Learning to paint is a two-fold exercise, consisting of painting Theories and Techniques. I like to refer to these as the two “T”s of a successful painting. While these Ts work harmoniously in every successful painting, it is often easier to focus on one or the other when first learning to paint. Attempting to compose the elements of an unfamiliar scene, determining its relative light and dark relationships, evaluating the color relationships within its borders, while learning a new painting medium or trying a new painting method, can prove very frustrating. Often this “too much, too quickly” painting approach leads to discouragement. This is why I recommend the student make one “T” at a time a focus.
Theory defines the various concepts artists have developed as a means of expressing the human experience. These theories have developed from observation and represent science
and the aesthetics of beauty. The theories of aerial-atmospheric perspective, linear perspective, center of interest, color harmony, and compositional design are some of the most commonly referenced. When learning the manipulative aspects of these theories and how they affect the painting’s outcome, it is best to work in a familiar painting media, utilizing techniques that you are confident with. If you are secure in your abilities within that media, you will be able to focus your energies on the job of administering the theory.
Technique represents the ability to handle the media confidently. Understanding
and having the technical ability to utilize the varied methods of pastel application is similar to being able to play a musical instrument. You may have a tune in your head but, if you can’t play an instrument, others will never hear it. To build pastel technique
confidence, work from familiar subject matter. Even better, copy a previous painting that was successful. This will allow you to focus on the techniques of product application without the distraction of orchestrating all the visual elements of the scene.
By designating theory and technique as separate fields of painting study, you will become a more confident artist. Eventually the two come together and you will respond intuitively to painting situations, and thus avoid the dreaded third painting T—Tentative!
[pictured above] A group of painters in Santa Barbara, Calif., out in the field, conquering the Ts.
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