Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Painting
My twenty year career has been somewhat unorthodox as I am self-taught, so it’s involved a lot of trial, error and investigation. I wrote about this in my newly published book ‘Painting Light and Colour in Oils’ and I am sharing some of those things I have discovered on my artistic journey in this article.
1. An art degree is not the only route to a career as an artist.
I didn’t do an art degree, but I have been painting since my early 20s. For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit I was self-taught. I thought that no one in the art world would take me seriously without a stint at art school on my CV. But what I have realised is, to develop as a painter just takes time, and if you are prepared to devote yours, the sky is the limit.
2. Less is more when it comes to the colours on your palette.
I used to have a big box of paints which I enthusiastically added to, thinking it would be the thing to transform my work. When I started to paint plein air a big box of paints was no longer practical. I reduced my palette down drastically, with a warm and cool of every primary, a couple of greens and a few earth tones. This forced me to get to know those colours really well, and what they could do when mixed. I do occasionally have a few extra colours on my palette, but essentially these colours can do everything I need.
3. Trying to paint like someone else is futile.
We all have our painting heroes – I know I have a long list! It’s easy to begin a painting desperately trying to channel someone else who you admire. But do you know what? It’s so much more exciting to develop a style of your own – there is room for as much variety as we can muster! So, approach every painting with an investigative mindset and over time, a style unique to you will emerge.
4. Only ever paint what truly excites you.
As a full-time artist, and one who works from life exclusively, I often find myself in a situation where I feel I must paint. Whether it be because I’m on a painting trip and every minute counts, or I haven’t posted anything on social media for a while and there is a temptation to find ‘something’ to paint. Invariably when I force myself, the results match my level of enthusiasm. And, you could argue that the time spent painting could have been put to better use elsewhere.
So my advice would be to wait until your subject really grabs you and you are desperate to paint it. Sometimes I will head out somewhere to do some plein air work and when I arrive and the light can be flat for example, or the tide can be out. In that situation, I will wait and watch for something to inspire me, then the paints come out.
5. The learning never ends.
If I wake up one morning and think there is nothing more to learn, it is on that day that I no longer want to be an artist. There is always more to discover and after 20 years of painting I often feel like my journey is just beginning. And that is truly exciting! But there is so much that I have learnt that I wish I knew at the start. Everything I’ve picked up along the way I have put into my book. I hope it will serve as a catalyst for those of you embarking on (or continuing) a journey with oil paint.