Artists and the Act of Painting

There is a lot to be said for apprenticeships as a means of learning, and I have often reflected how much fun it would have been to have been an apprentice in an artist’s studio 400 years ago. Yes, I know grinding toxic pigments would have had its limits as entertainment, and it wasn’t all about hanging around and watching the hand of the master at work, but it would have been wonderful just to have been able to observe the process of painting in that way: the craft of painting.

You would have thought though after years of adult education art classes, Open College of the Arts tuition and finally a fine art degree course, I would have satisfied my curiosity about watching how experienced artists paint and draw. In fact, tutors rarely paint or draw in front of students these days. One notable exception is artist Geraldine Thompson who runs further education classes at Leeds City College and who does wonderful technical demonstrations for her students.

I think though the general reluctance to demonstrate is based on a belief that it is better for the student to discover their personal visual language without having to feel there is a right or wrong way of doing things. That is ultimately right. But at another level, it ignores the fact that painting and drawing is not just about personal expression and vocabulary, but also about execution of a craft, and even more interestingly, about a perceptual process. There is a wealth of hundreds of years of learning and experience which is so much more readily shown rather than taught in the abstract or rediscovered through experimentation.

But it has all changed in recent years. With one click, really fascinating videos are now readily available on the web showing painters at work, and I just can’t resist these! It is the whole perceptual-process-at-work-thing which most intrigues me; is the way I see the way others see? Shape or line? Which bit to develop first? Which section to detail? How is the palette used? A great one I saw yesterday was in Underpaintings, a blog by artist Matthew Innes, and showed artist Casey Baugh at work. I was particularly interested by this one, because Baugh uses chiaroscuro to great effect, and I was intrigued to see how he worked with shape.

I have embedded a video above of a sketch I did recently of a friend using the Brushes app on the iPhone. The great advantage of Brushes is that you can replay a drawing as a video, and it’s great fun to watch to perceptual process at work after the event. You can see more of these on my website.

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3 responses to Artists and the Act of Painting

  1. margaret nickels

    I find your musings fascinating.I love looking at different kinds of Art ,but personally struggle with a painting by numbers kit! Your comments about watching others work really resonates with me .I wish that I had been exposed to that at school.However I was caught in a Catch 22 situation where the teacher only taught those whose talent she recognised !

  2. gillianholding – Author

    Thanks, Margaret. I am honestly delighted that you are enjoying my musings! In the early days of blogging, it is quite hard to believe anyone else will find anything one writes to be of interest; and then starting to think it may be of interest feels very presumptious. So it’s lovely to think now there are a few regular readers out there!

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