Learning “Sight Painting”

Gracie at Lake Tahoe, CA 21-Nov-06
Gracie at Lake Tahoe, 21 November, 2006

On my last visit home, my mother presented me with a scrap book of items she kept of mine while growing up, including photos, old artwork and perhaps most telling–report cards! I remember school a bit, but reading these teacher/parent notes about ‘young Edward’ brought me back to that time.

I remember being bored in school and my teacher’s notes from kinderkarten onward confirm that. I guess I didn’t get serious about school until college, when I had more of a “choice” about what to study. The exception to the rigors of public school was the eary music education I got. This was a luxury, as from 13 on my mother raised 4 children alone. There were definite hardships, and so getting music lessons meant a lot.

BallerinaI played multiple instruments, but excelled on the Trombone, playing jazz, classical, you name it. My private teacher–Mr. VanFleet–was (is? I don’t know, we’ve lost touch) an incredible teacher. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me calling him a “hard ass”. A Marine drill-instructor to the core (have no idea if he served, but he’d be a natural), he SCARED you into practicing. If you showed up to your private lesson not having learned your assignment–forget it. Run.

One of his techqniques for teaching musing–shared by many, this is in no way unque–was “sight reading“, or playing a piece of music for the first time, “on sight” with no preparation. It was a great way to train the musician to react quickly AND think ahead, or I should say, read ahead. You’re playing a passage and always looking a few bars ahead to figure out, “where’s this going?”. He’ll hand you a piece that could be just as easily a sonota as jazz. You’re not expected to play perfectly since the point is the process, not the result.

So what’s this got to do with art and learning? Applying musical “site reading” to art (I call it “Sight Painting”) is a great learning tool. Here’s how it works: I fill my camera with random images from my huge digital library. In my studio, I attatch the camera to a TV to project the images. I then pick a random number and scroll through the camera’s images until I hit it. I set a timer, usually 15 minutes. Then I paint the image quickly. Sometimes I see great results, often not, but the painting’s not the point–the process is. You learn not to get fussy with your brush (I always use a brush larger than I think I need for these exercises, and use one brush throughout). You learn to mix color quickly and create new threads of color from old colors on your palette (which great harmonizes the painting). You think big shapes and work smaller–if you have time! Lastly, you often get an image with incredible life and passion.

Try it! If you do, send me URLs to your studies and I’ll post here. The two paintings in this post where done this way, although the sunset was plein air.

Another music to art learning analogy I’ll cover soon is playing musical scales. Just as there are keys in music, there are color keys that you can use to learn color harmony.

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