I began my art journey in June of 2015. Within the first month, I came across The Virtual Instructor art site and became a fan of Matt Fussell. From the start, I “clicked” with Matt’s teaching style, and I quickly became a member of his site. It is a paid site, and for me it’s been well worth the investment. In addition to the “live lessons” and various classes for members, you’ll find a lot of free video tutorials on the site.
So, yes, indeed, I’ve long been a fan of Matt Fussell and his art. He’s taught me a lot about believing in myself as an artist, about occasionally pushing myself to try new things, and about the need for patience in drawing and painting.
I struggle with the part about patience, and week after week as I attend Matt’s “live lesson” and take part in a drawing or painting project, I watch in awe as he creates meticulously-detailed works of art. By comparison, I tend to rush a bit through my projects, so my works are nowhere near as meticulous or as detailed as his. But, maybe that’s all right.
Here is a painting I completed yesterday based on the current “Live Lesson” series at The Virtual Instructor. It’s a sunrise in North Carolina.
Yes, I’m finished with this painting, all right. In some ways, I was mentally finished with it quite some time ago. Am I happy with the painting? No, not really. It’s all right, but definitely it could have been better.
This project began five weeks ago. At the start, I was excited and enthused by the project. This was the first time I would be watching Matt paint with oils. Although the site features a course on oil painting, it’s taught not by Matt Fussell but by Ashley Bane Hurst, a fellow artist and teacher. I was excited not only by the prospect of watching Matt paint with oils, but by the fact that he would be using the same water mixable oil paints that I have on my palette. Plus, our subject would be a landscape! What an ideal project for me.
You know that old saying about being careful what we wish for because we might get it? Well, that’s applicable here. For a long time, I’d wished that Matt would do a landscape oil painting for a live lesson. I got that wish, and sadly, by the end of the first hour-long lesson, I was wishing it would all be over.
I watched as Matt worked on the sky. One small brushstroke at a time. As students in his class, we tease him a bit about being so fussy with his art. He even jokingly calls himself “Fussy Fussell” from time to time. And this time, his fussiness drove me bonkers.
Now, this is not to say that my way is right or his way is wrong or to make any judgment on how art is created. Goodness knows, I’m still a rank beginner, and I’m definitely not qualified to tell anyone how to paint. Anyone, that is, except myself, and even there I might not always give myself the right instructions.
But, back to Matt and the sunrise painting.
When I first saw the reference photo, I recognized that with my loose, impressionist style, I could easily complete a painting from the reference in a relatively short time. The composition is simple; the lines are elegant; the colors are dramatic.
So, instead of painting along with Matt at class, I sat back to watch him work. Brushstroke by brushstroke. Slowly. Surely. One single stroke at a time.
Lovely, yes. but I soon grew bored. I spent most of class chatting with fellow students, feeling that the lesson was a good exercise in simply watching paint dry as Matt slowly created a beautiful sky. In all, he spent three hours on the sky and clouds. He spent an additional hour starting on the sandy beach, and as I write this, he’s still not finished with his highly-detailed version of the painting.
I’m finished with mine, though. I grew weary of the slow, stroke by stroke process. After dutifully following along week by week watching Matt paint and then “doing my own thing” the next morning, I was looking forward to this week’s final lesson on the project. When I came to my easel yesterday to begin work on the beach, my patience was completely gone. I didn’t want to stop and re-mix colors. I didn’t want to lay down careful strokes. I just wanted to be done.
In all, where Matt has spent five hours on his painting and will devote at least another hour to it at class this week, I’ve probably put in no more than an hour at most. Certainly the differences between his painting and mine are clear. But that’s how it should be. He paints in his style, and I’m painting in my style.
I’m not a meticulous, detailed painter, and you know what…? I don’t want to be. While I do want to develop the ability to add details when and where necessary, my painting style is vastly different from Matt’s. He loves smooth paint with minimal visible brush strokes. I love thick textures and impasto. He loves to carefully show minute changes in light and color. I’m more in favor of slapping it on and blending as the spirit moves me.
In my version of the painting, I’ve brought more soft edges. That’s becoming part of my style. That’s becoming part of who I truly am as an artist. And it’s important for me to recognize these things. While it’s true that my painting could have been stronger, the fact that it’s different in style from the instructor’s painting is not a bad thing. It shows that I’m developing my own approach, my own painting style, and my own understanding of landscape painting.
Had I not lost interest in this painting several weeks ago… had I simply followed my own instincts and painted it as I chose… had I trusted my own instincts… maybe the painting would have been better. Probably, it would have been.
Yet I don’t regret those long hours of watching Matt paint, those dreadfully long minutes where I felt that I was simply watching the paint dry as he worked on his canvas. I saw what can be done by a patient artist with a steady hand. What I learned though, wasn’t so much about art and how to create it as it was an important lesson on our personal approach to art.
I adore Matt Fussell. I admire his art. But I’m a very different sort of landscape artist than he is, and that’s all right. In many ways, maybe that’s the most important lesson we can learn about art.