Loose vs. Tight, Aren’t We Missing the Point?

At the writing of this blog, I’m about to post a video that launches into a bit of a rant (that video is now at the end of this post). But thats enough of the rant. Check the video out below to see the complete rant. Regardless, in watercolor, not infrequently will the debate land on the loose vs tight preference, but… its sort of missing the point of what makes for awesome painting. Continue reading “Loose vs. Tight, Aren’t We Missing the Point?”

Seeing Beyond Bob Ross

bob_rossLet me start by fully acknowledging the debt of gratitude the recreational art world owes Mr. “Happy Trees” Bob Ross. He got people painting who never would have dared pick up a brush on the best of days. Why? Because he made art technique accessible. He deciphered the complex with “light-bulb” art moments and gave aspiring painters…wait for it…a formula. Aah yes! The notorious painting “formula”, heralded by hobby “fun” artists as genius and scorned by the high brow “fine art” snobs as cliché and misleading.

Fun Art vs Fine Art

Bob understood that art technique that was entertaining, easy to digest and accessible to the masses absolutely had to be dispensed in a formulaic way. Its the secret to his success. His simple formulas for painting clouds, mountains, trees, shrubs and water, launched many beginners past the early, likely-to-give-up, frustration stages, landing them gently on the garden path of enjoyment. Fun art, yippee! And for many recreational artists, this is more than good enough. So be it. And why not? Art can be fun at all levels not to mention very satisfying and therapeutic. However, for the artist determined to journey on in their development, and there are many, the inevitable question becomes, “what next?” At this level, the art snobs are right. Mr. Ross can only open the door and teach you baby steps. For the more serious student, Bob’s lessons can be a bit misleading by treating subjects as generic rather than striving for a unique artistic vision.

The Fork in the Road

When I started my YouTube channel just over two years ago, I never expected to find the high level of formulaic indoctrination that art instructors like Bob Ross would leave behind. Artists like Terry Madden did the same for watercolorists, in my opinion, reinforcing the idea that all levels of art development can be had through clever, but simple tricks, hacks and formulas. BUNK! It just isn’t the case! The artist who may have mastered all of Mr. Ross’ techniques, for example, soon discovers the fork in the road with one path moving forward and the other looping back on itself like a cul de sac.

Art as a Journey NOT a Destination

Ask any accomplished artist (painter, photographer, actor, musician, etc.) how they did it and most answers will boil down to one thing primarily – embarking on a journey of self instruction and discovery. A serious art student never stops being inspired and learning from other great artists, but eventually they begin to learn things that are unique to them and cannot necessarily be taught by other artists, first mastering their medium, then finding their own sight and making discoveries on their own. Generic formulas fail in such cases. Many formal art schools recognize this and cut to the chase by forcing students to rise in their artistic development through practice, some critique and self reflection. Sadly this often does not entirely work either, especially for teaching them how to master the medium. The answer, for an artist seeking to go farther, lies somewhere in between technical formula and individual artistic vision.

The Formula for All Things Art

Bob Ross was a genius for sure, but only because he discovered those simple formulas, and then, for the enjoyment of others, sacrificially sought to teach the masses in order to get a brush in their hand. His goal was not to create great art but to create joy through learning the process of painting. Who am I to argue. So what am I saying after all these words? Art development starts that way, by learning techniques, processes and yes, a few tricks and formulas. Granted, it can happily remain there for many, but eventually, for those who wish to move higher, one must look beyond the generic tree, cloud or mountain. Art development becomes a journey of improving vision and perception. Its a process of discovering how to look, see and express that sight through a shape, a color, a composition, a subject, or a harmonious relationship that you never noticed before. Artistic seeing isn’t instantly learned. Its progressive and ongoing. Formulas are artistically blind. Seeing requires more intent looking and looking improves when the vision is repeatedly expressed as art. Though not an easy formula to define, THIS is the next step – look, see, express, take a fresh look, repeat. If I could leave behind as a legacy a formula that artists would follow, this would be it. I still feel like I’m in the beginning stages of this step myself, but oh what a ride! The developmental dividends are huge, and for me, thats as fun as any “fun” art anyone else every invented.

Sharing Skills on Skillshare

Well, I’ve gone and made myself a workshop. Aside from the Strathmore workshops I did earlier in the spring this is my first, and my first paid workshop. Its not long, about 53 minutes total running time for all segments combined. I hope you’ll go and check it out. (For Patreon supporters, this content has also been shared there for everyone at the $5 level or above.)

Here is my Skillshare workshop link and first time subscribers using this link to join will get their first 3 months for only .99 cents.


Why Skillshare?

In short, its reasonably priced and easily accessible for the participant plus user friendly for me, the teacher, making it a good workshop starting point. It doesn’t require that I design lengthy, involved classes, and likewise does not present you with a major time commitment for learning. Its right for where I currently am in this process of sharing my watercolor passion in extended format. This platform was recommended to me by several people and it also seemed a good fit for my YouTube audience who’ve been asking for paid extended content but don’t want to shell out a ton in expensive workshop fees. It also provides me the added benefit of being able to add class projects and allows students to share their projects and start up class discussions. The value is definitely there for my followers since you can also access tons of other instructional content, possibly not even related to art. Simply specify your instructional preferences and you’re presented with tons of learning options, all included for the same monthly price.

Patreon Supporters Please Note

For the foreseeable future this content will usually be duplicated on Patreon. Or I’ll provide free access to the Skillshare workshop. This access may vary depending on support level, so I’m not sure how that will play out exactly yet, but if you are a Patreon supporter and not interested in joining Skillshare for other content, wait a bit to see what I post as part of your rewards before also signing on to Skillshare.

Thanks for your support everyone and Happy Painting!


Do You Really Have Artist’s Block?

9172359 - hand breaking wall to touch the sun Staring at a blank sheet of paper and wondering what to paint is familiar and frustrating to any artist. So what’s artist’s block really all about?

For starters, I believe there are two types of artist’s block. There is what I’ll call “true” artist’s block, which I believe to be pretty rare, and the second more common version, which is simply “indecisiveness.”

Which One Are You?

True artist’s block could be defined as creative exhaustion. To be in this rare category, you’re probably a professional or practicing, prolific artist who has painted, drawn or designed their keister off and, for what ever reason, has reached a point of being out of creative gas. All of a sudden, no visual idea seems worthy to pursue given the body of work you’ve already done. You just don’t feel inspired with an idea you can use. If you’re a professional, full-time painter, designer or illustrator, you’ve probably actually faced this dilemma. However, for hobbyists or the casual spare-time artist its rarely the case. Why? … Stay with me here.

The second, more common type of artist’s block, I believe, is simply indecision or overthinking. In other words, creating a crisis out of deciding what to create next. This block usually comes because we don’t draw or paint often enough to be out of ideas, so instead we want to put our limited time to good use, and that makes our choices feel much more critical. This can be a hyper fixation on which direction would offer us the most success and satisfaction. It can be a tough choice and feel exactly like the other artist’s block

Good News!

The second type is the easiest to deal with. Why? Because half the battle is realizing why you’re blocked. Think about it. Does your next drawing or painting really hang on having a totally original, cool, rock-your-world idea? Um, probably not. Its a lot like being given a quiver with one arrow. You’re going to shoot that arrow but at what? You’ve only got one! Better make it count.

The best way to combat this block is first to think about your art goals. Why do you paint or draw in the first place? Fun, relaxation, improving your skill? The solution is easier than you think. Just do a little self butt kicking and paint or draw anything. Literally ANYTHING! Just do it! NOW! Ok fine, draw or paint something you love. Is it flowers? Don’t look for the perfect floral arrangement or try to be the next Susan Harrison Tustain. Just find a flower reference anywhere and get started – your yard, a magazine, online photo search, anywhere. Forget the thoughts of, “oh, thats just a simple daisy photo I’ve seen a hundred times.” Well, how many times have YOU drawn a daisy? Nine times out of ten, getting started is the hardest part. As you draw, more ideas will come. Trust me, they will! Do you do art work to give away as gifts? Then start asking those recipients what art they would love to have from you. Easy peasy! Stop making artistic choices such hard choices. Instead make snap choices. Open a door, any door. You’ll be surprised what adventure is behind it.

Here’s the Point

Take an explorer’s approach to art. Putting pencil to paper is an exploration. Every curve, shadow and mark is getting to know something better. This should at least be one of your goals as an artist. Its usually easier to explore than it is to envision your next great work. Get granular with your exploration. If you love landscape, don’t try to figure out the next beautiful scene you’ll paint. Instead explore specific elements you most want to explore – trees, stones, bushes, skies, water, etc. Make those your next focus. Then pick another and another. If it turns into some cool art, thats awesome!

The Rare Birds

If you are one of the rare types with “true” artists block, I have a simple suggestion for you – Google. There are mountains of articles out there already that deal with the exhaustion of creative ideas. I won’t deal with it here. Most artists have plenty of ideas, they just don’t know how to pick. If you realize that the process and the exploration matters more than the subject choice, then you’re on your block-busting way to fun times with art. Yay!

Copyright: dancelav / 123RF Stock Photo