I am having an exhibition of my paintings starting next week – my first. It has been a fair amount of work to get ready – until now I had no idea how complicated framing a painting could be. Believe me, it is complicated.
The exhibition will be at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, as part of their ‘Art at the RUH’ programme, which is fitting. I took up painting for the first time since I was a teenager, as a way to help me get through chemotherapy – I wanted to do something positive, that I could also do sitting down.
Actually I had no idea that I could paint. I used to draw a lot when I was in my teens, I taught myself to draw fairly accurately mostly by looking at things. Once you teach your brain to see things as a series of shapes, lines and shadows, it is not that hard. However my knowledge of oil painting techniques was pretty non-existent: the few times that I had tried to paint something in the past, the results were terrible. Most of the colours ended up looking like brown sludge. That was because I had no idea what I was doing.
Then I found a really useful book on Amazon, The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists by Kathleen Lochen Staiger
I would recommend this to any aspiring painter. Reading it gave me a really thorough and logical grounding in the basics of painting in oils, like how to mix colours to get exactly the colour you want; how to make shadows and highlights; brush techniques; glazing; perspective. To be fair, some of this I knew already, but it helped to put it all together in a logical way. One of the most useful aspects was the explanation of how to make blacks and greys by mixing other colours, rather than getting them out of a tube. It produces much more satisfactory results, because few things in nature are either true black or grey, but blue-black, or green grey, or dark brown, and so on.
This is particularly important for getting natural looking results. Colours in nature are very rarely as intense as those that come in oil paint tubes – they tend to be more muted, which is another way of saying a bit greyer. The way to mute a colour is to add a bit of its complementary colour, for example a bit of green to an intense red such as cadmium red. What you get is a slightly more muted red, that looks more natural.
Perhaps some of this should be obvious, but it isn’t if no-one ever tells you. I cannot remember having any of this explained in art lessons at school. That was in the 1970s of course, so we were just encouraged to express ourselves in art classes. Which was fine, but actually I would have liked to be taught a few basic skills too.
Once I had read the book, it gave me the confidence that I could just go ahead and paint things, with a reasonable expectation of producing something that looks good. It allowed me to go ahead and experiment, and to express myself, which was exactly what I wanted. I still refer to it now and then, there is so much useful stuff in it. I don’t always follow the advice, but it is useful to know what it is at least.