Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. – George Patton
Recently, as for more than a decade this time of year, I taught a handful of folks my philosophy/psychology approach to life—that happens to focus on en plein air painting.
Before the question, “Andy, will you teach us how to paint boats?” could be asked (as it always is on the first day), I said:
No, I will not teach you how to paint boats (nor anything). Why? Because boats are painted the same as not boats, as anything. It’s not that I don’t want to teach you how to paint boats it’s that I can’t possibly teach you how to paint any one thing. That is, what kind of boat? Sail? Power? Dinghy? Row? What kind of day? Sunny? Cloudy? Rainy? What time of day? Early morning? Noon? Sunset? Midnight? The point is paint the color shape(s) you see. Simple as that. And that is how you paint still life, portrait, and figure, too.
But first you must not only understand but master color. Instinctively, you must know color and color relationships. You must know how to analyze color and mix it simply. You must know for example, without thought the direct complement of red violet.
Simple and easy are mutually exclusive realities.
After the first day of presentation and conversation and demonstration, the confident folks set about for a couple of days of painting—to apply what they heard and saw and thought about.
Easy it’s not.
The simplicity is frustrating.
Ergo their questions, “Why can’t I see that?;” “Why can’t I remember the color relationships?; “Why can’t I mix that color?;” etc., turn to comments of exasperation e.g., “I can’t do this?”—but not in the sense of giving up. That I’ll not permit.
Alone they persevere (for pair and group painting not allowed—everyone must find their own way) as I make rounds observing, answering questions, and offering suggestions.
At the end each has opportunity to present their paintings, discuss them, and opine as to lessons learned.
They heard and watched the same instruction. Yet, as it should be, their paintings individualistic—one’s nothing like the others.
As ever, they are too hard on themselves. Objectives were to acquire a new mindset (to painting); see anew (what is before the eyes of all though most do not see); and demonstrate understanding of seeing and mixing color. Picture-making (as in post card) is not an objective (though most comfortably fall into that trap).
Their paintings are pleasing to me—they reflect learning and struggle and improvement from one to the next. No more expected. But (their) efforts fall short of (their) expectations though surpass mine. “Alas, there’s opportunity with the next painting,” I remind them.
To that self-criticism I tell them next year students will be required to bring a clarinet.
Yes, a clarinet. Basics will be taught on the first day and at sunset on the third day the class will give a public concert.
My point is no one (who has never played a musical instrument) can master a clarinet (nor anything) in three days. Why do you believe painting to be any less challenging—requiring serious study and practice?
And, to add to my, “No, I will not teach you how to paint boats,” comment—another question:
Would you like the boat in or out of the water?
In closing …
Painting—realism to abstract—is simplifying color shapes and the relationships thereof.
Have you thought about the direct complement of red violet? It’s yellow green. If you did not know that—as quickly as date of birth or social security number—and that a brilliant variant of either is neutralized by a touch of the opposite, then you neither understand nor have mastered color.
I’ve yet to read anything indicating General George Patton was a painter. But his opening thought on leadership is absolutely germane to painting, boats, or any old thing. Warfighting. And playing the clarinet, too.
Perhaps next I find an interesting way, playing a brush, to paint a clarinet. With the result(s) offered in an exhibition not a concert.
Now, pardon, time to go—I’ve a boat to catch.