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.

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