Are your oil painting lessons helping you

by Ethan


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It doesn’t matter if you like to paint landscapes, florals, portraits, or still-life. If you get the proper instruction, you learn more and you improve.

I was appointed to be a teacher’s assistant back in my student days at age 20. In fact, my instructors would refer other students to me about problems they had about oil painting techniques. Some of the other students even sought me out to teach them privately.

I remember the frustration that many students had when they were in art class.

You don’t want this to happen. I know about this frustration from experience!

I’m sure you have had some of the following experiences.

Isn’t It Time these Experiences Stopped Happening To You?

  • You try hints other people have told you, but find your work still doesn’t improve
  • You walk into an art supply store and feel so confused by the choice of oil painting supplies. Which ones should you buy
  • You ask an art teacher a specific question, but the answer they give is double talk or a confusing answer that you don’t understand.
  • You enroll in an art class or workshop, but the teacher only spends 5-10 minutes with you.
  • You search for art classes you can take, but they are just too expensive and the times they meet make it impossible for you to be there.
  • You go to a museum and wonder how a painting was made, but have no help finding the answers?
  • You ask an art teacher about a particular topic and they tell you the answer is “not important”! And you wonder if they know the answer themselves?
  • Your teacher tries to persuade you that the artists you admire are not good.

This brings up the question of how do you learn to paint? What is the goal of your art lessons or art instruction?

To teach you how to paint and draw better is the obvious answer. This is the goal of every art teacher, isn’t it?

Why isn’t this goal accomplished more often?

Have you ever been frustrated in an art class? You felt like you were not getting any better sometimes after months or even years of study.

…Why is this?

The answer is simple, all art instruction is not always good and all teachers do not always know how to teach.

I have had many teachers over the years. All had a different way of teaching or “not” teaching. This theory of “not” teaching is something that is very common among art teachers.

Usually, when you take a painting class here is what happens…You enter a large studio and get yourself your painting space. It can be very hard to find a good space if the class is crowded.

You share the room with many other students, sometimes twenty or more. You usually paint from either a model or a still-life setup.

The teacher goes around the room. He or she stops at each persons area and makes his or her comments, maybe even paints on some people’s work.

They basically tell you what they think you are doing wrong.

“Make this area darker” or “This is too small” they may say.

I do not understand this way of teaching. I think it does not accomplish much at all, and the proof are the students who have taken the class of a particular teacher for years and have not improved.

Sometimes it looks as though many students have been painting the same painting over and over for years without getting better.

This way of teaching would never take place in a music class. People are always talking about how similar music and painting are, but…

–Nobody talks about the difference in the way music and painting are taught!–

Sometimes, in a painting class, the teacher gives a demonstration, which always excites the students. I remember the excitement of demonstration days at school.

Students who felt they were not learning from the comments the teacher made to them individually, felt that now they could almost spy on the teacher while they were at work.

Of course sometimes you would get a teacher who loved performing almost as if they were putting on a magic act. This type of demo did not teach much to the students. It only helped to boost the ego of the instructor.

Good demos were quite interesting to watch though and very informative for the students. It would have been better for the students if the instructor came in and did demonstrations every day. And then went over the demonstration step by step.

Students could see all the stages of a painting being created in front of them. They would then have an answer to questions such as…

“How do I start?” and “When do I use medium”.

Maybe you have had the experience of being in an art class and the teacher comes around to you and tells you something like…

  • “Make that area darker”
  • “That arm is too big”
  • “Don’t get too light in that corner”.
  • And other similar comments

How Is This Helping You?

If someone knows the answer, please explain it to me. With this way of thinking you will always need that instructor. For the rest of your life.

Yes, for the rest of your life!

Who else will be able to tell you to if an arm is too big and so forth if you are not taught how to correct these problems for yourself?

I can even recall an experience when I brought a book to class to ask one of my teachers what they thought of it. The reply I got was “oh, that book is only about technique.” And I never heard anything more about it.

Let me say this right now…

There is nothing else about painting that can be taught except the craft of painting and different techniques of painting.

If someone tries to teach you how you should “express yourself” or how to paint with a certain “style”…

run the other way and fast.!

To sum it up, the goal of an art instructor is to teach you.

You have questions, you want them answered. You wish to be instructed. After you have studied painting for some time you shouldn’t have so many unanswered questions.

Do you believe I have experienced people who have been painting in an art school for years and have never been taught how to stretch a canvas? Or they don’t even know that there are different types of canvases to buy!

This after being in art school for years! There is no excuse for this.

You should be able to accomplish your goals in the most effective way possible, and by yourself. This is what you go to an art instructor for. You feel you need help and want to receive it.

An art instructor is supposed to teach you to not need them.

Now, for some oil painting lessons you will never get in a formal art class, click here

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

JewellNo Gravatar May 14, 2008 at 4:10 am

Yes, this is the right way of teaching everyone should be looking for. You are so correct. This is the way you should learn every thing. I have taught K-5 kindergarten for many years and that is how you teach reading. writing and numbers to new students that have never had the opportunity to learn before. Very good, Sir. It is wonderful to see them do it on their own. Accomplishment. And that is what I am looking for, it is just a little out of my reach just yet. And with prices of things now days I may never get there, But I sure enjoyed what I did do.

DAVENo Gravatar May 25, 2008 at 5:27 am

I am glad you point this out. I have taught art in a professional school at the same time I was working in commercial art. I taught the curriculum as it was presented but I felt it was necessary to also demonstrate the projects and explain along the way before the students began. THEN I walked around and observed. Even now I fear going to an art class because of the trauma and frustration I had. I tell people I am not a good student—maybe the instructors are the ones that are not good. After the semesters were over it never failed to have students come over and say the class was their favorite and that they learned more than in other classes. I think it was because, as you mentioned, the instructors had a fear of making a mistake when demo’ing. By the way, I am mostly self-taught and had worked successfully in the retail fashion industry for more than 25 years for major department stores around the US. Keep up the great advise.

charlie wrightNo Gravatar July 10, 2008 at 7:42 pm

this is great thanks heaps

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