Self-paced study program ...

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Self-paced study program ...

From Virgil Elliott

Published before 2005

Ngaire Winwood wrote:
What do you think the best schedule for a serious art student should be from scratch? Learn line, shape, form, light, composition, design, perspective, then colour knowledge, then painting simple still lifes graduating to painting models in head/bust compositions, then to full figure/drapery compositions, then landscape?

What is a 5 year schedule for a serious student like myself?


There is no realistic way to pin it down to an X-year schedule, in my opinion. It takes as long as it takes, and how long that is will vary from individual to individual. I would say that in general I agree with Ingres, who said the way to become a master painter was to master drawing. The advice from your friends that the only way to learn to paint is to paint 500 paintings would only be valid for one who has already reached an advanced level in drawing. A weak draftsman will be doomed to being a weak painter no matter how many paintings he paints, and the only way to go beyond that is to go back to drawing and master it. Most people start painting too soon, before they are good enough at drawing, and their deficiencies remain no matter how many paintings they do or how many years they might paint. I have had more students with that problem come to me over the years, people of all ages, and the ones who took my advice and went back to drawing were the ones who broke through to the next level. The ones who were so deeply entrenched in their bad habits that they could not bring themselves to do as I suggested never got much better, and they never will, no matter how long they keep doing what they're doing.

Here is what I see as the best progression: Draw simple things first, on white or off-white paper, in line, with pencil, from direct observation. An egg is a good first subject. Work on getting the shape correct using line. Move up to an apple, a pear, and other simple shapes, in small increments of increasing difficulty as you gain the ability to render your subject accurately with less trouble. Buy and read Rex Vicat Cole's book, Perspective for Artists, and do all the exercises until you have a clear and thorough understanding of geometric perspective. Draw blocks, pyramids, cones, balls, cylinders, eggs, etc., until you can render them accurately and in correct perspective. This is a step most people skip over, or put too little work into before they move on to other subjects. It is a mistake to give short shrift to the basics.

At some point, introduce shading into the lessons, but not until you have developed the ability to read and render the exterior contours correctly with line.

That will get you off to a good start. To answer your question fully would require me to write a book, and perhaps I will, but not tonight, as it is late and I need my rest. I'll address the rest of it in increments from time to time, as my schedule allows, but in the meantime, I think I've given you enough to keep you busy for a while. Even if you feel you are already sufficiently advanced to not need to draw cylinders and cones, etc., it will not hurt you to do it anyway, and I would bet that you'll get something out of it that will make you a better artist. Complex shapes can be broken down into combinations of simpler shapes, so get those down before you tackle greater challenges. There is a lot more beyond that stage, but you'll have an easier time of it if you have put enough work into the basics. Draw every day. A good artist can give you pointers and suggestions looking at the results of your exercises, and that will help. The internet can expand the possibilities in that regard, if you can send image files to people for critiques.