There is an old saying ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’, not a very friendly comment really, but it might apply to me as I regard myself a better teacher than a painter although I enjoy doing both in equal measure.
I worked in the public sector for many years and gravitated towards teaching in 1998, obtaining a Master of Arts (Education) degree, a post graduate Certificate of Education, City and Guilds Assessor awards – and a string of other qualifications including a City and Guilds Conflict Management award, which has been invaluable since turning my hand to teaching art!
Although I’m passionate about my own painting, I feel my real talent is in teaching. I believe my strength lies in my ability to get beginners started and build their confidence, and to work with those who lack confidence. That said, I still help accomplished painters, and have recently developed a workshop called ‘Taking on the Gremlins’ – about tackling those things that cause panic when the loaded paintbrush nears the canvas!
I started using my teaching skills to teach art in 2015, when I began teaching at the Blue Room, Nailsea, and then moved further afield, taking my brand of tuition as far as Kent (yes, a National treasure!) I see my role as taking people from a place they know to a place they don’t know, encouraging and enabling them to experiment and take risks. My teaching is meticulously planned but delivered in a relaxed and humorous way. I believe that anyone can learn to paint if they want to, provided they are prepared to learn, reflect upon their work, and practise, practise, practise!
Here are a few testimonials that I have made up ( just joking, all genuine and can be accredited):
‘Jeff is so inspirational, he makes you feel you can paint anything you want to.’ (PW)
‘I had no confidence in my painting, but Jeff gave me confidence and I produced a painting I rather liked and when I showed my husband all he could say about what Jeff enabled me to produce was ‘the man’s a ****ing genius.’ (JG)
‘Painting lessons with Jeff are fun and relaxed but he pushes you all the time and encourages you to experiment and take risks…no, he doesn’t just encourage you to experiment and take risks he makes sure you experiment and take risks.’ (LM)
‘I attended one of Jeff’s workshops and really got into painting, but then I did some pictures that I felt were childlike and gave up painting. However, Jeff didn’t give up. He rang me up and suggested we meet for coffee to discuss the ‘childlike’ paintings. Jeff picked out all the positives in the paintings that I could not see and I have been enjoying my painting ever since and developed my own style.’ (JT)
Learning points for students.
- Here is a list of some of the learning points I teach my students, some are repeated from the narrative above, some are not.
- ‘If you want to paint then you shall paint’. In my view painting is about 10 to 20% raw talent which I think includes having a natural eye for colour and perspective and an ability to see beyond the obvious and have a vague understanding of how things are constructed and work and be able to interpret in different ways what you see. However, all these things can be learnt if you have an intrinsic motivation and desire to want to paint, you are keen to learn and you are able to reflect honestly on what you have done and decide how you are going to improve.
- Nothing is just one colour, in a magnolia wall of a house there are many hues of creams, greys and other reflected colours, bring your painting alive by identifying the colours within your subject and paint them in.
- Look look and look again. Select your subject and composition, study your subject, try and understand how it works, whether it is the softness of a flower or the hard metal edge of a crane, look at it, draw it and understand it. Look up the ‘rule of thirds’, this approach to composition is often ignored and has become dormant in some art teaching.
- Look at ‘negative space’ around your subject, this will help you to paint or draw what you see and not what you know, the brain has a way of filling in gaps that are not necessarily there.
- Learn about colour, your three primary colours are red, blue and yellow. There are three secondary colours orange, green and violet, from here you can go almost anywhere but practice mixing colours, you could find it quite therapeutic.
- Get to grips with warm and cool colours and try and understand what they do for your painting. Warm colours include yellows, orange, reds. Cool colours include blues, greens and greys.
- Tones within a painting can create a focal point where light meets dark and can provide a three dimensional effect to your image. Knowing how to decide on the tonal value of your painting will also assist with perspective.
- We need to get things in perspective, here I am talking about painting not life itself! I’m OK on simple perspective like things getting lighter as they go into the distance, things getting smaller as they move away from you, vanishing points and eye level and so on, but I still struggle when, say, a building has many bits added to it over the years and has many different angles coming out of it , one of my gremlins I need to confront!!!!
- Everything is retrievable, if you put paint on a surface and you decide it should not be where you put it you can lift it out, even watercolour, do not be scared to put paint on a surface, no one will die!
- Take risks, push the boundaries, experiment, comfort zones are good but we all need to get out of them from time to time to see what else is out there.
- Doodle with paint, just see what the paint can do for you, practice different techniques, try and understand what the paint can do on your paper with the brushes you use. Doodling will help you to know what your paint brush can do for you and how the paper reacts to your paint and your brushes.
- Do not be scared to trace or use other things that will help you create a painting, its not cheating although some will say it is. I subscribe to Hockney’s words who pointed out “optical devices certainly don’t paint pictures…”
- Create the the right environment for painting, make sure the space is comfortable and well lit with natural light where possible and/or with ‘daylight’ lamps or similar.
- The right paint, the right surface and the right brushes will increase your ability to get the right result (see doodling above).
- Putting a mount around your painting really enhances the painting and adding a frame gives it an extra boost. However, make sure you select the right colour mount and right colour and style of frame, the mount and frame can make or break a painting.
- The amount of guidance, tips and signpost goes on and on, these are just a few things for the beginner and improver to consider.