Monday, June 8, 2015

"Practicing Your Craft".

"Yet Untitled", 16x20 oil on linen panel.

I had an interesting conversation with a student recently, which seems to be a re-occurring one, about painting and how difficult it is to do…..and also, how difficult it is to improve!
I have been doing this for so many years, and it is still difficult on some days….and I wonder how that can be if one paints nearly every day…..why on some days it works better than other days.  The answer to this, in my opinion, is ultimately having enough practice of the craft under one’s belt to at least on the worst day, to be able do a good painting…..maybe not your best effort, but a good painting.  It’s similar to playing a round of golf (to use a sports metaphor)……if you play once every six months, your chances of shooting a low score are diminished….but, if you practice often and play regularly, your opportunity of shooting a low score is definitely increased….ask most avid golfers! 
Mindless practice is not very useful….in my opinion.  What I mean by that is, if you’re painting and paying attention to what is working and what is not, you know what you need to keep, and what to avoid in your process.  If it hurts when you do that, don’t do that again….if it feels good, or looks good when you do that, then do that again.  For instance, it is fun to see what kind of marks a particular brush or painting tool will make.  That kind of practice is useful….I see many students who never change the way they hold a brush, and make the same type of marks for every inch of the surface of their painting, no matter what the subject.  This leads to a possibly less interesting surface as well as redundant looking marks that may not have the appropriate tactile quality of the image being painted….also, the most important thing in your practice should be the principals of painting….practice good shapes, value, edges, and proper temperature of color!

When I first started painting, I used to do little head study warm-ups off the top of my head….just for the practice of manipulating the brush, and seeing what worked and what didn’t.  I used to toss them in the trash can  when finished….until one day an old friend, who rented the studio next to me, asked if he could have that little head that was laying face up in my trash can….”of course, I said!”  He comes back with it framed nicely a couple of weeks later….and, from then on I started keeping them….I have bags of them in my storage.  They have little value monetarily because of their size….but, they are valuable to me because of what I learned in the process of painting them…..also, they make nice little give away gifts.  The point I’m trying to make is that all that practice has helped me work out some of the issues with brush/paint application…..not that my use of paint and brush is so wonderful….but, imagine how inadequate it might be without  the practice.  This kind of practice touches on experimentation….which is a relative term for artists.  Some artist really push the envelope when it comes to being fearless experimenters…..others take baby steps and it is a more subtle process….I fit into the latter most of the time. 

This topic covers another comment made by a student in reference to admiring a particular painting by one of their favorite artist……”how can I be this good right now?”  My answer to this twenty year old student was, “There is no such animal….unless you are some kind of prodigy…. you must put in your time and practice!”  This of course, is not the most popular answer that one can give an impatient young artist!
I notice that in the beginning, the improvement plateaus were greater.  Then, as one acquires a modicum of skills….the little improvement increments get smaller and smaller, until they are so subtle and personal, that they might not be discernible to others. 
These comments are sort of a general answer that I gave this student, and are my opinions on this subject….but, do not necessarily reflect any universal opinion about this. Until next time, thanks for listening to my ramblings!
Hodges Soileau  OPA


Splashes of Color, 16x20 oil on linen panel

The challenge in this painting for me was to convey the good feeling I have when I am around these old docks that are neglected, weathered and tattered…..but still being used!  It is not a chore, but certainly a challenge to take the chaotic scene and make it inviting, or palatable….so, one might want to spend some time there.  I have always been attracted to these types of less than perfect subjects.  I edited some things and added a few gulls that are common to this type of situation.  I will let it sit for a while and take another look with a fresh eye….later.

“Quiet Day at the Docks”, 16x20, oil on linen Panel

I like the little story that’s suggested in this painting…..even though there isn’t a visible sign of a figure, or person in the painting, the pickup truck signifies a human presence….any additional narrative can be imagined!  All good paintings have some kind of suggested story…..whether it is about the light….or lack of it….what’s left out of the painting to be imagined by the viewer, etc…..and hopefully a strong composition that can also be helpful to the narrative!  I come from an illustration back ground, so a suggested story is appealing to me as an artist!
"The Happy Hen", 12x16 oil on linen panel


  1. I like these. You can feel the depth and air in them. I completely agree there's no short cut from novice to accomplished. It surprises me a bit that some young painters expect instant mastery.

    1. Theresa, I think deep down they know there is only one way to get there. It's more wishful thinking.....that someone might have a magic shortcut. Also, it is possible that this generation of young folks might be less patient....they need instant gratification! Thanks for the comment!