Oil Painting Basics: Artistic Action for Growth

5:25 PM

Before I jump to posting Oil Painting Basics: Part 2* (which is coming together quite nicely and I actually am genuinely thrilled to share with you very soon, eek!!!) I wanted to talk about artistic action for growth. It is something I learned as a youth, yet artistic action for growth is something I still strive to master. Artistic action for growth is simply the idea of setting goals that will help you grow as an artist and following through with those goals. Growth takes action. To become better, you must take action.

Here's a Plan of Action for you to consider:

  1. Keep It Simple
There is an overwhelming amount of knowledge you can obtain on the subject of oil painting. Let your curiosity guide you. Maybe this means you’re most curious about learning color temperature and value than you are learning about proportional drawing but every book says, learn to draw first--I say, study color first! Because it is what you are interested in, and as an artist, you are your best teacher if you can listen. Become a fountain of knowledge on the subject you are curious about. Study it until it bores you and maybe then you’ll find you become more curious about drawing. Whatever it is, the exploration of your curiosity will help you learn and grow in a way most delightful for you.

  1. Rejoice Over Your Mistakes
I studied under the incredible William (Bill) Whittaker for a while while I was in school. The time in his studio is a treasured memory for me. I look up to Bill in so many ways and I am so grateful for the knowledge I gained in his studio. One thing I learned from Bill was to “rejoice over your mistakes!” If ever I would place a piece in front of him and acknowledge a flaw of any kind in my work he would say, “Hurray! You’ve done it!” Or something to the likes of that. Bill taught me that the first step to making a better painting is to recognize the mistakes. It means that you are training your eyes to become more sensitive, and similarly, it means that you cannot fix your mistakes if you cannot see them. Still to this day, I am completely charged with enthusiasm when I find mistakes in my work. I quickly go about fixing them and feel so good about myself that I could find them! In the words of Bill, “Feel good about yourself!”

  1. Master Your Masterpiece
If the only thing you want to do is to paint a convincingly life-like, beautiful peony--master it. Make it yours. Authenticity is a beautiful tool in creating artwork that speaks to one’s soul. Decide what it is that you want to create. Although it is tremendously helpful to study the work of other artists and recreate the work of masters, ultimately, those things should just be tools to guide and teach you how to create your own work. As you paint things that you want to paint, over time, your work will being to show a style that is uniquely yours. When a painting is made with trueness and honesty of its creators soul, it shows in the work, and the viewer can sense the subtle significance.

On another note, remember that you are learning. Every honest painting you create will continue to be better, painting by painting. Your best work is always ahead of you. I have been painting in oil for 14 years now, and I am sure that my best work is ahead of me. I often feel very humbled by acknowledging what I don’t know and seeing the faults in my work, but I am happy that I can continue to grow and learn. Learning to paint is a wandering adventure. You can go where ever you’d like. At times when you feel like climbing that 90 degree cliffside of a learning curve--climb it, but at other times when you need to sojourn in a comfortable place and review things you know to reinstate them more clearly, sojourn. Learning to paint is about the process not the product. If you do a bad painting, it’s part of the process, and your next can be better. Your successes will show in the entirety of the process of your growth, not in a single painting.

  1. Make A Commitment
When I was fifteen years old I made on a lofty goal in conjunction with a professional gallery in downtown Sacramento. They were putting on their annual “50-50 Show” where artists of all kinds proposed a theme to create 50 works of art in 50 days in, on 6x6in panels. I decided I could do 50 painting of portraits in 50 days. I proposed my idea, they agreed, and I was in the show! The first day of my 50 days painting a portrait was a learning experience in itself, and I spent hours on the piece. As the days went on and the paintings began to multiply, I watched myself work faster and my work began to get better! Around painting 15 I remember thinking, “this is the very best painting I’ve ever done! I hope I can make them all look this great!” When, to my surprise, 16 and 17 were even better. By the 50th painting, I was blown away by how much I had learned just by doing. I learned about color, design, and how to apply my paint just by consciously trying to get better everyday and “putting in the mileage,” as my professors at BYU would say.

Since that show, I have always had a commitment to a personal artistic goal. My goals have ranged from “paint one painting for myself a month” while I was in school, to “paint three studies a week,” or even “read 1 art book a month.” (Although that last goal isn’t a progressive “painting” goal, it was helpful to broaden my knowledge and be apply to later apply the things I learned. I cannot say enough good things about reading art books.)  What ever can work in my schedule, I make sure to plan out that goal and keep it.

  1. Show Your Work!
Just like your algebra teacher told you in junior high, “show your work!” She may have given that advice in a completely different context, but don’t hide your art in a box in the closet. Put it out there for people to see. There’s a world of friends, family, art lovers, beginning artists, and professional alike that can congratulate you on your successes in art at whatever stage you may be at. A community or support group is invaluable. If showing your work means sending a picture of it out in a group text (I do that daily to my family and a couple of friends for honest feedback,) go a step further and try posting it to Facebook or Instagram. In addition, there’s never a better time to enter an art show than now! Don’t be afraid of showing your work next to others. I once heard an incredible artist (though the name escapes me now) that he would rather be the worst artist in the show than the best because that means he can only get better. It’s a process. Any form of showing your work will be rewarding to you in someway or another.  

In the words of the great, afro-donning, artist extraordinaire,
“All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.”

If you missed the first post of this blog series, see link below:

*Part 2 expected to be posted by Sept. 1, 2014. For updates like my Facebook Page Sarah C. Nightingale Art or follow along on Instagram @SarahCNightingale.

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