“Those who don’t imitate anything produce nothing.” These powerful words come from Dali in his book The 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, originally published in 1948 and republished by Dover in 1992. This book was created to save art from laziness and reveal mysterious and obscure secrets to the classical and Dalinian manner. Dali was a great easel painter and muralist and knew how to attract the eye, but what I admire most about him was his prolific spirit and how he diligently examined classical styles before excelling at his own. Since holding onto the truth in this quote for years, I have been encouraged to look closer at all types of hand-painted work closely.
In 1998, my junior year in high school, I was asked by the Dean of Students and Advanced Art Teacher Mrs. Watzel to draw something other than graffiti for my assignments. I asked if they thought I didn’t know anything other than graffiti and they agreed and proposed if I turned in a drawing that demonstrated a more “Academic Style” then I would be able to pass. I agreed to their proposal and went to work that night and the result awarded a lot of trouble with a passing grade. This drawing was a bull fighting scene where I wove into the Torero’s costume graffiti letters that said bulls*** in response to their comments about my graffiti art. I told my classmates before I turned in the assignment and feared I might get expelled. I ended up admitting what the drawing disguised and was sent to the principal’s office and received detention for disrupting the class. During detention in her office she shared with me how she liked the work and wanted to tell me one valuable principle that separates good art from bad art.
She said, “If you really want to be great artist you should copy old master works. You will experience how they made their compositions.” I believed her and began copying the drawings and paintings from sections of Da Vinci, Dali, and Raphael referenced in text books she loaned that very night. While I was copying I experienced a lot of frustration trying to re create the same lines, shapes, and blends of color. Soon I was drawing hundreds of examples because it became so fun.
A year ago I found this in the Craftsmen’s Handbook written by Meastro Italian Painter, Cennino Cennini who stated a very similar point of advice 600 years earlier, “When you have practiced drawing for a while take the pains and pleasures in constantly copying the best works that you find done by great masters.” I have become accustomed to this approach in my studies moving on to more academic exercises such as live models, white plaster molds, and sitting in museums making visual notes.
My studies directed me to explore the different effects and techniques brushes produce that turned into a really big project where now I was integrating key information from the types of brushes I used, how I held them, the amount of pressure I applied, brush stiffness & laziness, paint selection, viscosity, surface texture, mediums, paint load the list goes on.
Basically I organized two general categories of brush stroke drills they are technical strokes and freehand strokes. Technical strokes are precise fluid strokes with a decisive and calculated appearance. These strokes show little error where once attempted it’s obvious a trained hand can consistently repeat them because they are so precise. It’s important to suite your exercises with square comfortable posture as well as metering variations in brush holds, paint viscosity and paint load being the basics to watch out for.
Freehand strokes are casual movements appearing natural and loose. These strokes almost seem to happen on their own done with very little thought producing great spontaneous or monotonous effects. Relaxed and predictable movements like freehand strokes allow for much artistic variation and speed where I recommend experimenting with different brushes.
Letting the brush do the work is a process of knowing your arsenal well. Additional movements and visual effects to practice are in great detail in countless instruction manuals to veining, graining, ornamentations or mural painting. Look for knitting, pulling, fissures, twisting, rocking, scratching, lettering, smashing, and spattering to acquire the versatile hand.
I regularly attend monthly art walks where 20 plus galleries open up to the public and featured artist get to exhibit their latest creations. It is in the brush work where there’s proof to the artist’s skill is at in revealing their discipline. I enjoy listening to how their environment and life affects their work too. On the topic of brush work they agree that there is always room for improvement but their main concern is money. I usually propose that when the mind makes a shift in refining details like the emotion brush strokes produce, art attracts a different type of client, one possibly with money! Going back to the basics and un-learning what we already know very few can picture themselves doing. Personally I find this so valuable for it restarts the curiosity and my appetite is refreshed looking at the world with new eyes.
Young painters have a tendency to over work their projects with some success but more failures. The learning process and inexperience seems to show through their work. Simple fact they are experiencing frustration since it is new or advance. With the right attitude toward practicing the basics proficiency is inevitable. Applying the techniques on site or in the studio with proper posture trains faster than improvised practice. In the Art of Faux by Pierre Finkelstein 1997, it’s highlighted to the reasons why fine quality clean brushes make the difference in addition to brushes that are rather used yet still of high quality also have additional advantages that help in other aspects of painting. If you don’t have this book you need to get it, concise with instruction on refined finishes. If you do have it read it again with your favorite wine and tools!
Ultimately the psychology behind the brush fascinates me most on how it emits the painter’s mental focus and comfort level. An understanding of what you’re painting and how well your painting it is one thing valuable but how about your clients, what will they see 5 to 10 years down the road? What do other painters see in your work?
Besides all criticism, maybe nothing right away but soon weird things just jump out like areas in hand painted work that appears rushed, awkward in geometry or flat in appearance. This result is from where we default what is easy to us and narrow our vision hoping to go unnoticed while painted. Humans have an internal aesthetic meter running constantly judging symmetry, color, and what just simply feels right visually. If we don’t know what to look for how do we know were painting it right?
Meta-wavelet technology is technology developed by Princeton grad students used to assess what was fake or real in countless Van Gogh’s. Evidence supported a pattern and layers of brush work from the certified authentics compared to the suspected copies. There is not a client or peer that will use high resolution scans to authenticate your work but awkward strokes and indecisiveness does show over time.
What does your brush work say about you?
In any hand painted work whether ornamentation, trompe l’oeil, mural, easel, wood grain even marble done at any level reflects two important facts about you. Where do you stand in technical ability and intent? Is your goal aiming to just get the job done with convincing results or bringing your best for satisfied growth? If you knew how many strokes you had to paint to get the job done would you still to paint it? No one is keeping count and it’s not about quantity but making every stroke count and better than the last. Others can see this and I encourage all to be like a phoenix rebirth from the ashes of an old self with a new vision about you and your work. Seek out the right tools, materials and techniques to bring your best every time you’re hired or inspired to paint. Think of your layers of as layers of thought. If we are lazy, fatigue, stressed, irritable, or inexperience painting something it will show. If were healthy, well trained, inspired and confident the result reflects exactly that.
There is so much more on the topic I want to share pertaining to advance visual techniques but I think for now this is a good start. I consider myself a student in all subjects of decorative painting and enjoy developing and sharing my finds. Like other decorative artists I question my own ability but can’t wait to see what I will paint next. It’s in the questions I ask myself where I walk in a direction of improvement turning on a light to a path of creative learning. Being able to think creatively about objects and ideas to paint and how to paint them is what encourages us to take classes and practice. I appreciate the industry instructors for their leadership and commitment to all of us who pursue our best and paint with them.
Paint, painter, paint, With Inspiration!
Fernando Moreno, a self taught artist, entered into the business of decorative painting in 2005. He has been commissioned for non-profit organizations, interior design firms, and private clients throughout the nation. Recognized for his creativity and ability to integrate ideas and materials, Fernando Moreno is a unique craftsman. He balances his time painting on really cool projects, spending time with his wife of 9 years, Melissa, his two children, and traveling internationally. Committed to improving the quality of life for himself, his family and for his clients, Fernando also seeks to share and educate the awareness for powerful painted decoration in America.