|Jeffree, oil painting, 18 x 15.
All works by David A. Leffel.
I spend a lot of time brainstorming how an artist can become an Old Master of the 21st century. What kind of confidence, skill, and vision will it take for an artist working today to gain that reputation? I believe the best way is the simplest: learn how to paint–how to mix it, pick it up, put it on the surface, control it, and manipulate it with a brush.
“Painting is a game,” says artist, instructor, and author David A. Leffel. “It has certain constraints and parameters, but it is the kind of game that has infinite permutations. There are always different ways you can go.”
Students seek out Leffel’s expertise assuming they will learn specific painting techniques, but the artist stresses that the world of painting is much more than that. “Teaching someone how to paint is teaching someone how to see differently,” he says. “It is not all technically based and technique oriented. When I teach, it is like having a duel with each person.” The duel simile is a good one–Leffel teaches his students to parry expectations and formalized ideas, and to evade the temptation to formalize or codify their painting process.
Becoming more nimble and flexible in one’s way of seeing and evaluating form, light, edges, and color will also strengthen an artist’s ability to find compositional solutions and meet the challenges that all artists face. “All the great painters had visual intelligence, so when I am looking at a painting, I am seeing how the artist’s mind works,” Leffel says. “It is like reading a sign. I can see when a painter took 20 brushstrokes to make a nose and only needed three to make it look the same. They labored over it because they didn’t have a keenness of mind.”
|Roman Glass with Oranges, Garlic & Grapes,
oil painting, 8 x 13.
As a painter, I’m still in an artist’s version of kindergarten. I told Leffel as much, and he said that is the best place to be. “The one human activity that has no motives is learning. Be willing to be ‘in kindergarten.’ Just learn. Painting is a discipline with problems and solutions. No matter what is being painted or who is painting, there are certain problems and solutions; the more intelligent the painter–the more elegant and effortless the solution.” And the finesse comes with effort and commitment. Whether one paints in oils, watercolor, or pastels, a firm dedication to developing your craft means being an artist with no limits.
This dedication and an open mind lead to surprising innovations, and enable us to develop the ability to think and see like Old Masters. Have you experienced breakthroughs that have made a strong impact on your work? Leave a comment and let me know. And consider bringing even more top painting know-how and exercises to hone your abilities, plus more access to top artist David Leffel with his book on the art of painting, An Artist Teaches. Enjoy!