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Doing as we are told

Degas breaking the rules of composition and framing – The dance lesson

We’ve worked with lots of artists over the years who want clear instructions about how to draw or paint. At one level this is easy to answer, if you do this, this and this you’ll get that. Where it gets more interesting is that as artists we know there is no right or wrong way to do things. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is absolutely right and at other times doing as you are told can lead to complications you’d never imagined.

Indeed most of the historic artists we celebrate tend to have broken the rules and gone their own way in defiance of the prevailing trends. The thing is that what was right for others was not right for them and when making creative decisions the inner sense of rightness is the only one to be trusted.

One of the shortcomings of learning to paint by rote from an expert is that we may end up as a simulacrum of the other artist. For some of us, with limited time, that could be absolutely ideal. But what draws many of us to the work of other artists is that they have a quality that makes them unique. Very often that is because they are painting from the heart.

We all need a smattering of theory: there is nothing more frustrating than battling with a medium, unaware of the few simple rules that others work by or not achieving good proportion when one or two universal wrinkles will iron it out. Most artists will be consciously or unconsciously refining their technique throughout their careers, method and theory are the ground on which we build.

With sufficient command of the technicalities, the job then becomes about conforming the media into a work that honestly reflects our experience of what we see and feel. Being true to ourselves. The guide through all of this is a quiet sense of rightness which may require a bit of cultivation to become familiar with.

Being spontaneous may have been beaten out of us when we were young, speaking as we find is not encouraged in polite society and frankly most of us just want to fit in, so we don’t always honour the inner sense of rightness. It may at times be awkward but for some, that sense is their lodestar, not just in art but in life, love and politics. Something to note about this instinct is that it has no words; ideas and opinions tend to form in the verbal side of the mind and can easily obscure the sense of simple direction. You’ll notice that in a room filled with artists painting, words can become redundant; learning how to return to that sense of quiet purpose can be remarkably valuable. It’s one of the reasons we get so much from painting along with other artists, something is learnt which seems to be beyond the discussion.

If we want to paint from the heart and for our work to have the freshness of the painters we admire it can do no harm to notice and acknowledge when our ‘eye is in’.

The quick warm up drawings we do to get our eye in at the beginning of a session, if we believe the left right brain thing, certainly get us out of that part of our head which can talk but cannot draw and into the part that can. When our eye is in then we instinctively trust it.

The end of term

This is the last week of our summer term for tutored groups. We hope you’ve enjoyed the courses we have run. During the summer you can keep your eye in by joining us on Tuesday evenings, Wednesday afternoons or Saturday mornings, our full schedule starts again on September the 6th. The website will be updated with the Autumn courses at the end of this week, if you’d like to pre-book you can always drop us an email on