I’ve always had a complicated relationship with oil painting. Learning how to oil paint was really rocky; I started by taking a painting class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in the summer when I was 16. Problem was, the class had absolutely no technical instruction, so I was left on my own to figure things out, which as you can probably guess didn’t work out so well.
I went to RISD Pre-College the summer of my junior year in art school, where I finally got some technical instruction and started to feel much more comfortable with the medium. The problem there was that I had tons of really bad drawing habits which inevitably translated into bad painting habits. I had a really uptight method for painting that now that I look back on it, really wasn’t painting.
However, I did develop tremendous interest in oil painting and so I ended up in the Painting department my first semester sophomore year at RISD. The technical instruction was barely there, and I found myself much more interested in a stained glass elective that I was taking at the time. Painting just wasn’t fun anymore, which caused me to have a creative identity crisis.
I ended up switching into the Illustration department and that’s where I finally gained a stable foundation of technical skills. The painting teacher I had was really specific about what supplies to buy and broke everything down into really accessible steps that finally made sense for the first time. I learned about all kinds of new tools like the silicoil brush cleaning tank that solved lots of technical problems I had been struggling with for years. I started painting with professional oil paints, instead of the student grade ones and finally the oil paint felt good in my brush.
Senior year at RISD I felt confident in my painting abilities (although looking back on it, the paintings I was doing at the time make me cringe!) and I was able to produce a series of large paintings that felt ambitious and technically accomplished.
I spent 4 years after art school painting in my living room in my apartment in Boston. I hired models to pose, and was able to develop a significant enough body of work to apply to graduate programs in Painting. But nothing went as planned for graduate school; I got wait listed at several programs and the only program I got accepted to was a program in Sculpture. I pursued the MFA in Sculpture, hoping that it would be a way to develop a new skill set, and to make my paintings better.
As it turned out though, I got so enthusiastic about Sculpture that painting go completely left behind. Any attempts I made to paint during my MFA felt weak, and I had so much work for my Sculpture classes that I had to abandon painting altogether.
After finishing my MFA, I decided that I missed painting, so my first body of work featured a series of 5′ x 6′ oil paintings related to my Waiting series. Afterwards, I felt exhausted and disengaged with painting again. I’m not so sure if it was because the paintings were too big and I felt overwhelmed, or if painting just wasn’t for me.
So I gave up painting, and didn’t pick up a brush to paint for over a decade. Actually, it was the best creative decision I made. I realized that I was painting out of obligation, because I thought I should, as opposed to because painting really was the media that would best suit my work.
Things have come full circle now, because we worked on an ambitious set of videos on both acrylic and oil painting with my colleague Alex Rowe. Most of our courses involve one video to cover everything, but the acrylic course alone required 5 videos to explain multiple techniques. The majority of the videos on Art Prof take an excruciating amount of time to produce, simply because I have so many other responsibilities. So the acrylic painting course was that times 5, and took 6 months to produce. At this point I haven’t even finished shooting the oil painting tutorial! Hopefully by the end of this year…
It was satisfying to shoot videos on preparing painting surfaces, preparing a glass palette, etc. I was surprised at how much technical information I retained. Hopefully these painting videos will prevent many artists who want to paint all of the grief and misunderstandings I went through trying to learn to paint!