Painting Demonstration


Handcrafted, Acrylic, 12″ x 12″

I sometimes like to watch those artists on the public television station demonstrate how they paint.  They seem so sure of themselves, as if they know from the beginning that this will be a really good painting.  Some encourage their viewers to paint along with them, but they paint so fast that this doesn’t seem practical.  How do they do it?  I recently had reason to ask myself that question.

I am a member of the Topeka Art Guild and there is a back room at their gallery where art classes are sometimes held.  The teacher of a weekly afternoon class of primarily senior citizens asked me to demonstrate plein air painting to her class.  Since this was in February, going outside was not an option.  But she wanted her students, who usually painted from photographs, to learn more about the art of painting what is in front of you.  I said I would do it and then had to figure out how to go about it.

When I paint outdoors in a public space, such as a park, people sometimes look over my shoulder briefly to see what I am doing and maybe make comments.  But they come and go quickly and I don’t really talk much to them.  I just keep painting.  This would be different.  I needed to figure out how those artists on TV did it.  I decided on a simple still life that I would paint on a small canvas.  I chose three objects that I had in my house.  They represented simple shapes, a sphere, a cone, and a cylinder, that students in art classes learn to shade.

First I practiced painting the still life at home.  Some of the drawing did not look quite right.  So then I practiced just drawing the still life several times with charcoal.  Finally it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to draw the still life ahead of time on the canvas to be sure to get it right.  Finally the big day arrived and I set up my easel and the still life in the room before the class arrived.  I talked a little bit about plein air painting to the class and about the objects I had chosen to paint.

It turned out to be easier than I had imagined.  Mostly the class members concentrated on their own work, occasionally walking up to where I was painting to see what I was doing and ask questions.  I didn’t quite finish the painting during class time, but I got enough done that they could see how it would look.  I finished it at home.  I plan to enter it in the next Topeka Art Guild show, so they will be able to see the completed painting.


Technique vs Inspiration

November 17, 2013

Recently my 11-year-old grandson asked if he could come over and paint so we arranged a time on a day when he didn’t have school.  I haven’t had much experience teaching art and wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind.  I showed him some pastels and watercolor paint as kids are often familiar with those but that was not what he wanted.  He wanted to use the same paints I do, which are acrylics.  We looked at my stash of canvases and he chose a 14″ x 18″ one.

Next came deciding what to paint.  It was too cold to paint outside.  Since I like to look at what I am painting I suggested he might like to paint a still life.  I don’t think he had ever heard of that but I opened the refrigerator and he picked out some grapes, oranges and apples plus two bananas off the counter.  I found a white bowl and we were ready to begin.  I explained that he should paint the background first.  He was surprised at that but was willing to go along with that idea.  I asked him to draw a line where the table would be and then choose colors for the table and background and paint those before drawing the fruit.  Soon he had painted a pale blue background and a dark brown table.

Fortunately acrylics dry fast and I helped it along with a hairdryer.  He had put the fruit in the bowl.  I gave him a piece of charcoal to draw what he wanted to paint.  I explained about the top of the bowl being an oval rather than a straight line and he was willing to accept that.  The grapes proved too hard to draw so he eliminated them and added a second banana.  He listened when I suggested that perhaps he had drawn to bananas too thin.  Charcoal is easy to remove and he had soon drawn two very good looking banana shapes.

I asked him to look at the apples and notice that they were not totally red but had some yellow streaks in them.  He tried that, didn’t like the result and from then on concentrated on inspiration.  The two red apples became flat shapes, one red and one green.  The oranges and bananas became flat shapes too sitting in a white bowl.   Then inspiration really took over.  The bowl developed black spots.  The bowl and each piece of fruit was outlined in black.  The result was rather striking actually.  But then came the final touch.  Above the bowl he painted a pink pig with wings.  Now where did that come from?  There is a commercial where the phrase, “When pigs fly,” is used but in that commercial the pig sits in an airplane seat.

He was pleased with his painting and wanted to frame it.  So I took a frame off one of my paintings and we framed his creation.  Then I drove him and his painting home to show his mom.  I wonder where she hung it.


Pass It On

March 24, 2013

How does someone who has been painting a long time share knowledge about the art of painting with someone who is a newcomer to the field? I’ve never taught an art class but I’ve been in various classes, some good and some not to good. In some of the not so good ones the teachers were good artists themselves but I think they didn’t really know how to convey their knowledge to a group of people who had never had academic art training but who thought it would be fun to paint a picture they could hang on their wall or give to a relative.

In these classes the instructor woould provide a list of materials and the students, with a wide range of experience and ability, come to class and each start painting something different. The instructor wanders around and makes a few brief comments but the students are pretty much on their own. The classes are usually once a week for maybe about eight weeks. Beginners really won’t learn much under these circumstances.

The reason I’ve been thinking about all this is that this summer for about a week I will be painting with a beginning artist who hopes she can learn something from me, although she paints in a very different style than I do. What I’d like to do during that week is talk to her about some very basic ideas that can apply to any style of painting. Here are a few I’ve come up with so far.

Decide on a center of interest. It shouldn’t be in the middle of the painting.
Lead the eye toward that center by using lines, shapes or light and dark.
Paintings may be more interesting if there is a marked contrast between light and dark.
Don’t use a color in just one place in a painting. Repeat it somewhere else in the painting.
Using complementary colors adds interest to a painting.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more. In the meantime I’m looking at some of my paintings that hang on my walls and wondering why I
I didn’f follow these ideas more closely myself.