Painting 101 - Part 3 The Importance of Diving In

Posted on by Wess Foreman

It's been a while since the last installment of my Painting 101 series. Not sure if anyone read the other two, but, after rereading them myself, I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. Someone, someday, might find the information helpful, so I will try my best to keep it up despite the large gaps of time that may appear between posts. The idea of this series is to provide some basics of the painting process for beginners. If this subject interests you, you might want to start with the first post of the series.

This time, at the risk of being repetitive, I just wanted to re-emphasize the importance of not shooting for perfection, especially during the early stages of the painting process. While some disciplines may demand this approach - I'm thinking here of surgeons, sky divers, and possibly builders of intricate card houses, though I have no experience with anything more than two-story hovels - the painting process, for the most part, takes the opposite stratagem: starting with a rough draft and perfecting the image as the process goes along (sometimes waiting until the final stage to add the detail). To demonstrate the process, I present exhibit A, B, and C - the three sketches to the right. The first, demonstrates that a child can handle the initial sketch for you if need be. Though I generally recommend drawing or painting the entire thing yourself to get the full effect. While this is a pen and ink drawing as opposed to a painting, the idea is the same: just get something down right away, a launching point, something to break through the cold white of the canvas, something upon which to improve.

The second photo shows a refinement of the initial sketch (in "real life" this would be more like my initial drawing or painting, but this is merely a demonstration). Indeed, in my own paintings, I find the process to be merely a series of corrective action until it finally looks close enough. I should point out, you might as well paint or draw the initial sketch as well as you are able - in fact, if you are perfect, go ahead and start with the final stage [and congratulations for being perfect] - but the point is, one shouldn't spend all day on these early stages; the idea is get something down and move on. Too often we put off doing things in life just because we want to need to see results right away - "guilty as charged," though I have managed to get over this hurdle for the most part in my paintings.

And, Voila! - the final photo demonstrates my ultimate genius. Well . . . It does demonstrate the fact that acrylic painting [and oil painting] has the advantageous property of being able to hide initial sketches and under-paintings of the painting process - if pen and ink can [almost] achieve this, I know paint can - it's an opaque medium, after all. That fact is quite liberating, isn't it? Well, it can be. It gives you permission to experiment, to be bold, to try out different colors and techniques. Cool, eh? Anyway, take a look at the first photo again. Now look at the final photo. No, it's no masterpiece, but compared to the initial drawing, it has come a long way. So the moral of the story is: don't be self-conscious of your painting, be confident in where the painting is headed, don't give up on your painting too early, and have fun with it.

And that's the importance of diving in. Next time, we'll wade into an actual painting, and I'll bring along some actual photos showing an actual painting in progress [yummy]. Until then, go ahead and get started! Send in photos of your own first attempts, if you would like [wess - at - wess foreman dot com] - I'd be happy to give you some pointers or encouragement. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions on the subject, something I might have forgotten or wasn't clear about. We will reconvene very soon [I'm sure] for Painting 101 - Part 4. Class dismissed.

Please leave me a comment if you liked this article, disliked this article, or if something was wrong or right with what I wrote. Thanks!

Painting 101 - Part 2 The Beginning

Posted on by Wess Foreman

Canvas ready? Brushes? Paint? Here we go. First we should select our subject matter [nothing worse than staring at a stark white canvas without anything to paint]. My suggestion would be a still life arrangement - you know, fruit, bottles, vases, drapery, whatever - or maybe a landscape. Anything would work for a first painting, but I would suggest against starting with a portrait (people, pet, or otherwise) unless you have some skill at drawing already. The only problem with starting with people is that we all think we know what people look like - I mean, you draw a circle for the head, two small circles for the eyes, nose, mouth, maybe some hair on top, viola! Right? Problem is, when you paint something that is familiar to you, such as faces, you tend not to really study the thing you are painting, and without studying, you will end up with little more than a lifeless stick-figure face. It is very hard to break this tendency - even for myself.

Some artists might argue against using photographs, but I say go for it. Photographs only make things easier. First of all, the subject matter is already in two-dimensional form which is the same as the painting - sometimes I will even get out a ruler to measure certain key objects in the photo [the painting generally won't be as small as the reference photo, but the proportions should all be the same]. Whether you choose to paint from a reference photo or from real life, you definitely need to be looking at something [that is sort of the point, I think].

Once you have your subject matter decided upon, you will want to lay out your paint. Go ahead and squeeze out all the colors you have or think you are going to use - if you would rather, there is a technique called grisaille where the painting is first painted in shades of gray, the color added after everything is in its place [in which case, just lay out your black and white paint for now; it's up to you]. Either way, you want to start with plenty of paint - better to throw away some paint later than to be interrupted by having to squeeze more paint every few minutes.

Step One: Start.

One of the hardest parts of a painting is getting past that giant expanse of pristine canvas. It is a psychological barrier, those first few brush strokes, but one that can be overcome with the help of a few techniques. First, you could give the canvas a colored background - I have started many canvases by brushing on a layer of watered-down Raw Sienna, for example, to give the painting a warm, non-white starting point. Another option is to start in with a large brush, blocking in the major "shapes" that make up the scene you are depicting. You are also free to pencil in the scene ahead of time - though I wouldn't recommend spending too much time and effort on this step since it's all going to get painted over anyway. Just get the main shapes down and start in with the big guns [the paint]. The main thing to remember at the outset is that everything you are doing now is just the first step in a process, the end of which will in no way resemble this meager beginning. Once you get that in your head, it should help relieve any anxiety you may be experiencing. Most of my paintings look horrible up until the very end; it is the confidence of eventual success that keeps me going. Keep that in mind and don't give up!

Different people will have different painting styles: some will start with a detailed drawing and every step of the way will present yet another iteration of a tight, precise composition until every detail is accounted for; others will muck around with an unrecognizable blur of color and shape until, eventually, and ever so slowly, the details will present themselves at the very end; as for myself, I fall somewhere in between - I tend to get some sort of detail on the canvas rather early and then struggle for the rest of the time with the business of correcting my own mistakes at every turn. Once I get enough mistakes corrected, what's left is, hopefully, a finished painting.

That should get you started - keep going! I'll write another installment next Wednesday. Post your comments below if anyone is reading this.

Painting 101 - Part 1 Prerequisites

Posted on by Wess Foreman

So, you want to try your hand at painting but have never tried it before? Perhaps I can help. Painting is not hard. It just takes some practice and an afternoon.

There are a few skills that are nice to have at your disposal (though not at all necessary to begin). A steady hand is a good thing - some level of drawing ability is even better. Basic knowledge of color theory would be another plus. And, along with rudimentary eyesight, observation would also a very useful tool to have at the ready.

As far as materials: Paint would be good - acrylic paint would probably be best for a beginner (any cheap brand would be fine to start with), though watercolors would be a fine starting media as well. Oils require a bit more knowledge and tend to be more dangerous, but if you've gotten more information on the subject and are comfortable with them they have the potential to make great masterpieces (same as the water media).

There are many colors to pick from of course. Here are my recommendations for what to start with (if any of these are not available, just get the closest color you can find) - Bare Minimum: Titanium White, Ivory Black, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, and Napahthol Red Light - Additional: Yellow Ochre or Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, and Hooker's Green. More about color at a later time.

The second items needed, would be brushes. Any brushes will do. Most craft stores have kits of various sized brushes bundled together, or just pick them up individually. I tend to use three or four brushes: a large brush (3-4in.) for blocking in large areas of color, a medium sized brush (1in.), a liner brush (the kind with which an artist would sign a painting though I use it more often for detail work), and occasionally a ½ inch brush. Brushes come according to medium and in a broad range of sizes, materials, price, type, class, order, and phylum. Bottom line: just get a few different sizes and then work with what you have.

Third, canvas. Or watercolor paper. Or hardboard. Or cardboard. Whatever surface is appropriate. Canvases come in varying sizes and grades (as in student-grade, professional-grade, et cetera). A beginner would do well to start with whatever size he or she wants to paint on (but common sense tells me to suggest a smallish size - maybe a 11x14" canvas). As to the grade, I would advise you to get the cheapest available - this is, after all, a beginner's painting (plenty of time for your own masterpieces later on). By the way, if you get a large canvas, make sure you also get a large brush to go with it (one usually wants to cover the entire surface with paint) - a house painting brush will do fine for this purpose.

Fourth thing you'll need is water. In a large cup or can or old Tupperware container, your choice. This would only apply to acrylic and watercolor painting - oils and water don't mix.

That's basically it. You might want an easel to make you feel more artistic, though a flat table top covered in old newspaper would work fine, and I guess it would be a good idea to get a palette that can be covered (I use a plastic tray with a tight fitting lid) so the paint will last over several painting sessions, and, while I'm thinking about it, I use a spray bottle of water to keep exposed paint from drying too quickly on the palette. Another thing might be a change of clothes that you don't mind getting paint on. And possibly a beret or some other overtly artistic accessory - I, for instance, keep a keenly trimmed goatee on my person at all times.

Finally, I would suggest a spirit of creativity. Browse the Internet for artist galleries or your local library for books on art. Find a few paintings or artists that you enjoy looking at. Use these examples of creativity to inspire you in your own painting. [I'll stop there before I get too mushy on the subject]

So there you have your Prerequisites for Painting 101. Next time, I'll walk you through exactly what to do to start your painting. Until then, get your materials together - we will reconvene next week . . . let's say, next Wednesday (1/9/08) for Painting 101 - Part 2 The Beginning. Class dismissed.

Please leave me a comment if you liked this article, disliked this article, or if something was wrong with what I wrote. Thanks!

Creativity Week Deconstructed

Posted on by Wess Foreman


  • started out unmotivated

  • continued unmotivated

  • water in gasline, had to excavate new gasline [$]

  • have hot water again

  • creativity week ended

As you can see, Creativity Week was mostly a dud for me. Now, I could blame life, or the gorgeous weather or DiGiorno pizza. But truth is, we are all to blame [that's right, I'm spreading the blame around].

Listen. Let us not bicker about who did what to whom; the point is, there are no winners or losers when it comes to Creativity Week: there are only winners. Here is the important point: Creativity Week is not dead, it lives within each of us. We have only to call upon Creativity Week and it will be there, hat in hand, apologetic and triumphant.


Anyway, it is now the week after Creativity Week, and I'm preparing for Spring for Art [this Saturday, March 11th]. I have been busy, as evident by the photo to the right. I should have over 24 paintings to adorn the walls of Coffee Rani in Covington [I hope to sell them all, but I'd settle for a couple]. More later.

Motivation Revisited

Posted on by Wess Foreman

Creativity Week is almost here -- three days away, in fact. I'm excited. So excited I find myself thinking of creative things and having to reign in that creative spark, saving it for next week [can a person bottle-up creativity? is it safe to do so?]. But can I overcome my tendencies toward procrastination and pull off a full, action-packed week of creativity? Stay tuned . . .

Motivation is admittedly elusive in my day to day life. I tend to have many hobbies -- many, many things I love to do [and so little time]. More often than not, I end up getting nothing done. So, I am a little concerned about Creativity Week.

However. The show must go on. Creativity Week will be a success.

Motivation. One of my main goals for Creativity Week is to get an insight into the processes involved in motivation. That's really my main reason for establishing this whole creativity week thing: self analysis. If I were more motivated, I would be unstoppable in whatever I wanted to do with my life. That is a fact. [luckily, I would only use my powers for good]

There is a point, however, when motivation, creativity, and procrastination are just empty words -- what counts is action. Get up and do something.

“Do or do not . . . there is no try.� -Yoda

Creativity Week: Feb. 26th - Mar. 4th -- what are you planning to do?

Creativity Week

Posted on by Wess Foreman

It's not a very . . . creative title, I'll give you that, and the only references I found with Google were elementary school projects [you know, paper-mache masks, sculptures, et cetera]. But this is what I had in mind: a week of creativity overload, multiple instances of creative projects throughout each day of one particular week, documented on this blog as the week progresses. Original? Maybe not [those elementary schools beat me to it, for one], but it sure sounded like a good idea.

Now, I know many when confronted with a creative task throw up their hands in defeat before giving it a try -- forgive the mockery, "...ooooh, I'm not a creative person..." -- I just thought I'd invite you to join me in giving this creativity-week-thing a try. What can you do, you ask? I'll tell you:

  • post a comment below: I need ideas [you know, creative ideas -- lots!]

  • prepare yourself for creativity week -- get any supplies you might need ahead of time

  • have some way of documenting your creative projects during the week -- this can be a simple log of events on paper

  • if you'd like to share, email me a brief run-through and any photos you took -- I'll post them here along with my own report

That's it. Oh, and I need to decide on a week . . . next week -- there! So, February 26th through March 4th [my birthday] will be my Creativity Week. Okay, I've got a week to prepare for this so I'll really need your help. Please post a comment below, giving me ideas on some creative things I could do and, of course, encouragement -- it's gonna be a long week.