Saturday, April 16, 2011

Simplifying fundamentals

Jennifer's Road (sold)
Original oil painting 14x18"
by Susan Roux

As you probably know, I teach a beginners oil painting class. It's always a challenge to take someone who hasn't painted, often doesn't even draw, and in eight 2-hour sessions get them to paint something they are amazed they produced. Many students are so elated they continue to take classes beyond the initial 8 weeks.

How do I get them to do this?

I begin with a series of exercises. It gives them time to get used to the tools of the trade, mix color, blend color and it also gives us an introduction to the words of our craft. A new language emerges and with it a new way of looking at things. By week two they come to class hyped up and energized telling me of all the colors they noticed in the world that they never saw before. It's almost hard to keep them down in their seats to continue with the day's task. It's like giving sight to someone for the first time. They are overwhelmed at all they've been missing over the years.

Rather than just tell you how amazing my students are, I decided to show you. The above painting is my demo. During five of the eight sessions we work on one painting. I go through step by step along with them, explaining the why behind what we are doing. That way a student learns how to paint rather than just copy what I'm showing them. I love to let students explore on their own, emphasizing that impulse shouldn't be ignored. If you feel like dipping your brush in red, then by all means do it!

Art is a journey in creativity. We all know that. But without knowledge of fundamentals, it can be a frustrating journey. I work very hard with my students to explain in simple terms the necessary elements that will help them achieve what they seek. In landscapes there exists distance. Not only on the land but also in the sky. Turning that 2-demential canvas into a seemingly 3-demential space is a powerful tool.

This is the achievement of a beginner student. Look at the depth, the sun and shadow play and the textures she achieved! A beginner during ten hours of class time. Isn't that incredible?

I've often been asked why I give such a complicated scene to a beginner. Just getting the perspective on this curved road can be a full session to someone who can't draw. I'm not sure why I pick complicated scenes. Maybe I like the challenge. Maybe I know I can pull them through it. Oh, how I love to amaze them by exposing their ability! Simplify, simplify, simplify. The simpler I can explain something, the easier it is for them to achieve it.

When I first hand my students the image we'll be painting, I can see the look on their faces thinking there's no way I can paint this! But by final class, all of the students rejoice at the sight of their work. (To be fair, her photo is quite inferior and the richness in color isn't apparent.) Not only are they able to paint the scene from the lesson, they often surprise me with works they attempt on their own.

Kasey sent me this image. She started it part way through her 8 sessions and completed it afterwards. She spoke of it, but never brought it into class. Just look at the distance she created in her river scene! And to think she's just beginning to paint...

I'm very proud of you Kasey.

I don't have photos from the other students in the class, but if I did their work would amaze you too. Teaching the fundamentals in simplified form has yielded phenomenal results, even in pure beginners.

How are your fundamentals? Are you in need of understanding them in simple form?


  1. Hello Susan,
    Very beautiful paintings!!!

  2. teaching adult beginners is daunting yet so fun. I occasionally teach watercolor for Community Ed and it is tough to get the students to think differently..but then the fun begins! You look like you are a very successful teacher!

  3. This is really amazing, Susan. I took evening art lessons for several years and never learned anything like what these students have achieved. I never had anything that I liked or was proud of. You must be a super teacher!

    I like your demo painting. I like how the tree on the left is massed in with dark blue and then you filled in with the lighter green foliage.

  4. Thanks for sharing your teaching methods. I love the faith you have in your students. Beautiful painting!

  5. Wow, Susan. I feel like I can climb right into those paintings! Incrediblly beautiful. Thanks for sharing. You must be an awesome teacher. Susan

  6. I wish I could learning the basics from you, for you are such a good teacher. I can understand how challenging it is to teach anything to a beginner. I have myself gone through the Aerobics as a beginner, and felt that the teachers don't you everything, although they themselves maybe doing it very well.
    I found during my earlier years of learning Aerobics that the Aerobics Oz style was the best, I was lucky to have their classes being shown in our TV. There were 5 instructors, all of them working out together, and each day one of them would lead the class, although they followed the same basic principles, each of them had their unique style of teaching, and instructing, and i was lucky to learn from these Masters(through distance), and seeing them following their individual style of instructing made me develop my own style of teaching.
    I learnt from them the art of teaching so that the students would do the exercise without getting hurt.
    All these I never got to learn in the classes I attended.
    So I think learning a thing correctly is not enough, one must be able to impart that learning to others also. otherwise one is not fit to be a good teacher.
    I like your approach to your subject, and no wonder you are proud of your student's achievement.
    Wonderful to know you and your style.

  7. Wow! Oh to paint like these beginners. I've been painting for years and have NEVER achieved anything even half as beautiful! I am truly awed, Susan.

  8. Excellent work!

  9. Your students are amazing already Susan. It only shows how good a teacher you are. I only paint with pastels but if I lived in Maine....I would want to be your student as well.!! Fundamentals first, that wonderful encouragement second!

  10. Awesome! I love these shades of blue and shadows on the trail.

  11. Thanks for sharing your process in teaching. What a joy you must receive in seeing their success.

  12. It amazes me that a beginning can do this. have they painted in the past at all??? Wow!

  13. Don't you just love teaching! It's like sharing a part of yourself. Awesome post!

  14. Je suis heureuse de te retrouver... Je rentre seulement et je découvre à nouveau, mais je le savais déjà, une Susan toujours aussi émerveillée et à juste titre par son enseignement. Tu donnes généreusement donc tu reçois... un principe digne et logique non !?... Bravo pour ce que tu es my sister!
    Et gros bisous à toi...

  15. merci susan.. à toi aussi , je te souhaite de bonnes fêtes de pâques... suis encore en vacances et le wifi n'est pas toujours formidable..

  16. wonderful, flooded with a lot of light

  17. Wonderful! Your work is truly inspired! You are adding considerable beauty to the world.

  18. Hey didn't you sell that top painting?

  19. I would love to have you as a teacher, I think you have the perfect approach on how to teach, and the results speak....Well, i guess I shall have to find somebody else, maybe you're a little far away :-))

  20. Un placer pasar por tu bonito blog,
    si te gusta la poesía te invito a mi blog.
    que tengas una feliz semana.


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