Archive for July, 2012

The Leading Question

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

In order to establish a reachable goal and to stay on track toward it, it’s important to know why we do what we do. The time came that I had to stop and ask myself: “Why do I paint? What is my purpose in turning out painting after painting? If it is to learn, why is it so important that I learn? What is my purpose as an artist?”

120601 Cherries on Table

At first, my appetite was whetted by the sheer excitement of learning a new skill, of overcoming obstacles and discovering ways to solve the problems watercolor posed. I still find pleasure in the learning, discovering, and resolving compositional questions. But that’s not the reason I continue. The fact that my art is no longer limited to watercolor is a minor consideration. The key question remains: “Why do I paint at all, in any medium?”

After some real soul searching, I’ve realized that my purpose in painting is to call attention to the beauties and pleasures of the world around us by observing, and helping others to notice, more than we habitually do.

In photography, we tend to recognize an image: “Oh yes, I know what/where that is.” A skilled photographic artist can take us beyond that level to “Oh, I never looked at it in that way before.” This is often done through compositional design, exaggerated emphasis, or contrast.

In the same way, a skilled painter can depict a common image in an uncommon way to draw attention to some aspect whose beauties have been sublimated to the familiarity of the overall subject. The non-photographic medium itself is often enough to draw attention to the interest in a given subject. But a skilled painter can also suggest a mood, enhance detail, or otherwise present an unexpected aspect of the image that enriches the viewer’s insight into the subject.

Whether I succeed or fall short with any given painting, this is my purpose and goal as a painter. It’s also why I continue to study and learn: The more I learn, the more adept I hope to become in achieving my goal.

My goal as an instructor is an extension of this—to encourage and help others discover the pleasures I have found in learning to use and manipulate the medium, in using it to enhance their own pleasure in the world around them, and to see the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective.

Learning Art through Home Study

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

There comes a time when “self-taught” needs some assistance. Having had very limited formal art training, and having rediscovered my love of art several years ago—many years after completing my college studies—I have been pursuing the subject all I could on my own, gleaning information from friends, workshops, websites, blogs, books, and dvds.

Brushes in Brass Pitcher

I have watched tutorials, streamed TV programs on my computer, and scrounged for every bit of information I could glean. But I knew there were still major gaps in my artistic knowledge that needed to be addressed.

Enter the Virtual Art Academy. A home-study program, with an international student body and an on-line “campus” where we post and discuss our assignments, VAA has been an invaluable alternative to a more traditional brick and mortar art school. It has helped me recognize and fill in the gaps in my artistic studies. I have been a member of the academy for only four months and have already seen considerable growth in my work.

Since it is a home-study program, I can do the work at my own speed, select the areas in which I feel the greatest need to focus my attention, and post or rework assignments without limit … or fear of repercussions or undue criticism.

I still have a lot to learn. No matter how skilled I become, there will always be room for growth and discovery when it comes to artistic endeavors. But I no longer feel that I’m floundering, nor feel uncertain of how to aim for the next level.

Kudos to Barry John Raybould for developing the curriculum and making it so easily accessible to artists around the world. Since his curriculum has been primarily geared toward oil painting, he has done me the honor of asking for my input in his most recent revisions, as they relate specifically to watercolor work. It has been a real pleasure to share my knowledge with him while simultaneously learning even more from him. I look forward to continuing my studies with the Virtual Art Academy for a long time to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about VAA, check out