started

'Fields' Triptych

I thought one of my first posts should be about how I got started, or re-started, painting. And what that experience has been like.

If you read my “about” page you’ll get a good summary of how I painted for a while in high school, and held an interest in art for the next 30 years without painting much at all. In the last couple of years however I started painting again. And the experience has been both rewarding and challenging.

The challenging part comes from a variety of sources. First being learning to paint in acrylics.

I chose acrylics over oils, which is what I painted with in high school, primarily because my first painting had to be done, and dried, quickly in order to be ready on time as a surprise gift for my wife. However I may have chosen acrylics over oils anyway because I like the idea of them drying quickly, and not having to use turpentine and other solvents.  I was not ready for the difference fast drying time would make for things like blending and reworking the painting. I like the idea of being able to paint over mistakes, but sometimes I think it would be easier if I could scrape off and blend my mistakes instead of having to paint over them. And not having the extra time to work the paint can be quite the challenge.

Challenge number 2. While I took some lessons in high school I either did not learn much or forgot everything. So I had to learn all over again. How does one go about learning to paint without finding a teacher or class, and spending lots of dollars and time wasted between lessons? You Tube of course. That and the internet in general. But a quick search on You Tube and all of a sudden there were all these free resources to get me started! Yay!

Of course free is what you pay for it. There is a lot out there and one artist disagrees with another about what is right and how to go about painting. So you have to sort of be careful and look at a lot of material to see what might be of value and what won’t. And, and this is a big “and” you need to be careful that you are not just copying what others a doing and not learning your own way of painting.

I used both free lessons and paid lessons from a few source on the web to get some ideas and instruction on skills and techniques. Some I found useful, some I didn’t. But at least they kept me painting.

Third challenge, and possibly the biggest one once I decided I wanted to pursue this seriously. How to stay motivated when nothing you paint meets your expectations?
Yeah, pretty much everything I tried to do after my first initial success didn’t work out too well. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as critical if I had just picked up a brush and tried to paint, but in comparison to all these lessons and videos and the universe of artists out there on the web, my stuff just didn’t measure up. So I just kept painting, and learning, and as I do, I improve.

And it was hard! I could watch and re-watch videos (paid and free) on painting clouds, and it all looked pretty straightforward. I still can’t paint clouds to my satisfaction. I try, again and again, to get this one lesson to look like the instructors result and could not do it! I imagine some of you out there can relate.

How did I keep going? One person in particular was of great help. Free lessons on you tube by a very young artist named Brandon Schaefer were the most influential in getting me to change my mindset. He didn’t teach me “how” to paint clouds, or other landscape elements, he filled me with good advice as another artist going through the same exact pain. His lessons are as much about what he does and what challenges he faces as they are about technique. From him I learned that pretty much every painting has that moment when it just looks like its not going to pan out and you just want to quit. Keep going. Work through it. He quotes someone that ‘painting is just a series of corrections’, and a painting is never done, its just finished when you stop making corrections. His advice – in various forms – is you just have to paint. Keep at it. Don’t quit painting and don’t quit on a painting. Work through it and you’ll learn something you can use on the next one.

He compares painting to a sport or any other endeavor you want to get good at. You don’t wake up one day and say “I want to be a football player” and start in the NFL, or “I want to be a chef” and make gourmet meals the next day. Practice practice practice. Learn from your mistakes, push through and keep going. Or as I have heard other artists say, “You have to get in your miles of canvas .”

Now that I’ve “kept going” long enough for one post, I’ll leave you with this.

The rewarding part of painting, or any art, for me, is when you finish something and its good. Maybe not museum-quality good, maybe not my neighbors would think its good, but “good” in my eyes. The feeling of capturing something you set out to capture, or learning a new technique and having it work is incredible. And then, when “others” think your art is good – well that just seals it for me. I love to hear other people say they enjoy my art. It feels like I’ve accomplished something.

And that, will keep me going.

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