That’s a pretty misleading title or at the very least paradoxical. This happens to suit me fine as I see the world as most interesting, challenging and magical when we don’t try to capture it in any absolute terms. Painting has always been a great analogy for life and for “being”.

Simultaneous contrast states that everything is relative; something is only dark relative to something that is light. Something is only tall relative to something that is short. When we are painting, we are simply building relationships. Funny, isn’t that we are always doing as humans.

As an art instructor, I realize that students would love to think that their problems lie in a faulty technique, a technique that can be perfected if only the right instruction were found. Students get frustrated when they realize that the fault lies in ourselves and not in the instruction or the realization that they haven’t yet found the “secret”.

Most of us want to go deeper than a mere depiction of what we see, but most of us have to start there; we render every detail and slavishly copy our reference or scene, leaving in every leaf, petal, telephone pole. Nature is chock-full of this detail and it’s a start to be able to replicate it. We start by copying everything that happens to be in front of us with little discrimination.

Complicating this there are many pitfalls with perception; we conceptualize and symbolize then favor this over what we actually see. We have things such as color constancy to deal with. An argument can be made that the human eye doesn’t actually see much of what is in the visual field and that our brain is actually filling in a great percentage of the information based on memory. We want everything in a safe little box. So we start with symbols, then move towards a realistic depiction.

Once we have the technical skills to replicate what we see we are usually impulsed to move towards a more personal expression. But how do we do this intentionally? How do we see through the eyes of an artist? For me, it’s having an awareness of that which is beyond the mundane surface. What is our true nature and our true relationship to the visual world. It’s more than “ok out there is a tree.” That tree is alive too, it’s giving me oxygen, shade, it’s home to other creatures, it’s breathing and light is hitting it in a beautiful way that makes me feel almost sad for its loveliness. It creates a longing in me that I can actually physically feel in my gut. I feel it. Conveying that feeling is what I really want to paint…an expression of our manifest existence. Every single human that lives or has ever lived feels some sort of sense of aliveness, awareness that we all share. This is what there is to paint and why it’s worthwhile.

So there is no secret, magic bullet or shortcut to the process and work that we need to engage in to express ourselves as artists in the way we image. There is no way out of painting lots and lots of bad paintings to get to the good ones. The best thing to do is to follow the path, have faith in its course and embrace the bad outcomes as wholeheartedly as you embrace the good ones.

With Warmest Regards,

Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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