Painting Demos Are So Valuable
Yesterday, Frank O’Cain (my watercolor abstracts teacher at the Art Students League) did a watercolor abstract demo. Actually, he did five demos from the same still life set up at the League. And it was wonderfully helpful. I got to see the process over and over again (repetition does help) but with a different, unique outcome each time.
Look, analyze, plan … and then paint. Don’t think when you’re painting; do your thinking before you start to paint. Block out basic shapes and movement. Move around the painting; develop all of it at once (don’t focus on any particular area). Repeat color around the painting (never just in one place) but with differing intensities. Place more detail/intensity in upper right corner (never at the bottom). Repeat shapes but with differing sizes.
If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know to create abstract paintings, well, you’re not alone. Those are the kinds of things Frank tells his students to do. And it’s great advice. But nothing replaces seeing how he actually does it. I’ve observed Frank’s demos before and they’ve always been helpful. But something about seeing him do it again and again, but differently each time (with him explaining the differences), makes it easier for me to try and apply the lessons.
It’s the details that matter. Using stripes to flatten the vase. When to spritz and blot. When to let the colors run. Moving the apples vertically. Adding random yellow, to make the green you add later more interesting. Using the twigs and branches to create movement. Using pattern to move something back.
Unfortunately, none of the paintings I did today at the League was a masterpiece. But I was able to apply some of yesterday’s lessons and can see the improvement. Of course, it’s two steps forward and one step back. I keep finding new mistakes to make. So this is not a simple one-two-three process. Well, duh! As encouragement, Frank has said more than once that you just have to keep applying the principles and, sooner or later, you internalize it and it just happens (without your having to think about it so much). I guess that’s when you get to actually follow the “Don’t think when you’re painting” advice.
So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I got 5000 words of painting advice yesterday. And I got it visually, which is much more helpful. In trying to learn a visual, physical skill, demos are invaluable.