Painting 101

Second day of classes was good. I made sure to leave extra early, and I’m glad that I did. I was in class 15 minutes early and Martha Erlebacher came in a few minutes before 9:30; and boy, class started as soon as she stepped in the room. There were a few people who wandered in after 9:30 and we all got the lecture about how “we’re doing seven years’ worth of work in two years, we don’t have the time to not be on time.” A second year student said to me, “She’s intense, I hope you’re ready.” He was right. She is intense, but you can tell that she really knows her stuff. And it’s not some academic theoretical knowledge—she know how to paint, because she has been painting for decades. She had us do cast drawing on a canvas today in preparation for a grisaille painting, and told us to take three hours getting the drawing perfected. She said that if the drawing is bad, the painting will be bad.

In the afternoon she lectured to us for a while and gave us practical tips about the tools of painting. It was almost overwhelming to have her machine-gun these dense crystalized gems of knowledge that she has cultivated over the years. It would be difficult to pick out a highlight from the session, but I particularly enjoyed her views on perfection. The gist of it was that the artist who knows there is a flaw in his work and does not fix it should be extremely ashamed of himself. If there is a flaw in the piece, you rework it until you have it perfect. I found out about that first-hand this afternoon.

As I said, we spent three hours working a drawing on a canvas. With three hours at my disposal I was able to get a really great looking contour drawing done. When she came around to look at it, she looked at me and said, “You made her a little too wide, but you probably already knew that. You need to fix it.” Sure enough, my drawing of the statue was a bit grander than the original I was copying. I had been so intent on the contour that I was willing to overlook that flaw (after all, the viewer won’t be comparing my work side-by-side with the original, and without the cast in front of you, mine looked correct). Not good enough. So I got to spend some extra time slimming her down.

We’ve also been instructed to have our paints ‘mixed up’ before class starts so we don’t waste class time getting the paints in order. Guess Thursdays will perforce be an early day. I’m going to learn a lot in that class…

– Jeremy

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