Artistic Driver’s Education

When we first attempt to paint, the bulk of our energy is focused on learning how to handle the medium we’ve chosen. In many ways, it’s similar to learning to drive an automobile. At first, we are not as concerned with where we are driving but how we are driving. As technical ability improves, confidence develops, and the focus shifts to the destination—or the purpose behind the action. This natural progression is important to remember as we venture out on painting adventures. Without a clear understanding of the purpose, or concept, behind a painting, we’ll never know when we’ve arrived at the “destination.”


An Evening Rain (pastel, 12×24) by Richard McKinley

Most of us remember the thrill we felt when we first applied pigment to a surface and it resembled what it was we were looking at. The purpose was clear and we knew that we were done when the objects in the painting looked correct. In essence, we had successfully driven the car around the block without causing an accident. Now, for the adventure … we had to decide where to go from there.

The Artist’s Journey: The analogy of painting to driving an automobile is a good one. The technical mastery required to paint encompasses the coordination of many visual skill sets. We have to learn to draw shapes, widths and heights accurately, utilizing the components of perspective. The elements of color (hue and temperature), value (lightness and darkness), and chroma (saturation and intensity) have to be understood and manipulated to create a harmonious outcome. And finally, all of these have to be orchestrated compositionally, utilizing the personality of the chosen medium to produce a successful end result. These components of painting are the vehicle; they are the ride. Their purpose is to get us to the final creative destination intact.

Considerable effort and practice are required to master the mechanics of painting and driving, but eventually they become intuitive. How many of us consciously place our foot on the brakes to stop at a stop sign? This occurs in painting as well. We decide on a destination, prepare ourselves for the journey, and then respond to the incidentals that may lie in our path. Some days there are detours and bumps against the curb. Instead of letting this ruin the journey, the seasoned traveler learns to regroup and allow the detours to provide new adventures and the bumps to make us more aware.

There are considerable rules and regulations that form the structure of both painting and driving. At times we can break these rules without consequence, but do it too often and you’ll eventually get caught, requiring a return to driving school. If we focus on learning to drive well, select a vehicle that suits our purpose, and map out a final destination, there will be many creative adventures awaiting those adventurous enough to see what lies over the horizon. Remember, painting is a journey.


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