An Assignment to Change the Way You Think About Painting
We have all been there—in a rut—painting what we know, choosing colors we like and using techniques we’re comfortable with. They don’t call it the comfort zone for nothing!
It’s pretty hard to grow as an artist, be it as a painter, photographer or sculptor, if we never challenge ourselves.
We asked acrylic artist William Harmuth to give us an assignment that forces us to work outside our boxes. William is passionate about painting on square surfaces, painting quickly (almost always finishing a painting within a day) and minimally mixing colors.
Acrylic Artist: William, you seldom spend more than a few hours on a painting—why the urgency?
Will Harmuth: I like to paint with energy and momentum and I find that if I have to return to a piece over and over that energy is lost. This is when painting turns into a chore and the painting starts to lose its vibrancy and energy. I want the paintings to feel like a spontaneous discovery. I was walking down the street and stumbled across this great scene, and I want the viewer to experience that same sense of discovery.
Once I find something I want to paint, I allow my memory and the reality of the place to settle in a bit before I bring the image and the emotion together in a painting. When everything is in synch it doesn’t even seem like I’m painting—it’s more like I’m simultaneously leading and following with the work.
AA: What’s your philosophy on mixing colors?
WH: I like to mix my paint on the canvas or panel—selecting the major colors and then going back to my paint selections to add and mix more color into the area I’m working. Many times I just dip the brush into several colors and then place it on the surface, permitting the enriched color to do its work on the canvas.
Your assignment is simple, paint like me. Don’t try to paint what I paint—replicating another’s work always fails. I want you to give up tight, restricted brush strokes, meticulous color blending and laborious hours at the canvas. Paint small and fast. Feel what it’s like to just let the brush go and play with paint. Select two brushes—two points or two brights—this will keep you from focusing on the minutia. Think big shapes and place them boldly.
Rules of the Assignment
If you are accustomed to painting in a tight, precise manner, perhaps planning and prepping all your colors, sketching on the canvas before you paint or spending days at the canvas, this is for you.
- Pick a subject that is not familiar to you.
- Pick a canvas or panel 12 x12 or a little smaller if you prefer.
- Work with these basic colors: cool gray medium, white, black, Hooker’s green, cadmium orange, golden yellow, yellow ochre, cobalt blue, cadmium red—this should be enough colors.
- No mixing on the palette and minimal color mixing on the surface.
- Use only two brushes, perhaps a 3 and 8-point.
- Work on an easel with your arm extended. Try not to use your brush like a pencil.
AA: What can we expect?
WH: Perhaps a hot mess, and that’s ok! Just let loose, have fun, try something completely different and allow yourself to feel what it’s like to paint freely. Be inspired by a photo or a picture in your head, but don’t be married to it. See where the painting takes you and follow. Will you ditch your ways and paint like me? Most likely not. But you may learn that you don’t need to mix color as much as you do. Or, you can let go of some of the fine detail for more free and open brushwork.
And if anything you will learn you can always try something new, if only just for fun.