When I started a course of painting lessons a couple of weeks ago I had little idea what to expect. A ‘phone call to the local Adult Education Centre enabled me to confirm the time and date of the first lesson and the fact that the course was free of charge. A second ‘phone call a few days later left me no wiser regarding the duration and content of the course, what media would be used, etc. For example, I wasn’t told that everyone would be using acrylics and that all materials would be supplied at no charge.
Despite feeling that this was all very “amateur-half-hour”, and that the organisers really ought to get their act together so that such information was fully and readily available, especially to those who might handle enquiries from the public, I decided to give the course a trial anyway as there didn’t seem to be anything else on offer in the district.
Soon it was clear that this was a continuing programme – both teacher and pupils had attended previously and the latter were not beginners.
The first lesson started with an explanation and very brief demonstration from the teacher. He wanted us to choose a picture from a pile of magazine cuttings and paint it in a very broad and impressionistic style, with no outline drawing to start with and no details until the end, when they were to be minimal. The idea was (as I understood it) to concentrate on tone and to leave a lot to be filled in by the viewer’s imagination. In other words, exactly the opposite to the way in which I paint normally.
Suffice it to say that I chose a picture of a relatively uncomplicated building in which perspective had been sharply exaggerated as it had been photographed from a close but low viewpoint using a wide-angle lens. I didn’t think it would make a good painting but it contained few colours and tones so was fairly simple.
To my surprise I managed to produce a fair representation of the tones and colours but that was all. The perspective was hopelessly wrong and efforts to correct it produced an image of impenetrable confusion. During the past ten days (including the second lesson) I have made two further attempts to paint this picture, starting from scratch and painting in accordance with instructions. I have produced two further disasters. Now I have started a fourth version, but this time starting with an outline drawing. If we are expected to finish these paintings in the next lesson I will do what I can but I hope that we will be given a new project.
As for drawing, I understand the teacher’s point. However, at my advanced age it is not drawing that I enjoy but manipulating paint. So I propose to spend my limited available painting time (remember, I have to keep practising the music as well) on actual painting rather than drawing. So my drawing abilities will improve but only slowly. It would be nice to be able to draw fairly fluently but I think it is perfectly legitimate to put an outline drawing on a canvas by whatever means will achieve the desired result. I do so by three methods, freehand drawing (but very slowly), transferring a tracing, or the grid method where a change of size from the reference picture is needed. Nearly all of my paintings have used reference photographs. I am quite sure that many of the Old Masters would have used both photographs and digital technology for similar purposes had they had the opportunity.
Finally, by attending these classes I have discovered that there is another weekly painting group within easy walking distance of my home. This is not concerned with lessons but is a group of painters doing their own thing – exactly what I wanted. Just like buses really; you wait three years and along comes two of them!