Daniel Goldman



Tomorrow I’m going to start another two paintings. My artist friend Jiska suggested that I prepare the canvasses with a background wash, and so on one I painted a light wash of umber – which is sort of what she suggested, but on the other I painted a dark wash of burnt umber and pthalo blue because I’d like to see how it works letting the dark color push through the lighter layers.

I’m looking forward to doing the paintings, but I do have the feeling that I don’t really know what I am doing. You see, I don’t really know what the fundamentals of painting are. I touched on this in my previous post, and I’d like to explore it a bit more.

Let me start by telling an anecdote a friend told me about a clown school in Switzerland. In this school, among other things that they learned, the clowns-to-be learned to juggle, and in their juggling classes, for the entire first year, they were only allowed to use one ball. The idea behind this is clear. The fundamental skill in juggling is throwing and catching a ball, and before one tries to to this with three or more balls, one should be able to control one ball perfectly.

This is similar to an experience I had in college, where I took a drawing class with Bill Burke, a former colleague of my father’s. At the start of the class, Bill had us draw straight lines with charcoal on a large sheet of paper. Then we drew more straight lines. This didn’t go on for a year, but he kept us at it for quite some time, just drawing vertical lines, as straight and uniform as we could. How should we expect, he asked, to draw something more complicated if we couldn’t draw a simple straight line? It made sense and we practiced and practiced until he finally let us graduate to vertical lines, which led to rectangles and thinking about how their size and placement influenced how we felt about the image.

Here we have it. The first fundamental skill of art is making the mark on a surface, and being able to control how that mark appears. The next one is knowing where you want that mark to go.

Obviously there are a few differences between using black charcoal on paper and using brush with colored paints on canvas, but I suppose the idea is similar- putting the marks where you want them. But what about the basics of the materials? I’ve never tried to make a straight uniform line with paint, and quite frankly, I imagine it to be quite difficult. While I was applying the washes today, I basically just slapped on the paint with a wide brush using more water (the wash was with acrylics) for the light colored one and more paint in the darker one. I wasn’t aiming for a uniform surface, but it would probably be a good exercise to try to make one. I’ll do that next time.

I realize I’m only scratching the surface of this – but one has to start somewhere.

2 Comments on “Fundamentals”

  1. daniel,
    you don’t know about the fundamentals of art?
    What matters in a good painting?
    when I look at good paintings I think:

    1. composition, colour-, light setting, spatial illusion
    2. individual skills: own handwriting/view/look, e.g. a number of pieces (series) recognizable belonging to the same artist
    3. time signal: representing the present time, future, past or none ;)
    4. contents: social, political, moral or others
    5. effects: dis-, harmony, non-, realistic, figurative, abstract, patterns, ornaments, surfaces and more

    but when a painting touches me, there is maybe some magic in that you cannot plan, it could be a ‘mistake’ that makes it charming…
    nevertheless we’ ll enjoy the atmosphere and the process of making a picture that will always be a surprise.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jiska.

      I’m thinking less here about what makes a good painting and more about the prerequisites for making one. I think for example that one will have more success achieving certain effects if one has a good knowledge and familiarity with the materials one is using. I suppose that one way to gain this knowledge is by trying to achieve the desired effects, and I imagine many people have acquired their skills in this manner. I personally am not particularly inclined to systematically mix paints in order to compare results, but I suspect that people who approach painting in this manner will have better control of their results than I do. Knowing how paints mix is one fundamental, but others might be stretching a canvas, or knowing which brush to choose for a certain stroke. Sure, I have a handle on some fundamentals that carry over from drawing – though even that knowledge is still pretty…sketchy.

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