Taking the plunge: Beginning to Paint

I finally took the plunge–I’ve started painting. Years ago I loved the art class I took in ninth grade (a mere 33 years ago! Sheesh), and since then I’ve been drawing, ink, pencil and charcoal. I never started painting because the art form seemed too esoteric or high for the simple and untrained talents I had in rendering. Painting was for the art students who apprenticed in large rooms with mysterious tools, stained clothes, old jars of smelly liquids. Which medium is the best for a beginner? What are the advantages of oil over acrylic? Watercolor over tempura? And what is the world is gauche?

A few years ago, I moved from keeping a hand-written journal to a drawn journal to capture the experiences of traveling in Nepal, Guam and Thailand. Then a chance gift gave me the push I needed.

A couple from Wales was moving from our neighborhood in Saudi Arabia to Oman, and we took their couch off their hands for a cool 100 in cash. While moving it, I saw his own painting, stacked in the to-be-shipped-pile. The oil painting was a bit rough, Arabic in theme: tall white buildings chaotically reached into the sky. He said, “I only paint when I’m drunk.” Made sense. After asking me if I painted (I said no, but I wanted to), he offered me all his art supplies. For free.

So now I was committed. I said I wanted to, and I had piles of acrylic and oil paints. I went for some board canvases and read up on the difference between oil and acrylic, and I chose acrylic because it was easier to clean up.

I wanted first to know how paint acted on the canvas. What happened when it was applied to the canvas and brushed about? What happened when two colors are added to each other on the canvas?

Here is the result. I liked the effect of the white thinning in and under the blue creating a falling motion. My wife thought it looked like a waterfall in abstract. So I’ve kept it. It is where I started, and the intimidation of painting started to fade into a excitement for the challenge: how could I manipulate the medium to create a new effect? 1

Here is my second attempt. In this case I painted the scene from another painting. I liked the distance of the horizon and the dominance of the tree. Now I was adding greens and browns and a bit of yellow to the palate. In the original, the tree was colored with flowers, but when I tried the flowers the tree looked polkadotted. It was hideous. So I grabbed a brush and worked the white into the green producing a very pleasing effect of lighter green to darker green with all the blending happening on the canvas. The lines from the brush left a sense of movement of the tree. I was also surprised that the paint strokes could create depth. The water and grasses moved toward the horizon. 2

I made the mistake of waiting until the tree was done to figure out how to make the clouds look like clouds. The clouds were okay looking, but they hover around the tree—none are behind it.

I was pleasantly surprised at how the white can draw the eye to an area of the canvas and realized that I have to be purposeful about where I leave bright areas on the canvas.