Scientists say that it takes about 10000 hours of practice to get good at something. Having painted for over 15 years now, I have probably doubled or tripled that number of practice hours by this point. Therefore, I would like to offer a little bit of practical advice and encouragement to painters who have recently begun their own journeys.
By nature, I do not have the patience to learn lengthy and complicated techniques. As a result, most of my learning has happened by means of trial and error. This is where the title “Painting Without Fear” comes in.
My thesis is that it is absolutely necessary to do away with all fear while painting if one ever wants to make progress. Why? Because only when there is no fear can one leave the limiting confines of the known and come into contact with uncharted territories where true learning becomes possible. In practice, this fearlessness can take many forms. The use of color is one example – one can intuitively use a daring color or tone, a strong highlight or deep shadow. One can introduce so called “wrong” colors into a mix in order to see what will happen – everyone knows that mixing yellow and blue can make green, for example, but I’m talking about mixing varying quantities of red into green, turquoise into alizarin crimson, purple into yellow, and so forth. Often these unconventional mixes produce interesting and worthwhile results adding sophistication to the tones of ones color palette.
Another way to be fearless in art is to freely paint over anything that isn’t working. Another way is to begin a painting with a completely open mind, and to allow the work done already to dictate your painting’s evolution, rather than trying to force a preconceived idea onto the canvas. I remember having started a large painting of a bouquet of flowers only to realize that the colors and lines placed on the canvas thus far suggested something completely different, namely a dinner scene. I had not painted dinner scenes before then, but I followed my intuition. That painting came out very strong and sold within two weeks at a price that was a record for me at the time.
Painting without fear means not being worried about making mistakes. So what if the color you tried didn’t work, or the idea you decided to go with failed? Just wait for the paint to dry and give it another go. The mistakes you make will give the work extra character. Those other colors underneath will make the painting impossible to copy or forge. The mistakes you work through will only enrich the final product, making it unquestionably and uniquely yours.
One final word on painting without fear – it is not only fear that is the artist’s enemy. It is just as important to learn to paint without greed, not thinking of your painting as a pile of money, which is a mere means to an end. The process of painting is something intimate. The less comes between you and your painting the better. Excessive thinking and emotion during the painting process tends to muddy the expression in the same way as unnecessary colors muddy pure colors when added to the mix haphazardly. I imagine that many artists paint in order to convey a certain feeling or idea. They begin with an idea of what they would like to transmit to the world, and when their painting approaches that idea closely enough, they consider the painting to be finished. With me, it’s rather the opposite. Many times, I begin without any idea whatsoever of what I will do. I just place colors and shapes on the canvas and wait for the images and colors to begin to speak to me. In other words, instead of expressing some personal feelings on my canvas, I pay attention to what the canvas makes me feel and work towards amplifying that. It is when I am completely pleased with whatever the canvas in front of me makes me feel that I consider the painting finished.