Inspiration part 2

Gages 1609 blog

Gages (A4 acrylic and mixed media 2016)

Recently, in response to my post, Inspiration, I was asked

Whatever happened to the motto practice makes perfect? Don’t you believe someone can self learn when it comes to art and painting? After all art is a form of expression there [is] only so much of it to be taught.

I would never argue against practice. For years, as a child and then a teenager, I drew every day in order books that my Father brought home from work (one page was lined, the next blank – that alternating blank page was such a luxury). All through my twenties I continued to draw, less often than before but still a couple of evenings a week – overly influenced by illustrators such as Edward Gorey and Aubrey Beardsley – and tried to get to grips with watercolour.

I didn’t bother with lessons during this time (even at school my art teacher would set us a task and then disappear into his stock room to smoke) and eventually I grew frustrated with my lack of progress, turning instead to photography when I moved to the Netherlands and later Germany.

Returning to the UK I began drawing and painting again with renewed passion. I took classes with professional artists such as Sarah Baddon Price, Helen Gilbart, Annie Rice and Ed Cooper.

With each I made some sort of leap forward. Thanks to Sarah, I tried acrylics; after several years in Helen’s classes, I observe my subjects better, use bigger paper and experiment with charcoal and pastels; Annie taught me to draw and paint more freely; without Ed’s tuition I would never have tried oils or experienced life drawing.

So while I agree that practice is essential, to advance on a technical level I maintain that one needs help unless you’re Vincent van Gogh. A good teacher will stretch you and coax you out of your comfort zone, something that is difficult without help.

Art as a form of expression is something else: I think you can always tell if someone really has something to say. That’s where the magic lies. Without it you may as well be painting by numbers.

The image above was produced by painting the gages as a mass of colour and then adding the background ‘over’ them, so to speak, to produce a sort of negative space composition. The individual gages emerged from a multi-coloured blob, allowing a more accidental colour mix.



30 thoughts on “Inspiration part 2

  1. I think one has to respect that everyone learns differently, a different mode of absorbing information or developing new skills, and some people are entirely self-starting and others need intensive tuition and others fall somewhere on the spectrum between. I personally find a balance of being self-taught and receiving instruction works best for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. … though I am against generalities. In art, everyone shall be free to do and may do what he or she want to do the way he or she wants to do it. Some will learn from a master. Others will copy. And some others will just do what their fingers tell them to do.

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  3. I do agree that good teaching can coax you out of your comfort zone and help you understand things you’d never otherwise see. Without the exceptional teaching I was lucky to have at various times in my life I could have practised day after day for three lifetimes and essentially stayed in the same place. I’m so grateful for that, and there’s so much more I want to learn! Lovely post, and lovely greengages.

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  4. There’s the 10,000 hours to mastery in any field theory…(2 hours a day for 10 years) which pretty much holds up, though there are different forms of ‘mastery.’

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  5. Well, I’ll stay out of the teaching vs. not discussion, but I was interested to see your painting and then how you described going about it – really struck me. I fell into this same method a little while ago with acrylics (on my own, just trying something that occurred to me, not in a class, just for reference!) and it really seemed to unlock something for me – the idea of painting around the subject, narrowing in on it, is really freeing, I think. I like the idea of closing in on an image, catching it unaware, maybe! I love what you did here, hope to see more along these lines!

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      • Thank you. I’ve taken classes and quit about half of them (not counting ones for my college degree which I would have liked to have dropped but I did need to get through school…) I do fine when the teacher is showing me how to use the tools, or various techniques, but then it seems almost every time it tips into directing the actual artwork and I just won’t have it! I have taught a lot of classes myself and I hope I have not fallen into this pattern, but – in many cases, to my astonishment, students wanted me to intervene in their actual work. I think I may be unmanageable.


  6. I’m with Claudia on the ambivalence about teaching/learning. Let’s just take my working life as an example: 90% of the designing I did came from trial and error, watching and listening, on the job. My degree was only a piece of paper for people to look at so they could consider hiring me. Actually I did learn one very useful thing in design fundamentals: restrictions are your friend; you are much more creative when you have limits to what you can do. But that’s more philosophy than technique…

    And I love your use of negative space to create pattern. (K)

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      • I suspect some of us are just more resistant…I did have some good art teachers, one in particular in high school. But what all my best teachers taught me was different ways to look and listen and explore, not any particular technique or fact.

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  7. My art teachers in college were similar…never felt like I learned very much. So I switched to photography as well. When I started last year, there were thankfully more informative instructors to be found online. But for me, I realized that daily practice is really the main benefit. I’ve sketched more in the past year since I stayed again than I ever did in college. And I’m better than I was back then for it! Hehe And awesome painting!! Really like this one! 😃

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  8. Thank you for the description of your process for us. I would have never known you did the background on top. See you were a teacher for me! I have trouble with backgrounds. Do I do it first or afterwards??? I have noticed that the different mediums affect that decision. But I had never thought to do a background on top. Interesting.

    I do art mainly because I think it inspires my writing. So I have just played around with it. But recently a friend who is an artist invited me to take some art classes with her at the cancer center where she is being treated. I was thrilled. It’s a watercolor class and while it mostly a therapy session for the patients, the instructor has shown me so many brush stroke techniques and ideas for when to use watercolor crayons and when the normal watercolor paint could produce a different effect. So I have learned a lot from her and the others in the class. So I agree that one can be self taught but having someone as a mentor can help you make leaps in improving your craft. I’ve seen that in writing as well. Great post.

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  9. I like to repeat what was said in the top of your post – “Whatever happened to the motto practice makes perfect? Don’t you believe someone can self learn when it comes to art and painting? After all art is a form of expression there [is] only so much of it to be taught”.

    I had been taking workshops…they certainly aid in my painting technique. So I practice for the goal to express.

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  10. Pingback: Jumping over shadows | A Certain Line

  11. You’re telling my story Michael. As a child I drew every day trying to perfect faces and anatomy. Then I got accepted to the H.S. of Art & Design in NYC. 500 applicants apply and only 200 get accepted. I now got to learn more techniques. And my instructor was and still is a well known artist with his paintings being shown in museums. He pushed me and because of him I won the 1967 Scholastic Award for Achievement in Art. The rest is history right. Jean

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