This is the short version of what I've learned:
Consistent repetitive practice and tolerance/acceptance of negative emotions/thoughts are critical. Everything else will be learned on the way. That's really all I have to say. You can skip to the paintings now.
This is the long unnecessary version:
If there is one important thing I learned about painting this is it:
Learn to tolerate the negative thoughts and feelings. Painting has been one of the most frustrating and most rewarding things I've ever done. I wanted to quit a whole lot especially during the beginning. It really hurts to want something so bad, to love something, only to be denied it again and again. In short it just hurts a lot. Building up a tolerance and acceptance of those negative thoughts and emotions along the way is the greatest and most useful thing I've learned. Often when I am painting and about 45 minutes into it, my head might says "You're terrible, you should give this whole thing up" and I then feel the frustration or despair that comes along with that thought. But by now I'm used to it and I say,"Ah there you are. Come have a seat. You are welcome here, but we ARE going to finish this painting". In the past I wouldn't have realized I was being taken over by despair and I would throw the painting down and my hands up (literally). This awareness and acceptance has made all the difference. To me this is the most important thing that allows the second most important thing...
The second most important thing that goes hand in hand is brush mileage. You need to paint miles of canvas to get better at painting (thus the first step with 120 paintings) I don't think you can get a whole lot better as an occasional sunday painter. You can't just take one class that meets once a week. I think you have to make it part of you life. Every day would be great or even maybe three times a week, but I think you have to put much more canvas behind you and also keep it fresh in your head. This is why I committed to 120 this year (see Larry Seiler anywhere on wetcanvas.com). I needed to put a good mile behind me relatively often to see if it would improve me. In my humble opinion, I really feel like I have gotten a lot better. Obviously I still have miles to go, but I really look forward to those miles.
I may have made this sound like a lot of pain, work and struggle, but I can't adequately express the rewards. I see the world much different. "Things" have now become colors are shapes that I never saw before. Colors that never appeared to me before seem to just reveal themselves now. It honestly changes the way that you physically see things. Please pardon my mushiness, but it just seems like a miracle sometimes and I am astounded and sometimes just stare in awe. (that's what you get for reading the long version :P)
The rest is a random list of the last ten percent of what I've learned. This is just random stuff I've learned along the way and are certainly subject to change. These are not necessary in order...
- Ivory Black is a murderer. I tried to shade with black on "first apple" and it just kills the chroma of any color it touches like the spreading of the black plague. Now I mix any darks.
- You don't need a million paints to get started. I used a bunch of random paints at first and it was chaotic and frustrating. Mixing was a crapshoot and color harmony uncommon. Under Kevin Macpherson's advice, I painted with the very limited palatte of cad yellow light, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue (See Macpherson's "Fill Your Oil Paintings With Light & Color). A little later I added cad red and thalo blue to be able to reach greener greens, bright oranges and some very deep dark colors as well. It's been very liberating to mix all my colors from a primary palette.
- At some point around the beginning to middle, this book was a godsend for me: Macpherson's "Fill Your Oil Paintings With Light & Color" It made things a lot simpler and easy to understand in every aspect of painting. I highly recommend it to anyone learning to paint.
- Value compostion. I find that a painting has to have a good value composition underlying it's design. Basically I draw it (at least I should every time) as a two value black and white sketch before I paint. You want to hold your light family and dark family group to this basic value design. Otherwise it will become flat, muddle and lack the punch you were hoping for.
- There are two family in light, the dark side and the light side and never shall the twain meet. Seriously. To keep to that underlying value composition, keep your values for each family within that family only. You're lightest dark shouldn't be as light as your darkest light. Otherwise it will poke holes in your basic value composition.
- You don't need super fancy brushes. I started with those nice silky sables and it was just an invitation to fussiness. I switched to bristol brushes and am not going back. They don't let me obsess over detail and they make for great texture and fun brush strokes.
- Details are dumb. Sorry for lack of a better phrase, but for me I found I was trying to make a painting "better" by adding little detail which didn't help at all. What I was missing was the correct values (or good basic design) and was trying to make up for it with details.
- Values are critical. This can't be overstated. If you don't get the value relationship right between your color masses, it just won't work. You'll get the mid-toney local color look in so many paintings have that drives me crazy.
- Squint to better see values. Do this experiment- Squint next time you're outside and you'll see how dark a tree line really is in comparison to the skyline and the ground plane. I had never really realized the reality of the value difference before.
- Blur you vision for color. It gets rid of details and really lets you see the chroma.
- I love my pochade box. My little paint box sits on top of a tripod and carries everything that I need. It's great for keeping my unorganized ass together. Forget easels and french easels. Try a pochade box on a tripod. It's a joy.
- Edges are important. Do not leave them all sharp or you painting will look like a cutt out and pasted on objects. It took me quit awhile to see this for some reason.
- Don't overblend, hell don't even blend. Just make an intermediate color when transitioning. I have overblended so much and sometimes still do trying to "improve" a painting (like details) and it just starts to kill it.
- Make a comitment on your center of interest or you painting will feel conflicted like "what is this really about?" Make decisions toward that end like sharp edges and value/chroma contrast at your center of interest.
"Fill Your Oil Paintings With Light & Color" Kevin Macpherson -This is a great book for the beginner. My #1 book. Breaks it all down to manageable steps
"Capturing Radiant Light & Color in Oils and Soft Pastels" by Susan Sarback -descendant of the Cape Cod school reinforces the importance of getting the intial color masses correct (very similar in method to Macpherson)
"Dramatize Your Paintings With Tonal Value" Carole Katchen -emphasizes the importance of correct value and value compositions
Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting by John F. Carlson -Though dry, fascinating and useful in what you learn about outdoor light.
I love all the painters in my list but these painters especially should be watched everyday. These painters more that any others I look to for inspiration and constant education. They are simply wonderful:
and Terry Miura
My Setup - All my basic equipment for painting.
What I've Learned (after 120 paintings)
Digital Starts - Photoshop, but it's exactly how I paint anything.