No one can tell you how to be a painter, that’s for certain. Better not try and figure it out either. You just have to do it. How do you breathe? Who taught you? How do you blink or how does your heart pump? Likewise, being a painter is just like that. It comes. Naturally.
Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber are two great colors to mix with just about anything. It seems like, after you play with them for a while, that our entire world is made up of those two colors in conjunction with everything else.
Don’t be afraid to take a class now and again. You don’t know everything. But no need to go find some ancient master. There are few. They are busy and the things I am talking about learning don’t need to be taught by some old master. I just mean: a little extra guiding with your shadows, a hint about color, an experience of dialogue. Useful, occasional, worth the effort. A community college. A night class. Something along those lines. I am serious. Don’t expect to find someone who blows you away. Chances are, you will blow them away – though, they won’t let on. They are trained to be teachers, no matter how boring they are. But in that, they often have some incredibly useful seeds to impart. They are instructors for a reason and they themselves went to art school. They have been painting for a while. They wouldn’t be there otherwise. So there must be something they are doing right. Give them a listen.
Stretch yourself- if all you paint is the epic arias of heaven, try painting a fruit bowl every so often. Or a leaf. Or a flower from the garden. If you can’t find the same epic arias in the curves of the fruit or the rhythm of the flower, then are they truly within your heavens as well?
Gesso your canvas before you begin. Then sand it and gesso it again. If you really want to be picky, you may want to do it a third time and, if it seems like a fourth time would be good then abandon the canvas and go to masonite. But be warned- masonite is heavy and does not travel well at all. However- the crisp quality of your lines is something that only linen comes close to.
Play with brushstrokes. Pointilism or impressionism or whatever-ism- play with the dots and the lines and the washes and the thick drops of color. When you paint you will find that the first color that you put on looks so satisfying and the brushstrokes, so spontaneous! So alive! But then- later, you sense it needs another coat…. To really get the thickness. You lament that you have to go over the colors that looked so right. You got in once, didn’t you?
Your first layer will never be enough if you are going for something beyond abstraction. The first filling in of the blanks… get used to it: You will paint over the same place again and again and again. And sometimes it will be like your heart is exploding, your mind is breaking open and it is the most beautiful shadow of the moon you have ever painted in your entire life. Other times, you’ll just be moving the brush and BAM no thought whatsoever. But then, the next day, ten thousand thoughts clamoring for attention and you’ll just be painting, filling in the blanks. Just doing. Just doing. Don’t get attached to your brushstrokes, always look at it as a whole. Sometimes the brushstrokes are perfect however. Don’t be afraid to leave them every so often- if they really do look right and perfect and the color is everything it needs to be, then great, leave it. Don’t touch it. Don’t try to or need to or just a little more it. Be satisfied. Work towards your own deep inner satisfaction.
We are most deeply satisfied with ourselves when we feel to be whole complete beings. Let your painting be a mirror of yourself. Let it be an extension of yourself. Allow yourself to feel the same kind of deep satisfaction with it. If you can’t step back and ask yourself why you don’t feel what you want to feel yet, regarding the painting, pick out all the places that don’t cut it. Then ask why. Is the curve not deep enough, is the color not bold enough, is the right eye larger than the left, what IS it?
And then work with that. We do the same thing with ourselves- If I step back and look at my life, am I “deeply satisfied with the whole of it”? Most likely I am not. There are place where it could be this or that. So I work with that. Painting helps to give me the patience, a sense of depth, and a willingness to look deeper that I can use in my own life.