Rebellious student

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Richard Alm of Vancouver, B.C. wrote, “I recently completed 151 of the 300 11” x 14″s you requested as part of the “Genn School of Go-To-Your-Room.” I’m getting very itchy to do some larger ones. Do you permit making larger ones from the better of your smaller ones before the 300 have been completed?”

original painting
by Richard Alm

Thanks, Richard. When we last spoke I also suggested you follow your nose and don’t pay too much attention to any instructor, including me. I thought I also implied that those small paintings might be done concomitantly with any other work you might have in mind. If I missed this point, I apologize. As an artist I believe in free will — but I also believe in preparatory exercises. Whether a series of exploratory roughs, comps, a-painting-a-day, or thumbnails before a more ambitious project, sketches pave the way to professionalism. Here’s a reminder of what sketches can do for you: — Make your mistakes smaller, not larger. — By including “notan” sketches (simple black and white patterns) you learn to find better compositions. — Discover the best angles, aspects and forms of a subject. — Learn to work fresher and looser so you’ll have less investment and obligation. — Ask yourself, “What could be?” and have more fun wherever you go. — Make more sense of your visual world and its manifestation in your art. Preparatory sketches help you understand what you are trying to do while helping you to feel less precious about your work. Small works tend to be automatically stronger. For one thing they seem to more easily take up the whole picture plane. Further, you need not make your smaller works too comprehensive (This may be a problem with your sketches, Richard–they look like they’re trying to burst their britches and become larger paintings). Being a basically contrary person myself, I find it useful to ask, “What do I want to do today?” A sketch in the cold grey light of dawn often takes just a few minutes to find the way. Big, small, difficult, easy–the day’s karma appears like a genie. Then there’s nothing to it but to do it. Best regards, Robert PS: “Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.” (Miguel de Cervantes) “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” (Benjamin Franklin) Esoterica: Life is an exercise, but it’s not a rehearsal. Many artists find that the sketch stage is just as vital and rewarding as the magnum opus that comes later. Sketches, to the dismay of many artists, may even be superior in quality. Particularly in rough form, it’s important to cave in to your most expedient inclinations, happiest pathways and most endearing sensibilities. “Preparation does not take away any of the enthusiasm of the final painting. In fact, the preliminaries in color and tonal studies free up the artist for an unbridled yet focused trip to the finish.” (Harley Brown)   Richard Alm – 11 x 14 sketches 041312_robert-genn2 041312_robert-genn3 041312_robert-genn4           041312_robert-genn5 041312_robert-genn6 041312_robert-genn7           More brush miles by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA  

watercolour painting
by Jim Oberst

A little over two years ago I started painting small watercolor paintings and posting one a week on a special website, I started this project with the main goal of encouraging myself to paint more, thereby improving my paintings. But I’ve found that many of these small paintings are excellent models for my larger paintings. I’ve found that not all of them translate well… some of these larger paintings can look a bit “vacant.” The larger ones that turn out well are often based on a small one that looks somewhat “busy.” And sometimes I go in the opposite direction — from large to small. In any case, it’s very helpful to have an extra impetus to put “more miles on the brushes.”   Group of Seven sketches by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada  

“End of day”
oil painting
by Brigitte Nowak

Canada’s “Group of Seven” were known for their small oil sketches, and, in many cases, these are stronger works than the large canvases they completed in the studio, based on the sketches: they were immediate, with bold composition, yet they had paid attention to colour and value and all the tools that make for a good painting. Richard Alm looks to be an astute student of the “go to your room” maxim, and might benefit further by checking out the Group’s sketches.         There are 2 comments for Group of Seven sketches by Brigitte Nowak
From: JR — Apr 16, 2012

Gorgeous painting!

From: Peter — Apr 17, 2012

Your painting makes me feel like I’m right there. I learned a new composition from you with this unusual vertical view. Thanks.

  Three hundred insipid little canvases? by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

“Boots by Dayton”
acrylic painting, 30 x 40 inches
by John Ferrie

There is a reason why artists go to art school and that is where they can learn the foundations of being an artist. It is also the place where they can discover if they can push the envelope and fuse photography and print making with sculpture and performance art. Back when the earth was cooling, I attended art school. I remember my first year with an instructor named Ted Wichula, who had a thick German accent and would read for hours from Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Most days, I was plotting his death. But his teachings, as painful as they were, are the ones I draw on most to this day. It is important to follow some assignments, especially when they inspire you. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why anyone would follow being told to paint 300, 11″ x 14″ canvases, let alone tell an artist that this is what they should do. I think it is a good idea to keep a sketch book with writings, clippings and drawings of where the work is from and the direction they want it to go. Three hundred insipid little canvases? Ok, for our next assignment, we are all going to stand on our heads and spit nickels…   Painting over drawings by Betty Covington, St. George, UT, USA  

original painting
by Betty Covington

I have a dear friend who recently enrolled in an acrylic painting class for adults. I am also a painter, and I always do a good drawing first which helps me when I get ready to paint in oils. Her teacher told her to paint over her drawing. I find it really hard to believe her teacher would tell her to do this. Am I being stupid here? I would really appreciate your feedback on this one. I’ve been painting in oils since 2004, and I feel I’m a pretty good painter. I do portraits and figures that tell a story, but I always do a drawing first, which is a big help to me. I’m very proud of my large sketch book with all of my drawings. (RG note) Thanks, Betty. Nothing wrong with painting over a drawing. Michelangelo did it and even the pope didn’t mind. But also, by all means yes, keep your drawings as well. They are an art in themselves. There is 1 comment for Painting over drawings by Betty Covington
From: Anonymous — Apr 17, 2012

My study for a painting is usually drawn directly on canvas, and yes I paint over it. Although I do lots of thumbnails, if I want a drawing for the drawing’s sake it is the finished work: I framed and sold quite a few with no intention of painting them. They were strong enough to stand by themselves.

  Forget quantity by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“Purple Cedars”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

I am not a fan of mountains of sketches or any routine-ized way of working. You end up with a stack of routine paintings where a certain dull sameness is manifested. Do you necessarily get better when you make 1,000 tuna fish sandwiches instead of two good ones? It’s quality over quantity. It takes time to see real progress as a painter.   There are 3 comments for Forget quantity by Paul deMarrais
From: Silvia Forrest — Apr 17, 2012

I’m with you. Lovely painting!

From: Stephen Filarsky — Apr 17, 2012

You will have a much higher number of good and interesting paintings sketches if you do 1000 than if you do two, in which case the odds of having two bland boring and overworked paintings are pretty high. Lots of new paintings/sketches means starting fresh with what you have learned from the last 100 or 500 or 999 paintings. The important thing however is balance. You have to do both.

From: Anonymous — Apr 17, 2012

I’d rather eat your 1000th tuna sandwich than the second one. LOL

  The value of initial sketches by Libby Gilpatric, Middletown, RI, USA  

“Urban Landscape II”
oil painting, 18 x 24 inches
by Libby Gilpatric

I’m currently working on a series of larger landscapes, roughly 36 “x 40” and in varying rectangle-shapes. I have discovered that my graphite sketches were meticulous in planning the spatial divisions of the picture plane and the placement of dark and light shapes. I used charcoal to transpose those division marks and loosely sketch the composition on the stretched- and primed-by-me linen. Applying the first layers of underpainting and drawing with paint has been extraordinarily freeing, and I’m capturing the colors of light and shadow with more paint and color, mixing new shades and tones as needed. Without those initial sketches, I would be struggling much more with the basic composition. Rings true for me: “Preparation does not take away any of the enthusiasm of the final painting. In fact, the preliminaries… free up the artist for an unbridled yet focused trip to the finish.” (Harley Brown)   New mission statement by Richard Alm, Vancouver, BC, Canada  

acrylic painting, 20 x 30 inches
by Richard Alm

Extreme thanks for the promo and more thanks for the release from penury and 1/2 time off for good behavior. My mission statement now reads: “To explore and enjoy the evolution of my personal style and quality of work by completing 300 acrylic paintings (11″ x 14″ and larger) by Aug 4, 2012, with the objective of bringing my artistic skills as a painter to a premium level, with work that is acceptable to better galleries world wide. I also played hooky with the attached 20″ x 31” which was just juried into Canvas Unbound exhibition at the Federation of Canadian Artists. There is 1 comment for New mission statement by Richard Alm
From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 16, 2012

Congratulations on the larger painting, and on its acceptance into the FCA juried exhibition. Nice to see that the discipline of the smaller paintings has paid off for you!

  Overpainting enhanced by underpainting by Judy Palermo, Shoreview, MN, USA  

“Grapes on the Patio”
oil painting, 6 x 6 inches
by Judy Palermo

Your article had phrases that reverberated down my spine: ‘helping you to feel less precious about your work’ and ‘work fresher and looser so you’ll have less investment and obligation.’ How true, but how hard it is to take work in which you were engrossed and lost, to look up at the clock and suddenly realize three painstaking hours have flown by, and then to force a cavalier attitude upon that effort. But it’s indeed the best mindset for progress. I surprise myself in how easy it’s become to paint over a previous work, even when there are some pride-worthy passages within them. I remind myself that the world does not need more mediocrity; for whatever reason the new overpainting always seems to be enhanced by that one to which you are now brushing ‘Goodbye.’   Another rebellious artist by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA  

oil painting
by Sandra Bos

I just want to say something about small sketches: I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. I am one of those “shoot from the hip” kind of Artist. I start by sketching on my canvas and looking at the negative spaces around my subject to see my ‘over-all composition. (Well, hopefully I remember to do so…) Anyway, I just need to be immediate from the get go… Sometimes the canvas has a mind of its own and I know I better listen. (I guess that’s the genie in the bottle for me.) One thing about oil painting: I can make changes and sometimes it’s better to ‘take away’ than to ‘add more.’ It’s always been a struggle to remember ‘less is more.’ In fact this was just recently suggested from another fellow Artist, about my work. I know I’ve always been a bit rebellious but I never thought about this in painting. This is so very interesting! It really tells me a lot about my work! I’ll try to behave myself in the future!    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Rebellious student

From: Deborah S. — Apr 13, 2012

Dear Richard, I love your paintings,I feel that I could walk right in and have picnic under the trees or stroll along the shore,,maybe a man will come and take a boat out for the day fishing,,Thank you for sharing these

From: Brigitte Nowak — Apr 13, 2012

Re the value of sketches: Canada’s “Group of Seven” were known for their small oil sketches, and, in many cases, these are stronger works than the large canvases they completed in the studio, based on the sketches: they were immediate, with bold composition, yet they had paid attention to colour and value and all the tools that make for a good painting. Richard Alm looks to be an astute student of the “go to your room” maxim, and might benefit further by checking out the Group’s sketches.

From: Jackie Knott — Apr 13, 2012

Sketches? They look like finished paintings to me, and very well executed ones at that. The one with the golfer and ball in the rough was a bit of whimsy, and made me smile … and I don’t even play. It appears the “student” is entirely prepared to embark on his own course. Richard, I don’t see how a larger work would improve on what you have done but if you feel the need to paint some as larger pieces, follow your instinct ….

From: Anne van Leeuwen — Apr 13, 2012
From: Anonymous — Apr 13, 2012

Mr Ferrie: Your attitude about not being willing to explore a large number of sketches in pursuit of refining the quality of your work is probably the reason you are still working as a restaurant waiter.

From: john Ferrie — Apr 13, 2012

Gee, for someone who claims to know me so well, hiding behind being anonymous speaks volumes of your judgement and integrity. I am more than entitled to my opinion and have no shame in an honest days work. I work very hard, but I never know when a painting is going to sell, so I keep a regular job. If that bothers you, then that is YOU’RE PROBLEM! And if you actually read my statement, you will read I recommend keeping a sketchbook.

From: Jane Ford — Apr 13, 2012

You have such skill with your media. From your Salon buddy: simplify, lose the original photo in your sketching, look at the 4 edges and see where things touch. That is all for now. Enjoy!

From: Sandy — Apr 13, 2012

My take on your exercise would be to repeat compositions, changing each one just a bit until you achieved a higher level. This reminds me with my problems with swimming. I fight the water. I was at a camp and I asked the swim coach to help me. She had me swim for 5 minutes. At the end of that time I had learned to relax and swim with ease.

From: Judy Wray — Apr 13, 2012

I am DOING Rosa Bonheur’s Horse a giant coloring book..using Old Holland and Windsor Newton of my life..haven’t gotten to use paints like this since I was a teenager. Anyhow..the one in progress is 16 ft. wide got another one down in the garden, a lower and white..on hold. Just for starters..Then another one 10 ft wide at a Spanish School in the hills..that one did not turn out as high a resolution as the one in my that one is on hold too..another one to replace it coming tomorrow..crisp detail! Then it will be an Art Goes Public in the Mexican hills! What a lark!! Now, regressing a visit my 7 yr old grandson, first time since he was a baby..and I am bringing una mas..this one 5 ft wide..and hope it will be with him throughout his life!!! This is fun..What a pleasure it is to be able to do this..thank you for your letters.They enrich and invariably hit the nail on the head. Adios and fly on!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Apr 13, 2012

Artists would like to be recognized for their individuality and style. In order to develop their style or technique it is good to be open to suggestion and criticism. We learn and evolve by not being afraid of trying new things. There is great wealth of ideas that can be drawn the world around us that open to new possibilities. We should not get stuck and get stagnant. Famous artists often evolved and broke away from what was accepted in their time while some artists stayed to what they were committed. It’s important to just be true to ourselves and keep doing.

From: Susan Broznitsky — Apr 13, 2012

I have signed up for your workshop at Hollyhock this summer, and this email from Richard Alm intrigued me. I have only just started trying acrylics, but have dabbled in watercolour for years. Any suggestions on preparations for the workshop? I would like your input rather than reinventing the wheel. I have read your story of going to your room, but was unfamiliar with your 300 paintings suggestion. From your response to Richard, I gather that you place a lot of emphasis on sketches. I have tended to jump in and do a painting with minimal preliminary studies. I am starting to realize that if I want to do more than dabble something has to change.

From: Julie Trail — Apr 13, 2012

I will share this wisdom with my own students! Wise, thoughtful words, as always! Thank You, Robert!

From: Kathy Mayerson — Apr 13, 2012

Where does one find the “Genn School of Go-To-Your-Room?

From: Judy Hemmerling-Schafers — Apr 13, 2012
From: Patty O’Kane — Apr 14, 2012

Couldn’t agree more with your critique of Richard’s work. Besides looking like they are trying to burst into size 3XL, they look tedious and tight. This is an artist that needs to loosen up on a big support. Work from the elbow, rather than the knuckles, so to speak. I enjoyed seeing his work. Thanks for posting and thanks to Robert for sharing.

From: Carolynn Wagler — Apr 14, 2012

I somehow missed the ‘Go to your room’ instructions. Would you mind sending it to me or help me find it? I need this for encouragement, helping my students and sharing with my mentor….Thanks,

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Apr 16, 2012
From: Rick Rotante — Apr 17, 2012

Not all the work I do is spot on-the first time. I have no problem to paint over a bad work. I would rather paint it again until I felt it was right, than leave a bad work for posterity.

From: Sharron — Apr 19, 2012

My goodness! I looked at Richard’s sketches. I am impressed. Is he sure that those are not finished paintings? :-)

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Late afternoon Landscape 1

oil painting 40 x 60 inches by Helen Vaughn, Huntsville, AL, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Elizabeth Bertoldi of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Robert, where will I find your “Go — to — your — room” program? Sounds like it may be just the thing to get me going again!” (RG note) Thanks, Elizabeth. “Go to your room” is a term encompassing four important words in my lexicon of an artist’s thrival skills. Several people asked about how I might offer GTYR as a course. Unfortunately, it is an imagement of my figmentation.    

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