Art Classes and Education

Class Two: Let’s Get Ugly

After I finished my homework painting from the first class, I caved and bought all new paints. I went for the cheaper student grade of paint, which Lisa (my instructor) said was fine for the purposes of this class, but did recommend that we invest in good paint if we wanted to continue. She told us a story in the first class of a student of hers who had painted a large painting several years ago while she was still in school. She had it hanging in her living room until one day her little boy kicked a ball smack right into it. The paint shattered and fell to the floor. Can you imagine? Spending hours on a painting, carting it around for years, having it lovingly framed and hanging in your living room until one day all of the paint just falls off? Brutal!

She’d mentioned too that the cheaper paints have white in them, so when we’re mixing our colors, it might be tougher for us to get the real rich dark shades that the people with professional paints were getting. I was cool with this & figured just having the right colors would be a huge leap from last week. I was wrong.

Our entire first class and part of the second class consisted of making a color chart showing our reds, yellows, blues and the diminished shades. I was amazed at the difference when I would try to mix my crappy Liquitex BASICS brand alizarin crimson and Pebeo High Viscosity Studio cadmium yellow medium. I’m not sure if it was one or both, but I kept getting muddy pastel shades instead of the dark, rich shades of my neighbor. Finally Lisa came over and squirted a dab of Stevenson Professional cad yellow mid on my palette and the mixing went much better.

I couldn’t afford to replace my new paints with professional ones by the third class, but I definitely wanted to. We were mixing blacks using lemon yellow, alizarin crimson and phthalo blue. My paints refused to budge from grey. It did look a lot darker on the paper than it did on the palette, but again, I was seeing how the cheaper pigments can affect your painting. Pebeo brand lemon yellow? Has a crapload of white in it.

One last knock on my cheap paints – they seem to suck right across the board. I bought Daler Rowney acrylics in hookers green, phthalo blue and ultramarine blue just to mix up the brands and see if I could determine a winner. After only using them for 2 weeks, the lids on the Daler Rowney tubes won’t close. The threads get full of paint, that makes the twisting of the lid go a little wonky and the whole lid breaks inside so you don’t get a tight seal. You don’t get any seal! Seriously flawed design.

The Second Class

Back to class 2 – we painted! I assumed the classes would be mostly theory and then we’d have to go home to apply what we’d learned and do the actual painting at home. I was delighted to discover I’d have to get my hands dirty and dust off my courage so I could paint in front of everyone else. My class is not made up of intimidating hipsters or anything like that; we’re actually a pretty diverse group of folks ranging from early 20s to late 50s. About half have taken classes before at Emily Carr and nobody seems particularly confident in their abilities. Everyone seems happy to be there and excited to learn and play. Awesome! And still, a little nerve wracking. Sure, I’ve been creating stuff for a while now, but I don’t show it off to anyone until it’s finished. And if I have to throw it out and start over? Nobody sees that! Painting elbow to elbow is a whole ‘nother level.

This kind of stuff is why I’m so glad I’m taking a class. I like to paint my girls or little creatures. And there I was, Sunday afternoon painting a still life scene. We had very specific instructions as to the technique to use to paint the still life and the point of the exercise was to work on the technique more than make a recognizable image of a still life. Lisa set up a little table draped with fabric and some fruit. We were to use our hookers green for the underpainting, then paint in the darks and lights using a very limited palette of hookers green mixed with alizarin crimson and a bit of blue and yellow. We worked on moving very quickly, abstractly, blending the brushstrokes and scumbling. I thought I was doing pretty well, working on the dark shapes of the apples and blending the background until I saw Lisa’s painting. In about a tenth of the amount of time I’d taken, she’d finished a great representation of the apples with bright highlights and bold shadows. Mine was so blendy blendy and not nearly bold enough with the shading.

That’s the great part about class – I don’t need to paint a pretty picture; I don’t have to be afraid of making it ugly. I’m looking forward to trying to that exercise again and being bolder. Even too bold would be better than too dull!


Homework for the second class was to do another still life, this time using a paint scooping technique. It was the opposite of the scumbled blending we’d just done. Long bold brush strokes with no blending allowed. We were to take 2 or 3 different colors on each scoop and somehow make that look like our subject, again using a limited color palette of just one third of our color chart. So if I wanted to use yellows, I could use yellows, purples and all the neutrals between them, but nothing in reds or blues.

Scooping Practice

I ended up getting a wicked cold last week and spent most of my days in bed with a cold cloth on my forehead and Kleenex shoved up my nose. I didn’t get a chance to tackle the homework until Saturday night and boy do I wish I’d started sooner! That scooping technique is fun, but definitely NOT natural for me. I kept wanting to blend it in or go back and change things. As soon as I did (and I did, I couldn’t help myself) it ruins the effect. My colors got muddy. I scraped right through to the underpainting. My palette was a mess of pastels and browns instead of the crisp clear colors she wanted.

Our instructions were to use some of the same colors in the foreground that were in the subject, but not the same intensity, muted. I think I took this to heart too much and ended up with a muddy looking painting with way too much of the same colors everywhere.

Her other tip was to be careful to not repeat brushstrokes in areas we didn’t want to draw attention to, like the background. Whenever you’ve got 3 or 4 of the exact same brushstroke, it stands out as a “pay attention to me!” part of the painting.

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