Beginner Art · Painting · Painting Techniques · Resources and Materials

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.

Mixed media art

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!

Experiments with watercolour

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.

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.

Learning collage

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.

Painting of a vegetable

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.

Collage art

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.

Do you make time to experiment with your art?  Share your thoughts below…

5 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.

    1. Overworking is a classic trait of perfectionism I think. I have a post scheduled all about it, do visit again for more insights. Thanks for your comments, It is great to know what people think on these topics.

  2. I love to experiment with media as I’m not a particularly ‘neat and tidy’ artist. However, I’ve been playing with watercolour recently and I feel stumped! I’ve been playing with my limited supplies and trying different techniques, but am stuck with a few first projects to apply the techniques to. I usually do vignettes, but would like to consider things in context as I learn watercolour. So many books aimed at beginners are filled with beautiful, detailed paintings, and I’m put off as I don’t see myself as that kind of artist. But I’m new to colour, and am a bit lost with having to make my paint useable before I can paint with it. Any tips?

    1. Hi Copper Harris, Well done with the experimenting. Watercolour is quite a challenging medium and not for everyone. I always advise my beginner learners to do small experiments and studies with media before embarking on a ‘masterpiece’, like those ones in those books often suggest! Why not start with skies and sunsets and practise bleeds, graduation and lifting off (removing paint with dry brush or rag). I think I may have written a post about watercolour techniques. I think sketchpad experiments are the place to start to build the knowledge and confidence with the media…good luck!

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