Friday, November 23, 2012

The Importance of Teachers

There isn't a one of us out that that doesn't remember a teacher, one or more that changed our lives. Sure there were some bad ones but the good ones. Ah, they made such a difference.

The same goes for art teachers. I remember my first art teacher in the 5th and 6th grades at the Portland (OR) Art Museum. Oddly, the past few months I remember more and more of what we did and the lessons she taught us. The one I remember most was a series of portraits that we had to do, first of ourselves (ala Van Gogh whose paintings were adorning the museum at the time) and then our classmates. I hated it. She seemed to watch me with interest but it was this statement I never forgot, "You aren't all the precise at capturing the true likeness of someone but you sure capture their spirit."

In retrospect I guess that is praise but I knew that I wasn't very good at capturing people and avoid it when I can. Now photographs I am very good a capturing their likeness, but painting is a bust.

I didn't have much formal training in high school and none in college. We did a lot of artwork but as a journalism-advertising major our "art" was designing ads. I remember the hours capturing a font on paper and that it took all day to create an ad. On my computer now it can be done in about an hour, if that.

Around 2006 my wife and I went to a joint City of Sierra Madre and Creative Arts Group show where many of the artists that live there threw open their homes for an afternoon and you got to meet, talk and often watch them work. I watched one woman painting oils and told her I knew where that was. We started talking but since she was using oils, something else I avoided, I moved on. On one of the bus tours (the city can be hilly) I stopped at another house and she had a painting in progress for us to see. Chatting some she asked if I painted and I said it had been a long time (the tole painting didn't count in my mind) and she said here, give it a try. Again oils. I politely dabbed and she grabbed my arm and in sweeping motions we put paint down! Her style looked familiar and it turned out the woman I met earlier was her teacher and mentor. I was hooked.

I took a 14 week class and it was mostly a disaster. Margot was a patient teacher and would start a painting, have us watch then go back and do what she had done...or try anyway. I was pretty good at making mud. This went on for weeks but for once I stuck that session out. The last class she had us pick a photo and gave us 90 minutes to paint it. I picked a wonderful sunset (sunrise?) in Yosemite that I learned later no one would touch. It was simple, rich yet with subtle colors. I painted away. I had the underpainting (I used acrylics) and oil on top in about 45 minutes...or that was how far I got when everyone around me said, STOP, STOP. It doesn't need ANYTHING else. And it didn't.

Then I got sick, missed a few sessions and in the midst of the next one took a few oil classes in Las Vegas. The trees that I did there were a turning point. For some reason even though that was more of a Constable style, it changed my style to something else. After a few paintings that I was immensely proud of and my teacher didn't like, I finished the session and never came back. I had definitely taken a different path and am not sure how and why even now.

I was very despondent. I didn't understand why my style had changed. I only knew it had and was. By then I was going to The Tole Bridge in Norco, CA and Diane was supportive of what I was doing. She had a teacher who told her she didn't have any talent and almost quit herself. She encouraged me to keep trying. Don't get me wrong, OUR styles are very different as well. She however, gave me free reign and would point out ways to make a painting stronger, make the painting your vision not necessarily what you saw in life or a photograph. She keeps reminding me, "That's why we are artists. We paint what we want!"

One of the interesting things I noticed at the Painting Convention was how many of the teachers were taking other teachers classes. Questioning a few they told me you have to. There is always something new, some technique, some new product they haven't tried. If you don't evolve, you become stale, stagnant. Since I haven't found my "style" yet, I guess I have a ways to go!

Be sure to check out my store at  There might be the perfect gift for your loved ones. AND, if you check out the Fine Art Section, the evolution of my painting as well.

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