Painting in 7 Easy Steps

Bear with me: this is a constant gripe of mine. Still, whenever I see something like this going on and get annoyed, I remind myself how much more I’m learning by not giving in to the photocopy machine ethos, and I feel a bit better (not that it will last when my result slip comes back with a ‘C’)

I have no issue with photo reference. I think photography is an amazingly liberating and helpful tool for all kinds of artists. What I do dislike is copying the photo blindly without taking into consideration the intent of the piece.

A Recipe for Instant Art

You will need:

  • A camera, preferably digital
  • An overhead projector (optional)
  • Models (optional)
  • Lights (optional, strongly encouraged)
  • Pencil (2B) or thin vine charcoal
  • Paint (oil is best to ensure the final work has an artsy flair)
  • Support (canvas preferred)

Preparation Time: 1 day ~ 3 weeks


  1. Come up with a concept, and shoehorn it into a contemporary context – preferably one which you have easy access to (e.g. your messy kitchen).
  2. Draw three thumbnails and pick the one you like most.
  3. Scout for a location and conduct a photo shoot. If you considered lighting in step 2, arrange lights as necessary prior to shoot and do not experiment with lighting once shoot has commenced. If done correctly, you should leave with precisely one sharp, well-focused image.
  4. Make A4 print of image. If using a digital camera, be sure to print with an office color laser printer and ensure that a strange color shift is present before proceeding to next step.
  5. Proceed to paint image onto support. A paint-by-numbers approach is especially useful. Cropping is allowed but only use if absolutely necessary (e.g. you have ordered the wrong size of canvas). Take care to copy your photograph slavishly and always draw contours, not three-dimensional forms! Remember to follow the colors of the photograph as closely as you can. Doing otherwise diminishes the verisimilitude of your final piece.
  6. Allow painting to dry. In the meantime, you should write an artist’s statement about the painting. Include two or more of the following words/phrases for maximum impact: “mimetic”, “built environment”, “contemporary”, “disengagement”, “appropriation”, “question”, “social mores”.
  7. Exhibit and win awards at contemporary art shows.

The following steps can be performed between steps 4 and 5. They are optional, but they will shorten the preparation time drastically, especially if you are not a skilled draughtsman.

  1. Make print of image onto projector slide.
  2. Project image onto canvas.
  3. Using pencil or charcoal, carefully trace outline of photograph – including highlight and shadow areas – until you have something that resembles a contour map.
  4. Seal line drawing to avoid accidental smudging while painting.

Common Problems

Q. I started painting, but realized that I don’t have a good ‘feel’ for my subject. Should I do some studies to familiarize myself with it?

A. Resist the temptation. Extraneous studies will only slow you down. If producing the painting for school examinations, you may be required to produce studies; in this case, avail yourself of a lightbox. Remember the Golden Rule: copy contour, don’t think about form.

Q. I’ve started analyzing the scene I’m painting! I’ve come up with ideas for lighting and edge treatment to convey the forms and concepts more clearly (I think). Should I still follow the photograph?

A. Yes. You do not want to waste all the effort you have put in so far.


New York Trip Reflections

Empire State Building as seen from Top of the Rock

Image via Wikipedia

Reflections that I’m submitting to the school. Personal thoughts not included, naturally.

On this trip we visited several museums, and I immensely enjoyed most of them. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art’s 19th- and 20th-century wings as well as the Guggenheim’s 19th-century collections were all of great interest to me. I am one of those people who can spend hours in front of a classical sculpture or painting; one who believes that art’s highest purpose is to bring beauty to the world. It is quite an old-fashioned view, I suppose, but it could be argued that beauty exists in different forms and thus my maxim encompasses all kinds of art from old to new. Thus I spent many happy hours in these museums sketching and just taking in the skill of the works. Before leaving for New York I had already tentatively tried out oil paints after being inspired by some contemporary illustrators who worked in oil. Now I am further convinced that I would like to work in a traditional style using oil paints for my art ILP this year.

I was not very fond of the modern art museums such as MoMA PS1 and the New Museum because the works there came with little or no explanations/wall text, making them hard to understand. Some of the works there were just plain strange or “vulgar” by today’s standards as well. However after thinking about this for a while I decided that our reactions to these works now would be akin to how critics reacted to new, experimental styles of art that started emerging in the 19th century like Impressionism or Fauvism. Back then works in these styles were regarded as vulgar and almost blasphemous. Now we wonder how such masterpieces could ever be derided and say that critics of that time were too stuffy and conservative. And yet now I was acting like one of these conservative critics when faced with new art forms, because I had been raised to believe that the works of the Old Masters were the ultimate form of beauty. I decided that I should not be too closed-minded and disparage a work just because it offended my sensibilities.

After visiting the Empire State Building, I accidentally took one of their audio guide machines with me. This incident was quite embarrassing but on the plus side it made me become much more careful and alert when we visited other places of interest. Speaking of alertness, I feel I did quite a good job of taking care of my personal belongings and being sharp. Even though I was sleeping most of the time when we took the subway and a bit zoned-out due to jet lag, I made sure to stay near the group and stay cautious of suspicious strangers like a tout who offered us a ride back to our hostel one night after we finished a sightseeing cruise.

Some of the others on the trip wanted to spend all the available time shopping, which I think is the wrong attitude. After all, the main aim of the trip was not to shop but to learn more about the cultures of the world. The shoppers probably felt I was a bit of a spoilsport in this regard but my reasoning is why fly to the other side of the world just to buy something you can get for pretty much the same price back home? It’s not as if the product is any better – even a Made in America or Japan tag doesn’t guarantee quality nowadays. Standing in between two towers made of melting white chocolate in an installation, now that’s something more intimately tied to the experience of being overseas.

10 Things I Learnt About Oils Today

  1. A palette can be easily made by wrapping a hard backing in chicken rice paper.
  2. Oil painting is not difficult to pick up. (it’s even easier to use than color pencils, but maybe that isn’t a good comparison because color pencils are horrible to me)
  3. It is not advisable to use Poems Deep and Dangerous as a backing for your palette.
  4. Oil painting in a corner of the art room causes migraines.
  5. Oil painting is surprisingly quick and (mostly) painless.
  6. Do not attempt canvas sizes of more than 1m in height/width when painting in oils for the first time. Heck, when painting in anything for the first time.
  7. It is wise to heed the advice of your teacher when mixing paints and use a palette knife, not a brush.
  8. If your paint-cap is stuck, soften it with turpentine and pry it open with a palette knife.
  9. Oil paints are fun to play with when you have a palette knife on hand – like butter.
  10. It is really not advisable to use Poems Deep and Dangerous as a backing for your palette.