I starting drawing and painting at a very young age and by the time I was a teenager I was selling my paintings. I knew I wanted to be an artist and things were going well. Then I decided to get a university degree in Fine Arts hoping I would learn to be a better painter, and also to find out what it takes to make a living as a full time artist. I didn't learn either of those things. That was pretty frustrating for me, to say the least.
Making good paintings has to do with how you put them together: Composition; values; color theory; that sort of thing. For me, being a good painter means having thorough knowledge of the materials and techniques of painting that allow for the maximum amount of expressive freedom; the ability to create paintings in any style, understanding how to create any effect with the paint that you want.
As a young painter starting out I wanted to have the knowledge and skill to paint anything I could imagine, see in nature, or even in the work of any other artist, dead of alive; that is total expressive freedom! I was asking the same kind of questions that I am often asked in workshops: What is the difference between the blacks, and the different whites? Or perhaps: "Is it OK to use black, or should I make my own blacks by mixing?" Should I use matte or gloss medium? Should I paint on a smooth or textured surface? Should I add water to my acrylics (solvent for oils)? Do I need to gesso my canvas or panel first? Should I paint on a rigid or flexible surface, and can I use house paint as a primer instead of gesso? Is it OK to paint gesso over old paintings? What about brushes, which ones are best for which mediums and techniques? What is the difference between a glaze and a veil, and how should I use them in my art? These are vital issues that dramatically affect the quality of your paintings, and their permanence.
I decided, after spending years learning all this stuff on my own, mostly by studying in conservation librairies, that I would focus on teaching all the technical stuff, what I call the 'craft of painting' - that knowledge that gives you complete mastery over the materials and techniques of painting. Also, there are so many great painters and resources available for learning how to make better paintings. So instead, I teach the kind of thing I wanted to learn as a young painter. Moreover, because this kind of teaching has not been a focus of the artist's training for so long, it has become difficult to find this kind of information.
I think it is important to understand things like how bending light affects your colors and tones; how reflecting and transmitting light affects the luminosity and intensity of your colors; how to use transparent, translucent and opaque color effects to manipulate the viewer's attention; understanding the various properties of the pigments and mediums to give you more control and expressive freedom,... that kind of stuff! The things that were common knowledge to the great painters of the Renaissance and Baroque eras but has been all but lost to the world of modern painters and the artist's education.
Woodcut print by Jan Baptist Collaert. Here we see the inner workings of the traditional Master Studio where apprentices and young artists are all at work learning the trade.
Indeed, the Master's Studios during the Renaissance and Baroque periods were workshops of great scientific understanding and experimentation compared to today's art classes where the focus is almost entirely placed on subject matter and conceptual aspects artistic creation. The Old Masters were indeed craftsmen, good painters, first. Coaching, mentoring, and instruction thru things like workshops by 'Master' painters is still the best way to learn how to be the best, and most successful artist you can be.
Find your favorite 'master' painters and get coaching and instruction from them, or take workshops from them if that is possible. This is what I would have preferred as a young aspiring artist instead of going to art school. Another problem I had however was that all the artists I wanted to learn from had been dead for hundreds of years. I didn't dig into the conservation material to help me learn all the technical stuff, I just wanted to understand how Caravaggio and my other favorite artists put their paintings together. Learning to be a better painter was a happy consequence of my studies and I like to pass this along to all the other artists that are tired of the trial and error approach to creating art.
I am happy and proud to be part of an excellent online mentoring program where you can learn how to make great paintings, and find your way in the world of business and the art market as well. All this from an amazing group of master artists from around the world. It means you can have access to learning from these great painters in a way that would have been practically impossible only a few years ago.