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Posts Tagged ‘Learn the basics’

Even though I will always consider myself a student and a “beginning artist”, my favorite books by artists are not the beginner’s “how to” books.  These are generic in content, and they often infer that there is “one way” to do art.  The basic and necessary info on how to run a wash, dry brush vs. wet on dry or wet on wet, plus the properties and characteristics of various paints, papers, and brushes, constitute only a few pages in any book—and those instructions may be found online, involving the printing out of perhaps 2 or 3 sheets of paper.  The basics do not warrant the price of purchasing an entire book, if that book is limited in scope.

Most of the material in a beginner’s “how to” book demonstrates how that particular author/artist puts a painting together, as if his or her method were set in stone.  The most typical approach is to draw a picture with a pencil, and then paint in the picture.  While I have never been claustrophobic in elevators or caves, I confess to wanting to scream and run when I look inside a “how to” book that stresses some sort of method of painting within lines.*  The line technique may produce a predictable look, but that look is simply not my heart’s desire.  For me it would be about as creative and individualistic as messing around with a “paint by number” kit.  The only way I can negotiate lines is to draw them for starters, and then ignore them by painting over (and outside) them!

The art books I love are in a special class by themselves.  They are deeply readable with profound insights on which to chew, and I read them over and over and over every single week of my life.  Rather than feeling trapped, I want to be challenged and recharged—eager to explore more, experiment more, try more, dream and imagine more, and push out any preconceived walls that might threaten to enclose me.   

The “how to” book presents recipes, and of course recipes have their place—especially in baking, where chemistry is involved.  But a thought provoking art book will progress beyond recipes, into the infinitely exciting and challenging world of ideas.  The “how to” art book will show you how to paint like someone else, but a meaty art book will encourage you to paint like you!

In an earlier post I mentioned WATERCOLOR FROM THE HEART—by fine artist, Barbara Nechis.  This book details the author’s philosophy of art, her sources of inspiration, and many samples of her exquisite paintings along with a description of different techniques she employs—with the idea of inspiring other artists to experiment and venture into their own uncharted territory:  in essence, to find that personal “voice”.  So helpful is this book to me, that I wish I could personally thank its author for the exilarating sense of freedom I derive from reading it.

Another treasure in my art library is A PASSION FOR WATERCOLOR—Painting the Inner Experience, by Stefan Draughon.  Like WATERCOLOR FROM THE HEART, Stefan Draughon’s book delineates her journey in finding her own way and discovering her very own art. 

Finally ABSTRACT AND COLOUR TECHNIQUES IN PAINTING, by Clare Harrigan is a gem which I read again and again.  Don’t be fooled by the word “techniques” in the book’s title.  The word far exceeds “how to”; rather it explores many dimensions of seeing, understanding, and expressing in terms of a variety of media—ultimately leading to the discovery of personal “techniques” which may or may not be considered, according to the reader’s choice. 

These favorite books along with DVDs—DANCING WITH YUPO DVD by Taylor Ikin, and WATERCOLOR FROM WITHIN by Barbara Nechis—comprise my ongoing Art Study Program.  More resources may be added as I find them, along with inspiring biographies of well known artists from the past.

I know that basics are important.  We need to learn the rudiments in order to develop skill—in art, and most everything else in life.  Techniques are worth studying.  But we should never be in bondage to someone else’s idea of what works in art.  That’s where reading way beyond the beginner’s “how to” book is essential.  Each artist is unique, every means of expression is individual, and every style is personal.  My reading must augment all that is in me to produce work which is totally my own—unique, individual, and personal—so that I can continue to derive tremendous soul satisfaction from making art! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*I believe that most every child has an innate art spirit.  But teachers and parents who instruct eager children to paint or color within the lines compromise one of the greatest deterrents to human creativity. 

I know people who absolutely WILL NOT pick up a paint brush simply because they were scolded as youngsters, for “going out of the lines”.  Due to negative feedback in early years, these adults are bunged up and terrified to try anything which is not prescribed, dictated, or specifically outlined with “how to” instructions from another person.  The bunged up person has never known the joy of escaping from a potentially soul-destructive box!

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