Trying to learn to draft and paint as the old masters did is literally like rewiring your brain in quite a technical way. The training at LFAS can be a real challenge and often one can feel stagnant in our progress. We are given the tools to paint from life, but we often don’t trust that the process will get us to results we individually desire.
It’s important to note that even if you’re putting in sufficient time towards your craft there will inevitably be times when you feel like you’ve hit a wall. In my own experience, this generally means that my hands have not caught up to the knowledge my brain has attained.
During a 10-week portrait course with Ann Witheridge last term, I encountered this exact problem. I knew I had the knowledge to theoretically create a successful portrait however, it just wasn’t translating from the paint onto my canvas. Ann critiqued my portrait and described it as having stockings over the models face. Hilariously what this meant was that there were not enough values to describe the form in my portrait as turning. Given the added challenge of painting in natural lighting, I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around what I was seeing to describe it appropriately. The direction Ann gave me from there was extremely helpful. Although I thought I was putting down values I needed to turn the form, they were just too subtle. To break me out of that mindset, Ann told me to have a little more fun with colour and push my values a lot more than I thought they needed to go. What I thought was extremely dark was not even close to my darkest values which were in the model’s black hair. In the end, what propelled me forward was letting go and trusting the advice I was given would help improve my work. It was switching up my paint application and adding more harmonious values in colour that helped the form turn, and most importantly, just being a little braver, putting paint down and manipulating it. We cannot correct information which is not there.
Next time you find yourself hitting that great wall, step back, take a moment and regroup. Trust yourself and the process. Breakthrough moments usually happen once we let go and push ourselves. Remind yourself that in learning it is about finding ways to move forward and not necessarily creating a finished piece. The worst that can happen is that you walk away with an unfinished body of work, the best-case scenario is that you learn to push past your threshold.
Written by De László scholar Annam Butt