Considering that I primarily work in drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, many people are surprised that my undergraduate training was focused on oil painting. I haven’t picked up a brush since 2006, but my latest initiative (more to be revealed in the future!) has gotten me to dig way back into my past with oil painting and it’s surprising how deeply ingrained those lessons are.
I started oil painting early as a junior in high school, and it’s appalling how awful my technique was for so long. Despite the fact that I took numerous oil painting classes, it wasn’t until I had been oil painting for 3 years that I finally started to make progress. My sophomore year at RISD, I was required to take a Painting I course in the Illustration department. My oil painting background was a fractured mess of failure at that point, and I felt totally lost even though I had taken so many oil painting classes.
My professor Nick Palermo provided clear, concrete instructions that finally made sense to me. He required us to use very specific supplies and tools, and gave explicit reasons for why he wanted us to use them. I realized after taking Nick’s painting class that there were SO many technical aspects that I had been doing blatantly wrong for such a long time. For example, I couldn’t believe that no one had introduced me to a silicoil brush cleaning tank before then. Evidently, I was never taught to clean my brushes properly, so consequently my color mixtures were always dirty, which lead to muddy paintings. The second I started to clean my brushes in a competent manner, my paintings become noticeably more vibrant. The brushes sitting in my closet are the same brushes I used in Nick’s class 20 years ago.
Senior year at RISD, I had Tony Janello for a portrait painting class and he revolutionized my painting technique. Tony forced us to paint with literally 1 white, 1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 blue. This approach seemed extreme, but I learned more about color mixing than I had in all of the previous years combined. With only 3 colors, I had to work really hard to be innovative with my color mixing.
It’s been inspiring to think back to every teacher’s unique approach to painting. It’s interesting to think about what methods I’ve kept, what I’ve rejected, and my reasoning for those decisions. This process has been tremendously helpful in getting me to boil down my techniques.