Monday, November 29, 2010

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time artists would study under a master artist, adopt his technique, mix paint and learn how their teacher approached and dealt with the various commissions that came into his workshop. Sadly this method is no longer practiced in today's art colleges.

When I first started out on my journey to become an artist, I didn’t have a clue how to start a painting or how to approach a drawing for that matter. I didn’t even know what an illustrator was. Fortunately I had a great high school art teacher. His chosen medium was watercolor. Through his instruction I was able to produce work and derive a small income after a few short months of study. While I did have the raw talent it was through his guidance and constructive criticism that I was able to finally produce professional quality results. After many awards in high school and a subsequent scholarship to art school, I was faced with another challenge.... striking off on my own course. I needed to re-educate myself and apply what I had learned, channel my work, and strike off in a new direction. It happened gradually over the course of two frustrating years during art school. It wasn’t easy to let go of a previous formula that had brought me so much satisfaction, awards and income. Since my background had been in watercolor (mostly landscapes and still-life) the discipline of that medium helped me in my future attempts at redefining my work. Breaking into new subject matter and developing appropriate techniques was crucial. One of the things that kept me going in art school were the other talented students. I sometimes learned more from them than I did from my instructors. Our group would meet for coffee every night at a local coffee shop. Our discussions were about our assignments, jokes about our instructors and general shenanigans. The "mind fake" here was that while we were goofing off, we were still learning. The common angst of our artist insecurity was made less by our shared endeavors. Not only were we our own support group but knowledge of various techniques was acquired and dispersed throughout the group. The competition was friendly and we always celebrated each others accomplishments. Those friendships kept me in school. Happily after all these years, all of my art school buddies are still in the art biz.

Another avenue of knowledge and assistance came from the book: The Artist's Handbook of Material and Techniques by Ralph Mayer. This book has been in print for over thirty-five years that I am aware of (probably more). Many of the new approaches I was attempting in art school were validated in this book. It’s not the kind of book that you read from cover to cover, rather it serves as a guide for creating paintings using proven permanent methods. Just as feelings and sense impressions can create concepts for your work. this book will help you realize those concepts through sound technical practices. It may also be the catalyst for new ideas and trigger future directions in your work.

In conclusion - keep learning. Surround yourself with good, like-minded friends and associates. Keep your eye on the star and always work toward it.

Today I’m going to meet one of my old art college friends. It has been over thirty years and I know we’ll have a lot to talk about and maybe share a few new techniques. My high school art teacher lives a few miles away and we still see each other from time to time.

My high school art teacher: http://www.fredgraff.com/

My old art college buddy that I'm meeting for coffee: http://www.timbowers.com/

6 comments:

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing :)

    And I loved your teacher's paintings 8D

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  2. Wow !
    You certainly were lucky to have such a competent art teacher. My high school art teachers didn't even draw - the talked.

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  3. I'll have to check that book out. I met Tim a few years back while presenting work at CCAD. Such a small world. By the way John....weren't we supposed to have an artists bon fire a few years back? ;)

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  4. Thanks for sharing such a great story, John :) All the best!

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  5. I really feel reminded on what I thought about my time at the artschool and study. I often felt like I was more learning from my fellow artists than from the instructors. Particularly I think from the school, this was intended to make students aware that they will never finish and the real study begins after graduation;-)

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