Being a self-taught student of art offers many challenges, not the least of which is knowing how to assess my abilities and determine the appropriate level for studies. For the last ten months, I’ve considered myself a beginner. I’ve been comfortable at that level. At the same time, I’m hoping that all the hard work I’ve done will enable me to move on toward higher levels.
At what point does one go from beginner to intermediate? Are there certain standards to be met, certain skills that must be mastered before one becomes an intermediate student? I don’t know the answers to those questions. My approach is to push myself, take on new challenges, and use the results to help me decide if I’m ready to advance.
Recently I began to sense that I might be ready to advance a bit. Although I’ve been through a lot of emotional ups and downs artistically in recent weeks, I’d started to see a noticeable improvement in many of my paintings and drawings. That’s when I started wondering if maybe it was time for me to move ahead to slightly more difficult projects.
I was working on lessons from The Watercolor Workshop — one of the video courses offered by Matt Fussell, the Virtual Instructor. As I neared the end of the course, I grew bold. Instead of completing the project using the reference photo provided, I wanted to “test” myself by using a reference photo of my own. The online project involved using watercolor and ink for a painting of an old car — and I knew exactly what I would do.
Remember when I shared my drawing of “Ol’ Rusty“? As I shared that drawing I also shared the story of my husband’s old 1965 Falcon van. Yes, the story is true. He found it rusting away in a farm field, pulled it out, brought it home, and is in the process of restoring it. It’s running now. It’s actually licensed and legal to drive, although he doesn’t drive it too far. It still has a few problems he’s working out. Nothing has been done yet on the exterior. It’s still a rusty old mess. Several times my husband jokingly said I should draw the old van. Now, with this watercolor and ink project, I was ready to surprise him.
While he was at work, I slipped outside and took my reference photo. Then, as I listened to instructions from the “old car” project at the Virtual Instructor, I considered my van drawing and tried to apply the directions to my own project. I had to figure a lot of things out for myself, and this was an important step for me. I’ve learned, you see, that it’s fairly easy for me to get good results when I have an online instructor guiding me through every step of the process. Would I be able to successfully complete a drawing that, while similar, was different from Matt’s step-by-step project? I was eager to try.
A few hours later when my husband came home, his eyes lit up when he saw this:
I’ll never forget what he said.
Honey, I suppose you know, you’ve just graduated to a whole new level as an artist.
My husband knows nothing about art, but as he so often tells me, he knows what he likes. He definitely liked my watercolor and ink drawing of his van — although he told me maybe I should do it again and leave off all the rust. The rust is the best part! I loved the rusty spots.
His words really touched me, because he had no idea that I was doing the project as a way of testing myself. Hearing those words were all the affirmation I needed. Yes, I was ready to move on. I’m now ready to think of myself as an “early intermediate” student of art.
It’s an exciting time for me because I know I truly have graduated to a new level. Once again, I’d like to thank all the online instructors whose tutorials and newsletters have helped me. I want to thank all the artists who have written books and articles about different techniques. I want to thank the friends who’ve encouraged me with kind words, and of course, I want to thank my husband for always believing in me.
UPDATE: My husband is making slow but steady progress on the van. He’s started doing the body work now — learning as he goes. Here’s a photo showing what he’s accomplished so far.
I’ll post additional updates as the project goes along.