The Art of Sandra Busby...
Painter of Playful Light in Glass and Still Life


Sunday, 26 February 2012

One step forward, two steps back...

During the latest of my frequent confidence melt-downs, it occurred to me that I really don't know how to paint at all. 
I mean, I know how I paint, but I have no idea whether it's the way I am supposed to paint.

It struck me, that I have never seen anybody else actually painting - EVER! 

I suppose the main advantage that an Artist gets from going to an actual Art College, is that throughout the entirety of their course, they get to paint amongst lots of other Artists, each with differing ideas on how to approach a single subject and medium. 

If my easel were to stand in a room amongst many other Artists at work, I'm sure I would be able to pick up on a whole variety of methods of painting that perhaps I might not have otherwise tried. 
Perhaps they might even pick up something from me...? Now there's a nice thought :0)

A couple of years ago I attended a few life drawing classes, but the easels were positioned in a circle, so I really couldn't see how any of the other Artists went about their own paintings.
Actually, during that class all I really wanted to do was walk around the room and watch the other Artists at work. It is unfortunate that every Artist I have ever spoken to, doesn't like to be watched at work at all.

Though I completed an Open College of Arts Course, it was very different than going to an actual college because it was a course I did from home, so I always painted alone.

The majority of what I have learned has been from books and from making lots of mistakes. That is why I never see a failed painting as an actual 'failure', because that failed painting was a lesson in its self - one that I learned by demonstrating to myself what not to do and what would happen if I did! 
I have been a good teacher because I have done this many times, but those lessons are thankfully less frequent now. As valuable as they may be, they are of course incredibly frustrating!

Sometimes I look at a finished painting and though I consider it successful, I can still see things that I would "do differently next time". It's all part of that age old learning process, 'One step forward, two steps back'.

In my last post I showed you the beginning stages of bear number 4. The next stage I complete is an under-painting....

...Sometimes an under-painting can highlight problems that I may not have noticed in the previous stages. In this particular case, I am unsure if the mirror is going to work - but that's okay, if it doesn't, I will simply turn it into a painting on the wall :0)

And after posting my initial sketch, Prabal mentioned that the diagonal line between the paper and the lamp top was rather straight and I hope to rectify this with the clever use of shadows during the painting process :0)

From this point I work from the background and forwards, adding layers, glazes, details and then finally highlights. 

Why do I do it this way? I have absolutely NO idea! 
My paintings come together purely by what feels right to me.

What about you? How do you go about your paintings...?

Anyway, I will end this post with another useless fact about my week...

Q. What is the most stupid thing I did this week?

A. Whilst trying out possible set ups for bear 5, I managed to set fire to one of my props!

And the moral of the story: Positioning a feather quill close to a lit candle is not a good idea!


  1. I went to art college but I'm not sure I watched others paint. I am 100% certain I never saw others use pen & ink for complete drawings. I learnt from the very few books on technique available. I also did the old fashioned learning technique of copying originals & then inked in those styles my own subjects. Oh and I have learnt, & continue to learn, from my 100s of errors.

    There are some fab short painting courses around both in UK & abroad, if you feel it would be beneficial to see others. (Sneak a holiday at the same time)

  2. ... another thought look for WIP posts. Although you won't see the artists actually painting, you can see the methods they use. (Videos are also good).

    All that said, your paintings are lovely and how you arrive there is not important :) Please keep painting and chanting "I am a painter, I CAN do this"

  3. Just with the underpainting, it looks awesome! LOL
    This is going to be so beautiful, Sandra! I saw a demo at Rockvile Centre Library Thursday where the artist did the underpainting in Burnt Sienna and it also made such a difference as your painting! I tried it at home and it really looks nice... Now, back to my pastels!!!

  4. LOL about the feather quill next to a candle! :)) That is totally something I would do. You, Carrie, and Prabal should get together and have a fire safety lesson about setting up a still life without it bursting into flames, tee hee. :)))))

    Love the look of this in progress painting, and I REALLY like the mirror so I vote it stays. It adds a little bit of mystery to it that I like. And that little turn of your bear's head is so endearing.

    One thing I really love to collect is painting DVD's that show an artist I love actually painting. I have a lot and I am always so fascinated to see how another artist paints. I learned a ton from them too, still do actually. When my son was just a baby and it was just us at home during the day I used to watch them while I was feeding and rocking him. Good memories.

  5. Sandra, although my paintings are nowhere near yours, I understand your feelings. I think no matter how well one turns out, we always feel like "How did I do that?" The one in ten that I do well is always a surprise to me.. I really don't know how.
    Also being self taught from books, mistakes, practice, I've always feel insecure about my paintings.
    Your ability to do a finished painting like your bears (not to mention your other works) is not to be questioned. JUST DO IT! You can and you do ...
    hugs, BJ

  6. Hi Sandra, We can start our own club of crazy artists that set their still life on fire:)) Be careful with those magnifying glasses and direct sun (a disastrous combo). I love seeing your under painting. I'm impressed that you're getting some very aged qualities in your beginning stages! Love the mirror, can't wait to see this one progress!!

  7. I hope you did not burn anything else. LOL. And this bear painting is already looking lovely. I must admit I am already loving it.
    Coming to how one paints. I think it is best that you have not seen anyone painting. So your style would be your very own and you should be proud of that. The Chinese proverb says 'Dont give man a fish. teach him how to do it'. And the Indian version goes one step further in saying 'Dont teach him how to fish. Inspire him to find his own method of fishing'. That probably is how one will find one's peace. And painting is about finding peace. Isn't it. :)

  8. I know what you mean: one step forward, two steps back! It's like walking in the dark and trying to find your way. But once in a while there is a bright spot! Anyhow, we all have to find our own way. I love Prabals proverb!
    Love bear nr. 4! Be safe! :)

  9. This stage looks gorgeous, Sandra.

    I've been to workshops where I've watched pro artists paint and yes, you do learn from them. Then the hardest thing is not to copy their style, just use their techniques!

  10. Hi Sandra, gorgeous underpainting! Your bear 4 looks already awesome! Hug!

  11. I don't think it matters how you go about your painting. You are exceptionally good at it and it is others that would want to look over YOUR shoulder. Like Crystal, I enjoy watching DVD's of artists - something I find particularly useful at times when I've forgotten which way round to hold the brush.
    Your idea of a mirror is superb but if, for whatever reason, you decide to change it into a painting then it has to be the corner of one of your other bear paintings. Bear 3 featured in Bear 4's painting, for instance.
    Love the way this one is looking already. :)

  12. Hello Sandra,
    is doing very well in the second phase of the painting. Your method is very safe and suitable for its proposal.
    Each painter arranges their own solutions according to their sensitivity, limitations, proposals ... so that it can not be authentic being influenced by others. Look up and copy is valid, enriches. But when we do our job we have to be brave and paint right or wrong, correct, re ... is thus always been so.
    I'm rooting for his success, and the framework of the bear that has started well, with a beautiful composition and a beautiful design!
    A big hug

  13. Sandra, you are hilarious! I'm sure artists through the ages have torched their props, accidently[ and willfully ]. As for watching other artists at work, can you drop in to a class? But I really agree with Antonio - when it comes to creating your art, you alone know what you are feeling, Art is an expression of the artist's reaction and feelings towards her/his subject.

  14. Sue - I did go to a workshop once but it was really just demonstrations of how watercolour runs together etc and not a demonstration of actually painting. I'm sure all colleges are different, but I've spoken to a few people that went to art college they said that regularly they saw lots of others paint in the room and that was a great way to learn. None of them could understand how it was possible to learn from home without being able to see the actual process! Of course it is possible because there is so much information in books, but I would just love to watch somebody complete a painting from start to finish. You're right about WIP's. I love it when people post them. That's partly why I do it from time to time. Anyway - I am chanting in my head as we speak!! Thank you! :0)

    Hmuxo - Thank you :0) I like to cover the canvas in a wash to get rid of the white. Then the under-painting acts as my guide, but it also affects the colours, which I overlay, if I choose to paint transparently. I love painting this way and I read somewhere that it is how the Old Masters used to do it, so that is good enough for me, lol :0)

    Crystal - Thank you! I remember Carrie's incident, but I didn't know Prabal had done it as well! Oh dear! Luckily, my feather quill wasn't too badly damaged. It smelled of singed hair in my art room though! I have a couple of DVD's, but they all seem to show the Artist doing a certain bit and then all of a sudden, an entire section is completed leaving me with little idea of what was between! I still love watching them though and there must be better ones out there. I hope the mirror works but I am having doubts at the moment... Fingers crossed! :0)

    Barbra - Thank you! I disagree that your paintings are nowhere near mine! That's just not true at all! But I totally share your insecurities that probably come from being largely self taught. When a painting turns out well, how ever frequent that might be compared to when I started, I still feel surprised, like it was a fluke! I can't wait to start trusting myself! :0)

    Carrie - Thank you! I didn't know Prabal had done it too - I must have missed that! Good job it wasn't the teddy that set fire because that would have been awful! The mirror I fear may not work. What is meant to be a huge vintage clock on the opposite wall, really I should have done smaller. It just looks like the opposite wall is really close, lol! That said, I may be able to change it, or maybe if I add something else in the reflection to scale the clock, it might make more sense... All these challenges! :0)

  15. Prabal - Thank you! I LOVE those proverbs. They really do speak volumes! And yes, though I would love to see someone paint, maybe it's best not to be influenced, at least that way I can truly say that the creation was all my own! I hear you also had an incident with a still life setting fire! Oops! There must be something in the air! :0)

    Judy - Thank you very much! Yes, I liked it too. I am looking forward to getting to a stage with this bear where I can see more clearly where it's heading. It makes me feel so much more at ease. This is the frustrating part :0)

    Pat - Thank you! Yes, it must be hard to go to a workshop and not try to copy. This is a problem I found when I went to one myself. Though she didn't actually paint anything, she did show a lot of ways of watercolour being allowed to mix on paper etc. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't do it the way she did! But I'm glad in a way because that wouldn't really have been my own work :0)

    Tito - Thank you very much! Fingers crossed it works as I hope :0)

    John - Thank you so much!! It's funny you should say that because I had the exact same thing in my head! I was thinking that I could turn it in to one of my own previous bear paintings and then my signature could be on the painting on the wall and not at the bottom of the painting! Great minds eh? Lol! :0)

    Antonio - Thank you so much! As always, you fill me with encouragement and give me the faith in myself that I need. And you raise the good point that if we are over influenced by others then it can't be truly authentic as our own work. Your comment is priceless! :0)

    Kathryn - Thank you! Lol, actually I am more likely to willfully set fire to a failing painting than I am to my props! You are so right - It's meant to be our own interpretation which is so important! Some fantastic points raised by everyone :0)

  16. looks good the reflection of the writing sandra god luck with the mirror wondering what text will be on the booklet .

  17. Hello Sandra

    I like the drawing but I think it will look better with the paint on. I like the bear best on the painting because it looks fluffy even though it is not painted and it looks properly like a bear.

    William x

  18. Hi Sandra!
    This is shaping up to be another beauty. You kept to a beautiful colour palette on the last one and this one looks great even in the underpainting stage! They have a warm, "antique den" feel. I enjoyed seeing your sketch for this. Especially the drawing of the bear.

  19. Jane - Thank you! Well, the booklet is actually an 1886 edition of the London Gazette! It is the first bit I have completed and I'm really happy with it. I thought it would be really difficult but it took me no time at all. But - it seems that the things I thought would be easy are the proving most challenging! :0)

    William - Thank you my little bowl of jelly, swimming in evaporated milk and topped with chocolate sprinkles :0)

    Kim - Thank you! I am really glad that you get what I am trying to achieve :0)

  20. well, you my dear are the proof that a true artist doesn't necessarily need to go to art school to be an accomplished and very talented painter. yes, i would also love to have gotten an art degree and like you i know there is a whole world of tecniques and knowledge that i don't know about or have but i'm finding my own way and developing my own style as a result, as are you.
    i watched that next great artist last night and got really cross at the fact that it appears the greater amount of pretentious bull s@it the contestants can spout the more in awe of their work the judges appear to be! the one i liked best was slated and the worst one they voted their favourite! the art world is full of pretentious nonsense so to find a true artist like you who can create amazingly wonderful art without the formal training is, to me, a real find for any gallery.

    1. Thank you Nicola! You are so right, there is far too much pretentiousness in the art world! That program really did highlight that didn't it?
      I thought that vivid orange portrait was spectacular! Real art! As was his model with the television head - not my cup of tea, but I still at least 'got' it. But then somebody puts dots all over a canvas and calls it a portrait - Really??? And then a load of wires under a fan case??? Hmmmm...
      To me, there is a world of difference between sculpture, photography and painting. I don't see how they can all be in one competition!

  21. I didn't mean that sort of workshop. I meant the sort, like holidays, where people all work alongside for a week or so, usually with short demo first.

    Yes we had people painting all in a room, but to be honest as a teenage I don't think we paid a lot of attention to others work. eg when doing life classes we only saw work in breaks, same with paintings. I specialised in illustration which was kept, figuratively, a 1000 miles away from fine artists.

    1. I would love to go on an art holiday! Only, as much as I want to watch everyone else, I'm not sure I'm ready for everyone to watch me, lol!
      I'm sketching a lot more recently, in the hope to get more comfortable with the whole thing :0)

  22. Oh, Sandra, I must to admit that often I feel exactly like you... I am almost totally a self-taught painter, and so I often ask myself about rules and "right things" that I never learned and understood well... you know, composition and so on. But what can I do? Lack of time and occasions (there are not so many painting workshops here in Italy like in other countries... and with an office job and a family I have often no choice!), but I want to paint so much! Painting is my life and my joy, so I keep on doing it, between failures but also great satisfactions... like my friends that come to visit me and praise my works!
    And about bear 4... it promises very well, I love it!
    a big hug, dear Sandra
    (please excuse my poor english!)

    1. Thank you Cristina! Your English is very good :0)
      Like you, I have an office job and a family, so time is always an issue.
      I am trying to sketch something small every day, just so I am still exercising my drawing skills between painting time. I don't think it matters if you have had training or not - as long as we learn the foundations, which we can get from books, we can learn the rest ourselves. I know a very wise Artist, my Uncle Danny, who says that art comes from within and can not be taught. I agree with him - and you are the perfect example of this because I pressumed you had been trained. I do feel that we miss out on the benefits of seeing how other Artists approach the same subjects, but what we do benefit on is developing our own style which has not been over influenced by someone else :0)

  23. I'm curious to see it finished! Happy weekend, Arianna!


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