A Shopping List for Learning

I like lists. Some people do, others don’t, and I’m one of those people who is always making one list or another. It’s just how my mind works. I would never think of going to a grocery store without a shopping list in hand. Neither do I like to face a day without having a well-prepared “to-do” list to guide me. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll accomplish everything on my list, but it means I have something to provide a bit of structure, a helpful tool for making decisions, a plan of action by which I can organize my time and make the most of the hours in the day.

Structure is always important to me. I’ve written about my need for structure many times. There are those who believe creative people feel thwarted or restrained by structure, lists, plans, and rules, but I know, for me, those things are necessary. Too much imagination when unrestrained can become impractical. While we sometimes think of boundaries as hindrances, they’re actually important for maintaining emotional control. You can’t play a fair game without them.  The same goes for rules.

Of course, art is not necessarily a “game”. There are no “hard and fast rules” that must be followed at all times. There are, at best, guidelines, and I think we each set our own personal boundaries regarding art, in general, and art at a personal level.

Art does often involve making lists. If we’re attending a workshop or class, we’re usually given a “supply list” well in advance. Bring this, this, and this. Same with watching a video demonstration online. Most instructors begin by going over the materials they’ll be using. Open any art instruction book, and one of the first things you’ll find is a list of pencils, pens, brushes, paints — or whatever else you’ll need to follow along with the lessons.

In a recent post, I wrote about feeling overwhelmed with all the information available at Artists’ Network. It was, I wrote, too much of a good thing. Here, again, without having strong boundaries in place, I was lost. I was figuratively running around here, there, and everywhere, unable to really make good use of the resources available.

Now, I had set some boundaries, choosing to limit myself to the three key areas of my art studies: drawing instruction, working with loose watercolor techniques, and learning more about landscape oil painting. I soon found, however, that while those guidelines were helpful, they weren’t enough to help me find my way through the incredible array of possibilities presented.

So, it’s time for me to be a bit more specific. In that earlier post, I compared browsing at Artists’ Network with shopping. I can’t go into a store without knowing what I want to buy, and I shouldn’t visit Artists’ Network without some idea, at least, of what I want to learn.

It gets a bit tricky at this point because it’s time for me to make a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses with the various media I work with. I need to look at where my “art education” has been lacking, be honest about the level of skill I’ve developed in different areas, and be very realistic about my personal art goals. Just what is it I want to improve? What am I hoping to accomplish as an artist? What lessons do I most need to learn?

Today, I’m putting together a sort of “shopping list” for the things I need as an artist. It’s a challenging exercise, but I think it will be a useful one for me. In fact, I think making a list like this would be beneficial for any artist. It’s always important for us to know (a) where we are, and (b) where we want to go. That’s the only way we can really figure out how to get there.

Drawing Skills

Without a doubt, my drawing skills are the weakest aspect of my “art game”. When I began learning to draw in June 2015, I truly couldn’t draw a straight line, and any attempt at drawing was laughable at best. I’ve come a long, long way. I can make quick sketches to use as a basis of an oil painting. I can make more detailed drawings if I have a bit of assistance — such as an instructor suggesting different methods and techniques. I struggle, though, with perspective and proportion. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to proper shading techniques. I’m most comfortable with graphite, sometimes enjoy drawing with ink, and while I like charcoal drawings, I’m extremely messy!

What should I put on my “art learning” list to help me with my drawing?

  • Any “basic” drawing articles and demonstrations.
  • Drawing exercises regarding measuring techniques.
  • Exercises for perspective and proportion.
  • Shading and value exercises.

A quick visit to Artists’ Network provided this feature: Graphite Pencil Drawing Basics 101.

Loose Watercolor

I’m still very much a novice with watercolor, but I have some understanding of the basics — paint consistency, paint to water ratios, various brush techniques, washes. Where do I go from here? What I most need, I think, is a better understanding of loose watercolor methods. What can I find at Artists’ Network to help me here?

How about this feature on 7 Steps to Painterly Watercolors? This sounds like it could be very helpful for me.

Landscape Oil Painting

I love painting landscapes in oil. I’ve learned a lot already about choosing colors, about how I want to apply the paint to the canvas, and about adding mood and atmosphere with lights and shadows. I’ve learned a lot, too, about focal points. What do I most need to work on now? Overall, I want to study the academics — how to have better, stronger compositions, how to make my work more original, how to add more “narrative” to my work, and how to continue developing my personal style.

Finding suitable articles and demonstrations here proved a bit more problematic. There are many resources for oil painting, various resources for composition studies, but not necessarily ones specific to landscape oil paintings.

After browsing a bit, I did find Painting Composition Tips for Better, Bolder Paintings. This will be a good starting point, I think.

By approaching my art and my art study in this way, I’ve been able to really narrow things down to a point where I can set more definite objectives. In the coming weeks, my plan of action is:

  • To strengthen my basic drawing skills through review and practice.
  • To learn specific methods and approaches for loose watercolor painting.
  • To create “better” and “bolder” landscape oil paintings by studying composition.

I think this “more directed” method of study will be useful as I can really hone in on those specific areas where I most need help. This is a far better approach, I think, than my previous “hit and miss” method of trying a little of everything.

I do like the idea of a “shopping list” for my art studies. Instead of produce, meat, dairy, and other grocery aisle items, I’ll be looking for “art staples” — techniques, tips, methods — that will serve me well with the media I’m working with.

Whether or not you’re looking for any classes or instruction in art, a short “self-evaluation” like this can always be helpful, I think. I’m glad I took the time this morning to ask and answer a few questions about myself as an artist, and I’m looking forward now to seeing real improvement in key areas.



    1. My brain needs some sort of structure or order to function, otherwise I spend too much time trying to make choices, all the while feeling that there’s supposed to be a “right” choice… and yep, I just go around and around unless I have something to guide me. I might not always follow the guidelines, but if they’re not there, I can’t even make a start.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure you’re right. I think every creative individual gradually learns how to “prime the pump” or get inspiration. For me, playing around with words can often spark a new inspiration, especially when I just jumble them up and try to make sense of them. It’s the idea of “making a mess” and then “cleaning it up”.


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