Most of my adult life, time spent painting happens on the margins of work in high-tech. This fragmented, unpredictable, inconsistent, lack of schedule produces truncated blocks of time. That’s why painting small and fast is an approach that allows me to continue to grow despite interruptions from other responsibilities.
My school education in the 1970s and 80s was chaotic and contradictory rather than a sequential acquisition of skills and concepts. It did not form a unified whole. Since then, I’ve gone to residency programs, taken classes and workshops, and used instructional books, among other strategies, to improve my skills. While spending time on exercises may not seem creative, it deepens my relationship with materials and fills in what I missed at an earlier age.
My primary interest is to paint from life in natural light. Two practical books of instruction in this field that I recommend are Kevin MacPherson’s “Fill Your Paintings with Light and Color”, 1997, and Arthur Stern’s “How to See Color and Paint It”, 1984. Both painters emphasize working with color spots, continuing the lineage of John Ruskin and Charles W. Hawthorne.
MacPherson tells the novice painter to pledge to paint 100 small starts — simple, flat shape studies with no detail — to learn to see the underlying abstract structure, 30 minutes per piece. He further challenges the student to commit to one hour a day for three months, painting one 6×8 inch painting every day. He guarantees your paintings will improve.
Stern’s exercises teach how to see color spots by looking at objects within an artificially lit color-draped box. The color contrasts can be garish, however they make the problem of seeing reflected light more obvious than it would be with subtler color combinations.
The exercises were harder for me to do than they appeared would be, despite explicit examples that aid seeing distinctions between colors, values, and developing paintings through three stages. Both books helped me learn to see light rather than objects, construct color-shapes, unify drawing-color-form in support of the whole, and paint with greater efficiency. What began as a curiosity became fun and challenging.
ABOVE: Paper Bag, oil on masonite, 7 x 5 in (25.4 x 25.4 cm), 5/28/2008
Glass of Water, oil on masonite, 7 x 5 in (17.78 x 12.7 cm), 5/25/2008