Looking Forward: 2020 Edition

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I ended my previous post noting my question of whether I would return to Watts Online Atelier in 2020. The next day I decided I would return.

I love almost everything about Watts (the grading system is still lacking, though), and I was happy to be back. Also, they had announced that they would be releasing a new Figure Drawing Fundamentals course taught by Brian Knox. And that they did, on December 28. I was thrilled.

And yet, today, just a few hours ago, I decided to leave Watts and return to New Masters Academy.

Why?

There are a few reasons.

First and foremost, after spending two hours on their new Figure Fundamentals course, I was lost. Watts does what it can to cater to beginners, but, really, I think you need to have some experience before joining them. If Watts’ most basic courses were college 101 drawing courses, all students without sufficient high school art classes would need to take some remedial drawing classes. I found this to be true with their Drawing Fundamentals and their Head Fundamentals, and, sadly, I find it to be true with their Figure Fundamentals.

On the other hand, I never thought I was in over my head while at New Masters. They have a bonafide beginner’s course that cleared up a lot of things for me, and while some of their instructors may springboard to more advanced topics, Steve Huston doesn’t. In fact, when I first started watching his head drawing course, I was a little put off by how basic his first lessons were. (By this time, I had already gone through Watts Head Fundamentals.) But I quickly discovered that while his lessons seemed basic in terms of intellectual content, putting those lessons into practice in terms of drawing was not only challenging but also greatly improved my skills.

So, for this reason alone, I decided to move from Watts Online Atelier to New Masters Academy. But this move isn’t the only item I want to discuss in this post. I also want to look forward to what I hope to achieve in 2020.

2020 will be my first year as a bonafide aspiring artist. In previous years, art was always “just a hobby.” At least, that’s what I told myself. Deep down, I wanted it to be more. In fact, I knew it was more. But it took me a long time to accept this new reality. And so, 2020 is officially the “Year I Get Serious About Art.” I’ve done my best to clear my plate of all non-essential non-art related activities. Art will be my full-time work.

And let me tell you, that’s pretty exciting and a little frightening.

I am nowhere near where I want to be as an artist. I have no aspirations to be a Great Artist. I just want to become the best artist I can, and I know there is a big gulf between where I’m at now and where I can be. Simply stated: while it’s tempting to turn pro and put all my effort into selling my work — maybe even starting a YouTube channel (hey, all the cool kids are doing it!) — 2020 is dedicated to training. To that end, here are my plans.

*Do art daily.

*Focus on head and figure drawing so that I can start head and figure painting in 2021. At the moment, I have no desire to be a draftsman. My end goal is to be a painter.

*Get deep into acrylic painting techniques and mediums. I’ve come to prefer acrylics over oils and want to master this medium.

*Become proficient with gouache so that, in 2021, when I start painting the head and figure, I can use gouache. My theory is that since you can reactive gouache, the blending that’s necessary for beautiful head and figure painting would be easier to achieve with gouache than acrylics. And there’s also the fact that I just love the way gouache looks.

*Following Steve Huston’s advice, I want to spend time each day with the Old Masters, doing some kind of master copies in my sketchbook.

*Study perspective, composition, and color theory. Especially color theory.

How, exactly, all of this will work, I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this before. The key for me is to be adaptable and also not to get so caught up in all my plans that it is not sustainable.

Here’s to a successful 2020!

Looking Back, Part 3: Watts Online Atelier

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In the last post, I left off with a summary of my artistic frustration. I wanted to become the best artist that I could, but where would I receive proper training? After watching a YouTube video featuring Jeff Watts, I hoped I had found my answer.

Why did I choose Watts?

I think it’s an interesting question (at least from my viewpoint) insofar as I’m the only person I know who began his artistic journey late in life, who began it with Bob Ross, and who then ended up at a rather serious (online) atelier of the arts. I’m not saying this has never happened before. But in four years of interacting with the art community, I’ve never met anyone like me. How did this happen? How did I go from Bob Ross to Jeff Watts?

In the previous post (link above), I offered one of several answers to the question. Here, let me offer you another answer.

It began in late 2018. That’s when I was commissioned to paint a picture of two little girls — sisters, in fact — walking on the beach. It was my first “figure” painting, if you will. It turned out far better than I had hoped, and I loved every minute of it. Until then, the idea of doing head or figure work wasn’t even a dream I dared to dream. I was a simple wet-on-wet oil, Bob Ross/Bill Alexander, landscape painter, nothing more. At best, I would sell my work at local outdoor art shows. I had no real hope of anything beyond “firing in” and making “happy clouds.”

But with my painting, “Girls on the Beach,” all that changed. Without any training, I had a painted a fairly decent picture of two little girls. The success of that painting allowed me to ask myself, “What could I do if I really tried?” This is not to say that I didn’t try with “Girls on the Beach”; rather, I meant what could I do if I studied the human figure?

That question perplexed me because I didn’t know the answer. And that’s not a truism. I didn’t know the answer to the question because I knew — I knew — that I could do better work, with the proper training. A lot of us — me included — operate with a “fixed mentality.” Our talents are fixed; our intelligence is fixed; development, we think, is just not possible.Conversely, a growth mentality believes that abilities, talents, and intelligence are not fixed, but can be developed over time with training and practice. But here I was, not even aware that I was acting according to a growth mentality. I just knew that I could do a lot better if I worked hard and had the proper training.

For the first several months of 2019, I tried to do it alone. I watched YouTube videos on head and figure drawing, but they didn’t seem to help. I thought it was the content. These people couldn’t teach, I assumed. Maybe that was partially true. I don’t know. What was true, however, was that I had no idea what I was doing in terms of drawing.

Looking back, this should have been obvious. When I started painting, I had no idea what I was doing, and if it wasn’t for some great YouTube tutorials by a painter named Jason Bowen, my artistic aircraft would have never lifted. The same was true with drawing. I had no idea how to draw, and here I was trying to draw the head and figure.

By April, I was pretty frustrated with the whole matter. I wasn’t really painting too much. I was drawing even less. And I was miserable, to boot. In fact, I have to say that it was around this time that I realized I wanted to be an artist. When I was painting, I was happy; when I wasn’t painting, I was miserable. To compound the situation, I knew I couldn’t go back to being only a landscape painter. I had tried my hand at portrait painting (here, here, and here) and not only had great fun, but saw vast improvements between my first attempt and my third.

So: all of the above is a long-winded answer to the question, “Why Watts?”

As noted, I joined in May … but I ended up leaving in August. But first, let me tell you how those months changed my life.

Jeff Watts is an incredibly intense person and this intensity comes through at every moment. Add to this a deep and abiding passion for training, and Jeff is the perfect teacher — at least from a motivational standpoint. (I’m not sure his videos are the best for beginners; I wish I could take an in-person class with the man.) I certainly learned a lot about drawing from the lessons, but the most important thing Jeff Watts taught me was the need to train daily for at least three hours. And by training, it’s not just drawing for three hours a day, but, for example, drawing a skull at 3/4th view — until you’ve memorized it. That might take five times, ten times, twenty times. You might spend a month drawing nothing but skulls from all angles, but it’s this kind of intense training that is going to make you great. I cannot tell you how much this resonated with me, but it did. And for that, I will be forever grateful for Jeff Watts.

But I did leave Watts after only a few months. Why? Primarily because of some grading issues. Maybe someday I’ll do a full-fledge post about Watts Online Atelier, but for now let me say this: one of the reasons I chose Watts was for the grading/critiques they provide, but they got so backlogged with submissions that they were weeks behind on getting studies back to the students. Add to that the fact that I had hit an extended plateau — that is, a long period of time where you feel stuck, and the only way forward is by zen-like practice (which I enjoy, thanks to Jeff Watts) — I decided to take some time off from Watts (but not from drawing) to allow both the graders and my skills to catch up.

About a month later, I felt it was time to continue with my studies, but Watts grading was still behind, and when they announced they would be caught up by November 2019 (I was early September, I believe), I decided to try out New Masters Academy.

At half the cost, mind you.

But money wasn’t the only factor. The real factor in giving New Masters a try was this video by a YouTuber named Volen.

I was with New Masters for about three months. I even tried their coaching program. But I always intended to return to Watts once their grading issues were solved. Happily, they are! And I returned.

And that brings us up to date, as of December 2019.

But … now I’m not entirely sure I am going to stay with Watts. But that’s a topic to deal with in a later post.

Look Back, Part 2: Bill Alexander

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In the previous post, I left off with me in my garage with a Bob Ross paint set. So, how did my first attempt at painting turn out? It was pretty awful. But, for some reason, I wanted to give it another shot.

And another.

And another.

It was around painting Number Six or Eight that I saw promise. I painted it New Year’s Eve, 2016. I remember because I was so proud of it, I brought it inside and set it on a small easel on a table in our dining room. All throughout dinner that night, I kept looking over at it, impressed with myself. Even my kids noticed. My oldest said, “You really like that one, don’t you?” Yes, I did. And still do.

I painted constantly. I had no inhibitions, and I could see progress with each painting. By the middle of January, I had grown bored with Bob Ross. To help my growth, I turned to YouTube, and through a painter named Jason Bowen, I learned that Bob Ross had a teacher named Bill Alexander. A few clicks later, I was on Alexander Art’s webpage.

I’ll probably have more to say about my experience with Alexander Art in another post. For now, let me say that finding Bill Alexander and Alexander Art was a real boon for my painting. I started off watching a lot of Bill’s TV shows and then moved on to Alexander Art’s Master Classes.

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The Master Classes were taught by one of Bill Alexander’s students, Tom Anderson (pictured above). Before learning from Bill, Tom had a lengthy background in art, and through Bill, Tom was able to put it all together. He owned his own gallery/studio in Northern California for twenty years and was a popular teacher — both in person and on local public television stations. Throughout dozens of hours and more than fifteen instructional paintings, I learned more about art and painting from Tom Anderson than I even knew was possible.

It took me about eighteen months to work my way through the Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced Master Classes. During this time, I was a diligent student and did my best to learn as much as I could. Why did I throw myself into this hobby? Part of it has to do with my personality: I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so when I find something I’m interested in, I give it my all. But another part of it was this: even then I was thinking to myself, “Maybe this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

However, when I finished Alexander Art’s Advanced Master Class, I felt a little out of sorts. I read somewhere that one of the problems student artists face is the transition from being a student to being a professional. It has nothing to do with money and everything to do with audience: for your entire student life, you have a built-in audience, and all that goes away when you graduate and set out as a professional. I certainly felt that. But there was something else, too. There are the things we know we know, the things we know we don’t know, and the things we don’t know we don’t know. That last category — not knowing what we don’t know, a.k.a., true ignorance — is bliss. You can happily engage in a hobby just puttering along. But once you start to become aware of all the things you know you don’t know, things get difficult. Especially if you’re an all-or-nothing kind of person. Like me.

For the next ten months or so — from about July 2018 to May 2019 — I lived in a state of artistic frustration. Because of Tom’s excellent teaching, I was now aware of many things I didn’t know. And so, despite all the encouragement from my family and friends about how I should set up shop and start selling my work, I knew I wasn’t ready. My ignorance was too great; it wasn’t bliss at all. So I started looking at other places — books, YouTube channels, Udemy courses. Nothing appealed to me. Books were too haphazard, and YouTube and Udemy were too basic and focused on the hobbyist, the Sunday painter. If I was going to paint, I wanted to be the best painter I could be. And besides, finding a teacher as good as Tom Anderson was proving to be next to impossible.

And then one day I happened upon a YouTube video entitled “How To Train to Become a Successful Working Artist.” I watched the full ninety minutes in one sitting. When I was over, I knew I had found a teacher not only as good as Tom Anderson, but perhaps even better. He was certainly more intense, and it was probably his intensity that appealed to me the most.

His name is Jeff Watts, and he’s the founder of the Watts Atelier of the Arts. In May 2019, I joined their online program.

To be continued…

Looking Back, Part 1: Bob Ross

Bob-RossSometimes, the only way forward is by looking backward.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t choose art, but that art chose me. Now, what on earth does that mean?

I have no recollection of ever wanting to be an artist. I remember clearly wanting to be a writer, a musician, a priest, a football player, a high-school English teacher, and a university-level theology professor. I do remember drawing a lot as a kid and having a certain knack for both drawing and painting. But I never thought, not even once, about being an artist.

That is, until I was forty-two years old! It happened when I re-discovered Bob Ross.

I used to watch Bob Ross when I was in college in the late 1990s. Back then, I worked at night at UPS and went to school during the day. And because I lived forty-five minutes from the University of Dallas — and because the UPS hub where I worked was only ten-minutes from UD — and because I was a poor college student who could barely afford gas and couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend out for dinner — I stayed at school all day, from 10 a.m. (my earliest class) until 10 p.m., when I left UD for UPS. My shift at UPS ended around 2 a.m., which meant that I typically fell into bed around 3 a.m., only to have the alarm clock wake me a few hours later, at 8:30. Because I worked the midnight shift, I worked Sunday night through Thursday night … which meant that after my last class on Friday (usually around 2 p.m.), I went home. And home meant a couch, a couple of ham-and-cheese sandwiches, a couple of Cokes, and a TV. And my favorite show to watch back then was The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.

Nearly every Friday afternoon, before I went out with my girlfriend (now wife), I watched Bob Ross. I remember thinking I’d like to try painting someday. Once, I  went to an art store to buy supplies — until I saw how much they cost!

One thing led to another. Life moved on. My Friday afternoon ritual changed. I stopped watching The Joy of Painting. I forgot about painting.

About twenty years later, in November 2016, I rediscovered Bob Ross. We had recently moved across the country, from Dallas to Myrtle Beach, and in an effort to save some money, we decided not to subscribe to a television service, but, rather, stream the shows we wanted. Because I wanted to watch Sienfeld, we got Hulu. And Bob Ross was on Hulu.

After a month of watching Ross — this would have been mid-December, now — I decided to try my hand at painting. In a far better financial position than I was in college, I bought a Bob Ross Master Paint Set along with some cheap Artist’s Loft canvases from Michael’s, and I rigged an up easel in my garage using a six-foot ladder and two heavy-duty spring-action clamps. That’s how my journey began.

In my next post, I’ll continue telling the story of how art found me.

The beginning …

So begins this blog, this website, this journey. Only God knows where this is going to end up. My personal hope is that it ends up with me becoming a professional artist. 

To say that aloud, with my full name in view and not behind a pen name, is more than a little nerve-racking. Why? Because I’m a middle-aged dude who has no formal artistic training and who sometimes feels his pursuit of art is nothing more than a midlife crisis.

On the other hand, there is some rational ground for this decision. But that’s for a later post. Let me end this brief introduction by stating that I hope this blog and website end up documenting my journey.