This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for
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Recently, I attended a workshop given by a professional landscape painter. I won't mention his name here because I'll be writing an article about his workshop for an art magazine later this year. However, I bring it up because this teacher had previously taught a day long session to a group of public art teachers. After this artist gave two excellent demonstrations, it was time for the school teachers to paint. It turned out that many of the teachers seemed to lack basic drawing skills, and for the most part they responded to the lesson with, "I just want to play".
There's nothing wrong with painting as a pastime... But if you want to be a professional painter, it's going to take concerted effort for the rest of your painting life.
If you enjoy art as a hobby and like to play with paint, that's a perfectly valid reason to paint. However, if you want to gear your efforts towards painting as a professional... well... that is quite a different path, and while professional artists derive joy and great satisfaction from their efforts, one could hardly say that it is all fun and games.
When I got to the point where my art became more than a recreational pastime and moved into "my profession", my learning process began to get difficult. At times I felt like giving up because no matter how hard I tried, I saw little improvement. On the positive side, I felt elated when I had made a breakthrough, or realized recognition with monetary rewards.
Ladders and Leaps
The road to great art is paved with good intentions, but it requires a good foundation in academic training, followed by many hours of practice. I am constantly reminded that even the greatest painters of our time are continuing to evolve and strive to understand the finer concepts of art making. For example, Nancy Guzik was astounded one day (about 6 years ago) when her husband Richard Schmid bounced into her studio and excitedly exclaimed that he finally "got" color. Of course, we all know that he has a rich academic foundation of all aspects of drawing and painting, but Richard must have discovered something new or else something he knew all along but from a new angle.
Similarly, Donald Demers (OK, so I decided to mention the workshop teacher's name) explained how his approach to painting has continually evolved during the last decade. While his paintings may not look much different to us, today he is far less literal when defining objects in a scene.
Even though I was an art education major in college, it took me 6 years (later in life) to get competent with watercolor, and when I switched over to oil painting, it took even longer to get good with it. At first, I thought oils were going to be a breeze because I'd already had drawing and watercolor painting under my belt, but I discovered that painting in oil was like learning a new musical instrument or language. Just because I was fluent in watercolor didn't automatically transfer to fluency in oil painting.
Learning to make great art, no matter the style, is like a series of ladders. The first ladder's steps contain: line, shape, value, color, perspective, edges, and composition. It's taken me many years to get a handle on color, and my work is still evolving in the areas of edges and composition.
I don't write these things to discourage you. My hope is that you'll have a realistic picture of what it takes. If art were easy, everyone would be able to do it, and it wouldn't be worth so much! It might be helpful for you to know that I'm a slow learner - many artists gain excellence in a much shorter time than I did.
If you're in your first few years of pursuing art as a career, I recommend finding the best education you can afford. Today, finding good educational sources, is many times easier than when I was in college. First of all, there are workshops, and if they're too expensive for your budget, there are videos, and finally a host of great instructional books - even classes with local teachers.Recently, many instructional artist blogs have been added to the mix.
No matter what level you're at - whether on the first rung of the ladder or on the 5th, there are many rewards along the way. I've come to lovingly embrace the hard work while relishing the resulting joy and satisfaction that comes from being an artist.
If you need advice or have questions about where to begin your learning journey or what your next step is, I'm sure other artists on this forum can offer some handy answers. So don't hesitate to ask or respond if you want to share some of your experience.