When you want to learn something, pedagogy says you have to start with the foundation.
If you are a beginner, you start at the beginning. But for certain things, you can’t follow that path. If you do, you risk becoming the “eternal beginner”.
To become good at anything, the ingredients are the same: practice, take risks and practice some more.
I’ve written about my fear of good quality materials and how once I’ve fulfilled my craving of the beautiful paper, the expensive paints, the lovely sketchbook I keep using my old stuff because I’m waiting to be “good enough”.
Whenever I’ve wanted to learn something new, my logic says: take a class.
In the case of visual arts, I agree, but you should take only ONE class at first. If you start taking a series of classes you will most likely end up in the Eternal Beginner seat.
I drew Vivienne Westwood as my very first portrait.
Alejandra Pizarnik as my second
Idea Vilariño as my third.
It became clear that I wanted to pain portraits of women whose visage was full of expression, and whose life is or had been magnificent.
I wanted to paint more expressively, almost bordering on illustration but everything came out looking like a blob of colour. I didn’t know any techniques, and every watercolour class seems to focus on landscapes or flowers.
I kept honing my drawing skills, trying hard to educate my eye. After taking a Skillshare class, I took the Sketchbook Skool beginner class and it was then that I thought I’d stop taking any other classes until I felt I had made tangible progress.
Today I made a portrait of Camille Claudel and though it is nowhere as good as some of the artists I’ve been admiring on Pinterest, I must say I’m very happy with the outcome.
Here’s what I did.
- Learn about color.
I have a huge challenge with color. I am all about instincts and don’t explore beyond that. The result is I never choose it with purpose.
Color theory is a huge topic, impossible for me to master in one year or maybe even two, but just understanding the basics, has been a huge help.
- Learn about value.
Forget about techniques, forget about quality of brushes and paints, you can create a great piece if you master value.
Maybe, you’ll say, you’d would have understood it if you’d taken a class.
Probably, but if I’d taken a class in which they showed me how to understand value in the context of landscape painting, I wouldn’t have been very interested. It’s important to learn in the context that you really want to.
I learned about value in the context of portrait painting.
- Take a risk.
It’s only paper, it’s only paint. Draw your subject on scrap paper until you have a drawing you are happy with, keep this drawing and use to trace it on your watercolor paper several times.
- Maintain your course.
You know what you want to paint, don’t waste your time learning techniques that do not interest you one bit. All those YouTube tutorials, if they don’t help you in your quest, don’t watch them.
- Hit the Library.
There are not-so-new books in there that were written with genuine generosity, artists that poured their heart into teaching one thing and one thing only. Find those books and read them cover to cover. One such book was The watercolor artist’s guide to exceptional color by Jan Hart.
- Set your schedule.
In January of this year, I didn’t draw at all, let alone paint. I had never grabbed a brush in my entire life (41 years!)
Today, I made my first decent portrait.
I’m happy to say that I don’t feel like a beginner anymore.
How do you keep learning?