The Importance of Experimenting in Art

I thought I would write this post because having taught hundreds of learners I recognise two types of learner.  Those that experiment and those that won’t and I am sure you can guess which learners have the best results.

What do I mean by experimenting and why is it so important?

I am essentially talking about a free mind to experiment and try things out without knowing where it will lead.  This approach allows discoveries to be made which is part of the learning creative process.  By trying things out we get to discover our own unique style in art, what media we like, the types of marks we can make etc.

There are learners in my classes who like to be shown exactly how to draw or paint specific things like fur, water, glass etc. You might be thinking I joined a class to be shown how to do it!  This is understandable, as a beginner you don’t know where to start and you need some general rules, tips and techniques to get started.  However I am of the school of thought of educators who believe that showing learners exactly how to paint something is not doing them any favours in the long run.

Experiments with watercolour

Why?  Because I would be showing them exactly how I would paint or draw something, which is only one way.  There are hundreds of ways to paint and draw and we all have to find our own unique way.

I’m not saying that there aren’t certain tips and rules about drawing and painting because of course there are.  As beginners we have to learn some basic rules and techniques first, before we can become more experimental.  However I try to culture a certain mindset in my learners that is less dependent on me and allows them to find the answers.  After all when the course ends, I won’t be there to paint the picture for them.

As a tutor I think it is important that I share the rules, techniques of art but at the same time allow learners to find their style or way of representing the subject.

One learner comes to mind on a Beginners Painting course to illustrate this point. We had just had a session on painting techniques where we learnt to experiment with paint in all sorts of ways.  We had learnt layering paint, dry-brush, different types of brush strokes, scratching into, lifting off, splatter, dots, impasto and more. We then did an exercise where we had to select a textured object (wood, fur, feathers etc.) and represent it with a painting technique.  If you would like to know more about painting techniques see my post How can I Learn Painting Techniques?

The Learner in question came up to me looking most distressed ‘but how can I paint this fur if you haven’t shown me how to do it?!‘ I explained that I would like her to select a painting technique from her own experiments that would represent fur.  We looked through her sketchpad and found several ways that fur could be represented, using the fan brush was the one that she identified.  Although still slightly confused by the idea that she herself had the answer to ‘how to do fur’ she then started representing fur with the fan brush in a very effective way.

As a tutor I had taught the general techniques but allowed the learner to make the connection of how these techniques could be used.  In my opinion a good Tutor allows you to become independent and makes you realise that you can find the solutions yourself, much like a good parent.

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3 thoughts on “The Importance of Experimenting in Art

  1. I’ve never forgotten a piece of advice given to me by the artist, Annie Rice, during one of her workshops a few years ago. She gave me a stick, about a meter long, and a bottle of writing ink and told me to draw a green pepper on a large piece of paper on the floor. After a few minutes I’d drawn a recognisable pepper and Annie said, “Isn’t it liberating to draw that loosely?” If she’d said, try drawing more loosely, I would never have seen what she really meant. Now that drawing of a pepper hangs on my work-room wall to remind me not to over-work things.

    Liked by 1 person

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