Most of my adult life my painting practice has occurred on the margins of a career in high-tech. This left me with a fragmented schedule and truncated blocks of studio time. That’s why painting small and fast has been an approach that allowed me to continue to grow in spite of interruptions from other responsibilities.
My formal education in the 1970s and 80s was chaotic and contradictory rather than a sequential acquisition of skills and concepts ultimately leading to a unified whole. To address this deficit, I’ve gone to residency programs, taken classes, and read instructional books, among other strategies, in order to establish a coherent foundation of basic principles and skills. While spending time on exercises may not seem creative, I believe it is a necessary deepening of my relationship with materials.
Two practical books of instruction I’ve recently consulted for working from life in natural light 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 heritage of John Ruskin.
MacPherson recommends to the novice painter pledging to do 100 small starts — simple, flat shape studies with no detail — to learn to see the underlying structure of the painting, 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 painting will improve.
Stern presents exercises to learn to see color spots by looking at a range of objects within a color-draped box. The set-ups are somewhat garish, however they make reflected light more obvious than it would be with subtler color combinations. The exercises were harder than they appeared for me to do despite explicit examples that aid seeing distinctions between colors and developing the paintings through three stages.
Both books helped me learn see light rather than objects, improve color, unify drawing, color, and form, 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