Ten New Year Resolutions for Painters

Improving your oil painting is a great new year resolution, but where do you start? Here are some top tips from the Norfolk Painting School team.

Every journey starts with a decision to set out on your path. Course Director Martin Kinnear arriving at the Louvre for the 2018 Salon where his work was awarded a Medaille d’ Argent
  1. 1.Make a Space.  Being creative requires room for you to work and think, so set aside room for a studio in your home. It needn’t be grand – but it must be convenient. Driving out to a studio or having to set up and clear away your oils is a sure way to reduce your time and enthusiasm for learning.  If you need health and safety advice contact the School or do what we do and choose ultra safe Gamblin products which can be had from our school materials shop.

2.  Skills first then creativity. Skills facilitate creativity, so  invest a little time in learning how to use paint. Nothing is as demotivating as making an expensive and self indulgent mess – so build your confidence by investing time in your studio craft.  Make solid start by choosing just a few colours and brushes. leave all of that extra kit for later. If you need help being reductive try a palette of three primaries plus the two achromatics, a simple medium and just three brushes.  Any of the School foundation courses, such as Simply Oils, are great ways to get properly skilled up before you explore your personal creativity.

School director Martin Kinnear mixing up a traditional oil and wax medium in his studio circa 2008. Skills facilitate creativity.

3. Get the right Kit. Take yourself seriously and get the right kit for your studio. As a minimum you’ll need a decent sturdy easel to stand up as you paint , boards or canvases to paint on,  a work desk or tabouret to hold your stuff as you paint, a palette, a jar for medium, a jar for solvent a waste bin and some rolls of kitchen towel.  Most of our students find they have too much kit , so it pays to take an inexpensive foundation course before you buy, or if you want to jump straight in, call the school and ask for one of our inexpensive Starter sets, of colours and mediums, which include everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Oils is an old and traditional skill so it’s easy to get bogged down with complex kit. Our advice , keep it simple and let us help you to get just what you need, and nothing you don’t.

4. Have a process. Painting is a skill, and like any skill it pays to work methodically. Doing so will give you great results, help you to identify what you can improve and most of all, build your confidence. We teach lots of historical painting processes at the School, but our choice is ebauche. Its easy to learn and gives you that painterly look to your work from the first lay in. To paint ebauche style just work big to small, translucent to opaque and lean to fat over a value 5  imprimatura or bole. If you’d like instruction – then any of our courses will help you with the technique.

Learn what you want but start by understanding a process. Student TS with his Caravaggio technique studies 2015

5. Get Inspired. Enthusiasm is everything, so if your creative fires are burning a little low, then get out and see things you simply have to paint. Our favourites are gallery shows – nothing is as inspiring as seeing great work – but inspiration is everywhere if you take some time to look. Don’t forget that your skills might make some inspirational ideas difficult to pull off; so if you can’t paint it yet, take a note in your sketchbook until you can.

Get inspired. Silvi at the Norfolk Painting School.

6. Set Targets. Many painters set out to create a painting a day for a year, and thats brilliant if you have sound studio craft, beware however of reinforcing mistakes by practicing them. Its far better to paint three pictures well than 365 badly. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll need a benchmark though, so set yourself an initial target of painting the same thing three times. Paint it once to experiment, paint it a second time to correct what you know you could do better, then for the last time to the best of your ability. When you come to the school bring your benchmarks in, they are a great way of comparing what you knew against what you learned with us.

Learning the basics, students on Simply Oils concentrate on getting their process right

7. Manage your time well . Painting is fantastic and we loose days just painting for the joy of it. When you set out however it helps to set some self imposed rules to help you to focus on creating, evaluating and improving your work. A time limit per painting is a great idea, a three hour morning session to create a modest ebauche oil on board is a good starting point. You’ll want to further divide that time into thinking, painting and evaluating; make sure you get into the habit of thinkpaintevaluate , and you’ll improve incredibly quickly. If you’re not sure what good painting looks like, then compare your work to an relevant and accessible artist you admire or take a course with us; all of our short courses will introduce you to appropriate benchmark artists for the skills you’ll learn.

Evaluation improves learning outcomes.

8. Reach Out. Painting’s a solitary art, but it really helps to reach out and put yourself and your work before other artists. Rule your family out as critics, and any online groups who simply say everything is fantastic. Good criticism is helpful and actionable advice. Look for feedback on how you manage the key principles in painting, find fellow artists who can identify solid actionable concepts such as value plans, colour management or compositional structure in your work will help you to improve.  Finding good advice is imperative, as judging one’s own work is notoriously difficult. We all  learned painting by applying the key principles to our work – if you’re not sure join us on a short course.

Join a group – one of our Diploma groups critique each other’s works

9. Write it Down. You are in control of the project , so make it happen by writing down what you need to do. Here’s our list :  1. Get a studio. 2. Focus on skills this year, then creativity when those are in place. 3. Choose the right kit, remembering that too much is a bad idea.4. Decide upon your painting process, and stick to it. 5. Stay inspired, diarise gallery visits and set aside time to be in places which inspire you. 6. Practice regularly and well, avoiding the common mistake of reinforcing poor technique. 7. Structure your studio time to ensure you are learning actively by evaluating your work. 8. Make finding useful  and actionable criticism part of your plan. 9. Write your plan down and 10. Action it today.

One of our apprentices in his studio area. Your never too young or old to start the right way

10. Get Started. Unrealised potential is avoidable by getting on with it. In 2000 our course director Martin Kinnear decided to get on with it and take painting seriously. He’s now a recognised artist who paints every day for a living and enjoys every minute of doing what he’ loves rather than commuting to and from the office.’ Since 2007 we’ve helped thousands of people realise their dream of becoming better artists; it doesn’t take much but it has to start with you.

Martin Kinnear at the 2018 Salon. This stared by making a decision to get on with it.