Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steps in the Process

Through the Dunes - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - oil on canvas - 12x16
Walking a pathway to where ever the road leads!

I remember when I first tried to learn how to paint in oils. I was 12 years old and had been given a Christmas gift of Grumbacher paints, bristle and sable brushes, canvas boards and an easel. What a treasure! But no one in my family was an artist. Nor did my parents know any artists. I assumed I was just supposed to plow ahead, so I did.
The first 3 of those canvas boards were covered with a still life of a bowl of fruit that my mother had set up for me, a painting of white and red flowers that I copied from a postcard, and a scene of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh that I painted from imagination, placing them on a footbridge crossing a brook in my town. I found these first paintings again years later. The first two weren't bad at all, especially for an absolute beginner. But the last one was my undoing. Not knowing anything about perspective, the bright blue brook flowed vertically from the top of my canvas to the bottom. I remember being disgusted and frustrated that the vision I saw in my head was so far from what appeared on the canvas.

When I teach, I see the same frustration, and the same unrealistic expectation that an intended vision will immediately appear on the canvas despite the student having no experience with the materials, and sometimes no experience drawing. Often a beginning student feels more confident copying a step by step demo rather than trusting themselves to apply whatever knowledge they've gained. Copying rather than learning to see, unnecessarily deprives you of the pleasure of traveling your own path of learning with all it's joys and discoveries. 

In high school I finally received the instruction I'd been longing for, when I took a painting class taught by a teacher who was actually a working artist. From there on, as I wrote in my last post, I had to be my own teacher. And let me tell you! There's nothing like the excitement of traveling the road from knowing little, to being capable of expressing your artistic intent. I wouldn't choose to shortchange any portion of it. Each step delights you like an stunning vista that opens up unexpectedly beyond the curve of a path.

I tell my beginning students that if all they are capable of in the beginning is to divide the shapes of their subject into correct values with a light and dark side, well then, revel in it! Do 50 paintings like that, and what you learn will guide you to your next step. Be patient. Be attentive. Be sensitive to the little gifts that are dropped in your lap in return for your efforts. You will be repaid with a way to experience life unlike any other!   

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