A Conversation between a Qualified Teacher and a Student of Fine Art

The teacher’s job is to help the student become aware of possibilities. A qualified teacher is one who has gone through countless trial and error artistic experiences and, because we all must go through exactly the same learning processes, the instructor is able to look at our work, remember their own experimentation, and understand exactly what we are doing and what we must understand and control to progress to a new level. He or she realizes there is no limiting “right way.” It’s all a matter of choice.

Question: First and foremost, what is the most obvious difference between artwork done by a beginner and that done by an experienced painter?

Answer: Guesswork can be disastrous. Sometimes, when we try to depict things we can’t see before us, we rely on memory and push the paint around in trial and error attempts, hoping something acceptable may suddenly appear. It rarely does. Unfortunately, we then get to a point we call “good enough.” It rarely is.

Hope is not a plan. We need to make an effort to know our subjects, or only depict things we can see.

Question: What else might be a clue?

Answer: In work done by a beginner, there are sometimes no indications as to the direction of light. Too often, there are no recognizable depictions of direct light, indirect light, reflected light, form shadows, or cast shadows. As artists, we necessarily describe varying degrees and types of light reflecting from specific surfaces. A painting done without those considerations may be an uninteresting, gross distortion of reality, as we actually see it.

Question: A photo reference is sometimes the only source of information the artist has. What’s wrong with doing a painting from it?

Answer: There is nothing wrong with doing a painting from it, but we should not limit ourselves to copying it. Why? We must bear in mind that the lens sees too much and has no ability to be selective. If we merely duplicate the photo, leaving nothing out, we may at the same time put nothing in, nothing of ourselves. Take charge. Recognize what you consider essential and delete the less important elements.

Begin by composing a telegram, not a full-length novel.

A duplication of a photo may seem (like the photo): two-dimensional (flat) with no third-dimensional descriptions of form, space, separation, or depth. Also, be careful not to duplicate extremely dark shadow areas that may appear on a photo. Such exaggerated photographic darks are never seen by the human eye.

Question: Is there a quick way to learn to paint well?

Answer: Yes, by painting as often as possible in this way: Place one color on your picture surface and decide how the second could differ. Keep your eye on the first two as you decide what to do about the third. Before you realize it, the painting will take over and tell you what to do next. It may be the best teacher you could ever have.

Question: Is that difficult to do?

Answer: What is required is a belief in its importance, your persistent patience, and absolute determination. Always keep your mind focused upon portraying form, space, separation, depth, light, shade, and texture. You’ll soon be startled and amazed as fascinating representations of subject matter magically appear.

With the explicit step-by-step guidance of our Artists' Workshop CD, you’ll soon gain control of what at first seemed uncontrollable. Best of all, you’ll be thrilled to see the end result as your unique thinking, your intuition, your preferences, your inspiration, and your creative originality. Proudly sign your name.

This article was co-written by our six-year associate, Don Foster, and his close friend, Brazilian portrait artist Antonio Carlos De Almeida. See Antonio’s astounding portraits at www.antcarlos.com.br and email a hello from wherever you are. He’d love it!

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